Friday, February 4, 2011

Texans, Gods, and Monsters

Carl Jung believed that certain symbols had archetypal power, and that they were a part of the mind's imaginative and primal way of communicating. As for the God question, he usually would dodge the ultimate metaphysical question by asserting that he was treating the scientific question of God as the ultimate archetype of the mind itself, and of the collective unconscious beneath all individual, conscious minds.

Jung also believed that things repressed were relegated to the pressure cooker of the unconscious, eventually erupting forth in dramatic ways, forcing us to deal with whatever we were hiding from, whether as individuals or as a society. So if there were psychological issues being repressed by the individual, or larger issues being repressed by society, these would return in the symbolic language of the archetypes: notably in the individual in dreams. For society, these might manifest themselves in storytelling (myth and folklore in the ancient world, books, t.v., and films for us) or visual art.

I raise these two points to suggest that gods and monsters, relegated as they are to certain genres that are generally pushed out of the mainstream--even ridiculed!--represent the dynamic of repression on a societal level. (The ambiguity of the place of religion in contemporary life is another way in which these archetypes are very difficult for us, if not outright suppressed.) If Jung is right, their power will not be denied. Recent notices in mainstream media, linked below, prompted this reflection on gods and monsters in American culture.

Mythopoets such as Robert E. Howard (a recent publication prompting an article in the Wall Street Journal) may be odd balls, misfits, or madmen (1), but their commerce with gods and monsters find new distribution methods when forced underground. Consider, for example, Paul Devlin's recent article on Slate about the film True Grit [spoiler alert]. Following Jung's prediction, the archetypes being suppressed in their more obvious mythological guise are finding ways of being expressed in less obvious ways that will reach individuals who shy away from silly things like gods and monsters. "Don't like fantasy novels or films? More comfortable making fun of D&D nerds? (2) "Sure" says the collective unconscious, "Go watch your safe, comfortable Western. Pay no attention to the archetype hiding behind the eye patch."

One final fancy: As a Texan, I can't help but notice that the three instances of mythopoets I've run across in the news recently all connect with Texas: Howard the Texan, requisite Texas-related plot elements in a Western like True Grit, does it connect to Guillermo del Toro, you ask? Well, just asking that question shows how much you know of the ties between Texas and Old Mexico. Perhaps out on the western frontier, where things are wilder and freer, suppression weakens.

Home, home on the range, where the gods and the monsters play...

(1) See the portrayal of "Two-Gun Bob" in The Whole Wide World.
(2) Perhaps this episode of NBC's Community is also a sign of the pressure for removing such societal suppression.


  1. More on True Grit:

  2. On the subject of the lifting of societal repression: