Wednesday 23 November 2022

Looking back - mere nostalgia, or "real history becoming more mythical"? (Or, being A Romantic.)

[Jeremy]: Sometimes I have a queer feeling that, if one could go back, one would find not myth dissolving into history, but rather the reverse: real history becoming more mythical - more shapely, discernibly significant, even seen at close quarters. More poetical, and less prosaic, if you like.

From The Notion Club Papers, by JRR Tolkien.

It is often said that nostalgia is merely a selective memory of the past "seen through rose-tinted spectacles"; but that ignores the sometimes different quality of the past, which is captured in the quotation above. 

In other words, we mythologize our past - and the past of our tribe, culture, nation - not by leaving-out the bad stuff, but because the past actually was "more poetical, less prosaic". 

For instance; when I look back on my education, my working years, or my engagement with literature and music; I perceive a trajectory from the somewhat mythic and poetic to the historical and mundane, which was substantially to do with how I experienced life - and not just a product of the retrospectoscope through which I view them. 

And those periods of my life when, for whatever reason, my life lacked this mytho-poetic quality, lacked "shapeliness"; I both knew at the time, and recall it now. In other words, I am not nostalgic for the mundane times - no matter how 'worldly-successful' or 'pleasurable' they may have been or seemed at the time. 

And I have read enough first-person contemporary accounts of the past (memoirs, diaries, letters etc) to realize that things seemed different then from how they seem to us now. 

Regular readers will be familiar with my favoured explanation of the development of Man's consciousness as understood by Rudolf Steiner and (especially) Owen Barfield; such that both our individual development and the development of (at least Western) societies has been affected by a divine-purposive change in Men's consciousness (both individually, and on average through time).

The past has a different - more mythical and poetic - quality, because we ourselves, or past men, had a different relationship with each other and the world; such that there was not then the same boundary as we now experience between us and them, inner and outer, subjective and objective, the individual and his culture or environment. Nor the same boundary between Men on the one hand, and animals, plants and landscape. 

Then we were - to a significant extent - immersed-in all these other things and reality was different for us-as-we-were-then differently from us-as-we-are-now. And it is this immersion that distinguishes myth from history. 

I am one of those people who regard this matter as of central importance to my life, and life-in-general; and who desire to live again in a more poetic and mythic way.

In other words, I am A Romantic - and have been since my early teens (although there have been significant phases when I fought this trait of mine as strenuously as I knew how). 

It was, indeed, this Romanticism that kept me away from the truth of Christianity for so long; because Christianity-as-is does not (or does not adequately) address this problem of Romanticism - indeed, some Christian Churches and theologies make matters even worse from the point of view of draining the 'magic' from life and history.  

And it is this which drove me to seek, discover, and co-create this Romantic Christianity which I - and a few others - are expounding. Of course I regard Romantic Christianity as True-er and Superior-to other ways of Christianity - but I would not have had the long term drive to seek/ discover/ create Romantic Christianity if it had not been for the intractable trait of Romanticism in myself; and my dissatisfaction with any world-view, religion or ideology that denied it. 


William Wildblood said...

I believe matter has been getting more material which of course would include our brains and therefore affect the quality of consciousness. This goes along with the idea of a Golden Age descending to an Iron Age which is where we find ourselves now, presumably the latter part. There are compensations to do with a greater focus on the individual self and development of the mind as we currently conceive it but there is severe spiritual loss too.

MrsB said...

I’m wondering if you’ve read Ian McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary”? I’m about halfway done, but so far it fits with your theory of consciousness in an interesting way. He says the two hemispheres of our brain see things very differently, and that we’ve become progressively more left brain dominant. The right hemisphere sees things more holistically, maybe mythically as you say. There’s much more to it than that and I don’t want to misrepresent his ideas in this small space.

Thanks so much for your work on this blog. It’s been a great help as someone coming back to the faith.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - "matter has been getting more material" - That is another way of trying to model what we are talking about. It may help unlock the business.

It would, from my POV, be easier to explain these things if people could (as it were) 'start again' by thinking of a reality of Beings. The trouble with trying to explain it by talking about immersion/ division, or else matter hardening, is that it takes the misunderstanding (i.e. that we Are divided from the environment, or that matter is everything) and tries to extend it towards the truth; but the misunderstanding is built-into the metaphor.

Well, it seems worth trying lots of different explanatory models, in hope that sooner or later a person will 'get' what lies behind them.

@Mrs B - Thanks.

I have read McGilchrist's book: - but I think it is a mistake to regard it as something other than an excellent work of science and medicine - as I said in the review, the book specifically leaves-out metaphysics, i.e. its own ultimate religious-spiritual assumptions.

This makes the book much longer, more difficult to understand, therefore easier to misunderstand and project one's own ideas onto; and this seems to happen a lot. People regard MahE as being 'about' (and answering) whatever they themselves are concerned by.