ART, DREAM, MYTH: Ancient Roots for a new Renaissance
The first question to ask , in order to immediately penetrate this topic is: what is the essence of ART? Nobody really knows. So reassured by this reality, we can adventure in this mystery and calmly suggest and propose that ,for us, art is a soul’s dream. We may add to this mysterious word ,other two, no less mysterious, because nobody really knows the essence of dream and soul. Dream, art and soul are linked like a necklace’s pearls and ,even if, we will never be able to see or touch them, or even more give them an adequate definition, this shouldn’t demoralize or frustrate us, letting us believe they don’t exist. Defining ,means trace a border circumscribing something: but everything beyond this limit, the immensity around it ,will always escape any definition. Out of the immense ocean in front of us, we only perceive the last wave braking over the shore. This is the reason why rationality may only approximate those realities, amongst which , Man as a microcosm participate to the infinite macrocosm as its image. By the way, the existence of this “ Beyond” is empirically related to man’s life itself. Man, in fact, cannot live only to eat, work, enjoy himself or assure himself a wealthy life: he needs something else , otherwise he continues to pursue all these things , but cease to be a man and dies before death. This “Beyond” – you may call it SPIRIT. GOD, ART – it’s what really counts and you actually find it in the man’s hearth ,so that,when man recuperates the key to open this jewel-case, he finally expresses himself and, as a limpid mirror, reflects the perfection and beauty of the Universe.
Once upon a time, when the World was just born, this treasure was easy to reach: the BARDS -this was their name at that time- wandered from Land to Land. In front of the fireplace with the King sited on the same bench of the farmer, they chanted the deeds of Gods and Heroes : everybody listened to those words and the sky’s clouds turned into God’s ,azure framed ,faces and like the flame warmed up their bodies, so that poetry and those visions warmed up their souls. “Those man experienced the joy to be men”.
But things were changing : Plutarch talks about the scream of agony running through the late Ancient time: “ Pan, Pan, the Great is dead!”. This prophetic scream keeps ,during the eras, its sense, contains and transmit a message, an Arcanum: the interior obscure caves where God lives with his powerful instincts , his vital passions are demonized and obstructed. The soul cord linking men to nature and divine manifestations is broken. Fascination as nourishment and soul’s creative ability , the panic, the “tremendum”, every experience directed as objective expressions of Sacred, come to an end. With Pan’s death ( a concealment, in reality) even Gods retreat.
Stones are only stones, trees are just trees, Gods are no longer there, ocean’s foam is no longer Aphrodite, coquet is not Athena anymore, even the waving of the marshy cans is not Nymphs’ whispering. Yes…things are changed: the fireplaces are extinguished, Megalopolis, freeways, skyscrapers, disseminated poets : the soul unable to open up and communicate with nature’s forces dries up; instincts ,missing the potential of expressing and justifying themselves in the world outside, became isolated in an alienating and destructive solipsism. A subtle and impalpable anguish corrodes every day the shining constructions of our certainness : triviality and basification turn down the intelligence and the creativity of the intellect.
We become cowards, terrorized by sickness, death: being together translates in solitude, just an anonymous mass where everybody pretends not to be alone. We want to possess more and more in order to fill a void becoming deeper at every owning. We expect to explain everything rationally and when there is nothing to explain anymore, we became bored.
We reverse and demonize values: courage is now violence, determination becomes violence, dignity translates in arrogance. Our individualism get us sick , we are unable to see anything but our interest. We confuse civilization with technological progress and well-being. Using a metaphor, is if a man would measure his value by the quantity of food he can digest. The frantic association “Produce- consume” make us victim of the worse possible robbery : our Time, the unique, irrepressible richness that counts. Quoting Seneca “ Death surprises us after we lived a life, we never lived.” With arrogant ignorance, we conceive our civilization as the noblest and based on this absurd concept, we judged every other civilizations, either contemporary or older. We deride their beliefs, their cults presuming to understand them, based on our mental schemes . We get to an absurd, ridiculous, inacceptable paradox: as an example ,like that young European University Professor who after few years of Doctorate in Indus Studies was convinced to be able to explain the “Veda” to a Brahmin , to an expert whose culture in the interpretation of those texts dates back to a tradition of more than Three Thousand Years.
Obviously even Art suffers in this decay because man creates art, in order to express and represents what he feels, creates and desires. Art’s crisis appears mainly in subjectivism and instability: never as nowadays we see such a rapid and tumultuous change by turn of esthetics, literature tendencies ,trends and pictorial schools, lasting only few days or ephemeral years ,or, even worst , disappear even before starting. In such a condition the value of an artist is determinate, not by the intrinsic mean of the performance, but by the indisputable judgment of an exiguous, incompetent groups of art’s critics ,maneuvered by market’s strategies.
Precariousness, individualism, dependency from contingencies and inconstant opinions, assimilate arts to something similar to a fling ,and right here resides the fulcrum of the Art’s crises. Trends start when creativity doesn’t find any more the strength and deepness to elevate and became a Style ,emerging from the individual, to excel the individual itself. It proceeds from an autonomous and spiritual interior search and manifests – quoting Nietzsche – as “ An eloquence of power “.It may express trough forms ,when we talk about figurative arts, or trough words ,talking about Literary operas. What really counts is only the will to imprint to the World ,to the Evolution, the meaning of Symbol of Eternity.
Only reaching this Heights, Art become creative strength, and evidence of this Civilization beyond Time. What would be Egypt without Pyramids, Greece without Parthenon Rome without Temples, Streets, Bridges, Aqueducts, Arches, Bathes, Basilicas? And what about Middle Age without Castles, Monasteries ,Abbacies ,Cathedrals with mystical and bold obelisks? Who would dream to affirm Renaissances or Classic Arts as a Mode? No Population lives longer than the testimony of its Culture and no Culture oversteps Time unless becomes creative force. Only this way the discrimination between Artist and Society is cancelled. Art must be enjoyed not by an incompetent group of critics, but must be shared by all the Population; every citizen of Athens was able to admire Phidias’s work; Beethoven composed his Symphonies to be heard in squares and public open spaces. We must not forget that Art, among the various expressions of the Spirit, is overall the one closer to Man. Nowadays millions of people stay in line for hours to admire the “Gioconda” ; nobody would dream to stay in line in front of an University’s Hall of Physics to learn about “ Theory of Relativity “.
Therefore Art as Creativity; but where from the Artist must obtain the elements to manifest this creativity in his work? What is the thing , unique in the History, able to escape from the implacable mill-tone? Myth: art must pull its inspiration from mith, and from this source must satisfy its thirst of Eternity. Like Art is the soul’s dream, so Myth is the entire Population’s dream, and if inside the dream emerges the innate inclinations and deep men’s passions, so in Myth appears the perpetual values, the essential vocations, the People’s Destiny . Whichever a Civilization will achieve in its becoming ,is already prefigured ,foreshadowed in the archetypal myths of that Civilization, like an immanent “ Voluntas Dei”, a project without time coming true in a more or less complete way, depending by inconstant contingencies. If Time consumes the exterior manifestations of a Civilization, Myths like “soul’s lands”, remain and sleep inside of us ,and “dreaming”, as a metaphor of artistic creation, is the way through which they continue to talk to us. In Homer’s poems, the Gods appear to mortals in their dreams to give them advice and ,again, is in Esculapio’s temple that the “God” appears to heal trough “ Dream” the infirm’s wounds.
Therefore Myth is a cultural root and source of inspiration. To which Myth should be refer in the orbit of our occidental cultural tradition? Pan, Apollo, Dionysus, Prometheus, Ulysses look like some of the figures enclosing some of the most representative symbols. Obviously each of them contains numerous and complex meanings; we’ll just limit to circumscribe them in their essential lines. We’ll eventually diversify and investigate them later.
Regarding Pan, his mythic nucleus is clear. The awakening and the coming back of the “God-Goat “corresponds to the man’s consciousness of all that instinctual and imaginative dimension of the soul and psychic ; this again makes possible a lively, “ magic “ contact with nature.
Nature, indeed, is not dead, but is our instinct, our soul, our regressed and mortified imagination letting us think nature is dead. When we reconnect in our deepness, in our “ daimon”, the veil is torn, nature goes back to be what it always has been; a reality made of alive symbols , inside and outside ourselves, while Gods , awaken by Pan’s chant, well’ manifest again in the absoluteness and innocence of all creatures. But in order for this to happen, in order for Pan to awake, is necessary to place ourselves in front of nature with a new attitude, nude and essential. We’ll need to search in nature, not something pleasant, soothing, idyllic , but the magic-symbolic matrix, the mystery , the Primordial. We are not talking about beautiful gardens or a well-manicured grove, but the grandiosity, the elementarily :glaciers, deserts, gloomy forests ,inaccessible heights rocks, implacable suns, impetuous currents, the nocturne’s dismay of solitary and wild moors, the meridian panic which petrify everything in an arcane and surreal silence.
Several times the word “ magic” has been used; regarding this matter we need a consideration and an explanation. The consideration is about the fact that at the origin of the Civilization, Art, at least the figurative one ,indubitably had a magic meaning. The Neolithic’s rocky pictures of herds of animals, stags, horses, bison, didn’t have an esthetic function but trough those representations, through a sympathetic relationship, it was believed that a Power’s manifestation would have been able to insure a propitious, safe and abundant hunt. Instead ,regarding the explanation we want to clarify that with the word “magic” we don’t refer at all, to all those “Occultism –Art of Divination” practices so in vogue nowadays, but we intend a cultural tradition descended at least from the Gnostics and the Neo-Platonic (Plotino, Giamblico, Porfirio, Apollonio of Tania ) and retook by the Renaissance’s culture , ( Pico della Mirandola and others) . In these Cultures “Magic” in a superior and spiritual sense, represented the complete and harmonical development of all the human’s faculties, advancing step by step with the knowledge of the Universe’s laws, given the analogical relationship among Man and the “Everything”.
Cultural affinities ,among Art and theories ,embodied in a magic context ,are, overall numerous and even recent: quoting Breton in the 1929 “Second Manifest of Surrealism” “Surrealistic Researches present ,regarding their purpose, a remarkable analogy with alchemic researches; the “philosopher’s stone” is essentially the implement allowing the man , the artist to take a revenge over things.”
Talking about the mythic importance of Apollo and Dionysus , Nietzsche’s opera “ Birth of Tragedy”, remain for us still insuperable and is our reference. According to Nietzsche’s interpretation, Greek’s soul oscillates and moves between two poles , two visions of the world , two ways to face and conceive life, symbolized by these Two Divinities. At the beginnings , according to the Greek’s Cosmogony ,is the Primordial Chaos. Man’s agony, immerged in this incommensurable, unknowable, in this abyss with no bottom and no name ( “Apeiron”, something with no limit – this the way Greeks called this “Nothingness” -) is intolerable. To King Mida who was asking himself which was the best thing for man, Sileno answered“ Never been born is the best thing”, and in this answer it’s revealed, born from a terrible consciousness, the most ancestral truth of the Greek’s soul. In order to sustain man, to hide this agony, is necessary the intervention of a God: and this God is Apollo, he is the one who “lightens the darkness”. Trough Apollo, man’ agony sublimates and ,sublimating, becomes will; but what does man wants? A will to give a shape, to limit something with no limit, to act in a specific space, in a precise time, a will to delineate borders impossible to cross to Chaos , to the irrational. Life gets a purpose, a meaning, a finality. Great part of Greek’s philosophy and Science starts and develops with this will to put in the rationality, in the “nous”, in the cosmos, the supreme value.
The rigid majesty of Doric Art, the harsh scornfulness of ethic, the aristocratic pride of the Greek against the barbarian , the inflexible hardness of the warrior education of Sparta, the poor consideration towards everything concerning discomposed sentimentality, witnesses the absolutism of such will. The tangibility, the solidity of the “material “represents the principle of the primordial agony: sculpture and architecture will be therefore the peculiar artistic expressions of Apollo.
Yes…now life has a purpose, a significance, a reason, a “logos”, but all this has a price to pay, – dualism -; day versus night, cosmos contrary to chaos, light opposite to darkness. Everything missing deepness, irrationality, without low nor purpose, doesn’t have a reason to be, because it can’t have it. Life presses against borders marked by Apollo and over these illusory-borders, burst unbeatable Dionysus, the God who dances, Dionysus with his vertigo , his elation, his wild nature, unfathomable with his wild, destructive, orgiastic nature. He represents life with its mysteries, thousands undecipherable aspects and its cyclic vertigo of birth and death.
So again would chaos, irrationality, agony ,darken man’s soul? And …all of the sudden a miracle happens, a miracle restoring as insuperable ,the Civilization of that handful of men entwined over a bunch of stony islands and wild shores overhanging the sea. The two instincts harmonize, tension appeases , the Doric harshness soothes in the Dionysian elation; irrationality and the destructive unchaining mitigate in the Apollonian ethic .From this Harmony ( – Rome will finalize it for centuries in the Empire’s greatness and majesty -) and over the thin tread of this equilibrium, the sound of the “ goat-chant “ rings again, starts the Tragedy’s catharsis and the figure of the tragic hero; tragic because sublime, sublime because totally, deeply human: the man who doesn’t ignore, who doesn’t want any more to ignore Fate, Emptiness ,but opposite to it, proclaims the consciousness of his nobility, his soul’s strength , the dignity of his pain. He declare “Yes” to life in all its aspects, totally, absolutely, divinely ……” e pur se qualcuno tra gli Dei/ mischianti tra lividi flutti/ saldo nel petto resta il mio cuore/ forte dei molti dolori”- Homer,Odyssey.
Regarding Prometheus , his myth is totally included in the categories of this tragic heroism , together with other and fundamental meanings ,which we will examine later. We want to underline now, like in Ulysses’ myth, the manifestation of another fundamental characteristic of occidental ’s man ; the need to search, the desire of adventure, the constant, impossible to satisfy, thirst of knowledge.
Who, beside an Artist, can make this way ,his own? Only the Artist ,novel Ulysses and Prometheus may adventure beyond Hercules’ columns of mediocrity , ignorance, egoism, ,exploring arcane and unknown lands, bringing back to humanity the hidden Fire of Gods.
Summarizing; magic and lively return to Nature, heroic tension sublimate in the harmony between Apollonius ‘s rationality and Dionysus’s elation; capacity to face the unknown , love for adventure. In those characteristics we recognize the principles for an artistic and cultural Renaissance in consonant with our Tradition.
Sacrificio a Pan
J. Hillman – Saggio su Pan.
F. Nietzsche – La nascita della Tragedia.
J. Evola – Cavalcare la tigre.
A. Breton – Manifesto del surrealismo.
Translated by Michela Mariotti.