Featured Post


In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Back in GATE OF THE GODS PART 4 I referenced the terms "Moira" and "Themis" as short-hand terms for the unconscious and conscious functions of the human mind, which to my knowledge had been coined by Jungian analyst Joesph L. Henderson. I hadn't read the Henderson book at the time I wrote the essay, and what I said about it depended on an excerpt from Richard Slotkin's REGENERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE.

However, now I have read the Henderson book, and it turns out that the author himself cites other authorities for the notion of a "Moira/Themis" opposition:

"Just as [F.M.] Cornford had shown that Moira, a sanctity older than the gods, was identical with the origin of social order, so Miss [Jane Ellen] Harrison pointed to the ensuing process of social evolution, where Themis represents the behavior dictated by social conscience... Above all, Themis was "Justice in the realm of Zeus," which checked the primitive law of sacrifice and atonement, symbolized in a Mother Goddess who suffered a yearly death and rebirth through her son."-- Henderson, THRESHOLDS OF INITIATION, PP. 10-11.

On one level, this contrast may remind one of the contrast raised by Cassirer in MYTH OF THE STATE, which I mentioned in ALTERING STATES. Cassirer contrasts Plato's views of the social state as a conflict between a "mythical" paradigm for governance (i.e., "Moira") and an "ethical" one (i.e., "Themis"). The context of Cassirer's contrast was to emphasize the choice Plato made in his vision of the ideal state, with Cassirer emphasizing how Plato chose the latter, as against superficial criticisms that he Plato was supposedly trying to use his "ideal forms" to promote some new quasi-religious authority.

A more important level, however, is that Henderson's takes his inspiration from two of the leading exponents of the "myth-ritual" school of the early 20th centuty: Francis Cornford and Jane Ellen Harrison. I've referred to this mythographic school back in AN OPEN QUEST PART 1, referencing in particular the way in which another scholar of that school, Gilbert Murray, provided Northrop Frye with some of his key literary terminology. Now it would seem that terms provided by two other myth-ritualists have also proven useful in expanding on my Fryean/Jungian literary schema. In GATE OF THE GODS I used the duality of Moira and Themis as umbrella-terms for both Jung's notion of conscious and unconcsious mental functions and for Frye's concept of "primary and secondary concerns:"

Since Henderson's "Moira" incarnates the "unconscious" part of the human mind, it doesn't seem a stretch to see it as encompassing both of Jung's irrational functions: sensation and intuition, while Themis, which Slotkin explicitly sees as "rational," encompasses both thinking and feeling. Ergo, for me at least, "Moira" also = "primary concerns" and "Themis"= "secondary concerns.

Again, the need for such polarizing terms remains important for literary criticism insofar as there remains a tendency for many critics to ignore the contributions of the unconscious/"primary concern" functions to art, in favor of those that seem to be conscious/"secondary concern" (and therefore ideological) functions. It's even more important in the criticism of the comics medium insofar as most critics of the medium are unable to think outside the ideological box.

Ideological critics, by their nature, must depend on the narrow reductionism of Marxist aesthetics or of so-called "cognitive science." These tools are not without proper use within the total sphere of literary criticism, but they are useful only in limited sociohistorical circumstances, and are useless for understanding what Jung called the constructive or amplificative abilities of the human mind.

The Henderson book, by the way, is not especially useful in this regard. THRESHOLDS is a competent but not overly ambitious expansion of Jung's ideas of ritual initiation, in which primitive religius rituals are compared to the concepts of Jungian individuation. REGENERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE and other Slotkin works are probably better sources than Henderson for understanding how constructive creativity manifests in literary and even subliterary works.

No comments: