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Under the Dominion of Light: an Ecocritical Mythography

Geoffrey Noel Berry

Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies Monash University



Table of Contents

Table of Contents .....................................................................................................ii STATEMENT ............................................................................................................iv SYNOPSIS .................................................................................................................v ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS .........................................................................................vi A NOTE ON STYLE ..................................................................................................vi Introduction ..............................................................................................................1
Light, duplicity and ethereality ................................................................................................. 1 Introducing the frames of reference............................................................................................. 1 Mythic systems, worldview, sacrifice, exchange......................................................................... 4 Ecocriticism and myth ................................................................................................................. 6 Ecocriticism and the internalisation of a dualised light/dark antagonism.................................... 8 Thesis aim, strategy and chapter structure; towards the redesign of western mythologos ...... 12 Ecocriticism and the politics of transcendence: a brief comparative epistemology .................. 16 Myth theorists and Methodology............................................................................................ 19 Definitions of terms and concerns ............................................................................................. 26 The mythopoeic logic of ritual................................................................................................... 30

1 Light and Power................................................................................................34

Moon-gods and sun-kings: transformations across political landscapes........................ 34 Nanna glowing radiance, glittering light, crown of the night ................................................. 34 The moon is the father of the sun: Nanna orders and runs out of time ................................ 47 The sun-god and military kingship in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Rome..................................... 51

2 Light and Truth .................................................................................................58

Greek Transformations: Ritual and Reason.......................................................................... 58 Introduction to the frames of reference...................................................................................... 58 Universalising the mythic polis, sanitising Tricksters ............................................................... 59 Ritual initiation, the Mystery Schools and mathematical harmony ........................................... 62 Presocratic flux seeking pure mind as pure light (and its interdependent opposite) in uncharted territory...................................................................................................................... 65 Platos Cave, the Light of Form, and the nature of the world.................................................... 72 Intelligibility, reason and the warrior state ................................................................................ 76

3 Light and Home ................................................................................................81

The Fall: Out of Empyrean Paradise and Onto the Dusty Threshing Floor.................... 81 Introduction to the frames of reference...................................................................................... 81 Historic influences: the human expulsion from Paradise follows patterns of cosmic battle and dragon-slaying ........................................................................................................................... 82 Scriptural evidence: Canonical rejection and the repressed threat to world order..................... 90 Between earth and heaven, animal and angel, body and spirit: lost and found ......................... 93 The New Jerusalem, the Heavenly City on earth....................................................................... 98 Cities of Light: politics, spirit, and The Divine Comedy .......................................................... 100 Conclusion ............................................................................................................................... 105


4 Light and Reason ........................................................................................... 107

Legitimising Oedipal Enlightenment: claiming solar reason on behalf of humanity 107 Introduction to the frames of reference ................................................................................... 107 Oedipal Enlightenment and Solar Reason: some self-assertive transactions .......................... 111 Oedipal Enlightenment: individuation, mastery, and the subjugation of the earth ................. 123 Oedipal Enlightenment and autochthony revisited.................................................................. 126

5 Light and Ritual .............................................................................................. 129

Romanticism and the mythopoeic logic of ritual .............................................................. 129 Introduction to the frames of reference ................................................................................... 129 Novalis, Orphic/shamanic mythopoeia, and Romantic syncretism ......................................... 132 Novalis darkness: endless regeneration and the underworld journey .................................... 133 The blurred light of Coleridges Ancient Mariner and ecocentric mythopoeia.................... 141 Mary Shelleys Frankenstein: the undying spirit of quest goes wrong ................................... 147 Conclusion............................................................................................................................... 151

6 Light and the Commodity .............................................................................. 155

The contemporary mythos of light, commodified transcendence, and incandescent cities burning bright with consumption ............................................................................. 155 Commodity fetish and capitalist consumption: towards a mythic analysis............................. 168 Sacrifice and Exchange: circularity, avoidance and embeddedness........................................ 173

In Conclusion ....................................................................................................... 176 Bibliography ......................................................................................................... 179



I declare that this thesis contains no material which has been accepted for the award of any other degree or diploma in any university, and that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously published or written by another person except when due reference is made in the text.

Name: Geoff Berry



Copyright Notice 1 Under the Copyright Act 1968, this thesis must be used only under the normal conditions of scholarly fair dealing. In particular no results or conclusions should be extracted from it, nor should it be copied or closely paraphrased in whole or in part without the written consent of the author. Proper written acknowledgement should be made for any assistance obtained from this thesis. Copyright Notice 2 I certify that I have made all reasonable efforts to secure copyright permissions for thirdparty content included in this thesis and have not knowingly added copyright content to my work without the owner's permission.


Light is mobilised as a symbol with positive value so ubiquitously that it can seem almost universally and timelessly Good. Yet the purposes to which lights widespread association with truth, justice and order is put reveal widespread abuse. This thesis investigates the extent to which the symbol of light in western traditions can be seen to stand for ecologically harmful ways of life and beliefs. Behind this history is the idea that light might enjoy a true home elsewhere, other than earth, and that therefore human loyalty to lights positive qualities does not necessitate appropriate fidelity to our home here. Yet a powerful paradox operates at the heart of this looking away, such that the contemporary western (and westernised) individual is enculturated into a habit of desacralised consumption. We assert transcendence over the earth even while we eat our way through it, that is to say, benefiting from corporeality while damaging the conditions upon which our lives depend. Paradoxically, while the globalising hegemony of materialistic consumption grounds us here on earth, it does so with a transcendental aim in mind, and this desire to master the earth reveals our inability to feel truly at home here. Thus light is construed, according to its contemporary deployment, to symbolise a yearned-for state of transcendence best recognised as an eternal feasting in the halls of immortality. This mythic quest is deeply ensconced within the psyche of not only the west but in many varieties of settlement civilisation. My investigation thus seeks to uncover moments of continued influence, in the institutionalisation and maintenance of this luminescent effulgence, across the ten millennia-long history of a shared mythic infrastructure. It concludes that lights symbolic value can be seen as having a damaging influence, in terms of human relations with the earth, to the extent that it holds out a hope of transcendence in an eternal elsewhere independent of material conditions here. It is my argument that capitalism and its commodity fetish maintain this vain hope. The eternal elsewhere is theorised to arise, in a particular form, with the growth in the relatively new way of organising human society, that of settlement civilisation. This way of life entails the rise of centralised political and military power, often on behalf of a solar god of universal might, an idea today extended into a global hegemony of capital and a materialised light of consumption. This thesis highlights many of the ways in which this anthropocentrism is manifest as a way of life. In the final analysis, however, the capacity for transformation encoded in western mythopoeia offers hope and this can be represented with new construals of the symbol of light.


Many people have helped me to bring this thesis to fruition and first amongst those needing to be thanked must be my wife, Jacqui. I have found all of the staff at the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies to be very generous with their time and expertise, but of course chief amongst them is my Principal Supervisor Associate Professor Kate Rigby. Special thanks must also go to my two Associate Supervisors Andrew Milner and Roland Boer, as well as administrative tyro Gail Ward and all the staff at the Matheson Library at Monash University. Finally I would like to thank my postgraduate colleagues in the Centre and beyond for their collective friendship and shared love of learning.

I have followed the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition, with the following choices made (all of which are available within the Style, according to http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org ! Australian spelling is always used (except in direct quotes whee the original reamins), in combination with the British option in regards to punctuation around quotations, using single quotation marks and retaining the original punctuation (so that, for instance, full stops or commas will often appear outside of quotation marks, as well as within them, depending on circumstance). I have left page numbers inside punctuation marks (such as commas) within sentences but left them outside at the end of sentences. So, for example, The author claims the opposite (45), but cannot defend his position. (78) Any italicised emphasis in quoted sources is original none is added. First citations from a text are always footnotes with full details. Subsequent quotations from the same source use a shortened reference (see Chicago Manual of Style, 11.75), which will be the authors name, or the shortened book title if there are multiple authors with the same surname or multiple works by the author, or an abbreviation in the case of some reference works. (CMS, 11.77) When a quotation or reference requires additional commentary and has already been used, it will be footnoted as a short form, usually as the authors surname and the main title of the work cited. (16.42, 16.52/53) When a second passage from the same source closely follows the first, with no intervening quotation from another source, an in-text reference is used parenthetically. 11.74 (but I have followed other recent users of the style to drop the use of ibid., just adding the page number in these cases) Journal articles from electronic resources may have no page numbers; likewise, line numbers for quoted poems are only given when applicable (they are not always supplied with translations of ancient texts, for example). Some Greek words, sych as mythos, logos, telos and techne, are not italicised due to their common use in the parlance of mythic analysis.

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Light, duplicity and ethereality
Introducing the frames of reference This thesis critically examines the purposes to which the symbolic power of light has been and is employed on behalf of certain ideological agendas. It pays particular attention to the ecophilosophical problematics involved in construals of light that hold the true home of such valuable human concepts as goodness, order, truth, and justice to reside at some distance from the earth. It focuses on themes in western mythic history that are deemed to have remained influential (in this ecological regard) in contemporary terms. As such it of necessity, but not exclusively, deals with the issue of the seeming distance between ideas of transcendence and immanence, while adopting a hermeneutic of suspicion (pace Ricouer and Foucault) towards any politically or economically inspired inscription that would adopt lights seemingly virtuous essence for its own purposes. The true nature of light, like the idea of divinity or pure consciousness it is often associated with, is beyond any naming or attachment of specifically human qualities; yet this is no reason to hold that its positive value need be held at a distance from our home on earth or our ways of life here. While lights ethereal yet all-pervasive nature makes it a perfect metaphorical vehicle for consciousness, its physicality means it can be measured and discussed in poetic or mundane language. As such, light consistently acts to negotiate between spheres of immanence (in the sense of the embodied experiences of human life) and the transcendence of bodily limits such as mortality. For these reasons I find light the perfect vehicle for discussion of the way a contemporary western myth of consumption acts to fulfil material and spiritual concerns in one; and, for reasons that will become apparent, I concurrently hold that such a mythic crystallisation is both ecologically damaging and ultimately self-deceptive. My critical analysis in regards to the potentially duplicitous quality of light as a vehicle of ideological currency proceeds by questioning the way light is characterised as an icon of truth constructed according to particular historical circumstances. Our intuitive veneration of light rests on firm ground because we are drawn towards it biologically, for its capacity to inspire growth and allow vision, and socially, for its warmth (relative to the darkness that is its absence) and calendrical functions. Lights place at or near the heart of the western mythic complex (defined below under Methodology) is assured. Yet the form of this veneration is entirely coloured by environmental and historical contexts intimately interconnected with a collectives way of life. I identify, as the single feature bearing the greatest influence on contemporary global societies and the ecological crisis they share, the history of settlement civilisation. The exponentially ever-increasing factor of urbanisation drives our way of life and this polis-centrism must be critically analysed for the way it currently conceives of light: according to which influences, and towards what ends. This factor concerns the very basis of civilisation itself, the organisation of human populations into permanent colonies with all of the phenomena concomitant with such a lifestyle: surplus yields, the walled compounds that defend it, extensive division of labour, regulated flows of fuels and traffic, centralised authority (in terms of force of law and military power), priestly castes and shopping malls. City living and its attendant mythemes so successfully dominates the planet and our urbanised consciousnesses that it fulfils Barthess dictum by

triumphing in its capacity to convince its constituents that it communicates not a historically contingent way of life but reality (or nature) itself. 1 This thesis aims to question many of the factors accepted as time-honoured facets of this mythic complex that, in the context of contemporary ecological concerns, must be considered in need of transformation according to the ultimate aegis of adaptation. The thesis thus responds to the following research question: How are the way we symbolically imagine light and the way we treat the earth in material terms related? This question is asked in accordance with the contemporary threat of ecological crisis, but will be answered with reference to the mythic and symbolic histories attending the material organisation of settlement societies built on the profits of evolving agricultural, pastoral, industrial and information technologies. The realms symbolised by association with light and darkness have often tended across this history toward a vertical hierarchy that taints elements of the earth as a realm of lesser goodness against an imagined abstract purity. It will be a central tenet of this thesis that this polarised duality cannot be divorced from the settlement technologies that work on the earth as if from some distance and that this dualising force is in turn exacerbated by an urban consciousness inspired by the idea that it could transcend the material dictates of the earth even whilst remaining in the body. Analysis of the historical rise of the city reveals that such an intellectual tendency grows in tandem with the development of agricultural, and later industrial and informational, technologies. That urbanisation is not the sole crucible for this dualising tendency can be seen, however, from the history of Zoroastrianism, where perhaps the strongest polarity between light and dark that has been made owes for its rise a background of technological development (during the Bronze Age) against which it reacts. 2 From the point of view of those simple Zoroastrian pastoralists who suffered the exploits of marauding horsemen returning to the inner Asian steppes from mercenary service, the superior weapons of Bronze Age technology the warriors utilised represented an unwelcome advantage. The common denominator between Zoroastrian and technocratic versions of lights ascendancy over the darkness of the enemy or of the earth is faith in the rightness of this trope and whatever lifestyle it represents. The inspiration behind this thesis our modern world and its human domination over the earth continues to show faith in this ancient structurating equation, which might take succinct shape for us in the formula: cultural light over the relative darkness of the earth (as the nonhuman material world of nature). This ascent has been configured, on behalf of historically particular ideological aims, in certain influential moments of western metaphysics. The general rule of post-agrarian human ascent over the limits of corporeality can be seen constructed to profit the race as a whole and the ideologically justified privileges of an elite minority in particular. As a work of ecocriticism, this thesis takes as its specific area of concern the environmental degradation that accompanies the western system of social organisation by examining the social and psychological factors that are exploited in order to authorise consumerist political and economic regimes. Subsidiary problematics requiring attention in order for this investigation to render useful conclusions include discussion of the dividing line between human culture and the nonhuman world, as well as appreciation of the
1 2

Roland Barthes, Mythologies (London: Jonathan Cape, 1974), 14243. Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge, 2001), xv. The Old Avestan texts upon which Zoroastrian history relies for its earliest written records give glimpses of the kinds of turbulent times as are conducive to the birth of salvation faiths. The texts are from around 1200 BCE, a few hundred years after the dates most recently attributed to Zoroasters orally recorded lifetime.

epistemological and material benefits gained by acceptance of the symbolic orders in question. Meanwhile, if the aim is transformation rather than simply criticism, discernment must be shown in terms of the capacity for the contemporary urban logos (characterised by its version of well-reasoned argumentation) and its mythos (or the underpinning cosmological assumptions that support such ideas) to support an emergent ethos of ecocentrism. This transformation would be aligned towards countering many of the damaging habits accepted by settlement civilisations built upon and organised around a kind of anthropocentrism that places human culture at a dangerous distance from the complex ecological intricacies of the earth. 3 Attention to these (not entirely knowable) laws could enable the human race to maintain some kind of homeostasis capable of allowing our species to flourish without threatening such conditions (ironising conventional practices regarding self-interest). The conclusion will therefore take into account the extent to which the way we construe the symbol of light holds us apart from the cycles of death and regeneration of which we are an inevitable organic part. It will be theorised that the contemporary western logos, disconnected from the cycles of nature in its urbanisation, seeks to overcome death with an ephemeral orgy of consumption in an effulgent and wellappointed luminosity. The extent to which the contemporary west is capable of accepting modification, according to its considerable transformational potential, would involve adaptation of the very ground rules of its ontological and epistemological assumptions; of the kinship systems it sees itself involved in (especially in regards to the wide divergence between settlement taxonomies and kinship systems that regard other life forms as having their own self-defining integrities independent of human definitions); and of the way regeneration (of ourselves, of the conditions in which we may flourish, and of other life on the planet) can more holistically be promoted. A specific element of this investigation tracks the evolution of the western technological proficiency (as paradigmatic of such proficiency in settlement civilisations in general) to transform the environment as a part of a discourse that privileges the progressive development of spiritual and material dominion over the material world. Technology will be seen as an integral aspect of this order of light (even as a gift from abstract sky gods), which today, in materialising an ever-increasing array of consumables, helps to initiate and institutionalise a relatively loyal populace of labourers, consumers, and believers. Technological development as it pertains to the transformation of nature will not be considered of itself unnatural but will be examined for the extent to which it damages the health of the earths biosphere. Recent developments in our awareness of an ecological crisis reveal the shortcomings of an attitude whereby a dominion of light, which employs neverending technological development as the benefit for which we are required to make sacrifice, treats matter as an inert property that is entirely malleable to its will. The way matter has been traditionally defined in the west will be shown to have suffered from the earths having been excluded from the light of knowledge, spirit, ascendancy and associated with a darkness comparatively dumb and profane, a place of exile, the slave to our mastery, or simply frustrating in terms of our ideations. The inherited wisdom of this binary code, it will be suggested, is undergoing transformation with recognition of the degree of human responsibility for the state of the habitable world. This sense of responsibility indicates the need for a shift away from an attitude of domination over the
I choose (where appropriate) the ecocentric word earth to avoid the anthropocentric bias of environment, a word that formerly assumed that we humans are at the center of a system of nature. Michel Serres, The Natural Contract, trans. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998), 33.

planet and toward an attitude more accurately reflective of our place within it: interrelated with all other forms of life, ultimately dependent on the earth for our continued survival (and preferably flourishing and even enlightenment), yet uniquely capable of utilising our culturally evolved powers to destroy or support it. Mythic systems, worldview, sacrifice, exchange I treat myth first as cosmogony, under the three main functions it most fundamentally fulfils. Creation myth, in which a world order originates (including heroic or godly acts of victory over chaos); kinship myth, in which the individuated entities emerging in any particular world order are related; and regeneration myth, according to which sacrifices and exchanges are delegated to ensure continuing abundance and fertility. A world order is maintained, then, according to the capacities for ongoing stability written into its combined cosmogonies, and these specificities evolve or are adapted according to the exigencies of circumstance. The mythic lingua franca accompanying a society devoted to endless development will accordingly be adapted along with the terms of their commercial and symbolic exchange systems; such a cultures rational order, in this context, is the instrumental currency according to which their myth is materialised. Thus mythos and logos operate according to a circular logic wherein material patterns are authorised by the transcendental or ahistorical realm (for example God grants us dominion along with free will), which in turn is transformed according to the direction of developments (whereby notions of the transcendental authority are evolved to suit material practices). Along the course of this thesis it will be shown that such circularities continue to inhabit the groundwork of todays western and globalising mythos, albeit in a manner vastly transformed from its traditionally religious framework. 4 This symbolic cycle is perpetuated in the way that world order is maintained, by cyclic repetition, because the way that the world is ordered is a matter of continuous upkeep (and, when necessary, innovation). Mythic symbology enables this capacity to maintain stable yet adaptable patterns across time and circumstance. Settlement myth differentiates itself and its constituents from the cycles and tendencies of the nonhuman, organic world in order to appropriate, on behalf of human techne, the abundance and fecundity of the earth. Pantheistic deities that formerly represented powers of nature (amongst other things) are emptied of significance or demonised, while their magical powers are recognised in distant sky-gods that can be construed so as to authorise the forms of abstract law that accompany ideological domination of the earth. My research, then, in part analyses the way a particular structure of domination the idea that culture can have replaced nature as the ground of plenty was initiated and continues to be encoded in contemporary discourse. This is the line of questioning that led the investigation to its beginning in Mesopotamia, where the cities that would so strongly influence the ongoing development of what would later become western civilisation first arose. 5 The next chapter
This is no simple secularisation thesis (see discussion below in Chapter Four, 122); I pinpoint an intrinsic habit in settled humanity to accord with lights mystical ascension over the world and this tendency can be construed in religious/spiritual or secular/materialistic terms. 5 It was with some disappointment that I could not find space to begin this study with ancient astronomical observations as I had originally planned. Such a strategy would help illuminate a fascinating past, grounding mythic history in the patient tracking of night-sky patterns and the poetic associations drawn from them.

discusses the Greek philosophical tradition, commonly felt to be the place wherein the seemingly irrational world of primitive mythos is overhauled by a logos more strategically aligned with urbane reason. I then consider certain aspects of Biblical history, the religious crucible within which a uniquely European psyche was forged, especially in the medieval passage between classical and modern times (broadly understood). This chapter reveals that there is an extent to which the mythic theme of the Fall comes to emblematise the groundwork upon which western settlement civilisation mythology is constructed: as exile from the light of God to this relatively darkened earth of hardship. Enlightenment philosophy is treated as initiating a process according to which the light of reason is slowly but surely wrested from the hands of God and into the hands of the European intellect. The human sense of responsibility for the earth that accompanies this shift, however, must be seen in association with the mechanisations of the Industrial Revolution of which it is approximately contemporary. If for Fredric Jameson postmodernism represents the cultural logic of late capitalism, then, Enlightenment philosophy surely cannot be considered separately from the springs that set into motion the truly damaging forces of production unique to the modern mechanical age. In the artistic movement known as Romanticism, this shading is revisioned with an eye towards journeying into the darkness of the psyche in order to refresh the way light, and the earth, are conceptualised. Finally, contemporary materialistic habits of consumption will be considered for the way similar threads and conflicts continue to appear for instance, between rationalising human power over the earth and seeking mythic identification with it in its own particular format. The symbol of light is analysed across each of these histories in order to better understand the way it authorises the material benefits and sacrifices justified by acceptance of its order. The ways we have traditionally understood light and matter to function in both symbolic and physical terms have been intimately intertwined with our assumptions about the ultimate nature of both. Matter can be disparaged as a lesser state of being while light is understood to originate, and find its true home, in what I term an eternal elsewhere such as supports (and is supported by) the kinds of transcendentally-focused belief systems that underpin the western mythic framework. When the two seemingly separate states of light and matter are seen to be interdependent, however, no sharp division between the spirit of light and the comparatively mundane physical world can be sustained. In just such a manner the associated idea, that some kind of disembodied reason may operate free of our biological and environmental constraints, is recognised as being implicit in this system of dualising polarity. Ecophilosophically speaking, however, the way we identify light and its conventional range of symbolic associations cannot be divorced from the way we define the material world. In many moments of its ongoing history, the symbolic value of light has indeed been understood as intertwined, in an immanent sense, with the physical world. Other traditional ideations, however, that concern the relatively un-illumined nature of matter, have attained greater cultural currency because they bolster an ideological paradigm closely associated with the development of productive forces and concurrently increased profit margins. As such the kinds of critical schools committed to the dismantling of such grand narratives that subjugate the nonhuman world of nature (along with related oppressions of class, gender and race) remain emergent, to use Raymond Williamss phrase, in comparison to the dominant ideologies that are often reliant upon residual ontological and epistemological frameworks. 6 These emergent developments in interpretation require a continuing shift away from the strong anthropocentric position (the

Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), see esp. chap. 8, Dominant, Residual, and Emergent.

domination, or even management, of nature) that remains more powerfully influential than the ecological model many ecophilosophers (as well as some scientific thinkers, activists and mystics, amongst others) propose as an alternative.7 Ecocriticism and myth Ecocriticism is an emerging field and over the past decade there have been some important new developments in Ancient Classical and Near Eastern, Biblical, and Enlightenment and Romanticism studies. Ecocritical scholars are referenced throughout this thesis for their new interpretations of scriptural, mythic and literary texts, as well as mass media, in order to examine what they reveal about the way the earth is considered and treated in particular circumstances. This emerging framework of critical analysis often treats the same textual traditions that I have chosen, offering useful commentaries both in accord and at variance with mine. The texts I treat will either be explicitly mythic in character, or will have as their subject the kinds of ontological and epistemological, kinship and/or regenerational concerns that can be regarded as the domain of myth. The recognition that written records represent only relatively recent historical sources, from one side of a Neolithic slope dividing westerners from their deeper pre-agricultural history, will be kept in mind. 8 The vastly longer lineages of oral tradition that accompanied tens of thousands of years of human cultures retain influence within the written record as the fount out of which thematic and iconic patterns and symbols have long been tried and tested for their story-telling efficacy. The quest for stable meanings need not necessitate the freezing of mythic symbol often associated with canonical written records. Kane utilises the poetic image of frozen classical statues to symbolise the hardening of mythic forms, in an age of logos, when he charts the shift from oral to written mythic records. 9 Along the process by which myth was wrenched, in settlement civilisations, from its ancient home in oral, improvisational storytelling and domesticated into the relatively hardened forms of written versions, it becomes incapacitated in terms of its original function to improvise appropriate visions of a world order in local, even personalised, forms. Kane is not so much intimating a narrative of Fall
Laurence Coupe cites Andrew Dobson, Green Political Thought (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), who positions weak anthropocentrism as a commitment to a rational political programme dedicated to the welfare of the planet without strong anthropocentrisms instrumental view of the earth or the absolutism of deep ecology. Laurence Coupe, Glossary, The Green Studies Reader: From Romanticism to Ecocriticism, ed. Laurence Coupe (London: Routledge, 2000), 303. Also see Wendy Lynne Lee, Environmental Pragmatism Revisited: HumanCenteredness, Language, and the Future of Aesthetic Experience, Environmental Philosophy 5, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 922. Lee draws a useful distinction between strong anthropocentrism (with its potential for excess [13]) and weak anthropocentrism (which can tend towards vague concepts of intrinsic value free of human interests [12]). It builds on Bryan Nortons pragmatic distinctions, concluding that an environmentalism without illusions requires some human-centeredness if the future is to offer a light we can see. (21) 8 Sean Kane, Wisdom of the Mythtellers (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 1994), 18. Kane reminds us to remain aware that many conventional ideas of myth speak too readily to our own experience as the inheritors of the agricultural revolution. He compares agrarian/producer myths and economies with the oral traditions more often found in nomadic/forager economies. 9 Kane, Mythtellers, 45. Kane explicitly associates this decadent phase of Greek myth with the frozen statues familiar from the classical eras that clutter the landscape both literally and figuratively.

into civilisation, as contextualising the way we consider myth from an urbanised perspective. This petrifying process reflects the power of the city and all that an urban environment involves: printed books, education, industry, the sense of a significant future, alienation. (Kane, 233) Such ideas reiterate the recognition of Barthes that mythic symbol set in the concrete of written word or illustrative image freezes in what he calls a moment of arrest the message it has been formulated to commend has paralysed the signifier of the rest of its life. (Barthes, 125) The desire to naturalise what is actually a matter of historical creativity a worldview can be motivated, as it is on behalf of the sales pitch of contemporary capitalism, to empty creativity of its history and parade instead as its truth. The ideological process has the task of giving an historical intention a natural justification, and making contingency appear eternal. (Barthes, 142) The ongoing, generally unheralded maintenance work that goes into the perpetuation of the contemporary mythos of materialistic consumption, however, in fact reveals the complexities of its inevitably variegated symbols. Seeming conflicts within such a system (the earth defined as inert or animate, in terms of instrumental or kinship values) also reveal oppositional stances recorded from different traditions gathered together under one rubric or collective mythology. The vast history of oral myth reveals localised and improvisational traits that are not accurately recordable in traditional written records, and that can concurrently suffer from a kind of monological reductionism. One of the most valuable outcomes of the postmodern turn against grand (mono-logocentric) narrative is the recognition of plurality that arises out of the wake of the supposed sovereign power of the transcendental signifier. In response, the contestability of lights symbolic renderings will reveal the strength and flexibility always found in long-serving mythic icons or themes: there is something stable in its capacity to draw us towards some element of goodness in the human conceptual framework, yet something equally elusive in its Protean capacity to escape all limit of definition or interpretation. Perhaps this capacity to be concurrently here and beyond is the very same thing we seek in any symbol of the divine or sacred immanent and functional on the one hand yet transcendent of any specific utility on the other. This capacity thereby evokes both presence and absence and could also be related to the way we consciously attempt to venerate life while being aware that death is our ultimate (and therefore ever-present) fate. This relation towards mortality brings to mind the archetypal figure of the ever-living (or shining), ever-dying (or eclipsed) god-king. The pervasive nature of such concerns as mortality, and the way our histories of metaphor construction or concept formulation respond to such immediacies, will be explicated in the Methodology chapter to follow, with reference to Hans Blumenbergs theory regarding the absolutism of reality. The symbolic form of the life/death god-king can represent the way myth characterises world order in the terms of an ongoing yet adaptable system of foundational import. The idea that settlement civilisations logocentrism renders it somehow free of a mythic aspect to human thought seems to me incomplete (and even selfdeceptive). Rather my analysis treats the history of ontological assumption employed on behalf of western settlement civilisation as an ongoing attempt to materialise progressive improvements in human living conditions alongside the profitability of its pursuits in regards to agricultural, industrial, and informational technologies. Involved in this evolution of settlement technologies is the understandable teleology of heaven on earth that builds upon surplus yields and ordered streets. This evolution will be seen to develop into the idea that materialistic consumption can facilitate a kind of embodied transcendence that is not beholden to a realm of the sacred beyond. The ethereal nature of satisfaction gained through such a method, however, and the way it only fuels the appetite that inspired it in a vicious

cycle, is discussed in the final chapter on contemporary worship of light. As such the process by which the earth is desacralised across the history of settlement civilisations must also be considered, to the extent that changes in the symbolism of light encode such a process. Meanwhile, the very fact that we do not generally consider ourselves to inhabit a mythic universe attests to the success of our mythology, which finds its raison detre in this very act of seeming convincing. If it did not succeed in encouraging in us an idea that it represented a true picture of reality, it could hardly deserve the nomenclature mythology (the circular logic employed here only serving to cement this totalising aspect of the term). The legacy of the conventional meaning of the word myth as falsity, on these terms, seems to me a case of looking from the outside in at other worldviews, most of which can seem as irrational to us as ours can to them. Myth in this sense means not the most fallacious and illogical tale but the deepest, often most hidden, truth. Although Giambattista Vico, with the publication of New Science (1725), may be said to have resuscitated the idea that myth could be understood as inherently meaningful in terms of a people and their logos (even ours), 10 it is one of the structuralist assumptions underpinning Claude Lvi-Strausss method that introduces the possibility that myth represents a deep and rich insight into human culture to our modern world. Lvi-Strausss avowed aim is to show not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in mens minds without their being aware of the fact. 11 This aspect of structuralist critique remains of inestimable value to the field of ecophilosophy, as it reflects the ancient unity of mind and body, beyond the divorce between the intelligible and the sensible declared by an outmoded empiricism and mechanism. 12 Structuralism, Lvi-Strauss continues, teaches us better to love and respect nature and the living beings who people it as all life not only sustains us but is the source of our first and even then profound speculations. (The Environment of Myth, 134) Ecocriticism and the internalisation of a dualised light/dark antagonism While mystical tendencies help philosophers to wax lyrical on lights super-numinous yet untouchably immanent properties, it is the political purposes to which this symbol is put that are the focus of this investigation. The reason for this overtly political bias is derived from the methodological agenda I employ; ecologically speaking, it is the way societies treat the earth as large-scale collectives with enormous powers of production (and thus destruction) that holds the most important meaning. The fact that Augustine recognises some of the finest subtleties known to homo religioso in terms of the symbol of light does not change the fact that he is concurrently an influential figure in the medieval rendering of nature as a home of ignoble darkness; likewise Platos exquisite renderings of the khora in the Timaeus does not mean he is also innocent of a propensity against corporeality in his Cave myth. Although these justly famous thinkers are often poorly read and applied by simplistic ideologues more interested in political and economic power than the finer realms of cosmological speculation, they are also implicit in a general tendency within settlement
Joseph Mali, Mythistory: The Making of a Modern Historiography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 3031. Vico initiates the mythic turn by directing historians to uncover the foundations of sciences and nations in the interpretation of mythology and fables. 11 Claude Lvi-Strauss. The Raw and the Cooked, trans. John Weightman and Doreen Weightman (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 18. 12 Claude Lvi-Strauss, The Environment of Myth, in Green Studies Reader, 134.

civilisation to imagine humanity free of natures dictates at a fundamental level. It seems symptomatic, according to this analysis, of city-living to assume a hubristic anthropocentrism that conflates a drive towards transcendence with a dreaming of escape from the one limit underwritten in the very fact of our existence the body of life, the materiality of the earth, the web of nature within which our life is but a mote in the eye of eternity. The particularity intertwined with the urbanised psyche that turns it, if not against nature, at least away from our ultimate dependence upon it, must therefore be treated in the context of its material conditions as well as its symbolic history. Settlement civilisations current composition must also be reconsidered in light of both these factors and the compelling situation it finds itself in, as the pressure of ecological crisis forces adaptational measures that may otherwise seem unbearably abrupt. The discourse accorded foundational authority in terms of the ontological and epistemological concerns of settlement civilisation is inscribed in dualistic terms, as ecophilosopher Val Plumwood demonstrated in Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. 13 The binary code employed on behalf of the dominant partner in this case, human culture in settlement cities in general and the male elite with most to profit especially posits the intellectual light of mind over the ignorant darkness of mute matter, structuring an otherwise seemingly chaotic force. This duality cannot be considered apart from the urban environment in which it arises, its disparagement (or unreflective utilisation) of the nonurban natural world intimately intertwined with its technologically-inspired dominion over it. The mythic telos of technological development therefore usurps the traditional laws of the organic world, by stressing an order according to which culture provides the worldview, system of relations, and abundance that have otherwise been provided by the earth. The sexual cycles of regeneration witnessed in (other) animal life, for instance, are replaced with synthetic methods of propagation, just as the generous Spirit Animals of the Palaeolithic hunt are replaced with the dumb beasts of domesticated stock that can be turned to profit while they are kept under human control. Within the mental framework of settlement, it is our techne that provides, transforming the inert properties of the physical world into items appropriate for human consumption, according to a mindset that achieves abstract managerial dominion. It is in this sense that Joseph Campbell points out the (comparatively desacralised) mythic aspects of purchasing meat in plastic from the supermarket fridge as a transformation of the traditional hunt. 14 Likewise Plumwood argues that western culture has treated the human/nature relation as a dualism and that this explains many of the problematic features of the wests treatment of nature which underlie the environmental crisis, especially the western construction of human identity as outside nature. (Feminism and Mastery, 2) As Plumwood indicates, dominant and ancient traditions connecting men with culture and women with nature are also overlain by some more recent and conflicting ones wherein women and nature are backgrounded by polarisation: What is involved in the backgrounding of nature is the denial of dependence on biospheric processes, and a view of humans as apart, outside of nature, which is treated as a limitless provider without needs of its own. (Feminism and Mastery, 2021) Louise Westling also underscores the danger of simplistically gendering nature and culture in The Green Breast of the New World. 15 Myths tell this story as a divine (assumed, unwritten) sanction for our way of life, while it is

13 14

Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993). Joseph Campbell, Transformations of Myth Through Time (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 10. 15 Louise H. Westling, The Green Breast of the New World: Landscape, Gender, and American Fiction (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996).


translated for everyday utility into the logos of rationalisations with a similar underpinning hierarchical pattern of light ascending over a negatively loaded darkness. This discourse is materialised for human consumption in transmuted forms and rituals of worship, sacrifice and exchange, and a willingness to allow a priestly/scientific caste to dictate terms of religious/materialist devotion. Although the terms and conditions of the system can change radically, there is still a sense whereby individuals are initiated into a methodical world order operating along these endemic guidelines. Such socialising procedures are outlined, for instance, by Foucault when he discusses the way modern individuals are carefully fabricated within a certain social order thanks to internalisation during the process of socialisation, an idea reflective of Freuds concept of the superego (or moral authority previously inculcated by the Church).16 The process by which the correlative relations of power and knowledge are recognised to operate in this way train the body, in modern terms, into certain mechanical attitudes. (Foucault, 155) Reality is produced with domains of objects and rituals of truth, and I would argue that these material domains perpetuate our understanding of power. (194) Foucaults opinion that contemporary politics is a continuation of the military model as a fundamental means of preventing civil disorder (168) can be revealed to be an idea with a long history, if comparisons with Kramers analysis of the first flourishing of permanent kings in Mesopotamian city-states at perpetual war is anything to go by (see Chapter 1). It is along such lines that I see the western mythic discourse of settlement civilisation consistently reflecting its function to initiate cosmological order and organise social structures, subjects, and relationships within a framework that dominates the earth, just as a corporate elite (religious or materialistically managerial) holds ideological sway over populations. Treating the logos of urbanity as the rationalisation of the cosmological assumptions built into its own, hidden mythos, allows us to better comprehend the ideologically informed framework that underscores the way we think as its inheritors. It also makes more conceivable the mythopoeic project with which we may guide the possible reconfiguration of this discourse according to contemporary ecological concerns. Much myth theory in the twentieth century operated on the assumption that Greek logos successfully separated itself from traditional mythos in a way that allowed techne free reign to dominate the world (on our behalf). While Heidegger is often chosen to represent this idea in ecophenomenological terms, I have chosen to concentrate my methodological praxis on Hans Blumenberg for the way he finds mythos and logos implicated in each other, as well as for the way the transformational aspect of myth is retained (see Methodology). Another critique maintaining myths ubiquity regardless of the material conditions or materialistic biases of any human collective is contained in Adorno and Horkheimers Dialectic of Enlightenment. These critical theorists went a long way toward showing how our fallen nature could not be separated from the development of techniques whereby we position ourselves in relation to capacities for domination: of the earth, of each other, of part of ourselves. 17 In its Hegelian willingness to totalise the evolution of humanity into a teleologically conceived reconciliation of matter and spirit, Enlightenment thinking itself reverted to a fundamental mythic theme: as such, myth is already enlightenment, and
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Allen Lane, 1977), 217. 17 Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), xiv. And: The fallen nature of modern man cannot be separated from social progress. What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men. (4)


enlightenment reverts to mythology. (Dialectic, xvi) Sure enough, material and symbolic worlds are not easily divorced, even on behalf of a supposedly eternal transcendence of immaterial Spirit; and their intertwined nature reveals as much fetid underbelly as overarching magnificence in the great urban projects of the modern world. While the chthonic gods of the original inhabitants are banished to the hell to which, according to the sun and light religion of Indra and Zeus, the earth is transformed, the universality of ideas as developed by discursive logic, domination in the conceptual sphere, is raised up on the basis of actual domination. (14) Mary Mellor describes this tendency as parasitical transcendence, following Martin OConnors Marxist critique of capitalism, explaining that a minority of the human race is able to live as if it were not embodied or embedded, as if it had no limits, because those limits are borne by others, including the earth itself. 18 All are therefore connected beneath an ideology of ascent whose hierarchical relationships require confrontation. For her ecological feminism, then, the rejection of disembodied transcendence for an immanence that includes the suffering of limits is a political choice in respect of this situation, which takes responsibility for the social and ecological consequences of bodily existence. (Mellor, 190) The Fall of humanity and the ascent of its corporate elite (and privileged consumers) are thus inextricably linked by the dominant ideological paradigm authorising settlement civilisations way of life. Lance Newman likewise reminds us that our social order is shaped by the collective application of labour to nature controlled by a tiny minority. 19 Contemporary ideology operates flexibly to naturalize ecosocial conditions established by capitalism and the abstraction called anthropocentric society threatening innocent nature maintains the idea that those who have presided over the destruction of our world do not as a ruling class, exist. (Newman, 1213) This obfuscation is perpetrated on behalf of a totalising process well known to myth, an integrated process of material and cultural production that privileges neither. (15) Culture is both constituted by and constitutes the material social process, as ideas are determined, shaped, by the material social process in much the same way that the forms of life in an ecosystem are determined by its inorganic base. (15) As mentioned, Williams explicates this format as the dominant, residual, and emergent states of cultural forms. This kind of epochal analysis suits myth theory in its capacity to recognise dominant and definitive lineaments of a historical period as well as allowing for internally comparative differentiation. (Williams, Marxism and Literature, 121) For contemporary western (globalising) culture, I would class faith in the efficacy of materialistic consumption to fulfil the human quest as dominant, other-worldly religion as residual and mainstream ecophilosophical activism as emergent (wherein new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationships are continually being created). (123) The capacity of the dominant to incorporate emergent strains of culture (1247), so often invidious to artists, would be a positive in these terms; yet the ability of the dominant to effectively seize the ruling definition of the social (125) can still be a poison to be resisted. I am thinking here of the way corporate marketing directives can coopt a word like sustainable in order to convince stakeholders that business as usual should not be subject to change but painted over in a new shade of green: Elements of emergence may indeed be incorporated, but just as often the incorporated forms are merely facsimiles of the genuinely emergent cultural practice. (126) For Williams this is not just a matter of

18 19

Mary Mellor, Feminism and Ecology (Cambridge: Polity, 1997), 164. Lance Newman, Marxism and Ecocriticism, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 9, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 1213.

12 class struggle but emergent structures of feeling also. 20 When formally held and systematic beliefs are challenged by meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt (132) we witness potential solutions that can become structured formulations in time. (13334) Myth both underpins and (as mythopoeia) can transform material life (and, as we shall see with Bruce Lincolns discussion below of the meanings of mythos and logos, these transformations can be abrupt and definitive). Blumenberg claims, in a similar vein, that myth should not be seen as distinct from logocentric thinking, but as a high carat work of logos with an obscured rationalising function: The boundary line between myth and logos is imaginary and does not obviate the need to inquire about the logos of myth in the process of working free of the absolutism of reality, he writes. 21 Furthermore, he states, philosophers must be clear that the antithesis between myth and reason is a late and a poor invention, because it foregoes seeing the function of myth, in the overcoming of that archaic unfamiliarity of the world, as itself a rational function, however due for expiration its means may seem after the event. (Work, 48) In terms of western settlement civilisation, the symbolic ascent of light justifies, authorises, and sanctions a satisfyingly reasonable and profitable model of the world and a generalised duality of mind over matter within which resides a specific dominance for members of a political and economic elite. The tendency to associate light with knowledge seems perfectly reasonable; yet the way this relationship is construed in the western tradition, as well as the associated disposition to symbolically load the state of darkness with malevolence, culturally sanctions dissatisfaction with the earth. That this is not a universal attitude is proven by Australian Aboriginal conceptions that do not dualise light against darkness, or mind against the body of the earth (see below, 1718). Ultimately, then, the very idea of any kind of dualistic antagonism between states of light and darkness (and thereby life and death, order and chaos, truth and perfidy) can be interrogated for the ecologically damaging uses they are assumed or interpreted to support. Thesis aim, strategy and chapter structure; towards the redesign of western mythologos My aim is ecophilosophical, beginning with investigation into the way light has been construed as a symbol across the trajectory of western history, to the extent that deployment of its symbolic force is deleterious to the ongoing health of the earth. The theoretical frameworks of myth employed in this investigation are then applied to contemporary culture, the main driving force and web of relations I characterise and define in terms of materialistic (and capitalistic) consumption. By pointing out that this materialistic consumption is associated with the logos of the west and that this logos is built upon innumerable associations with the symbolic value of light, I direct the readers attention to the living fact of a western mythologos or mythology. In undertaking this project, I aim to investigate the way that symbols of light (and its attendant darkness) have often operated to encode the consideration, within settlement ethos, of the natural, physical, or material world as inferior to the cultural, symbolic, abstract and ideal realm. I will also seek to guide the readers awareness to a development of mythic thinking that does not dispense with mythos on behalf of logos, but materialises the mythic imagination in ways more suitable to a
Williams, Marxism and Literature, see esp. chap. 9, Structures of Feeling. Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth, trans. Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 12.
21 20


contemporary understanding of the way symbolic orders can influence material practices. This attempt is inspired by the status of myth as a phenomenon capable of both obfuscation and transformation, operating to detain public awareness in a worldview that is ultimately self-defeating but profitable (especially to an elite), yet even so, by dint of its capacity to transcend specific readings or circumstance, ready to serve emergent ends according to a liberatory dialectic (in this case on behalf of a flourishing earth). The strategy according to which I organise the thesis aims to outline my response to its challenge by discussing some of the most pertinent definitions granted the symbol of light in terms of its ecophilosophical import. I do this across a series of chapters designed to treat certain moments in lights symbolic journey, including the context of transformations in its supposed meaning as well as case studies of specific moments in its construal. The themes I trace are power (Mesopotamia to Rome), truth (Greek mythos to logos), home (the Christian Fall), reason (Enlightenment/Oedipal rationalisations), ritual (Romantic/Orphic responses) and materialism (contemporary commodity fetish). I attempt, within its limits, to give the thesis both breadth and depth by offering insight into the variety and complexity of the way the symbol of light has been construed across time and place. The first chapter, on political power, takes as its starting point the existence, in the great city-state of Ur in ancient Sumer around 2000 BCE, of a masculine moon-god named Nanna (for the later Akkadians, Sin or Suen). A case study of this tutelary deity reveals many of the aspects with which the symbol of light attracts positive value, yet it concurrently represents an idea of the divine that is alien to western history henceforth. Not only is the moon here conceived of as masculine, it acts in its role as god of the city to reveal its celestial authority in waxing and waning cycles, something increasingly marginalised in the state of virtually permanent military alert actualised in Mesopotamia, and settlement civilisation generally, thereafter. Following this case study, the transformation of divine political power to almost exclusively a matter of solar symbology universal, dualistically antagonistic to an everchanging yet everconstant darkness against which it stands is discussed in terms of the Roman proclivity for sun-cults of masculine order, military force, and imperial dominion. This chapter ends with the insinuation that such a mentality continues to wield a powerful influence within contemporary political and psychological realities, at great ecological cost, on behalf of the dominant mode of social organisation in technoscientifically progressive urban societies. The second chapter, on truth, considers transformations in Greek mythic records, including discussion of the Hellenes proclivity for Olympian gods and culture heroes of light victorious over chthonic monsters of darkness. This is discussed in terms of a narrative justifying the increasing instantiation of a dominant mythos of urbanisation and reasoned logos over the traditional storytelling sphere of pagan country dwellers. This shift is further discussed in a comparison between the philosophies of light adumbrated by Ionian philosopher Heraclitus and Athenian intellectual giant Plato. I argue that the Heraclitean doctrine, if one can be said to exist from such fragmentary records, accords with a paradoxically immanent form of transcendence that shares many links with religions tied to organic cycles (and this in spite of Heraclituss intellectual elitism). For Heraclitus, death is indivisible from life, and light and dark share alike in states of both existence (or consciousness) and its extinguishment. Although not arrayed as an explicit argument against pre-Socratic philosophy, Platos treatment of the symbol of light, especially as it is employed in terms of the philosopher kings who are to escape his Cave of shadows, substantiates a distinct dichotomy between realms of true and reflected light. Because the student of Socrates requires an eternally unchanging Form to which all its examples can be tied, the stability afforded by such a model comes at the cost of a downgrading in the status


of the material world. While Platonic philosophy has been criticised, in ecocritical terms, for its bias against the very changeable world of flux celebrated by Heraclitus, dismissal of Plato out of hand denies the ecophilosophical agenda one of its most potent allies. For his Cave escape also promotes the idea that truth can be found after vigorous analysis of everyday assumptions, an idea closely associated with the possibility that conventional ways of life should not be accepted at face value but should be subjected to disciplined and sustained examination with an eye towards their deconstruction and replacement in accord with a preferred (in this case more ecologically sustainable) version of truth. The third chapter considers at length a myth that I believe to be foundational to the project of western civilisation and one that I capitalise for its centrality to the dominant religious mode of the west, the Christian Biblical tradition. The myth of the Fall comes, with Augustine, to encode an ontology of exile, an Original Sin with which we are all marked at birth for our inadequacy in the face of God, and a perfect light against which we will always be left to fail, such that we find kinship with the fallen angels in this place of hard work. This mythic complex involves so many levels of human consciousness and materiality that it threatens, like the chaos it is inscribed to overcome, to burst its seams at many points. With consistent reference to the aim of the thesis, however, some small purchase can be made into its ongoing influence in regards to the relationship between western society and the earth. I consider the way the myth of the Fall coagulates out of Hebrew traditions, which in turn borrow from and work against others in its sphere of influence. Thus Canaanite and Ugaritic sources are considered, as well as the translation of the Hebrew texts into a Greek idiom whence light achieves pre-eminent status, before Roman co-option shifts the idea in another direction. By the time medieval Christianity is defiling nature spirits by association with evil, then, the myth of the Fall has been translated into a lingua franca of settlement civilisation, even as it retains a consolatory element that denies the power of the Golden Calf of materialistic, worldly power it has been redesigned to serve. While Christianity as a whole composes much in favour of respectful relations between humanity and the earth over which it enjoys dominion, the nuggetty kernel of the Fall remains within, prescribing the antidote (Christs saving grace) for the disease it inflicts (our originary sense of exile on earth). To the extent that such a remedy operates on behalf of a transcendental deity held at a distance from a peoples lived reality, or home, it serves the kinds of abstract interests that are costing us the earth. The fourth and fifth chapters consider the nature of the philosophical antagonism discernible between modern proponents of Enlightenment and Romantic ideological positions. A cult of hyper-rationality has often been characterised at the dais of Enlightenment philosophy in a way that has negative repercussions for the way the earth is treated. Understanding our world in terms of mechanical law offers little resistance to the industrialisation of western society, and the globalisation of the same terms of engagement since prove the self-sabotaging nature of such a philosophy. I reinterpret the Oedipal myth, in regards to Enlightenment philosophies, in order to analyse the tensions in them between autochthony and individuation, or loyalties to the earth and to the polis. Yet while the figure of light can be seen as a negative attractor in this modernising sense, the Romantic response which I characterise as a willing return to the darkness in nature by way of a quest after renewed vision reveals almost equally disturbing tendencies to those it ostensibly sets out to replace. While Enlightenment ideologies hesitantly yet assuredly remove reason from the domain of the divine and place it in the hands of humanity (or at least its white male authorities), Romantics such as Novalis look for law in the earth and find their own reflection staring back at them. While the Narcissistic tendencies revealed in this analysis reveal a limit to the accord with the earth we may expect from our re-envisionments, they


still offer possibilities pregnant with promise in terms of the replacement of a mechanical universe with an Orphic conception of the earth encompassing all life in its web of interdependent relations. The conception of law I see displayed in Coleridges The Rime of the Ancient Mariner signifies such a worldview, refracted as it has been through a prism darkly to reveal a ritualistic cosmos within which all beings are affected, more or less directly, through each others actions. In this world, those with the most power have the most responsibility, and as such must apportion their ambitions to projects designed to enhance the flourishing of all life rather than just a minority of humans and elites. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelleys Frankenstein, whose Promethean overreaching for the fire of technoscientific development seemingly seeks to serve yet ultimately threatens its creator, is ultimately bound within the organic laws of life and death, light and dark, medicine and reproduction. In the final, contemporary chapter of this thesis, stubborn threads from these historical moments are highlighted for their continuing influence. In terms of political power, the cosmic order deployed on behalf of settlement civilisation maintains certain characteristics common to a society engaged in (more or less) permanent military activities. Western society continues to operate according to ideologies of universalisation, dualistic veneration of light against an eternally threatening enemy of darkness (death, chaos, the demonised cultural other), and the seemingly endless profit available to those willing to transform the earth according to designs conceived at an abstract distance from the lived realities of the topography. Hence contemporary Australian society repeats European patterns on an alien land, follows the commercialisation of pop culture to avoid all vestiges of death in its worship of the fountain of youth, and enlists in the War on Terror against an ill-defined enemy in the hope of globalising the imprint of liberal democracy it is invested in; all in good faith that such actions universalise the concept of the rational subscribed to. As with most examples of settlement civilisation mythology, such bias (which inevitably contains much of value) is held in high esteem in comparison with the relatively mythic and irrational worldviews held by others (including the demonised antagonists, the colonised indigenes, and the irrational within). This pattern, moulded as it is on certain aspects of the very first cities in ancient Mesopotamia, can be found operating alongside other, equally ecologically damaging assumptions that have their genesis in the almost as venerable conflict between ideas of what might constitute truth and reality. When the relatively organic cycles of subjugated peoples and the sorts of peoples who identify with the land seem almost always to be subjugated by those who identify with technoscientific development are deemed quaintly superstitious in comparison to the more sophisticated, urbane, worldly myths of the dominant culture, a shift away from humanity imagined at one with the forces and laws of nature is in some way assured. The types of truth and reality that result from such shifts too often work against the possibility of a human ecology that could attempt viably sustainable relations with the earth. The potential for western society today to achieve such a result is, as we know, intertwined with the actions of the rest of the world. Yet there is no reason, apart from habit and ongoing profit, that technoscientific society cannot adapt to the challenges of ecological crisis. Models of truth and reality must adapt with the times if we are to learn from the historical record of ecological destruction. Todays dominant logos is in need of finding a renewed contract with the perennial mythos of organic cycles, according to which life and death, light and darkness, culture and nature are intimately and always already interdependent.


Part of this redesign of western mythologos will find an enduring challenge in the kernel of trauma residing hidden in the shadows of our cultural initiation. 22 The way we moderns are individuated, collectively and individually, out of the unformed material of the cosmic soup, is still styled on a Biblical Fall. For Christianity, this primal and perpetual wound could be healed with a leap of faith in the direction of an ever-living (as resurrected) god-king who applied the sacred balm to the ever-dying human failure incapable of maintaining its covenant with a God of perfect light. Secular materialism operates according to a similar economy but with the ecologically damaging substitute of perpetual consumption playing the part of saviour. Western individuation would improve its ecological credentials admirably with a shift towards relations between humans, the earth and its other creatures that recognise our ultimate dependence on the flourishing of the entire planetary biosphere. Without this simple yet foundational and thus radical transformation there is no end in sight to the subjugation of the earth by humanity as a whole, nor to the domination of much of the human population by a vastly wealthier elite. Ideals such as those identified in Enlightenment philosophies of human rationality in human hands on human terms cannot meet such a challenge without being modified in accord with the attempt, recorded in various guises in Romantic literature, to do so on terms set equally by nature itself the organic law of cyclical life and death, consciousness (as light) intertwined with the dark matter it feeds upon. Anthropocentric light, that is to say, must find its complement, rather than merely its antagonist, in an ecocentrism of the earth. Ecocriticism and the politics of transcendence: a brief comparative epistemology Emergent ecocritical readings of myth and the western history of development investigate and reinterpret this mythic history in the light of contemporary ecological concerns and in a way that serves as a useful base for my thesis. The authors I reference throughout this thesis, such as Val Plumwood, Louise Westling, Carolyn Merchant, Kate Rigby, Laurence Coupe, Evan Eisenberg, Robert Pogue Harrison, Jonathan Bate and more, point out that Cartesian dualism concreted a western tendency towards division of mind and body into discreet and separate fields of phenomena. This division is pinpointed as being at the root of a philosophical disposition capitalised upon by the kind of Baconian instrumental rationality that was in turn utilised to justify the mechanisation of productive forces unleashed during the Industrial Revolution. I trace this disposition to the initiation of the settlement lifestyle, wherein division from nature became a part of the way society was organised in Mesopotamian urban environments, and follow it through its contextual development in Greek and European (and Eurocentric) philosophical and religious thinking. The resulting conception of the universe as a mechanical contraption available to instrumental materialism allowed an interpretation of it being available to our purposes with little precipitate sense of responsibility returned. The critique of this cosmological assumption would posit, rather than a simplistic dualistic relationship of humanity, or culture, over nature (or its reverse), a relationship whereby our physical dependency upon the health of the earth came to bear a greater influence upon our activities in regard to it. Thus a countermodern (or post-secular) response to the image of scientific humanity dreaming itself as an objective observer standing outside and over nature gives way to an interpretation of

Although such terminology may alert the reader to a Lacanian framework, I have found that myth theory treats of similar ideas with far greater historical and intercultural depth.



ourselves standing within the earth as an active and very powerful participant within a complex and changeable world. Definitions of nature, humanity, order and so on need to be thought according to this emerging awareness; all of them will be stripped, in my thesis, of tendencies toward the assumption of any essential quality, and will be rooted instead in their relativities according to circumstance. The undeniable influence we wield as humans will be placed in a context of participatory responsibility rather than authoritative command. In this sense it may be seen that contemporary settlement civilisation, globalised today in a variety of versions all sharing a tendency towards materialistic consumption, must adopt a mythologos in which its attention is turned to the song of the earth (to use Bates phrase, after Mahler). This adaptation could be composed into the idea that we must listen to the earth and learn from perennial cycles of sacrifice and exchange, rather than forging on heedlessly in the technoscientific dreaming of endless abundance. Where light can be characterised as having symbolised an eternal elsewhere towards which we are turned with the ephemeral magic of materialistic consumption, it is to be critiqued for the way it magnetises human intelligence away from its responsibilities to the earth. Efforts will be made to underscore the extent to which such thinking maintains loyalty to a course of action designed to subjugate the earth and its beings on behalf of a mythologos of elitist dominance. Finally, where the light of reason is composed at a distance from the lived realities of the body of the earth, all its peoples, creatures and topographies, this composition will be targeted for its lack of sustainability and its disembodied version of transcendence. This introduction now takes a brief excursus into comparative mythology, introducing an Australian Aboriginal example of the way light can be conceptualised by a people who have a great deal more experience on this land than do the colonising society now resident here. Of special note, considering the terms of this thesis, is the Aboriginal idea that light operates as a spiritual force emanating from within the earth and its interrelating life forces; it is something that flows into and enriches the land and its creatures. This stands at a great distance from the conception, which becomes predominant in the history of western settlement civilisation, that light is shed down upon our heads from its true home in the heavens (especially from a solar regent). Over the last three decades anthropologist John Bradley has worked with the Yanyuwa peoples who inhabit a traditionally inscribed topography along the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australias Northern Territory. During this time he has, with their blessing, recorded many kujika (songlines) in a cultural atlas for the purposes of posterity. 23 Bradleys aim in this project is to maintain as much of the Yanyuwa cultural legacy as possible for the new generations, who of recent times have moved away from traditional knowledge systems and languages. The Yanyuwa cosmology, however, is also important for what it can teach all people about the interrelatedness of life on earth. Yanyuwa traditions recognise in relations between humans and their country a consistent negotiation between kin, necessitating listening to country in an enlivened spiritual cosmos. 24 The Yanyuwa definition of life is more broadly

Yanyuwa families, John Bradley, and Nona Cameron, Forget About Flinders: A Yanyuwa Atlas of the South West Gulf of Carpentaria (Brisbane: published by the authors, 2003). 24 John Bradley, Landscapes of the Mind, Landscapes of the Spirit: Negotiating a Sentient Landscape, in Working on Country: Contemporary Indigenous Management of Australias Lands, ed. Richard Baker, Jocelyn Davies, and Elspeth Young (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001), 29798.



construed to include land and sea, as well as animate creatures, such that sentience is not restricted to higher primates such as us. Kujika are everpresent in country; while placed their by the spirit ancestors (or Dreamings) in the deep past, they are not an endless repetition of cycles always looking back to a pristine age now lost, but wandayarra a-yabala: following a road both preexisting and alive in the moment. 25 Kujika have their own agency, even without being sung, and are not mere expressions of the function of human survival. They travel through the deep sea and inhospitable mangroves, not with human kin in mind but as the song of the country. (Singing, 29) Humans sing this song as a ritual of re-creation that enables them to experience the world anew. Bradley coins the term supervitality to help explain this cultural process in a way that neatly supersedes the dualistic western division between realms of the sacred and profane. 26 The performance of kujika, according to this model, takes the vitality innate in the land and concentrates it into a kind of supervitality. In the newly animated kujika Manankurra, a series of dancing lights accompany the song as it traverses land and water (in this case a coastal river). 27 These wirrimalaru represent a permanent and abiding force, created by the continuing presence of the Dreaming ancestors, as well as being symbolic of the supervital power of the kujika. Their brilliance signifies physical, emotional, and spiritual health in the country. Light arises out of the earth and dances within it; it is recognised in the kujika and celebrated as a site wherein human and nonhuman kin can be brought into line. 28 Life is manifest in body and finds its home here on earth. There is no sense in which transcendence needs to be imagined as if it arrived here from a perfect throne in an eternal elsewhere and no sense that the body must be overcome, whether through denial or worship (at the altar of overconsumption). Aboriginal light helps us to see and sing the song of the land, but while it signals an alternative way of structuring an ecology, it does not provide the answers required to bring the new urban landscape into line with the ancient and perennial Aboriginal law. For the city, as Bradley points out, is beyond those laws and the systems of negotiation painstakingly worked out by them. (Landscapes, 305) The newer, western society in Australia, with its own laws of agriculture, industry and technology, must work out its own way of negotiating within this ecology, as all modern societies must. To do this in ignorance of Aboriginal epistemologies, however, would seem to me a terrible waste of wisdom. I am confident that parallel ideas, of a light of truth, beauty and wisdom that emanates out of and within the earth and does not need to be manifest in a subjugation of it and its other creatures on behalf of the strong anthropocentric project of dominion, can be found in many western traditions that run counter to the dominant mode of life. However, within the limits of this thesis (and apart from a consideration of some Presocratic and Romantic strands of just such an argument), it is not possible to consider such possibilities.

John Bradley, Singing through the Sea: Song, Sea and Emotion, in Deep Blue: Critical Reflections on Nature, Religion and Water, ed. Sylvie Shaw and Andrew Francis (London: Equinox, 2008), 28. 26 John Bradley, When a Stone Tool Is a Dingo: Country and Relatedness in Australian Aboriginal Notions of Landscape, in Handbook of Landscape Archaeology, ed. Bruno David and Julian Thomas (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2008), 635. 27 Yanyuwa families, J. Bradley, B. McKee, C. Ung, and A. Kearney, Manankurra, DVD, directed by J. Bradley (Melbourne: Monash University, 2008). 28 John Bradley, email to author, June 6, 2008.



Myth theorists and Methodology

The corpus of German philosopher Hans Blumenberg maintains a central position in the methodological platform of this thesis for a variety of reasons. His Work on Myth recognises the structurating force of myth as well as the legitimacy of any version, which seems to me an excellent extension of the structural anthropology of Lvi-Strauss. Then, without denying the standards of reason, Blumenberg also allows that analysis of myth cannot be divorced from its perpetuation, in an ample response to both Lvi-Strauss and Bruce Lincoln (who believes that myth is ideology in narrative form and grudgingly accepts that scholarship is myth with footnotes). 29 Alongside these attitudes, which I share, Blumenberg wrote an outstanding essay on the symbolic nature of light in the western tradition. 30 Therefore, even though he is no ecological or even political thinker, his thoughts set the groundwork for the way I read myth in this thesis. From this basis I utilise, alongside some central insights from Roland Barthes Mythologies, other myth theorists who are explicitly ecological: Michel Serres, Laurence Coupe and Sean Kane chief amongst them. In the background, behind the insights I think worth preserving and extending from Joseph Campbell (and in recognition of his flawed tendency towards universalising and essentialising the monomyth), lurks Jung, whose central concepts of the archetype, shadow and projection remain significant. In fact, in siding with Blumenbergs idea of the legitimacy of modernity (even in the sense that it remains mythically informed) against the full extent of the secularisation thesis (see this thesis, 122), I cannot help but recognise an archetypal duality transcending the shift from medieval Christianity to the modernity that inherits its dominant metaphysical shape. Rather than work within Jungian limits, however, I incorporate his seminal influence without specific reference, to concentrate on the specifically western, ecological aspects of lights symbolic structure and the way it has been and is formed within the particular cultural traditions of this version of settlement civilisation. * Blumenberg outlines the way light functions as a symbol, dealing explicitly with the figure in a discussion of its capacity to act in both metaphorical and metaphysical fashions, while intending in his examination to show the way in which transformations of the metaphor indicate changes in world-understanding and self-understanding. (Light, 31) The allencompassing nature of light is depicted as the ultimate neutral substance awaiting our colouring so that a world can be made: Light remains what it is while letting the infinite participate in it; it is consumption without loss. Light produces space, distance, orientation, calm contemplation; it is the gift that makes no demands, the illumination capable of conquering without force. (31) This gift can be utilised as a response to the human experience of the absolutism of reality. In his Work on Myth, Blumenberg equates this force with the fear of an unknown threat such as was experienced by early proto-humans leaving the concealment of the primeval forest for the open savannah. For Blumenberg, awareness of the ever-present yet absent absolutism, which in its most vivid form could be imagined as death itself (and which could also be thought of as the unknowable yet
Bruce Lincoln, Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 209; see esp. epilogue, Scholarship as Myth. 30 Hans Blumenberg, Light as a Metaphor for Truth, in Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision, ed. David Michael Levin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).


perceivable threat of ecological crisis), comes at a price. This price is the fear of not having control over circumstances, the anxiety of a pure state of indefinite anticipation, an intentionality of consciousness without an object that then becomes formulated into concepts. (Work, 35) But this in turn inspires human cultural creativity; as endless possibilities and threats loom just across the horizon of human consciousness, cycles of mythopoeia continue to find images resonant with the human condition, its achievements and travails, in a tradition both constant and varied. The human response to the absolutism of reality involves a creative naming of forms, a common mythic strategy that enables the unknowable to be shaped into digestible portions: It seems almost with a sigh of relief that the classifying singer of the myth greets the fact that nothing comes out of that abyss except what he knows how to call by name and fit into his system. (41) Blumenbergs Work on Myth develops Cassirers argument that the functional drive behind symbolic forms is as important as their substance. 31 This functionalist position recognises the validities of both the consistent themes and improvisations of naming in context. Blumenberg claims that in the notion that philosophical logos has overcome prephilosophical mythos our view of the scope of philosophical terminology has been unnecessarily narrowed. (Light, 30) By way of extending that scope such that mythos and logos are both treated in accord with their function of providing conceptual and practical responses to the absolutism of reality, he seeks to dissolve the arbitrary division constructed between them. Myth scholar Bruce Lincoln furthers such productive problematisation when he traces the earliest Greek usages of the words, revealing that in Homer and Hesiod logos consistently marks seductive speech while mythos denotes the forceful truths of powerful figures. 32 From these early writings Lincoln considers later eras such as the fifth century BCE, by which time the techne of writing (Lincoln, 26) and the end of kingship and the rise of the polis (28) influenced an active (though always contested) redefinition of the terms. While Pindar associates mythos with falsehood, (27) for Xenophanes it remains a term of high respect (29) and Parmenides and Empedocles use the term to connote transcendent authority. (302) Platos dialogues then follow to discredit mythos with respect to relative discursive authority. (43) For Lincoln, the question is not resolved but posed: Whose speech will command respect and attention? (43) For Vernant, by the time Aristotle answers this question, it is cast in polar terms; the gap between mythos and logos is complete, as the choice of one predetermines the dismissal of the other. 33 Blumenberg recognises no evolution from mythos to logos, claiming that every mortal event is pregnant with significance due to the ultimate nature of the limit concept placed upon it, like a sentence of both fortune and calamity, by life. He symbolises the accomplishment of myth in the particularly vivid example according to which Aphrodite arises from the foam of the terrible castration of Uranus. (Work, 38) The inevitable shaping of these numinous powers carries forward the endlessly unfolding drama of any episteme, in an attempt to equip the world with names to divide up and classify the undivided, to

David Adams, Metaphors for Mankind: The Development of Hans Blumenbergs Anthropological Metaphorology, Journal of the History of Ideas 52, no. 1 (1991): 154. According to Adams, Blumenberg referred to Cassirers Substance and Function (1910) as an unjustly forgotten work. 32 Lincoln, Theorizing Myth, see esp. chap. 1, The Prehistory of Mythos and Logos, 318. Lincoln concludes that these words were sites of pointed and highly consequential semantic skirmishes fought between rival regimes of truth. (18) 33 Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Society in Ancient Greece, trans. Janet Lloyd (Sussex: Harvester, 1980), 193.


21 make the intangible tangible, though not yet comprehensible. 34 The way this Aphroditefigure is named the way she is seen, once recognised, to embody and fulfil her qualities, functions, and relations helps to fill in one segment of an inevitably kaleidoscopic worldview. This worldview, like all living worldviews, requires precise names for its particulars as well as the open-endedness, or flexible nature, of improvisations and negotiations. 35 This drama of naming, which Blumenberg believes leads us to build metaphors about the world along a process from earthly captivation to objectivity to ideality, is no conflict-free ascent, however; and neither is it yet another Eurocentric dismissal of primitive myth and its identification with nature. His methodological stance resembles more of a dance with the natural world, in which we can neither escape from nor simply capitulate to its absolute power, but can only weave a world out of our negotiation with it that concurrently allows us to grow into the cultural space we carve out for ourselves here on planet earth. Another colourful anecdote points out the dangers Blumenberg sees inherent in any disembodied aversion from our physicality. With discussion of the famous story of Thales falling into a well while stargazing, Blumenberg dispels the impression that theoretical schematisation could ever completely unite immanent and transcendent concerns: for theorys claim to the totality of the world cannot be had without estrangement from the realism of the practical world. 36 While, when lost in pure contemplation, we risk falling over what is right before our eyes (or feet), the concept remains vital in our response to adaptational pressures, as it is the tool we utilise in order to name and organise foresight and deal with the possibilities and threats that lie just beyond the horizon. (Work, 126) The abstract totality towards which our systems of knowledge aspire remains always unrealisable, but this in no way denigrates the spirit of these means of orientation, with which we sculpt order by expressing the fact that the world and the powers that hold sway in it are not abandoned to pure arbitrariness. (62) Any combination of circumstance demands responses to the questions raised by the absolutism of reality that are as complete as is deemed possible within the limits of their own internal logic and metaphorical purchase. This totalising tendency is well known to anthropologists both of the field and academy and is one of the generally accepted defining characteristics of myth. 37 One major shift accompanying the increasing urbanisation of the planet over the last 10,000 years has been a concomitant change in the terms required, on behalf of city living, of this totalising disposition. Endless negotiation between humanity and the earth is a fundamental component of any worldview, yet it is one that operates according to very different requirements on behalf of the fixed territory of a settlement (in contrast to the shifting
Blumenberg, Work on Myth, 42. The importance of naming and kinship is significant for the ecophilosophical agenda; for Blumenberg, relations among things are as important as the things in themselves. Adams, Metaphors for Mankind, 154. 35 Bottici and Challand point out that, on this definition, myth that fails to respond to the circumstantial needs of a people for significance (Bedeutsamkeit) simply ceases to work as a myth. Chiara Bottici and Benoit Challand, Rethinking Political Myth, European Journal of Social Theory 9, no. 3 (2006): 318. 36 Robert Savage, Laughter from the Lifeworld: Hans Blumenbergs Theory of Nonconceptuality, Thesis Eleven 94, no. 1 (2008): 127. 37 Metaphors of coherence and unity are shaped to fit and complete the cosmic order in all cultures, requiring symbolic codes and homologies to overcome the logical paradoxes that exist between Nature and Culture by reducing the dialectical tension between them. J. Ian Prattis, Anthropology at the Edge: Essays on Culture, Symbol, and Consciousness (Lanham: University Press of America, 1997), 913.


identification with a variety of locales shared by all humans before around 8,000 BCE). Settlement civilisation squares its circle around an urban centre, introduces into the equation the recognition that certain plants and animals may become domesticated, and then that mechanical industrialisation yields new kin slaves and machines to add to the world order. 38 Relations between what is considered cultural or natural, sacred or profane, technological or organic, are manifest in the consistent attempt (and failure to arrive at) totalisation. This fundamentally defining factor of mythic thought survives any demythologising force; Hegel might have named his absolute spirit according to his ethnic prejudices (white, Christian, civilised, abstracted from nature), but he defined an unstoppable power within human culture, the drive towards totalisation that swallows any antithesis into its voracious maw and produces a synthesis of higher complexity. This function of myth is seen operating today in materialistic consumer capitalism, as will be discussed in the concluding chapter. The symbol of light is often construed, in relation to this function, alongside a culture hero who achieves a coherent, total world after defeating a chaos monster or dragon of dark danger, which is often associated with the bitter seas ever-threatening to swallow our fragile creation. The western predilection for a theoretical model composed on behalf of absolute authority in a stable, objective manner, lends to this mythopoeic pattern a certain prosaic charm; it has also proven to be extraordinarily profitable and thus resistant to demythologisation. Blumenberg considers the way this distance, however, between an idealised conceptual world and the ever-present dangers inherent in life, can be imaginatively dissolved by consideration of a metaphorical spectator watching a shipwreck from on shore. 39 He quotes Pascal for his dedication Vous tes embarqu as a signification of his intent to investigate the metaphorical bedrock within which the image of the shipwreck and its spectator is grounded (please excuse the pun). The spectator, Blumenberg decides, cannot be imagined to reside safe on land, as discussed by many commentators since antiquity, but should instead recognise that there is no protected harbour from which the wreckage of life can be witnessed. (Shipwreck, 3439) Human drama is predicated upon passions, and the still water in the harbour of reason, or the supposedly objective observer distanced from the Sturm und Drang of existence, is a lifeless illusion. This life is in fact kept going only by means of things that can also be fatal to it: Tout est dangereux ici-bas, et tout est ncessaire. (34) Where Nietzsche recognises in Pascal the idea that we are the ship, and that land (or a solid grounding for knowledge) is no longer in sight (19), Burckhardt stretches the ocean-going metaphor even further by removing the dualism of man and reality and claiming that we are, in fact, the waves themselves. (69) As Rendall comments, this collapses the protective distance between humankind and nature posited by the ancient metaphor and puts the theoretical perspective itself in jeopardy. (Rendall, Shipwreck, 3) We may indeed be the waves, but in this case we must also be the ship, the spectator at a safe distance, and the land upon which they stand and watch; the adaptational response of creative conceptualisation remains alive beyond any duality or totality composed out of the vast range of circumstantial possibilities.

Jared Diamond outlines the way this pattern played out in the major centres of civilisation according to the availability of domesticable grains and animals in his Guns, Germs, and Steel (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003). The terminology regarding slaves and machines is mine. 39 The Greek word theoria derives from theoros, spectator. Steven Rendall, translators introduction to Shipwreck with Spectator: Paradigm of a Metaphor for Existence, by Hans Blumenberg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), 2.



The archaic pattern of light hero over monster of darkness has proven to be an indomitable archetype in the history of civilisation, taking many faces according to circumstance. The sea likewise retains a complex jumble of associations, many of which hark back to the earliest stages of settlement and the foreboding dangers it must have faced. Demonised as the sphere of the unreckonable and lawless, in which it is difficult to find ones bearings, the sea is the chaotic face of the deep against which order must secure victory. (Rendall, Shipwreck, 8) Catherine Keller makes an in-depth study of the tradition of western tehomophobia or shift away from embrace of the deep and its pre-existent place in the Creation process in her defamiliarising analysis of the first two verses of Genesis, which shows that the later Churchs concept of creation ex nihilo is not supported by the text there. 40 Classical theism, she writes, created itself in the space of the erased chaos such that a growing Christian imaginary of masterywhat we may call its dominology, its logos of lordship had by the third century defined itself by an unprecedented nihil. (Keller, xvii) Her work shows that the feminine gendering of a salt water chaos monster was a construct of misogyny and that our dark beginnings can better be understood when freed from the ongoing light supremacism of Euroamerican ideals. (xvii) As Keller points out, this colouring of the salty waters as sinister, a metaphor for social threat, may be found in numerous Near Eastern traditions of theomachy (or creation by battle), but it is not passed into the western traditions by virtue of the Hebrew legacy. (26) Genesis 1 betrays no fear of the dark, she writes, no demonisation of the deep, of the sea, its she and its dragons. No trace of the divine warrior or cultural misogyny appears on the face of the text of the first chapter. (30) Yet there is surely an aspect of divine warrior, or stormy culture hero, waiting to be highlighted in this pattern, as there is in so many others of the region. Northrop Frye certainly saw in Hebrew creation myth a poetic transformation of a Near Eastern article of belief, whereby world order was guaranteed with the dragon-killing of tehomic salt sea or the bitter waters of chaos. 41 He reminds us that the Hebrew word tehom is etymologically connected to the name of the Mesopotamian Goddess Tiamat, who was slain by culture hero (and young sun-god) Marduk in order that the world and the human race could be created out of her body. Bernhard Anderson also suggests that this proto-apocalyptic rhetoric centers on the victory of the Divine Warrior over the monster of chaos. 42 The Divine Warrior then represents the ontological victory upon which all other cultural authority, in its particular case, is predicated: it initiates social order, the measure for truth and justice, the processes by which a material way of life proceeds. The character it accepts its victory over, and the way both are coloured, are matters endlessly re-shaped. Kellers point remains prescient, however, in ecophilosophical terms, because she finds a way back through the Christian religious tradition to a root that is at one with the fluidity, the indefinability, the originary mystery out of which the world arises. She shows that in form as in context the chaos is always already there: At the beginning of the Creation of heaven and earth when the earth was without form and void and there was darkness God said Let there be (Keller, 9) The ordering process of light is a shaping of the matter it finds upon being birthed and is hence ultimately interdependent with its world; categories
Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (London: Routledge, 2003). Tehom is the Hebrew word for the deep. 41 Northrop Frye and Jay MacPherson, Biblical and Classical Myths: The Mythological Framework of Western Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 3334. 42 Bernhard Anderson, From Creation to New Creation: Old Testament Perspectives (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 199.


such as culture and nature, self and land, are collapsed into this primeval point of ontological unity. Keller explores the possibility that this theologically originary indeterminacy generates order not in opposition to but upon the face of the chaos. (38) Growth out of autochthony and towards independent individuation here honours the dark seas and formless void of earth as its beloved womb rather than sworn enemy. In the Biblical tradition such recognitions of a darkness consumed thankfully on behalf of an order of light are preserved in passages such as Psalm 104, which recognises the indispensable nature of the deep as the life-sustaining and -enhancing functions of an alternative order that had been so long mistaken for disorder. (28) The Lord God here is wrapped in light (104:2) yet responsible for the darkness beloved by all the animals of the forest (104:20); ultimately, all creation is blessed, even the Leviathan of the deeps. (104:256, although it should be added that sinners are still expected to be dealt with harshly, 104:35) 43 Our conceptions of order are thus grounded, if such a solid term is deemed acceptable, in their relationship with the state of dissolution out of which they are shaped Nietzsches Apollonian sculpting of Dionysiac fury in The Birth of Tragedy finds voice here. 44 Likewise Blumenberg suggests that the sea that seems so threatening to notions of stable (theoretical) frameworks is also the fluid ground and cultural legacy that gives up the fragments (or planks) of new conceptual conjectures on our endless journey: Where can [this material] come from, in order to give courage to the ones who are beginning anew? Perhaps from earlier shipwrecks? (Shipwreck, 79) Cultural and natural worlds are moored in each other, bringing to mind the ongoing human fascination with the dividing line between autochthony (we are as one with the earth) and birth by sexual procreation (we are separate from it by dint of culture). This influential matter of naming takes many forms: Lvi-Strauss saw the important, ongoing tension between over- and under-valuing kinship relations dramatised in the Oedipal myth. 45 Western taxonomies divide the human realm from other animals, and the worlds of plants and minerals, classifying them all under the rubric of more or less inert, pliable, and/or useful to us. Lincoln discusses the idea of Durkheim and Mauss that myth, in fact, may be understood as taxonomy in narrative form. 46 The contemporary ecophilosophical version of this debate must go further (forwards, backwards, across) and reclaim the nonhuman world as a living entity with its own intrinsic value (however difficult to ascertain) if it is to deal with the ecological crisis at the root, or substantive, level. Blumenberg articulates an idea akin with this need when he points out that the energy that drives us beyond the state of nature is itself a part of nature; likewise, then, are the polis and its attendant technologies, all of which are related, as human and nonhuman kin on earth. 47
Crosswalk (2009), http://www.biblestudytools.com/. All direct quotations from the Bible in this thesis are from the New Revised Standard Version. 44 Blumenberg, Work on Myth, 7. In a Nietzschean turn of phrase, Blumenberg notes that to have a world is always the result of an art. For early Nietzsche, Dionysian ecstasy retains ontological priority due to its status as ever-mutable fount of life. 45 Claude Lvi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963), 21318. Some of the ecological implications of the Oedipal myth are taken up in my Chapter 4 in regards to Enlightenment conceptions of reason. 46 Lincoln traces the influence of this idea on Dumzil and Lvi-Strauss, before articulating his preferred version (too narrow for my purposes): myth is ideology in narrative form. Lincoln, Theorizing Myth, 1467. 47 Hans Blumenberg, Shipwreck with Spectator, 51. I am stretching Blumenberg here; he does not speak in terms of extended, nonhuman, kin, but envelopes cultural energy back into the physical nature of human life.


This does not mitigate the insoluble dilemma of theoretical distance versus living engagement, however, which consistently resists neat formulisation. (Shipwreck, 67) As much is suggested by Blumenbergs discussion of Montaignes pleasurable sense of the self-preserving spectator whose comfort is something like the cunning of nature, in that it sets a premium on taking as little risk as possible with ones life and rewards distance with enjoyment. (17) This is exactly the advantageous state precipitated by our conceptual inventiveness as it arises out of, and in response to, our material conditions and the attendant absolutism of reality. Culture is natural, but the way it is formulated in a collective sense is flexible and open to change, and it always sets the human at some distance from its given. This is the fundamental distinction made between subject and object at the (ongoing) moment of individuation from the primal soup. The associated dialectical play between being identified with and identified over the earth involves differing varieties of immanence and transcendence. The status of a civilised light hero claiming victory over a defeated monster of chaos so often associated with the threatening sea cannot necessarily be conflated with the King of a healed land; more often than not, according to my research, such a culture hero in fact wounds the darkened earth (and hence, in the long run, himself and the people) on behalf of his cultural values. Meanwhile our worlds of culture must maintain their own sense of stability, holding the absolutism of reality at bay while allowing concomitant adaptational flexibility. Methodological strength comes with the capacity to recognise this art in any episteme, including that traditionally known as western logocentrism. The dissolution of a sovereign faith in the universal light of logocentric truth, however, need not dismiss the place of reason in any cultural system; certainly the attempt to become or remain rational is no enemy of the response to ecological crisis. Blumenberg certainly weighed the need for reflectivity carefully, as commentator Robert Savage points out. No nostalgia, Savage writes,
for the supposedly deeper truths of the inchoate, the irrational, the sublime and the primordial lay behind [his] research programme. Blumenberg soberly defended the achievements of modernity, never ceasing to affirm the indispensability and efficacy of concepts for dealing with the challenges faced by humankind, the vital adaptational advance they represent over against the absolutism of reality, from which primitive consciousness first distanced itself through the naming of numinous 48 powers to be assuaged in sacrifice and supplication.

The relative firmness of scientific theory, in that it has proven able to establish things that stand firm and provide solid ground for further discoveries, should be seen as the fortunate but temporary position of one rescued from shipwreck. (Shipwreck, 2122) One might suggest that the crisis afforded the mechanistic sciences by the quantum era of discovery, which highlights the limits of certitude with the question marks of probability, helps us to see that the faithfulness with which we embraced this rescue can be equated more accurately with a fondness for utility than a drive towards abiding truth. Yet this utility forms part of our always provisional cultural victory over the immortal enemy, death; it is an order that bestows upon us the ability to admire the absolutism of reality nature is cruel as well as generous as if from an armchair. His discussion of Goethes cast of Medusa relays Blumenbergs keen-edged sensibility for the limits of such witnessing: The fine arts, he writes, have achieved only meagre results in relation to the original terrors. (Work, 15) Distancing the threat, intimately connected with the natural cycles of life and death, also distances us from the majesty of the earth; the fine arts then end up feeding the secret idea

Savage, Laughter from the Lifeworld, 120; see Blumenberg, Work on Myth, 939.


that behind the verbal heaping up of hideousness, a jealousy of an entirely original beauty might have hidden itself. (15) Blumenbergian methodology seems to me to signal a potential to both carry forwards the continued value of western epistemological traditions while eschewing, thanks to timely reflection, their previous moorings in (an ultimately selfdestructive) domination over the earth. On this note, although the ships of scientific theories and religious ideologies carry valuable cargo, they also and more imperatively for Blumenberg act as a vehicle for the legacy of human questioning, the very activity that inspires such ideas and gives them meaning. 49 In The Legitimacy of the Modern Age Blumenberg claims that the idea of progress can be seen as a set of solutions to ancient questions of order and chaos, or good and evil. (Wallace, Legitimacy, xviiixix; also see secularisation thesis, below, 122) Just as Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, as well as Christianity and science, offer such creative responses, so Renaissance self-assertion overwhelms the ancient imperative of selfpreservation and the concomitant effort to put the natural world at a distance with the new project of mastering nature in order to realize human aspirations. 50 The contemporary ecological crisis, according to this thesis, signals the end of this dream of Modernity, while it hopefully does not erode the political and intellectual freedoms we enjoy in our continued questioning.

Definitions of terms and concerns If mythic thought provides the foundation for a worldview, then, with its forays into the shadowy realm from which the cultural orders of origin, kinship relations, and laws of regeneration arise, it is beyond any logocentric dismissal of its archaic-seeming form. It is according to this kind of argument that Laurence Coupe defines mythlessness as itself a kind of myth. He makes explicit certain conventional assumptions about the nature of mythic thought while charting the unexamined belief which arose in the Enlightenment and which still survives: the belief that humanity has successfully transcended the need for mythical forms of thought (as especially framed by Jewitt and Lawrence but also flagged by Cupitt, Burke, and Ricouer). 51 Adornos and Horkheimers canonical critique of Enlightenment as myth must be added to the list of critical analyses that work to dissolve this arrogance. When Vicos New Science ushered in an eighteenth-century renovation or Renaissance of myth in European thought, it concurrently questioned western assumptions of progressive reason. 52 The battle lines would soon be drawn between Enlightenment ideas that treated mythic thought as irrational and primitive, and its counter, especially from within the Romantic tradition, which respected the very same powers for their regenerative capacities. The modern scepticism about myth is already prevalent, however, in the Athenian city of antiquity. Kane tracks the influence of agricultural settlement as one of the great transformations of human life on the planet to note that our scepticism about myth
Robert Wallace, translators introduction to The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, by Hans Blumenberg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983), xviii. 50 Rendall paraphrases Part II of Blumenbergs Legitimacy of the Modern Age in his introduction to Shipwreck with Spectator, 2. 51 Laurence Coupe, Myth (London: Routledge, 1997), 1213. 52 An underpinning point in Malis Mythistory and his Rehabilitation of Myth: Vico's New Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), both of which work with the twentieth-century turn towards myth as a different kind of reason.


goes back to the Athenian philosophers who renounced orally-told myth in favor of the individuals ability to objectify it in mental frames, and, he adds, these were the people who made a life for themselves in cities. (Kane, 247) The rationalisations of philosophers must be examined in such historical and material contexts. The many-faceted rationales of instrumental reason deployed on behalf of such mythic narratives of industrialised capitalist materialism as progress, imperialism, and the competitive economic/political infrastructures necessary to the capitalist colonisation of market forces involved in contemporary globalisation, all share one ability to parade, in masks, as if they were not mythic in nature. 53 In order to point out the way that some of these deceptions may be uncovered it will be necessary to supply a definition of terms. 54 For the purposes of this thesis the term myth will be used to denote both symbolic and narrative forms that signify an underpinning order of transcendental authority. They operate to link immanent experiences in the physical world with signifiers that direct the attention towards a plane beyond that which can be empirically verified; yet they can be manifest in the most mundane of forms (as will be discussed in the contemporary chapter on commodity fetish). Just as it does for Lvi-Strauss, myth for me does more than inform the human psyche; it structures it. It cements its claim to authority with a circular logic according to which this authority in turn justifies the order that calls upon its transcendental power. This circularity operates in much religious thinking and conventional philosophical discourse. The three banners under which I treat cosmogonic myths origin, kinship, and regeneration, as previously outlined appeal to each other in a totalising kind of circular logic, regardless of their religious or scientific affiliations. This does not automatically empty them of significance, but places them outside of the limiting confines of rational thought; thus we are confronted with the possibilities and dangers of faith free of reasoned computation and contestation, a controversial authority that can be co-opted with flexible moral boundaries. The symbol of light, when utilised as a symbol of transcendental authority on behalf of a status quo, is equated with and guarantees life, consciousness, order and truth, while dispersing the darkness of death, ignorance, chaos and perfidy, and in this it represents a way of life that both justifies and is justified by its transcendental authority. At the same time, the symbol of light, like any mythic icon, can be interpreted and deployed in the service of radical opposition to a status quo that employs it as an agent of ideological authority or oppression. Coupe, like Michel Serres, claims that literature is a means of extending what was traditionally defined as mythology, inscribing its patterns and maintaining its functions in quite a specific form of cultural story-telling. 55 At the same time, however, Coupe
Barthes, Mythologies, 14243. But it should be kept in mind, as Coupe points out, that Barthess is a brand of structuralist critique that concludes such conflation between culture and nature is a sinister deception, while for Lvi-Strauss it can also be a mediation coded by the grammar of myth. Barthess is a demythologising political allegory without an alternative to bourgeois capitalist ideology, eradicating any of the liberating potential of mythopoeia. Coupe, Myth, 15658. 54 I dont want to seem overly ambitious at this juncture, however. Lincoln opens his far-reaching analysis thus: It would be nice to begin with a clear and concise definition of myth, but unfortunately that cant be done. Furthermore, he adds, it would undercut and distort the very project of identifying some of the concepts uses and dramatic shifts in its status. Lincoln, Theorizing Myth, ix. 55 Serres sees myth give birth to science as a new form of weaving disparate spaces together, while literature picks up the thread from amongst the concert of voices science diffuses. Josu Harari and David Bell, introduction to Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, by Michel Serres (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), xxxiiixxxiv.


recognises the survival of some of the performative elements of oral myth-telling when he extends his investigation from written forms of mythopoeia to the music of The Doors and films such as Apocalypse Now. (Coupe, Myth, 4) Coupe suggests that Coppolas film embraces a brutal malfunction in the contemporary vision of world order, which in closing with the extreme violence of modern military power distant, controlled, massive extermination gives voice both to the god of modernity and to the dying king, allowing that the next generation of divinity may in some way be allowed to arise out of violent death. Todays information and media technologies, then, renovate mythic themes and concerns in a new form of improvisation, recognising the mutability of human languages and composing mythic material in song and film. 56 There is no need to limit this kind of analysis to cultural artefacts that focus specifically on traditional mythic symbols or narrative forms, however, in an attempt to uncover the mythic quality of our worldview. The crazed trip upriver may lead the white man to his heart of darkness and the primitive ritual of regeneration that resides beneath his veneer of self-satisfied rationality, but the way this reveals his predilections towards both venerated order and subjugated chaos can also be seen in the languages of everyday life. Western mythology is revealed in advertising image, in the shapes and forms of the city, its buildings and streetlights, in the attitudes implicit in its mundane rituals of consumption, sacrifice and exchange, origin and renewal and in its ecological destruction of the earth itself. It is the aim of this thesis to explicate the way light is symbolised across the trajectory of the western tradition as a way of mediating, negotiating and expressing contemporary, everyday beliefs in relation to such matters. It therefore accords with Joseph Campbells career-spanning notion that mythology operates to put the individual in metaphysical place. But his feeling that myth stripped of the sacred is mere ideology falls short for me, because it fails to see the everpresent force of myth in the very materialism driving contemporary consumerist behaviour. This thesis does not attempt to resacralise the earth but to seek ways towards finding human relations with it that celebrate the cutting edge between autochthony and individuation without compromising the earths capacity to flourish, along with all living things. For my purposes, we may assume that, rather than seeking a re-enchantment of nature, our intent should be bent towards becoming a human culture attuned to the intelligence of nature; the genius loci of planet earth, that may inform us towards evolutionary adaptation in relationship with our nonhuman kin here. Admittedly this is easier said than done; although a decrease in the extent to which anthropocentric and materialistic values continue to be venerated would be a sure start. Thus this thesiss methodological focus is on the mythic substructures that underpin the rituals of everyday life, appraising the mythic propensity for the way it functions to tie together contemporary forms into a creative (if often soulless and mechanical) totality. Again I find Coupe illuminating, as he follows Kenneth Burke to bear in mind the pragmatic impulse behind what myth is doing as well as what it is saying. (Coupe, Myth, 7) Analysing myth according to its function rather than forms reveals the working hypothesis by which it achieves significance and this strategy can be seen to accompany most sympathetic myth theory. The functional methodology resists the attack on myth known as demythologisation usually associated with modernity but that was, as Vernant explains, initiated in Greek thought, wherein myth came to be seen as fictional in opposition to the manifestly real, or absurd compared to a dominant form of rationality. 57 It can also
I discuss Marshall McLuhans related thesis regarding the mythic aurality of electronic media in Chapter 6. 57 Vernant, Myth and Society, chap. 9, The Reason of Myth, 186207.


help modify the impersonal extremes of the structuralist position, where the pattern being manifest seems to arise and play out independent of the individual agents involved, instead placing such patterns in immediate, immanent contact with the forces according to which they arise in any particular circumstance. For Coupe, mythopoeisis examines and inscribes the cycle of sacrifice and regeneration even at the apogee of the tragic vision (such as in Apocalypse Now) and in a way that implies, by its very mythic power, some kind of fecund return from the abyssal moment of death. Serres similarly holds that mythic thinking operates to provide or underpin world order regardless of, or rather ensconced within, whatever style of instrumental reason we employ. These kinds of mythography regard forms of rationality in their historical contexts, recognising the power of certain mythically charged symbols to tie material concerns to a transcendental authority, and thereby justifying a way of life by seemingly immovable decree. This mythic power may help to explain why, to Fredric Jamesons surprise, we find it easier to imagine the end of the world than an alternative to capitalist materialism (possibly but far from certainly something changing with the market crashes of 2008). 58 It also ties the social and ecological impacts of conquest into one process of colonisation, leading to an Indigenous Australian notion of wild country as a place uncared for by the settlers who, with technological progress, have had their capacity for violence amplified since their ancient Roman forerunners desolated new lands in the name of Empire. 59 Serres allows his Hermes to break out of this statuesque form of concrete or literal scripture, which claims to explicate truth on behalf of its own mythologos, to explore new paths of transformation. The cultural and historical construct of a world order negotiates intersections amongst its particular nodes of very precise and particular connections: Cultures are differentiated by the form of the set of junctions, its appearance, its place, as well as by its changes of state, its fluctuations. But what they have in common and what constitutes them as such is the operation itself of joining, of connecting. The image of the weaver arises at this point: to link, to tie, to open bridges. 60 Hermes represents the force that would bond the transitional moments of death and rebirth, loss and fertility, together; this archetypal geographer protects boundaries and is linked to Penelope as a weaver of spaces. 61 The space of the world, therefore, is described as requiring artful connection, which in turn presupposes that before it, in other words, before discourse, there existed a multiplicity of unrelated spaces: chaos. (Hermes, 48) If we transpose, as does Keller, upon this before the related term beneath, or the Deriddean always already, as a matter of underpinning infrastructure, then we approach a definition of order that is in some way dependent upon the seething chaos that it supposedly shapes, for our consumption, by our mythology (or more precisely by its ontological program). The play between seemingly stable and fluctuating forms, then or even the very possibility of stability alongside the inevitability of change may be revealed as a dressing up of pattern with the masks of dependability. Here contemporary myth cannot be divorced from the probability equations of quantum theory, which again return us to an investigation into the way that the very
It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations. Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), xii. 59 Deborah Bird Rose makes the point, as well as the Aboriginal Australian interpretation of wild as uncared for, in Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2004), 45. 60 Michel Serres, Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy , 45. 61 Harari and Bell, introduction to Hermes, xxxiii.


foundations (or patterns) of Western logos are built on the shifting sands of mythos. This would pose no enduring problem to Campbell, who called for the renewed spirit of twentieth century mythologising to take into account the current findings of all sciences, such that its totalising power was not lost to archaic notions of heavens above the earth or human centrality in the universe. 62 As the archetypal messenger between human and divine concerns, however, Hermes has not traditionally been required to negotiate between humans and their earth: he therefore has his job cut out for him in terms of contemporary ecological crisis. Serres notes that human cultures have long been committing an ongoing act of war upon the Earth (or objective world of things) while pursuing victory over each other, in a series of interminable battles fought seemingly amongst themselves. The Earth has been the common enemy of any cultures at war, all of whom abhor (Natural Contract, 1011) and who may collectively kill the world. (20) As human societies collectively awaken to their responsibility for ecological crisis, the objective war on the world of things replaces our subjective intercultural wars as the most important struggle of our times. (12) This new focus extends narrow cultural into more broad ecological languages. According to Serres, the twentieth century industrial order overwhelmed the previous agricultural order, resulting in a situation whereby we are now all indoors talking to one another. (2729) Our wrangling over social contracts increases both the damage done to the strangulated earth and the volume of the communal noise that drowns out its voice. (89) The cords of Hermes, however, bind, prelinguistically and beyond dialectic, knowledge, power, and complexity (106108), in a triple tress that links me to forms, to things, and to others, and thus initiates me into abstraction, the world, and society. (108) For todays historical and material purposes, Hermes refers to the totality of bonds of every kind that attach all of humanity to the worlds globe, and vice versa. (109) While science has traditionally operated upon the world, cutting bonds in the name of precision and exactitude and dividing it into discreet component parts such that each may be investigated more thoroughly, it now operates to overthrow the ideal of division and cutting, instead retying bonds that analysis had untied. We are returning to the contract. (110) Hence, the increasingly furious dialectic paradox that sees the globalising world operating on more universal and particular terms at once can be seen to offer the potential for atonement between culture and nature given transformation, and not dismissal, of our own particular, historically inherited cultural terms. Technoscientific myth, according to this critical and creative intervention, adapts to the earths changing nature. The mythopoeic logic of ritual The way light is symbolically related to darkness forms a significant component of this thesis and has already been alluded to in the discussion of the way a cultural order aligned with lights positive values can be construed to stand over a defeated body of bitter, dark, material or watery chaos. If western civilisation is to be accepted as a cultural growth of institutionalised settlement that depends upon the earths resources for its continuance, yet mercilessly subjugates it to the extent that the conditions necessary to favourable flourishing are concurrently denuded, then the symbol of light must necessarily be seen to represent an

See especially The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, where he makes such possibilities explicit in terms of both contemporary psychology and astrophysics. Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and Religion (New York: Alfred van der Marck Editions, 1985).


order both true and false, ordered and disordered, beautiful and good and horrible and damaging at once. One of the central tenets of this thesis holds that myth is an ever-present force in every culture, no matter how complex, technologically advanced, or secular. While mythic symbol and narrative helps organise society, not only on behalf of dominant interests such as economic, political and military organisations but of marginalised and oppositional parties also, it is ritual that embodies such meanings in experience. The socialisation, that is to say, of a cultures constituents in this case into the order of materialistic consumption regardless of other, potentially competing possible identities takes place according to story and action, myth and ritual, symbol and behaviour together. Ritual is traditionally thought of as a process whereby, amongst other things, sets of cultural relations are negotiated in an activity that offers both collective coherence and individual interpretation. Research following the One Heart ritual practised amongst a reformative cult called Bwiti, among the Fang peoples of northern Gabon, displays this combination of symbolic consensus, or oneheartedness, and the variety of ways individual members can interpret such commonly experienced phenomena. 63 Twenty cult members, all of whom attested to the efficacy of the ritual, gave meanings for it from finding right relationship with God, to re-establishing contact with abandoned ancestors, to curing individual illness. Anthropologist James Fernandez duly noted the considerable variance in the rationale of the participants. Part of the aim of this thesis includes showing that the way contemporary ideas of light are activated in consumers similarly form a network of ritual that both coheres their socialisation process and inspires such feelings of individual assertion in one. This process can then be seen as a form of contemporary mythology, placing the consumer in a web of relations inspired by themes of ontological, kinship and regenerational import even while it supports no traditional concept of the sacred. The perennial human quest for embodied transcendence will then be considered to be offered, alternatively, as an eternal elsewhere ephemerally experienced in the thrill of materialistic consumption, a cycle I will show is both self-perpetuating and ultimately self-defeating. This cycle of materialistic consumption is designed to fill the void left not by the death of the abstract Christian sky-god but by the much earlier loss, in western civilisation, of intimate relationship with the earth. This loss was traditionally compensated for by the magnification of the powers of the sky-gods, from solar authorities backed by military force to storm-gods of alternating fecundity and destruction, to the disembodied Christian idea of a heavenly deity all-powerful, distant and pervasive at once. These creations can be defended with argument of the highest order and have adapted to changing circumstances with remarkable alacrity. The contemporary religious tradition of Christianity adapts to real challenges regarding ecological crisis and many organisations are transforming the way they practice their religion in line with these circumstances. 64 Ecological crisis demands responses that are attentive to the earth regardless of the extent to which they concurrently subscribe to inevitable anthropocentrism. In short, there can be no metaphysically satisfying response to ecological malaise that does not in some way accept that the earth is a living force of which humanity is a living part; the ecological worldview must form part of the spiritual. Working definitions of life and intelligence in the west, and in globalising
James W. Fernandez, Symbolic Consensus in a Fang Reformative Cult, American Anthropologist 67, no. 4 (1965): 90217. 64 See, at a large scale, the recent Popes interest in green issues, and, at a local level, the emergence of green movements within Christianity (such as Earthsong, found at http://www.earthsong.org.au/) and other religious groups in Melbourne (such as interfaith movement Greenfaith, found at http://www.greenfaith.org/).


consumer culture, are at issue here. My concluding chapter works to reveal the disembodiment at the heart of materialistic consumption with recognition of the way humanity is endlessly, according to origin and telos, time and place, kinship relations and regenerative capacity, embedded in the earth. The symbol of light, according to this analysis, operates to enjoin unreflective and ecologically damaging participation in this ritual whereby the relative darkness of the earth is consumed, and its immanence denied, even as it fuels our ephemeral experiences of transcendence over it. These rituals are hidden along the course of socialisation and this gives rise to a weakness in our ability to adapt them, because they are no longer marked out, as traditional religious rites are, in concrete terms, times and places. We unconsciously swim in contemporary ritual, in the image and symbols of the dominant mythic mode today: corporate-sponsored, individualistic but collective consumerism. Symbols of the dominant mode of western myth, as well as the counter movements made against it, are represented in cultural artefacts such as the visual and literary arts, but also in supermarket aisles, on billboards, the internet, and in the way we live. Everyday cultural artefacts reveal the way the dialectic play between (hoped-for) light and (disturbing) darkness has been and is constructed within western society just as well as do the artistic, philosophical and religious texts that grant such matters form. And this multilayered play offers hope, as well as frustratingly complete commodification, because western mythopoeia and society are so well-marked by innovation, development, and therefore transformation. The perennial ritual journey into the abyss at the edge of conventional consciousness is continuously hinted at in the tradition of western mythopoeia, such that the institution of ritualised activity need not be revivified as if from an archaeological dig but refreshed from its commodified torpor. Todays global society displays just as much tendency towards the totalisation or universalisation of ritualistic behaviour as any, but its continuing tendency towards suicidal alientation from the earth reveals its concomitant ecospiritual bankruptcy. The belief that humans enjoy divinely ordained dominion over the beasts of the earth is shared by certain influential streams of both religious and scientific thought. The sovereign individual of the west sits at the Biblical crown of creation, if traditionally religious, or at the leading (technoscientific) edge of linear evolutionary processes, if comfortable with the simplistic renderings of social Darwinism. In both cases they consider themselves self-aware, conscious, intelligent and alone above all the other creatures. Opposing this arrogant and self-serving view both types of thinking offer correctives the Biblical alternative of stewardship follows the idea that Gods creation is good and should be cared for, while the science of ecology teaches a worldview in which all creatures, and indeed environments, share interdependent fates (and even a conventional reading of Darwinian evolution places the human in a continuum with all animal life). Both alternatives share a capacity for greater empathy with nonhuman kin, an extension of the classical western taxonomy of objectified classifications that are rendered according to seemingly value-neutral observations but that are always also graded according to a beings utilitarian value. Both therefore act as bridges between the lonely human severed from other life on the planet and the possibility of extended systems (or understandings) of kinship with other animals and life-forms. Lvi-Strauss recognised in such creative models a universal coherence that was reflective of a peoples material connections and as such both physical and abstract at once. Ideas of extended kinship including connections reflecting the organization of nature itself become the basis of new forms of order that retrieve the worlds diversity from maddening chaos. 65 In the first chapter of The Savage Mind, Lvi65

Paul Shepard, The Only World Weve Got (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), 76.


Strauss stressed the similar operative functions of scientific and mythic thought, in the way they both work upon practical, material objects but with abstract objectives also in mind. The principal value of mythopoeia lies in preserving methods of observation and reflection which were (and no doubt still are) precisely adapted to discoveries of a certain type: those which nature authorised from the starting point of a speculative organization and exploitation of the sensible world in sensible terms. 66 Paul Shepards concern with other animals as the basis for extended human kinship systems, which then forms the basis of a sophisticated relational system between humans and their world, ties this sensibility to the modern realisation that humanity exists in an arbitrary universe. Shepards Me in a non-Me world is Coleridges Mariner at sea; and the mature response to this
penetrating and powerful realization is not concerned with blunting that dreadful reality but with establishing lines of connectedness or relationship. Formal culture is shaped by the elaboration of covenants and negotiations with the Other. The separation makes impossible a fuzzy confusion; there is no vague identity with nature, but rather a life-long task of formulatingand internalisingtreaties of affiliation. (Shepard, 178)

The ecocentric self suggested by this thesis recognises itself in relation to the other life-forms of this planet, the light of human selfhood being held not at a distance from the darkness that it feeds upon but in intimate, interdependent terms with it. Myth theory that sees perennial patterns replayed across the socialisation process of contemporary life with all the power to model behaviour but with little regard for the sanctity of the spiritual element to corporeality recognised in traditional religious rites is utilised to show that materiality is not the cause of the wests spiritual malaise. Rather, the lack of identification with our world, the hubristic distance we are conditioned to hold ourselves above it, the disconnection between ideas or modes of transcendence and the immanent world they depend upon, all gather together in the unconscious, blind world of commodification ritual (or materialism) to bind consumers to a mythology alienated from the simple wonders of life on earth. This thesis investigates the way the symbol of light is construed on behalf of this mythology of disconnectedness, asks at what ecological cost traditional western ideas of transcendence are composed in this narrative, and points towards a way of reading such myth and ritual as it finds in contemporary western life that could indicate creative response appropriate to its circumstances. Its methodology, then, would best be summed up as an intent to listen to the earth with as clear an understanding of the predilections of human consciousness as can possibly be maintained throughout such a process. That such an attempt must be limited in efficacy goes without saying; that it should go unattempted would mark a looking away from human potential that I could not countenance.


Claude Lvi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989), 16.


1 Light and Power

Moon-gods and sun-kings: transformations across political landscapes
Nanna glowing radiance, glittering light, crown of the night At one point in its history, the Sumerian civilisation often known for being a cradle for our own the crucible in which arts such as writing, city-building, and large-scale irrigation and agriculture were developed honoured a moon-god called Nanna who was the father of the sun. 67 This constellation culminates around 2000 BCE when Ur, the city that held Nanna as its tutelary deity, is sacked by invading Elamites (a story related in agonising detail in the great ancient epic poem Lamentations for Ur). Nanna represents something unusual in the mythic history that came to influence the rise of western civilisation, which tends more towards a pantheon within which the fickle moon is gendered female. 68 It is my belief that the passing of the last significant moon-god in the annals of urbanised pantheisms, accompanied as it is by the slow ascendance of the permanently vigilant military might of the sun-god and his representative king, marks a moment of pregnant significance in prewestern history. While there is no evidence to suggest that Nanna is some kind of steppingstone between a pagan prehistory of lunar goddess worship and the solar patriarchies that come to dominate western civilisation, feminine deities of this era did retain real power, which seems to lessen as masculine gods are collapsed under a solar image of untiringly universal aggression. While she sojourned into the Sumerian underworld, for instance, Inanna held the fate of the land in her hands, as consort to the shepherd Dumuzi and thereby symbolic guarantee of ongoing fertility, just such a position as Persephone would enjoy in Greek myth. In early Mesopotamia, Arabia and Ugarit, likewise, a sun-goddess (in Ugarit, Atirat, consort of the moon-god) disappeared under the earth at night to traverse the netherworlds underground sea in a boat and relieve the shades of the deceased. 69 Clearly we are dealing with a different conception of mythic light than that carried in the dominant cultural complex of the west, Christianity, and its modern, secular inheritor. Yet it is this very difference, allied with the military and political regimes that would transform such a system into a permanent realm of sun-god lore, which excites my interest in this place and time. In the sunset of ancient Sumers third and final dynasty of Ur, a masculine moongod could be the arbiter of justice and provide fertility to the herds even though not visibly potent for much of the month. Ecologically speaking, finding a moon-god in the Ur of ancient Sumer should come as no great surprise. In Mesopotamias blistering heat and desert sands, the moon could be thought of as a friendlier source of light than the sun, whose heat could so obviously be deadly as well as life-giving. The moon in this cosmology
Nanna is the original Sumerian name; he was also known as Sin, or Suen, in later Akkadian (with a probably Semitic influence). Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 122. 68 Joan Goodnick Westenholtz, Goddesses of the Ancient Near East 30001000 BC, in Ancient Goddesses: The Myths and the Evidence, ed. Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris (London: British Museum Press, 1998), 65. 69 Edward Lipi!ski, The Goddess Atirat in Ancient Arabia, in Babylon, and in Ugarit: Her Relation to the Moon-God and the Sun-Goddess, Orientalia Lovaniensa Periodica 3 (1972): 10119.


fathers the sun-god, Utu or Shamash, which is therefore understood to be of a younger generation of deity. Light is born out of the darkness, and the light of day owes its life to the god previously born of the night. Light and dark are in a different relationship here to the ones we will find in our exploration of the cosmologies employed in classical, medieval and contemporary worlds, although there are senses in which the Hebrew thought that formed the kernel of Biblical myth carried some influence from Sumerian culture. 70 But the rise of the city prompted a new kind of religious dispensation and loyalty amongst the Sumerian people. Agricultural skills had appeared in the region as early as the eighth millennium BCE. 71 The earliest known inhabitants, known as Ubaidians, scattered the Tigris-Euphrates plain with villages and towns built of mud bricks (since stone was scarce) and counted large and complex mud-brick temples among their accomplishments. By 4000 BCE they had become an important force for settlement over a large area from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea. Semitic nomads from the Syrian desert and Arabian peninsula began to infiltrate the Ubaidian settlements as conquerors and immigrants. (Sumerians, 3942) This cross-fertilisation of Ubaidian and Semitic peoples and cultures laid the foundations that greeted the arrival of the Sumerians around 3500 BCE, probably from Central Asia by way of Iran. From this point southern Mesopotamia attained unprecedented heights of material wealth and political power and saw the rise of the worlds first cities [where] ancient man accomplished some of his most impressive achievements in art and architecture, in social organization, in religious thought and practice andwith the invention of writingin education and communication. These cities represent the culmination of a long cultural development in which the relationship with the Euphrates Rivers seasonal inundations was paramount. With primitive irrigation techniques, food became more plentiful, families increased in size, reed and mud huts grew into villages of mud-brick houses, and loyalty was shifted from family to group as a social adjustment without which the birth of cities would have been impossible. (Cradle, 33) The widening of loyalties from close-knit groups of kin to more widespread collectivities that would become a formal element of city living and that would eventually be unravelled according to the splintering dictates of late modernity had begun. Such loyalties would always remain complex, however, as it has been noted, in shifting patterns over a large range of various shades between tribal nomadism and settled urbanites. 72 Sumer formed the first essentially urban civilisation, with a dozen or so city-states (in the third millennium BCE) each having a large, usually walled city surrounded by suburban villages and hamlets. (Sumerians, 73) Early political power had been remarkably democratic, but as the struggle between the city-states grew more violent and bitter, and as the pressures from the barbaric peoples to the east and west of Sumer increased, military leadership became a pressing need, and the king, or as he is known in Sumerian, the big man, came to hold a superior place. (74) The institution of kingship in around 3000 BCE seems to have been a response to the need for a sovereign military leader, at first temporary
The Sumerian cuneiform script was borrowed by practically all the peoples of Western Asia in a process that necessitated cultural exchange of ideas also. The result was a wide dissemination of Sumerian culture and literature that can be tracked in Hebrew texts and thought. Kramer, Sumerians, 29199. This is not to mention the Semite presence already detectable in early Mesopotamian cultures, for instance the famous Sargon the Great, who effectively ended Sumerian and founded Akkadian rule. (5966) 71 In Mesopotamia farming first developed into a solid base for civilisation and the rise of cities. Samuel Noah Kramer, Cradle of Civilisation (New York: Time-Life, 1969), 15. 72 See, for instance, Piotr Michalowski, History as Charter: Some Observations on the Sumerian King List, Journal of the American Oriental Society 103, no. 1 (1983): 24445.


according to the requirements of battle; but soon developing into despotism. (Cradle, 35) Each city shared such an intense rivalry that the competition for supremacy would flare up whenever foreign threats (of which there were several) were thrown off. As far as the archaeological evidence affords us to piece back together the life and times of a civilisation that was erased from human memory for over 2,000 years (Sumerians, 6), it would seem that love of the home city was a strongly moving force in Sumerian thought and action that was never altogether superseded by love of Sumer as a whole. (260) Inhabitants were known as sons of the city, took pride in it and its god and ruler, and were ever ready to take up arms in their behalf. (260) The struggle between the city-states in the early third millennium BCE, which in a sense proved to be Sumers undoing, was bitter and persistent; and they stubbornly refused to give up their independence. (260) With an almost permanent state of warfare, the changed position of king from temporary election in times of need to hereditary institution came to be considered the very hallmark of civilisation. (74) Armies grew and victories were gained by superiority in military weapons, tactics, organization, and leadership. In the course of time, therefore, the palace began to rival the temple in wealth and influence. (74)

A typically substantial Sumerian city like Ur, with ziggurat, circa third second millennium BCE

This fundamental change in cosmology as well as sociocultural allegiances represents the transformation I deal with in this chapter. The idea of a powerful king serving the moon-god will be completely displaced within a millennium of the shift from sporadic to permanent war, while the solar god-king figure comes to stand in for universal and unending power. Both the Egyptian and Roman Empires will experiment with solar monotheism before the Romans finally co-opt the God of relative upstart Christianity as its enduring solar symbol of the endless regime. The research aims of this thesis mean that it is the ecological cost associated with such light worship that remains of greatest interest, but


such matters cannot be considered apart from the military, political, and sociocultural systems employed by the settlement civilisations that will come to so heavily influence contemporary western life. The transformation of divine power to an almost exclusive focus on solar symbology universally powerful and polarised against an everchanging yet everconstant darkness is rehearsed in Sumer across the period between the rise of the ancient city-state and the fall of the third dynasty of Ur. In short, the more permanently a state of war afflicts large-scale settlements, the more powerfully militarised and centralised in the figure of the sun is its association of divine power. This can be seen as a case of an elite creating the God that authorises their domination (or, as for Xenophanes, if horses imagined gods those gods would resemble horses). This chapter ends with the suggestion that the kind of universalisation of centralised power endorsed under the solar mythologies of earlier settlement civilisations, such as those of Mesopotamia and Rome, continue to wield a powerful influence over contemporary political and psychological realities and at great ecological cost. * The shift in cultural allegiance from temple to palace plays a prominent (but never complete) role in the cementing of military force on behalf of a people united against their (mutable) enemies. During the times documented here (I concentrate on the third and final dynasty of Ur around 2000 BCE), the temple usually remained the largest, tallest, and most important building in the city, in accordance with the accepted theory that the entire city belonged to its main god, to whom it had been assigned on the day the world was created. (Sumerians, 7374) The human state was thought to function as a local version of a godly one: the gods owned the land and humans served them: The so-called city-state is a private organization and has a primarily economic purpose; it is the manor, the estate, of some great god. 73 Nannas place as tutelary deity of Ur positions him closest to the heart of the citys people, but the moon-god is still related within a hierarchy of Sumerian gods closely associated with the shifting fortunes of these tutelary deities and their cities. The political jostling for supremacy is identified within a matrix of shifting fortunes that follows the pantheistic conflict of natural forces model. According to Thorkild Jacobsens thesis, the Sumerian pantheon comprised a multitude of powerful individual wills each potentially frightening and in conflict with another because this reflected the changeable conditions of their environment. For the same reason Sumerians were cynical about the place of humanity in recognition of the power of nature. (Jacobsen, 12527) The ongoing tussle amongst the deities would then take place within a mythic framework that accorded with the nature of reality as it was perceived and experienced by the Sumerian people. Jacobsen stresses the degree to which the Sumerians emphasised organised relationships of the powers they recognised, in order to reflect both natural and cultural powers. (13548) Leadership amongst the gods, then, was likely to be granted to the tutelary deity of the most powerful city-state of the time, with some jostling amongst them evident in the way the pantheon changes over time. Air-god Enlil, for instance, who is important to this chapter both as father of Nanna and as supreme storm-god of ancient Sumer, accepts executive

Thorkild Jacobsen, Mesopotamia: The Function of the State, in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East, by H. Frankfort and others (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 185.



control over the human world when his city-state Nippur attains political dominance. 74 Former heaven-god An is not dismissed, however, but maintains his role as the ultimate leader of the gods even after his city-state Erech has been surpassed in political power by Nippur. The shift, rather than overturning Ans hoary throne, instead displaces him further into the distant skies until he has no command over the matters of the earth. Such a model of intergenerational usurpation is common in long-lasting religious modes, as formerly powerful iconic deities lose traction and are replaced by those with more immediate relevance (and less transcendental haughtiness!).75 The evidence provided by archaeological records suggests in such myths the passing of an age. It might also be pointed out that the life-cycle of ever-living, ever-dying gods takes on a new significance in these terms, concomitant with each human generations evolving cultures, technologies and sense of progress (where applicable). This pantheistic model is, along the course of Sumerian history, transmuted according to particular cultural, economic, and political developments. The state system Jacobsen posits for the Sumerians is one of prehistoric Primitive Democracy. (Jacobsen, 129, 135) As this civilisation grows, however, the world order is reconvened to promote powerful gods on behalf of an autocratic ruler who commands both authority and force to insure concerted action. (173) The growth of civilisation requires a sacrifice of freedoms on behalf of increased order, in accord with the lore of the city. Concomitant with the new order is a developing hierarchy working down from the families and individuals who assume leadership and thus claim to enjoy relations with (or even descent from) their citystates tutelary deities, gods who are venerated (amongst other things) for new inventions and technological developments. Enlil, for instance, was believed to have fashioned the pickax for agricultural and building purposes, and presented it first to the people of his city, Nippur. (Sumerians, 145) Thus the development of new technologies is traced along a trail of hands up to the gods and back down again. In Marxist terms, the leaders mint ideology on behalf of the mythological power structures that perpetuate their privilege. Like the spoils of war or the best cut of the captured prey, honour for the new tool, whose use creates profit, is heaped upon the god who inspired it. Then, as the gods chosen representatives on earth, the rulers are seen to be the foremost beneficiaries of this divine intervention. The people are, of course, coerced to offer up the products of their toil in the form of tax or profit. When Enlil invents the pickax, venerated tool of the irrigation-dependent Sumerians, it is [i]n order to make grow the creature which came forth. 76 Sumerians believed they were created to serve the gods and as such the divine inventions were an accompaniment to human labour in our service to them. 77 Enlil causes the good day to come forth, establishes
Kramer, Sumerians, 118. An begins handing over supreme leadership of the pantheon to Enlil around the time of the first writing, about 3000 BCE. By 2500 BCE the storm-god has taken his place as leader; An is still worshipped, but without prominence. Gods did not rule a city in isolation; for instance, the goddess Inanna is also listed as a tutelary deity of Erech. (140) 75 Kramer suggests that in a deeper sense this is actually what happens in the development which we term progress [which] is native to the philosophy and psychology of the Near East and continues in Christian terms when Christ, the son, becomes in many ways more significant and pertinent for man and his salvation than God, the father. Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium B.C. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972), 7475. 76 Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 52. From a poem simply titled The Creation of the Pickax. 77 Kramer, Sumerians, 123. The Sumerians thus had no exaggerated confidence in man and his destiny.


abundance and invents tools, and along with Enki sends the cattle and grain gods down to earth. (Sumerian Mythology, 42) The gods grant us abundant life that we may purchase for them ease, and so as we gain from their divine will, they gain from our acceptance of it. There is a tight-knit system of sacrifice and exchange being instantiated here, as human life gives thanks to the gods for their creative actions and finds that our works are in turn blessed as divinely authorised atonement is granted all round, in spite of the toil we suffer as part of agricultural civilisation. It takes a particular kind of symbolic understanding to believe that a god must be given thanks for the invention of a cultural item such as a pickax, and in this tight form of circular logic the gods grant us life, create the cosmos, and ensure abundance in short are responsible for everything we have. Thus, as such a useful tool as the pickax is invented, it cannot but be imagined, in this worldview, as a gift of the heavens. Enlil invents the pickax we are just shown how to make and use it by divine inspiration. The gap between material concerns and divine authority is closed. The god is manifest in the tool, and the Sumerian gives thanks to both at once. Sumerian cities likewise appear as gifts of the gods. In two poems concerning the genealogy of Nanna, the moon-gods visits to Nippur inspire praise for the divinity of the city, which is known as the bond of heaven and earth. (43) The city is given to the people as a gift of the divine, such that human hands manifest its godly design, bringing about the will of the gods, who are conversely assured that their creation will continue to regenerate and provide them with their leisure. This circular understanding is muted by the seemingly mysterious nature of the gods beneficence, however, which may be withdrawn at any moment. While this inscrutability is a common element of pantheism, which has often been related to the combinations and conflicts amongst competing forces of nature, the random nature of the Sumerian cosmology also crystallises into a duality of light over dark. Although the Mesopotamians, like oral traditions from non-settlement cultures, recognise light as an aspect of the prior and enduring state which is darkness (Kane, 167), the emergence of an all-powerful, martial sun-king eclipses certain subtleties in the play between light and night. Kane notes that such polarising tendencies often emerge with practices of agriculture, wherein light and dark are named as adversaries, with the forces of light friendly to the agriculturalist, the forces of darkness inimical. (167) Settlement is not alone in instigating a polarity of light over dark as mentioned, pastoral traditions like those of the early Zoroastrians polarised light and dark to an extreme extent but urbanity does seem to exacerbate such dualising tendencies. Against such dualism, Kanes claim that the state of light and the state of dark are present at the same time to the mythteller [in oral traditions], like the light and dark phases of the moon (167), touches on a potential psychological integration of darkness and light in human consciousness. Such primal complementarity, which may still have been witnessed before an (ongoing) age of permanent war was instituted, is compromised by the unchecked urban development of military and political power in the hands of a concentrated and centralised elite. Interestingly, worship of the sun appears to have been seasonal in its earliest phases. 78 The urbanising sky-gods, meanwhile, require obedience in exchange for order. As Jacobsen notes of the Sumerians, acceptance of authority is the ultimate value in a civilisation in which the universe is seen as a state. (Jacobsen, 202) Unquestioned belief can be manipulated accordingly, as divine will is seen manifest in political law, or kingship is seen to be authorised by the gods, a perfectly logical assumption according to the reasoning of the Sumerians. Indiscretion against this law can cause extreme reactions, and the prescribed remedy is increased rites and more fervent prayer, or, as in the case of the

Donald Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria (London: Kessinger Publishing, 2004), 53.


sacking of a city such as Ur, a neck bent to the inscrutable and sometimes vicious whim of Enlil:
Enlil called the storm; the people groan. The good storm he carried off from Sumer; the people groan. To the evil storm he issued directions; the people groan. The evil wind, like the rushing torrent, cannot be restrained; 79 The day was deprived of the rising of the bright sun, of the good light.

Human destiny, then, is tightly interwoven with that of the gods, and especially of the tutelary deity of the city. Even the Elamite kings who deposed the Sumerian rulers of Ur retained its traditional deities, Nanna-Sin continuing to be venerated as the citys moongod. 80 And just as the human hand came to control the earth with thanks to divine authority, so it reinscribed the moral law. The gods are revered for having authored all development, but it is our interpretation of their words that determine the shape of society. Thus the borderlands between what is considered natural and what is deemed cultural constitute a continually shifting territory within which material matters are granted divine authority to the extent that they have mythic origins imputed to them. The Sumerian pantheon reveals a prototype of a way that early civilisations transmute this tight circle of traditional mythic strategy. In small-scale group rituals, as described by Turner and Eliade, the world is made fresh through the re-enactment of its mythic origins, with each participant in the rites re-constituted in a collectively interpreted world according to their social and personal position. In Sumer, the myths still authorise a way of life, but cultural leaders such as sun-kings and a priestly caste begin to stand in for the gods as well as much greater military and economic forces than have previously been known. This combined rise of the phenomena of permanent military kingship and centralised urban authority relies for its cultural power on an idea that both are intimately allied, against a mutable threat of darkness, with forces of divinely powerful light.

Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur, trans. Samuel Kramer, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 45563, lines 17390. Enlil sends his storm against the city in the form of the invading Elamites, who in turn are seen simply as a tool of the god bent upon destroying the Sumerian city and the shrine of Nanna. All of the gods abandon the city to the wind, despite Ningals efforts to have it saved. Jacobsen, 19697. 80 Ira M. Price, Light out of Ur: The Devotion of Elamite Kings to Sumerian Deities, Journal of the American Oriental Society 51, no. 2 (1931): 16469.



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Sun-god attacks chaos monster: Mesopotamian hero Ninurta chases down Anzu

The I/Thou relationship posited for this period and region by the Frankforts aimed to conceive integration between the human world and nature, and the experiencing of this unity with the utmost intensity was the greatest good ancient oriental religions could bestow. 81 In the same vein Jacobsen discusses the way the Sumerian mind continued to attribute personality to the objects and phenomena of the world. They are deemed to be alive, personified with a will that motivates from beyond, and one not exhausted in the single concrete example of the phenomenon. (Jacobsen, 13032) Thus the city, with its walls and laws and borders, could still be experienced as a part of the natural law, as part of the living world decreed by the gods; the kind of alienation suffered by modern citydwellers would presumably have known no place here. While much of the inventiveness found in Sumerian mythology must be credited to a constant shifting amongst cosmic powers as cities developed and disintegrated in accord with their circumstances and cultural scribes transformed cosmologies to suit, a consistent pattern is found in the drive toward atonement between human culture and its immediate environment, which is seen as a manifestation of divinity. Yet, as contemporary ecocritics have pointed out, this tight-knit circle of the people, their gods, the city and the land would not inhibit the widespread deforestation implicit in the mythic legend of Gilgamesh. Evan Eisenberg points out that in the epic of the culture hero Gilgamesh sets out to strip distant forests, presumably because the local hills are denuded. Humanity takes the gods authority over, but concurrently recognises that we, as nature, are fated to die. As a result, we decapitate it. 82 Robert Harrison concurs, psychoanalysing Gilgameshs heroism as a failed attempt to overcome his own human mortality by displacing it onto the cedars. Famed as a builder of walls, the king presides over the division of culture from nature at the dawn of civilisation; his attempted transcendence, first of the forests guardian spirit and then of death itself, is a pathetic lunge towards the impassive immortality of the earth that gains him nothing but costs the trees
81 82

H. and H. A. Frankfort, Myth and Reality, in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, 26. Evan Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 11619.


their lives. 83 Westling avers that, in fact, ecological tragedy is the very ground of Gilgameshs heroism, his triumph equated with rejection of the traditional fertility mysteries of Mesopotamian religion. (Green Breast, 21) Patriarchal bonding, exemplified in the heros relationship with Enkidu, acts as a corollary to the replacement of reverence for the natural landscape by violent conquest and destruction in the Epic of Gilgamesh, repetitions of cyclic patterns of renewal being violently disrupted by the new quest. (2021) Sumerian metaphysical circularity, however, did not aim to overcome urban alienation with reference to a mother earth figure of imagined unitive plenum. Sumerian acceptance of masculine political rule seems to be complete, and their literary images of goddess figures are entirely realistic about the potentially ambivalent nature of either gender when it comes to eternal truths. By the time these written records begin, feminine deities have been assigned secondary, relatively passive roles. 84 At some early period in the development of the pantheon, writes Kramer, the Sumerian theologians decided that it would be preferable to have a male deity as the god in charge of so all-important a cosmic entity as the earth, and those among them who were Nippur-oriented succeeded in attributing to Enlil the lordship of the earth. The earth-mother Ki then assumed motherly qualities such as playing a leading role in the creation of man, being the midwife of the land, and giving birth to a number of healing gods.85 Meanwhile Enlil was conceived to be a most beneficent deity who was responsible for the planning and creation of most productive features of the cosmos. As a god of the storm, he was characterised as being responsible for destruction and misfortune, but for the most part he was a most friendly, fatherly deity who watches over the safety and well-being of all humans and particularly, of course, over the inhabitants of Sumer. 86 Once Nippur had become the political and religious centre of Southern Mesopotamia, psychologically satisfying justifications for Enlils pre-eminence came to the fore in Sumerian mythological terms; hence, for example, the explanation that An resides impassively behind the scenes while Enlil gets things moving on behalf of creation. Enlil maintains supremacy over the Sumerian pantheon for around a thousand years from 2500 BCE, his executive position finally usurped by sun-god Marduk in the later mythology of Babylon. 87 All the gods of heaven and earth bowed down before Enlil, as he perfected lordship with far-reaching command and vision. He is described as the father of the gods, the king of the universe and the king of all the lands. He is given credit for creating the
Robert Pogue Harrison, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 1418. 84 As far as influences on western civilisation go, the cuneiform script of Sumer renders the earliest evidence. The Sumerians originated a system of writing on clay, which was borrowed and used all over the Near East for some two thousand years. Kramer, Sumerians, 4. Also, Sumerian mythological records are unique in that they are original compositions, not modified by later redactors with axes to grind and ideologies to satisfy. Our Sumerian literary compositions thus represent the oldest literature of any appreciable and significant amount ever uncovered. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 12. 85 Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, xiixiii. Enkis illnesses lead towards eight cures (58); see also Kramer, Sumerians, 182. 86 Kramer, Sumerians, 119. Kings and rulers boast that it is Enlil who has given them the kingship of the land, who has made the land prosperous for them, who gave them all the lands to conquer by his strength. (Cf Yahwehs personal interest in the welfare of his people.) 87 The Babylonian creation epic was called the Enuma-Elish, which drew upon Sumerian myth for some of its subject matter. The Babylonian hero is Marduk, while the Assyrians later substituted their national god, Assur, in the same role. Kramer, Cradle, 107.


me (pronounced may), which were a set of universal laws governing all existence. 88 The me are mythic constructs that determine interrelationship and ensure order, acting as something like a depersonalised kinship structure of the Sumerian cosmos, and it is through Enlils violation of one of these laws the one prohibiting rape that Nanna the moon-god is brought into being. This lends another possible aspect to Enlils rule, as a warning-deity in charge of law (or a taboo scapegoat). His divine ownership of the me will later be dispersed amongst other gods, with Enki accepting responsibility for them at one stage, and the goddess Inanna at another. This shifting of responsibility can be seen as another case of rival city-states staking claims for a share of the political power of Sumer on behalf of their tutelary deities. It also betrays a remarkably structural and flexible stability somewhat reminiscent, on a larger scale, of the improvisational character of oral myth. Enlils transgression may reflect a weakening of Nippurs position, as well as being an opportunity to show how power corrupts and darkness and chaos is always the flip side of light and order. Enlils rape of Ninlil, an air-goddess also resident of Nippur, results in the moon-god being birthed out of darkness. A psychoanalytic reading would focus on the implications of Enlils dangerous instinctive urge that needs to be creatively repressed, as the sublimating and channelling of muted desire, into the building of civilisation. While we can assume this is partly the case, a reading of the myth outlining Nannas birth can also be helpful in considering the physical conditions of life in these early settlements. Nanna can be thought of as having been twice born out of darkness: once, as lunar light, out of the darkness of the night sky, and again, thanks to Enlils rape of Ninlil, out of the shadows of the netherworld of transgression. Both origins ally him with forces of regeneration as well as danger. Forces of regeneration are closely aligned with matters of fertility and fecundity, and for the Sumerians, such matters were the province of masculine gods, who provided the people with the irrigation techniques that ensured plenty in the harsh lands. It is in this context that we understand Nanna the moon-king as the bull of the night sky, an early god of animal husbandry. As a masculine god of fertility, Nanna the moon-god is the wild bull, Lord of the holy herd who consecrates the purification rites, seed engendered in a holy shrine. 89 Humans and herd animals alike express deep affection for the deity who inspires the young man to make love with his wife. 90 The moon-god acts to create years of abundance, causes the early flood and unceasing abundance, makes firm the quays, regulates the nipples of heaven, and establishes celebration. 91 Sumerian reverence for the lunar invokes a love of the light that both illumines the comparatively gentle night sky and helps to bring the life-giving waters to the dry fields of their scorched desert land. The complementary powers of the Sumerian gods can be seen in this context, as when, in the myth of Enki and Ninhursaja, fresh water runs out of the ground from Nannas

Kramer, Cradle, 102. The creation of these broad concepts is a remarkable tribute to the originality of the people of Mesopotamia, for they were the first to conceive so speculative a concept. 89 A balbale to Suen (Nanna A), in The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), ed. J. A. Black and others, t.4.13.01, lines 4149 (Oxford: 19982006), http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.13.01&charenc=j# 90 A ululumama to Nanna (Nanna J), in ETCSL, t.4.13.10, lines 2832, http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.13.10&charenc=j# 91 A cir-namgala to Nanna (Nanna L), in ETCSL, t.4.13.12, lines 1830, http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgi-bin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.13.12&charenc=j#



radiant high temple when Utu (the sun) steps up into heaven. 92 This is paradigmatic regenerative myth firmly ensconced within a cosmology of masculinist power structures. As might be expected of an agricultural society, the matter of fertility is seen to combine masculine arts of encouragement the technologies of farming and irrigation with a feminine landscape that is passive and will not yield up its gifts without some powers of persuasion. The male supplies the active part of fertility, just as the bull is put over the cow for the purposes of animal husbandry, while the female receives and serves as the regenerative vessel. This is not the only function Nanna serves in his position as a friendly light of the darkness, however. The myth that describes the way Nanna came to inherit his heavenly abode takes its place amongst the genealogy of the gods that follows Enlils early usurpation of Ans heavenly throne. Nannas light is born from a darkness that carries no explicitly negative weight; although, of course, in some sense it is a state of lack that must lead to the creation of light. After separating heaven (An) from earth (Ki), Nannas father Enlil found himself living in utter darkness, with the unlit sky forming the ceiling and walls of his house and the black earth its floor. (Sumerian Mythology, xv, 41) Nannas genealogy reveals the existence of a chthonic darkness, however, that is fully available for the negative loading we come to expect on behalf of settlement civilisation. The moon-gods birth out of an act of rape combines opposites to cement the cosmic and social orders of a stable society concerned with issues of justice. As well as being inherently just, within his particular cultural circumstances, Nanna takes his place amongst the pantheon as a marker of cultural bounds in ways that mark the darkness as a threatened place of exile below, as well as a fecund force of primal generation. Although comparatively little attention is paid to the victim of Enlils rape, her actions are indispensable to the narrative. Ninlil, a beautiful young air-goddess who becomes pregnant with the moon-god, takes it upon herself to follow Enlil on his exile to the netherworld. (Sumerian Mythology, 41) Enlils tempestuous nature has not abated, however, and he ravishes Ninlil three more times, each time having deceived her with what may perhaps be the first written record of transmogrification. The meaning of the word translated as ravisher in this text is a more general term meaning one who is under taboo relating to matters of sex. (Jacobsen, 153) This is not necessarily a case of incest taboo as a creative social force, then, but as law arising from the need to regulate sexual activity in the wider social sphere. From these nether world unions three minor deities are produced, each to take its place as a lord of the darkness. 93 In this way the ransom may be paid that will allow Nanna to take his place in the heavens above, for noone, neither mortal nor god, may leave the netherworld without some other soul being procured that can take its place.94 The myth recognises that ambivalue operates both in environmental and psychological terms, as the generative storm god Enlil also shows his curiously dark and violent strains in a breaking of the laws and taboos of society. (Jacobsen, 156) A balancing of positive celestial forces and negative infernal ones upholds the fundamental social order, as chaos is subsumed by, or operates in tandem with, regenerative powers. An ultimately totalising force is recognisable as a fundamental facet of the mythic cosmos, which reveals an order not impervious to destruction but one that arises incessantly out of the constant strife wreaked upon (or within) it. The myth closes with
Enki and Ninhursaja, in ETCSL, t.1.1.1, lines 4043, http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/cgibin/etcsl.cgi?text=t.1.1.1&charenc=j# 93 Meslamtaea, Ninazu, and one god who remains unknown due to damaged text. Jacobsen, 15455. 94 This rule applies fatally to Dumuzi when Inanna seeks a suitable surrogate for her ascent out of the netherworld. Kramer, Sumerians, 13334.


praise for both the parents of Nanna and a stoic insistence that the words of the gods cannot be changed, no matter how seemingly impetuous. (155) Enlil retains his place as the active force of heavenly will despite the fact that for his transgression he was banished to the Sumerian netherworld. Not until Marduks (much later) rise as Babylonian hero of the gods and vanquisher of the demonic goddess Tiamat will Enlils authority be truly questioned, and even then he is invoked as the one whose will is being done through the hand the new king of the gods. (Jacobsen, 19294) Enlils majestic status, in combination with this exile to the land of the shades below, helps to create the underworld as a negative image of the heavens above, in which the darkness below houses chaos and deaths rule. The opposition with heaven provides territory for the scapegoat; it is the land to which we are sent upon our mortal expiry but also a perfidious holding pen that acts as a cosmic jailhouse, the place to which we descend if we, like Enlil, transgress and threaten the social order by creating chaos. This hell, since Enlils initial wrongdoing, could then be used to explain the proliferation of evil acts in the world. The inevitable harms suffered in life could be seen as having meaning thanks to divine sanction as the gods will both justice and intransigence. The Sumerian netherworld justifies the existence of all those negative qualities that oppose truth and justice, providing a relief of chaotic darkness against which the ordering light may be constructed (or a repository of raw material out of which it may be fashioned). When Nanna later begets the sun-god Utu (later Shamash) and the planet Venus, or Inanna, as well as the other planets and stars, he is merely unfolding the universe according to the principles that seem most logical according to the Sumerian worldview. Light emanates from darkness and this mysterious way of the gods is ultimately inscrutable in terms of human understanding. Meanwhile, fecundity is apportioned its vitality to the moongod, combining facets of both agricultural and pastoral myth in the one progenitor. Father Nanna is praised, for instance, in Hymn to the Moon-God, for his heroic leadership of the gods, for being the power whose word produces green vegetation and general fecundity when it settles down on the earth, the womb that gives birth to everything, progenitor of the land, the mystery whose deep heart no one of the gods comprehends, and which causes truth and justice to be. 95 His fecund qualities are combined with a mastery of firelight and there is an association between this light, as a social haven, and Nannas role as the bringer of justice. In Prayer to the Moon-God, Nanna is praised as the glorified one who makes bright by furnishing light for the people Bright is thy light in heaven, the ode continues, Brilliant is thy torch like fire. 96 Moonlights social and psychological value is further praised when it is said that Thy brightness has filled the broad land. The people are radiant; they take courage at seeing thee. (Prayer to the Moon-God, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 386, l. 78) The spirit of a Sumerian was lifted by that luminescence that was also equated with truth and justice, because gods of fire, like all celestial deities of light and heat, stand against evil-doers. (Sumerians, 122) They expose shifty characters who might otherwise lurk in dark corners waiting to commit crime, symbolically bringing a sense of justice to all social transactions. (Of course, politically speaking, the order of light often seeks simply to stamp out those resistant to the established hierarchy, too.) In making a place for the forces of destruction in their mythic cosmos, then, the Sumerians found a way to balance twin aspects of divinity as they were seen to be
Hymn to the Moon-God in Sumero-Akkadian Hymns and Prayers, trans. Ferris J. Stephens, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 38586, lines 1218 and reverse of tablet. 96 Prayer to the Moon-God in Sumero-Akkadian Hymns and Prayers, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 386, lines 36.


materialised in life. Deities of darkness represented the negating and destructive forces found in nature and in the human psyche, and although these realities cannot be placated in any fixed sense death is, after all, a necessary corollary of life they could be kept at bay with appropriate sacrifices, offerings, and signs of respect. These forces were understood to have power in everyday life and in this sense destruction and chaos played an active role in the Sumerian worldview. In Blumenbergian terms, the absolutism of reality had not been pushed very far from the horizon of everyday Sumerian life, even though the myths by which it might be approached and appreciated were being transformed into the emergent and continually developing cosmos of settlement life. The myth of Inannas descent to the netherworld further elucidates this balancing act. Inanna is blessed as a queen of heaven, the goddess of light and love and life, but not one without her own inner contradiction, as deity of battle also. (Sumerian Mythology, 86) Her shadow deity is the Queen of the Netherworld, Inannas elder sister and bitter enemy Ereshkigal, the goddess of darkness and gloom and death. (86) Enlil and Nanna, in both refusing to help their daughter Inanna, seem to indicate that they uphold the decrees of the netherworld as part of the order of the cosmos. (9394) Ereshkigal, whom Kramer claims was probably originally a sky goddess, is carried off into the netherworld, Kur, as its prize after earth and heaven had been parted:
After heaven had been moved away from earth, After earth had been separated from heaven, After the name of man had been fixed; After An had carried off heaven, After Enlil had carried off earth, After Ereshkigal had been carried off into Kur as its prize;

the wily and wise water-god Enki set off in pursuit, no doubt to avenge this deed. 97 The darkness is in possession of its own strengths and abilities, however, and resists the incursion of any upper-world god seeking vengeance with its own chthonic set of rights and sense of order. Hurling stones at Enki, and compared with fierce man-eating beasts, stands Kur:
In battle, like the attacking storm, overwhelm; Against the king, the water at the head of the boat, Like a wolf devours, Against Enki, the water at the rear of the boat, Like a lion strikes down. (3738)

It would seem here that just as certain deities are set up on high and praised for their munificence and foresight in creating the cosmos and humanity, others must be consigned to the darkness in order to balance our view of life and justify the existence of suffering, sacrifice, death, and taxes. In this version of the cosmogonic dragon-slaying that culls order out of the chaos associated with primal reality (before it has been acted upon by human mind or hand), Kur is the monster who resists Enkis attacks with the throwing of stones and with primeval waters (or chaos): the negative and destructive side of natural forces is given shape. The indications are that Kur

Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, 3738. In the introduction to the myth Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Nether World, as with many of these stories, cosmogonic information is carried in a conventional story-telling opening. This particular piece is the major source for the Sumerian conception of the creation of the universe. (3738)


is conceived as a large serpent which lived in the bottom of the great below where the latter came into contact with the primeval waters. For at least according to one of the versions, when Kur is destroyed, these waters rise to the surface and all cultivation with its resulting vegetation becomes impossible. (Sumerian Mythology, 7880)

There is evidence here that the forces of darkness must be conceived of as both inimical to life but necessary to it, as repulsive but regenerative; the unbalanced attempt to eradicate them instead instigates sterility. The powerful darkness of the netherworld beneath the earth perennially rises again, just as Inannas victory there grants her the power to overcome the finality of death. This power can only be accepted upon exit, however; for Inannas dwelling in the abode of Ereshkigal leaves the upperworld sterile, so that she must return in full power to her proper place as a light to human hopes. 98 Enkis early role as sea-god and lord of the abyss may also reveal a similar role for the generative forces of Sumerian darkness, as it is against them that the gods attain mastery (in Enkis case, over the primeval waters). We are faced here with the suggestion that the ultimate eradication of Kur, as a symbol of darkness, the earth, and its waters, is not in our best interests. From this perspective, in mythopoeic terms, the monster of darkness is necessary to balance, as death is a prerequisite of life. We may therefore assume that in this early strata of settlement civilisation mythology there is an ambivalent attempt to both eradicate and placate the darkness of the world, to master it without ultimately destroying it. The moon is the father of the sun: Nanna orders and runs out of time Once positioned forever in the heavens, and being by nature versed in numbers, Nanna the moon-god becomes known by a great variety of epithets that call to mind his numerous qualities and powers. He is, as well as god of fertility, the dragon of heaven and earth [who,] fixing the months and the new moon, sets the year in its place. 99 The Sumerian calendar followed strict lunar months, with an inserted intercalary month to overcome the difference between lunar and solar years. (Sumerians, 91) The ruling god organised the movements of the moon, as well as the stars and planets, so that order would prevail. Each significant light in the sky determined its own realm of responsibility; the sun was locked into its reliable path while the moon measured time unfailingly, with shining horns on the first six days of the month and decreased radiance in the second half of its cycle. (Jacobsen, 18182) Light, tracked for the way it crosses the sky, is thus used to measure time and the passing of the seasons, a calendrical facility of the moon also utilised in Hebrew culture. That the night sky was considered enormously important to ancient humans is well known, with both stellar and planetary movements being tracked over vast swathes of time and with symbolic meanings being applied to such readings. The potential insights of this mythopoeic tradition continue, albeit in a different vein, when we consider the way that that the contemporary western calendar traces both solar and lunar movements according to
Inannas descent is discussed in these terms in Ereshkigals queenship of the netherworld in Charles Penglase, Greek Myths and Mesopotamia: Parallels and Influence in the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod (New York: Routledge, 1994), 24647. He also compares her blazing return with Athenas late Olympian birth (clothed in light) out of the mountain of Zeus forehead, both ascents resembling the terrifying effect of Ninurtas return from victory over Anzu, radiant with power. (23234) 99 A cir-namgala to Nanna (Nanna L), lines 1830.


mathematically precise calculations, which can be seen as a shift away from association with natural cycles and towards abstract (but precise) principles of exactitude. For the Sumerians, a cosmic kinship system traced the evolution of light as a genealogy of the gods, from the birth of Nannas lunar light out of the night sky to his place as father of the sun. Nanna had as his consort Ningal, also a deity of Ur, and in contrast to the tempestuous nature of his parents relationship, Nanna and Ningal enjoyed convivial relations. Utu (or Shamash) the sun-god was their first offspring, and far from being rivals for the sky, sun and moon shared it and their combined role as judge without competition. Surpassing is thy light, waxes the Prayer to the Moon-God, like Shamash thy first-born. Bowed down in thy presence are the great gods; the decisions of the land are laid before thee. (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 386, lines 1011) With Sin, thy father, it is opined in the later Prayer of Ashurbanipal to the Sun-God, thou dost hold court; thou dost deliver ordinances. 100 The sun is praised for its constant watch over creation (As one who does not cease from revelation, daily thou dost determine the decisions of heaven and earth) and the sense of natural rule that accompanies this symbolic idea is extended to the right of the king to accept power over his people: I am thy [servant], Ashurbanipal, the exercising of whose kingship thou didst command in a vision [Forever] may he rule over thy people whom thou hast given him in righteousness. (Prayer of Ashurbanipal to the Sun-God, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 38687, l. 1419) We recognise, in considering the mythologies of a wide variety of peoples in a comparative manner, that any sociopolitical system will tend to justify itself with appeal to sacred authority. The divine sits outside of time and space, ineluctably associated with transcendental power regardless of its relationship to the particularities of historic circumstances, responsible for the creation of the cosmos either personally or via an executive commander. Inevitably, this divine king commands the earthly ruler, who in turn ensures that the god is worshipped in the style to which it has become accustomed. Alongside Urs honour for a lunar deity that stood specifically as guardian of its people and place in the world, and who ruled beneficently alongside his son Utu the sungod, a new religious dispensation was emerging in the Mesopotamian hub of civilisation. The moon-god retains its place in the Sumerian pantheon for many centuries following the fall of his city Ur (at least as it was ruled by and on behalf of the Sumerian people) around 2000 BCE, 101 but the potential of a moon-deity to be invoked as the fundamental power driving a ruling military and priestly class will soon become diluted. This political shift tends against a common equality between sun and moon deities such as we have already witnessed. Solar and lunar powers are long held as commensurate and in many ways continue to be treated as equals, as is shown by The Fight for the Throne text of Assyrian king Esarhaddon (ruled 680669 BCE), who thwarted his brothers rebellion on the way to his victorious entrance into Nineveh. 102 Upon reaching the embankment of the Tigris, and upon the (oracle-)command of Sin and Shamash, the (two) lords of the (celestial) embankment, he had all his troops jump over the mighty river as if it be a small ditch. (The Fight for the Throne, 28990) In fact this balance of both solar and lunar deities,
Prayer of Ashurbanipal to the Sun-God, in Sumero-Akkadian Hymns and Prayers, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 38687, line 7. 101 The Elamite kings who deposed Sumerian rulers of Ur at the end of its Third Dynasty still venerated Nanna-Sin as their tutelary moon-god. Ira M. Price, Light out of Ur: The Devotion of Elamite Kings to Sumerian Deities. Journal of the American Oriental Society 51, no. 2 (1931): 16469. 102 The Fight for the Throne, in Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts, trans. A. Leo Oppenheim, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 28990.


when associated with a king's reign, has long been shown to be a stock phrase attested in Sumerian, Akkadian, Phoenician, and Hebrew. 103 But a new generation of kings are by now poised to assume the power of ordering the world according to the dictates of solar iconography. A shift in the weight of allegiances from moon- to sun-god can be seen as a pattern accompanying certain historical developments, and the solar deity is intensified as an ordering force at a particular point in Mesopotamian city-based civilisation. The emergence of the sun-king, who would fight endless ongoing battles on behalf of his people, can be seen initiated around four or five hundred years before the fall of Ur, when certain leaders begin to aggrandise their rule over the four quarters of the world. 104 This phrase is closely associated with the kind of universal authority that would often later indicate solar regency: Sargon of Akkad (23342279 BCE), one of the greatest monarchs of the third millennium, also called himself he who rules the Four Quarters, and his son and successor, Naram-Sin, used the title king of the four quarters, as did Shulgi, King of Ur (20942047 BCE). (Campion, 8890) The gradual increase in war afflicting the growing city-states and empires inevitably influenced the style of leadership necessary to the Sumerians, such that a certain type of social organisation gained ascendancy. Settlement civilisation does not invent armed conflict, but it greatly increases the frequency, intensity and costs of war. Other developments combined to shape the way that the new focus on the solar deity would proceed. Legendary figures like Gilgamesh vouchsafe their logging trips to the cedar forests with prayers to the sun-god, who afflicts the hero with a restless spirit but also makes space for him in the heavens. 105 Another note of historical import is the fact that Elamite and Amorite invaders both conquered Sumerian city-states under the standard of their own sun-gods, which would have inspired fervent intercultural loyalty as the solar deity was credited with military success. 106 This coincidence only underscores the rise of military powers and solar cults across the same era of civilisations development in Mesopotamia. Conditions are now being met for a new generation of sun-gods to whom human rulers would look for the qualities most specific to their vocation: consistency and might of rule. Ashurbanipal (reigned 668627 BCE), famous for his library, claimed in his Hymn to the Sun-God that Thy brilliance fills the extent of the land. 107 This destroyer of evil above and below casts its rays down like a net over the lands (section i, lines 45), sending frightful brilliance (i, 48) into every corner of the world. (Hymn to the SunGod, 38788) Spiritual inspiration is venerated alongside might, as the sun-god stands by the traveler whose road is difficult, gives courage to the fearful seafarer, and guidance to the hunter. (387, section ii, l. 911) Justice is cemented as a cornerstone of civil dealings and is universalised along with the path of the mighty solar deity, who exercises judgment over both righteous and criminal in all directions. (389, section iii, l. 3040) Sacrificial

Shalom Paul, Psalm 72:5: A Traditional Blessing for the Long Life of the King, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 31, no. 4 (1972): 35155. 104 The first monarch known to have claimed such powers was Lugalannemundu, King of Adab in the twenty-sixth century BC, who described himself as king of the four quarters of the universe. Nicholas Campion, The Great Year: Astrology, Millenarianism and History in the Western Tradition (London: Penguin Arkana, 1994), 8890. 105 Gilgameshs mother Ninsun makes the supplication, which also requests the wisdom of the deeps. The Epic of Gilgamesh, trans. Andrew George, standard ed. (London: Penguin Books, 1999), tablet III, lines 43106, pp. 2426. 106 Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia, 24041. 107 Hymn to the Sun-God, in Sumero-Akkadian Hymns and Prayers, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 38789, l. 20.


offerings and politically sanctioned taxes must be seen as connected concerns in a society that hardly differentiates between the rule of the god and its chosen representative on earth. The pure wine (and) beer of the quay tavern-keeper may be warmly received by the sungod, but in the end For a divination bowl all the countries are not enough. (389, iii, 4148) The ideas that taxes increase, that fervent homage can quickly become an outright war cry, and that a call for universal justice may transform as if overnight into a pogrom, requires no historical documentation here. The need for set regulations as they are seen symbolised by the regularity of the sun begins to eclipse the more fluid waxing and waning of the moon, symbolising the firepower of military rule required for the defense of a city against the constant threat of raid and competitive attack. Nanna illuminates the night sky to keep watch over this play, but his stand is inconstant evil-doers will have their way at (dark) times, and this is decreed by the word of the gods. Once it has been determined that the me will be violated and from what we know of human history, this caveat to divinely authorised order must exist alongside the origin of order itself new gods must be created to accommodate this corruption. Nanna and Utu/Shamash keep watch, shedding the light of justice on the darkness in which wrongs will be done, while other deities such as Nannas three brothers inhabit the underworld as acknowledgements of the impersonal, more-than-human corruption of heavenly order. Thus realms of both good and evil or actions that result in general beneficence and those that result in discord or ill-will are reified and can be explained in terms that accord with the eternal way of things, the world order as it is inherited by we mere mortals. In a sense, there is an ecology common to both moral law and the environmental conditions experienced and interpreted in Sumerian civilisation. Just as the storm can be life-giving or destructive depending on the conditions of the day, so moral order is associated with cosmic powers that incarnate here on earth in material forms both benevolent and malevolent in turn. Ninlil, innocent young maiden, can be raped, and no amount of good deeds or pious behaviour on anyones behalf will change that possibility. But when it occurs, there is a mythic universe that explains such iniquity and attempts to maintain a moral order that can be outraged by the action and set out terms for its punishment Enlil is banished, but only temporarily, while the cosmically authorised state reigns supreme. Light and dark take turns to lead this dance, or battle, with light always seeking a way to reassert its ascendance. This process is accomplished in part when the damaging results of rebellious actions made against, or in ignorance of, the order of light are banished to the darkness. The ultimate generative power behind the Sumerian cosmos is a battle between opposing forces both simplistic the light must overcome the darkness and complex, as loyalties shift amongst tutelary deities of competing city-states as well as according to the conflicts rife amongst the characters of the pantheon. The power of light in this context is dependent, for its very ethical ascendancy, upon a lower realm of darkness, in a paradoxical relationship of mutually creative antagonism. The conception of light construed on behalf of the agricultural experiment of Sumerian society in some way always comes to battle an oppositional force the chaos that threatens order even as it can concurrently be seen in an interdependent and regenerative relationship with its nemesis. Thus the religious disposition attempts, on behalf of its ethical responsibilities, to consolidate an ascendant vision whereby light overcomes the darkness even while it points, mythically and ultimately, to the interdependence underpinning this construct. The Sumerian is a stoic in this sense, the gods their capricious masters and the afterlife a drudgery in comparison, fiercely loyal to a cultural development that seemed to rise above the earth as a ziggurat to the stars. But ecologically it is the fact of the subjugated earth that is of most interest here; Michel Serres use of the Goya painting of two combatants fighting


with cudgels, while both sink into the quagmire they create of the earth, springs to mind as an adequate metaphor here. (Natural Contract, 3) The passage from localised skirmishes to the permanently violent antagonism between a sun-king and his chaotic nemeses on all sides marginalises any idea that the darkness is a complementary force, that opposites can work together in a perennial cycle of nature. This idea is of the lunar, wherein life consistently works as a complementary antagonism between light and darkness. In the passage from third millennium Sumer to first millennium Babylon, the cultural ruler becomes almost exclusively associated with solar power and its consistently glowing force. While the sungod is still one member of a greater pantheon, the age where a king could lead in the name of a lunar deity and its cyclically regenerative light is past. And with this passage we leave the realm of the masculine moon-god behind for the rest of western history. The sun-god and military kingship in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Rome We know from the Sumerian King Lists that kingship was thought by Mesopotamians to have been initiated by the gods. Each version of the list (there are also multiple variations inscribed on behalf of Babylonian and Assyrian empires) records the names of most of the kings of Sumer and the lengths of their reigns from what, for the Sumerians, was the beginning of historythe time in the distant past when kingship (first) descended from heaven. (Sumerians, 3536) It begins in antediluvian times, with divine inheritance and fantastic Methuselahian reigns, leading through generations of heroic regents to the time contemporaneous to the inscription. The unreliability of the list in historical as well as ideological aspects has been discussed by Sumerologists. 108 However the point here is exactly that the agenda of the authors and the leaders they serve can be read through the venerations activated in their cuneiform texts. The fact that later generations of Babylonian and Assyrian cultures came to rank the sun-god as a focal deity on behalf of the office of kingship must be regarded as a matter of political and economical functionality. The solar deity and the military ruler authorised each other in a system of mutual military lordship. The sun-god could be seen to rule with consistency, rising each day anew, as Hammurabi, in the preamble to his famous Law Code (eighteenth century BCE), stated: I am the sun of Babylon who causes light to rise over the land of Sumer and Akkad. 109 While promising to bring light to the people, such law codes (supported as they were by military victories and the self-aggrandisement of the conqueror) could be seen to unify the land but ultimately altered the way of life in Mesopotamia very little. (Cradle, 5253)

108 109

See, for instance, Michalowski, History as Charter, 23748, esp. 240. Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 307. It should be noted that even then Hammurabi constructed a throne for the main dais of the god Nanna in Babylon. Texts from Hammurabi to the Downfall of the Assyrian Empire, trans. A. Leo Oppenheim, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 270.


Hammurabi receives the famous Law Code with reference to his divine (solar) genealogy

The office of kingship developed incrementally in Mesopotamia, alongside other complicated new structures of social arrangements. Across the millennia of Mesopotamian civilisation, however, one common theme in the texts that stand alongside the desert ruins as its enduring record is a slow but inexorable shift from rural to urbanised pantheisms. The defining difference across the trajectory of this transformation in forms of belief is the ascent of solar worship to the most powerful position of the gods the one that the kings wished to be most strongly associated with. While Nanna-Sin continued to receive later Babylonian veneration, that is to say, it was the sun that inspired the more fierce associations of the military king and ruler. While the office of kingship in Mesopotamia was not considered to be divine in and of itself, as it was in Egypt, some Mesopotamian rulers fused an association with the divine realm in a temple ritual during which they were married to a goddess in the spring renewal of nature. (Kingship, 295) The divine union promised to benefit the land and people by vouchsafing prosperity for the year to come, as stated in the hymn Chiera:
Around the shoulders of pure Inanna he has laid his arm. Like daylight she ascends the throne on the great throne dais; The king, like unto the sun, sits beside her. (296)


In Mesopotamia the sun-king, often ruthless in his drive towards united power, was nevertheless consistently constrained to honour Utu-Shamash in the gods traditional role as one member of a traditional pantheon. Ancient Egypt, on the other hand, would see the birth of what appears to be the first experiment in monotheism. Although ultimately failing to transform the Egyptian religion from its pantheism, the solar rule of Akhenaten shook the foundations of the Egyptians traditional beliefs surrounding the ancient sun-god Ra and his descendant Osiris. The first experiments in Egyptian solar-based monotheism failed utterly to take hold over the imaginations of the people, following as they did nearly two millennia of pantheism. These early attempts to magnify solar worship, however, do reveal the mythic principles inherent within the pantheon, the intuitive or poetic truths underpinning what will later become conventionally politicised dogmas. The Hymn to the Aton, for instance, composed on behalf of the Pharaoh Akhen-Aton, or Akhenaten, (d. around 1362 BCE), shows beyond doubt the universality and beneficence of the creating and re-creating sun disc. 110 The Aton, or Aten, previously designated only the physical manifestation of the sun, but here became an icon of divine worship. 111 The sun is remote but gives life in The Hymn to the Aton:
How manifold it is, what thou hast made! They are hidden from the face (of man). O sole god, like whom there is no other! Thou didst create the world according to thy desire, Whilst thou wert alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts, Whatever is on earth, going upon (its) feet, And what is on high, flying with its wings. [] Thy rays suckle every meadow. When thou risest, they live, they grow for thee. Thou makest the seasons in order to rear all that thou hast made, The winter to cool them, And the heat that they may taste thee. Thou hast made the distant sky in order to rise therein, In order to see all that thou dost make. Whilst thou wert alone, Rising in thy form as the living Aton, Appearing, shining, withdrawing or approaching, Thou madest millions of forms of thyself alone. Cities, towns, fields, road, and river Every eye beholds thee over against them, For thou art the Aton of the day over the earth (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 37071)

Akhenatens new monotheistic religion was very unpopular with the people and with many of his subordinates, with worship of the traditional deities flowering again almost immediately with the Pharaohs passing. (Hornung, 110) The point at which he seemed to

John A. Wilson, translators introduction to The Hymn to the Aton, in Egyptian Hymns and Prayers, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 369. (Cf Psalm 104) 111 Erik Hornung, Akhenaten and the Religion of Light, trans. David Lorton (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 33.


go too far could be pinpointed in the shift from saying of the sun god that there is no other god like him (mi qidef), to inscriptions reading there is no other but him (wepu heref). (93) Akhenatens fundamentalism included the unpopular denial of a hereafter and the realm of Osiris, who was formerly held to rule the netherworld as the sun that passed beneath the earth at the expiry of the day to effect regeneration and waken the dead to new life. His reductionist position was rejected but compelled a rethinking of the Egyptian cosmology, reiterating the positively replenishing value of darkness alongside the other traditional roles held amongst the pantheon. 112 The early failure of Egyptian solar-based monotheism in this Amarna period (Egypts eighteenth dynasty) was followed by a reinstallation of the traditional pantheon, a pattern repeated in the first Roman experiment of a similar ilk. Fourteen hundred years later in Rome, however, the seeds of a later and far more global flowering of solar worship were sown. Again, the initial effort towards a monotheism of purely daylight consciousness failed to win converts within a widely pagan/pantheistic public; but in this instance, we find later success in converting the idea of a universal solar god in accord with particular historical circumstances. The eventual adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE marks the beginning of modern light worship set up on a throne beneath which the darkness of pantheism was muted. I now trace the genealogy of this development from cult-based sun-god to transcendental divinity of light so pure that all other gods, including the relatively limited sun-god himself, are swallowed up by it. * The victory of Christianity as legislative religion of late Rome must rank as one of the most unlikely (and thus unsettling) acts of co-option ever. How could an inherently dominant centralised power structure like that of the Eternal City choose for its official religion an anti-authoritarian mystic tradition, popular with the oppressed, which transformed ancient Hebrew prophecy into a vision of universal love and the rejection of the very worldly power Rome stood for? One comprehensible reason must be a simultaneous development towards universalism in both political/economical and psychological/spiritual terms, a shift incorporating the growing propensity across settlement history towards a cosmic icon, in this case solar, that unites all peoples under the one imperial (and supposedly peaceable) world order. Strategically, the prophetic tradition as newly represented by Christ could always be augmented, on behalf of the institution of Christianity, with the kingly tradition also extant in the scriptures. The later papacy could then combine the dominance of settlement civilisation with the dazzling light of Hebrew prophecy (as interpreted by Greek authors) and Greek philosophy, concurrently consolidating a religion of the people. 113 The Churchs dominant sky-god represented, across the passage from late Classicism to medieval Catholicism, centralised power united and magnified into one authority (political and religious), the marginalisation and demonisation of nature spirits, and succour for the peoples everyday travails in one fell swoop.

The reign of Tutankhamon followed Akhenaten; the new king changed his name from Tutankhaton to show his more traditional fealty to the pantheon of old gods. Hornung, Akhenaten, 12223. 113 Blumenberg claims that Philo Judaeus translates the Creation image of the Hebrew Word into an image of light emanating into the darkness of matter in order to make the Old Testament intelligible to Greek culture. Blumenberg, Light, 4647.



Roman valorisations of a sun-god, believed to be of autochthonous origin, portrayed an all-powerful deity within a much wider pantheon. Hence could coins minted by Anthony dating from 43 BCE concentrate all divine power under one image. 114 The sun-god on these coins carries a caduceus and a horn of plenty, and stands on a globe with an aureole and the wings of Victory. Soon after, Caesars adopted son Octavian (later the Augustus) marked himself out as a super-human individual, evidently believing himself to be in some important way associated with Apollo. 115 With his accession in 27 BCE was initiated the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, a euphemism that brings to mind the parallel promise of the Mesopotamian sun-kings (and may even find application in the contemporary promise offering democracy to nation states like Iraq following pre-emptive strikes upon them): after colonisation, annexation or liberation (in other words, war), order and prosperity will reign. During this period Roman associations between emperor and sun-god are largely egotistical in nature, and although political power was enormous, the religious framework it operated within retained many traditional cosmic powers alongside that of the sun. By the early third century CE, however, sun-gods with origins further east carried associations with despotic power that proved attractive to a new generation of emperors. In this light Gaston Halsberghe discusses the political purchase of a symbol that reappears each morning as the eternal victor over forces of darkness, pointing out that religious ceremonies, philosophical considerations and literary fictions regarding the light that bestows all life could serve opportunistic emperors and thereby guarantee the supremacy of the sun symbol. (Halsberghe, 3637) Hadrian introduced the sun-god on coins towards the end of his rule in 138 (Halsberghe, 46) and the Severus family later (from around the 190s) paved the way for the wide acceptance of a syncretic religious movement with the cult of Sol Invictus as its paramount instrument. (49) The new idea of an exclusive solar deity commonly displayed the capacity to syncretise various complexities of religious belief under one universalising symbol; but this would not make its first wholesale deployment in Rome a success by any standards. In fact the most vociferous exponent of solar monotheism, the emperor Elagabalus, who reigned briefly for three years from 216 CE, almost completely failed (like Akhenaton in Egypt) to win over the hearts and minds of his followers. 116 Inheriting rule as part of a Syrian dynasty and trained from an early age as a temple priest, Elagabalus took the very name of solar religion: his is a Latinised form of Elah Gabal, which literally means God of the Mountain and is thus linked to other Baals and associated sky gods of light, sun and storm. 117 His Syrian cult of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable God of the Sun, would have been recognised by soldiers for whom Persian Mithraism had also attained a great deal of popularity. Both cults called their god Sol Invictus and offered similar versions of dogma, while both suffered periods of waning influence as well as popular approval. (Halsberghe, 12021) Some half a century after the downfall of Elagabalus, the emperor Aurelian (reigned 270275 CE) reconstituted a cult of the sun under the collective title of Deus Sol
114 115

Gaston H. Halsberghe, The Cult of Sol Invictus (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), 2932. Super-human individual: Christopher S. Mackay, Ancient Rome: A Military and Political History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 258; associated with Apollo: Richard Holland, Augustus: Godfather of Europe (Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing, 2004), 214. 116 Elagabalus was Emperor for three years between the ages of 16 and 19 from 218 CE. Unpopular in Rome, he was murdered by the Praetorian Guard in 222. Warwick Ball, Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire (London: Routledge, 2002), 41213. 117 Ball, Rome in the East, 3739. Halsberghe also discusses the etymology of the name Elagabal in terms of exalted high places and pre-Semitic and Mesopotamian fire-gods pronounced gibil. Halsberghe, 6263.


Invictus. (122) The sun cult promoted imperial control and moral unity, gaining considerably more credibility as a stabilizing symbolic element representing centralized state power. 118 It also cemented a new version of monotheistic worship of the sun in place of traditional pantheism and religious syncretism, paving the way for a legalized despotism of Roman design while craftily resisting the intimidating influences of powerful Eastern cultural and religious concepts as well as the increasingly insistent threat of Christianity. (Halsberghe, 13537) While the earlier doctrines of Sol Invictus remained, they were stripped of their Eastern trappings and adapted to the Roman mentality, such that all the gods of the pantheon could be considered equal as long as the sun-god comprised their combined attributes. (13942) This politico-religious landscape was maintained as a gathering up of diverse beliefs under one shining rubric from Aurelius to Constantine, when its next great transformation would occur. The rule of Constantine the Great (306337 CE) took the cult of Sol Invictus to extraordinary heights, so that his reign was even spoken of as a Sun Emperorship. (167) As Eusebius noted, in his Life of Constantine, the confluence of Empire and Church could be seen married under the great ruler, just as it had been installed as both the pax Romana by Augustus in the same generation that it Christ founded the Church; more than just a coincidence for any supporting a universal Empire of God on earth. 119 Although we can debate the motives behind Constantines embrace of Christianity, the predominant fact for the purposes of this thesis is that the Roman Empire chose a new dogma of the Invincible Sun over an old cult form. 120 Blumenberg reminds us of the importance, for the selfunderstanding of politics in the age of the caesars, of Christianitys offer to set the unity of the new God alongside the unity of the empire and the ruler. (Work, 101) Rolls thesis, with which I accord, claims that the shift towards more urban, institutionalised cultures seems often to have been accompanied by worship of a sun-god (Christ, Ra, Mithras etc.) under whom other deities and rites may be subsumed. (Roll, 13334) Contemporary ecocritical authors tend to concur. Eisenberg notes that displacement of nature gods commonly accompanies imperialistic expansions (Eisenberg, 117) and he goes on to state that Roman urbanisation combined profitably with Christianitys universalism in the realm of the spirit. Unhindered human use of nature could be sanctioned with recourse to a universal god, who acted like an absentee landowner with no stake in the local landscape (as opposed to local gods, Eisenberg, 137). For Harrison, the denuding of European forests under expanding urban rule extended the dominion of universal law, as the natural buffers between cultural centres (which had served to localize the spirit of place) were diminished. (Forests, 51) Likewise Westling follows Schneidau to see in Christian universalism the Hebrew tendency away from localised, chthonic spirits. (Westling, 2425) The tendency towards this kind of universalisation, recentred around a particular concept of reason, will find its modern apogee in Enlightenment ideology and continues to exert enormous influence on contemporary material and symbolic circumstances. For Constantine, pagan beliefs lived on beside the new monotheism, however, in such statuesque examples as the figure of Apollo, complete with sun rays emanating from his head, which adorned the principal forum for worship in the new Eastern capital at

Susan K. Roll, Christ as Sun/King: The Historical Roots of a Perduring Dualism, Journal of the European Society of Women in Theological Research 6 (1998): 13342. 119 Eusebius, Vita Constantini, summarised by Garth Fowden in chap. 4, Constantine: Christian empire and crusade, Empire and Church, 8690, in Empire to Commonwealth; Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993). 120 The pragmatic version of Constantines motives are presented in Alistair Kee, Constantine Versus Christ: The Triumph of Ideology (London: SCM Press, 1982).


Constantinople. 121 The cult of Deus Sol Invictus remained alive amongst pagan Romans, and for a brief later period the Emperor Julian even promoted conflict between the cult of Helios-Mithras and the Christian Church. (Halsberghe, 17071) But it was the latter that would enjoy the political privilege of being the chosen religion of divine light for the empire. Sun cults paved the way for Christianity in a way that some may conclude makes the rise to power of Christianity seem both a co-option of and victory by Near Eastern religious concerns. (Ball, 414) When the Church fathers shifted the date of Christs birth from the day of Epiphany, on the 6th of January, to the 25th of December, for instance, it was in direct response to the threat of continuing pagan celebrations and feasting in honour of the (winter solstice-related) birth of the sun-god Deus Sol Invictus. Unable to vanquish the heresy, they simply took it over, so that Christians were informed that from then on (between 354 and 360 CE) the birth of Christ would be held in honour of the true Sun god, Sol Iustitiae, who had created the world and everything in it. (Halsberghe, 17475) Campion concludes similarly upon the nature of this overlay, stating that when the pagan imperial cult merged with state Christianity in the fifth century, the iconography of the Sun and the planetary deities was replaced by that of Christ and his disciples. (271) Justinian (52765 CE) bridges late Classicism and the medieval religio/political landscape as the ruler of the first truly Christian empire, which considered Eternal Rome as the road towards the kingdom of God that was the final universal state. (Campion, 27172) As emperor of this final state, Justinian was, in the Jewish sense, the Messiah who, by his political deeds and ritual acts, renewed the cycle of history on Earth, restoring the union between heaven and Earth. (27172) The ancient Sacred Marriage, although still ostensibly devoted to the ongoing fertility of the earth and all upon it, is at this point in time heavily weighted to favour the law of the heavens, and of cultural power, over that of the earth (and the feminine part in procreation commonly associated with it). The ruler in the name of light accepts no less than universal dominion. His throne looks over the four corners of the world, subsuming the earth, the goddess, the moon, the nature spirits and their pantheon, and even chaos itself under its permanently lit rule of truth, justice, goodness and order. This style of dominion commonly operates to profit an elite with enormous wealth and power backed by masculine military force. But the enduring influence I see emanating out of the alignment between settlement civilisation and universal light, and which is even more immediate and pressing, concerns the contemporary ecological crisis. When we consider the material concerns met by the appearance of light at night the security provided by Nannas moonlight, for example we see an enormously magnified manifestation in electric street lights, in well-lit buildings at home and for business, all of which require constant loads of precious fuel for their welcome incandescence. But there is a symbolic resonance in this conflagration, too, and it is this I take up in the final chapter of this thesis. For the urge towards transcending earthly limits that is implicit in the very profusion of settlement civilisation the drive to improve on cyclic, seasonal nature by ordering profit in agricultural and irrigational rows, to master the organic with the technical, to have our dominion and eat it too is the urge towards immortality at the eternal feast, the impossible manifestation of heaven on earth, the great myth of corporate-sponsored, materialistic capitalist consumerism in the twenty-first century. And it began in Sumer.


Constantine had seen to it that the city plans provided for Christian houses of worship without forever quitting his pagan gods. Roll, Christ as Sun/King, 137.


2 Light and Truth

Greek Transformations: Ritual and Reason
Introduction to the frames of reference It is the aim of this chapter to outline the import granted light as a symbol in Greek thought, especially in terms of two shifts in emphasis. The first takes place before written records begin and concerns the prehistoric displacement of localised chthonic by centralised Olympian deities, while the second turns away from this mythos of the gods of the heights, to concentrate on a seemingly more reliable philosophical logos, between the eighth and fifth centuries BCE. These turns both translate the symbol of light from seemingly irrational mythic symbol towards a new dispensation of reason, and both can be seen as part of the process by which Hellenic society was being urbanised, such that traditional myths, concerned with the ways and patterns of the organic world, no longer seemed strikingly relevant in the polis. The advent of the polis, writes Vernant, constitutes a decisive event in the history of Greek thought between the eighth and seventh centuries, it marked a departure, a genuine innovation. With the polis, social life and human relations took on a new form, and the Greeks were fully aware of its originality. 122 Accompanying the slow shift from the folk wisdom of the countryside to the emerging concerns of urban matters is a change in focus from nature to culture, or from organically to technologically informed mythological patterns. As order and plenty are underwritten by a way of life concentrated around the technologies of the polis, so the citys form of cultural authority gradually assumes precedence over traditional rites and formalities. This takes place both as an extension of traditional kinship ties and as a reforging of them into a unique (masculinised) realm residing between gods and beasts. 123 Hence Socrates will famously credit these men of the city, rather than the trees and the countryside, as his teachers. Meanwhile, pagan philosophy lives on, but is transformed alongside urbanising influences from both within and without Hellenic culture. 124 Myth is shaped in concert with its material crucible (and vice versa), and this succession of man-made habitats begins to tell its own story. It is the account of an increasing privatisation of the narratives of Earth. 125 It is in this context that we understand Aristotles conviction that humans are political animals.

Jean-Pierre Vernant, The Origins of Greek Thought (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), 49. For Vernant, the increasingly communal aspect of oratory in the polis marks the democratisation and critical analysis of Greek political, intellectual and spiritual worlds. (4955) 123 See Aristotles Politics: each individual is related within the polis and the man who is not is so self-sufficient that he must be either a beast or a god. (1253a) 124 The word pagan comes into use in Roman times, to denote countryside dweller and later nonChristian. Pagan, in The Online Etymology Dictionary, compiled by Douglas Harper (2001), http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=pagan. I use the term here to denote Greek beliefs still attached to the ways of the earth (pre- and Olympian deities as personifications of nature), especially as they are marginalised by the new focus on an urban logos. 125 Kane, Mythtellers, 248. One needs to be aware of these specialized environments. The contexts through which myth is remembered are also the contexts in which myth is reinvented by each succession of peoples. (248)



Concurrently , there grows a newfound interest in matters concerning the individual, as they are seen to transcend the relatively impersonal cycles and patterns of nature to enjoy a new level of individuation within the polis. The way that light could be seen to symbolise life and mind thus takes on new qualities and deals with issues of mortality in new ways. The transformation of mythos will be seen, across this historical trajectory, to indicate changes in the rationale by which Greek society of the times dealt with realities such as physical nature, birth and death, and qualities of consciousness. If myth coheres a rationale employed to satisfy a widely effective world order, system of relations, and set of regenerative rites, then it is during this period that the Olympian gods (who have themselves replaced earlier, chthonic mythic strata) are being replaced by new ways of explaining and ordering the world. Polis-centric disconnection from organic cycles of life inspire powerful new symbolic construals of an urbanised culture and psyche, inventing new forms of individuality as well as its limits; for the spirit of community also required that excessive individuality yield on behalf of the polis. (Vernant, Origins, 6065) Just as the tension between self and collective seems heightened here in a way still meaningful today, philosophical and spiritual schools were caught between the esoteric mysteries of the love of wisdom and duty to the people. (Vernant, Origins, 5960) Leaving behind the bardic traditions of Homer and Hesiod (amongst others), new generations of Greek thinkers shifted their attention away from the mythopoeia of the oral tradition, with its personifications of natural forces, and towards a guarantee of knowledge based on wellreasoned, consistent and logical steps. The dialectical rigour of the philosophers worked on a transformed conception of truth, or aletheia; yet at the same time, the seeming process of logocentric demythologisation, from the Ionian philosophers (otherwise known as the Presocratics) to Plato and his Forms, can also be seen to retain mythopoeic concepts. The new Hellenic mythologos often still venerated traditional myth and its divine relations (including Olympian gods and their underworld complements or adversaries), but these are recognised as metaphor in a new, disenchanted way. The light of rationalised, scientific thinking initiated in Greek philosophy stood over the shallow grave of nature myth, such that organic animal and plant cycles no longer seemed to require veneration; and in this we find a situation influencing further developments in western attitudes towards the earth. Universalising the mythic polis, sanitising Tricksters Intergenerational battles of the gods have taken place ever since records have been kept, as new world orders stamp their cultural authority with concrete emblems of promise and threat. 126 By the time written records begin, Hellenic ascendancy had gathered divine light about itself in the mountainous heights of Olympus, where sky-gods lorded it over chthonic powers. At Delphi, for example, oracular prophecy was won for the sky-gods when the brightest of the bright Olympians, Apollo, wrested the Pythian Oracle from its traditional guardians. 127 Archaeological finds suggest that the great sanctuaries of Greece were more
Littleton reviews such models of Kingship in Heaven, and their intergenerational developments, across many Near Eastern cultures. C. Scott Littleton, The Kingship in Heaven Theme, in Myth and Law among the Indo-Europeans, ed. Jaan Puhvel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), 83121. 127 Thomas Dempsey, The Delphic Oracle: Its Early History, Influence and Fall (New York: Benjamin Blom, 1972), 110. Dempsey claims that as warlike tribes such as the Dorians moved in,


often devoted to female than male divinities until the eighth century BCE, when the emerging polis increased the definition of its power and identity: As the polis became more strictly defined it appears that male deities gained in prominence (with the exception of Athena, who had become the increasingly masculinized, virgin city-goddess par excellence). 128 The predominantly male Indo-European sky-gods work against an animistic understanding of human relations with the earth and in this they cooperate conveniently with the abstraction into heavenly order and mastery that is concomitant with polis-centrism. 129 Polis-centric myth can remain localised (or epichoric) around its city, but it is also shaped on behalf of all Greeks as a corpus of unified and canonical panHellenic myth. 130 Wickersham and Pozzi reference Gregory Nagy and the concept of the ultra-polis in their introduction to the idea that such abstractions are based on traditional, familial kinship groups expanded to include all in an integral community; but of course its expansion must also attempt to integrate the alien at its boundaries. (Wickersham and Pozzi, 6) So does the moral law of universal validity asserted by the polis obey the seemingly intrinsic law of having hubris (excessive growth) corrected by dik! (justice)? (6) This could help justify the mythic victory sealed for the Olympians when they defeat the previous generations of chthonic gods, goddesses and Titans. Yet the drive towards universal transcendence revealed in much Olympian cosmogonic material whether understood in terms of the immediate acquisition of political authority (10) or the restoration of universal order in situations of strife (33) often rests upon the forced integration of the alien other. The symbol of light is construed here to justify ethnocentric colonisation, in many ways revealing concurrently damaging relations with the earth. Olympian myth honoured its political hierarchy as just and mighty, for instance; a combination of force and compassion distilled in Zeus and expressed in his awesome thunderbolts. 131 Tyrrell and Brown show how Zeus absorbs the power of his vanquished predecessors (Tyrrell and Brown, 19), before receiving the thunderbolt from the Cyclopes (as he frees them from Ouranian bondage, 34) and using it to defeat Typhoeus, who threatened to plunge the cosmos back into confusion and chaos. (35) The victorious political regime is illuminated as a new realm of power, while Zeus condemns his vanquished foes to that place of infernal imprisonment, Tartarus. The dark complement is venerated (Hades rules the underworld) and recognised as a checking force against utter Olympian dominion, even while it is ultimately controlled beneath the aegis of Zeus. The Greeks sense of their own identity, centred on and lit by Olympus, is a case in which the phenomenon of ethnocentrism is clarifiable. 132 The primal drive towards unity is
their proto-Olympian deities were married to chthonic goddesses both here and at Dodona. (1115, 36) Apollos dragon slaying is also presented as a conquering of an earlier, chthonic cult of seasonal nature myth (wherein winters darkness would give way to the new light of spring). (183 88) 128 Mary Voyatzis, From Athena to Zeus: An AZ Guide to the Origins of Greek Goddesses, in Ancient Goddesses, 14647. 129 Roy G. Willis and Patrick Curry, Astrology, Science and Culture (Oxford: Berg, 2004), 5859. 130 John M. Wickersham and Dora C. Pozzi, introduction to Myth and the Polis, ed. Dora C. Pozzi and John M. Wickersham (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 45. Both epichoric and ultrapolis versions of Greek myth arise together in the eighth century BCE. (9) 131 Blake Tyrrell and Frieda S. Brown, Athenian Myths and Institutions: Words in Action (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), see esp. chap. 2, Hesiods Myth of the Birth of the Cosmos, 15 39. 132 Jean M. Davison, Myth and the Periphery, in Myth and the Polis, 58.


inscribed within the universalising myth of civilisation, which totalises opposites (and aliens) in its transcendent vision. Zeus consolidates the hostilities directed against familial kinship ties begat by his now-vanquished predecessors Ouranos and Kronos (each having betrayed an inhumane appetite for their kin). Thus he exemplifies an extension of poliscentric loyalties that work against earlier forms of social organisation; and he does this in a way that also works against the earth, whether considered as material ground of being or Gaian divinity. (Tyrrell and Brown, 2122) Subliminally recognising the ultimate ineradicability of the earth as that upon which all life, even that of the gods, depends, Hesiodic myth places Prometheus in the unenviable position of surrogate scapegoat, the tainted victim sacrificed on behalf of the greater good. (25) Feminist criticism will recognise a familiar subterfuge in Zeus gift, meanwhile, to Epimetheus, Prometheus hind-sighted brother: the god punishes those who threaten high heaven by inventing woman. (27) There is an ecological aspect to the side-effects of Olympian vengeance, as Gaia is scorched by Zeus thunderbolts in his battles against both Titans and Typhoeus. (3536) Tyrell and Brown make it clear that this should be understood as a material as well as theological cost: Gaia remains beyond Zeus power as his container and provider and his antagonism towards her is exposed in his violence. Typhoeus is a son of Gaia, again a scapegoat for Zeus revenge upon her. Zeus lightning smote the fiend, but it also scorches forests with its sacred flames, such that the life-giving earth burned and resounded all over and the blast of the flames set much of the giant earth on fire until it melted. (36) The cost of abstract, universalising totalisation is scorched earth, a physical effect hidden in any number of theogonies. Although the role of sun-king is not held as concretely in the hands of the Greek political ruler as it was in Sumer, the place of heavenly light is still closely and threateningly associated with the dominant regime and against the rebel. Helios, the Greek sun, rewards the hubristic excitability of any reaching towards its divine seat of power with a resounding thud. Icarus finds the open sea and is drowned for thrilling too far to the flight that is not naturally his to enjoy, while Helioss own son Phaethon is sent crashing to earth (but not before threatening all life on the planet) for daring to presume that he could drive his fathers solar chariot across the sky. In both cases, dik! limits hubris; but this can be read as a warning against rebellious political aspirations as well as against unrealistic expansions by the rulers (and of course it can be read apolitically also). By comparison, Prometheus sneaks directly into the heavens and steals fire from the gods, a trickster-like culture hero providing material and spiritual benefit to the human race. The fact that he does not escape such audacity without terrible punishment could reflect the double-edged nature of the gift fire is benefit and danger yet it concurrently seems another moment in the history of western mythic consciousness wherein we are imagined to be not at home with the light, which more naturally finds its home in the abode of the gods. Prometheus, as a Titan, is a culture hero of chthonic descent and mixed blessings. His earlier success in aiding Zeus in war guarantees his survival within the new world order of Olympian ascent, while his resulting torture is detailed to remind us that the lords of destiny rule with iron fists (and arms) of a particular kind of reason; and that their jurisdiction is not assailed lightly. In another myth Prometheus lifts our faces to the skies such that we straighten our formerly horizontal backbones, again liberating humanity from a state of seeming privation to a new appreciation of our vertical potential. Jonathan Bate sees this as a dangerous shift in our focus from earth to the heavens, predicated upon a turning away from primal responsibilities to ground that are instead energised toward the building of empire. According to Bates reading of this archetypal myth from Hesiods Theogony, once man looked away from where he walked, the earth became vulnerable. The desire for


transcendence, the aspiration for higher realms, was predicated upon a denial of biological origin, a departure from ground. 133 Yet pre- or non-civilised myth also included reference to the sky and its heavenly lights as divine the point of departure, in ecocritical terms, lies in the way such matters as earth and heaven are defined and the qualities against which they find relief. Such ideological patterns become ecologically damaging when the heavens are imagined to be the abode of an eternally beneficent elsewhere that implies no binding human responsibility to, or contract with, the conditions of the earth. Some commentators have pointed out that Prometheus seems to develop a tragic aspect that outweighs the kind of tricksterish qualities more commonly associated with earlier strata of earth-deities. According to Evan Eisenberg, the Titan suffers this fate when the mainstream western tradition of science and technology transforms him according to its hubristic evolutionary mythology, the trickster now forging on undaunted where formerly capricious but ultimately tied to nature by relation it would have been humbled. (Eisenberg, 359) Eisenberg characterises this as the dominance of a Tower cult over a Mountain cult, of citydwellers settling fertile lands as they turn cereal crops to profits, the surplus of which inspires the building of civilisation. 134 Once again the shift against localised spirits of the land and towards a concept of universalising light can be equated with damaging relations with the earth. But Prometheus is not the only god drafted for his sunny aspect while his darkness is reviled. For Heideggerian Robert Harrison, Socrates apologia for the polis and its people represents the city as a triumphant clearing in whose sphere of enlightenment the shadows of the Dionysian menace were dissipated. (Forests, 38) The forest for Harrison represents the fecund mystery that is origin as well as a kind of primitive purity and wild sanctuary; but it is also darkness, the shadows, the lost, the unconscious and the uncivilised. As cultural capital, in the passage through Platonic dialogue, is transferred from oral to written traditions, there is henceforth inscribed an ambivalent relationship between European societies and the sylvan fringe of darkness that limits their cultivation and the margin of [their] cities, the boundaries of its institutional domain. (Forests, ix ) The historical narrative that dominates the trajectory of western development, then, is the ascendancy of light and the city over the relatively dark, threatening and ultimately consumable countryside of the pagans. Ritual initiation, the Mystery Schools and mathematical harmony The Mystery Schools, as they have come to be known, operated as part of Hellenic culture for around two millennia. 135 Like all vehicles of mythic material, they changed slowly according to circumstance, adapting to historical developments even while they influenced the cultural life of their adherents. Due to the extent to which such schools became secretive
Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 26. This upward fall comes with the building of empire. (28) 134 Although the Greeks, like the Mesopotamians, were confirmed city-dwellers, Eisenberg considers Rome the true heir of the Tower. Eisenberg, Ecology of Eden, 13334. The Roman consolidation of a symbolic solar bias over the material world cannot be underestimated for its continuing influence on urbanised humanity. 135 The continuity and diversity of Greek mystery cults reflect a system of spiritual beliefs that lasted for 2,000 years. Michael Cosmopolous, Concluding Remarks, in Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology and Ritual of Ancient Greek Secret Cults, ed. Michael Cosmopolous (London: Routledge, 2003), 264.


in all matters concerning ritual practices, it is only thanks to the discipline of archaeology that new evidence has been gathered in regards to them. This history seems to reveal a religious dispensation that is reshaped from the communal vegetation rites of an advent festival, designed to guarantee the goddess Demeters agricultural protection, to an initiatory schema whereby an individuals eschatological concerns could be satisfied. 136 One constant retained across this shift, however, is the act of leading acolytes into the chthonic darkness wherein they could be illumined. The Orphic and Persephonic quests continued, but with new meanings structured to suit the increasing sense of individualism asserted by adherents of the rites. (Sourvinou-Inwood, 41) Such chthonic wisdom remained a reliable source of Greek inspiration for a long era, alongside the belief that the underworld was peopled by the spirits of the dead, who could be relied upon to speak their occult knowledge via oracles and dreams. 137 Mystery Rituals seemed to work as a kind of underworld journey, in a shamanic search for medicine from the darkness. The mythical underworld narratives of Persephone and Orpheus act as narrative guides to these rituals and are believed to be closely related to the ancient practices themselves. 138 These tales tell of descent into the chthonic darkness, inevitably followed by a return to the light of day. For Persephone, a third of the year is barren yet seasonal change always welcome her fruitfulness back again in spring. For Orpheus, the attempt to rescue his wife Eurydice from Hades ultimately fails (in most versions) due to the human imperfection of his faith. But in each case the darkness of the earth is both terrible and full of pregnant potential, signifying a seasonal or culminatory return to fructification. Orphic transcendence is ultimately a coincidence of these opposites while a traveller through the darkness of the unknown, Orpheus also called Helios, whom he revered and associated with Apollo, the greatest of the gods. 139 Early Orphic descriptions of Elysium also gave prominence to the sun as a symbol of ever-returning life. 140 Since the Cambridge Ritualists, the idea that vegetation ritual underscores much later European art and literature has remained a much discussed subject. 141 Vegetation myth returns life from death, but not in the same form individuation has been undone by the darkness and what is returned is not the same entity but of its genus. At a collective level, faith in regeneration is restored by the seasonal rites of spring, whereas at the personal level the finality of mortality remains. In early Greek antiquity, death as afterlife seemed to remain a murky realm of the shades, as it had been for the Sumerians. In the era of Pindar (518438 BCE) this was changing, as is evidenced by his recording of the hope available to

136 137

Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, Aspects of the Eleusinian Cult, in Greek Mysteries, 4041. Dempsey, Delphic Oracle. The Delphic oracle was said to emanate wisdom from the earth (38), the abode of the dead (5) whose realm of spirits were endowed with prophetic powers. (6) Willis and Curry point towards the way closeness to earth was regarded as a source of prophecy. Astrology, Science and Culture, 5859. Interestingly they continue to recognise, in much of presettlement/pre-agrarian history (and post-Gimbutas et al), a feminine-focussed complex of earth religion, not as a mirror image reversal of patriarchy, but as a ceremonial, symbolic, and nonhierarchical society. (2021) 138 The theory that myth was the story accompanying ritual requires no unravelling here, although such a project could be enlightening in terms of this thesis and its conclusion. 139 William K. Freiert, Orpheus: A Fugue on the Polis, in Myth and the Polis, 41. 140 James A. Notopolous, The Symbolism of the Sun and Light in the Republic of Plato, Classical Philology 39, no. 3 (1944): 167. 141 I devote some effort to this area in my unpublished MA thesis.


those who had lived well, kept faith in the Olympian gods, and not disquieted the earth. 142 At this point in Greek history, then, we have reliable records of faith in a realm where cosmic justice was theorised to exist beyond the human world. Folk wisdom began to have its focus shifted from a primary intertwining of the organic, communal life of the earth and its people (the seasonal rites of regeneration), to a situation wherein an individuals life would be judged according to the state of their soul (the initiatory rites of personal salvation). The ritualistic underworld journey may still reveal light from the depths of the chthonic darkness, but such awakenings of immanent wisdom are written over in a new style of Hellenic cultural record. Paradoxically, the democratisation central to the Greek transformation of spiritual, intellectual and political values confines their religious sects to an elect minority, secretive cults for whom initiation could now bring only a spiritual transformation, with no political connotations [and t]he preferment they would gain belonged to another world. (Vernant, Origins, 57) A similar shift is recorded in much earlier Indo-European history, where a new hope concerning the hereafter was conceived amongst a Zoroastrian elite (princes and warriors and the priests who served the gods) who might escape the dreaded fate of an eternally joyless existence, [such] that their souls might mount upward at death to join the gods in sunlit Paradise, where they would know all imaginable delights. 143 If a sense of individuality is preserved, in death as in life, as a province inhabited only by an elite corps for the Proto-Indo-Europeans, however, it can be seen to undergo a revolution of the people in the Greek tradition. In some sense the Pythagoreans can be seen as a conceptual bridge between the Mystery Schools of spiritual ritual, who carried out this democritisation of the afterlife, and the Ionian philosophers, whom I will next consider for their investigations into the secrets of the universe in accord with its physically verifiable qualities. Vernant claims that philosophical reason, aligned with written forms of discourse, between the eighth and fourth centuries BCE, counters the persuasive rhetoric of mythos with a logos modelled on mathematical thinking. (Vernant, Myth and Society, 18788) Like those centred around Eleusis and other Mystery School centres, the Pythagoreans remained clandestine in regards to the nature of their teachings. They read the enigmas of the cosmos, however, in a new way that collapsed an earthly focus on seasonal change and fertility under a fascination with numbers, which are seen to form the basis of reality. 144 Mathematical forms, so satisfyingly precise and dependable, offer consistent insight into the movements of the earth and the heavens. This doesnt seem so far removed, in principle, from the kinds of astronomical data used to recognise coherence between the earth and the heavens for the Mesopotamians and other peoples convinced that the cosmos operated under one allpervasive system. Yet the Pythagorean numerical harmony that pervades all parts of the universe (Physical Thought, 28) still polarises light and darkness, by way of exploring the

Pindar, The Odes of Pindar, trans. Richard Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), Olympia 2, lines 5872, p. 7: in this kingdom of Zeus there is a judge under the earth who sorts the faithful from those who will sustain unfaceable evil. This is a version of the sun-god travelling into the underworld at night. It should be pointed out that Pindar praised (and not without handsome recompense) such champions as Theron of Akragas (476 BCE), in his Victory Odes, in terms of Greek civilisations radiance against the dark forces of barbarism. Richard Lattimore, A Note on Pindar and His Poetry, in The Odes of Pindar, by Pindar, trans. Richmond Lattimore (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), viiix. 143 Boyce, Zoroastrians, 14. This development occurred just before the Indians and Iranians separated (14), thought to have been early in the third millennium. (2) 144 Shmuel Sambursky, Physical Thought from the Presocratics to the Quantum Physicists (London: Hutchinson, 1974), 39.


contrasting qualities of limit (good, male, light) and the unlimited (bad, female, dark) in physical terms. (47) Among these first principles of Pythagoras one tends to the efficient and formal cause, which is mind and god, and the other to the passive and material, which is the visible world. (47) In locating the underpinning operational key to the cosmos in numerical and geometrical formulae, the Pythagoreans formed part of a shift away from organic, seasonal cycles and towards abstract determinations amongst natural phenomena and the relations between them. 145 At the borderlands between faith and mathematics, the Pythagorean quest for illumination steps towards a kind of deep organicism vegetarian members of this school promoted reverence towards all life even as it organises the universe on strictly mathematical terms. 146 A mechanical conception of the world, then, does not necessarily confer abuse of its gifts, even when it can be seen as the impetus behind the near absolute dominance of the standard of scientific knowledge as in the end the only genuine or legitimate mode of knowledge. 147 Mystery School rites in general reveal a refreshed vision of the self and the cosmos, a new light out of a relative darkness. They negotiate between human and nonhuman worlds to promote individual spiritual immortality, impersonal organic regeneration, or a perfect harmony we can only adjust to. In doing this they tap into a realm of mythopoeic potential lost when human consciousness is assumed to reside most fully and completely within the rationale of a certain style of logos only. I now explore the shift from Ionian to Athenian philosophy that promotes this kind of faith in Platonic logocentrism. Presocratic flux seeking pure mind as pure light (and its interdependent opposite) in uncharted territory It is commonly held that the Presocratic thinkers known as the Ionian philosophers, from the region of their activities around the sixth century BCE, herald the beginnings of a new kind of thinking that was to exert significant influence upon western history. 148 The Ionians lived in an age and circumstance where critical thinking could be exercised without undue ideological pressure being applied to an individual or schools style of speculative philosophy. A spirit of rational criticism prevailed according to which theories were rejected if they failed to fit observed facts or because they did not satisfy rational criteria. 149 As such, traditional mythological accounts were speedily eliminated from this
Drew A. Hyland, The Origins of Philosophy: Its Rise in Myth and the Pre-Socratics (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1990), 128. 146 Pythagoras extended his conception of justice to the most kindred animal races, recognising community between humanity and other animal life forms. Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, XXX Justice and Politics, in The Complete Pythagoras, trans. Kenneth. S. Guthrie, http://www.completepythagoras.net/volume1/iamblichus/30.html 147 As Hyland claims of mathematical quantifiability in general. Hyland, Origins of Philosophy, 107. 148 The Presocratic legacy is generally treated as having been initiated by Thales of Miletus and his two students Anaximander and Anaxamines in the sixth century BCE (exact dates unknown). See, for instance, Hyland, Origins of Philosophy, 97126. 149 Richard McKirahan, Presocratic Philosophy, in The Blackwell Guide to Ancient Philosophy, ed. Christopher Shields (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 11. Openness to criticism, and thus to improvement, is noted by Popper from Thales on, while he notes that Xenophanes is the first to be recorded as having clearly formulated such an attitude. Karl R. Popper, The World of Parmenides: Essays on Presocratic Enlightenment (London: Routledge, 1998), 2023.


kind of discourse since mythology and authority based simply on the familiarity of long tradition are not in a position to withstand critical scrutiny or to mount a rational defense. (McKirahan, 11) As Vernant has shown, by the time of Aristotle a definitive break can be seen between logos that demonstrates its own verifiable rationality and mythos that dramatises divine powers and poetic truths.150 Greek freedom from constraining intellectual limits was accompanied by other influences that augured well for what many believe to be the flourishing of the first truly philosophical movement in western history. These include an alphabetic script, a fairly general distribution of wealth, and a sense of belonging to a natural community, upon the welfare of which ones own welfare closely depended; a people becoming increasingly urban, leading to loosening of traditional ties; the free exchange of ideas at marketplace or harbour; a dissatisfaction with traditional religion; and a new focus on individual personality. 151 For the Ionians, the material world can be investigated according to naturally functioning laws rather than seen as the reflection of a divine realm assumed to be responsible for its order. Thus Aristotle called them natural philosophers (physiologoi) because of their tendency to identify the principles and causes of things in naturalistic terms. (McKirahan, 1) Mythic symbol is thus transformed almost out of recognition by these new developments, yet certain stable patterns of association are maintained. Where in the sixth century BCE Pherecydes of Syros allegorises the final establishment of order by Zas as an overcoming of a snaky monster representing the forces of confusion (Hussey, 31), the Ionian philosophers sought to understand the world on their own, human, terms; yet this did not significantly change the metaphorical association of light with mind (or order or knowledge) and darkness with the unknown (or chaos, ignorance, or confusion). The Ionians engaged with and converted inherited traditions, just as the Hebrew prophets would Near Eastern images of other chaos dragons in their mythopoeic composition of a God of order over the tehom; for the Hebrews, however, the cosmic battle came to be seen as a poetic image rather than an article of belief. (Frye, 3334) The fragments of Heraclitus reveal a cosmos wherein this poetic image dances in interdependent, antagonistic, creative kinship. Light here as fire forever subsumes the darkness that is its opposing lack, culminating in atonement in a One that is concurrently the furnace out of, or within which, strife and destruction are ever-present. For Heraclitus, fire is meant as a poetic image that unites the power of destruction and death with superhuman vitality and an eternal principle that is everywhere one and the same. 152 This notion of cosmic indivisibility repeats that found in Babylonian religious thinking as well as in pagan, or non-urban, cosmologies. An example of such a way of thinking may be found in Anaximanders balanced kosmos, likely to be an expression of the widespread early view that there is no clear dividing line between humans and the rest of the world, that the same forces and processes that we experience in our human life are found elsewhere in the world as well, that man is a part of nature. (McKirahan, 8) Light is equated with mind for many Presocratic thinkers and this influential intellectual association is cemented by Parmenides. Hyland presents Heraclitus and
Vernant, Myth and Society, 18889. The utility (and democracy) of logos is greatly enhanced with its inscription as the written word, openly checkable over time in ways the oral tale or performance, enchanting in its moment of utterance, cannot be. (18990) 151 Edward Hussey, The Presocratics (London: Duckworth, 1972), 910. The shifts in political forms throughout this period, which released intellectual labour to its own devices free of the shaping commonly associated with ideologically repressive regimes, are outlined on pages 110. 152 Charles H. Kahn, The Art and Thought of Heraclitus: An Edition of the Fragments with Translation and Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 23.


Parmenides as respective spokesmen for Becoming and Being in a Battle of the Giants, the former espousing a doctrine of radical change and the latter one of radical permanence. 153 This tension remains fundamental to the modern age, as is witnessed in ongoing conflicts around the nature of relative and absolute truths, or competing subaltern and sovereign conceptions of power and authority dedicated to maintaining a status quo. Popper argues that modern science reconciles and combines the two in a quest for Parmenidean invariance in Heraclitean flux. 154 But for Parmenides (as for Aristotle later), the endless flux of Heraclitus itself is logically inadmissible; in reality, there is no change, as for all to be one in a true monism there can be no light and night, only one unchanging block wherein the illusion of movement is the result of a play of light. (Popper, 11319) According to Parmenides famous poem, the Way of Opinion or of humanity is based on a false dualism between Light, the flaming fire in the heavens, and dark Night, a dense and heavy body. (Hyland, 193) Reality is One, a screen upon which light and night project their illusion. (Popper, 90) This truth is based on the logical equation that there can be no thing that is no thing, an extremely anti-sensual, aprioristically conceived view of the world, as Schrdinger calls it, leading to the conclusion that what we believe we witness to the contrary is deception. 155 Where light as mind is a positive for other philosophers, for Parmenides it is part of the problem that leads towards faith in illusory knowledge. According to Popper, then, the very association between light and mind is the intellectual fall that Parmenides, following his vision from the goddess Dik", wants to show leads us to our misunderstanding of the nature of ultimate oneness. It is the very play of light, for instance across the moons changing face, that wrongly convinces us, if we trust our senses, that forms change. (Popper, 7273) Yet Parmenides himself, like Plato later, cannot escape the metaphors he seeks to dissolve. The Proem that introduces his philosophical poem is presented as a spiritual journey, by a youth who is driven to the goddess by flying horses and guided by maidens, daughters of the Sun [who], having left the Palace of Night, hastened their driving towards the light. (Hyland, 190) Truth is, it seems, after all the great light that vanquishes our simplistic, sensual faith in the smaller light of our own minds. This metaphysical view is of the nature of revelation and it is of interest to note that Xenophanes, often said to be the teacher of Parmenides, similarly skirted between religious and philosophical speculation. (Hyland, 90) For Parmenides the ultimate unity of the cosmos could not be differentiated except in error; light played upon our senses and convinced us, wrongly, that the unchanging block of reality was composed of component parts. It is hard to see how this cosmology could translate into ecophilosophical terms. Although Heraclitean philosophy can seem likewise abstruse, its liveliness, irony and love of mystery make it a more useful case study in terms of this thesis. Famous as the author of such pithy aphorisms as Nature loves to hide, Heraclitus has his thoughts recorded in a series of fragments within which the light of mind cohabits paradoxically but in a material sense with the world it seeks to penetrate. When darkness is cast in its common role as the unknown, it is a place toward which our minds are naturally drawn. While darkness in this cosmology need not necessarily be equated with nature, it is certainly respected for its capacity to nourish; rather than being rejected,
Hyland, however, goes on to complicate this attractively simple equation. Hyland, Origins of Philosophy, 160. 154 Popper, Karl R. The World of Parmenides: Essays on Presocratic Enlightenment (London: Routledge, 1998), viii. 155 Erwin Schrdinger, Nature and the Greeks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954), 24.


repressed, or subjugated, then, darkness in the Heraclitean cosmos is considered a generative force. For Heraclitus, the symbol of light undergoes a transformation that humanises its sacred properties, by distilling some of the qualities of a divine sky- or storm-god, such as Zeus, into a participatory element, such as fire, in the changing nature of a cosmos that is itself eternal and divine. Kahn shows how this panentheism distinguishes it from the prime mover outside of its creation of Anaximander and the pure mind of an intelligent deity who moves all things by thought postulated by Xenophanes. (Kahn, 22) Heraclitus follows first Xenophanes and then Anaxagoras in treating Helios as a physical rather than a religious phenomenon. 156 Kahn follows Diels in locating the central insight of Heraclitus in the identity of structure between the inner, personal world of the psyche and the larger natural order of the universe. (Kahn, 21) Even the opposing principles of life and death are reconciled in a war of opposites in which day and night are one, a unity of cosmic fire; yet Heraclitus decries the fact that not everyone seems to realise this:
The teacher of most is Hesiod. It is him they know as knowing most, who did not recognize day and night: they are one. (Fragment 57)

A certain amount of its distance in the heavens is overcome even while lights status as an icon of transcendence over the mundane, everyday world (at least as such a world is socially constituted) is maintained. For Heraclitus, the cosmic constitution does not necessitate a dualistic relationship of opposing forces; light and darkness do not only stand in militaristic antagonism against each other but also rely upon each other for their interdependent existence. This unity of oppositionalities, co-constitutional with the antagonism of the same interrelated forces, is mystically rather than rationally explicable in nature. There is a respect for mystery retained in much Ionian philosophising that eloquently speaks of mythopoeic concerns with the ground and boundaries of knowledge, with the shaping of experience into communicable pieces of information, with the unknown beyond. Yet there is a distinct attempt by Heraclitus to offer an outline of the logic involved in his insights, especially as they stand in contradistinction to what he saw as the obfuscations of Hesiod. Another explanation of the relation between seeming opposites can be found in Fragment 10:
Things taken together are whole and not whole, something which is being brought together and brought apart, which is in tune and out of tune: out of all things can be made a unity, and out of a unity, all things.

Heraclitus grants that apparent opposites are united in a variety of ways: Marcovich lists, for instance, their evident presence in the same object, their necessity to a whole, or the way they replace or condition one another. 157 This interrelationship between seeming states such as day and night, winter and summer, war and peace remains necessarily ambiguous even as it succeeds, as Kirk puts it, in relating the different continua in universal unity which extends to all parts of the phenomenal world. 158 For Kahn, Heraclitean opposites such as day and night are fused in a divinity that supersedes Zeus as a new type of
Notopolous, Symbolism of the Sun, 168. Anaxagoras would later be exiled as transgressor of the state religion for teaching the scientific/physical view. (171) 157 M. Marcovich, Heraclitus: Greek Text with a Short Commentary (Meridia, Venezuela: Los Andean University Press, 1967), Table of Opposites in Heraclitus Doctrine on the Logos, 160 61. 158 G. S. Kirk, Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954), 201.


Thunderbolt, Fire, or sun which never sets. (Kahn, 85, 27681) As ultimate unity, it must logically be maintained beyond the physicality of change, yet concurrently it must be seen manifest in physicality, or else it cannot be comprehensively complete. Heraclitean fire is neither a physical substance nor an underlying element, nor any concrete body like elemental fire; it is a mythopoeic metaphor. (279) This may not be as enlightening as one might hope it could be. Hussey points out that Heraclitus, like Wittgenstein and the quantum physicists much later, seeks to reveal that the darkness of ignorance is a mystery that can be dispelled with the light of knowledge; yet all end with a central difficulty that leaves things more mysterious than before. (Hussey, 59) Recognising the light in matter, however, may yet nourish the idea that human truth is dependent upon earthly conditions before intellectual abstractions, speculations, or (thickly veiled) political justifications. Meanwhile, if nature loves concealment, for Heraclitus, then darkness may be thought of as the place in which it hides. The early Greek word for truth, writes Heidegger, is unhiddenness [Unverborgenheit]. 159 In seeking to wrest things, and ourselves, from this previous state of hiddenness, however, Heraclitus does not necessarily or simply valorise light at the expense of darkness. Like wakefulness and sleep, each state transforms into the other:
It is one and the same thing to be living and dead, awake or asleep, young or old. The former aspect in each case becomes the latter, and the latter becomes the former, by sudden unexpected reversal. (Fragment 88)

This condition, in which life is wakeful in the light while death sleeps in the darkness, does not accompany the common patriarchal associations we might expect in a Greek binary code so often suggestive of passive femininity compared with active and superior masculinity. Fragment 26 gives this interrelationship an uncommonly subtle treatment, wherein perception is forged at the borderlands between light and darkness:
A man strikes a light for himself in the night, when his sight is quenched. Living, he touches the dead in his sleep; waking, he touches the sleeper.

Taken literally, sleep is a retreat for the souls fire into an inner citadel, the outer fires accounting for sense-perception being quenched. (Hussey, 56) Kahn sees something ritualistic in this fragment, reminiscent of the subterranean light sought in the presence of the chthonic oracle. The dream experience of the psyche passes by in a kind of death, as the individual loses contact with the fire that is shared and undertakes a kind of psychic descent into the underworld. (Kahn, 215) From within this personal realm, however, we may only perceive the underpinning universal patterns of law to the extent that we recognise their paradoxically impersonal nature: although individuals usually fail to recognise it, all things are one and the real manifests as measured change stability and flux are coconstituted. 160 In this case, according to Kahn, although Heraclitus seems not to agree with Pindar that dreams may admit a more penetrating psychic life than everyday consciousness (due to lack of contact with shared fire), increasing darkness night, sleep, death can lead to more complete awakening. Following descent, the enlightened one returns to the initial daytime state, but now in touch with all that precedes. (Kahn, 215) Heidegger and Fink discuss the ramifications of our kindling of light in physical terms, as if we carried a lamp at dusk in a way that defines our relationship with light and

Martin Heidegger, The Essence of Truth: On Platos Cave Allegory and Theaetetus, trans. Ted Sadler (London: Continuum, 2002), 7. 160 T. M. Robinson, Heraclitus: Fragments; A Text and Translation with a Commentary (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 7477.


night together. Our affinity with fire enables us to create a clearing, albeit a weak one in comparison with the suns day; we kindle a little light in the great dark of night without annihilating the nourishing darkness. 161 Our relationship to night is maintained because we, as humans, can only kindle a fragmentary, insular light, a limited clearing surrounded by concealing darkness. (Heidegger and Fink, 12931) Material and symbolic worlds are brought together here in respect to their parallel limits the human mind only delves so deeply into the depths of darkness, and our physical lamps only stretch our night vision so far. We are the in-between being standing in the clearing between life and death; the twilight, fire-kindling being comporting itself toward the counterplay of day and night and this can only be understood alongside the relationship drawn between the One and the Many, hen and panta. (13133) Understanding the counterplay of this relationship leads to the possibility of atonement in the One, as the overall culmination of this cycle sees the individual absorbed in an effulgence of fire that is at once personal and cosmic in nature. We can find wisdom to the extent that our souls become divine, and this completes a cycle of associations, wisdomGodfiresoulwisdom, which must have been intended by Heraclitus. (Hussey, 58) The darkness of ignorance is vanquished, yet retained, as the eternally striving and generative antagonist within (yet not within) the ultimate light. This potential for atonement with/in the divine cosmos thus reshapes traditional religious encouragement towards initiatory purification into an intellectual pursuit that, although it maintains a predisposition for ascent (or vertical transcendence), also retains its intertwinedness with the world. We might speculate that for the Ionian philosophers, and Heraclitus in particular, light is not divorced from earthly reality but seeks to be and presumably can be perfected, as transcendental and immanent awareness, within (as?) physicality. This is not to dismiss the yearning to escape the limits of material existence inherent in any transcendental philosophy, however; each member of the aforementioned cycle is still distinct from, and transcends in some way, the ordinary world in which it nevertheless seems to be entangled. (Hussey, 58) Light for Heraclitus is conceptualised as pure, materialised mind, but awareness of it is not simply guaranteed by our presumed wakefulness to this state or potential. For a start, the physical nature of reality is hidden from our gaze as pure Being (and as unknowable Beings) of which we can generally only snatch glimpses and form ideas; and secondly, the very notion of a personal consciousness awakened to our collective human one is problematised by the provisional nature of all knowledge. The Heraclitean doctrine nevertheless seems to have pointed toward panentheism, as in its purest form Heraclitean fire is extra-cosmic, immortal and divine, as well as forming the basic stuff of this world-order. 162 This interrelationship of nature and divinity, along with a predilection for ascent, is paralleled in the relationship between the psyche and a ray of sunlight or brilliance in Fragment 118:
A gleam of light is the dry soul, wisest and best.

Early Greek thought often assumed a direct connection between certain atmospheric and mental states, with a correlation between dry air and clear thought being combined with the clear and luminous upper sky as against the murky and moist lower regions. (Kahn, 247)
Martin Heidegger and Eugen Fink, Heraclitus Seminar, trans. Charles H. Seibert (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1993), Locality of Human Beings between Light and Night, 128 29. 162 Marcovich, Heraclitus, 259. Also: God is the kosmos, but is also beyond or beneath the kosmos. Hussey, Presocratics, 58.


Heraclituss fire matches other early conceptions of life and mind that equated them with the radiance of the sunlit sky, and his identification of this with the finest state of the psyche stands in stark contrast with the equally traditional equation of dissolution into water and darkness that occurred due to the quenching of consciousness into sleep or the moistening of the soul in drunkenness and sensuality. (24748) Despite the ultimate intertwinedness of the watery depths and the heights of celestial light, however, the dryness of heaven is preferred to the dampness of sensuality. The extent to which everyday ignorance is overcome by the continual exertion of consciousness into the dry light of wisdom is considered a good in itself, although one that is opposed by both inertia and decadence. The best possibility available to the human soul seems to be being extinguished, while conscious, into the celestial fire or light that is its highest destiny:
Immortals are mortal, mortals immortal, living the others death, dead in the others life. (Fragment 62)

This equation between the highest of human soulfulness and immortality runs parallel with the limitless depth of Fragment 45:
You will not find out the limits of the soul by going, even if you travel over every way, so deep is its report.

For Heraclitus, such related opposites are the result of an origin myth of strife. The kosmos, while intimately interconnected and at one, is concurrently the scene of a constant struggle between opposed forces. Thus change is inevitable and the natural state of all things, and every event can be analysed into encroachments (in a sense yet to be explicated) of one opposite on anotheracts of war or strife that are not of themselves beyond the mysterious plan of God. (Presocratics, 4849) For the Ionian this intimate and complex kinship system is exemplified in the way that solar light is kept in check by relentless, primitive (Kahn, 49) forces of vengeance:
The sun will not transgress his measures. If he does, the Furies, the ministers of Justice, will find him out. (Fragment 94)

The battle is evenly strife-torn and balanced and the sun that lights our world with its fire is not distinct from the rest of existence, but a localised version of the highest power, kindled brightly for the illumination, growth, and return to death of all. The non-human and unknowable aspects of our world may be recognised as inhabiting darkness according to the limits of our minds but what is not known within our light is not necessarily without its own share of the divine power of life. The fragments of Heraclitus succeed in uniting intimate inner worlds with cosmic proportions, as the power of fire is placed in a series of loyalties that often contradict each other, acting as one despite their capacity to appear as opposites. In this worldview, our relationship with the physical world does not need to be compromised in order to achieve enlightenment, and the ignorance of ultimate Oneness that we inherit as individuated and conscious beings can be overcome. While Heraclitus believed this to be possible, he concurrently saw in the mass populace an ignorance he deemed beneath him, partly due to peoples indulgence in traditional ritual, for which he had little patience. (Hyland, 16061) The logos of the Ionian philosophers, in particular Heraclitus, retains an air of mystery that will be marginalised with the systemisations of Plato and Aristotle in proceeding generations of Greek thought. Heraclitean philosophy, as a paradigmatic example of Ionian philosophy, maintains a possibility for light and matter to be seen as mutually constitutive, or at least interdependent, in both physical and symbolic senses. The fascination with their thinking evident in an age of quantum mechanics is not surprising, for


it unearths great and enigmatic possibilities in todays lingua franca of scientific thinking. Symbolically, the light of Godhead, or Pure Mind, need not be seen as something that resides at a distance from materiality, but can just as easily be understood as the underpinning order of the material universe. Matter, in this (Spinozan) sense, is the body of the Godhead, or Pure Mind, or light. This body is the one, then, that dies only to be resurrected in new form, the ever-living, ever-dying god/king, breaking through into the clearing of the mind as awareness, both impersonal and intimately interconnected with the individuated self. Fragment 30 states:
The ordering, the same for all, no god nor man has made, but it ever was and is and will be: fire everliving, kindled in measures and in measures going out.

The Heraclitean logos maintains a paradoxical interpretation of material and symbolic, or immanent and transcendental, worlds that makes it eminently attractive to ecophilosophical discourse. The Ionian conception of a truth revealed in the flux of life, manifest in the natural world yet indivisible from the divine, must stand as one of the most valuable philosophies extant in the western tradition. Regardless of what politics Heraclitus himself, or his fellow philosophers, might have held, their ideas maintain a position at the gateway between the material world and a conception of the divine that demands that life on earth be treated as if it were a manifestation of the eternal, unquenchable fire of the Godhead of Pure Mind.

Platos Cave, the Light of Form, and the nature of the world By contrast with Heraclitean flux, Platos myth of the cave in his Republic can be read as a quest after transcendence that seeks to overcome the limits of human knowledge and find a Parmenidean truth certain, eternal, and immovable. It explicitly names this truth as a light, specifically one that sits behind and illuminates the sun that in turn illumines us. Access to this ultimate light requires refinement of the assumptions we make according to the subjective particularities of our own individuality, however, because we dwell in human habitation at a second remove from its purifying truth. Human corporeality, that is to say, is akin to existence within a cave, withheld from ultimate truth by the shadow play of images by which we are captured in everyday life. It is easy to see how such a philosophy could be considered as anti-life, operating against the world, as it is to ecophilosophers such as Val Plumwood in her Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. But Platos cave-dwelling philosophy retains its power not only because it serves the dominant ideological framework of Greek, and later western, civilisation. The myth also operates to acknowledge the deficits in human understanding of the world, while confirming that something we intuitively feel to be real beyond the limits of the body does exist beyond this life (and death), this body politic, this reality. The question in terms of this thesis is: how do we undertake a quest after abiding truth without denying the material world of our earth and our responsibilities to it? How do we love the world and its changing conditions while questing beyond its confusions? This chapter investigates the foundational assumptions of this philosophical quest after Truth, for the ways in which it continues to inform western, as well as global, mistreatment of the earth on behalf of the ideological foundations of settlement civilisation. Plumwood treats Platos myth of the cave as emblematic of the propensity in western philosophy to seek certitude in a transcendental reality that abides eternally elsewhere. The messy realities of material life can be purified, according to this widely


influential tradition, to the extent that they can be grounded in undetermined, everlasting truth. The vastly influential Platonic version of this driving force toward perfectly unchanging knowledge forms a significant part of the philosophical transformation of Olympian mythos according to the emergent institutionalisation of an urbane logos of the polis. The particular emphasis on the way light, as a culturally constructed symbol, is adapted along these developments cannot be divorced from the new world order of the polis, with its dialectic of masters over slaves (and women and children), its techne, and its (often imaginary) promise of plenty. For Plumwood, Plato follows Socrates and changes western philosophy for all time as he identifies the material world with instability, death, untrustworthiness and inherent lack. 163 If we follow Plumwood, Platos yearning for a realm that transcends this world with ever-effulgent light could be framed in terms of a myth of escapism; from corporeality to immortality, in a flight from relative darkness to eternal light. This is the element Plumwood criticises as Platos philosophy of death. In the human quest to dissolve our limits mortal, corporeal, physical, temporal the urbanised mind finds symbolic authority for its abstract nature. This is the spirit Richard Tarnas critiques as expert in disengaging the human being from the matrix of nature from which it emerged such that it may forge an autonomous intellectual and moral self that is transcendent, in some ways, to the world around it and that thereby achieves freedom for itself and control over its environment in order to have greater and greater autonomy. 164 Plumwood presents a compelling dissection of the otherworldliness venerated by Plato, significantly noting that otherworldly identity is not only the choice which comforts the slave (as Nietzsche assumed) but also the choice of the master, the outcome of the system of domination which sustains both identities. (Feminism and Mastery, 99) But her discussion marginalises the equally compelling reasons for the enduring mythopoeic power of otherworldliness. In outlining his myth of the Cave, Plato makes it clear that the way we perceive, formulate, and make things conscious to ourselves in everyday reality creates an illusion of knowledge. The illusory nature of what we think we know is intimately linked to the corporeality of our existence our senses deceive us and as a result we are lulled into a false sense of security. The limits of subjectivity tie us to a situation in which we must recognise them in order to escape them, preferably towards behaving in accord with eternal and impartial truth. But this caution could just as easily act as a warning to behave with care in regards to the earth as it can be appropriated to justify disregard to its relatively profane nature. When the mind reaches towards knowledge of the universal nature that is the essential and eternal Form behind things, it can be lit up by truth to reveal its intelligent awareness and knowledge. However,
when its object is permeated with darkness (that is, when its object is something which is subject to generation and decay), then it has beliefs and is less effective, because its beliefs chop and change, and under these circumstances it comes across 165 as devoid of intelligence. (Plato, Republic, 508de)

Intelligence, for Plato, must be continuously scrutinised against an impartial and eternal truth before it can be accepted in any authoritative sense. To the extent that it may approach the truth, then, intelligence must reveal itself to be grounded in everlasting wisdom the kind of perpetual economy, perhaps, upon which truly sustainable human industries and
163 164

Plumwood, Feminism and Mastery, chap. 3, Plato and the Philosophy of Death. Richard Tarnas, Understanding Our Moment in History: An Interview with Richard Tarnas, Interviews, by Scott London (2008), http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/tarnas.html. London interviewed Tarnas to discuss Tarnas Passion of the Western Mind. 165 Trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).


agriculture could be mapped. Some possible ways Platos philosophies may be used on behalf of ecological concerns are presented by Gabriela Carone, who points out that for Plato humans are responsible for the health of their ancestral home and for relative states of cosmic balance or disturbance in their own habitat. 166 At the same time, Plumwoods criticism maintains its cogency and urgency, because Platos philosophy clearly reveals a tendency to distrust the world and the body in preference for a purified light that hardly seems at home on the earth. On his terms, true knowledge can only be gained when we recognise that it is participation in embodied, physical life that blocks us from the source of goodness, wisdom, and perfect beauty. The Form of this source can be analogised as the light behind all light, the fount of intelligibility that sits behind materiality just as the Form of light sits behind the sun. The way this analogy is set up reveals its foundations in a twin set of assumptions: what we experience as the material world of self and earth cannot be trusted because it is changeable, and there is a need to explain the transcendental aspect of our nature in terms of what does not suffer from this changeability. Plato wishes to distance us from the source of our illusory perceptions in two removes. At a first remove, the region which is accessible to sight should be equated with the prison cell, and the firelight there with the light of the sun. (517b) Our everyday corporeal state is an imprisonment in the senses, and distance from this habit reveals its trance-like nature. I introduce this term to refer to Charles Tarts thesis that todays consumer consciousness operates in a trance-like state of acceptance of its conventional terms and conditions; socialisation, according to his analysis, deadens the capacity of the mind to know itself and its world. 167 Tarts work balances Plumwoods critique by representing what could be seen as a version of Platos epistemological doubts (and one that fits well with Adorno and Horkheimers critique of consumer consciousness in The Culture Industry). His method of deep doubting is also perfectly applicable to the way ecophilosophical discourse challenges the dominant mode of social organisation imperilling the health of the earth. But escape from the dominant, illusory truth paradigm is only the first remove for our prisoner. If further dragged into the bright light of day outside the cave, they experience a new and even more profound alteration of their perceptual framework, from disabuse of their former state of ignorance along a further ascent, this time via the path to awareness and recognition of the pure Form of goodness. The prisoner leaves the cave to go up on the surface of the earth (516a), where a new topography equates to our minds ascent to the intelligible realm. (517b) Here at a second remove, the prisoner is enlightened beyond their ignorance, allegorically looking beyond the sun of the subjective mind towards the source of a more real knowledge. The sun itself is merely a conduit of the true light just as our intelligence is merely a reflected, or diminished, form of its true Form. Thus reason, purified of its former habituation in the darkness, drags us up and away from the empirically observable, until at this second remove we find the potential for true knowledge, understanding, awareness, and wisdom. A similar relation of the suns symbolic nature to our intellectual perspicacity will later be adopted by Plotinus (205270 CE), in a three-way model wherein pure light, or the Good, is characterised as the One; the sun is equated with the intellect enlightened in its own being; and the celestial body of the moon is the soul in its reception of this light, whose purity diminishes to the extent that it is manifest in the material

Gabriela Roxana Carone, Plato and the Environment, Environmental Ethics 20 (1998): 11533. Charles T. Tart, Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential (Boston: New Science Library, 1986), see esp. chap. 10, Consensus Trance: The Sleep of Everyday Life.



world. 168 The sun for Plotinus, as intellect, is likewise linked but secondary to ultimate unity, as it is activated in thought, whereas the One thinks nothing, because it does not need anything else. (Armstrong, 20911) For Plotinus, as for Plato, the perfect Form of the One is utterly independent of the forms it emanates, reveals, illumines or inspires, unlike the human intellect that suffers from the confusions of relations amongst things, along with the changing conditions of its environment. The prisoners in Platos Cave, then, are no different from us; locked into the needs of our physicality and seeing only the shadows of what is in itself, in turn, a mere shadow play. (514ac) The freed prisoner, his head first turned to the fire from which this deception emanates, is too dazzled to make out the shapes that form the reality behind the one he is used to (515cd); he assumes that his familiar reality of shadows is closer to the truth of the matter than this new and frightening one with its source behind his back. (515de) By focusing on the suns secondary nature in comparison to its source (or Form), and thus recognising its materiality as an expression of a greater, more divine light, Platos metaphysical position avoids the claims of heresy that saw Anaxagoras exiled and Socrates put to death, even while he accords with the Ionian conception of the solar disk as a physical object. Plato makes it clear that light is a Good, even here on earth, and in fact that the sun is a heavenly god that will enable the future leaders of his polis to see the light. (507c 508a) In fact, in mythopoeic terms, Socrates even claims that the sun is the child of goodness. (508b) Such an attitude continues a long history of treating the sun as a sacred entity, with kinship relations to both higher sacred forms and to human life on earth, although the rationalising of such a tendency probably began before Socrates with his old friend Prodicus who, like many of his fellow Sophists, was humanistic and interpreted religion through the framework of naturalism. 169 According to such a philosophy (on Platos terms at least), the goodness that makes things accessible to our understanding is equated to the light that shines upon the physical world, inspiring our ascent into consciousness. The sun not only confers upon us this analogous source of knowledge and truth, but also grants known things their known-ness, and thus their reality and their being, as well as acting as the source of generation, growth, and nourishment. (509ab) It is of inestimable value in itself, then, even as it is clearly implied to be merely a reflection of a greater, higher light that is identified as the spirit of goodness. Goodness can be seen here as the Form, or eternal quality, of the Good, beyond all transient, everyday notions we might hold of it. 170 Plato requires mythos to elucidate his logos; the symbolic conveys with allegory what is properly

A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus, with an English Translation, in Seven Volumes, V, Enneads V.19 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), Ennead 6.4, pp. 20911. Armstrong also points out, tellingly for this discussion, that philosophy was for the men of his period both a full-time professional occupation and a religious vocation demanding withdrawal from the world. Reform of the State was thus no longer their domain, as it had been for Plato and Aristotle; monastic concentration was designed towards mystic truth and not public politics. (1214) 169 His theory was that primitive man was so impressed with the gifts nature provided him for the furtherance of his life that he believed them to be the discovery of gods or themselves to embody the godhead. This theory was not only remarkable for its rationalism but for its discernment of a close connection between religion and agriculture. William Guthrie, The Sophists (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 179. See also Notopolous, Symbolism of the Sun, 165: the rationalizing of this religious conviction is a process earlier embarked upon by Prodicus as he attributes the divinity of the sun to the benefits [it] renders mankind. 170 A similar analogy is drawn by Plato between the way the sun, symbolic of distanced ascent, offers our eye the gift of sight and the way that Goodness bestows the intelligible upon the intelligence.


the expression of a philosophical truth; thereby philosophy both validates and absorbs mythos. (Vernant, Myth and Society, 2024) Intelligibility, reason and the warrior state Intelligibility, for Plato, is a property closely aligned with reason, and both are dependent on the Truth from above. As we are in everyday life as to the prisoners inside the cave, so we must have our heads turned from this play of earthly shadows so that we can see that nothing within it is truly real, that our perceptions are seduced by their seemingly convincing corporeality, and that this very sensual nature of our lives is what keeps us from eternal Truth. Following acceptance of our limited faculties, we must be mentally removed from this arena of illusion and dragged into the true light, which makes our sun seem like the fire in the cave. As a mere local version of the power that grants it Form, then, our conscious light takes shape in varying forms according to the limits of our sensual apparatus. Plumwoods Plato divorces us intellectually from the earth and our responsibilities to it as the ground of being. Alternatively, according to Tart, epistemological analysis that undermines the realities accepted by conventional consciousness, which could equally be seen as the strategy employed by Plato, can help transform our traditionally-held assumptions. Either way, we struggle against the limits of the human mind and its investigative capacities. True intelligibility, it would seem for Plato, is the domain of pure reason, existing as pure Form. And as Forms can only be apprehended in some manner directly, by the mind rather than the senses (which rather positively hinder ones apprehension of forms), the education recommended for the philosopher kings who would lead Platos polis consists of studies designed precisely to redirect ones attention away from the senses. 171 By this education the inevitably confusing consequences of incarnation in this human world, along with the corrupting leaden weights of corporeal pleasures that turn the sight of the mind downwards (519ab) and away from the truth, would be knocked off. (517d) The spirit of the sun draws our physical nature out of darkness until the spirit of goodness, which underwrites our capacity for intelligibility, purifies our empirical observations of their confused state. For Plato light represents the promise of redemption from mere physicality and its attendant subjectivity. Thus, for Plato, our bodily lives do taint the purified intellectual processes by which we might achieve recognition of truth. This could be seen as something of a reversal of pagan wisdom (away from which Socrates seemed explicitly to move), according to which insight is granted in tune with the ways of the earth. Harrison claims that the Athenians philosophy does in fact stand in stark contrast with earlier, less urbanised thinking:
Whereas earthly forms had previously been seen to arise from the primordial, preformal matrix of nature, they now were seen to descend or derive from an ideal realm of disembodied form. This was the sort of idealism that turned Socrates into one of the greatest apologists of the cityits institutional abstraction from nature. (Forests, 38)

In some ways, however, the Athenian model follows certain elements of other non-settled beliefs. Eliade compares Platos Forms to any set of religious ideas that maintain an ontological authority separate from the human sphere. In his analysis, the Forms act as the regenerative fount of their less real yet avidly manifest copies here on earth, just as the

Nicholas White, A Companion to Platos Republic (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1979), 34.


Great Spirit Animals would send forth fresh emanations of their own endless Self for the benefit of the hunter. When we remember the Forms, we maintain contact with this eternal generative fount: the process of philosophical anamnesis recovers our truths, that is, the structures of the real, and this philosophical position can be compared with that of the traditional societies: the myths represent paradigmatic models established by Supernatural Beings. 172 Thus is Platonic light pure and eminently transcendental clarity related to earthly conditions, of a more opaque quality yet still kin with its progenitor from beyond. Platos ascent from worldly to eternal realm is thus made from a kind of twilight to true daylight (521c), a traditional idea of the purification process equated with turning away from the world of coming into being and passing away, with all its physical growth and decay. (521e) Returning to earth, however, we must recall that the central aim of Platos Republic is to engage leaders who will ensure its future prosperity and sense of harmony. The sequentially increasing bedazzlement the leader/prisoner experiences upon his enforced ascent into enlightenment is reversed as he returns to his former state of privation in the cave. His eyes take time to re-adjust to the darkness of this corporeal realm, and Plato warns that the leader/prisoner may be taken for an ignoramus the other prisoners, in short, would rather stay fooled in the way they know best. (515e517a) The whole allegory is then applied to someone returning to our human realm having espied the divine one, who would have trouble convincing themselves that the relative world of human concerns is anything but a confusion of shadows hardly worth the trouble, and who would be ridiculed for their social inability. (517cd) Those whove seen the light dont want to engage in human business, as they now feel abstracted from life. (517c) But Platos philosopher kings are duty-bound to return to the society that trained them (as opposed to the rare spontaneously enlightened who owe nothing to their community); they must work with and for all. (519d e) Those bred to be awakened leaders and kings must descend to where the rest of the community lives, and get used to looking at things in the dark. (520 bc ) The best rulers are doubly bedazzled, by enlightenment and return and as such, having seen the light, they would prefer not to rule. (521a) The power of authority, then, must be given to those who do not desire it those with spiritual authority. (521a) This is an upending of the expected profane or political conceptions of power, a seeming reversal of worldly values. Yet even as spiritual insight replaces the everyday understanding of our physical world at the apex of political nous, a powerfully paradoxical caveat is written into the Platonic constitution. His philosopher kings also rule as men of war and thus the light that is the one true source of intelligibility behind all knowledge remains on the side of those with the strongest and most well educated leaders, with the best arms and soldiers. (521de) The association between Platos polis and its warlike face is drawn when the study of geometry is justified for its capacity to help organise troops in battle. (526d) In between Platos analogy of the sun and knowledge and his Cave myth in the Republic, we find the image of the Line, in which intelligible realms are subdivided along geometric terms according to their relative quotient of truth (from real knowledge at the top end to mere conjecture at the bottom). Plato believes, along with Pythagoras, that the discipline of geometry, with its eternal laws, will help train the mind towards truth and away from our misguided, downward tendencies. The teaching of mathematics, according to Plato, is essential, since it apparently forces the mind to rely purely on intellectual processes and to aim for truth in itself. (526ab ) According to the Platonic thesis, then, abstract truth removed from mere matters of corporeality provides intellectual perspicacity, moral uprightness, impersonal calculations and the means to wage more effective war.

Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality (New York: Harper Colophon, 1963), 125.


Once again we find in the history of the religious and philosophical speculation that accompanies settlement civilisation a propensity towards ethnocentric universalisation armed to the teeth. The Truth is eternal and veritable; it can be proved by a logos of abstraction; this reasoning method is inextricably linked with the polis and its techne; the polis is institutionally abstracted from non-human, organic nature; and only a philosopherking in authority could understand the powerful Truth this series of abstractions represents. This logos serves its mythos by relying on circular reasoning for its power the teleological imperative it defends (subjugation of the land and other peoples including its own women, slaves and children) is justified in its origin myth: the truth comes down upon us from above, just as political power operates from the height of a centralised corpus of authority. The leaders of this way must be cleansed of their materiality or depersonalised and armed with the force of law/light, symbolised by a distanced god who looks over the lands and people from on high. For Plumwood, Plato deploys this style of reason as a new weapon in the context of combat,
wherein its elevation is based on the oppositions of the master and the warrior, on the domination of nature in all its forms (except for universal Nature, which is an extension of reason itself), and on its otherworldly alliance with death in opposition 173 to life.

Platos philosophy of reason thus becomes equated with death, just as the division between intelligibility and nature becomes a dualistic vehicle according to which the western construction of human identity takes place outside nature. Plumwoods analysis reveals the way nature has often been considered, in the western tradition, as a metaphysical concept through which we think our difference from the non-human. For Kate Soper, human separation from the world becomes a performative act as well as an ontological assumption, invoked in the very posing of the question of humanitys relation to nature. 174 The kinship system at the core of western epistemology, then, relies upon a dualistic hierarchy of ascent according to which the human accepts the privilege of being in communication with a divine light of consciousness, over the rest of the animal and material world. This tradition, Plumwood feels, helps justify many of the problematic features of western civilisations treatment of the earth. Thus even while the education of philosopher kings must be oriented away from the world of becoming, until it becomes capable of bearing the sight of real being and reality at its most bright, which were saying is goodness, (518c) it must do so as a form of political power over the earth, as well as over other peoples. The one true light upends our everyday forms of observation and reason and establishes an empire of objective hegemony on behalf of a political, economical, and military ideal. According to Jonathan Bate, this active domination proceeds on behalf of settlement law:
Agriculture and law have thus emerged together; the law of property and the law of inequality are one. Within societies, civil law comes to replace the law of nature; between societies, the law of nature the survival of the strongest continues to operate. So it is that territoriality initiates the spiral that eventually leads to war. (Song of the Earth, 48)


As Plumwood points out, Plato is after all himself of the class of the warriors and masters. Plumwood, Feminism and Mastery, 100. 174 Kate Soper, The Idea of Nature, in Green Studies Reader, 125.


The faraway throne of immutable Form clearly has intimate relations with the seat of power in much more material terms. It also exerted a powerful influence on Christian dreams of dominion and salvation. For both systems, writes Plumwood, the meaning of death is that the meaning of human life is elsewhere the salvation awaiting them beyond and above the world of nature confirms their difference and separation from the world of nature, and their destiny as one apart from that of other species. (Feminism and Mastery, 100) Such a philosophy teaches us that as natural beings we die, and that only as rational, cultural beings in opposition to nature (and hence to the basic conditions of our lives) do we live. (101) In Westlings The Green Breast of the New World this influence is seen exacerbating the domination of the environment in the settling of America by European colonisers. A traditional association between masculinity and the abstract mind, and femininity and the material body of earth, continues today and has resulted in a new myth of pioneering spirit on behalf of the male philosopher who appropriates traditional agricultural metaphors for woman, the feminine in the role of the earth, the field to be filled with the lovers seeds. 175 These deep-set traditions are exemplified in a reading of Platos cave myth as loyal to an epistemology of otherworldliness. But the prisoners escape can also be interpreted to allegorise a valid interrogation of the dominant mode of production and the ecological damage perpetuated by it. Thus the very narrative form according to which cultural codes of domination and subjugation authorise their own profitability reveal the denial (or repression, or subjugation) upon which they are constructed. It is here, at the cutting out of which the mythic framework of Greek philosophy (and hence, for some ecocritics, western civilisation) is seen to emerge, that the mythos of logos concurrently reveals its own antidote. The act of looking away from the earth is the hidden moment during which is enthroned a dazzling light of eternally transcendental authority. Such performativity the ritual that accompanies the myth, perhaps can be reversed. If myth operates to offer the mask of a perennially ever-living, ever-dying god-king of transcendental authority, then the intellectual abstraction at the core of the western distance from nature offers the tools for its own transformation in the will to return the gaze to the earth. Here is found an eternal law of change, which could be read in metaphysical terms as a stillness at the heart of movement. Heraclitean flux returns as the haunting of Platonic Form and such resistant readings undermine the ontological dichotomy upon which settlement civilisation philosophy is sculpted, by mimicking the organic cycles redolent of vegetation and animist mythologies, adapted to the ever-changing yet ever-similar ongoing needs of the human community. Critical theory can profit from the creative potential of such insights, alternative to the mainstream traditions yet possibly a source of revitalisation in an age where adaptation is more vital than status quo. As his myth of the cave shows, Plato serves as the foundational philosopher of western transcendence in ways that could be considered both dangerous and valuable to the discipline of ecocriticism. His valorisation of light systematises an entire corpus of meticulous method that would influence countless thinkers thereafter. To the extent that Platos allegory of light cements a feeling according to which we are not truly at home on earth, but need to extend intellectual loyalty to an otherworldly realm of divine authority, it can be implicated in the myth whereby humanity believes itself to be imprisoned in this world. But to the extent that his method builds on Socratic dialectic to undermine traditional authority as if conventional wisdom were, in a manner of speaking, the Gnostic demiurge

Westling, Green Breast, 2729, citing Page DuBois, Sowing the Body: Psychoanalysis and Ancient Representations of Women (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 28.


being investigated it remains invaluable. But this is, in a sense, to draw Platonic light back towards the changeability it sets out to escape; for, unless Plato accepted a truth somehow ecocentric in Form, it is unlikely the modern ecophilosopher would find the same eternal verity at the culmination of their double bedazzlement. Hence, for me, the enduring value of Heraclitean paradox, enigmatic truth more closely intertwined with the ambiguous gifts and limits of corporeality, the ground out of which we seek the light and the earth upon which our speculations depend for their continuation. And there behind both these schools of thought, perennial as the grass, survive pagan philosophies that unabashedly see the sacred move in nature, light indivisible from the physical manifestation of life, spirits of place that inform our deepest desires, our epistemologies, our sense of identity and loyalty to the earth. All of these philosophical realities exist in the layers of the Greek contestations over truth and the way we interpret them today inevitably says more about our own (adaptational) needs and attitudes than it does about the Greeks themselves.


3 Light and Home

The Fall: Out of Empyrean Paradise and Onto the Dusty Threshing Floor
Introduction to the frames of reference The myth of the Fall encapsulates a moment in which humanity is banished from a paradise, in which they enjoyed convivial relations with a God of light, to a material and corporeal earth in His shadows. This foundational myth of Christian literature inscribes the origin of human history as an exile from the presence of the divine, especially as this is redefined by Church Fathers such as Augustine. The Fall thus develops Gods creation of the universe into a justification of the supposed intractability of the earth, a mythic trope strongly associated with agricultural settlement societies. The myth involves Hebrew lore, Greek ideas, Roman appropriation and a telling paradox that reveals that the heart of settlement civilisation rests on its divorce from nonhuman nature. For while the Israelites were literally exiled from a Promised Land, enduring bouts of slavery at the hands of powerful civilisations, it is just those centralised, urbanised organisations that later employ the trope of banishment on behalf of their own mythic complex. Settlement civilisations divorce from intimate identification with the cycles of nature is the traumatic cutting upon which the framework of western individuation (in both collective and individual terms) is constructed, and which remains a powerful influence in the psychic and material organisation of western societies today. I underscore the ecophilosophical import of the myth of the Fall through an investigation into the relative darkness of the earth, which is discoloured in comparison to the brilliance of an unattainable heavenly sphere. I proceed assuming that the Greek dualism according to which light is associated with mind, masculinity and abstraction, while darkness is linked with body, femininity and materiality, is extended and institutionalised in Christian imagery. Building on such equations, I highlight a further set of relations, this time inscribing kin (across the medieval Biblical tradition) between Satan, his band of dark angels, and humanity, as they are represented by the proto-couple in Eden. The fall from heaven of the former angels precedes and directly relates to our Fall from Gods grace from His good garden, while the demonisation of Satan, characterised as a nature spirit like those formerly worshipped by pagan peoples, further impresses upon us the relative darkness of human corporeality. The animistic figure of darkness assumes many shades across the Christian tradition, beginning in the Biblical Genesis as the serpent, most subtle beast of the field (Genesis 3:1), and ending as the great dragon of Revelation 12:9 and 20:2, where it is also named Satan. 176 As the devil, the great serpent of deception, the perpetrator of the Original Sin against God, Satan is the recipient of the original order of banishment and later
The proper name of the supreme evil spirit in Christianity, from Gk. Satanas, from Heb. satan adversary, one who plots against another, from root s-t-n one who opposes, obstructs, or acts as an adversary. In Septuagint (Gk.) usually translated as diabolos slanderer, lit. one who throws (something) across the path of another. Satan, in Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Satan. Satan is the most common Hebrew word for Devil, over Azazel or Belial, who are essentially the same being. Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 189.


becomes emblematic of the hardness suffered by humanity. Furthermore, Satans expulsion in the timeless past/present of ontological distinction makes his the exile to initiate all exiles, the template according to which humanity will itself be forced out of its former paradise. This originary exile behind the human Fall can be further traced to archetypal tales of battles in heaven, some of which show clear reference to Mesopotamian pantheons, such as the one that commemorates the victory of the Hebrew God Yahweh over a sea dragon with various names. Battles between divinities inhabiting the pastoral lands of Canaanite and Israelite patriarchs, recorded in Ugaritic texts from around the fourteenth century BCE, help to shape the Biblical tradition Europe will inherit. The association between the order of light consolidated here, especially in its ascent over a shifting darkness of salt-bitter defeat, resurfaces in urbanising versions of the Christian canon in late Classical times, and is reiterated in medieval philosophy and spiritual belief. The allied ideal of the New Jerusalem, Gods heavenly plan for a city of light here on earth as it is envisioned in Revelation 21 and 22, is conjoined to the hope for paradise regained as an ongoing cycle within the western imagination. Revealing threads of Manichaeist and Zoroastrian doctrines, Gnostic and Neoplatonic speculations, the intertwined exile of the great adversary and the human race is resolved in florid colour in pseudepigraphic medieval versions inscribed under the title The Life of Adam and Eve. Lights ultimate victory over the chaotic and threatening darkness, which can be seen to justify the rhetoric of worldly (as well as ideological) war in both canonical and apocryphal texts, finds late medieval poeisis as a victory over sin with the Divine Comedy of Dante. With reference to the legend of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevskys The Brothers Karamazov, the ancient theme of exile on earth following battle in heaven is cynically (and brilliantly) introduced to the industrialised, urbanised, agricultural settlement civilisation of todays world. Historic influences: the human expulsion from Paradise follows patterns of cosmic battle and dragon-slaying In Ezekiel 28:1218, a lament against the King of Tyre is taken up that would be identified in Christian tradition with the mythic history of the fallen angel Satan:
You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; With an anointed cherub as guardian I placed you. You were blameless in your ways, until you were filled with violence, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, the multitude of your iniquities consumed you, and I turned you to ashes on the earth in the sight of all who saw you.

The metaphorical agent of evil is expelled from the mount or garden of God, where he had dwelt amongst gold and precious stones, to be driven in disgrace from his now desecrated sanctuaries. This Paradise is explicitly equated with Eden, while the alleged miscreant is clearly to be associated directly with the eternal adversary, Satan, even while he is concurrently named as a worldly king. The conflation between this archetypal, shapeshifting enemy and the deceptive serpent of Eden is made in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 he is the great dragon, ancient serpent, and devil. So while the contrary force to Gods good will takes on many forms as fallen angel, archetypal snake, and even worldly king it takes shape in accord with the function it serves: it is darkness to light, chaos to order, rebellion to obedience. According to the author of the Revelations conflation, the devil who can still change himself into a shining angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) is seductively


imagined tempting the proto-humans out of their garden in the form of a talking serpent in Genesis 3:16. The reasons imputed to Satans corrupting intent are discussed below in the texts (based on earlier mythic tales) known collectively under the title The Life of Adam and Eve.

QuickTime and a TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor are needed to see this picture.

Satan expelled from heaven, from Gustav Dors engravings for Miltons Paradise Lost

But being ejected from the divine realm is by no means a singular fate for archaic gods of contrary nature. Battles in the heavens are a consistent feature of polytheistic cosmologies. In collectives that do not rely upon continual developments in technological evolution in order to flourish, complex arrays of nature spirits often remain in constant conflict and relation. Thus seemingly contradictory forces of nature are each accorded their powers, limits, territories, rights and responsibilities. With permanent settlement new ways of understanding such forces are adopted. The powers of nature imagined to be divine have their roles and movements explicated according to their effect on a permanently settled, unmoving segment of the topography. The consequences of a storm become doubly significant when they are required to bring fertility to a certain parcel of land (upon which


an agriculturally based settlement depends, at least in part), without tempestuously washing it into the sea. Storm gods, also known as Baals, play a significant part in the history of Fertile Crescent mythology, and their ambivalent nature is not difficult to infer. 177 Frank Moore Cross discusses an aspect of such two-sidedness in relation to the Canaanite Baals stormgod role; on the one hand, the dread warrior before whom all nature blanches and dies, on the other hand, the god whose sway brings the fructifying rain which makes the desert bloom. 178 Storm-gods can be imagined as a favourable association for martial kings and patriarchal leaders of this era, lending firepower to the authorities of settlement civilisations (such as those in Mesopotamia), or to those of the pastoralist peoples of Israel and Canaan who rail against the cities. When Yahweh defeats the Canaanite storm-god in an intertribal conflict, it is by sending down a flash of fire from heaven to torch the sacrificial bull on Mount Carmel, while the Canaanite Baal fatally fails to appear (1Kings 18:1839). 179 In most cases, as would be expected, lightning is associated (although with various meanings attributed) with both material and symbolic aspects of the storm-gods power. 180 Before the Israelite storm-god Yahweh accepts a dominant role over the Canaanite Baal and has His visage incandescently magnified according to later influences, both deities enjoy victories over a chaos monster within their own respective pantheons. 181 In the Canaanite myths of Baal found in Ugaritic sites, the storm-god battles Yamm, representative of the sea, under whose yoke he has been placed by the elder father amongst gods, El.182 The craftsman god Kothar wa-Khasis provides Baal with his weapons and encouragement:
I tell thee, O Prince Baal, I declare thee, O Rider of the Clouds Now thine enemy will thine smite, Now wilt thou cut off thine adversary. Thoult take thine eternal kingdom, Thine everlasting dominion. (Poems about Baal and Anath, [2] III AB A, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 13031, lines 510)


Baal or Bal is a generic name generally signifying a storm-god for Canaanites, Phoenicians and others. Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1990), 6671. 178 Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 151. Psalm 29 only slightly modifies the ancient Bal hymn for use in the early cultus of Yahweh. (152) 179 Both gods had cult followings, alongside each other, until serious tensions led to support for Baal being severely ruptured (see 2 Kings 1011). Smith, Early History, 7273. Cross notes the historical circumstances preceding this battle, with Israelite prophets modifying the language of storm theophany to include alongside their image of Yahweh the Canaanite image of El as judge in his assembly or divine council. Cross, Canaanite Myth, 19091. 180 The Ugaritic Baals lightning flashes to earth while he grows in heavenly power. Poems about Baal and Anath, e. II AB, in Ugaritic Myths, Epics, and Legends, trans. H. L. Ginsberg, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 13335. On Israelite translation of storm theophany from northern and Canaanite language, see Cross, Canaanite Myth, 16973. 181 Not unusually for the region; the Egyptian Set and Persian Ahriman can similarly be considered deities tainted with darkness against victorious gods of light. T. J. Wray and Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devils Biblical Roots (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 2. 182 Compositions found in the Ugarit area of unknown origin are dated around mid-fourteenth century BCE. Cross, Canaanite Myth, 112. Yamm is Prince Sea, representing the unruly powers of the universe who threatened chaos, until restricted and tamed by Bal. (116)


Baal crushes Yamm but the defeated god apparently does not die (in a pattern we see repeated for all chaos monsters), instead being confined to his proper sphere, the seas. 183 Baals victory over Yamm is described by Anath the war-goddess, who voices her aid thus:
Crushed I not Els beloved Yamm? Destroyed I not Els Flood Rabbim? Did I not, pray, muzzle the Dragon? I did crush the crooked serpent, Shalyat the seven-headed. (Poems about Baal and Anath, f. V AB, D, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 137, lines 3539)

Again we face a beast whose features are adapted in accord with the threat they are supposed to represent. It is often conflated, however, to symbolise all dark forces, a common and eternal adversary to what is conceived to be the good (which is likewise mythologised as eternal and universal). As such, the chaos monster is imagined in the Christian tradition to antagonise humanity from its inception in the Garden of Paradise until the end of time in Revelation. He is there the red Dragon persecuting the woman of hope and dragging a third of the angels into his imprisonment on earth (Revelation 12:313), just as he was the tempter in Eden, the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world. (12:9) Satans relationship with other sea-monsters also shares the striking feature of seven-headedness; Revelation 12:3 brings to mind the dragons Shalyat, the Mesopotamian Tiamat and the Greek Typhon. (Cross, 11319) It was claimed to be the chaos monster of Isaiah 27:1:
In that day the Lord will take his terrible, swift sword and punish leviathan, the swiftly moving serpent, the coiling, writhing serpent, the dragon of the sea.

Meanwhile the King of Babylon is reviled as the exiled angel in Isaiah 14:1215, who is like Lucifer, son of Dawn, shown to be fallen from heaven and brought down to the depths of the Pit. 184 The power of empire (or the reign of the king of Babylons golden city, 14:4) broken, the liberated slaves rise up to sing with the trees and all the world (14:78), and it is prophesied that Israel shall henceforth rule her enemies. (14:2) This hope runs against the history of settlement, which wins most of its wars against nomadic or tribal peoples, while the phrasing speaks mythopoeically, in its image of singing with trees, of traditional bardic, animistic or shamanic epistemologies. The renewed earth of Israels Lord Yahweh at this point brings to mind archetypal moments of rebirth and abundance, when fecundity returns to a land laid waste by the former, corrupt regime and its demonic power. The Ugaritic text shares this hopeful culmination. When Lady Asherah supports Baals victorious insurrection, it is with a plea to El that the Prince be granted a palace fitting his magnificence. Installed in a house of silver, gold and pure lapis lazuli, Baal may ensure the observation of the seasons and the rains. (Poems about Baal and Anath, e. II AB, ii, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 132) This dispensation is paramount, as Baals storm must ensure the fertility of the earth in order to fulfill his divine role; after vanquishing the threat of the sea, he tackles Mot, God of the rainless season and, apparently, of the nether world in a logical step against the blight of

183 184

Ginsbergs commentary, Poems about Baal and Anath, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 131. The traditional association between Lucifer and the morning star, Venus, is of note here. The reference to a powerful king can also be traced back to Canaanite legends as well as other astronomical identifications between fallen angels and the passing of constellations of stars (which can be read as mythic justifications for the existence of evil). Russell, Devil, 19597.


sterility. 185 In a by now recognisable gambit (as deployed by Mesopotamian sun-gods and Roman Emperors), the storm-god sues Anath for peace following his victory by force of arms:
Message of Puissant Baal, Word of the Powerful Hero: Take war [away] from the earth, Banish (all) strife from the soil; Pour peace into earths very bowels, Much amity into earths bosom. (Poems about Baal and Anath, f. V AB, C, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 136, lines 1015)

The Canaanite Baal follows the heroic path of bringing fertility to the land after conquering its enemies, the dragon of the sea and a chthonic deity of barrenness, just as in Biblical literature a great outburst of fertility follows the Lords destruction of the sterile and the chaotic in the world. 186 When Marduk attains leadership of the Babylonian pantheon by defeating the saltwater goddess Tiamat he likewise promises new abundance for old tyranny. Northrop Frye points out that the Hebrew poets were familiar with the myth of creation by dragon-killing, but that they employed it as poetic imagery, not as a matter of belief. (Frye, 34) Further he states that the Hebrew dragon was not always considered spiritually demonic, but that it could be portrayed as a worldly image of chaos, such as was incarnate in the heathen kingdoms of Egypt and Babylon and Rome. (78) The slaying of the evil sea-dragon becomes a talisman of spiritual victory for the forces of light, which have symbolically become closely associated with the positive aspects of the tribal stormgod (in its granting of order, fecundity and regeneration). The transcendent aspect of this powerful symbology is all too easily co-opted on behalf of political and economic regimes, however, as well as being adopted by organised religious institutions. Thus the God of Psalm 74:1314, who crushes the sea-gods heads before feeding him to the desert tribes, also brings fresh water with the light (of day and night) to his faithful, and can easily be associated with the successful hero over uncertain nature. In such ways the symbol of light is cast in the victorious aspect of transcendental heroism, a history that would certainly inform the ongoing hermeneutics of the Christian worldview. Catherine Keller for instance notes that the post-Classical Christian tradition, throughout the course of its domestication into and as a civilising force, exercises a developing imaginary of mastery, or what we may call its dominology, its logos of lordship. 187 She joins Jon Levenson in affirming that the ancient theomachy (or creation by battle) over the sinister waters (which are a metaphor for social threat) is an ongoing struggle with chaos, in which God masters but does not eliminate the chaos. (Keller, 26) Her counter-reading of Biblical creation as involving an endless process of becoming is meant as a deconstructive intervention, on behalf of mysterious dark beginnings, to be freed from the ongoing light supremacism of Euroamerican ideals. (xvii) As such it must by necessity venerate in equal parts the light and dark aspects of the source of life in terms of both present and timeless plenitude. Kellers attempt adopts a Derridean maneuver out of

Ginsbergs commentary, Poems about Baal and Anath, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 135. Frye, Biblical and Classical Myths, 79. See Isaiah 27:13, wherein the Lords defeat of the sea monster is immediately connected to Israels fruitful vineyards. 187 Keller, Face of the Deep, xvii. Keller notes the shift from the mythopoeically vanquished seamonster (or erased chaos) to the unprecedented nihil upon which Classical theism created itself, an emptiness created to magnify Gods ontological victory over any and all physical forces.



the dualistic tendencies perpetuated in the endlessly antagonistic battle between polarised gods of light and dark. These dualising tendencies conform to a pattern whereby a light-filled heaven of abundance stands over a relatively darkened topographical wasteland and corporeal sentence in Israelite and Canaanite pastoralist traditions, as well as in those of the Orphic, Platonic, Stoic, Hermetic and Gnostic schools of thought. 188 Such common tendencies may be exacerbated, to the earths detriment, by the cosmological bias of agricultural settlement civilisation. The increasing reliance on a sense of order equated with control over nature seems consistently to exacerbate a fear of the physical worlds relatively chaotic forces. The storm-god may promise either fructifying rains or devastating floods, but the nonsettled can always move to sites where the scarcity or damage takes less toll on provisions. The settlement civilisation requires a comparatively steady flow of rains, a cleverly constructed irrigation ditch and storage wall, a straight line to plow or fence to build. While dominion over nature may continue to require negotiation with multiple forces, it also lends itself to a concretisation of dualising tendencies. A crop is either benefited or harmed by environmental and meteorological conditions, whereas a severe storm to the non-settled is not an act of retribution by a jealous god but one aspect of a shifting play in a wider topological drama. The polytheistic outlook of complex interrelationship gives way, in settlement mythology, to an either/or framework of belief. Kane explains the way oral, non-settled traditions maintain a more complex relationship with shifting phases of light compared to the way the myths of organized agricultural humanity lose this openness to the circuits of meaning in wilderness, to copy instead the imposed order of the garden. (Kane, 166) Paul Shepard also recognises in western myth the garden style of its geometrised, humanized landscapes cut from an ancient wilderness, seeing this as a continuing expression of the changing idea of the universe. (Shepard, 61) This domesticated type of consciousness can then be contrasted with the unconsciousness of nonhumanised nature; the yet to be corralled threat of the free. (62) As Robert Harrison shows in regards to forests (which come to serve the European imagination as a kind of primitive purity, or wild sanctuary), the unconscious darkness is also ambivalently associated with the shadows, the lost and the uncivilised. 189 The extent to which this forest of the unconscious beyond the city walls of the modern western mind represents another dark dragon to be slain by the culture hero of light (in this case King Ego) would be a fertile question for another body of work. Thinking beyond such dualities, participants in the Eranos conference series worked towards a reinterpretation of earthly, animistic powers that would suggest the darkness outside the city walls could regain its creative, as well as destructive, aspects. 190 Dunbar notes that Eliade indicted the institutional dogma associated with Christian mythology as a symptom of western cultures alienation from cyclical nature, regarding instead the specific hierophanies, or experiences of the sacred, that project the union of earth and sky, male and female, and biological rhythms as manifestations of the coincidentia oppositorum, or the
Roelof van den Broek, Gnosticism and Hermeticism in Antiquity: Two Roads to Salvation, in Gnosis and Hermeticism From Antiquity to Modern Times, ed. Roelof van den Broek and Wouter J. Hanegraff (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998), 12, 16. 189 Harrison cites Boccaccios Decameron and avers that in literary history forests begin to appear early on as the scene for what later comes to be known as the unconscious. Harrison, Forests, 87. 190 Dirk Dunbar considers the ongoing ecocentric influence of the Eranos proceedings, initiated in Switzerland in 1933 and including such luminaries as Jung, Eliade and Campbell, in his Eranos, Esalen, and the Ecocentric Psyche: From Archetype to Zeitgeist, Trumpeter 20, no. 1 (2004): 26 31.


archetypal model of natures sacred process of eternal renewal. 191 Campbell, also present at Eranos, elsewhere noted the way oppositional duality institutionalises an order of light over the darkness of nature in western mythic frameworks:
In the older mother myths and rites the light and darker aspects of the mixed thing that is life had been honored equally and together, whereas in the later, maleoriented, patriarchal myths, all that is good and noble was attributed to the new, heroic master gods, leaving to the native nature powers the character only of darknessto which, also, a negative moral judgment now was added. (Campbell, Occidental Mythology, 21)

A concise example of the way these kinds of conflations transform the symbolic triumph of light over darkness can be outlined with reference to the visual images used to convey ideological material to illiterate peasants. 192 Where Roman Emperors were portrayed mounted on horseback spearing the enemy, Constantine had this phrased as a defeat of paganism; by the time the mythic Saint George was pictured spearing his dragon (popular around a millennium later) its nature was of sin or evil and it was seen as the serpentine enemy of Eden (see next page). 193 The medieval Christian tradition was well practiced in applying this negative moral pole to the spirits of nature that were once believed to represent the fecundity and fertility of the land. The liminal characters used as models for this demonisation of nature include the wood sprites, faeries and daemons of old European folklore as well as Classical Satyr-like figures. Medieval Christian caricatures of forces of darkness assumed characteristics previously the province of polytheistic gods and monsters; goatlike (Dionysos, Pan, satyrs), serpentine (Gorgons, Typhon, Hydra), with beaked noses and dark hues, as well as wings and horns from Greek, Iranian and Mesopotamian deities and a pitchfork from Poseidon. 194 Divinities associated with death, the judgement of the dead, and the underworld were likewise demonised according to this cosmology; thus Hades and his place of punishment (combined with Tartarus as a place of exile) become the Devils hell (Russell, 172, and 15253 on a parallel dualism in Mithraism). This was no simple division of labour however; light and dark aspects of gods like Dionysos and Prometheus were split amongst Christ (liberator in life and death) and Satan (rebellious, aggressive, demonic eroticism). 195 Jeffrey Russell traces this dualising development to Greek and Gnostic dualities opposing spirit and matter, which were combined in late Jewish and Christian thought with the Iranian dualism opposing spirits or Gods of light and darkness: and the result was an association of the good Lord with spirit and the Devil with matter. (Russell, 251) The Christian theological tradition required an insistence that Satan

Dunbar, Eranos, Esalen, 29. For a discussion of the possible latent anti-Semitic sentiments involved in Eliades ideological bias towards an archaic sense of the sacred, see Lincoln, Theorizing Myth, 14546. 192 Elizabeth Barber and Paul Barber, When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 24243. 193 Barber and Barber, When They Severed Earth, 242 (and followingCornelia Hulst on the key camera angle in the dragon slaying image tradition). 194 Russell, Devil, 17172, 25255. See also his Satan, in which the medieval Christian relationship between matter and evil is seen to transform its Mazdaist heritage both in line with (as dualisms) and against (as a monism of goodness) Gnosticism. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 5258. 195 Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our Worldview (London: Pimlico, 1991), 11011.



was also seen as a creature of the ultimate God of light, however. 196 New Testament literature consolidated many traditional aspects of evil into one figure who would harm people and maintain war against God until defeat in a final battle. (256)

Saint George slaying the Dragon; woodcut, ca. 1515, from B. Spagnuolis Lyfe of St. George (as discussed in the Barbers When They Severed Earth from Sky, 2423)

Robert Muchembled claims that Christian theologians were originally forced to conflate all aspects of evil under one dark visage in order to compete with pagans, Gnostics and Manicheans. Their harmonisation of serpent with rebel, tyrant and tempter succeeded due to the adoption of one of the most important narrative models of the Near East, that is, the cosmic myth of the primordial combat between the gods, in which it was the human condition that was at stake. 197 Associations between this ubiquitous darkness and the spirits of nature served the purpose of extending the medieval Churchs disavowal of pagan mythologies for its own brand of monotheistic sky-god worship. During the period within
This relationship necessitated the dark angels original fall from grace. Russell, Devil, 256. In Job, the opposed sides of divine power still work together. (19899) The Devils independence from Yahweh became pronounced over time, until Apocalyptic literature (around 20060 BCE) introduced a new version of an ancient antagonism, attested in the Iranian polarity between absolute gods of (ultimately victorious) light and (finally defeated) darkness. (2035) 197 Robert Muchembled, A History of the Devil: From the Middle Ages to the Present (Cambridge: Polity, 2003), 11.


which it was a minority religious movement, however, the Christians themselves were demonised by dominant political factions (and even by each other). 198 As Norman Cohn shows, the character of Satan undergoes many transformations, from minor player in Old Testament literature to autonomous adversary in the apocalyptic period (Cohn, 1619), to relentless pagan enemy of Christ and prison guard of this dark world for St Paul and Augustine (1922), and thence to near-omnipotence for paranoid German abbots of the thirteenth century. (2529) The demonisation of sensuality, nature and its lore can also be seen shadowing the witch hunts of later Europes Early modern period (around 14801700). Trials of this time saw judges link the Devil with women and carnal pleasures, supernatural abilities, and ritual parties with naked dancing, orgies and the sacrifice of human babies. 199 None of this is to restrict the dragon-slaying myth to one reading, whereby the ideological requirements of expanding agricultural settlements devour all other rich allegorical purposes of the archetype. When Perseus rescues Andromeda, or when any of a number of other fairytale-like heroes wed the kings virginal daughter after snatching her from the maw of the sea-dragon, there is no doubt a host of other complexes being allayed aside from our victory over the monsters banished with us in this agricultural land of difficulty. Myth is always multi-faceted, always escaping whatever analytical order we box it with. Frazer pointed out that a common thread in slaying the monstrous water serpent is the association with a beautiful maiden, perhaps placing the cycle as comfortably in the realms of pubescent initiation as dominant ideology. 200 Such considerations, however, go beyond the specific ecophilosophical focus of this thesis. For my purposes, the issue at hand is the extent to which the shapeshifting dragon recognised as medieval Christianitys dark threat comes to be associated with the material world (of the earth and the body) due to an attempt to eradicate pagan heresies; especially when this is combined, as it is by Augustine, with an underpinning Biblical mytheme of a time of human life on earth experienced as exile from our true home in Gods impossible light. Although Christs vision of this light is of a universal love experiential in immanent terms (which could be seen associated with the fact that, in Genesis, Gods creation of the earth is seen to be good), a dominant strand of western Christianity shifts the metaphysical focus of our mythic Fall towards the agricultural trope of a hard earth held at a distance from the otherworldly light of God. Historically, I would argue that this interpretation of the myth of the Fall has suppressed peoples potential to feel connected to the earth and responsible for it in local and personal terms. Scriptural evidence: Canonical rejection and the repressed threat to world order When Augustine, on behalf of the Christian Church, condemns Manichaean and Gnostic heresies in the fourth and fifth centuries CE, he seem to excise a magnified form of his own ontological kernel (or, more poetically, he protesteth too much). Augustine registers a polar antagonism and distance between forces of light and dark, represented by the omniscient
See Norman Cohn, Europes Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom (London: Pimlico, 1993). 199 Joseph Klaits, Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1985), 68. Witches were by definition bound to the devil by pact or contract. Cohn, Europes Inner Demons, 144. 200 Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough: A History of Myth and Religion (London: Chancellor Press, 2000), 146.


God and his adversary the devil, which is threaded through canonical scripture and forms the fundamental point of some of its most powerful moments. The agriculturalist myth of exile from Paradise is constructed as a version of lights transcendence over, and rejection of, the darkness of bodily temptation and disobedience, while Jesus battle against the dread spirit during his forty days in the desert represents another scriptural moment in which the agents from conflicting camps explore their rivalry in the most immediate, yet oppositional, of terms. The result of these clashes is always a defeated yet surviving force of evil and chaos in the world, lending force to the explanatory purposes of the narrative. While instances whereby darkness is (or is promised to be) defeated by light are many in the Bible, the exact shapes such battles take (Hebrew tribes molested by powerful kings and their armies, the Son of God defeating the eternal adversary in the desert, the eventual victory over death of the heavenly city of New Jerusalem) are constructed in historical context. The thread I draw out in this chapter pinpoints the critical tension between the body of the earth and an impossibly pure and distant light of the heavens as it is constructed in apocryphal and heretical texts, such that discussion of what is edited out of the canon may give better purchase to an understanding of what is left in. Gnostic Manichaeism is the major thread of heretical thought and literature outlawed by the early Church. That it displays many patterns and sources shared with the Christian worldview should be of no surprise considering its founder Mani was, in fact, raised in a Jewish-Christian sect (in Southern Mesopotamia, born 216 CE) that must have heavily influenced the origins of his Gnostic-dualistic world religion. 201 At age twelve he reported that an angel appeared to him from the King of the Gardens of Light, counseling that he should one day leave the sect and found his own (which he did after his twenty-fourth year). (Van Oort, 38) Heavily critical of his inherited system, he left to spread his gospel and light his Lords brightest candles so as to overcome the immeasurable shame which is in the world. (4243) Manis mythology shares with Christianity a dualistic cosmogony of good and evil, but his form of evil is eternal and not the result of a fall; according to the Manichaeist doctrine, light and dark oppose each other implacably, and light must be rescued (as for most Gnostics) from imprisonment in this commingled universe so that the primeval state of purity is restored. Only at this point in time will the separation of light and darkness be accomplished for all eternity. (45) There is a difference between this Gnostic polarisation and the Hellenistic dualism of spirit and matter; for Mani, both substances divine light and the evil of darkness involved with sex and death are visible and quantifiable elements. (50) When Augustine comes to write against Manichaeism a faith of which he was an adherent for some ten years he cannot at the same time entirely expunge from his own oeuvre the traces of this influence. Van Oort notes the similarities, most noticeable in Book 11 of the City of God, in the very negative views taken of sexuality, and in the centrality of Christ to Augustinian and Manichaean spirituality, to conclude that in some essential features of Augustines spirituality we may perceive one of the most important channels through which the Gnostic religion of Manichaeism has exercised a lasting influence on western culture. 202 While protesting too much, Augustine unwittingly perpetuates the heresy.

Johannes van Oort, Manichaeism: Its Sources and Influences on Western Christianity, in Gnosis and Hermeticism, 3739. See the Cologne Mani-Codex found in Egypt in 1970, comprising excerpts from the testimonies of Manis closest disciples and early followers. (40) 202 Van Oort, Manichaeism, 4647. Augustines criticism of Manichaeism is most prominent in Confessions III, 6, 10; see also Johannes Van Oort, Augustines Criticism of Manichaeism: The Case of Confessions III, 6, 10 and its Implications, in Aspects of Religious Contact and Conflict in the Ancient World, ed. P. W. van der Horst (Utrecht: University of Utrecht, 1995), 5768.


Gnostic thought in general, as much as it can be defined with any unity of worldview, represents an attempt to explain the world in terms of its relation to its ultimate source. This One behind the Many takes two main forms the Platonic theory of Being, in which the Father is an invisible, transcendent Spirit; and the parallel Johannine theme of light. 203 For the John of the Gospels, the Father is the supreme Light, and the Son the product of the Mothers bedazzlement by the Father, a light like him. The Mothers power of light is transmitted to her abortive offspring, the Protarchon or Jewish Creator God, by his theft, and thus via him into this lower created world. (Logan, 3031) The point of agreement in the fantastic plethora of Gnostic systems seems to be that human beings are composite, a mixture of heterogeneous elements, light and darkness, good and evil, spirit and matter, corporeal and incorporeal. (167) If salvation is afforded by unscrambling these component parts then it must concurrently free the individual from the hostile powers that imprison us in the visible universe, estranged far from our true spiritual home. This symbolist view was held by early Church fathers such as Origen (The unseen and incorporeal things that are in heaven, then, these are the true, but those that are visible and bodily on earth are said to be patterns of the true, and not themselves true) and Chrysostom (This visible world is a world of shadows and dreams, inhabited by a people living in exile), who agreed with Augustine that the one system of really true philosophy is not of this world, but of the other intelligible world. 204 For Gnostics, this Platonic ideal of pure knowledge in the far heavens meant that it is the divine revealer or redeemer that must rouse them from their oblivion and ensure their ultimate escape from the world. 205 Thus James Robinson states that Gnosticism was more than an alternate form of Christianity and promised a radical trend of release from the dominion of evil or of inner transcendence that swept through late antiquity and emerged within Christianity, Judaism, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and the like. 206 This metaphysical speculation maintains longevity across changing historical circumstances as another form of dragon-slaying, which will find purchase not only in the anti-pagan rhetoric of medieval Christianity but in any war on darkness, be it seemingly exemplified in terms of psychology (where we still battle our inner demons) or politics. Todays War on Terror, for example, exemplifies the way that such mythemes retain cultural currency across time. I have pointed out elsewhere the uncanny and disturbing similarities in rhetoric between George W Bush and his administration and the authors of a certain Dead Sea Scroll exhorting the Sons of Light to glorious battle against the Sons of Darkness. 207 In brief, in this War Scroll, righteous Israelites are implored to fight on behalf of their God of everlasting light and are convinced that theirs is a war of divine sanction:
We are the people of Thine [inheritance]; Thou didst make a covenant with our fathers, and wilt establish it with their children throughout eternal ages Thou hast

Alistair H. B. Logan, Gnostic Truth and Christian Heresy: A Study in the History of Gnosticism (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 22, 3031. 204 Peter Harrison, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 3233. 205 Logan, Gnostic Truth, 167. Logan points out that this is far more pessimistic than the Platonic sense of a divine soul trapped in an earthly body; we are an inferior copy of the divine image made by lower powers hostile to God and the real divine is an alien element from the supra-heavenly sphere, present only in the elect or to which they alone respond. (168) 206 James R. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990), 10. 207 Geoff Berry, Holy Wars Two Millennia Apart: Religious Rhetoric, Oppositional Politics, and Cultural Identity, Iris 21 (2008): 4355.


decreed for us a destiny of Light according to Thy truth. And the Prince of Light Thou hast appointed from ancient times to come to our support; [all the sons of righteousness are in his hand], and all the spirits of truth are under his dominion. But Belial, the Angel of Malevolence, Thou hast created for the Pit; his [rule] is in 208 Darkness and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and iniquity.

Texts such as the War Scroll must be read as both military and theological expositions at once. 209 They describe a war between ultimate qualities of good and evil that is manifestly real and of immediate material concern, while it is also symbolic of a momentous struggle of cosmic and spiritual import. In this religious language, the conflicts that destabilise everyday life are cast in terms that make them seemingly simple to comprehend, while concurrently a peoples material and spiritual realities can both be confirmed by the logical circularity of myth. The war against heresy in the conventional Christian worldview is an internal battle to cleanse doctrine on behalf of order and as such the excision of Gnosticism must be seen as part of a larger project to rid the Biblical canon of competition as well as of threat; of like-minded relatives who taint the dominant truth with their somewhat embarrassing fanaticism, and who might upset delicate negotiations around social power structures. Logan notes that the agents of Gnostic mythopoeia reported by Christian hereticist Iranaeus, for example, retained a very strong Christian element in their worldview that far outweighs the Hebrew component that would have been a natural target for the still emerging faith. 210 The darkness targeted by the heretical purge is within as much as it is without. In terms of immanence this should be cause for celebration. After all, the radical spiritual release into light suggested by Christ himself seems to prescribe an embodiment of this ultimate effulgence in the body according to John, Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Logos (and love) that is in the world that it creates. Against this potentially manifest illumination of freedom, however, Gnostic otherworldliness and its anti-material dualism (as well as the Churchs employ of a priestly caste) paralyzes the Christian between heaven and earth; historically disallowed from the first by the Fall, it can at least be said that many movements within the faith are working towards better relations with our home here. 211 Between earth and heaven, animal and angel, body and spirit: lost and found Other texts that remain apocryphal to Biblical scripture are not excised from the public narrative of Christianity, but retain a kind of romance of the people that bolsters the dominant worldview with supportive mythic themes, or a fleshing out of narratives left only hinted at or suggested by the conventional texts. The Life of Adam and Eve is one such tale, recorded for posterity in Greek and Latin translations of manuscripts dated


The War Between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, in Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: Allen Lane, 1997), 177. 209 Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962), 123. 210 Logan, Gnostic Truth, 29. The most complete records to be studied since the Nag Hammadi finds, from writing and preaching around Syrian Antioch in the second and third decades of the second century CE, support this view. 211 For a concise exposition of an attempt to maintain Christian faith while overcoming traditionally sanctioned estrangement from the earth, see Paul Collins, Gods Earth: Religion As If Matter Really Mattered (Melbourne: Dove, 1995).


considerably earlier.212 With these texts we return to the initiatory moment that will result in the human banishment from Paradise, the ontological battle that anticipates our own experience of agricultural hardship and rationalises the necessity for technological evolution of human control over the earth. Satans expulsion from heaven intertwines agriculturalist and pastoralist myths in a way that can serve both Christian and scientific teleologies of progress, by inspiring work both towards a techno-utopian New Jerusalem of restitution and, thereby, back towards the lost light. This analysis fits with Carolyn Merchants criticism, in Reinventing Eden, that a telos of paradise regained underpins the mythology of modernistic technoscience. 213 In the Latin version, Vita, Eve relates hers and Adams combined life stories to their assembled children upon her deathbed, abjuring them to record the tale on stone and clay tablets. (OTP2, 292, Vita, lines 4950) The expulsion of Satan, which recurs in the Koran and various early and medieval Christian writings, is related in the Vita as if by the devil himself. (Johnson, OTP2, 253) The idea that God created Adam in His image is followed by an instruction that all the angels should worship the likeness, but Satan refuses on the ground that he is prior to the first man in creation. A host of rebel angels sides with Satan, who threateningly declares that if God is wrathful with him, he will set his throne above the stars of heaven and will be like the Most High. (262, Vita, 1216) His subsequent banishment thereby deprives him of great glory and he equates this state directly with the human fall, claiming that it is due to his inability to witness the humans in their bliss of delights that he plots against them. (262, Vita, 16) His temptation of Eve is designed to reduce the new race to a similar rank of suffering and it is noticeable that in the Vita Satans hell is equated directly with no other place than this world, where he has been cast onto the earth. (262, Vita, 16) Not only are both falls intimately related, but they share a similar fate the alleged hardship of the earth, especially compared to the bounteous light from which they have been mutually excluded. One quality the different protagonists in this cosmic drama do not share is repentance. In the Life of Adam and Eve, the human agents deeply regret their failure in Gods eyes and do penance of mythic proportions. 214 Satan also grieves at having been deprived of so great glory, but does not accord with the spirit of repentance; pained to see Adam and Eve still resident in paradise, he determines to bring the humans down a notch to share in his earth-bound misery. (262, Vita, 16) By choosing to repent from the error of their ways, Adam and Eve accept partial responsibility for their circumstances. This is in response to a simple desire to return to their former conditions of paradise, combined with resignation at the fact that they will now need to work on the earth in order to survive. The agricultural basis of the myth is supported in the phrase whereby the Lord God sent various seeds by the angel Michael and gave them to Adam and showed him (how) to work and till
Scholarly research indicates that the original composition would be dated between 100 B.C. and A.D. 200, more probably toward the end of the first Christian century. The Greek and Latin texts were produced between that time and A.D. 400. M. D. Johnson, Life of Adam and Eve, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2 (OTP2), ed. James H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 25152. As with so much early written documentations of myth, a diverse oral and literary history lies behind them and an attempted recovery of an original Hebrew text would seem pointless. (252) 213 Carolyn Merchant, Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture (New York: Routledge, 2003). 214 Johnson, Adam and Eve, OTP2, 25862; Vita, in Pseudepigrapha, 18; Apocalypse, in Pseudepigrapha, 29. In both redacted European versions of the text, they weep in great sorrow and mourn for seven days, before choosing to stand neck-deep in a river for as many as forty days.


the ground so as to have produce by which they and all their generations might live. (266, Vita, 22) An ideology of exile on earth intertwines humanity with the banished agent of evil in these apocryphal works, as well as identifying us here with the animal kingdom, as the devil takes advantage of the serpent as well as the humans; all experience the same tainted plane. (274, Vita, 38; 277, Apocalypse, 16) In the Greek Apocalypse, Satan, having the serpent now at his service, assumes the form of an angel, sings hymns to God in the absence of the guardian spirits (they have left the Garden to worship God on high), and deceives Eve with promises of glory. When Adam answered her calls that fateful day, Eve related that she
spoke to him unlawful words of transgression such as brought us down from great glory. For when he came, I opened my mouth and the devil was speaking. (27781, Apocalypse, 1521)

Thus the partial acceptance of responsibility, wherein we can regret our distance from Gods planned paradise but still maintain room to blame the representative of cosmic evil for our plight. It is the enemy that places strife within us, and our choice that seals this fate. (285, Apocalypse, 28) As in the canonical scriptures, we are promised a final, longed for immortality at the time of resurrection (285, Apocalypse, 28); then, revenge upon the adversary will finally be enjoyed, as we shall sit on the throne of him who overthrew us. (290, Vita, 47) The Fall from the Garden of Eden stands as an origin myth that distances humanity from positive identification with their corporeality yet concurrently places them far beneath the radically abstracted heaven of pure goodness that they cannot hope to appease. The confluence of Hebraic, Greek and Latin influences that meld in the Life of Adam and Eve flesh out some of the imputed predispositions that would explain this ontologically hung in mid-air status. We are not comfortable with being embodied, but can never make it into heaven in this life. In explaining the human flaw in relation to an earlier, cosmic defect, this mythic cycle ties its audience to the darkness, in banishment to the hard earth. Recent ecocritical analysts have addressed the consequences of this Biblical narrative, which portrays an agricultural cosmological model of hardship on the earth. In Reinventing Eden, Carolyn Merchant traces its influence from what she describes as the related story of leavers and takers in agri-pastoralist prehistory. For Merchant, Abel represented the leavers, who as pastoralists were (somewhat like hunter-gatherers) accustomed to living within the bounty of the gods, while Cain was an agriculturalist taker determined to create his own bounty. 215 As she points out, the murderous victory and expansion of the takers leads to an ideology of conquest. (Reinventing Eden, 194) She discusses Edenic recovery narratives that seek to reinterpret human history such that we may re-attain the state of harmony with nature that we once enjoyed. Today they take place in the construction of modern shopping malls, based as they are on an ideal of perfectly lit abundance. (16768) In the strictly elitist form of this narrative, we recover Eden by a process of further mastering nature; critics of this vision claim that a downward slide of environmental degradation can be arrested (and so, again, Eden restored) by the creation of sustainable practices. Both follow the idea that our expulsion was from a state of original grace that can be reestablished. (107) Frye points out that the overall Biblical narrative form upon which these models are based operates according to the comedic U-shape pattern whereby great grace is had, lost,

Merchant, Reinventing Eden, 16. Pastoralist practices of animal husbandry may not be any more kind than agriculturalist methods of domesticating our animal kin, however.


and finally regained. The iconic episode by which this narrative shall be known to humanity, he writes, involves the Tree and Water of Life, lost by Adam and Eve in Eden and restored in a vision in Revelation 22. (Frye, 2223) Here the New Jerusalem, Gods city for the faithful described in Revelation 21, combines abundance and honour, light and dark, in a mythic form that overcomes all opposition and resistance on its own terms. Nothing in the city is evil (Revelation 22:3); all those who have strayed from God are exiled like dogs beyond the walls (Revelation 22:15);
And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun; for the Lord God will be their light; and they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:5)

Merchants mall is this city, desacralised and built around the garden of plenty. It is seen in terms of heroic evolution from a state of darkness to one of light, guaranteed by science, which offers a precondition for the new earthly garden according to the upward progress of humankind from darkest wilderness to enlightened mind. (Reinventing Eden, 17879) For Merchant, the myth of the fall inspires philosophies of necessitated improvement according to a decline from a Golden Age, and she discuses this in terms of Classical (4243), Platonic and Baconian myth. (57) The master narrative requires technology for the improvement of a hard earth masculinist technologies must fertilise the barren soil to our advantage, whether inspired by Biblical or scientific myth. 216 The historical trajectory of such an idea thus follows a course from Classical philosophy to the theology of Salvation in the Middle Ages, through the mechanical cosmos dictated by Descartes, to the transformation of religious mythology into secular philosophy. 217 Finally, the industrial fervour of Modernity replaces a Christian heaven with a technological recovery via labour and invention (Reinventing Eden, 11516): the well-lit mall is a postmodern version of a re-invented Eden. (16768) Against this modern myth of consumption, Merchant supports a dynamic relationship between humans and nature, so that we do not see ourselves as masters or victims of it. As we see in the response to Lynn Whites claim that Christianity is unique in alienating humanity from the earth, however, many thinkers believe that the process is more deeply ingrained in the very project of large-scale civilisation. When White published The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis in 1967 he ignited a fruitful debate over the religious and cultural elements of a very physical phenomenon. 218 White does not condemn Christianity, but the way it is interpreted on behalf of the subjugation of the earth; he implicitly proves that dominion as domination is a more historically powerful idea than dominion as stewardship. Kate Rigby sums up the ambiguity of any simplistic argument against Christianity as an agent of global ecological damage by reminding us of the fact that the period of the greatest despoliation of the earth has coincided precisely with the waning of the earlier theocentric view of nature as Gods creation [which] suggests, at the very least, that the culpability of Christianity is indirect. 219 In order to further explore the ecocritical terms of this thesis, then, I now place the influential threads of dualistic

Merchant, Reinventing Eden: the way such a mythic form necessitates technology (71); Bacon on this (57, 7475); Genesis and the need to work on the earth following its hardness. (9394) 217 Merchant, Reinventing Eden. Merchant tracks this transformation via Locke on property (7879), Smith on capitalism (8384), and Science as the Fall into experimental human thought (2057) all of which follow Descartes seventeenth-century re-reading of Classical atomism. (76) 218 Lynn White Jr., The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, Science 155, no. 3767 (1967): 12037. 219 Kate Rigby, Ecocriticism, in Introducing Criticism at the 21st Century, ed. Julian Wolfreys (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), 156.


alienation from (and over) the earth found encoded in the myth of the Fall in a wider historical context. Louise Westling treats the book of Genesis as a development of Mesopotamian myth that tends toward a male-dominated pantheon and heroic values in a radical divergence away from the sensuous celebration of Inanna poems. (Westling, 23) Following this, and its influence on western history, she claims that to speak of the increasing desacralization of the natural world during the passage from medieval Christianity to the modern industrial age is more or less commonplace by now. 220 Westling reads the epic of Gilgamesh as a reification of masculine bonding that follows the conflict between the hero and the goddess Inanna/Ishtar, with Gilgamesh standing in violent opposition to the forces of natural vitality and the landscape that we saw identified with Inanna in the Sumerian courtship poems. (Westling, 19) The theme of masculine appropriation of the power of fertility sees Enkidu replace Inanna as the object of Gilgameshs attention. This replacement of male-female conjunction with male bonding is important as a corollary to the replacement of reverence for the natural landscape by violent conquest and destruction in the Epic of Gilgamesh, writes Westling: Ecological tragedy is thus the very ground of Gilgameshs heroism. (21) The religious consequences are tightly intertwined with cultural practice and the economic and political order to which the people owed their fealty: Gilgameshs triumph equals a rejection of the feminine power in life, which symbolically equates to a refusal to participate in the fertility mysteries of traditional Mesopotamian religion. (21) The light/masculine/mind complex stands over the dark/feminine/body of the earth and one potential way this simplistic European gendering of the landscape can be mythopoeically transformed works with recognition of the mysterious and complex powers that reside in place. (14849) Westling notes the Native American traditions that recognize a variety of active forces animating the landscape (157, compare Bradleys supervitality) and points towards the new mythopoeic forms working to supply us with narratives beyond a dualistic Fall out of light. (16667) In The Ecology of Eden, Evan Eisenberg joins Westling in treating the Biblical tradition in the context of its Mesopotamian influences. He draws out a binary code whereby the Canaanite pastoralists are equated with a mountain cult of wilderness, which stands in opposition to a tower cult of the city as it was practiced by Mesopotamian agriculturalists. (Eisenberg, 6970, 8287, 9091) Both have a symbol of ascent as their world-pole (Eisenberg explicitly following Eliades conception of the axis mundi), as the axis on which the world turns. It is the heart of the world, the source of all life. (7071) Such a central symbol connects ideas of heavenly inspiration and earthly productivity. When the city is conceived as a world-pole and the centre of the universe, the tower becomes the place from which one can see and control all things on earth. (82) By the time Biblical texts attain cultural authority for European civilisation, the Bible was not just Hellenized, it was Romanized. Rome was the true heir of the Tower. (134) With increasing urbanisation came the notion that humans could use nature as they pleased. Above all, it translated Roman universalism into the realm of the spirit. (137) Eisenberg asserts that the uniting of Christianity and Rome continued the conversion of pagan (or country-based peasant) religious sentiment to a more displaced sense of the divine, as the Biblical God of light is distanced from the intricacies of the physical world on behalf of its patronage in Rome, the Eternal (and Universal) City that appropriates dominion for its own purposes.


Westling, Green Breast, 31. At p. 151, Westling also cites Donna Haraway, Primate Visions (New York: Routledge, 1989), 15354, for the coding of man/mind/light over animal/body/dark.


Harrison likewise sees in the Roman urbanisation of Christianity a shift away from the localised forms of worship practiced by pagans, due to the association drawn between unhumanised forests and bestiality, fallenness, errancy, [and] perdition. (Forests, 6162) In theological terms, he continues, forests represented the anarchy of matter itself, with all the deprived darkness that went with this Neoplatonic concept adopted early on by the Church fathers. (6162) His note concerning Church paranoia against the heathens recalls Revelation 22s expulsion of the wicked: in the nocturnal forests at the edge of town sorcerers, alchemists, and all the tenacious survivors of paganism concocted their mischief. (6162) The edge of town, of course, is defined by its walls, and the law mythically authorised within them requires alliance with the order of light and its assumption of cultural authority.

The New Jerusalem, envisioned at www.tagnet.org/battlecryministry/revelation_seminarspage.htm

The New Jerusalem, the Heavenly City on Earth In one of the first stories of the New Testament, at Matthew 4:1, Jesus follows his baptism in water by John with a baptism by fire, as he is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 221 The first and third temptations combined reveal a tension endemic amongst peoples who are subjugated, unwillingly or not, beneath the rule of colonising settlement civilisations: bread for law. That is to say, if the populace accepts the providence of the world order in question, then they must concurrently accept the

With reference to Matthew 3:1011, wherein John prophecies Jesus imminent arrival as the axe of Gods judgment who will chop and burn every unproductive tree and baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire.


regulations that come with it. Christs refusal to turn stones to bread at Matthew 4:4 (One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God) places his transcendental message well above the comforts of material life. World domination on behalf of the demonic force, which would make Jesus a representative of Satan, is offered third and can be equated with the position of sociopolitical authority initially instituted with the power to dispense bread and demand order. The third temptation, then, points towards the logical conclusion of the first, and, if accepted, would place Gods brightest light at the service of the darkest perfidy. Dostoevsky draws out the ignoble aspect of this poetic, although also entirely material, truth in his parable of The Grand Inquisitor. 222 Here the Church has gone over to the other side, choosing to serve the wisdom of the darkness that accepts the weakness of humanity in the face of their hunger. The Church puts aside the transcendental potential inherent in the human capacity to personally follow Gods laws in order to allow the people to follow those who feed them in His name. The Grand Inquisitor is humbled by this realism and condemns Christ for asking too much of his people; Christ showed them too much respect and not enough loving forgiveness, and the Church reverses this equation with thanks to the wisdom of the dread spirit of the desert. An explicit link is made here between those providing easy spiritual comfort and material needs, such that the New Jerusalem seems destined to be the abode of a priestly caste dispensing bread and glory together. Meanwhile, immediately following his victory of discipline in the desert, we read that Jesus saw the New Jerusalem becoming realised as an abode of the righteous. First he returned to Nazareth before moving on to Capernaum, fulfilling the prophecy that those who sat in darkness there would see a great light bringing dawn to the shadows of death. (Matthew 4:1216) This was the beginning of Christs mission, and his power, proper the miracles begin and his voice rings with authority as he preaches. Soon after in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ transforms Hebraic pastoralist symbology into the urban dispensation required of settled peoples: You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. (Matthew 5:1415) Christ does not simply condemn the urbanisation of his people at the whim of an ungodly imperial force, therefore; he transforms it, as his midrash does to so much of the accepted Jewish lore of his times, into contemporary terms, so as to find in a challenging situation the potential for redemption. This is the heart of the New Jerusalem promised later in Revelation 21 and 22. In this vision Yahweh, the God of the desert tribes, comes down out of heaven in a Holy City of glorious proportions and materials made from pure gold, clear as glass, with walls of precious gemstones and gates of enormous pearls (Revelation 21:1821) to a new earth where the oceans long reviled salty waters have been banished forever:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had past away, and the sea was no more. (Revelation 21:1)

Not only is there no sea, but no sun or moon in the New Jerusalem, due to the incandescence of God and of the Lamb; and there is also no temple, as nothing unclean may enter the abode of God. (Revelation 21:2227) The surfeit of light in the New Jerusalem is explicitly associated with permanent worship of the Lord God Almighty and the end of chaos as an everpresent threat. Thus while good Christians may hope, from this vision, for the overthrow of mere worldly Empire in favour of universal (heavenly)

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976), pt. 2, bk. 5, chap. 5.


emancipation, Christs enduring vision of transcendent immanence is conflated, in the Revelations, with a very non-worldly purification of the earth. In this complete devotion to the law of Gods light lies the distinction, both symbolic and political, made by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount and by the author of Revelations, between worldly and heavenly powers and the way each would order the city (and by extension the world). The symbol of the sun and its life-giving rays is here shown to have been transformed according to the Christian ideal of radical love, which in its scriptural sense undermines so much of what the solar disk came to mean to the great Empires of antiquity. When Ivan Karamazovs fictitious Christ returns, for instance, momentarily and in silence, to Seville during the most terrible time of the Inquisition, the people recognise him by his light: The sun of love burns in His heart. Light, enlightenment, and power shine from His eyes, and their radiance, shed on the people, stirs their hearts with responsive love. 223 Dostoevsky captures the radical nature of Christs mission beautifully the sun here is symbolic of radiant spiritual love, a far cry from the imperial symbol of universal political power we have seen utilised by Babylon and Rome (amongst others), and a very different dispensation from the one accepted by Ivan Karamazovs paternalistic Church. For that priestly caste is happy to serve bread to the obedient in their city of eternal light (regardless of authentic spiritual faith) and to discriminate against the demonised heretics outside the city walls, who are lost to the flock by dint of their rebellion against the central authority in Rome. Cities of Light: politics, spirit, and The Divine Comedy When Dante Alighieri finds himself in a dark wood in the middle of lifes path, at the outset of his travels through the Divine Comedy, he gives himself pause to rest, as a swimmer, panting from the main / Heaves safe to shore, then turns to face the drive / Of perilous seas. 224 Our mythopoeic theorist, having survived his shipwreck, considers an allegorical reading of lifes travails and its symbolic structure. As Lansing points out, the shipwrecked swimmer is Dantes allegory for the man who, once wholly preoccupied with the rationalising force of secular philosophy, now explores giving himself to Gods good grace. 225 The tension between the two forces can be seen allegorised in the poem as a comparison between two cities of light, but where the ancient Hebrews could only have imagined one lit incandescently by God and the other powered by the worldly ambitions of Empire, Dante pits two worldly models against each other for their comparative capacities to realise heavenly light on earthly terms. So while the exiled on earth journeys (at best) towards ultimate effulgence at the culmination of their ascent out of Hell and via Purgatory to Paradise, they are also guided by Dante to imagine an urbanised Christianity that wrestles with the transformations effected of its Hebrew roots across the course of its Romanisation. In Dante, late medieval Christianity finds its poet of Empire, who would idealise Rome as a New Jerusalem at the centre of a harmonious, cooperative world order and concurrently decry Florence as a comparative Hell, a greedy, self-centered, self-enclosed city-state working contrary to Christs vision of universally loving relations (just such an adversarial
223 224

Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov, 229. Dante, The Divine Comedy: Cantica I; Hell, trans. Dorothy L. Sayers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1949), 1.2224. 225 Richard H. Lansing, From Image to Idea: A Study of Simile in Dantes Commedia (Ravenna: Longo Editore, 1976), 9496.


role as Babylon traditionally served for the Hebrews). 226 It is little wonder Dante should choose Virgil, Romes first mythic legislator, as his guide. While the actions of humans on earth are continually described by Dante as being of great importance it is exactly for their sins here that so many souls are tormented in hell the aim of the Divine Comedy is redemption in a Paradisial light far from this threshingfloor of earth. 227 The purified light of a distant heaven shines down on our relatively defiled and darkened worldly conditions, yet this distance must be overcome in order for the myth to achieve its totalisation. Our exile is both underscored and transcended in the vision of the heavenly city, or New Jerusalem, on earth. Having been blinded by the intensely shining splendour of St John at the culmination of Paradise, Canto 25, Dantes pilgrim recovers to look down again on our world from his now privileged vantage point near the Divine Mind, the centre around which revolves all else and which wills all movement and emanates light and love. (Paradise 27.106112) As Sayers notes, this Point is reminiscent of Aristotles Prime Mover (Metaphysics, Book xii, 7, 1072 b) around which locomotion is induced. (Sayers, Paradise, 306) Soon, Dante sees a piercing point of light so radiantly bright, / So searing to the eyes that he can no longer gaze into it. (Paradise, 28.1618) Around this point nine rings of light circle, each less close to the Pure Spark, but all (as angelic beings in the service of God) drawn to upwards gaze with awe. (28.127) In regards to this point Mazzeo outlines the medieval influence of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite, in which the Christian principle of divine creation is welded to the Plotinian principle of emanation such that all things proceed from the First Principle, or One, as a diffusion of light from a primal source, a point of infinite intensity. As this ray descends, it creates all things [and b]eyond the ray is darkness, negation, the end of emanation and of being. 228 Mazzotta extends this to recognise a conjoined Prime Mover with the Neoplatonic motif of the hierarchical order of the universe according to carrying degrees of light and darkness. Material bodies are graded according to their participation in empyrean luminosity. 229 Dante asserts that in Paradise the angels are not only innumerably diverse (29.130 35) but aspects of the one indivisible God or Primal Light (29.136, 14245), just as any human love unfolds as part of the Eternal Love shed from His ray. (29.18) By Canto 30 his muse is preparing him to witness that heaven beyond the worlds, which is pure light alone: / Pure intellectual light, fulfilled with love (30.3840), the successful culmination of the quest to combine philosophy and faith. Now a living light encompasses the poet (30.49) until his eyes become equal to the brilliant glare (30.5860) of the Celestial Rose or city. (30.130) Dante follows a river of light that opens to a veritable ocean of Godly splendour: In yonder heaven the lumen gloriae Reveals the Maker (30.1001), as well as the world that is fashioned from a radiance Shone from above. (30.1067) Yet the relationship of world to God is always one of distance for the pilgrim to behold the eternally holy living light he must have traveled far from profane and temporal

Joan M. Ferrante, The Political Vision of the Divine Comedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 45. 227 The image of the threshing floor is introduced at Paradise 22.151, and reiterated at 27.85, when the pilgrim is guided by Beatrice to look below at the world he has transcended. Dante, The Divine Comedy: Cantica III; Paradise, trans. Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds Sayers (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962). 228 Joseph Anthony Mazzeo, Medieval Cultural Tradition in Dantes Comedy (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1977), 1415. 229 Giuseppe Mazzotta, Dantes Vision and the Circle of Knowledge (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 205.


Florence. (31.3748) As Mazzeo notes, the hierarchy that orders this world, along with so many other medieval visions of Gods universe, accepts that all creation is a theophany or manifestation of the divine, but is also a more or less obscure image of it. 230 In the Liber de intelligentiis of the late thirteenth century, the medieval light-metaphysics tradition provided Dante with a cosmology appropriate to his ends. The anonymous author claimed that God is called light in the literal and not the metaphorical sense of the word (an Augustinian view attacked by Aquinas) and as such His transcendent nature enlivens all life to the extent that it has the capacity to receive it. (Mazzeo, 6872) Inanimate matter, that is to say, suffers from a defect of ungodliness, and by extension God retains His supreme life-giving status as well as his distance from human flaws, which can be found to have arisen with our corporeality.

Gustav Dor, illustration for Dantes Paradise, Canto 31


Mazzeo, Medieval Cultural Tradition, 1516. God as Eternal Light is the source (luce) of material light (lux, or, as radiated light, lume). (110)


The soul enslaved to the bonds of sense finds liberation by escaping them (Paradise 31.8590), as if the body is actually burnt away by the purifying light. The hierarchy of settlement order seems at least latent in this evocation of a divine kingdom, whose King is crowned with light (32.6172) and is enthroned high above mere mortal humanity. The ideal state, wherein humanity abides at one with/in a pure love that moves the sun and the other stars (the closing line of the poem at 33.145), exists beyond mortal comprehension or reason, which is humbled by a flash (33.140) of the eternally unbounded light of God. This marginalisation of worldly, linguistic consciousness by the experience of ineffability presents a common traditional problem concerning mystic insights communicability and application to the politics of social organisation. Dante broaches the issue in Purgatory 16, where the two suns of Empire and Church are named in a discussion between the spirit of Marco Lombardo and the pilgrim regarding the relative forces of free will and predetermination. 231 The civilised world has become ill-behaved (Purgatory 16.103), like a babe that turns with pleasure / To this or that by which her fancys caught (16.8990), and as a result it has become barren through and through / of virtue and of worth. (16.5859) In need of a ruler and the curb of legal power, the people would do best with the kind of king envisaged by Plato in the Republic: one that could, and should, / Glimpse the true city, or at least the tower. (16.9496) Worldly human life, then, may (re)align itself with Gods pure light to the extent that it follows the divine signs, such as the sun and the heavenly order of the city of New Jerusalem, according to the two worldly powers of state and Church:
Of old, when Rome reformed the world, she showed Two suns to lighten the twin ways that went One with the other; worlds road and Gods road (16.1068)

The political power of the papacy, however, had long since combined with a ruinously materialistic appetite to corrupt worldly rule:
But one has quenched the other; the swords blent Now with the crook; when one and other meet Their fusion must produce bad government. (16.10911)

Dantes philosophy of two suns reacts against the medieval claim that emperors derived their power from the popes, as the Moon borrows light from the Sun; the sword of Caesar for Dante, rather than being subsumed by the shepherds crook, should rule alongside it. 232 The ideal form of government should combine the peace-bringing prosperity of the rule of law (the sun of Rome) with Dantes mission of salvation against the corruption of the world (the sun of the Church). The combined force of such beneficent institutions would fulfill the poets ideal of a universal monarchy set up for the welfare of all men. 233 Thus, whereas Augustine saw the worldly city built by human pride and ambition, Dante sees Justinians Empire as ordained by God. 234 Dantes view of early and republican
De Gennaro avers that Dante follows Aquinas (of whom the poet was well aware) in regards to free will: our actions are not determined by the stars but by our capacity to choose between good and evil. Angelo A. De Gennaro, The Readers Companion to Dantes Divine Comedy (New York: Philosophical Library, 1986), 82. 232 Joseph Gallagher, To Hell and Back with Dante: A Modern Readers Guide to the Divine Comedy (Ligouri, MO: Triumph Books, 1996), 9293. 233 Uberto Limentani, Dante's Comedy: Introductory Readings of Selected Cantos (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 150. It is suggested by the author that Dantes exile from Florence influenced his global politics. 234 De Gennaro, Readers Companion, 107.


Roman history, writes Limentani, shows his belief in an unfolding in accordance with the designs of God to prepare in Rome the establishment of those twin conditions for human happiness the Church and the Empire, the spiritual and temporal Powers. (Limentani, 72) Thus for the poet, the New Jerusalem is both a political and a spiritual possibility, the kind of truly heavenly city of light on earth sought by Augustine. 235 This can only be the case, as Dante writes, to the extent that the Roman people and their Empire replace the Hebrews as those chosen to carry forth the plan of God. 236 Augustine would have difficulty finding easy accord: in the City of God, he sees earthly urban rule as glorying in itself and its love of rule for its own sake, whereas the heavenly city loves God even to the contempt of self, and all serve each other in love. (Mazzotta, 171) Virgil, as guide, magnifies this tension between Augustines and Dantes faith in the idea that the Roman Empire could have set up the conditions for a Church of universal love, light and justice; his Aeneid, a touchstone for both thinkers, grants divine authority to the Eternal City by relating it directly to a mythic founding and lineage. 237 In this, the Aeneid is another state-sponsored creation myth that constructs divine time and circumstance out of contemporary materials, just as the Sumerian King List did for Mesopotamian big-men. Virgils commissioned image of the divinely inspired city of both humanity and heaven is a far cry from the Hebrew mythopoeia of the desert, yet many commentators have followed Singletons point that Dantes journey opens as a recapitulation of the Israelite exodus, across another salty sea, from Egypt. 238 The desert, according to this typology, is the symbolic space of the fall where all directions and contours are uncertain and blurred. (Mazzotta, 15152) Mazzotta deals with the trope explicitly in his discussion of the poet of the desert, who achieves a theological harmonization of the earthly and heavenly cities by a partial revision of St. Augustines view of the Roman Empire. The fall of Rome, he writes, entails for Augustine the bankruptcy of the very myth of the stability of the earthly city. (6) For Dante, the secular city is a necessary myth against anarchy that, in accord with the ideology of the Empire can put an end to the brutality of civil wars. (7) This suggests the unruliness of the mob and its wild nature, both of which are exiled from the heavenly light of Gods good order, a divine authority sought by the leaders of the worldly city and a destination aspired to by the faithful (whose Paradise Regained is visualised as the Johannine New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22). Interestingly Robert Harrison recognises a similar narrative of longed-for redemption in Dantes treatment of the forest, which as the dark wood of the opening stanza stands for the secular world as a whole deprived of Gods light, or better, for the perdition of a soul cut off from Gods saving grace. (Forests, 82) The poem does not tell us how he escapes the selva obscura, Harrison continues; all we know is that he finds himself immediately in another kind of landscape
A city that Augustine saw as realisable beyond mere empire (in tension with Virgils Aeneid), according to Hollander. Robert Hollander, Allegory in Dantes Commedia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 11. 236 The Latin people are elected for this office by Divine Providence, which is above all law. Giuseppe Mazzotta, Dante, Poet of the Desert: History and Allegory in the Divine Comedy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), 15960, citing Hillards translation of Dantes Convivio, IV, iv, 1112. Katharine Hillard, The Banquet (London: Kegan Paul, 1889), 24142. 237 The parallels between the opening books of Dantes and Virgils great works are outlined in Hollander, Allegory, 8392. 238 See especially Hollander, Allegory, 8081; Lansing, From Image to Idea, 99100; Mazzeo (who relates the exodus to an ascent, towards the divine, up Jacobs Ladder), Medieval Cultural Tradition, 37. All follow Charles Singleton, In Exitu Israel De Aegypto, in Dante: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. John Freccero (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965).


the deserted slope of a mountain whose summit shines with the light of transcendence. (Forests, 82) Later, at the end of Purgatory, the poet finds himself in another kind of forest, this time the selva antica,
or ancient forest, of the earthly paradise. Something uncanny haunts the poem here. The forest is not only a place of departure but also a place of arrival Here there are no more lions, no more leopards, no more she-wolves. Thanks to the purgatorial process, this forest has ceased to be a wilderness and has become a municipal park 239 under the jurisdiction of the City of God.

Along the course of imbuing the worldly city with divine law, then, the earth loses its gravity along with its wild spirit, to be trained from forest to garden to celestial rose. (Forests, 86) For Harrison, the fantasy of Christian levitation means that nature has been overcome, not merely left behind, and that its wilderness has been brought under the governance of law. In a word, remastered. (Forests, 8687) This idea of mastery has become a familiar trope in the civilised history of the mythic symbol of light. Given the growing ecological malaise of modernity, it may be that the trope of mastery over the earth indicated by the agriculturalist terms of the Biblical Fall and its restitution in the City of Light is more closely linked with Paradise Lost than Regained.

Conclusion The agriculturalist trope of exile behind the myth of the Fall can be seen as a narrative that has historically justified subjugation of the earth on behalf of human culture in general, western society in particular, and an elite that profits most from this ideology most of all. The original fall of Satan from Gods heaven of pure and perfect light is mapped directly over many other examples of a battle in heaven on behalf of the mythic impetus to replace the fecundity of the earth with the technological prowess of civilised humanity. Hence the masculinised culture hero of western myth directs us to venerate the powers that be in place of the regenerative rites once reserved for the earth itself: Baals defeat of Yamm and Mot dispenses with the bitter sea and the curse of infertility, placing the newly shining victor in the house of the Lord. It is a short step from here to acceptance of political power in the central authority from which technologies of agriculture and animal husbandry are controlled with a permanent military presence. The war in heaven is recognised in apocryphal texts from the medieval period, with bases in earlier traditions, as the precursor to the Christian trope of human exile on earth. The kinship between fallen angels and Gods favoured creatures, mutually unable to inhabit the pure light of the perfectly transcendent sky-god, could not be admitted in canonical texts but operates subliminally in narratives of the people. The inadmissable truth behind settlement civilisation its originary divorce from and subjugation of the earth both survives and is covered over. Thus the dominant Christian tradition successfully manages western societys powerful desire to look away from the polarising kernel upon which it is built. The incorporation of Christianity by the late Roman Empire ensures the continuation of ancient sun-cults and the primal battle between cosmic antagonists under another name. The institution of this form of monotheism combines eschatological messianism with faith in a priestly caste, both working to politically disempower the populace. While for many Christians the City of
Harrison, Forests, 8384. A similar point as made by Kane regarding the ideology of taming implicit in the mythic topographies of urbanisation.


Light is radically opposed to centralised power, with its almost inevitable layers of exploitation and oppression, it can equally be utilised just as Christs words so often have on behalf of exactly those dominating forces. The ongoing influence of this mythopoeia of ascendant light and its universal domination over the earth cannot be underestimated, in these times of global ecological crisis, for the way the biosphere is treated by an increasingly urbanised humanity.


4 Light and Reason

Legitimising Oedipal Enlightenment: claiming solar reason on behalf of humanity
Introduction to the frames of reference When Daedeluss flight from Minos ends in the tragic death of his son Icarus, hurtled to the waters below thanks to his thrilling to the power of flight free of the limits of the mortal frame, free to ignore the gravity of the earth and free to ascend to impossible heights we note another case in which human cleverness does not sire wisdom. The incandescent solar disc fuelling life on this planet drags the human imagination upwards like a magnet, in many cases magnifying such power into a symbol of the authority of centralised political dominion. When deployed in political or religious terms, the solar myth insists upon the universal validity of the suns representative here on earth. This construction is aided in its ideological power by another of the suns metaphorical roles, as pure mind; political dominion is rarely free of a mystic element. All must fall under the sway of such an authority, as well as under the hierarchy it supports. In terms of technoscientific development, often closely associated with military and political power, the symbol of the sun signals an ideal we can potentially make manifest (as opposed to a symbol rationalising our current or recurrent place in the world). In eighteenth century Europe, a version of human reason and hope with quite specific qualities ascended to a throne of light once occupied only by the deity; or, from the other direction, the light of Gods mind was transduced into a form of reason definable as (and available on behalf of) the human. We could access enlightenment on our own terms and the God who might previously have been necessary to authorise such a transfer of executive power was slowly removed to the distant heavens, just as Anu was for Enlil. Life on earth especially human life is, according to this ideology, our responsibility and our possibility. This new humanism blazed across the western imagination to the extent that it was soon capitalised as the name of the era by which we commonly know it. For the Enlightenment, the quest for truth was allied to a belief that human potential could be unleashed on excitingly new and self-referential terms. In order to fulfil this potential, however, the new dawn had to dissolve the darkness of the history that preceded it.


The Fall of Icarus, Marc Chagall (1975)

Like Blumenberg, and Adorno and Horkheimer before him, I want to reinvestigate the promise of the Enlightenment and its particularly rationalistic mode of thinking. No convincing ecophilosophical argument can be carried today without recourse to systematic reason, methodical empiricism and the further deployment of technoscience. In these senses, Enlightenment philosophies need not be considered antagonistic to hopes for a flourishing earth. As Campbell pointed out, reason does not need to be understood at a distance from the natural world or the divine, and this sense of commensurality between transcendence and immanence can survive the Enlightenment shift away from a priestly castes control of religious revelation. 240 Likewise for Blumenberg, the unnecessary antithesis between logos and mythos is magnified in an equally unproductive, supposed antithesis between Enlightenment reason and the passionate Romantic response that would follow in its wake. (Work, 60) The quest of Enlightenment reason to end any unexamined reign of primitive

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers (New York: Doubleday, 1988), 25.


sensuality or dogmatic religious sentiment must nevertheless, for Blumenberg, be seen as a flight towards a higher sense of home. (77) If there were ever a pithy extension to the central insight of The Dialectic of Enlightenment that Enlightenment becomes myth just as myth becomes Enlightenment it is Blumenbergs recognition that the promise (and great temptation) of comprehensive theories is the temptation to equal myth in the production of totality. (91) This desire drives the Oedipal ego towards a better home, one where he is not ill-fated but a well-loved ruler; Freuds embattled everyman at home and in charge. (8789) Adorno and Horkheimer saw in the Enlightenment cult of reason an Odyssean self-sacrifice, stopping up the ears of the workers while the master enjoys and heroically resists temptations sweet song. For Blumenberg, as for Adorno and Horkheimer, Odysseus overcomes the seduction of the sense world (46), but is thereby blinded to its machinations. I build on the Dialectics use of Odysseus as symbolic of Enlightenment reason and withhold Prometheus as an equally obvious exemplar of fatefully stealing the fire of reason from the gods to introduce Oedipal tragedy as representative of the paradoxical self-blinding that accompanies the promise of the Enlightenment. I further revisit this mythic narrative in my conclusion, with a revised reading of Lvi-Strausss considerations regarding kinship, autochthony and the cultural drive to individuate (individually and collectively) as if we were free of the earth and its hold. Unlike the wily, chthonic thief Prometheus and the Odysseus of cunning subterfuge, the very mortal Greek anti-hero seeks truth on his own (seemingly faithful) terms, for the benefit of both himself and others, and at any cost. From high art to violent revolution, the Oedipal trope represents the highest hopes and deepest shadows of the Enlightenment. As Adorno and Horkheimer note in their otherwise almost crushingly critical analysis of Enlightenment thinking, its hopes were to realise the widespread promise of human freedom, combined with a broad conception of social justice and the rationalised ordering of the earth and its resources on behalf of all people. (xvixvii) But the promise of reason, as they define it in terms of Enlightenment thinking, also collapsed the political, religious, and technoscientific roles into one sacred and totalising force. Reason is here unified, such that the distinction between God and man is reduced to an irrelevance In their mastery of nature, the creative God and the ordering mind are alike. Mans likeness to God consists in sovereignty over existence, in the lordly gaze, in the command. 241 Just as this intensified abstraction and proliferation of human powers opens up new fields in which its relationship to (inert, desacralised) matter is freed from a primeval sense of interdependency, there grows an increasing distance between (autonomous) thought and its objects. (Dialectic, 7) Before investigating more closely what Adorno and Horkheimer mean by this process, according to which Enlightenment thinking dismisses mythology while concurrently perpetuating it, I will explore the metaphoric resonances that influenced many in this revolutionary age to construe in the symbol of light a newly deified human reason and concomitant rule over the natural world.


Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic, 56. Berlin wrote in a similar vein: The eighteenth century is perhaps the last period in the history of Western Europe when human omniscience was thought to be an attainable goal. Isaiah Berlin, The Age of Enlightenment: The Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 14.


The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo (1511)

Blumenberg indicates that this anthropocentric shift slips into Enlightenment thinking, in a subtle form, as the idea that light could no longer, as it might in medieval times, be expected to shed itself as a kind of natural truth. Instead, by the eighteenth century the symbol gave way to an understanding of Being that required human consciousness to overcome its one great deficiency; that it could not otherwise become known. (Light, 52) With the emergence of the Enlightenment, he writes, light moves into the realm of that which is to be accomplished; truth loses the natural facilitas with which it asserted itself. (52) The cult of reason then paternalistically adopts the ancient homology between light and truth in order to advance its cause: The truth does not reveal itself; it must be revealed. Natural luminosity cannot be relied on; on the contrary, truth is of a constitutionally weak nature and man must help it. (52) When Eurocentric philosophy accepts the anthropocentric dominion of the Biblical tradition without the caveat of a good and presumably sacred creation worthy of careful stewardship, this help becomes indivisible from ecological harm. 242 If the mechanisms of Enlightenment method could later be accused as central to the ongoing damage to the earth urged on by the Industrial Revolution, then the bloodbath of the Terror in France may be seen as a more distinct, or particular, moment in which the symbol of light as hope is directly implicated in extreme violence. For Jean Starobinski, the revolutionaries in France employed the simple similes and ageless antitheses, charged from time immemorial with religious values, to represent an all-encapsulating advent of light over an old order symbolically reduced to the semblance of a dark cloud. 243


Kate Rigby points this out in her qualification to Lynn Whites groundbreaking article The Historical Roots of the Ecologic Crisis. Rigby, Ecocriticism, 15557. 243 Jean Starobinski, 1789: The Emblems of Reason, trans. Barbara Bray (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1982), The Solar Myth of the Revolution, 43. Garrard claims that Edmund Burkes Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) did much to popularise the idea of the Enlightenment as a principal cause of the Revolution. Graeme Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (London: Routledge, 2006), 3637.


Oedipal Enlightenment and Solar Reason: some self-assertive transactions Metaphors of light triumphing over darkness, life being reborn out of death, and the world being brought back to its beginning, Starobinski writes, were to be found everywhere in the period leading up to 1789. (Starobinski, 43) His focus on the French Revolution is a metaphor for the promise and dread conveyed in the general idea of the times: that liberation could be afforded humanity on newly egalitarian terms, free of the political, religious, and intellectual shadows of the past. Starobinski outlines the way the same Apollonian image is repeated as the law of light on behalf of whatever recipe of reason and feeling was promoted as self-evident. (43) The key solar image attains widespread revolutionary power in 1789 thanks to the kind of vagueness that allows people in the heat of their temporary rapture, to overlook the concrete problems involved in organizing society. (44 45, 24243) Such symbology can incite fervour on behalf of destruction as well as resurrection, however, and as we have seen, no attempted universalisation of law under solar authority fully manages to fulfil its lofty ambitions. Starobinski outlines, for instance, Goyas profound dismay at the baneful reversal, according to which Revolutionary France, source of the light of principle and hope, had been betrayed. (199) This betrayal was highlighted by Goya in his painting of The Executions of 3 May 1808 in Madrid (1808), wherein the disciplined group of the firing squad represents rationality gone mad; regularity and order, which should have marked the triumph of principle, serve only to regulate the wielding of violence. (201) The overreaching quest towards pure light, allied with a desire to confine it on behalf of human ends, contains its own nemesis: Indeed, proponents of the Enlightenment were frequently denounced as sophisters of darkness and slaves of prejudice who led people away from true enlightenment into illusion, error and darkness, as the counter-Revolutionary Augustin Barruel put it. 244 According to Starobinski, both the idealism behind the drive towards hyper-rationality and the dark portents lurking in its shadows were equally magnified in these times. In this sense, Enlightenment thinking can be seen to represent an overreaching, a hubris on behalf of man that is destined to fall back into the space out of which it sought ascent, its quest a material transformation of the earth in accord with human system and method, which could eventually recreate Gods Garden of Paradise without Him sitting in judgement.


Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments, 8. Barruel authored the conspiracy theory text of his day, Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, which combines the philosophes with the secret Order of the Illuminati in a plot to overthrow both throne and altar in Europe. Garrard, CounterEnlightenments, 37, 4248.


Goya, The Third of May (1814)

Many ecocritics recognise in Francis Bacon a representation of human rationality that casts a shadow forwards from his place in the early seventeenth century (later named the Age of Reason) on behalf of the kind of aggressively masculine cultural force that would turn passive, feminine Nature to its desires. 245 In Bacons utopian New Atlantis (1626), three specially appointed Lamps synthesise the new information gathered by the Bensalemalites and direct them towards new experiments, of a higher light, more penetrating into nature than the former. 246 If a central quality of Enlightenment thought is the association of the light of human reason with omniscient understanding of Nature, then Bacon certainly represents an indicative fulcrum between religious and technoscientific thinking on this matter. In his essay On Truth, Bacon names light as the first creation of God and the light of reason as his last: and his sabbath work ever since, is the illumination of his Spirit. First he breathed light, upon the face of the matter or chaos; then he breathed light, into the face of man; and still he breatheth and inspireth light, into the face of his chosen. 247 Uncovering Gods secret ways is part of our natural curiosity, a kind of

Merchant, Reinventing Eden, 164. According to Merchant, Bacon fashions a new ethic sanctioning the exploitation of nature. See also Westling, Green Breast, 32 and Kate Soper, Naturalized Woman and Feminized Nature, in Green Studies Reader, 141. 246 Francis Bacon, New Atlantis, in The Advancement of Learning and New Atlantis (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), 297. 247 Francis Bacon, On Truth, in Bacons Essays, ed. F. Storr and C. H. Gibson (London: Rivingtons, 1886), 2. In New Atlantis, the Bensalemalites trade in Gods first creature, light, or knowledge of the growth of all parts of the world. Bacon, New Atlantis, 278.


(Heraclitean/Spinozan) game played with a God both transcendental and immanent, as if the divine nature enjoyed the kindly innocence of such hide-and-seek, hiding only in order to be found, [Such discoveries] blessing and reward is without ruin, wrong or wretchedness to any. For light is in itself pure and innocent; it may be wrongly used, but cannot in its nature be defiled. 248 Bacons rhetoric was designed to overcome traditional fears of Satanic taint by making scientific endeavours seem blameless; we are encouraged to believe that the arts and sciences preserve [our] innocence while serving as instruments of social progress. (Leiss, 50) This sense of play is compared to the moral error of the Fall, wherein humanity followed the dark angel to presume their right to knowledge of good and evil. 249 Here Bacon characterises humanity as beings of the earth whose native curiosity draws them towards the light of knowledge and hence removes them from Gods infinite mysteries and presence. Increased knowledge (and transformation) of the natural world, when combined with acceptance of the limits of religion in our moral efforts, should, however, increase our love of God rather than threaten His goodness. Ecocriticism underlines the way Enlightenment thinking accepts the natural world as so much grist to the mill of improving human living conditions, highlighting sciences anthropocentric dismantling of traditional Christian limits to the way the earth should be treated (as Gods good creation). Bacon is thus a stepping-stone in the way religious codes might be reinterpreted. Leiss points out that, in reconstructing the Fall such that scientific innovation could be seen as innocent of the charge that it interfered with Gods order (and hence representative of God-given dominion rather than of Satanic rebellion) this divorce of natural from moral knowledge would become enormously influential. 250 Bacon perceived, he writes, that behind the reluctance of society to encourage scientific innovation was the fear that man might incur Gods wrath by interfering with the natural order of things. (Leiss, 49) Although his efforts had only limited success in his own lifetime, Bacon held sway over many prominent thinkers who followed him. Adorno and Horkheimer (like Blake) place Descartes, Newton and Bacon in the dock for their part in devising conceptual constructs to embody a yearning after the disembodied light that is symbolic of reason increasingly purified of its interrelationship with the earth. For the Frankfurt School thinkers, Descartes cogito and Newtons mechanics are employed, on behalf of Bacons unveiling of natures secrets, to despoil the natural world upon which humanity depends. 251 Enlightenment metaphysics proceeds imperialistically from a base of impartial scientific language to devour all alternatives so that it deprived what was powerless of the strength to make itself heard and merely provided the existing order with a neutral sign for itself. (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 17) According to Adorno and Horkheimer, in seeking to overcome myths of the earth, Enlightenment thinking posits its own myths: of heavenly rationality and totalising language (57), of light worshipping
Francis Bacon, Thoughts and Conclusions, in The Philosophy of Francis Bacon, ed. B. Farrington, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 92. Cited by William Leiss in The Domination of Nature (New York: G. Braziller, 1972), 50. 249 Francis Bacon, Valerius Terminus: Of the Interpretation of Nature (Project Gutenberg, 2002), http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext02/vtrma10.txt. 250 Leiss, Domination of Nature. The fall from dominion was a matter for technological restitution while the fall from innocence required renewed faith (49); this clear separation of natural knowledge and moral knowledge gradually became a cardinal principle of modern thought and as such Bacon unwittingly charted a course for later generations which led to the gradual secularisation of this idea. (5253) 251 Both Westling, in Green Breast, and Soper, in Naturalized Woman, recognise Bacons philosophy in the way American nature was feminised and violated by its modern conquerors.


landowners subjugating chthonic indigenes (10), of universal validity (16) and scientific impartiality (1719), of the collective over the individual. (16, 2829) Like Bacon, Descartes shifted the way Gods gift to humanity consciousness capable of reasoned investigation into mans earthly dominion would be interpreted. Descartes too wrote in the seventeenth century, exhorting trust in the natural light of our reason and warning of the many errors we might avoid if we are not persuaded too firmly by mere custom. 252 Although God has given each of us an inner light to distinguish the true from the false, it is only reasoned judgment and method that ensures for Descartes what little knowledge one can enjoy of the world. 253 So, while Descartes sets out to dismantle traditional systems, he replaces them with new method. In Cassirers words, this was indicative of Enlightenment thinking in general: French and English Enlightenment lost faith in the spirit of systems [but it] by no means gives up the systematic spirit (esprit systematique); it aims rather to further this spirit in another and more effective manner. 254 Philosophy here should, instead of being tied within the limits of systematic doctrinal structure, move freely and in this immanent activity discover the fundamental form of reality, the form of all natural and spiritual being. (Cassirer, vii) Descartes directly equates the terms faculty of reasoning and natural light, often using them interchangeably and clearly indicating they are a distinction granted directly by God. In Of the Principles of Human Knowledge, he writes that the first attribute of God which comes into consideration here is that He is veracious in the highest degree and this ensures our capacity for natural enlightenment. 255 But, according to Blumenberg, it is exactly because truth is ambiguous for thinkers like Descartes and Bacon that they are inspired to find for it a well-ordered origin in method and a well-ordered position in a system. (Light, 53) With this placement light comes to be considered at our disposal: Phenomena no longer stand in the light; rather, they are subjected to the lights of an examination from a particular perspective. (53) In this sense, even as light is venerated as a gift from God it is manoeuvred into place by and on behalf of humanity. This Promethean aspect of Enlightenment ideology inevitably reveals its paradox, according to Adorno and Horkheimer: Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. Yet the wholly enlightened earth is radiant with triumphant calamity. (1) In its attempt to escape myth specifically, localised myths of the earth Enlightenment thinking creates its own myth, of timeless and placeless universal law, replacing the God it distances for its own benefit. Harrison likewise argues that the Cartesian distinction between a thinking self and
Ren Descartes, A Discourse on the Method of Correctly Conducting Ones Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences, trans. Ian Maclean (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1.10, 11. 253 Descartes, Discourse, 3.2728, 2425. Translator Ian Maclean explains that this inner light of reason is discussed by Cicero and employed by occult philosophers of the seventeenth century in contrast with the light of grace; combined, they grant perfect knowledge. (72) 254 Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans. Fritz C. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), vii. 255 Ren Descartes, Of the Principles of Human Knowledge, in Principles of Philosophy, trans. Valentine Miller and Reese Miller (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1983), 1.2930, 15. Another translation, published by Project Gutenberg, names God as the source of all light, (1.29) directly appreciable in the light of nature, or faculty of knowledge given us by God, [which] can never compass any object which is not true, in as far as the object is clearly and distinctly apprehended. (1.30) Ren Descartes, Of the Principles of Human Knowledge, in Principles of Philosophy, trans. John Veitch (Project Gutenberg, 2003), http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext03/pnpph10.txt.


embodied substance sets up the terms for the objectivity of science and the abstraction from historicity, location, nature, and culture. (Forests, 107) Eisenberg relates this abstraction from the earth to the universal god who operates like an absentee landowner, as opposed to the nature spirits or localised gods who rule the world but maintain a stake in the local landscape. (Eisenberg, 137) Meanwhile, however, this heavenly drive towards world domination over nature turns against the thinking subject itself (Dialectic, 20), as Cartesian dreaming unconsciously morphs into a creation myth: the postulate of a single past event [the cogito] endows the cycle with a quality of inevitability. (21) The subjugating machinery underscored by this analysis blindly reproduces its rules of engagement with existence, as science reveals its family resemblance to the endlessly repetitive domination of seasonal cycles: Enlightenment thereby regresses to the mythology it has never been able to escape. (20) As Voltaire writes in his Letter Thirteen, On Mr. Locke: Our Descartes, born to discover the errors of antiquity, and at the same time to substitute his own. 256 And here enters Oedipus, stumbling from the start in his (our) drive to uncover with reason the flaws in materiality and thereby initiating the zeitgeist according to which he (we) would remain divorced from the earth. For the Theban tyrant, this was thanks to his predestined transgression of the laws against incest and patricide; yet the constituent of settlement civilisation also inherits a curse: a way of life materially conditioned to hold nature at bay, at best; or, at worst, to subjugate it mercilessly and to death. This cause of the polis-centric spiritual and ecological malaise has been determined before, and Descartes, along with Bacon and Newton, are commonly cited as its instigators. 257 By tracing how light has often been construed to symbolise human military, political, religious and ecological domination over the earth this thesis shows that such understandings must be placed in the wider arc of western history. The Enlightenment usurpation of heavenly transcendence negotiated in the cogito represents another scene in which civilised humanitys attempted escape from the bonds of corporeality steps boldly towards its own undoing. Harrison concurs; for him, Cartesian rationalism and its method is philosophy intent upon (engineering) power: it leads to the mastery and possession of nature, that is to say toward an appropriation of the power traditionally assigned to God. Reason, method, and technical craftsmanship come together at the end of the Discourse in a secular confession of the will to power. (Forests, 113) The third of the triumvirate seemingly inspiring the Enlightenments attack on the natural world is Isaac Newton. While not specifically defining the light of reason as a gift from God, the great English physicist joins Bacon and Descartes in cementing for centuries to come an image of the world as a mechanical contraption, a clockwork matter of cogs and gears, which ideologues of industry would lead us to believe is at our disposal. Voltaire, who called Newton the light of all thinking beings, wrote that Galileo with his astronomical discoveries, Kepler with his calculation, Descartes at least, in his dioptrics and Newton in all his works, have seen the mechanism of the working of the world. 258 Such developments in matters intellectual, scientific and psychological are rarely unrelated to political and religious significance. Starobinski shows how the new celestial mechanics,
256 257

Voltaire, Letters on England, trans. Leonard Tancock (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), 63. Merchant, in Reinventing Eden, notes Descartes assumption of nature as a dead stupid phenomenon (24243) and notes Newtons equally dualistic world-model. (27682) 258 Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, trans. H. I. Woolf (London: Allen & Unwin, 1929): Newton as light (in Cromwell, 92); mechanical world (Letters on England, Letter Sixteen, On the Optics of Newton, 82).


open in all directions to the universal force of gravity, blazed a trail for other cultural shifts. (Starobinski, 50) This celestial mechanics was far from demythologised; even in 1904 Ernst Mach recognised, in the eighteenth-century encyclopaedic conception of Lagrange and Laplace, a mechanical mythology as distinct from the animistic mythology of the ancient religions. Both contain imaginary and unjustified amplifications of a unilateral knowledge. (Starobinski, 24546) While Cassirer notes that Geometry, by extending its limits, has [revealed with] its torch [t]he true system of the world (Cassirer, 3), Max Oelschlager sees a direct relationship between the Enlightenment definition of nature as a machine and the power of the Industrial Revolution, which continues to extend a damaging rule over the planet. (Westling, 3233) This mechanisation damages the earth as it debilitates our social contracts, according to Jonathon Bate, who summarises Starobinski in Rousseauian fashion: the deceptive lights of civilisations do not illuminate mans world but veil the transparency of nature, separate men from one another, give rise to special interests, destroy all possibility of mutual confidence, and substitute for true communication between souls a factitious commerce, devoid of sincerity. (Song of the Earth, 3132) Bacon, Descartes and Newton all retain a conception of God as the guarantee of the enlightening force of reason, regardless of the human purposes to which it is put. While John Lockes An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) maintains its focus on human reason as both a gift of, and tool towards realising, God, the slippage between lights divine and human homes continues. 259 The light of reason can, for instance, reveal the mechanisms of nature when employed by humanity as inquisitor and legislator of what might previously have been assumed to be traditionally accepted divine order. Such a transaction begins early in Lockes Essay. Peoples knowledge always falls short of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, yet they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties. 260 Light, or knowledge, finds its perfect form only in God, and there is no innate human idea so universal and unquestionable that it is ensured by Gods light.261 Yet Locke strongly proclaims the dual necessity for human questioning of universal order and construction of moral order: Another reason that makes me doubt of any innate practical principles is, that I think there cannot any one moral rule be proposed, whereof a man may not justly demand a reason. (Locke, 1.3.4, 76) That we cannot know universal law innately is a matter of our natural distance from and subordination to God; that we accept the right, even responsibility, to question any and all facets of our own epistemologies thereby becomes a logical conclusion for Locke (and forms part of his version of the tabula rasa argument). Human reason stands or falls according to its own capacity for consistency. Hence, as dAlembert will write, the heroes of the philosophic spirit (Bacon, Descartes, Newton and Locke) break ground for the Enlightenment to follow; without desiring to tear the
The lineaments of the Enlightenment emerge most plainly if we treat Locke and Newton as its precursors. Peter Gay, introduction to The Enlightenment: A Comprehensive Anthology, ed. Peter Gay (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), 20. 260 John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (London: Penguin Classics, 1997), sec. 1.1.5, Our Capacity Suited To Our State and Concerns, 57. Also in the same passage: It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant, who would not attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us shines bright enough for all our purposes. (57) 261 Locke defines the innate idea: It carries its own light and evidence with it, and needs no other proof: he that understands the terms, assents to it for its own sake, or else nothing will ever be able to prevail with him to do it. Locke, Essay, sec. 1.3.4, Moral Rules Need a Proof, ergo Not Innate, 76.


blindfolds from the eyes of their contemporaries, [they] worked silently in the remote background to prepare the light of reason which gradually and by imperceptible degrees was to illuminate the world. 262 Although the guarantee of religious or empirical truth still belongs only to the Omnipotent Being, inspired men, even when born in the depths of dark night (DAlembert, 19), can enlighten others to their own truths. (17) According to Gay, the first generation of Enlightenment philosophers proper, who followed the lead of Locke and Newton and loomed over those in the middle of the eighteenth century, were Voltaire and Montesquieu. 263 Even these paradigmatic Enlightenment thinkers express mixed feelings about the burden, as well as the gift, of reason. Voltaires entry on Ignorance in the Dictionary asks why reason is, for instance, so precious a gift that we would not lose it for anything in the world? and how, he follows, has this reason served only to make us the most unhappy of all beings? 264 The caste of those arrogant enough to want people to embrace [their] vain systems contains religious leaders, but also any wishing to be tyrants over our souls by claiming knowledge of cosmic matters; metaphysics itself must step aside for the new form of empirical reason. (Philosophical Dictionary, 165) And what does such investigation reveal to Voltaire of the physical nature of light is it a material or ethereal substance? The light which let me see all these beings is unknown to me; I can, with the help of a prism, dissect this light, and divide it into seven pencils of rays; but I cannot divide these pencils; I am ignorant of what they are composed. Light is of the nature of matter, since it has movement and makes an impression on objects; but [l]ight seems penetrable, and matter is impenetrable. Is this light matter? is it not matter? with what innumerable properties can it be endowed? I am ignorant thereof. (16364) Like so many of his contemporaries, Voltaire takes pains to reconcile reason with a supreme being and divine author who emanates eternal matter as well as light; revealing a residual desire to have all things grounded in a heavenly authorised system. In Prcis of Ancient Philosophy, Voltaire surveys the wisdom of the ages, from Pythagoras to the Orientals, seeking vainly a single author of antiquity who had a coherent system, a clear, methodical system progressing from consequence to consequence. (247) The logic he derives as central to any such system assumes an eternal universe of intelligently ordered matter and masculine properties with the super-paternal (and very unnatural) capacity to give birth: everything has emanated from the supreme and intelligent Being, [and] nothing has emanated from the Being without reason, [and] this Being existing always, must always have acted, [such] that consequently all things must have eternally issued from the womb of His existence. (249) This idea could hardly be understood free of its historical circumstance, and the myth of Frankenstein that responds to this masculine (and Promethean) usurpation of the birthing process will be taken up again in the Romanticism chapter. Meanwhile, in contradiction to (and perhaps as consolation for) his own plaintive call for clarity, Voltaire declares in Soul that Revelation is worth more, without doubt, than the whole of philosophy. Systems exercise the mind, but faith illumines and guides it. (276) He also requests universal truth of the divinity who will provide this certainty in Religion, where he claims that because light is uniform for the star Sirius and for us; moral philosophy must be uniform. Everywhere the heart has the same duties: on the steps of the throne of God, if He has a throne; and in the depth of the abyss, if He is an

Jean le Rond dAlembert, Preliminary Discourse, in Denis Diderots The Encyclopedia: Selections, ed. Stephen J. Gendzier (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1967), 19. 263 Gay, introduction to Enlightenment, 21. 264 Voltaires Philosophical Dictionary, trans. H. I. Woolf (London: Allen & Unwin, 1929), 16465.


abyss. (259) Out of all the complexities of Enlightenment thinking, a deep-set desire for order sets the standard for the dialectic between reason and faith, method and system, God and humanity. Just as Voltaire equivocated between the need for and dangers of a methodical, universal system of natural law, the Baron dHolbach struggled to reconcile the advantages and limits of the kind of Enlightenment that follows when we learn the laws of Nature. As his masculinised Culture examines feminised Nature, he learns to observe the immutable rules by which she acts. 265 The trope of light/vision and darkness/blindness is again employed to place humanity as the active agent in defining Truth on our own, but limited, terms: let him apply these discoveries [of Nature] to his own felicity and submit in silence to her mandates, which nothing can alter:let him cheerfully consent to ignore causes hid from him by an impenetrable veil:let him without murmuring yield to the decrees of a universal necessity, which can never be brought within his comprehension, nor ever emancipate him from those laws imposed on him by his essence. (DHolbach, 1.1.1, 11) Once again, religious dogma is overturned in favour of a new breed of universal essence. Invariable truth sheds effulgence over the darkened road (DHolbach, ix) and, with Kant, Enlightenment is a matter of mature reason overcoming the dangerously unexamined customs of the past: The enlightened man is man in his maturity, in his perfection; who is capable of pursuing his own happiness, because he has learned to examine, to think for himself, and not to take that for truth upon the authority of others, which experience has taught him examination will frequently prove erroneous. (1.1.1, 12) We will doubtless agree that enlightened minds contemplate with horror the immensity of that series of misfortunes with which the numberless calamities showered on the earth by political and religious tyranny has in all ages overwhelmed mankind. (DHolbach, ix) But truths voice can only be heard by generous souls accustomed to reflection (ix), which might make it difficult for the workers who supply the privileged classes with such profits as may line their leisurely salons in luxury to fully benefit from the Enlightenments gifts. Thus they may rightly be equated with the rowers Adorno and Horkheimer imagined spiriting Odysseus past the Sirens; ears stopped up, bound to their machines, the labouring classes help transform Nature on behalf of capitalist industrialisation.


Baron DHolbach, The System of Nature, trans. H. D. Robinson (New York: Burt Franklin, 1970), sec 1.1.1, Nature and Her Laws, 11.


Frontispiece to the Encyclopdie, by Charles-Nicolas Cochin (1772) Reason and Philosophy attempt to tear the veil from Truth, who is irradiated with light

David Hume, like dHolbach on the Continent, also linked the improvements in reason and philosophy evident in the Great Britain of his day to improved material and moral conditions: they can only be owing to a land of toleration and liberty. (Gay, 486) But Hume focuses on light as something under which phenomena are examined, rather than as a naturally unfolding truth. This helps us to understand the shift from the medieval to the modern worldview because that something is the light of a distinctively human (and not divine) reason. Hume consistently asks the reader of his Treatise to follow his scrutiny of the subject under the fuller light of this form of reason, so that it may be considered as a


question in natural philosophy, which we must determine by experience and observation. 266 But he does not only follow the Enlightenment propensity to question tradition in his exposition; Hume interrogates the very process according to which we claim knowledge of anything at all, in a sense investigating the light behind the light of reason. The theoretical structures according to which empirical observations are causally connected are themselves undermined by his sustained approach of moderate scepticism, until causality itself is revealed as another aspect of human faith. In Of the Causes of Belief, from the Treatise, he outlines the way he sees present impressions having the vivacity of belief applied to them thanks to a lively idea, and a relation or association in the fancy betwixt the impression and idea. (Hume, 402) Despite his legendary caution regarding the confluence between sensations and the reason that leads us to place them in certain orders according to custom, Hume is quite certain that his conclusion concerning the influence of relation is the immediate consequence of all these steps; and every step appears to [him] sure and infallible. (402) As with Descartes, universalising reason has become for Hume the ultimate arbiter of reality in spite of its limits; its objective light has managed to attain, in the absence of Gods word, the kind of inescapable authority traditionally reserved for the divine. While Enlightenment mythologos grants humans freedom to compose their questions, and devise their experiments, without recourse to a religious framework, it still shapes the whole idea of knowledge within its own method, or sets of sure and infallible parameters: Hume ends his Introduction to the Treatise stating that, with cautious observation of human life, we may establish a science, which will not be inferior in certainty, and will be much superior in utility to any other of human comprehension. (309 10) Like Hume, and in part inspired by him, Kant sought in the grounds of human reason a viable framework for the organisation of society. The way he defines reason, then, will be of utmost import. Kants public response to the question What is Enlightenment? (1784) reads as a concise manual for the dismissal of primitive by civilised reason in quite specific terms. He equates Enlightenment thinking with reasoned argument, to the extent that it may help people triumph over the self-imposed immaturity of accepting unchecked traditional wisdom. 267 He points out the potential gains of each using their own reason: improved government for the people and the gradual overcoming of the most harmful and dishonorable immaturity of all, religious dependence. (Kant, 63) Kant believed he lived in an age of increasing enlightenment when the obstacles of external guidance were being cleared away and the spirit of freedom could spread further: Government could be illuminated by its subjects, who, given the freedom to use reason publicly (even if this involves frank criticism of current legislation) could work their way out of barbarity. (62 63) Kant proclaims Frederick II of Prussia a shining example of an enlightened ruler with no fear of shadows, who has a large, well-disciplined army at his disposal as a guarantee of public peace. 268 As such Frederick can say what a republic cannot dare: argue, as much as you want and about whatever you want, only obey! (63) Akin with Platos argument in
David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1878), sec., Of the Causes of Belief, 402. 267 Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment? in What is Enlightenment? Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions, ed. James Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 5859. 268 Kant, What is Enlightenment?, 63. Counter-Enlightenment Christian thinker Johann Hamann, on the other hand, will deride the same leader as a common despot ignorant of the spiritual dimension of life, according to Garrard (Counter-Enlightenments, 30), who adds that, for Hamann, Enlightenment anti-religiosity was a form of faith (or zealotry) itself. (31)


The Republic, Kant considers a lesser degree of civil freedom more beneficial to the spiritual freedom of a people than the greater degree that establishes insuperable restrictions to its realisation. (63) With a firm authoritarian in place at the head of a principled government, the wellreasoned, outspoken citizen, who is now more than a machine, may act freely and be treated in accord with their dignity. (63) Much of this seems perfectly reasonable in context European history shows much to inspire the desire for religious freedom and Kants Enlightenment works against the mechanical model of the universe (in fact Berlin considers Kant as both central to and counter to Enlightenment thought). 269 Yet his unspoken reverence for human reason as the guiding light of human liberation from all immaturity combines the admirable advice that one should think for ones self with the paternalistic suggestion that one should do so within a new set of limits. That this new set includes civil freedoms circumscribed by military force only reinforces the evidence of a new form of devotion to a solar myth of obligatory ascent and the subjugations (of the earth, of workers, women and so forth) offsetting the gains in social justice. Interestingly it is Christian antiEnlightenment polemicist Hamann who finds the link between the Aufklurers intellectualism and taste for other-worldly abstractions and a materialism that works against the earth, which should rather, with investigation into the natural unity of things here, bring us back to the real roots of existence in the material world of nature and history. 270 The truth must be dug out of the earth, he instructed Jacobi, and not drawn from the air, from artificial words, but must be brought to light from earthly and subterranean objects by means of metaphors and parables, which cannot be direct but only reflected rays. 271 Compared to the revealed truths of the earth, Enlightenment thought is a cold, unfruitful moonlight blind illumination for every immature one who walks at noon. 272 Alongside Kants shining confidence in the mode and trajectory of Enlightenment being (intellectual, political, material), Herder draws out the shadow we postmoderns have come to know so well. With the greatness of a state, and the intricate art of its constitution, the danger of rendering individuals miserable is infinitely augmented. 273 And this shadow should not be allowed to overwhelm the other peoples discovered in the explorations on behalf of Europes love of gain, which have overwhelmed its potential for conferring happiness on nations by humane and compassionate means! (Herder, 32) For Herder, it is less than comprehensible that man should be made for the state, so that his first true happiness must necessarily spring from its constitution: for how many people upon Earth are entirely ignorant of all government, and yet are happier than many, who have sacrificed themselves for the good of the state? (7677) Alongside this defense of diversity, Herder suggests that humanitys subjugation of the earth (19) would be more promisingly fulfilled if Nature, everywhere a living whole, [were] gently followed and improved, not
269 270

Berlin, Age of Enlightenment, authors note (in frontispiece). Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments, 31. Hamann distrusted what he saw as the Enlightenment obsession with purity (32) and employed a frustratingly opaque style against it. (35) 271 Letter from Hamann to Jacobi, April 1787, in Hamanns Briefwechsel mit Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, vol. 5 of Johann Georg Hamanns, des Magus in Norden, Leben und Schriften, ed. C. H. Gildemeister (Gotha: Perthes, 1868), 497, cited in Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments, 31. 272 Letter from Hamann to Christian Jacob Krauss, December 1784, recorded in James Schmidt, ed., What is Enlightenment? Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 147. 273 Johann Gottfried von Herder, Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind, trans. T. O. Churchill (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 77.


mastered by force. (32) In a foreboding tone, he suggests that Nature avenges the insults of civilisations, which may be consumed by it. (32) Also, for those of us inhabiting deforested desert countries with thirsty English gardens, Herder warns: Let it not be imagined, that human art can with despotic power convert at once a foreign region into another Europe, by cutting down its forests, and cultivating its soil: for [the lands] whole living creation is conformable to it, and this is not to be changed at discretion. (31) These aspects of Herders thought are eminently amenable to ecophilosophical discourse, while the identification of a Volk and their nationalistic myth remain problematic. (Lincoln, 74, 211) Collective human self-assertion may take the form of potentially dangerous nationalisms, but it is also vital in the overturning of other harmful kinds of non-religious absolutisms. Blumenberg questions the reductive way such assertive counter-modernists as Lwith, Bultmann and Heidegger equate this process with a secularisation thesis, according to which modernity is merely a perpetuation of Christian history under another name and without religious imperative. According to Blumenberg, this reduction misses the vital fact that each world order or era inherits the functions (rather than steals the substance) the previous era organised much of its symbolic value around. In The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Blumenberg defends Enlightenment thought when he claims that the very idea of progress entails a move away from messianic, eschatological, or interventionist ideologies, and instead comes about, in and around the seventeenth century, due to the questioning and overcoming of any idea of eternal perfection. Not only is religious dogma dispelled under this microscope, but scientific assumption and classical aesthetics likewise tumble from their erstwhile pedestals. On the one hand the fixed, authoritative status of Aristotelian science gives way to the idea of a cooperative, long-term scientific progress guided by method, while on the other the idea that ancient art and literature represented permanently valid models of perfection gave way to a recognition that they embodied the creative spirit of their age, a validity capable of being equalled. This valuable idea was then extended across the arts and sciences to open new pathways to our understanding of sociocultural epoch and change. 274 In either religious, scientific, or artistic cases it is the capacity for questioning previously assumed givens that inspires transformation, and this is the kind of methodological angle Blumenberg also utilises in his defence of the mythic mode of thought. The modern impetus towards self-assertion is seen as an answer to the paralysingly divine omnipotence of medieval Christianity in the same way that such varied traditions as Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, as well as Christianity and science, offer solutions to the ancient questions of order and chaos, or good and evil (xviiixix). Beyond Renaissance self-assertion, the Enlightenment Icarus then tests his wings. For Blumenberg, Icarus represents the tragic undoing of the Enlightenments promise dashed by unrealistic ambitions; exactly the disappointment afflicting Adorno and Horkheimer. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment, it is not the technoscientific drive or telos in itself that portends the undoing of modern society, but the way it is coupled with materialistic instrumentality. This is the anthropocentric bias, revealed in the way the light of reason is slowly prised out of Gods hands and into humanitys, and magnified by greed. With the productive forces of the Industrial Revolution unleashed and humanity loosened from the centre of a sacred universe, there seems little left to prevent the eighteenth century form of universalised reason being applied on behalf of its instrumental wing. With close reference to the Dialectics opening chapter, The Concept of Enlightenment, I now outline the way I see

Robert M. Wallace, translators introduction to Hans Blumenbergs Work on Myth (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), xviixviii.


Oedipus as the the proto-typical Aufklrer 275 seeking truth on behalf of the health and welfare of human society while blind to the unconscious (and ultimately, ecologically, selfdefeating) drives built into his idealism. Oedipal Enlightenment: individuation, mastery, and the subjugation of the earth In their powerfully critical Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer construe Enlightenment thinking as a cult of instrumental reason that quests to become free of the earth its blind power, cyclical destinies and chaotic darkness by way of rationalised overcoming. The intellectual freedom and social justice promised by such striving betrays its shadow in mass or total society, wherein individuals are increasingly alienated from nature, themselves, their work and each other moulded to the technical apparatus body and soul (Dialectic, 23) such that they are afflicted with the new form of blindness which supersedes that of vanquished myth. (2829) The perpetuation of the mythic trope of blindness, in the very act of attempting to overcome it, reveals Oedipus as the iconic character behind this analysis. 276 Seeking light, the inquisitor eventually realises he himself sullied it in the quest to escape the relative darkness of fate. The promise of Oedipus and of Enlightenment is reliability; in seeking to overcome the blind power of nature (Dialectic, 33), they resist the will of the gods; yet, to their enduring shame, both find that the stain they seek to expunge being tied to the chthonic was made in their own name from the outset. Enlightenment ideology, especially as converted to the bourgeois commodity economy, seeks to illuminate the dark horizon of myth [with] the sun of calculating reason, beneath whose icy rays the seeds of the new barbarism are germinating. (25) Fate reveals that, real promise and temporary gains notwithstanding, the attempt to transcend earthly limits engenders the conditions of its failure. 277 Lvi-Strauss reads Oedipus as the neverending project of overcoming this tension between autochthony and individuation, a struggle perpetuated in accord with historical circumstance in the attempt to totalise material and symbolic worlds in one. I now investigate the Enlightenment quest for rational mastery over the earth with reference to the related mythic tropes of truth and blindness, individuation and subjugation, purification and cyclical ritual. * For Adorno and Horkheimer, if nature is power itself (Dialectic, 34), then the spirit of Enlightenment is manifest only at the moment when this will to power overcomes itself; it is fulfilled only when complicity with domination is forsworn. The Apollonian sculpting of Dionysian frenzy Nietzsche suggests in The Birth of Tragedy turns upon the people and it does so, in Marxian terms, under the guise of cultural currency minted by a self-serving elite
Samir Gandesha, Enlightenment as Tragedy: Reflections on Adornos Ethics, Thesis Eleven 65 (2001): 109. Gandesha is also referring to the Concept of Enlightenment chapter of Adorno and Horkheimers Dialectic of Enlightenment. 276 Gandesha, Enlightenment as Tragedy, 111. Gandesha follows Hullot-Kentnor, who showed that Adorno and Horkheimer originally set out to use Oedipus to display their idea that myth and enlightenment were intertwined before choosing Odysseus as the bourgeois hero of their Marxian fable. Robert Hullot-Kentnor, Back to Adorno, Telos 81 (1989): 18. 277 The promise of the Enlightenment includes newly raised standards of justice and truth (Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic, xvi, 33); and, until the gods could brook its infamy no longer, Thebes enjoyed enough years of plenty under the rule of Oedipus that he could raise a family.


who would perpetuate a mass society trained to consume ideological narratives of alienation and powerlessness. What kind of myth do Adorno and Horkheimer find in Enlightenment thinking and what are its dual aspects of opposition in synthesis? Furthermore, how does its construal of light draw its constituents away from responsibilities to the earth as their ground of being? The Dialectics examination of the power structure underpinning Enlightenment mythology reveals a circular logic that transmutes all challengers to its standard of calculability and utility (3) by applying to them its own corrosive rationality. (4) This totalising force, found in all myth, reduces the earth and all it contains to its instrumental value (45). Local spirits and demons [are] replaced by heaven and its hierarchy in this conversion of the human relationship with nature from direct and complex interactions to abstract mastery. (5) The subject awakened to the newly installed, dualistic systematisation then comes to recognise power as the principle of all relationships. (5) While it might be argued that this was ever so, Adorno and Horkheimer point out that quite a distinct version of this power is institutionalised in the Enlightenment project. The increased distance between nature and culture implicit within such a system, like the process of settlement, is related to the military victory of Homeric and Vedic societies from the time of territorial dominion and its strongholds, when a warlike race of overlords imposed itself on the defeated indigenous population. (9) The supreme god and the king of this civil world unite against the subjugated people and their land, replacing the social order of nomadism with one based on the rights of property ownership. (9) This historical shift is inherited by its constituent individuals, who learn about order and subordination through the subjugation of the world and thereby come to equate truth in general with classifying thought, without whose fixed distinctions it cannot exist. (10) The heavenly order then directs its hatred towards the vanquished primeval world of animistic apprehension, whose dark, chthonic gods are banished to the hell into which the earth is transformed under the religion of Indra and Zeus, with their worship of sun and light. (10) Such sharp taxonomical distinctions are constructed out of an earlier, undifferentiated state; the adversarial approach overwhelms the systems of complex interrelation, which also respond to primal chaos, by naming its own, dualistic realm of transcendence. As discussed, any storm god brings both fructifying rains and torrential, devastating floodwaters. When this naming project proceeds according to an Enlightenment desire to overcome mythic fear, its inner contradictions perpetuate the very law of nature it seeks to avoid. The ruthlessness of Enlightenment thinking, which has eradicated the last remnant of its own selfawareness in the course of becoming sufficiently hard enough to shatter myths (2), eventually succumbs to the compulsions of nature in its attempt to break them. (9) Hence civilisation, like all forms of human collectivity, obeys the inescapable cycle of nature (12) by offering sacrifice for exchange: All birth is paid for with death, all fortune with misfortune. (11) My argument is that Enlightenment thinking perpetuates this paradox of sacrificial exchange in the course of seeking ever more abstract ways in which to avoid it; and that the increasing blindness implicated in this avoidance predicates the potentially catastrophic extent its return precipitates. According to this mythic logic, just as Oedipus pins his eyes and spills tears of blood, so civilisation today brings upon itself violent self-destruction in its attempted individuation away from the earth. This can be explained with reference to specific thinkers and texts. Adorno and Horkheimer place Descartes, Newton and Bacon in the dock for their part in devising conceptual constructs that embody a yearning after the disembodied light that is symbolic of purified reason. And if, for Husserl, Galileos interpretation of nature itself reduces it to a mathematical manifold (19), then Kant is likewise implicated in an idea of the mastery of nature that draws the circle in which the


critique of pure reason holds thought spellbound. (19) When the time comes for the Cartesian dream to make its mythic sacrifice, however, it finds itself submerged within the abstract material it sees everywhere: world domination over nature turns against the thinking subject itself; nothing is left of it except that ever unchanging I think, which must accompany all my conceptions. (20) The subjugating machinery underscored by this analysis blindly reproduces its rules of engagement with existence, as science reveals its family resemblance to the endlessly repetitive domination of seasonal cycles: Enlightenment thereby regresses to the mythology it has never been able to escape. (20) This mythic cycle then leads individuals to define themselves in relation to commodified things, which are themselves standardised according to the way people can be expected to respond to them (21): The demonically distorted form which things and human beings have taken on in the clear light of unprejudiced knowledge points back to domination over a nature which in turn reveals humanity as powerless against it. (22) A controlling minority, who guarantee the continuation of the whole alongside their own security, claim that we can escape mythic annulment. (24) This dominant drive towards selfpreservation is the Enlightenment rationale par excellence and it sees all alternative ideologies as mythic and therefore threatening. (2224) The Marxian reading of the Odyssean voyage past the Sirens casts the bourgeoisie at the top, wholly ossified as the self which issues commands, while the workers reproduce the life of the oppressor as a part of their own, accepting schismatic discipline as the primeval world is left behind. (27) They accept the way of civilisation, that of obedience and work, over which fulfilment shines everlastingly as mere illusion, as beauty deprived of power. (26) This beacon of Enlightenment could also be seen as a Classical quest for universal validity, first elevated to the status of true reality in the marketplace of Athens, in a decisive shift that reflected the physical and moral conditions of the times. 278 The universal language of Enlightenment domination suggests a tabula rasa assumption for the totalising force of reason, as if it operated from a newly cleansed slate safe from the return of the mythical. (18) Much ecocritical discourse rightly censures the cult of reason in eighteenth century European thought for its encouragement of anthropocentric mastery over the earth. One can almost hear Teiresias in the background, warning Oedipus that his talent in solving riddles is equally his misery, as the culture hero chases down the unknown miscreant who has brought the wasteland to the kingdom of Thebes. Ironically, it is Oedipus successful progress and constant adaptation to the power of this progress that ensures the constantly renewing degenerations of this wasteland, and as his powers of deduction draw closer to truth, the situation seems worse: The curse of irresistible progress is irresistible regression. (28) Hence Blumenbergs legitimising of modernity, on behalf of a new way of answering timeless questions with collaborative science, is placed in ecocentric perspective. Enlightenment as a project of mastery over the earth succeeds, and thereby fails, as the mass of its inheritors choose to remain blind to the realisation that this style of individuation destroys the ground upon which it is constructed. Oedipus could not escape the incestuous cycle within which he was caught, just as the modern urbanite cannot escape the earth and
Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic, 16. The idea of enlightenment thinking is thus defined in far broader historical terms than usual; in its fundamentalist opposition to mythic (and animistic) thinking, it has been present in some sense ever since the dawn of Western culture. Yvonne Sherratt, The Dialectic of Enlightenment: A Contemporary Reading, History of the Human Sciences 12, no. 3 (1999): 36. This assumption of plural Enlightenments of ancient, eighteenthcentury, and contemporary hues is shared by Gadamer in his Praise of Theory: Speeches and Essays, trans. Chris Dawson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 7183.


its limits, for all their narratives and images of material liberation. 279 Lest Adorno and Horkheimer be accused of mere nay saying, we are reminded that their diagnosis of mass society and its failings is weighted against their ongoing hope for Enlightenment thinking, which is defined as inseparable from the promise of intellectual freedom and social justice. 280 Oedipal Enlightenment and autochthony revisited The drive to be free of the limits of the earth can be equated with the desire to individuate; to know ourselves, personally and collectively, in distinction from the undifferentiated world (or chaos, or primal soup). One way for humans to recognise their freedom from undifferentiation is to identify themselves with their sexual, biological history as beings born of culture of two human parents rather than of nature born out of the earth, as beings autochthonous and fundamentally (perhaps regressively) at one here. As LviStrauss pointed out in his reading of the Oedipus myth, quests either to realise or escape autochthony are accompanied by the impossibility of their realisation. Neither option works, since we cannot know ourselves either completely free of the earth or at one with it. In its explorations of the ways anthropocentrism may be teased apart into new forms of ecocentrism, contemporary ecophilosophy must deal with this problematic. To what extent are we at home on the earth, identified with or against it, and to what degree do we utilise technological advance to define ourselves (or be individuated) free of its limits? Enlightenment thinking may be construed, as it is by Adorno and Horkheimer, as an amalgam according to which rationality is melded to technological development as the secular light towards which modernistic humanity is drawn; yet this transcendental telos, as grand narrative, only gets off the ground to the extent that it damages its conditions of being. Enlightenment, according to these authors,
is nature made audible in its estrangement. In minds self-recognition as nature divided from itself, nature, as in prehistory, is calling to itself, but no longer directly by its supposed name, which, in the guise of mana, means omnipotence, but as something blind and mutilated. In the mastery of nature, without which mind does not exist, enslavement to nature persists. (Dialectic, 31)

In trying to break free of an undifferentiated destiny of autochthony, Oedipus lurches towards his own conception of mind, his human identity above the earth, his stride breaking loose of the lame-footedness afflicting those whose step is seemingly indistinguishable from the blind will of the earth beneath it. As the active agent emblematic of individuation, he struggles on with one hand reaching forwards Eros towards individuation while the other remains on the door handle to self-effacement Thanatos against it. Bruno Latour would accord with the paradoxical notion that the minds very claim to mastery over nature ensures its enslavement: we never really escape the earth on our Icarean flight into Modernity.


For Mathews, many sugar-coated ideological values seek to avoid this brutal truth. Freya Mathews, The Ecological Self (London: Routledge, 1991), 41. 280 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic, xvi, 33. Although it could also be said that in their damning appraisal of the Culture Industry, the authors stoic derision of a regime that controls ever more of the human spirit tends towards hopelessness in the face of a seemingly total manipulation of consciousness.


Lvi-Strausss famous structuralist reading of the Oedipus narrative considers the myths capacity to compose the question of whether or not we are born of the earth (autochthonous) or, even at our most intimately originary state, are somehow divorced from it in a distinctively human sphere of concern born of our own culturally sanctioned sexual natures, and thus never completely at one here. For myths capacity to reframe this question beyond its rational aporia, he claims a poetic virtue of enduring value: Cosmology is true. 281 Yet as Carroll points out, there is little real evidence the etymological or literary categories utilised in Lvi-Strauss Oedipus necessarily bear out his fundamental point regarding the over- and under-valuing of kinship relations. Carrolls reading makes it clear that the earth dragons are not simply autochthonous but the progeny of two parents: Cadmus slays Draco whose parents are Gaea and Ares (in most versions) and the Sphinx likewise has gendered parentage. 282 As W. K. Guthrie notes, there is also no evidence that autochthonous beings in Greek mythology were lame (Lvi-Strauss uses examples from Native American myth; Carroll, 809). With Gouldner, Carroll points out that, in fact, the Sophoclean version of the myth details the shift from patrilineal kinship relations to a collective law organised around loyalty to the polis. 283 Cadmus and Oedipus slaying of the chthonic earth dragon is not so much denial of autochthony as polis-centric justification for colonisation over new land and its indigenous inhabitants. While the evidence weighs against the specific details of Lvi-Strauss reading, the point remains that the Oedipal myth retains its thematic of mediating the self (individually and collectively) between loyalties to the earth and to culture. But now the self is moved away from ancient bloodline/kinship relations (closely related to lifestyles identifying with the land) and towards loyalty to settlement civilisation and its urban laws. The Enlightenment cult of reason sought a similar distancing from the earth considered, in accord with polis-centric mythology, to be blind or otherwise chaotic alongside its attempt to free humanity from superstition, destiny, and other traditional metaphysical limits (such as nature spirits or genius loci) that would prevent us from organising the world for our own benefit. Such ideas betray both the promise of Enlightenment thinking and its curse, as belief systems are formulated around (urbanised) human responsibilities and potentials while denying the earth any autonomous value of its own. This is the doubleedged (Oedipal) sword of the kind of Enlightenment anthropomorphism enacted on behalf of settlement civilisation. In the Enlightenment were bound hopes of throwing off the shackles of an intellectually restraining religious superstition; yet in its wake would come, in Max Webers words, the iron cage of reason. For my purposes this cage might be seen as a well-reasoned faade of demythologisation, a powerful strategy of containment tightly intertwined with the technoscientific magic of the Industrial Revolution, which concurrently justified the progress of western development. To the extent that global consumerist development continues to be branded with the light of materialistic hope the idea that more stuff will make people happier this trend continues to retain cultural influence today (as I will argue in my conclusion). Romanticism, in its guise as antidote to Enlightenment materialism, would propel a new era of cultural imaginings towards the darkness left out of this

Claude Lvi-Strauss, The Structural Study of Myth, American Folklore 68, no. 270 (1955): 434. 282 Michael P. Carroll, Lvi-Strauss on the Oedipus Myth: A Reconsideration, American Anthropologist 80, no. 4 (1978): 8078. 283 When Creon forbids Antigone from burying Polyneices, her desires are perfectly normal within Greek society of this time, not an over-valuation of kin; Creons polis-centric directive is more of an aberration, according to the tradition of patrilineal kinship relations. Carroll, Lvi-Strauss, 813.


mechanical light. For Blumenberg, the Romantic response to Enlightenment thought will rediscover poetic truth in such nonreasonable literature as fairy tales and legends, with an almost defiant gesture. (Work, 60) If the Enlightenment sought and hit only easy targets, and failed to appreciate [peoples] intellectual and emotional needs (47), then Romanticism would dredge up, with its return to the darkness in the quest for genuine light, new hope: for one of the arguments of Romanticism was that the truth could not and should not be as young as the Enlightenment had undertaken to present it as being (48), and [n]ot everything was deception that had not been allowed past the checkpoint of reason. (60) If Enlightenment thought, as I have portrayed it, accepts the light of reason from its heavenly home with the Christian God and deploys it on behalf of the human race, it magnifies Eurocentric anthropocentrism to the same degree that the Industrial Revolution magnifies productive (and destructive) forces. Thus is the symbolic power of light and its ecological cost manifest on behalf of an emerging materialistic society.

Oedipus and Antigone, Antoni Stanislaw Brodowski (17841832)


5 Light and Ritual

Romanticism and the mythopoeic logic of ritual
Introduction to the frames of reference
No longer was the Light the seat of the gods or their heavenly sign over themselves they drew the veil of Night. Night became the mighty womb of revelations the gods drew back into it. 284 Novalis, Hymns to the Night.

If the Promethean urges of Enlightenment thinking (and the material practices of the Industrial Revolution) can be associated with Oedipal tragedy, then the Romantic response can be identified as Orphic in its mythic resonance. Once blinded by the bedazzling truth, then, the western mythic hero responds by manoeuvring towards the darkness wherein world and self may benefit from ritualistic renewal. Although it would be too simplistic to cast this drama purely in terms of an ongoing dialectic between reason and intuition, mechanical and organic universes, or subjugation and veneration of the earth, this turn reveals, according to Kate Rigby, the wider contours of a European Romanticism aligned in tension with Enlightenment values. 285 Such contours, along with their mythic resonances, in turn reveal core concerns that have made Romanticism fertile ground for ecocritical analysis. The primary way the earth was envisioned during this period, according to M H Abrams, accords with the Romantic quest to reconstitute the grounds of hope and to announce a rebirth in which a renewed mankind will inhabit a renovated earth where he will find himself thoroughly at home. 286 For Abrams, as for many others, Romantic thought and literature represented a decisive turn in Western culture, introducing new modes of relations among people and between culture and nature. (Natural Supernaturalism, 14) Blumenberg too legitimates the Romantic response, which looked back longingly on the deteriorated and buried achievements of the early times, suggesting the possibility of a re-cognition of elementary stories in a way which approaches the function of ritual. (Work, 61) For Rigby this reconsideration of religious traditions, as well as of the mechanistic and atomistic models of scientific rationalism that had become de rigueur by this time, reveals a project more like reenchantment than secularisation. (Topographies, 12) In any case, the construal of light as a symbol of transcendence would be grounded in Romantic literature and thought as a possibility immanent in an embodied experience of feeling at home on earth.


Novalis, Hymns to the Night and Other Selected Writings, trans. Charles Passage (Indianapolis: Library of the Liberal Arts, 1960), 9. 285 Kate Rigby, Topographies of the Sacred: The Poetics of Place in European Romanticism (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004), 11. Such a movement would imply a distinctive if far from homogenous cultural movement that emerged in England and Germany in the late eighteenth century, which was devoted to problematising some of the more instrumental Enlightenment definitions of life on earth. 286 M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton, 1973), 12.


But if recurrent themes in Enlightenment and Romantic thought seem opposed in many ways, they also share important qualities. Peter Murphy and David Roberts argue that both movements attempt to overcome the breach between culture and nature institutionalised at the lost origin of modernity. 287 While one is classically Apollonian, technologically progressive, and deploys an evolving logos targeted towards completion in the enhanced domination of nature, the other is reactively Dionysian, yearns for lost origins in a mythic circularity of time, and quests after the resurrection of fallen nature. (Murphy and Roberts, xixii, 39) Thus while Romanticism is often configured as a counterforce to Enlightenment philosophies of reason, this period also witnessed revisions of traditional mythic themes so deeply assumed as to be ineradicable from any Eurocentric philosophy. But Murphy and Roberts decry the new mythology called for in The Oldest Systematic Programme of German Idealism as a clumsy lunge after renaturalisation as closure (3) or the bad infinity of a circle functioning to manifest the fatal repetition of the ever same. (9) This seems to me overly harsh. If Enlightenment science can be caricatured for its vision of a mechanical universe, in which humanity operates from the ascendancy of a Cartesian enthronement over Nature, then Romantic authors such as Novalis countered by aligning their Prometheus with the Orpheus of an inner, individualistic journey to intuited, earthly knowledge. While Orphic initiatory schemas of antiquity remain obscure, the thematic pattern adopted on behalf of the Romantic urge maintains the ancient theme of exploring darkness for refreshed vision. If this attempt helps us to see the earth without the blinkered vision of seemingly disinterested reason, so easily co-opted on behalf of the instrumental greed of industry, then it may help us to find accord with the rise and fall of seasons (and of centres of civilised authority), not as a fatal repetition but as a perennial flowering, evernew in both its throes of death and regeneration. The Promethean/Orphic revision of the Promethean/Oedipal Enlightenment calls into question technoscientific subjugation of the earth, which program continually convinces its constituents that it acts on behalf of a redesigned Paradise even while destroying the very conditions that make such a Garden possible. 288 Romantic authors felt that the singleminded focus of Enlightenment thought threatened to blind its adherents to its intrinsic hubris. The shift towards exploration of the shadows cast by Enlightenment thought in a Romantic veneration of darkness retains vital import because many seeds of ecological, depth psychological, and ecotheological thought are sown here. Of equal import in terms of this thesis is the reconsideration, carried out in Romantic literature as an open cultural experiment, of the logic of myth and ritual. According to this revision, the idea that the earth is a pliable, inert receiver of whatever grand designs its human occupants may wish to exert upon it is called into question. In order for nonhuman voices to be brought to bear upon the direction and values of human culture, they must be imagined to have something of vital import to say on human terms. Romantic authors sought to represent Nature as if they were its voice, for example in Wordsworths Nutting, which animistically imagines a Spirit in the woods. 289 In this they obey an implacable, perennial, not unproblematic logic of ritual. In order to attempt as authentic a voice as possible for the earth and its dumb creatures,
David Roberts and Peter Murphy, Dialectic of Romanticism: A Critique of Modernism (London: Continuum, 2004), xxi. 288 As Ruskin put it, much is destroyed with the very conditions that make such a Paradise Redesigned possible the Pure Air, Water, and Earth that are the material basis of political economy. John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera (Pseudopodium, 2005), Letter V, May 1871, http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/ForsClavigera/05.html, cited in Jonathan Bate, Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (London: Routledge, 1991), 59. 289 William Wordsworth, Nutting, in Lyrical Ballads, 19698.


Romantic authors look into the darkness of our unknowing to listen for a genuine cry that might awaken a self-involved humanity to natures damaged web of relations. Poets and other artists place themselves in a position to experience and express these kinds of transmuted mythic rituals on behalf of a wider public. If the earth is to be given voice today, this is to suggest, humanitys mythopoeic reception must be attuned to the darkness beyond conventional consciousness at least as much as it is to the everyday world of reason we adopt as our light: this is the Romantic legacy to ecophilosophy. Accordingly this chapter explores the way light has been considered not as the Enlightenments perpetual dawn, but with the refreshing invigoration of a light in the night. The earth, according to common qualities included under the rubric of a Romantic mythos, is a place of grand, majestic, and sweeping beauty; furthermore it is a living force that can be said to speak through poetically attentive souls. Just as ecophilosophers must today, Romantic authors grappled with a language of and for the earth and similarly this course was often inspired by dismay at the ecological impact of industry. (If then it was a case of the shock of the new, we now face a far more deeply embedded crisis.) Apropos of this Kevin Hutchings notes, in his important survey of ecocritical analyses of Romantic texts, that both Romantic and ecocritical authors share a sense of political urgency associated with the desire to investigate and remedy current environmental problems that cuts across academic and activist lines of discursive practice. 290 The application of a theoretical methodology based in studies of myth and ritual seems remarkably apposite in the case of Romantic literature because both fields (Romantic and mythic) share a case of blurred boundaries; between self and world, symbol or language and reality, allegory and causality. As Rigby points out, Romantic poets such as Coleridge, Shelley and Wordsworth sought a hidden truth in nature that could only be approached with love, in recognition of the continuity of ones own mind with the life of nature. (Topographies, 116) While my conclusion to this chapter will refer to the wider textual record of Romantic poets and philosophers, I will concentrate my investigation mainly on close readings of three texts in which I find the idea of a turning towards the darkness for refreshed light played out in varied fashions. Beginning with a poet who would certainly be comfortable with this analysis, the young German Romantic known as Novalis, I consider such themes, their possibilities and problematics, alongside what I call mythopoeic logic, according to which a vision of light can be refreshed following a turn towards the darkness. Moving through analysis of Samuel Taylor Coleridges The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), presented as a ritual quest after coherence between traditional Christian and alternative metaphysics, this chapter proceeds to a reading of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein (1818) in the sense that it might be seen to critique a science that underwrites a quest for knowledge and power unconstrained by ethical considerations. (Topographies, 6) The archetypal scientist Victor Frankenstein seeks to channel and redirect naturally occurring electricity in order to redesign material reality, assuming the power to breathe life into mute clay, replacing the womb of nature with a culturally redesigned garden of Eden.


Kevin Hutchings, Ecocriticism in British Romantic Studies, Literature Compass 4, no. 1 (2007): 174. Hutchings notes that the rise of ecological problems related to an increasingly industrialized economy was becoming much more severe and noticeable, taking on a new sense of urgency in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. (175)


Novalis, Orphic/shamanic mythopoeia, and Romantic syncretism The Romantic author known as Novalis produced, in his short life, some of the most imaginative examples of nature worship in the European literary tradition. This discussion treats Novalis texts as a paradigmatic example of the Orphic theme in European literature, with all of the ambiguities, mythic patterns and anomalies expected in a new rendition of an ancient narrative form. The generic outline of the myth involves descent into a darkened underworld in a quest after illumination or a vision that would refresh and regenerate. 291 Walter Strauss locates the Orphic journey as a quest for the dark center of being, followed by a return in which this dark center, once it is apprehended, absorbed, and transmuted, is made to shine forth in its own new and intense light. 292 Hence Orpheus mediates between the dark forces of Dionysus and the radiant power of Apollo, while moulding syncretic syntheses that bridge the distance between Christian and pagan systems of belief. Importantly in ecocritical terms, Orpheus may also be seen as the paradigmatic icon of resistance to the dominance of a conventional sense of light. His journey represents the transformation of accepted forms, both personally and collectively, and his connection to the chthonic forces make him particularly viable as a vehicle for ecocentric regeneration and renewal. Finally, the Orphic model can be adapted to oppose the Promethean theme that many believe best represents the dominant culture hero of modern western civilisation. Where the Titans theft ties him to the image of the eternal rebel directed against tradition and towards materialistic progress, the bard is less progressive, aiming to charm the people rather than lead them and hoping for inner transformation through confrontation with deeper self. (Strauss, 1011) The figure of Orpheus naturally brings to mind the shaman of non-industrialised societies, who likewise journeys across a spiritual topography in a quest for medicine. It has been shown that the eighteenth century was awash with reports of such figures from returning adventurers and early anthropologists. 293 Novalis oeuvre displays a uniquely shamanic approach to mythopoeisis. In fact, Kocku Von Stuckrad has shown that Novalis blending of philosophy, religion and art prefigures contemporary neoshamanic attitudes in a characteristic way. 294 Novalis had no intention of dismissing his Christian heritage, however, despite the comprehensive reinterpretation he grants it out of his storehouse of philosophical and mystical leanings. Palmer Hilty points out that Novalis sense of his deceased fiances presence after her death, for instance, clinched his faith in the Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul. 295 Yet Novalis embrace of Jakob Boehmes mysticism, along with his explorations into Neoplatonism and Gnosticism and combined with the philosophical ferment of his Jena school colleagues, created in the author an
So many mutations on the Orphic theme have been recorded that Dodds cannily suggested we consider each an unconscious projection upon the screen of antiquity of certain unsatisfied religious longings. E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 148. 292 Walter Strauss, Descent and Return: The Orphic Theme in Modern Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 49. 293 Gloria Flaherty, Shamanism and the Eighteenth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), 1992. 294 Kucku von Stuckrad, Reenchanting Nature: Modern Western Shamanism and NineteenthCentury Thought, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 70, no. 4 (2002): 787. 295 Palmer Hilty, translators introduction to Henry von Ofterdingen, by Novalis, trans. Palmer Hilty (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1972), 2.


exceptional combination of Christian, critical, and pagan thought. 296 His philosophical framework can perhaps best be summarised with reference to The Oldest Systematic Programme of German Idealism, apparently penned by Hegel, but almost certainly in collaboration with Schelling and Hlderlin during 179697, which called for a new mythology of reason that would unite truth and goodness under the banner of beauty, expressed through the vehicle of poesy. 297 Thus we have clear indications that Novalis was working away at the mythopoeic edges of his faith, seeking in his later thought to integrate Christian belief with an evolving ecology more commonly associated with paganism or pantheism. An integral component of this revisioning is elucidated in the way he imagines light intertwined with matter. The nature-embracing leanings in his writing will be positioned, however, against an ambiguous understanding of how nature might be imagined to speak through the poet. From my reading, Novalis does manage to produce literature that recognises the great beauty, majesty, and mystery of the natural world; but he does so while perpetuating some of the less salubrious assumptions of settlement civilisation mythology. Nature, for Novalis, still speaks with faith in the western foundational mythology of a Paradise to be regained through effective human management of its earthly resources. Novalis darkness: endless regeneration and the underworld journey Novalis darkness the night towards which he turns for solace in his Hymns is the worlds queen, the high herald of sacred worlds, the fostering nurse of blessed love. 298 She is holy mother and wife, creatrix and consort, and hallowed relief from the beautiful but domineering light, which is introduced as universally gladdening but whose departure with the end of day is treated as comforting compared to the welcome, infinite depths of night. (Hymns, 1) The Night of the Hymns is eternal embrace, the beloved betrothed of the poet and his ally on the shamanic/Orphic journey to medicine. For Walter Strauss, this remarkable work is the locus classicus of the voluptuous mystique of the night and the ultimate expression of the nostalgia of death. 299 Although Novalis turn towards night retains an idea that life is a vale of tears with death as its escape, the ritual Orphic return to the darkness at the end of the day, a life, the universe, or our consciousness, is nourished by its timeless and spaceless dominion of eternal duration. (Hymns, 4) Away and into this new and unfathomable world flows the poets sadness, such that his spirit becomes released and newborn out of the Night-inspiration. (5) For those who taste this crystal wave that wells forth in the dark womb, there is no real return to the doings of the world, to the land where the Light dwells in everlasting unrest. (6) For Novalis, the eternal is dark and it is an agent of metamorphosis, the transformation of life through death. Light for the Orphic poet is, as manifest life, breathed in by all beings (including the inanimate, reposeful stone); yet it is also placed in perspective as the ever-living, ever-dying son of the eternal mother. (3) This king of earthly nature is summonsed to uncounted

Stephen Prickett outlines Novalis mystical influences in Origins of Narrative: The Romantic Appropriation of the Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 154. 297 Frederick Beiser, ed., The Early Political Writings of the German Romantics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 3. 298 Novalis, Hymns to the Night and Other Selected Writings, trans. Charles Passage (Indianapolis: Library of the Liberal Arts, 1960), 4. 299 It is also the indisputable source of many of the best and most seductive passages in Wagners Tristan und Isolde. Strauss, Descent and Return, 28.


transformations, conjoining and resolving infinite alliances and revealing the wondrous splendour of the Kingdoms of the world. (3) The relief of endless darkness is palpable in the first flowering of metre, in the fourth section of the proem, wherein the incombustible Cross signifies the chance for the suffering poet to lie drunken / In the lap of love, having found that mystical abode where rapture lies at the heart of suffering:
I journey across; All pangs will be Some day the stings Of ecstasy. (7)

This is the land of eternal darkness and succour:

For I live by day Full of faith and desire, In the nights I die In holy fire. (8)

The Heraclitean analogy of a fire that fuels all life, light or dark, material or ephemeral, links the birth of light to a cosmic sea: beyond the endless earth and the Homeric red hills of morning, in the holy womb of the sea dwelt the sun, the all-kindling, living Light. (8) The allusions to Greek mythology continue in a positively glorious vision of the Olympian Golden Age, until a ghastly phantom casts a shadow-road across the endless feasting. (8) But this dragon cannot be slain, for it represents the fall into Death itself, which shatters the paradisiac infancy of the world with its nightmarish appearance. (Strauss, 32) The redemption of homecoming in Novalis Hymns unites Christian and pagan in more ways than one:
Downward into the womb of the earth, Away from the realms of the light Praised be us for the eternal night, Praised be eternal slumber We want to return home to the Father We must return home To see this holy time. (Hymns to the Night, Strauss translation, 3536)

Darkness is transformed from the Death that shatters eternal and innocent Paradise to a healing succour, such that finally the monstrous power is revealed to be both final resting and birthing place in one. Eternal Night, / The solemn sign of a far-distant might, is revealed as the mighty womb of revelations towards which even the gods turn for surcease. (Hymns, 9) This is the Mother of the Gods often imagined as the ancient creatrix behind settlement civilisations fixation on its light gods. Out of the slumber of these ancient and venerable gods emerges Christ as King, infinite fruit of mystic embrace the new eras beginning. (10) Death then unveils its mighty secret; it is also medicine, who makest us be healed. (10) But this is no easy-won resurrection of the spirit of life, for the new world must first wrestle with the old Deaths terrors, before the loving hand of Mother Night provides a few days for His transformation. (11) The dragons of Death are active in this world, and beyond them, in the deepest caves of darkness, lay endless bounty and the eternal fount. They are revealed as the gatekeepers of blessed immortality, not the harbingers of death at the edges of the map. The primordial serpent power signifies entrance into the passage of sacred marriage, a chaos of ecstasy beyond horror, timelessly present in the liberating power of love, which is


Now set free [Such that] parting is no more. Full like an endless sea, Life surges without shore. One Night of rapture, one Eternal poem, whence Our universal sun Is Gods own countenance. (13)

But if lights reign of temporality is to be nourished by its expression of nights eternal beauty, then it is unlikely that a new apocalyptic era in which day will dissolve into night and sleep into dream offers an entirely adequate mythopoeic response. (Strauss, 32) Strauss finds Novalis idea of regeneration intertwined with the poets death wish. (3133) Rigby concurs, pointing out that Novalis Hymns eroticise death, ending the distinction of opposites in eternal sleep rather than finding a working relationship for aporia that might inform everyday life with the love of nature he expresses. (Topographies, 107) Paradoxically, though, the very soporific of Night presents the poet with an avenue according to which his will to life may proceed as a will to death that gives him patience with his broken self. Novalis unfinished novel Henry von Ofterdingen also leads through an underworld journey to a refreshed vision of light that appears out of deep, unfathomable darkness, and it also leads towards a conception where everywhere on earth is home. Its protagonist is introduced to the reader with the animistic feeling that, as in days of old, animals and trees and cliffs could begin talking with people again at any moment. 300 During the opening night of his tale Henry experiences the kind of journey expected from shamanic trance or ritual; in a dream, he dies and is reborn, before finding himself walking alone through a dark forest and then clambering down a rocky passageway from within which a bright light welcomes him to his underworld journey. (Henry, 16) The mighty beam of light is enveloped by a holy stillness and he enters a luminous stream of intoxication. (1617) Henrys dreaming breaks through into his conventional consciousness along one of the only routes that it may be admitted, that of nocturnal images perceived while asleep. This strikes me as an adequate metaphor for the idea of civilised humanity awakening to the fact that it has been ignorant of (or asleep to) natures animated aliveness and responsiveness. 301 Novalis then presents an argument between the workaday ideology of a modernistic priestly caste, offered by Henrys father, and Henrys Romantic faith in his personal dreams. Henry is rudely awakened and lectured by his father: The times are past when divine apparitions appeared in dreams, he warns. The old [Biblical] stories and records form our only source of knowledge, and in place of those express revelations the Holy Ghost now speaks to us indirectly through the minds of wise and well-disposed men. (18) Against his fathers remonstrations, Henry defends the Tricksteresque dreams sent from God to make a significant rent in the mysterious curtain that hangs a thousand fold about our inner life, which act as a kaleidoscopic liminal space that jumbles and reframes our vision. (19) (Interestingly, Henrys father relates his own dream of a similar underworld journey, revealing his wife holding a shining child that grew even more radiant and bright before soaring into the heavens on dazzling-white wings; 2223.)

Novalis, Henry von Ofterdingen, trans. Palmer Hilty (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1972), 15. 301 An idea I dealt with in my unpublished MA thesis entitled Sojourn: Contemporary Mythopoeics as Initiation, Underworld Journey and Atonement.


The narrator goes on to explain the aesthetics of light and shadow and the way they reveal the hidden glory of the visible world. (25) Novalis now combines the merging of humans with nonhuman entities Henry has already imagined with the sacralization of nature that also forms part of the authors oeuvre. 302 Von Stuckrad places this text amongst the ongoing currents that contest disenchantment and fight the tendency within modern western culture to desacralize nature. 303 Such currents operate from a liminal space at the margins of conventional social norms, and Novalis introduces his mythopoeic logic of ritual in exactly such terms. Just as we are naturally attracted to the twilight that shatters the light of day and the darkness of night into each other, we are called to immerse ourselves willingly in the liminal ages between epochs, which also remind us of intermediary places (or ecotones) between mountain and plain. (25) During every period of transition higher spiritual powers appear to want to break through as in a sort of interregnum, writes Novalis of the reflective and romantic period that lay between the crude times of barbarism and the modern age of abundance, concealing a higher form under its simple garment. (25) Meanwhile Henry moves into a liminal space in terms of his everyday world, leaving behind his home town in a first separation that is likened to a shamanic initiation rite as he faces a premonition of death, an apparition in the night that finally turns into a friendly guide. (26) In conversation with his fellow travellers the merchants, Henry reveals an understanding of poetry that aligns him directly with the Orphic tradition of the bard. He speaks with youthful enthusiasm, tempered by a comely modesty, of the divine favor paid those who, inspired by invisible communion, [] could proclaim heavenly wisdom on earth in sweet sounds. (30) As Gwendolyn Bays points out, Novalis was only the most elaborately developed example of a widespread influence of this Orphic mysticism amongst Romantic writers. 304 The shamanic theme of underworld journey might have threatened established Christian tenets, but that did not stop Novalis from maintaining his traditional faith alongside the new gifts acquired along an abyssal journey into the depths. 305 In fact as Gloria Flaherty has shown, the dialectic between Eurocentric Christianity and the increasingly prevalent reports of shamanism from beyond the bounds of the continent resulted in a prodigious amount of speculation which, by the mid-eighteenth century, already challenged its earliest phase of demonisation with the kind of self-critical analysis provided by Herder. 306 The Eurocentric assumption that material progress guaranteed spiritual superiority could be questioned with reference to the more ancient (or Romantic) idea that nature was sacred in and of itself. Novalis, in fact, suggests that civilisation may well have cost its constituents as much as it has gained them. Henrys merchant friends relate the common tale of woe
302 303

Von Stuckrad, Reenchanting Nature, 787. Von Stuckrad, Reenchanting Nature, 771. Scholarly precursors to von Stuckrads argument include Webers dialectical theory of the disenchantment and resacralisation of nature. (77173) 304 Gwendolyn Bays, The Orphic Vision: Seer Poets from Novalis to Rimbaud (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964), 43. Bays considers the Orphic descent a valuable but incomplete complement to the Christian/Platonic/Plotinian ascent to pure light. See 57, 27, and especially 30, where her analysis of the underworld journey is heavily weighted towards an almost Dantesque vision of purgatory. 305 While the Orphic theme of poet as seer should have proved incompatible with the tenets of Christianity due to its focus on white magic and the spiritual development of its adherents, it obviously did not to Novalis. Bays, Orphic Vision, Introduction, ix. 306 According to Flaherty, Herders intention was to debunk the demystifiers, like Fontenelle and Voltaire, by uncovering shamanism as a factor crucial in the formation of all human societies. Flaherty, Shamanism, 139. See also the appreciation of shamanic mythopoeia: 6668.


accompanying their modernising world whereby the fabulous and quite incredible world of a nature more alive and meaningful than today is past. (Henry, 32) The poets in those days, they tell Henry, were at once prophets and priests, lawgivers and doctors, who received magical arts from higher beings, bringing order to nature where before everything was wild, chaotic, and malevolent. 307 Novalis again imagines the darkness as regenerative more than threatening. A monster of the sea, in fact, next saves his Orphic bard, having been charmed by his undeniable talent (the tale is a retelling of the myth of Arion). The bards magnificent, infinitely touching song resounds amongst the waves, while the sun and the constellations appeared in the sky, and out of the green waters emerged dancing hosts of fish and sea monsters. (3435) This image is magnified when the poet-musician leaps into the dark abyss to be rescued by the grateful monster, soon to become an old friend who even returns the poet his riches after the ship runs aground. (3435) Thus the depths are revealed to be at one with the heights, salt water chaos with the mythopoeic order of the world, in accord with the magic of song but, refreshingly, running at a counterpoise to the dominant history of western religious and philosophical symbology. The theme of communication with nature runs through the novel in a variety of forms, although not without considerable ambiguity. Henry is presented as a young poet capable of speaking Nature to other people, allowing them to recognise themselves as he is, both indivisible and distinct from the world. This art goes beyond mere words; it is altogether a matter of the soul, (31) filling the inner sanctuary of the spirit with a magical and intoxicating power. (3132) Bays claims that Novalis turns western philosophy to this end by giving artistic expression to Schellings theory of the identity of Nature and Spirit By looking upon ultimate Truth in Nature, man discovers the realm of Spirit and, conversely, when man explores his own spirit he is led back to Nature and its physical laws. (Bays, 48) The merchants encourage Henry on this point, proclaiming that Nature herself also wants to derive a pleasure from her great artfulness and hence transformed herself into human beings such that she might take delight in her own glory. (Henry, 31) This is a delicate attendance to the idea of a World Soul, collective unconscious, or primal intelligence in the cosmos and in nature of which humanity forms merely a part. The deep soul Novalis adumbrates in support of it, however, both repudiates and perpetuates the traditional western settlement myth by following the split of this World Soul into a passive (feminine) nature taken in hand by an active (masculinised) and dominant master. The characters playing out this melodrama include a simple but serious youth who, questing in the truest style of chivalric faith, wins the hand of a fair princess, and an old miner from Bohemia. The youth is a classic fairytale character brought up in the woods by his father to trust in nature as in God. Through a series of adventures, a severe storm brings him together with a princess in a kind of sacred marriage, where, amid the bridal hymn of the storm and the wedding torches of lightning, the couple are lulled into sweet intoxication (with the usual mix of blissful and anxiety-provoking consequences). The paramour begs his beloved to expect with confidence the brightest future from the guardian spirit of her heart. (45) Meanwhile the king has lost a treasured daughter; but after a year and the birth of a new prince, the couples hidden existence comes to light in a way that reveals the timeless availability of paradise, the ecstasy at the heart of suffering. The youth appears before the king as Orphic bard, at first indistinguishable from a mighty oak, before stepping out to sing

Novalis, Henry von Ofterdingen, 33. The poets here are clearly identifiable with shamans, and, like Mser before him, Herder considered shamans responsible for creating order out of chaos so that their brethren could cope with nature as well as themselves. Flaherty, Shamanism, 139.


enchantingly of the final triumph of love and poetry, the rejuvenation of nature, and the return of an everlasting golden age. (48) He is accepted, along with the kings daughter and their son, into the aging monarchs warm embrace, on a day that is henceforth celebrated as the holy eve to one long beautiful festival until the country now revealed as Atlantis is sunk from sight under mighty floods. (52) The implicit moral accords with the perennial philosophy that humanity could retrieve the grace that is their original birthright if only they could follow the lead of what is good and noble in nature. This admirable sentiment soon reveals, however, that looking into the natural world for what seems good and noble is rarely a simple matter, and that in fact we all too readily find what we are looking for. It is at this point that Novalis youthful naivety seems to me to encompass the great problematic of this vital ecocentric theme. The course of the narrative journey in the novel next brings the travelling party into contact with a Bohemian miner, who in true Romantic tradition listens to the minerals speaking to him from their strong prisons in the rock. 308 Gold is the king of metals imprisoned in the depths of darkness, gleaming amiably at the miner who would rescue it and bring this king to the light of day so that he might attain honor in royal crowns. (67) The object of desire translates directly into hierarchical power and even cries out to be allowed to do so the earth is considered entrapment with human labour its liberating force. The old miner translates the metal powers from depth to throne on behalf of political order, digging down into the hidden treasure chambers of nature. (66) The miners traditional song celebrates this theme, as filtered through the agricultural trope of masculine mastery over a feminine earth:
That man is lord of earth Who fathoms well her deeps And finds his peace and mirth Where she her treasures keeps [] His bosom friend is she And near to him allied; Inflamed by her is he As though she were his bride. [] He finds on all his ways A long familiar land, And gladly she obeys The workings of his hand. (Henry, 7273)

The miner himself, however, retains the innocence common to Novalis characters, proving himself free of the chthonic magic whose dazzling glamour has no power over his pure heart. (69) Out of this purity is revealed a key platform for treating Nature with respect, as the miner recognises that it desires not to be the exclusive possession of a single individual. As property, nature changes into an evil poison which drives away tranquillity and makes those who possess wealth lust ruinously after power over all things. (70) As Rigby points out, Novalis alchemical romanticisation of mining, which was considered by him (as well as by Tieck and Hoffmann) as an initiation into the poetic through subterranean exploration, is powered by love and not individualism, aimed as it is towards shared bounty and the perfection of humanity. (Topographies, 14149) But while Novalis dual strategy of

The old miner relates elsewhere his faith in poets as friends of the searching spirits of light, who help him to realise the gentle unfolding of his own nature. Novalis, Henry von Ofterdingen, 85.


enlightenment and re-enchantment (14243) would have Henry seek reconciliation between feeling and reason, rather than resolving opposites in the mystical dissolution of the Night (14445), the protagonist of the novel is ultimately led to believe that the earth yearns to be mined. This is clearly a case of hearing in nature the voice projected upon it. Tiecks rejoinder to the novel published some years later, Runenberg, suggests that the miners rejection of the organic world for the inanimate realm of minerals, and his related search for treasure, reveals in the dark depths not the possibility of regeneration but of madness. (149 50) The seemingly unmistakable signs in Gods book of nature (Henry, 71) tell a wide variety of tales depending on the interpreter and circumstances. Novalis miner dreams that an ancient age of monsters has given way to a dream of the future, like a child of eternal peace. (87) But to whatever extent humanity has enjoyed a period of relatively favourable interglacial climate over the last 15,000 years, it certainly doesnt seem likely to continue in these halcyon ways in accord with the miners vision: How placid and peaceful, how clear and mild is nature today compared to those violent, gigantic ages! (87) Nature is approaching human beings; he concludes, and whereas she was formerly a wildly producing cliff, today she is a tranquil, growing plant, a silent human artist. (88) The anthropocentric foundation of such imaginings is made quaint today not only by the quantum ages modification of ideas such as linear evolution, but, less happily, by ecological crisis and its attendant disharmony. In spite of the ideological limits displayed by Novalis miner, the author makes admirable efforts to compose a human conversation with nature that would respect its rights independently of human greed and rapaciousness. The way he proceeds to attempt this, Becker and Manstetten argue persuasively, is with a conception of nature as a You. Citing excerpts from The Novices of Sis and his philosophical writings, they claim that Novalis makes dynamic distinctions between humankind and nature that rework traditionally separated categories of self (humankind) and other (nature). 309 But the tain of the mirror reveals the taint of anthropocentric wish-fulfilment in the aforementioned passages from Henry. Nature for Novalis miner is a You that obeys the I, and this contradicts the authors desire to revive it on its own terms, an aim dear to the heart of the ecocentric shift. The great value of such a vision, combined with Novalis belief that poetry can heal the rift between humanity and its earth, is undermined here in its execution, however. While Becker and Manstetten correctly point out that the endeavour to define humanity and the natural world concerns a relationship of both indivisibility and distinction, Novalis does not manage this negotiation with the aplomb necessitated by contemporary ecological concerns. While this does not undermine their stated aim to provide, via discussion of Novalis texts, fruitful stimulation for todays environmental philosophy (Becker and Manstetten, 101), it does require re-evaluation of the novelists success in representing the human-nature relationship such that that elusive something familiar in her (113) speaks with something closer to its own, and not our own, voices. As Rigby points out, Novalis reiteration of the perennial mystic philosophy that the ultimate truth lies within carries assumptions both attractive and problematic for an ecocritical reading. Novalis humanises the earth by un-wilding and seeking to educate nature (Topographies, 108), which may yearn to unfold its treasures to its new intimate friend the Orphic poet (77); but is unlikely to condone human mastery on human terms. Novalis place amongst the philosophies of his time is instructive here. Becker and

Christian Becker and Reiner Manstetten, Nature as a You: Novalis Philosophical Thought and the Modern Ecological Crisis, Environmental Values 13 (2004): 105 (and compare the ancient worlds I/Thou relationship postulated by H. Frankfort and others in Intellectual Adventure).


Manstetten show that he reacted vehemently against Fichtes philosophical condoning of the Cartesian/Newtonian thinkers, for whom nature may be acquired and used by humans for the purposes of humanity without any restriction. (Becker and Manstetten, 104) Rigby adds that Novalis is not hostile to science, only to the way it operates to dominate and subjugate his beloved nature. (Topographies, 2324) For her, this is part of the all-inclusive price of the Cartesian cogito and its inevitable by-product of alienation, institutionalised in the rationalised mind taking precedence over a mechanised corporeality. Rigby adds that Schelling, who sought a new mythology of sacralised nature, is Novalis likely guide beyond this seeming philosophical impasse, while Schlegel also posited the Thou or Du of nature as an independent and animate other. (1023, 11213) This is not to underestimate the extent to which Novalis manages to conceptualise a human-nature relationship of some consequence. In fact, in the terms of this thesis, he represents through the poet Klingsohr an idea that directly questions the way light is held at a remove from materiality. Introducing the familiar conceit whereby mind is associated with light and body with nature, Klingsohr states that the body restrains light, refracting it into peculiar colours. (Henry, 108) The body, according to this philosophy, kindles on its surface or in its interior a glow such that when the light equals its darkness, it makes the body translucent or transparent, and when it exceeds the darkness it issues forth to illuminate other bodies. But even the darkest body can by water, fire, and air be made bright and shining. (108) For the poet, the genuine mind is like this lightjust as tranquil and sensitive, just as elastic and penetrable, just as powerful and latently effective, as this precious element. (109) Klingsohrs elastic mind of light acts as a kind of creative corrective to established ideas of anthropocentric humanity. Novalis toys with the relationship between this light-mind and dark-body dialectic in terms remarkable for their reshaping of the Platonic cave myth, in a later conversation between Henry and his beloved Mathilda. Your earthly form is only a shadow of this vision, he tells her, referring to the glory that fills her form and radiates everywhere: while the powers of earth struggle and gush forth to hold it fast the vision is an eternal idea, a part of the unknown holy world. (118) But this home of eternal Form is intertwined with the material realm, as if underpinning it rather than allowing itself to be reduced, through imperfect copies, into materiality from above. The higher world is nearer to us than we commonly think. We are already living in it here, he tells her, and we perceive it most intimately interwoven with earthly nature. (118) In the unfinished second part to the novel, the long poem The Cloister or the Forecourt contains a reprisal of this ecocentric idea. All things into all others flow, / Each through the other thrive and grow. (152) This statement of flux and interconnectedness precedes scenes in which the protagonist, now introduced anonymously as a pilgrim, has lost all of his former, youthful hope, and seeks to match his darkness with natures (just as Victor Frankenstein will in his sojourn to the Alps). Ghastly terror and then the dry chill of apathetic despair drive him to seek the wild horrors of the mountains (153), where magically clear little voices sang as out of a remote subterranean deep and a voice speaks to him out of a tree. (155) A long shaft of light thrusts through the trees branches and draws the pilgrims gaze into a distant glory of the most exquisite shapes, and the deepest joy and delight, indeed, a heavenly blessedness within which inanimate objects appeared not as though made but as if they had grown thus for their own pleasure like plants and then come together. (155) A mystic vision wherein all opposites are reconciled in a sacred oneness follows, the pilgrim laying long in blissful ecstasy, the holy beam of light having drawn all pain and affliction out of his heart, away from the dark and devastating emptiness, the earthly powerlessness so that death appeared to him like a higher


revelation of life. (156) Orpheus modern triumph is of the depressed pilgrim transfigured to ecstatic health along with the recuperation of nature. The poet thence sang opposites together in mystic union:
Lovers weeping, lovers flame, Be the same! Sanctify this dwelling rare, Where a heaven came to me; (15657)

Where are we going? asks the pilgrim of the little girl who appears to him at the culmination of his song. She answers, ecophilosophically, Home, all the time. (159) This is the home wherein depths of mortal darkness are complemented, not subjugated, by the conscious, moral light of heaven, which shines brightly enough to empty the terrors of hell and the power of the evil spirits. (164) The poet dances his daemons together such that all minds are known to be parts of the one mind that gradually leads to all worlds; but this new harmony does not preclude individuation, as everything has its own time and its own manner. (165) Henrys new guide, Sylvester, adumbrates an ideal whereby the virtuous achieve a mastery guaranteed by the ongoing beneficence of God. This spirit is the light kindling and quickening all things within earthly compass. From the starry sky, that exalted dome of the jewelled realm, to the frilly carpet of flowery meadows, everything is maintained by it, linked with us, and made intelligible to us; it conducts the endless history of nature on the unknown path that leads to transfiguration. (167) The higher mental powers link our minds to the awesome mystery of the universe both at one and infinitely varied, this wholly satisfying world an incomprehensibly intimate communion of all the blessed with God, a personal revelation of a perceptible deifying presence. (168) Here Novalis composes a rare and beautiful amalgam of tradition and timely creativity. His vision aligns human mastery of self and therefore of nature, paradoxically and concurrently harmonised with the mystic realisation of Gods perfect will. It attempts to reinterpret the settlement civilisation mythology of Paradise Regained on natures terms; an attempt that, in failing, is nevertheless magnificent in its creative impetus and potential. The blurred light of Coleridges Ancient Mariner and ecocentric mythopoeia Samuel Taylor Coleridges early Romantic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner rewards ecocritical scrutiny for the way it explores a mythopoeic logic of ritual. 310 The poem concerns matters of kinship relations between humans and other creatures as well as such issues as purification, regeneration, identity politics (in the broadest terms), the human relation to Nature, and the community of souls espoused in the poets philosophy. It represents a profound turning away from the excessive veneration of light as consciousness found in Enlightenment philosophies. 311 As such I treat it as a response to imbalance, but one that does not dispense with reason itself; Coleridge in fact declares a wider definition of this magical faculty capable of immediate, intuitive perception of

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, ed. R. L. Brett and A. R. Jones (London: Routledge, 1988). I use the 1798 version of the poem, except where indicated. 311 Garrard writes that Coleridge regarded the eighteenth century as dominated by a degrading and reductionistic conception of man and nature and that he responded by making a virtue out of the mysteriousness and irrationality of faith. Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments, 56.



Truths above Sense, especially spiritual, aesthetic and moral truths. 312 This reinvigorated conception of reason holds that nature is seen to be indivisible from Gods good creation and as such the world could be seen, for all intents and purposes, as holy in itself. Under the ethical conditions imposed upon human life in accord with such a statute, killing in the case of necessity can be condoned, but when pointless harm is done to any of Gods creatures, then a crime is committed against creation as it is expressed in Nature. The passage of the Mariner from cursed blasphemer against the beauty and innocence of animal life to redeemed preacher against such ills must be seen as an act in which the soul of the transgressor participates in the initiatory mysteries of a long dark night of experiential trial and reparation. Where a conventional Christian reading may bless the bestowing of grace as an ineffable act of an eternally mysterious and transcendental God, the kind of reading that Coleridges poetics seem more accurately to suggest places the generation of such forgiveness in a liminal space of ritual far from traditional liturgical activities. The Rime may be read, then, as an ecopoetic of sacred earth in terms that ask its reader to accept responsibility for the world and all its creatures, as if it were their god; as an all-embracing, ever-mysterious, utterly complex manifestation of the ultimate principle and generatrix of life in both material/physical and spiritual/symbolic realms at once. Given Coleridges cosmology, where all beings are related in both physical and ethical terms, the Albatross can be seen as a kind of kin to the mariner and his crew. 313 As Hutchings notes, the presence of the bird goes beyond allegory, to stand as a representative of the animal world in physical terms. 314 While this is a welcome connection between literature and the world of endangered animals, the bird is also representative of something more than itself in terms of wisdom, and it is under the conditions of ritual that this manifestation of its symbolic power is conveyed. It should be kept in mind that one of the most common teachers to appear from within the ritual state of trance, shrouded in mystery to the initiate, is the animal spirit or guide. 315 The spirit of the animal is felt, in rites all over the world, to be a more than human power invoked and channelled in a communal space of liminality. 316 This idea lends itself well to the mystic yet material purposes fulfilled by ritual, wherein sharp distinctions between the symbolic realm of thought and the physical world of action dissolve. The Mariners albatross is introduced to us, coming through the fog, as a Christian Soul, hailed in Gods name. (Ancient Mariner, l. 6164) In treating the poem as literary ritual I take Coleridges Christian terms as being a particular instantiation of wider, more perennial flowering of the mythopoeic logic of sacrifice. Thus the conventional Christian idea that Jesus crucifixion absolves humans from the responsibility of experiencing a personal sacrificial ritual for their own spiritual benefit is broken open by the animistic terms of the poem. 317 Anthony John Harding shows how Coleridge responds to the late
Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments, 64, citing Coleridges Aids to Reflection, in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, vol. 9, ed. J. Beer (London: Routledge, 1993), 5960, 6770. 313 James McKusick, Ecology in Romanticism: An Oxford Guide, ed. Nicholas Roe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 211. 314 Hutchings, Ecocriticism, 187. 315 Eliade, Myth and Reality, 1001. See also Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974): the majority of familiar and helping spirits have animal forms. (89) 316 Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), 106. 317 Hillman is critical of exactly this assumption, wherein the need to descend into our own depths and grant attention to them is eradicated by Christs symbolic victory. James Hillman, The Dream


eighteenth century dialectic between comparative mythographers of two opposing camps; the one seeking to justify all mythic symbol under the rubric of Christian revelation as an only truth, of which all others are shadowy copies, and the other seeking to condone a kind of universal nature religion out of which all others spring. 318 Although this second camp will seem at first blush to supply greater concord with the terms of this thesis, Harding is quick to point out although some kind of universal shamanic art of trance has been validated as a reliable intercultural source of mythopoeia, the animist world it gives voice to cannot be said to act as redemption for fallen humanity. The Mariners universe is simply too arbitrary, indeterminate, and capricious to support the contention that mans miseries can be overcome if only all peoples would study the immutable laws of nature, and govern their behaviour and social organization accordingly, harmonizing human life with universal natural law. 319 What Coleridges protagonist will learn from the logic of ritual is not atonement in holistic Nature but accord with his own humanity in relation to a world that is full of life for which he is not a central concern. Harding states this in explicitly Blumenbergian terms, calling the poem a superbly indeterminate text that enables and compels the reader to participate in the process of rethinking myth, of work on myth, that has to underwrite any permanent, fully achieved ideological change. (Harding, 28) Dissolution of a conventional worldview in the liminal psychic exploration of ritual would accord with Coleridges recognition of the validity of shamanic trance as an integral component of much mythopoeic inspiration. (4353) The Rime is designed to drag the reader into its psychic topography just as it drew its protagonist out of his conventional setting, with the action centring around the bird, the sea and the discolouration of light. The Ancient Mariner immediately senses his killing of the albatross as a hellish thing (l. 89), a recognition accompanied by a stilling of the light and the waters of life. His crime against nature leads him to slip towards a liminal space, along with his vessel, such that they are no longer carried forth in life:
All in a hot and copper sky The bloody sun at noon, Right up above the mast did stand, No Bigger than the moon. Day after day, day after day, We stuck, ne breath ne motion. As idle as a painted Ship Upon a painted Ocean. (l. 107114)

The cultural artefact of a painting, for all its power to draw us beyond the self to a greater realm of contemplation, is here reduced to a lifeless face in comparison to the sensual movement of nature. It also first appears at high noon, a transitional and thus liminal phase not redolent here of the absolute brightness expected of this time of day. The sickly solar rose, so different in auspice to Homers dawn-tinged fingers, is instead soon associated by discolouration with a sinister plague in the shadows nearby:
About, about, in reel and rout The Death-fires dancd at night; and the Underworld (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 8689. 318 Anthony John Harding, The Reception of Myth in English Romanticism (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995), chap. 1, Coleridge Among the Mythographers: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 2560. 319 Harding, Reception of Myth, 55.


The water, like a witchs oils, Burnt green and blue and white. (l. 123126)

The stultifying and godless effect of this discolouration of light a sickliness that accompanies the Mariner from the moment of his crime, blurring states of night and day in a nauseating haze weighs upon him like a millstone, as does the very creature (now identified as the crucified saviour) he has defiled:
Instead of the Cross the Albatross About my neck was hung. (l. 1378)

The sun itself, as well as all of nature, thence becomes imprisoned with the guilty seaman, and only the ancient mother of the gods, perpetually associated across the western tradition with the earth itself, may be able to provide succour:
And strait the Sun was fleckd with bars (Heavens mother send us grace) As if thro a dungeon grate he peerd With broad and burning face. (l. 169172)

The Sun is imprisoned, perhaps, to the extent that it (symbolic of daylight reason) is not allowed to stretch into the enigmatic, self-perpetuating Faith that is its continuation across the Horizon: even as the Day softens away into the sweet Twilight, and Twilight, hushed and breathless, steals into the Darkness [of] sacred Night! 320 In this dark night of indistinction, Coleridges Mariner stumbles upon a spontaneous ritual of purification, whereby his identity will be dissolved and reconstituted according to a newly adopted set of values. For Eliade this phase would make perfect sense in terms of such a ritual. He claims that the only real sacrilege, or sin, that humans may commit and need reparation for exists in forgetting the divine acts of creation for which we should give daily thanks, an amnesia he sees akin to sleep, loss of the self, and blindness. 321 Experience of ritual, however, offers insight to the initiate prepared to grant attentive perception to interpretation of the tranceoracle. As Eliade points out, all due difficulties in interpretation aside, the sacred act of creation that exists outside of conventionally interpreted time and space does remain accessible to human experience. Reality unveils itself and admits of being constructed from a transcendent level, but this transcendence can be ritually experienced and finally becomes an integral part of human life. (Myth and Reality, 140) The Mariner, then, is being slowly dragged through the depths of an altered state of consciousness towards an improved awareness of his connectedness with the rest of creation. The ghastly couple who sail by under a horned Moon (he jet-black but she so white as leprosy as to forebode Death), personifying the curse that now attends the seaman like a shadow, arbitrarily leave him alive but alone on the ship as each ethereal soul of his now annihilated crew pass by like the whiz of his Cross-bow, one after another cursing him in departure (Ancient Mariner, l. 202215). The Mariner receives each accusatory eye knowing that any one of the 200 could drag to Hell / A spirit from on high (l. 249252). Yet in the profound depths of his despair the grace of redemption does arrive, spontaneously but not without great spiritual hardship. In this, the tale and its morality fulfil the ritual contract, forcing the initiate through their own version of the darkness that will eventually reveal new light, just as it does for Dantes poet in the Divine Comedy. 322 Conventional

Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments, 65, citing Coleridges Biographia Literaria, vol. 2, in Collected Works of Coleridge, vol. 7, 24748. 321 Eliade, Myth and Reality, 107, 116. On sacrilege/sin and sleep/blindness respectively. 322 Eric Brown points out the similarities in the spiritual struggle of both in Boyds Dante,


moral frameworks, either Christian or humanistic, fail to encapsulate the Mariners experiences, such that his trials seem both irrational and unsettling (and therefore not completely random) at once.323 Furthermore a biographical and psychological reading of the poem, such as David Mialls, also leads to a consideration of the parallels between the Mariners and Coleridges quest for and valuation of meaning as a wounded participant in an arbitrary world. The modern subject, beyond the relative safety of their objectivity on shore, becomes a ritual initiate on the ocean, trying to avoid becoming part of the flotsam of a wrecked worldview. Meanwhile Coleridges Mariner is all at sea in his version of this dilemma; not even able, as in Eliots Waste Land, to shore fragments up against ruin, he is given over to the rituals obscure wisdom, Blumenbergs shipwreck victim with no sight of land. Out of the seas depths thoroughly impersonal life arises, as if in a dance of primitive, ocean-borne DNA, redolent of the (chaotic and/or generative) cosmic soup. In the sea, as in the cosmos, the light of life is born out of a discoloured darkness. Although the charmed water burnt alway / A still and awful red (l. 262263), in it water-snakes beyond the shadow
movd in tracks of shining white; And when they reard, the elfish light Fell off in hoary flakes. (l. 264268)

This elfish light, still capricious yet not sinister, leads the mariners heart to its succour:
They coild and swam; and every track Was a flash of golden fire. O happy living things! no tongue Their beauty might declare: A spring of love gushed from my heart. And I blessd them unaware. (l. 272277)

Grace arrives, as the Mariners guardian angel, or kind saint, takes pity on him, his tongue is loosened in prayer, and the dead bird of guilt falls from his neck Like lead into the sea. (l. 278283) From this point on the Mariner begins his return from the spell of his curse or the rite of his initiation to society and its norms, although he is still held fast by strange new laws. For Coleridge, it is as if a supernatural realm underpinned the natural and could be called to its defence, or could at least be drawn upon to deal out retributive wisdom to those who would transgress against the otherwise voiceless creatures of a sacred world. Victor Turner would, I think, recognise the disempowered Mariner and his martyred bird in a rite of dark wisdom, placed in a close connection with non-social or asocial powers of life and death. Hence the frequent comparison of novices with, on the one hand, ghosts, gods, or ancestors, and, on the other, with animals or birds. They are dead to the social world, but alive to the asocial world. 324 Joseph Sitterson can thus rightfully defend the potential value in the Mariners psychic disintegration to the extent that it makes the protagonist aware of spiritual depth. 325 The demonstration of self-consciousness as mixed blessing can be seen as
Coleridges Ancient Mariner, and the Pattern of Infernal Influence, Studies in English Literature, 15001900 38, no. 4 (1998): 64767. 323 David Miall, Guilt and Death: The Predicament of the Ancient Mariner, Studies in English Literature, 15001900 24, no. 4 (1984): 63353. 324 Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982), 27. 325 Joseph Sitterson, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Freudian Dream Theory, Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature 18 (1982):


part of the Romantic idea that increased awareness is equated with an increase in suffering. According to Sitterson, Coleridge believed that human interpretation of manifest life in terms of invisible import was a kind of omening, a grasping after truth in a mysterious and changeable world where eternal verity can be suggested on both philosophical and religious terms (by Platos Forms and Christianitys God respectively) but can be guaranteed by neither. 326 For Sitterson, the Romantic author affirmed that while the visible world revealed an underlying and ascending unity of being culminating in humanity, he remained carefully speculative concerning such a hierarchy above or invisible to us. 327 Humanity sits above the rest of creation, by dint of conscious awareness, but not without forging real and intimate links with other creatures whereby we remain amenable to a conversation with/in nature. The Mariner and his ghastly crew are moved, both through the seas and the allegory, by a deep and mysterious spirit:
Under the keel nine fathom deep From the land of mist and snow The spirit slid: and it was He That made the Ship to go. (l. 382385)

Until, that is, high noon, when the ship again becomes as still as the day. Like Victor Frankenstein, the Mariner is haunted by some dread spirit of the nature he has offended; Because he knows, a frightful fiend / Doth close behind him tread. (l. 455456) His offence against Nature cannot be hidden in a world where all is connected, so his sin against life chases him across the seas, not willing to let go until his conscious awareness comes to a full realisation of the damaging nature of his actions. Finally drawing in to the white and silent light of his homeland bay, the mariner sees the crimson colours of many shadows rising from it. (l. 507510) The red pitch of guilt recedes again, however, when numerous seraphs, Each one a lovely light (l. 522), rise out of the corpses of his seagoing companions to act as signals to the mariners small crew of rescuers from on shore. The mariner responds to his now shriven rescuers by having his tale wrenchd / With a woeful agony, from his frame. (l. 611612) The phrase elicits an image of corporeal instinct, a bodily force that cannot be resisted, let alone fabricated, a Natural law operating beyond the authority of the reasoning mind. In blessing the water-snakes, the Mariner reverses the curse of the original garden, and in acting as vehicle for and immanent witness to the bodily impulse to honour life beyond any conventional form of judgment (aesthetic or moral), he goes beyond good and evil into the wisdom of ritual. Here light is born out of darkness while traditionally inherited categories are reversed, synthesised, returned, and left in play; only the story is left, with its ecocentric advice: He prayeth well who loveth well / Both man and bird and beast. (l. 64546) Coleridges Mariner is a sojourner between worlds, forced through a chain of events explicable according to the logic of ritual such that his crime as well as his redemption indicate a mystical union between material and symbolic realms a web of life that cannot be escaped but that we can certainly discolour. Although breaking the spell by telling of its effects may not be adequate medicine to cure it, the Mariners release from his curse is secured when he makes it public.

1735. 326 Sitterson, Freudian Dream Theory, 1819. 327 Joseph Sitterson, Unmeaning Miracles in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, South Atlantic Review 46, no. 1 (1981): 19. Sitterson pays careful attention to both the neoplatonic (and pagan/Plotinian) and Christian streams of Coleridges thought in his analysis.


Mary Shelleys Frankenstein: the undying spirit of quest goes wrong In Coleridges Mariner, the accursed sojourner tells his tale of woe, drawing the sympathetic listener into a ritual space of trial and redemption. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley utilises a similar narrative framework in her dystopic cautionary tale against instrumental technoscience, inserting the ambitious explorer Walton between the tale and its reader to represent the sociocultural zeitgeist of Enlightenment aspiration that acts as historical context for the novel. 328 Like the Mariner, Doctor Victor Frankenstein perpetrates a crime against nature and finds himself removed from the conventional mores and company of his society, but Frankensteins return to the daylight reality of rationalistic consciousness comes via his story as told to the adventurer Walton. The doctor believes he is travelling towards the light of the technoscientific telos paradise regained, or the heaven on earth of improved material conditions by working with the profane and shadowy materials of the world of matter on behalf of the greater common good. That a religious or metaphysical drive lurks not far behind his venture is made clear as he explains that his work was designed to supplant the limits of the mortal frame: Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. (Frankenstein, 52) His avowed (Heraclitean and Baconian) aim to work through the darkness of the natural world and its inevitable gamut of sufferings leads him to reveal its secrets. As the moon gazed on my midnight labours, he relates, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. (53) He resorts to dabbling among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortur[ing] the living animal to animate the lifeless clay in his chiaroscuro gothic turret of heroically endured, secret toil. 329 The quest after grand light, then, leads him into the liminal darkness. From here he desires to follow the masters of modern technoscience, like Professor Waldman, who have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows. (47) Many nineteenth century voices lamented, meanwhile, the degradation of nature against the darkening gloom of industrialisation and the clamour of the factories and the tinkling of the tills as the age of revolution gave way to the age of capitalism and empire. 330 Against the seemingly unstoppable wave of industrialisation, Frankensteins capacity to learn humility from his trials is compromised by his complicity with a force greater than himself: faith in progress. His nightmarish passage fails as a ritual of redemption because he cannot love his creation and his downfall at the hands of his monster thus encapsulates the tragic success of industrial technoscientific myth: progress at any price. The doctor aims to fulfil a vision filled with the light of human improvement only to suffer being hounded to the ends of the earth and his ultimate demise by the shadow arising from his own dark project. As Bate notes, the Enlightenment desire to master nature proves to be endarkening. (Song of the Earth, 51) In mythic terms, this is because the technoscientific quest, rationalised under the light of reason, reaches into the depths of the world womb in order to satisfy the yearning at
Maurice Hindle, introduction to Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (London: Penguin Books, 1992) vii. 329 53. Hutchings points out that Frankenstein approaches nature as a scientific conquistador, desiring, in a spirit of Baconian enterprise, to dominate and control nature for his own instrumental ends. Hutchings, Ecocriticism, 184. 330 Peter Marshall, Natures Web: Rethinking Our Place on Earth (New York: Paragon House, 1994): on darkening gloom (270); on clamour of factories (267).


its ontological heart: the desire to usurp the fount of regeneration from both God and Nature. This is Prometheus shadow. In this guise Frankenstein becomes capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter after much time spent in painful labour, finally arriving at a birthing scene that refreshes what has supposedly been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world. (Frankenstein, 51) Expelled from the garden, Promethean over-reachers weld their intense interest in the physical facts of the natural world with a paternalistic pastoral/agricultural fantasy. The agenda made obscure amongst a welt of rationalisation and justification is that a male divinity should be seen to breathe life into inert matter. In this, Shelleys modern Prometheus both steals heavenly flame and combusts human lungs with the spirit of breath. But the doctors trials reflect those hounding technoscientific society, from the time of the books publication to our current ecological malaise. The persistence of technoscientific myth is encapsulated when Frankenstein farewells Walton, openly wondering if another may not succeed where he himself has failed. (210) In his late letters, narrator Walton reveals the way the doctor reiterates the power of a strong will against natural forces: the spirit of technoscientific man is unrelenting and unrepentant. Frankenstein goes to darkness not to learn from it the teachings of dissolution, but to piece together, in the shadows, a malignant version of the light-telos he inherits and embraces. If the wisdom of ritual darkness involves scattering the prized unity of the sovereign self, however, then one aspect of this process impinges upon the doctor. He accepts, on behalf of the great technoscientific myth of ascent (the idea that the quality of human life will inevitably be improved with progress in material practices), the mantle of depersonalisation that is the cross under which such a spirit groans. The true scientific explorer into the unknown operates according to an understanding that he toils on behalf of the greater good, and that his personal feelings can and should be marginalised or suppressed in this quest. The doctor rises to each challenge, taking heart from the improvement which every day takes place in science and mechanics, continuously urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, even while his human nature turned with loathing from [his] occupation. (5253) Such self-martyrdom reflects a paternalistic ideology of superiority through suffering, where greatness is defined in terms of the personal pain which results from the consciousness of loss which cannot be comprehended by other men. 331 The exacerbated capacity to comprehend mans alienation from the oneness of the truly divine perceived by Walling as the flaw of the well intentioned bringer of knowledge is a direct corollary of his exile from his imagined home in ethereal light. 332 The painful consequence of increased consciousness is redolent of the lonely place of humanity cut loose from kinship with its God and unable to retrieve its ancient embeddedness in Nature. (Walling, 61) In this context James Rieger claims that the brilliant, eternal light of the North Pole towards which Walton and the protagonists speed reverses Miltons dark flames and signifies a direct ratio of increase between the knowledge and the loneliness of all northward discoverers. The allegorical meaning is plain: absolute isolation is reached before absolute enlightenment. 333 Harold Bloom

Robert Kiely, Frankenstein, in Mary Shelley: Modern Critical Views, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985), 68. 332 William Walling, Victor Frankensteins Dual Role, in Mary Shelley, 61. Compare Byrons Prometheus, in which mans funereal destiny matches His wretchedness and his resistance, / And his sad unallied existence. 333 James Rieger, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, in Mary Shelley, 51. Rieger also notes that in invoking Night spirits to his aid, Frankenstein begins the chase to the sunlit, frozen arctic, where the twofold metaphor of ice and sunlight [is] emblematic of the unlawful quest. (53)


likewise comments on the Romantic mythology of the self unable to bear the self, the disease of an excessive, solitary and ravaged consciousness seeking first for consolation, then for revenge, and finally for self-destruction that will be apocalyptic, that will bring down the creator with his creature. 334 This Byronic individual is condemned to suffer guilt and isolation for the grandeur of his aspirations, a mythic composite of the Titan, a fallen Adam, and an enchained Satan, represented by Frankenstein, who asserts an identity among all three, as well as pointing to the disintegrative sense of incompleteness that is mans fate under the orthodox deity. (Walling, 60) Bloom claims that the bitter development from Adam to fallen angel is the imaginative kernel of the novel and is meant to remind the reader of the novels epigraph from Miltons Paradise Lost (Bloom, 7):
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mold me man? Did I solicit thee From darkness to promote me?

The monster, to Walton, compares himself directly to Satan:

When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. (Frankenstein, 213)

His exile is exacerbated over even Satans, however, by dint of his horrible aloneness: Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone. (213) The monsters reading of Paradise Lost reveals to it that like Adam, it was united by no link to any other being in existence; but guarded and loved by his creator, the first man was comparatively prosperous, leading the monster to consider itself identified instead with Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me. (126, cf Life of Adam and Eve) Occasional dreams of Paradise, where the angelic countenances of amiable and lovely creatures breathed smiles of consolation upon the monsters furrowed brow, were dashed repeatedly by the disappearance of its creator. (127) With no avenue of supplication available, the abandoned monster instead turned its bitterness to a curse of alienation from the earth and its other creatures. The lack of kinship relations between humanity and the rest of the world here becomes more than just a problem of mythic classification. Exiled from the animist earth, modernised humanity defines itself as set apart from its environment, and this lack of identification, exacerbated by our supposed kinship with an otherworldly, transcendent light, breeds contempt. Technoscientific myth concentrates its power over the earth by turning away towards its true home of light in the eternal elsewhere. The transformation of the earth is an operation that follows the way clay receives the breath of life, or the way the body of nature receives the lightning of the mind. But such analogies can take on a life of their own. Consider, for instance, the fact that at the age of fifteen the young Frankenstein witnesses a most violent and terrible thunder-storm, during which an old and beautiful oak is extinguished by a stream of fire, leaving only a blasted stump. (4041) The soliloquy that follows reveals how this event impressed upon Frankenstein the immutable laws of destiny, updating his scientific ambitions from the alchemists to the subject of electricity but only putting spark to flame in a new but related direction. This scene may be compared to that later one whereby the doctor, then travelling through England with his vibrant colleague Clerval, recognises in his own dejected frame

Harold Bloom, introduction to Mary Shelley, 8.


the result of his torture at the hands of his creation. But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I [am] a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others, and intolerable to myself. (155) The dreaded spectre (60) of a dashed dream (56) has gotten out of control and is described in terms of the wild natural forces that were originally intended to be brought under the humanistic sway. 335 Further association between the monster and the wildness of natural forces is provided by the description given to the impossibility of pursuing it. Such a course is compared to an attempt to overtake the winds or confine a mountain-stream with a straw. (7576) As the myth of technoscientific reason seeks further to contain such uncontrollable natural forces, so the repressed seeks return in increasingly violent terms. It is in this sense that Paul Shepard equates such reason with Gods intellectual dominion over Nature, recognising in Gothic self-perception the private soul as a battleground between the powers of light and darkness in which Gods victory was a human victory. (Shepard, 251) In this compound, writes Mary Thornburg, the light aspect of human consciousness desperately struggles to disguise and if possible deny the existence of unacceptable and unconscious truths, creating a repressed darkness that can be strange and terrible upon return. 336 The seeming victory of technoscientific light over the previously immutable forces of life and death reveals a catastrophic darkness that haunts it at its very inception, which returns when the beauty of the dream [has] vanished, and breathless horror and disgust replace the doctors hopes. (Frankenstein, 56) At a collective and archetypal level, Frankenstein represents the technoscientific enterprise, a particularly explicit example of the repressed that haunts the drive to overcome mortal limits and dwell immortal in celestial effulgence. Humanity following the rise and rise of the Industrial Revolution becomes imprisoned and haunted by its technoscientific success, just as Frankenstein has the tables turned on him by his creation. Slave, the monster reproaches the doctor,
I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master obey! (162)

The human race is not merely threatened with ecological disaster; it is harried to the brink of the very chaos it set out to displace by the monster it hoped would save it. Frankensteins deepening subjugation to his dark double becomes a dance of death. 337 But every dance requires partners, even unsuitable or unhappy ones; and any mythological system composes relations of kin for this reason, even when they are reduced to terms of damaging reduction or dualistic antagonism. The sense of kinship felt between the monster, his creator, Adam and Satan in Frankenstein crystallises the thread of alienation running all the way through the framework of the modernising impetus to overcome the earth. Frankenstein himself alludes to the links that bind the light of ascent above with the dark
Mellor notes that in the act of attempting to control and utilise lightning Frankenstein is stealing the spark of being, the very life of nature, the source of both love and electricity. She points out, for instance, that Percy Shelleys Prometheus Unbound (Act 4, Scene 4.1, lines 27679) explicitly associates electricity with love, light, and life itself: Sun-like lightnings Pierce the dark soil, and as they pierce and pass, / Make bare the secrets of the earths deep heart. Mellor, Feminism and Ecology, 75. 336 Mary K. Patterson Thornburg, The Monster in the Mirror: Gender and the Sentimental/Gothic Myth in Frankenstein (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1987), 38. Denied elements include the demonic, chaos, death, violence, the unconscious, the wilderness, sensuality and sexual passion. (39) 337 Paul Sherwin, Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe, in Mary Shelley, 143.


matter of banishment below, in a passage that implicates the over-reaching of Enlightenment science in his failed quest. His overriding ambition, which once carried him through its inevitable travails, on his death-bed serves
only to plunge me lower in the dust. All my speculations and hopes are as nothing; and, like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell. I trod heaven in my thoughts, but how am I sunk! a high destiny seemed to bear me on, until I fell, never, never again to rise. (Frankenstein, 204)

Just as for Heraclitus, Frankensteins depths match evenly the heights towards which he aspired. For the sake of the whole earth, it is to be hoped that the ecological crisis does not sink all creatures so far into the darkness as the imagined heaven of light extends into the infinity of eternity. Certainly, for Walton, the dangerous quest of science unqualified by ethical concerns is finally abandoned in the face of impending doom, to the fervent relief of his crew.

Conclusion The Romantic revaluation of the earthly does not arise as if from nowhere, as is evidenced by the way Shelley has her Doctor Frankenstein drawing on alchemical histories such as those of Paracelsus. But alternatives to the empirical and methodical scientific reasoning central to the project of Enlightenment abound in western history and the Romantics drew on many of them; from the rich seams of christian immanentism glowing in the later Novalis to medieval mysticisms (such as those of Meister Eckhart), and from the renaissance neoplatonism utilised by Coleridge to more unorthodox lines of thought, such as those of Spinoza. 338 Yet even with all these revolutionary threads, it did not simply dismiss Enlightenment philosophy, but sought to extend and transcend its definition of reason so that the beauty of the earth could be seen to speak out against the way it was being treated under the early impact of the Industrial Revolution. The expansion of the psyche associated with this shift away from explicit anthropocentrism is necessarily mythic; it explores the boundaries of human consciousness and ideas of nonhuman kin as if self-aware consciousness were not alienated from nature but a living manifestation of it. For Novalis this exploration would finally be synthesised in a complete totalisation of all knowledge into a mystic whole. His poesy bears out the very idea, adumbrated in the Earliest Systematic Philosophy of German Idealism, that there could be a mythology of reason. Although the psyche remains impenetrable and mysterious, it is also more ecocentric, as if reason could be found in nature as well as in the human mind, and as if the human mind could somehow be seen to reveal those inner secrets of the earth much Enlightenment philosophy deemed penetrable only at the hands of dry and methodical scientific experimentation. In order to transform the Enlightenments faith in reason such that it might serve a wider vision of life, then, Romantic poetry and philosophy incorporated certain valuable strains of Enlightenment thinking in its drive towards a unifying vision, even as it rejected those ideas it saw standing in the way of such a project. In Creed of a Savoyard Priest, from his mile, Rousseau collapses such tensions into an aphoristic phrase: The grandest ideas of the Divine nature come to us from reason only. Behold the spectacle of nature; listen to the inner voice. 339 This voice speaks, as it has
338 339

Rigby tracks many of these influences in Part One of her Topographies of Nature. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, mile, trans. B. Foxley (New York: Dent, 1974), 259.


done since literate antiquity, through the only book Rousseaus priest will keep open the book of nature. In this good and great volume I learn to serve and adore its Author. There is no excuse for not reading this book, for it speaks to all in a language they can understand. (270) Whether or not such a creed can compose harmony out of the competing voices of postmodern plurality (or more prosaically of the competing blocs of the global marketplace) is another matter. Yet Rousseaus attempt to read nature in modern terms must be continued today and another Romantic turn to the same source of undeniably opaque but vital wisdom can be found in Wordsworths The Tables Turned. Here, likewise, we are advised to quit our books of strife and listen instead for the wisdom of the earth; in fact, Wordsworth invites you to bring a heart / That watches and receives such that you may Come forth into the light of things, / [and] Let nature be your teacher. 340 Coupe comments on this poem in terms directly related to this thesis:
Far from assuming that whatever lies outside human consciousness is chaos, to which that consciousness gives order, [Wordsworth] implies that human beings discover meaning are illuminated when they suspend the meddling intellect which misshapes the beauteous forms of things and attune themselves with a larger enlightenment, which includes mountains and waters as well as minds. (Coupe, Green Studies Reader, 1)

Coupe further cites John G. Rudys Zen-inspired interpretation of this poem, which states that in order to encounter the light of things themselves, one must shed the notion of light as emerging from a separate source. 341 This kind of realisation asks that we forego the traditional western sense that mind, as light, somehow enters into and orders the chaos of earth according to its own transcendent set of operating rules and procedures. While luminaries such as Byron will not fall neatly into my necessarily limited way of reading the movement as if it were a general tendency and not a myriad ferment, I feel there is an enduring value in the way many Romantic poets and philosophers rebelled against the Enlightenment assumption that the light of reason could dispel the shadows of this dim realm. Earth, itself, that is to say, can be the very home within and out of which human light is said to emerge a realignment that makes a remarkably good fit with the Aboriginal Australian ideas presented by John Bradley (Introduction, 1618), as well as with the miracle seen, by Michel Serres, in Thaless geometry of volume (Chapter 6). Romanticism also maintained the Enlightenments movemen away from traditional religion, combined with creative uses of classical texts, and the idea of human selfsufficiency. Goethe suggests as much in his poem Prometheus, where the Titanic protagonist sides with humanity against cloud-enshrouded Zeus, who will not turn an ear to the complaints arising from earth. 342 Refusing homage to the distant and haughty storm-god, Prometheus asks: Have you ever relieved / The burdened mans anguish? He answers his own rhetorical question with the new race of men, formed in his own image to likewise suffer, weep, enjoy and be glad and never to heed [Zeus], / Like me! But while the Promethean urge to dispense with a transcendent sky-god to focus on more earthly matters may have been shared by major proponents across the spectrum of Enlightenment and Romantic thinkers, the latter tended to eschew the simple faith in progress favoured by
William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned; an evening scene, on the same subject, Lyrical Ballads, 1056. 341 John G. Rudy, Wordsworth and the Zen Mind: The Poetry of Self-Emptying (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996), 109. 342 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Prometheus (trans. Michael Hamburger), in German Poetry from 17501900, ed. R. Browning (New York: Continuum, 1984), 3843.


many of the former. This left the Romantics with a new dialectic of difficulty, however. On the one hand remained a classically tragic vision of humanity as the meaning-making being at the edge of an abyss, while on the other stood a powerfully evocative image of humanity as an immanent flowering of conscious nature in the moment of the here and now. The mechanical model of the universe, then, could be transformed into one in which human consciousness embodies nature in a way perfectly reasonable, but only at a new cost. The reason many ecocritics, myself included, think this cost is worthwhile is because it entails a conception of the universe in which humanity resides on an earth vibrant with life that is valuable in and of itself. Rousseaus conception that there is reason in nature meets Wordsworths teacher, an earth which need not be anthropocentrically defined as inert or chaotic until it is ordered by a mind of light from above, but that elevates and heals, as well as informs. In Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth claims that Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her; (l. 12223) for she informs the mind (12526), raises us above evil and selfishness with lofty thoughts (12829), and heals the wounds of solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief. (143) 343 The worshipper of Nature, it is suggested by Wordsworth, comes unwearied in that service (15253) because they discover that there is ultimately no separation between mind and body, intellect and earth. The Romantic truth of life exists unsullied in nature, operating within as well as without the human in an intangibly linked, holistic mystery that can be experienced by the individual without synthetic aids or a priestly caste. 344 When the romantic consciousness expands, then, it can find a sort of ultimate unity in nature. German philosopher Schelling makes this plain: Nature should be Mind made visible, Mind the invisible Nature. 345 The absolute identity Schelling sees between the two leads us to the logical conclusion that the earth, as well as ourselves, must have agency. Rather than order being imposed from without, it arises immanently; or, for Percy Shelley, light can be drawn from those eternal regions where the owl-winged faculty of calculation dare not ever soar by the poet inspired by a power that arises from within.346 Erasmus Darwin placed this autochthonous evolutionary outcome at the peak of a great chain of being in his poem The Temple of Nature. 347 Hence without parent by spontaneous birth / Rise the first specks of animated earth. (l. 12) Each point on the living line (7) is converted to a higher form as energy is transformed from the elements to plants and animals and finally to human consciousness, which is shown to be a good deal less exalted in its origins than we might otherwise imagine:
Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd, Of language, reason, and reflection proud, With brow erect who scorns this earthly sod, And styles himself the image of his God;
343 344

William Wordsworth, Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, Lyrical Ballads, 113


William Blake, a poet whose potential importance to the argument of this thesis would be favourably added to any further investigation, famously derided the hierarchy of the Church and the way it stood between, rather than for, the individual and their possibilities for immediate illumination of a sensual and spiritual truth in one. 345 F. W. J. Schelling, Ideas for a Philosophy of History, trans. E. E. Harris and P. Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 42. 346 Percy Bysse Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 2, ed. M. H. Abrams (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 798. 347 Erasmus Darwin, The Temple of Nature (London: Joseph Johnson, 1803), cited in Romantic Natural Histories (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), ed. Ashton Nichols, 129131.


Arose from rudiments of form and sense, An embryon point, or microscopic ens! (5358)

The earth is animated of its own accord, and we with it, which is another, Romantic, way of revisioning human consciousness beyond (or prior to) the Fall. Here is Orpheus singing in the forest with the animals, seeing the light intermingled with the darkness against which it finds relief, giving voice to the earth rather than seeking only to order it to an abstracted vision of geometrical regularity and endless profitability.


6 Light and the Commodity

The contemporary mythos of light, commodified transcendence, and incandescent cities burning bright with consumption
This investigation is inspired by, and concludes with, analysis of the way light is construed in terms of the dominant contemporary western worldview. This concluding chapter draws together the threads of myth that underpin life in the contemporary west and that have been discussed in the previous chapters. In doing so it seeks to proffer some examples of the kinds of uses to which myth theory may be put in the service of current ecocritical thought. It maintains that the way human relations with the earth have been and continue to be construed within the western tradition betrays a complex crystallisation of factors that cannot be divorced from the relatively brief and recent history of human settlement; the agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions from which it profits; the military power that accompanies it; and the way ideas of truth, reason and home are composed within it. It concludes that light can be construed to symbolise all of the positive value s it is perennially attributed while also being a figure that works to transform western loyalties from their overtly anthropocentric paradigm to a more ecocentric point of view. In ancient Sumer, archaeologists have shown, the rise to power of the sun-king, operating as the chosen representative of divine will, is contemporary with the advent of permanent war. The leader champions a powerful military presence and seeks to exert dominion as universally and consistently as the sun, reborn every day and free of the waning cycles recognised as part of a lunar god, which is slowly marginalised from this point on. That such a composition of universal and unchanging authority should eventually come to dominate conceptualisations of power at the head of world empires comes as little surprise, although late Romes choice of the Christian religion over other religious complexes with a God of light at their head may. The idea that this kind of universalistic dominion should over time shed nationalistic biases to become extended as an empire of capital seems a reasonable suggestion given the consistency, from the birth of the agricultural settlement, of its goal: increased profits without regard for the cost to the earth. But where ancient civilisations crumbled following ecological degradation (amongst other things), the universal dominion of capital which remains a lust after the transcendent power of pure light on worldly terms, as I will show may offer no such recourse for another to follow its trail of devastation. 348 An aspect of the ancient world that the empire of capital does retain, however, is its reliance on military might to ensure its version of universal peace and prosperity. Consistently, complex collectives profit from the subjugation of the earth, while an elite class profits exponentially from within the master society, with military force never far from their side. My second theme, according to which light is construed as symbolic authority, relates to the way ideas of abiding truth are defined. Again the solar image forms an integral part of this construal. Where the sun-king stepped in as the worldly representative of timeless power, Platos blazing (and bedazzling) solar disc outside of the cave represents

Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive (Melbourne: Allen Lane, 2005). Collapse details the way societies choose to maintain or lose ecological viability, pointing out that we have more to lose in todays globalised world than ever.


eternal truth, an unchanging logos reliable beyond the vagaries of corporeality. This is not merely a duality of purity over relative muddiness, however; in a fashion also attractive to Gnostic tendencies, there is a sense in which Platos light can be found within, beyond the inevitable confusions of earthly existence and our opaque sensory filters. The well-reasoned Platonic path towards this realisation, however, is paved on behalf of an elite, masculine corps with a vested interest in the maintenance of their own privilege. It is also defined, in all its sophisticated brilliance, against a mythos seemingly parochial, primitive, and decadent by comparison. Thus does Athenian academic analysis overwhelm the metaphorical worlds once enjoyed openly by the pagan gods of place, such as nymphs and satyrs, and the folk wisdom that never entirely dies but can be marginalised, co-opted, and diminished by the hegemony of societys dominant modus operandi. This shift must be seen as part of a larger move away from identification with, and towards subjugation of, the natural, nonhuman world that continues today. It involves the reification of a certain type of rationalising force venerated as logos (often to become associated with instrumental reason), which can be defined against the supposedly superstitious mythos of the country-dweller, those remaining under the sway of irrational religious faith, or any of a variety of others situated outside the bounds of sanctioned reason. The third major theme explored in this thesis is the way light is construed in terms of the human experience of home and its shadow land of exile. While the Biblical myth of the Fall, so dominant in the framework of western mythic history, can be read in many ways, it undoubtedly signifies an archetypal moment at the groundwork of the agricultural rationale. Banished from a garden of earthly delights, the protohumans are concurrently exiled from their God of pure, loving, light. Distanced from intimate relations with perfect abundance in both material and symbolic forms at once, they are cast out to earn their keep by the sweat of their brow. Heavenly light, according to this metaphysic, is and remains incompatible (in terms of working relations) with earthly existence. That the medieval construal of this universal dominion should posit a realm of purity over a demonised sphere of pantheistic entities seems a logical conclusion. The model (or theomachy) whereby some element of divine power suppresses another deemed to be threatening is common in many mythologies. When one storm god defeats a rival it is generally a significant narrative step towards the composition of a revised cosmos. Thereafter the creation of the universe will be attributed to the victor, whose light will shine over the world and its people, as the defeated god is imprisoned in dark depths, demonised as a force of chaos, threat, or impoverishment in general, or simply banished to ineffectuality. The many aspects of this theme that change (genders, familial relations, extent of dualistic tension, expulsion of defeated deity) do so in accord with specific historical and cultural elements, while the general function installing and maintaining a dominant political regime remains constant. When such regimes are transformed from religious and/or nationalistic empires to one based on a globalising (universalising) dominion of materialistic consumption, space is opened for the installation of a worldwide, ecologically destructive regime of commodity fetishism. This system feeds on the darkness it denies in both material and psychological terms: a fossil fuel fetish (see below) burns our civilisations cities bright in the night, in an addiction we seem incapable of breaking, while endless streams of targeted light tie us into a world wide web of commodification and its attendant, ephemeral satisfactions. Our vision of light cloaks the planet, forcing the ancient mystery of the darkness out of sight and out of mind, so that the dominant mode of belief is constrained within a broken, limiting and ecologically damaging vision of what could be. The contemporary Fall, then, continues to alienate us from the earth in its fashion of attempting to create Paradise Regained.


Today many lines of tension continue between notions of value variously labelled Enlightenment and Romantic, logos and mythos, reason and ritual. The Enlightenment drive to co-opt Gods mental capacities seeks a seemingly trustworthy intellectual source compared with the limited realm of human history, susceptible as it is to superstitious beliefs and traditional nonsense; but in turn a new kind of priestly caste must be validated, with new ways of ascertaining truth. While great epistemological gains concerning the nature of earthly life result, they are commonly utilised to subjugate the earth. Enlightenment reason betrays a strong anthropocentrism, aligned as it is with the mechanisation of productive forces developed during the time of the Industrial Revolution. In contrast, one Romantic response is to seek the light of truth in Nature, on earthly terms that do not deny but celebrate the flux and flurry of earthly life. Comparatively, Romantic art and philosophy turns back towards organic cycles, the mysteries and wisdom inherent in the physical world, in a way that must be seen as much a precursor to contemporary ecophilosophical positions as it is a legitimate flowering of a persuasion that has always run counter to the modernising tendencies of dominant civilising processes. While aspects of this ecologically significant response are limited by the concept of what Natures voice might be imagined to say to us given a more sensitive hearing, we need not discard the attempt. Contemporary technoscience operates within this tension, continuing to seek ever more effective ways of ordering nature to human benefit while (at least sometimes) taking cues from the natural world and the way it seems to be responding to human intervention. While the light at the end of each of these tunnels may be construed in the same terms the quest for sustainable (everlasting) abundance it takes on vastly different hues depending on the other component parts of its mythic model. Among these is the way in which our kinship with other animals is constructed, whether or not we are alone as the crown of creation with self-aware intellectual capacities and to what extent we seem to be in a master/slave relationship with the rest of the world. Further research into the mythic framework of these areas, especially with reference to the current work of theorists such as Louise Westling and Donna Haraway, would extend the findings of this thesis in valuable ways.

Eternal Feasting in the Halls of Immortality: Cities of Light and the Desacralised New Jerusalem And so we come to contemporary society and the mythic constellations that retain deep and abiding influence within it. In accord with its aims, this analysis now proceeds to outline the ways these influences are manifest today and in what ways this affects our relations with the earth (and what the ecological cost of this might be). Its roughly chronological narrative form has sought to place current circumstances in a deep and complex cultural genealogy, placing each major development of the mythic construal of light into material and symbolic context. If there is one theme that remains prevalent throughout it is that of colonisation the process whereby forces, places, peoples or ideas tainted with the brush of darkness are marginalised by the forces considered to be of the light, even when those light forces actively feed on and profit from that which they deny. This structure is a powerful narrative authorised with reference to myth. It operates in a certain way according to the dictates of the societies involved and the appetites of settlement civilisation exacerbate its ecologically damaging tendencies. This concluding chapter pays particular attention to the way todays forms of light veneration make members of globalising settlement civilisation complicit with the over-


consumption of the fuels that fire our habit. This situation can be concentrated into one mythic image: that of a favoured people enjoying a seemingly endless feast in a great city of light where death and darkness are banished. This image of Paradise Regained is a desacralised version of the New Jerusalem imagined for Gods followers in the book of Revelations. The love and social justice that rules the Christian version of this vision is hardly evident in todays incandescent centres of consumption, however, which comparatively worship the commodities fetishised as symbols of human power over the earth and its law of mortality. Considering the cities of light as a desacralised New Jerusalem illuminated by fossil fuels, this chapter proceeds to investigate the mythic framework informing the way consumer society (led by but no longer the sole province of the west) promotes an anthropocentric and unsustainable ransacking of the earths resources. Such material practices are licensed by a disenchantment of matter that is coupled with the fetishisation of both the fuels that fire the process and the commodities produced by it. The ecocritical movement counters this by seeking to demythologise the disinterestedness feigned on behalf of the scientifically rational, objective observer and by remythologising the earth and its myriad lifeforms as a place of intrinsic value above and beyond the purposes to which it is (and they are) put in service to humanity. While this thesis takes the shift into settlement civilisation as the single most significant change in human consciousness the planet has seen, it also tracks the endlessly creative way the west has allowed its worldview to be transformed; and in this is its great hope for further cultural change in attitudes towards the earth. Rather than positing another version of Paradise Regained, however, I argue with Carolyn Merchant that an attitude of negotiation within a complex web of the natural, nonhuman world is required if our mode of living is to remain viable in a flourishing earth. 349 This renegotiation will not simply reverse a harmful binary, which could unreflectively feminise the earth in a way Louise Westling points out would be dangerous (Westling, 16667), but must conceptualise the earth as a complex system within which human consciousness arises and upon which it depends. As Westling points out, imagining ourselves perfectly reintegrated with nature is impossible, but the creative and collective activity of mythopoeia provides new narratives for humanity and new, nonanthropomorphic and non-anthropocentric metaphors for the earth. (16667)

Merchant suggests a partnership ethic between human and non-human life, with moral consideration for both including biodiversity and minorities, and that operates in a dynamic relationship with changing nature. (Reinventing Eden, 224-28)



Image courtesy NASA

With regard to the way the symbol of light is construed in terms of its ecological import, I explore the mythic element of lights contemporary deployment in relation to commodification. First let us consider the cities of light as if from a distance; as Evan Eisenberg would point out, as heirs of the new Tower of the sky god and its satellite imagery. (Eisenberg, 434) From space, at night, our planet looks afire with glowing hives of activity. Although comparable satellite images taken during daylight hours reveal a steadily increasing expansion of urban areas almost worldwide, the images compiled on moonless nights reveal a stark and undeniable beauty at the centres of civilisation. 350 Predictably, the highest intensities of light occur in the United Sates, Japan, and western Europe (which Serres called a city, as powerful as oceans, deserts, or icecaps; Natural Contract, 1617). Rates of urbanisation continue to increase exponentially, at levels comparable to the amplification of population in general which means that as population grows, more of the new people are moving to cities, which spread further out across the landscape over potentially fecund land, absorbing and reflecting heat in tarmac and cement where previously vegetation transformed carbon dioxide to oxygen. The overall effect (along with other related causes) is indicative of an ecological crisis compounded by human activities. Clearly this situation cannot be divorced from the 10,000 year history of urbanisation. But why exactly is all this fuel burning, so bright it lights up the planet at night? What does this massive increase in light signify to us, its creators, in both material and symbolic terms? This question concerns whether or not we materialise this enormous light on behalf of a symbolic enterprise. The list of mundane benefits that answer this question must be considered first. These include the safety and security of those out at night (recalling the capacity of Nanna the Mesopotamian moon-god to provide the same service in the earliest

NASA scientist Marc Imhoff spent a number of years looking at the Earth from space, and found it remarkable how human development of land looked a lot like biological growth. Like mold on an orange, he says. NASA EOS Project Science Office, Seeing the Light, Earth Observatory (2009), http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Lights/lights_2.php.


cities); not to mention longer hours for both work and leisure activities and of course therefore more consumption. Increased access, since the Industrial Revolution, to better burning fuels and the technology to fire them into action has ensured the growth of our cities of light. Do any of these eminently justifiable reasons require symbolic analysis? No sustained critique could do without it. The furious activity signified by the cities of light, symbolic of our insatiable fuel fetish, is carried out as a realisation of our mythic framework, which in turn is transformed alongside developments in technoscientific capacities. The evolution of the ability to mobilise ever-greater productive forces increases exponentially alongside divorce from everyday organic cycles, specifically of growth and decay, rise and fall, flourishing and mortality. The shift from traditionally cyclical views of time and seasonal cycles to the linear development of history (not specific to, but deeply embedded in, settlement civilisations) is well documented. 351 As the nonhuman world is relatively distanced (or walled out) by the cities focus on stored surplus and human culture, so we are left sheltered from nature, carrying out our sociocultural discussions indoors, 352 immured by privilege from recalling the immutable equation of nature for every exchange, a sacrifice. Blinded by the light of their successes, settlement civilisations forget what they owe the earth upon which they depend. Today people swarm into the polis at a faster rate than ever; the flame not only endures but is heightened in its promise, sharper in its detail, fuller (yet inevitably failing) in its capacity to satisfy the craving that in turn feeds it. During daylight hours any number of reasons can be offered for this magnification; at night, the fires burn to provide the whole phenomenon with its symbolically significant incandescence. This light I theorise as a disenchanted form of the mythic urge towards an everlasting feast in the halls of immortality: a furtive mythopoeic drive to colonise the darkness forever and leave us in eternal light, at one at last with our god of materialism, realised as the ultimate fetish, glowing upon us as the aura we accredit it, effulgent while embodied, finally having overcome the limits of corporeality, of the earth, of this mortal coil, yet all the while enjoying this enormous pleasure in bodily form. The cost of this colonisation, whereby material light banishes the dangers of the night on behalf of our new version of the eternal flame, is both ecological and spiritual. As a materialisation of an abstract principle a Platonic purity of Form that is by definition unattainable in the body this immortal light of perfection does not necessarily require the sacrifice of the earth for its worship. The way contemporary commodity culture manifests its object of fetish under the gaze of manufactured light in fact obliterates the very sense of mystery traditionally available with a concomitant pleasure of looking into the darkness for instance, of the night sky (now commonly blotted out by city lights). In this sense, it is not so much a problem of another (abstract or religious) world of light that is calling our attention and sense of responsibility away from this earth, as a selfish narrowing of anthropocentric perspective taking place within this world of manufactured light and
See, for example, Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia, 1983). The Judaeo Christian concept of linear time breaks with pagan, cyclical views along certain decisive steps towards modernity. (2) Lincoln warns, as a general tone in Theorizing Myth, of the harmful (anti-Semitic) ideological result of seeing only the negative pole of this shift in temporal perspective. Schneidau, in Sacred Discontent, sees alienation from the cyclic time of nature as indicative of the very root of western thinking, utterly indivisible from the modern psyche and an integral part of who and what we are. Herbert Schneidau, Sacred Discontent: The Bible and the Western Tradition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976). 352 Serres, Natural Contract. We are now all indoors talking to each other (2829), while concomitantly acting upon and ignoring the whole earth, living in short timescales that dont seek or recognise long-term answers. (3031)


directed attention (a concept I explain below). With the colonisation of the planet by electric light comes the idea that this is all there is to life; not only is the possible range of philosophical discourse diminished within this limit, but the potential that there could be more to life than what is manifest as materialistic commodification is diminished also. The deconstruction of a distant sky-god sitting in judgement on our souls may be welcome, then, but the turning away of human attention from the earthly conditions of life is not. If this world we have created is all there is to it, the denizens of the new eternal feast imply, lets get everything out of it that we can right now and to hell with the cost. This new, nihilistic decadence relies upon the idea, still packaged in the name of consumption despite the ecological and economical crises of 2008, that the feast can be had without personal sacrifice. Locked out of the eternal elsewhere and its impossible purity, but locked in to endless self-importance instead, we bask in the glow of manufactured light and forget the consequences of not respecting the sacrificial exchange that still takes place for us in the darkness, out of sight. The cycles demanded by the laws of organic life cannot be ignored forever, however, and our contract with nature can be deepened with a renewed recognition of our debt to the perennial laws of regeneration. This is the lesson of Gilgamesh, who travelled the path of the Sun-god through the forest darkness on his quest for immortality and failed. Although it is beyond the extent of this thesis to outline contractual remedies for the contemporary looking away upon which civilised privilege is based, a recent book exploring the human relationship with the night sky reveals the extent to which widespread light pollution in todays cities exacerbates the loss of human connection with the replenishing mysteries of the cosmos. The epigraph to Let There be Night draws a link between love of the earth and the sacred, and resistance to unchecked technological colonisation, with its claim that ever more lights drive the holiness and beauty of night back to the forests and the sea. 353 Amongst the authors who reiterate this relatively intangible loss, Kathleen Dean Moore tells a story about her friends niece patiently explaining how a long time ago, people could see the kinds of stars they had witnessed at the planetarium. The adults combined shock at this innocuous and innocent display of loss recognises that mystery is the first casualty of light pollution. (Dean Moore, Let There be Night, 11) And in contemplation of this mystery, as Jung averred, we may undertake that long, dark work of the soul, where we meet and face (and hopefully learn to integrate) our shadows; a task diminishing in an age where knowledge comes fast and easy with a few seconds on high-speed Internet. (Laurie Kutchins, LTbN, 41) Thus in taming the wild night sky, light-addicted suburbanites damage the human spirit. (David Gessner, LTbN, 1821) This occurs at least in part because drenching ourselves in artificial light forfeits a sense of belonging to the night and therefore a means of maintaining mental and spiritual wholeness. (John Daniel, LTbN, 25) The proliferation of light, then, is associated with a colonisation of the mystery of the night. Janisse Ray claims this desire for enlightenment keeps us reaching for the greater clarity and luminosity found in artificial light while, so afraid of the darkness that we banish it, we thus lose the illumination that darkness brings. (Janisse Ray, LTbN, 18182) This also brings to mind Serres belief that we are self-involved at the cost of our relations with nature in material terms. Val Plumwood calls this human self-enclosure, which accompanies, on behalf of our anthropocentric rationality, ecological denial of our

Paul Bogard, ed., Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark (LTbN) (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2008); epigraph by Henry Beston, Night on the Great Beach, from The Outermost House (1928).


embeddedness in nature. 354 Plumwood also sees the urban way of life implicated in this situation, claiming that [h]uman-centredness promotes various damaging forms of epistemic remoteness, for by walling ourselves off from nature in order to exploit it, we also lose certain abilities to situate ourselves as part of it. (Environmental Culture, 98) While we may colonise the darkness with our materially manifest light, that is, we lose the ability to see into and receive the gifts of the night and of the earth we marginalise outside the city walls, a psychological trajectory abiding alongside or within the development of technology, from ancient Sumer to todays neon-lit shopping malls. Even when lighting up the night seems a reasonable response to fear and insecurity, it can actually operate to perpetuate these states, as the self-confidence required to walk through darkness is lost and the seeming security under the light calls us to dwell solely within its safety net: James Bremner wonders how children of today, bathed endlessly in artificial light, learn courage. (James Bremner, LTbN, 184) For Mark Tredinnick, cities are brilliant white holes, factories that thrive on light and never want to stop eclipsing the darkness, insistently consuming the earth to illuminate the present and to foreshorten eternity. (Mark Tredinnick, LTbN, 153) The brightly lit mythos of consumption cannot admit it is limited by the earths capacity to continue to fuel its fires, for this would undermine the very telos it represents that we can be free of the limits of the body while still inhabiting it. This dream is organised around a failure to acknowledge the unsustainable habits upon which it is constructed. The drive Carolyn Merchant sees, in Reinventing Eden, to recreate our Paradise Lost comes with ecological damage done in real, physical terms to the earth. And it is this earth and their love of it that inspires so many ecocritics; as Laurence Coupe puts it, the critique of modernity has often been informed by the memory of a nature which has been lost, polluted, neglected or denied. 355 Both critique and the memory, he adds, cut across traditional political divisions (Coupe, Green Studies Reader, 6365); and a fictional account of the way the privileged get to inhabit the redesigned Eden, while the earth and many of its others suffer, is provided by Kenneth Burke to highlight this bipartisan truism. Burke satirises hyper-technological utopianism in the figure of Helhaven, a combination of the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel on the moon, with artificial vistas programmed into the view from its Luna-Hilton Hotel windows. 356 Like Orwells 1984, though, the material for this satire already existed at the time of writing; the tale is then a symbolic representation of the twentieth centurys direct or indirect profit derived from the polluting of some area. (Burke, Green Studies Reader, 101) Hence the Chosen, indicated in the New Jerusalem of Revelations or as the inhabitants of Dantes Paradiso, are those lucky enough to have been responsible for the despoiled earth theyve left behind, where the poor remaining are not the Sinners but simply the unlucky. (102) Havoc is wreaked on the environment of the poor in order to fund the bubble of idealised, elitist Arcadia for those who can afford it. (Coupe, Green Studies Reader, 65)


Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (London: Routledge, 2002), 97. 355 Laurence Coupe, Introduction to Part II, The Earth, Memory and the Critique of Modernity, Green Studies Reader, 63. 356 Kenneth Burke, Hyper-Technologism, Pollution and Satire, in Green Studies Reader, 96103. From Why Satire, with a Plan for Writing One, Michigan Quarterly Review 13, no. 4 (1974).


Val Plumwood agrees that the ecological cost of materialistic consumption tends to be passed on to the less privileged, often in far distant places. 357 The task remains, however, for this thesis to show how the mythic signification built into light operates to consolidate the hegemony of an ecologically damaging consumerism. I see this process manifest in two ways, in respect to the theme of light and in accord with the framework of this thesis. I call them fuel fetish and directed attention; one is portrayed graphically in the cities at night, the other is manifest as a variety of signals directing the individuals attention to the brightly lit array of consumables on offer within it. Both are theorised as replacements for the mythic relationships within a sacred or living conception of earth marginalised on behalf of the project of settlement civilisation. They are also discussed in relation to the way these materialistic replacements symbolically ritualise their own consumption, further solidifying their status as vehicles of transcendence gathered together and delivered along channels of light. These channels are conduits of a particular kind of information the light we respond to in advertisements, on billboards and television, on computer screens, in gaming culture and on the Internet, and in our very primal attraction to city lights at night so often promises that consuming stuff will confer satisfaction. In spite of the corporeal gratification promised by the light of consumption, however, which should work (according to the telos of rampant technological evolution) to confirm our ascendancy over dumb matter in the here and now, the light carried along such conduits reveal a disenchanted earth and an empty transcendence. The exchanges that promise the satisfaction of having found a home in the light of the commodity, that is to say, reveal instead a stream of consumption that satisfies at a corporeal, yet ephemeral, level. The ritual must be repeated ad nauseum if we are to truly abide in the light, keeping us addicted to the source in a way that is ecologically as well as psychologically damaging. This system trades on our traditional faith in an eternal elsewhere, which offers the vague hope that things will be better in that other place we could be soon The ephemeral satisfaction conferred by this light of materialistic consumption carries an immediate and transparent cost to its constituents one must sacrifice to the system of labour in order to be able to buy a stake in the mythos but it also hides the more opaque ecological cost of its tendency to destroy the very ground upon which it is constructed (the earth). A false order of mastery threatens its own foundations. Modern light, then, as the eternally beneficent symbol of creation, life, the good, truth, justice and forthrightness, is materially manifest in the street light, the well-lit corporate building, the neon billboard, in the television and computer screen and in the glow of the mobile phone. Inside the walls of the city, we enclose ourselves from the vicissitudes of nature with lamps aglow, indoor fires (or heating systems), the incandescent box that transmits mass media entertainment and propaganda into our lounge rooms (no need now for the wisdom of the elders), even laser cooking instruments to replace the old flame. And in the glow of this light and heat we consume; in ever-greater numbers, marked by unremitting desire, we gorge on profaned, inert stuff in an era of selective plenty. For Blumenberg, the way light is technologically manipulated (I argue mainly in order to enable the consumers gaze to be targeted by ideologues of profit) is the result of a long process. With reference to the history of theatrical lighting, he points out that technologically directed light utilises an approach that always takes as its point of departure, the dark as the natural state. (Light, 5354) In nocturnal spaces, our attention is targeted
with ever more situations of coerced vision. The connection between vision and freedom is being dissociated. Due to the dominance of the prefabricated and of

Val Plumwood, Shadow Places and the Politics of Dwelling, Australian Humanities Review, no. 44 (March 2008), http://epress.anu.edu.au/ahr/044/pdf/eco02.pdf


technologically pre-cast situations and aspects, the modern extension of sensory spheres has not become a source of freedom. The structure of this world of optical prefabrications and fixations of the gaze is once again approaching that of the cave. As a paideutic metaphor, leaving the cave is regaining real relevance. (54)

Platos dwellers in darkness, in these temples of light? This implies an interpretation of the modern heaping up and burning of fossil fuels as a gigantic engine room of deceit, a lamp around whose shadow play we cultivated primates swarm in ignorance of a greater, truer light outside the illusion. Such a conception requires its archetypal nature to be broken down into constituent parts the light of the contemporary city is organised in many different political and environmental economies around the world, with a vast array of competing ideologies. Can one form of analysis offer an effective strategy for gazing into a variegated global phenomenon? Adorno and Horkheimers critique of the Culture Industry might still provide a starting point for this. Like Tart, they diagnose a kind of mass trance in consumer society. Their subtitle Enlightenment as Mass Deception stakes out the territory of their investigation: to what extent is our innate yearning to be at one with a light recognised both as our own and as in some way transcendent of the limits we inherently meet in embodied human existence, targeted by captains of industry with little care other than for the profits that motivate them? The answer is damning and comprehensive. The Culture Industry is a mechanical monster, one-dimensionally unanimous in its subjugation of the individual in the same kind of master/slave relationship as settlement civilisation assumes over nature. (Dialectic, 94) Art is business in a society split by elitist domination and dedicated to the ascendancy of those with the strongest economic position. The familiar Frankfurt School combination of Marxist and Freudian analysis is explicit: alongside this critique of capital is found the psychological mode of enculturation in the individual, who internalises the repressive code as their own personal control. (95) The monolithic omnipotence of capital thus stamps its constituent consumers with the power of their true master (98); art forms such as film are industrialised to suit exactly the same mechanical rhythm and routine as the workplace (104), so that the authority of capitalist ideology is accepted even as we seek escape from it. (109) The ubiquitous love of novelty inherent in capitalism is thus set in a framework of unending sameness; change is ultimately and completely conservative within this dominant paradigm. (106) With so many heretofore irreconcilable elements of culture subjected equally under a single false denominator, the capitalist culture industry resembles no less than a mythic system of totalisation. (108) Just as the light of the global mythologos of capital does, the culture industry cheats its consumers out of what it endlessly promises. (111) And like the transcendence held out as attainable yet distant by a religious complex, the principle of the culture industry never releases its grip on the consumer. Finally, the individual is tolerated only as they identify with the universal quality of capital (124), which remorselessly mocks the land of eternal feasting (or milk and honey, 126) that I theorise has ever been the dream of the west. However, according to Saladdin Said Ahmed, the Culture Industry does not have a specific agenda to stupidize the mass individual; rather, it invests in the mass individuals fetishistic attitude towards commodities. 358 Mass culture is therefore the realm where individuals come together under a fascistic regime of totems and fetishism. (89) This collective trance state is compared, by Cosimo Caputo, with the way the symbol of light is considered by Levinas to represent a totalising ontological force that reduces the Other to

Saladdin Said Ahmed, Mass Mentality, Culture Industry, Fascism, Kritike 2, no. 1 (2008): 80.


the Same, 359 perpetuating a similar enforced unity to the one we have seen constructed in military terms under an imperialist sky-god of ethnocentric universalism. The psychological terms of this new dominion of identity can be seen at work, Caputo claims, in the aspiration to behave like the powerful [by] running toward light, toward the dematerialization of being. (235) Myth theorist Robert Segal sees this aspirationalism operative in the world of cinematic fame, a realm where stars are deified and the populace flock to worship them and their exploits. 360 Fans idolize stars in defiance of a reality they are concurrently aware of, as one of countless examples that could be furnished to illustrate the post-Marxist complaint that they know what they do, yet they continue to do it! 361 Segal also cites such behaviour with reference to D. W. Winnicotts theory of play, which rehearses the construction of a reality with personal meaning (Segal, 138), in this case combining myth with ritual in the cinema-going experience. (142) For Caputo, a similar aspect of the kind of desacralised worship found in the realm of fame attends the commodity: Everything is considered in terms of merchandise deprived of its use value and rendered the object of veneration, idols in the bright empyrean of shop-windows. (Caputo, 23536) The consumers attention is gathered, according to this style of critique, under the promise of the idol. Caputo maintains that todays idol, as fetish, draws a different modality of visibility to the sacramental icon, which provokes the gaze, invites it not to stop, but to look about; the idol, instead, captures the gaze, it does not let it digress, but indeed dazzles it: the thought itself is satisfied, it is emptied of its materiality. (238) This can be seen at work in idolised Hollywood fame or brightly lit consumer products at the local supermarket: In contemporary fetishization the light of merchandise is devoid of differences; its shadow escapes but haunts, submerged by our obsession with the ever-new, so that we fail to create a relation with the uncontrollable. (238) Psychic colonisation triumphs with a kind of gelatinous doctrine that insensibly envelops all rebellious reasoning, inhibits it, confounds it, paralyses it until it is suffocated [so that] it is not an exaggeration to speak of modern dogmatism. (23536) In this flight toward the light we refuse the shadow: We continuously endure passions, tensions, fears, anxieties, and in order to escape them, we have created Platonic paradises of life without death. (236) Ecofeminist Carolyn Merchant concurs, tracing the teleological evolutionary progress of the western hero myth from darkness to light. The upward progress of humankind, she writes, from darkest wilderness to enlightened mind is a precondition for the new earthly garden. (Reinventing Eden, 17879) This development results in the vision of Eden rediscovered in the well-lit mall. (Reinventing Eden, 16768) Merchant investigates recovery narratives seeking to reinterpret human history so that we can re-attain the Edenic state of harmony with nature. Similarly, it has also been theorised that consumer culture negates its responsibility to the ground out of which it draws its riches by preferring to worship the light we seem most drawn towards today, the neon sun of multinational corporate capital. 362 The ideas driving these analyses are similar our ability to enjoy the immanence of atonement in the material world without a vast raft of technological and
359 360

Cosimo Caputo, Light as Matter, Semiotica 136 (2001): 136. Levinas discussion: 227231. Robert Segal, Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 14042. Adorno and Horkheimer would not allow the creative take on this ritual activity that Segal wants to affirm (in however a limited fashion); for them, the cinema-goer does not enter a world of dream but submits to further customisation at the hands of an oppressive economic regime. Dialectic, 110. 361 See iek below for further development of Marxs They know not what they do, and they continue to do it. 362 Wendy Wheeler, A New Modernity? Change in Science, Literature and Politics (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1999), 166.


synthetic mediators is compromised to the point that these very vehicles replace the transcendent states traditionally yearned after. The problems of addiction afflicting all levels of society may be seen at least partly in this light. We are drawn, critics aver, to pursue an ever-revolving array of consumables to fill in the gap once satisfied by spiritual belief or ritual experience. And in a social order organised around surpluses provided by agricultural, then industrial and technological, production, our order remains aligned with an abstract light over a distanced and developed material world that we have led ourselves to believe is comparatively inert and malleable to our will. The animism of the earth is dead, but our sense that the world is alive survives in the corporeal quickening we experience with consumption. Sociologists have also pointed out that the links drawn between consumption and happiness in settlement civilisation reveal a continued fixation on technological novelty redolent of nothing less than the irrational world of magic. 363 Marshall McLuhans thesis in The Medium is the Message recognised this and alluded to some of the potentially liberating and subjugating tendencies involved. The twentieth century shift from a society built around and dependent upon mechanical technology to one immersed in electronic informational media is accompanied by a shift in the way consciousness, and society itself, is shaped. The fragmenting process encouraged by alphabet, and then print, technologies, is overwhelmed by a flood of new information delivered on multiple levels, such that todays youth lives mythically and in depth. 364 These new media, far from being a mere vehicle of the real happenings of contemporary life, contain and deploy the very force of this complete revolution, which in many ways takes us back into a culture of the Word. This amorphic space challenges the visually rationalised order of European print media culture, which makes space uniform, continuous, and connected as a line of fragmented bits of information. (McLuhan, 4445) For McLuhan, the main front in this civil war between old and new technologies was the television, which conditions its consumers to receive messages aurally as well as visually, engaging them in a complex interplay directly influenced by the smash and grab attention-gathering techniques of advertising, with scant time spent on narrative form. (12526) While now dated in terms of the technologies involved the digital and Internet revolutions would surely be seen as the front line today McLuhans idea that the new acoustic space envelops us in a seamless web of simultaneous relationships (111), conveying a return to the totalisation of mythic consciousness, beyond detached patterns and towards a new participation mystique (114), retains some intellectual cache for me. His recognition that the contained, the distinct, the separateour Western legacy [was] being replaced by the flowing, the unified, the fused speaks eloquently to the postmodern experience of the digital age.365 McLuhans suggestions as to how this shift could best be negotiated arise out of the way he defines mythic aurality against the phonetically organised (visual) universe: Speech is a social chart of th[e] bog of acoustic space, the boundless directionlessness that was abolished by the invention of writing in the city; as such, the goose quill was the basic metaphor with which the cycle of civilisation began, the step from the dark into the light of the mind. (48; but I would argue for the Sumerian pointed reed used to inscribe cuneiform

Richard Stivers, Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational (New York: Continuum, 2001), 23346. 364 Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects (Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, 2001), 89. 365 McLuhan, The Medium is the Message, 145. (Although I am not quite sure this is simply a case of electric circuitry Orientalizing the West. 145)


into clay tablets) The multidimensional space enjoyed by pre-alphabetic societies is recreated with electric circuitry. (5657) The way todays consumer is plugged into a variety of electronic media in a constant stream of information, often from many directions at once, bears out the prescience of McLuhans analysis. He averred that this new mythic realm offers the challenge of retaining the abstract, speculative reasoning of the Socratic dialogue (11314) while letting go of visually-enhanced illusions of order. Two literary metaphors suggest to him similar strategic procedures. We might choose to follow Joyce into Finnegans Wake and the ancient means of living simultaneously in all cultural modes while quite conscious. (11920) Or, alternatively, but with a parallel nod towards the dissolution of known order, we can accompany Poe and his delirious speculations on the nature of the whirlpool into which he descended: In his amusement born of rational detachment of his own situation, Poes mariner in The Descent into the Maelstrom staved off disaster by understanding the action of the whirlpool. His insight offers a possible stratagem for understanding our predicament, our electronically-configured whirl. (150) The drift into the global village, if it is to avoid the tragic possibilities inherent in the bog of aural/mythic society, must seek to overcome ignorance of the media culture that helps to shape it. Interestingly, in these times of renewed apocalyptic speculation, the maelstrom is an ancient symbol for the end of the world (and, inevitably, the beginning of another). 366 The bog McLuhan understands as aural/mythic society could be a reflection of his inherited Eurocentrism. I find it salutary when considering such language to recall Sean Kanes recognition that most of our ideas about myth are gathered from this side of the Neolithic divide. (Kane, 18) They are informed, that is, by developments arising out of the agricultural revolution of the last ten millennia, often by relatively primitive anthropological observations of the indigenous non-industrialised inhabitants of other (usually colonised) lands. Just so, myth for McLuhan connotes irrational political and psychological decisionmaking processes, a trance-like spiritual haze or vortex. He thought Joyce wanted to warn us that the wake of human progress can disappear again into the night of sacral or auditory man. 367 One intervention addressing this concern is practised by Serres in his Hermes project. Serres updates the ancient gods journey through the night of mixed messages and supposed chaotic confusion, revitalising the idea that we can deal with mystery without fear or aversion. He casts Hermes, in a way both compelling and symbolically logical, as the god of contemporary information technology, with the power to clear blockages in the flow of code. Hermes is a geographer of space, a messenger as well as protector of boundaries, who has the power to unify according to the logos of myth or science. (Harari and Bell, introduction to Hermes, xxxiii ) Even if the birth of rationality and science signals the end of myth in its original form a shift many would place in the Greek culture graced by this

Giorgio De Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlets Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time (Boston: David R. Godine, 2005), 214. The maelstrom connects the living world of the earth with the worlds of death and regeneration that follow the unhinging of the mill or the uprooting of the world tree. The mill is an icon of a lost Saturnine Golden Age, which ground out peace and plenty (146); an agricultural version of an ancient idea. 367 McLuhan and Fiore, Medium is the Message, 120. Even a well-rehearsed commentator like Serres will claim that war saves us from the unmitigated violence of the mythic society. Serres, Natural Contract, 14. These seem to me Eurocentric readings of history that fold what we think of as the primitive into one amorphic conglomerate of blood feud and vengeance; indigenous societies by contrast deploy complex political machinations in an effort to limit unmitigated violence. The Oresteia, and its overcoming of blood feud, should not be the touchstone according to which we judge societies without the western sense of juridical law (which is not to say regression towards tribal oligarchy is preferable).


wily god of pathways and circulation the problem of pluralised spaces is merely displaced. (xxxiii) The new weaver of spaces, literature, retains myth in its attempt to transform a chaos of separate spatial varieties into a space of communication, to re-link ecological clefts or to link them for the first time: from the mute animal to the protospeaker. (Serres, Hermes, 50) The ecological value of this concept of connectedness goes without saying, even if it takes shape against a supposed mythic disorder prior to the civilising process of measurement. Persephone and Ariadne variously aid Hermes in his quest to thread material and symbolic spaces together continuously, even as they face the disquiet of uncontrollable nature, of the barbarous topology repressed by Euclidean space in the name of reason and just measurement (authorised by the King). (Hermes, 52) The universal space required by colonising civilisation, on behalf of the commercial enterprise that accompanies addiction to consumption everywhere, offers no adventurous encounters or labyrinthine passages towards mythic self-awareness, however. Capital invests its powers in the smoothing out of all obstacles to commercial transport: The multiplicity, the dangerous flock of chaotic morphologies, is subdued. [Yet at] the same moment, in an aged Europe asleep beneath the mantle of reason and measure, mythology reappears as an authentic discourse. (5253) For Serres, as for Blumenberg, the renowned longevity of myth as a mode of knowledge makes sense because it was never overcome in the first place. With reference to Ionian philosopher Thales and his discovery of the concept of volume, Serres goes on to place the source of the light in the object to the degree that the object reveals and transports its own shadow, calling this the miracle. (88) Light here is inextricably intertwined with the darkness (or depth) of matter. Even if we accept this creative reconfiguration of western light metaphysics, however, we still need to ask ourselves how light comes to be associated with the idol in shop windows, the unrealistic projections we heap upon film and rock stars, the endlessly novel stream of commodities we simply must own one after the other. Another way of asking this question, for Blumenberg, is thus: what kind of technological figuration invades the metaphorics of light such that it is manipulated, from an ancient metaphysic of freedom, to an illumination of self-interest? (Light, 5354) I will now respond to this question in terms of Marxs theory of commodity fetish, considering it to be an important stepping-stone in understanding the way light is symbolically construed in post-Industrial society. Commodity fetish and capitalist consumption: towards a mythic analysis Lights symbolic resonance is swallowed up, on todays terms (and with its shadow), by the underpinning telos of modernisation. It is construed as a consumable commodity that offers ephemeral satisfaction by both charging the corporeal with a momentary thrill of immanent experience and indicating with this the eternal elsewhere of immortal gratification posited beyond the limits of human and earthly existence. This is the mysticism of a political economy driven by consumption, which I find demythologised in much ecocritical discourse. This fetishisation of the commodity is carried out, on behalf of capitalism, concomitant with the denuding of the conditions of its own perpetuity, which only indicates the consistently irrational nature of this social system. Such self-defeating logic compels in proportion to the extent of spiritual malaise that accompanies it and materialistic consumption promises to fill the void marked by this lack. It is the position of this thesis that this spiritual void is a direct consequence not of the death of the Christian God but of the more ancient and deeper wound inflicted with settlement civilisations inability to


identify with the natural (non-human) world. The capacity to experience the human as identified with, rather than over, the natural (non-human) world is lost with the shift away from it, as inscribed in dominant definitions of the earth as inert and/or threateningly chaotic. The light of this mythic complex is manifest in the immanent glow of consumption, marketed with the propaganda ensconced within the laser age of information technology and linked to the psychology of the modern, fragmented individual. Disentanglement of the mythic nature of materialistic consumption seems to me as effective a grounding as any from which to dismantle its tenacious hold on its adherents. The Marxian critical analysis of the commodity fetish reveals the mystic (or transcendental) dimension buried within the physical act of materialistic consumption. With reference to this idea and the way it has since developed, the self-defeating nature of overconsumption in the globalised marketplace of commodity fetishism can be revealed. The terrifying beauty of the cities at night in the NASA photographs from space will then be considered from the point of view of what has been lost in the transformation of an influential and growing proportion of the human population from identification with the earth to living as if they existed in an unsustainably transcendent bubble just beyond it. This mid-air consciousness will be revealed as the psyche convinced it has found the key to living in a perpetually lit, desacralised New Jerusalem, beyond the devastation that must be wrought upon the rest of the planet (slave or worker classes, animal kin, vegetable and mineral worlds) in order for these pockets of transcendence to be fuelled. The conclusion does not look backwards to an imputed prelapsarian plenum destitute urbanites have forever lost, which the noble savage might somehow retain given the political and economic freedom to do so. Rather, it seeks response to the circumstances at hand by way of the highest possible carat work of logos, seeking in the shadows at the edges of our light an emergent order cognisant of our animate interdependence with the earth; a mythos of origin that recognises the earth as our only and true home, a place of mutual kinship, regeneration and, preferably, flourishing life. * For Marx, a commodity attains a religious, mystical or transcendental dimension due to the extra value (over and above its material, or use, value) ascribed it during the process of its production and exchange. 368 This socially mediated process is obfuscated in direct proportion to the complexity of the division of labour inherent in its production. Primitive societies enjoy extremely simple and transparent relations amongst themselves, their products and Nature, which they revere. (Marx, 79) Development of this narrowness is desirable (in spite of being inherently deceptive) until a societys material production is consciously regulated by freely associated men in accordance with a settled plan and over a long and painful process of development. (80) The use value of a material object, known according to its primitive condition, is translated into an exchange value according to social agreement. This exchange value remains independent of a commoditys inherent use value and obtains fixity according to a system of exchange that varies continually, independently of the will, foresight and action of the producers. (75) The obfuscation attending this process combines worship with powerlessness we fetishise a commodity to the extent that we are alienated from the processes of its production. Thus capitalism continues the process of mystification historically conveyed by religion. Imagistically, it is

Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1970), pt. 1, sec. 4, The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof, 7183.


as if the capitalist mode of production operated as a magician, covering over the conditions by which the commodity comes into being before pulling away the screen to reveal the magical idol, resplendent in light, upon which we are free to project our desires, our lack, the status and identity we crave with consumption, and so on. Marxs recognition of this trick offers hope to the humanist, but it also indicates the depth of capitalisms shadow; todays hyper-profane, materialistic postmodern commodity fetish, the opiate of the masses, reveals an ongoing ecological cost that accompanies its subjugating class relationships. The commodity is a mystic icon, with an ahistorical origin, a mysterious authority and a hoped-for telos. Hence the modern consumer, as much as the traditional Christian, is convinced that they should accept a nature emptied of history, as Barthes would have it. (Barthes, 14243) I develop Marxs concept of the commodity fetish to highlight its ecophilosophical import, with reference to the two most influential recent commentaries, Jean Baudrillards For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign and Slavoj ieks The Sublime Object of Ideology. 369 Both attempt to correct Marxs original thesis with reference to the driving force behind the fetishistic relationship of the modern consumer to commodities in general, and both grapple with the multifarious challenges facing left politics towards the end of the twentieth century and beyond. For iek, the dialectic continues, as our world of endless plurality continuously throws a spanner in the works of any composite vision of reality (whether politically or psychologically constructed). For Baudrillard, on the other hand, postmodern life grinds unceasingly towards the monological monster that haunts it from the shadows of its origins. There is no division between nature and culture, only an illusion of divorce; yet Baudrillard, like the later Marx, places no great value on the earth per se, preferring instead to focus on how cultural vision replaces the endlessly manipulable material world. 370 The transformation of God, as guarantor of the signs meaning, operates solely on the level of His hyperreal weightlessness (Baudrillard, 57), a secularised simulation of origin and authenticity that is all light and air, like the ubiquitous flood of information in which meaning is dissolved. (7986) For Baudrillard, as for McLuhan, television is the frontline agent of this process that confuses the real, the model and the medium (2829), flattening all communication into a homogenous space-time that structures a newly totalised model of social relations best symbolised in that model of directed anticipation, the hypermarket. (7577) Both Baudrillard and iek treat the commodity fetish as a Frankenstinean creation we have unwittingly created and granted excessive power to. Consumer society feeds on the very chaos monster it stitches together materiality, or its corpse while concurrently disguising its vanquished foe behind a fetishistic mask. The slave, however, eventually becomes the master. For Baudrillard, the ideology of political economy, the fundamental code of our societies (147), is revealed as an impersonal monster which simultaneously produces the content and the consciousness to receive it, while remaining cunning enough to veil itself continually in the evidence of content and the obviousness of value. (145)
Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. with an introduction by Charles Levin (St. Louis, MO: Telos Press, 1981); Slavoj iek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1992). 370 Coupe points out that Baudrillards dismissal of complaints about the pollution and despoliation of the planet as being irrelevant in a world of simulation unfortunately made such cynicism more widely known than the kind of ecological or reconstructive postmodernism, which seeks opportunities for creativity and growth. Laurence Coupe, Green Studies Reader, 7 (with reference to Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in a Postmodern Age [San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991], 1222). On the later Marx, Laurence Coupe, Green Studies Reader, 64, citing M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, 315.


Baudrillard claims that Marxs theory of commodity fetish misses a fundamental point concerning the value consumers place on the commodity by assuming a kind of infrastructural (primitive, natural) use value upon which the (developed, cultural) exchange value is built, or elaborated. Baudrillards own analysis rests upon a revised definition of ideology, according to which the use value of the immanent commodity and the exchange value of its transcendental sign are produced together, along with the kind of individual who will consume them. The individual, then, shares a shape (or taste?) with the peculiar magic of this all-pervasive, ever-hungry phenomenon: Ideology seizes all production, material or symbolic, in the same process of abstraction, reduction, general equivalue and exploitation. (146) The code controls meaning as it rationalizes and regulates exchange [and] makes things communicate. (147) We are tracking not something that binds society together with rationalised mystifications (or coherent belief systems) pointing hazily towards some mythic reality, but rather a structurating force (like myth for Lvi-Strauss) that socialises, informs and, in fact, produces the individual of contemporary consumer society according to a general, abstract system of exchange. (147) As commentator Charles Levin notes, Baudrillard reverses Marxs narrative of commodity fetishism, so that exchange value is not a mere byproduct of complexity, but is the inspiration that induces the logic of utility and mobilizes the psychology of needs in order to perpetuate itself. 371 Consumption (rather than production) drives the system to invent new needs, and the consumer acts as a kind of bricoleur desperately attempting to organise their privatised existence and invest it with meaning. (Levin, For a Critique, 5) In The Sublime Object of Ideology, iek revises Hegelian dialectics in the light of Freud, so that, rather than seeking an ever-progressive overcoming of endless antagonism, we recognise that all knowledge finally accepts contradiction as an internal condition of every identity. Hence the colonising monster of absolute knowledge is reframed as nothing but a name for the acknowledgment of a certain radical loss. 372 The philosophy of lack pinpointed in much ecofeminist critique is here named as the chaos monster threatening civilised abundance. It is the drive behind egoistic consciousness, the Other Scene external to the thought whereby the form of the thought is already articulated in advance. (iek, 19) It is in this sense that Alfred Sohn-Rethel claimed our reality is already staged outside of the field of conventional consciousness (of either everyday or philosophical pedigrees). 373 Thus false consciousness is implied by the very nature of an ideological framework according to which participants cannot know exactly what they are doing or what the essence of their object of fascination really is. (21) The mystical transformation of the commodity operates according to similar operational procedures as the Freudian dreamwork, both attaining an alluring form thanks to a process whereby frustrated desire is charged with deeper meaning. Labour power may have been discovered as the secret that transforms the object from use to exchange value, for Marx, but the process by means of which the hidden meaning disguised itself in such a form remains obfuscated. (15) We are here in the realm of Tarts trance state and also of the ephemeral nature of the satisfactions
371 372

Charles Levin, translators introduction, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, 18. Slavoj iek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, 7. Hence Lacanian theory is presented by iek as perhaps the most radical contemporary version of the Enlightenment! (7) ieks Lacanian rescue of Hegel rereads classical motifs such as commodity fetishism according to an approach that promises to critically analyse contemporary ideological phenomena without falling prey to any kind of post-modernist traps (such as the illusion that we live in a post-ideological condition). (7) 373 iek considers Sohn-Rethel the foremost theoretician on the commodity-form. (1621). Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labor (London: Macmillan, 1978).


offered by materialistic consumption: we cannot possibly gratify our desires because they are perpetually regenerated from beyond the sphere of consciousness (and in fact actively construct the form of that consciousness). The chaos monster haunts the commodity as its ephemerally offered, yet ultimately ungraspable, promise of satisfaction just as the latent content haunts the dream. Like Baudrillard, then, iek claims for ideology a structuring power over our social reality; it is not an illusion masking the real state of things (33), but an illusion (or fetishistic inversion) that grants things embodiments of universal Value. (32) Although they (and the money that represents their value) are in reality just an embodiment, a condensation, a materialization of a network of social relations, we function in regards to them as if they embodied the spirit of wealth itself, its immediate, natural property. (31) Individuals recognise this but act as if they didnt. The postmodern consumer therefore lives in a world of materialistic transcendence, or mystified commodity exchange, in which Marxs reversal of Platonic Forms reveals another layer of mythic discourse beneath (or beyond) conventional consciousness. 374 Both analyses have close familial links to LviStrausss structural anthropology, in which myth forms the framework of the way people think. Not only is it inescapable, it is ineradicable, open to transformation but inherent as inherited and, in some metaphysical way, reflective of a wider reality in nonhuman nature as well as culture. Both ieks Lacanian kernel and Baudrillards symbolic are excluded from the equation of conventional consciousness but continue to haunt it from beyond. They can only be approached in metaphor, acting like a Blumenbergian absolutism on the horizon that never disappears but concurrently cannot be named except by allusion, by infraction. (Baudrillard, 161) In our ultimate blindness to a symbolic real, then, the symbol conceals as well as reveals; it attempts to mislead: it permits itself to appear as totality, to efface the traces of its abstract transcendence, and parades about as the reality principle of meaning. (162) But, as Levin notes, this amounts to a different kind of deception from that traditional Marxian analysis allowed; for Baudrillard, no critique of political economy can go on believing that its truth lies simply in the recovery of an essence that capitalism hides and represses without actually destroying. (Levin, For a Critique, 21) Baudrillards notion that we are thoroughly integrated in this subterranean play of reification (11) can of course indicate immersion in illusion as much as it can point towards a less alienating existence in the modern metropolis. But Baudrillards critique of commodity fetishism could aid ecocriticism in the realm of the western myth of division between cultural and natural worlds. At the surface level, and as Naomi Klein would surely agree, there is no longer any distance to be travelled from the commodity, its sign (or, in this analogy, the way it is branded) and the meaning invested in both. According to the directives of the model of consumption, the commodity is now immediately produced as a sign, as sign value, and signs (culture) are produced as commodities. (Baudrillard, 147) Klein points out how a metaphysic of branding feeds a kind of corporate transcendence that signifies a spiritual state rather than a product. 375 Matthew Sharpe cites Baudrillards The System of Objects, which shows that we have always purchased the connotations of an object along with its

This inversion through which what is sensible and concrete counts only as a phenomenal form of what is abstract and universal, contrary to the real state of things where the abstract and the universal count only as a property of the concrete such an inversion is characteristic of the expression of value. Marx, Capital, 32. 375 Naomi Klein, No Logo (London: Flamingo, 2000), 2021. One example given is the way Starbucks consciously sets out to sell the romance of coffee rather than the product.


physical features: we dont just buy deckchairs but the dream of balmy summer evenings with wine and good company. 376 It is the feeling we seek from the product, more than its physical use value, that creates the commodity fetish; but this feeling is as perpetually ephemeral as it is constitutive. For Baudrillard, culture itself is produced as (and reduced to) an endless variety of commodities and signs collapsed into each other under the weight of a system predicated upon simultaneous consumption of the abstract and material. It is therefore crucial to see that the separation of the sign and the world is a fiction, and that this world is quite simply the Signified-Referent a single and compact thing, an identity of content that acts as the moving shadow of the Signifier. (Baudrillard, 152) The sign and its referent operate according to the vicious circle they share with any metaphysical organisation; this superior myth reciprocally illuminates both commodity and meaning in a gigantic simulation. (15061) iek shifts the argument away from the paralysing unity of Baudrillards simulacra and back to the everyday conflicts that mark the realities of political economy. Althussers reproach to Marxs elementary formulation of commodity fetishism that it is based on a nave, ideological, epistemologically unfounded opposition between persons (human subjects) and things is reconsidered, with Lacanian insight into the way people and things are indeed opposed. (iek, 33) While capitalist subjects mediate amongst one another as rational utilitarians, guided only by their own selfish interests all their beliefs, superstitions and metaphysical mystifications are embodied in the social relations between things. They no longer believe, but the things themselves believe for them. (34) Ideology (like myth) structures reality, mediates opposites on behalf of making it culturally palatable, and hides the reality upon which it is constructed behind a dream we know as waking reality. (4547) There is a dreamlike way in which capitalism, as a form of economic organisation, is organised to prescribe exponentially increasing consumption as the medicine that will eradicate, in an ephemeral haze of corporeal satisfaction, the timeless kernel of societal and ecological antagonism at its heart. Its constituents inherit a system designed to eat its way through the earth: its normal state is marked by the endless novelty of an unreflective perpetual motion machine (or unstoppable chaos monster). 377 Ephemeral satisfaction both initiates and sustains the addiction of materialistic consumption; but for iek, the excessive power manifest as this frenetic activity reveals its own fundamental impotence. (53) The challenge before us requires understanding the extent to which the globalising myth of the west symbolised by the brightly lit city at night depends upon a flourishing ecosystem capable of regeneration. It also necessitates creative ways of negotiating between this incandescent society and the natural world it has too often interpreted as a kind of darkness; either the undead monster haunting it from beyond or the desacralised matter upon which it maintains the right to endlessly gorge.

Sacrifice and Exchange: circularity, avoidance and embeddedness

Matthew Sharpe, The Logo as Fetish: Marxist Themes in Naomi Kleins No Logo, Cultural Logic 6 (2003), 17. As Sharpe notes, Baudrillards insights predated Kleins by two decades. 377 Capitalism depends upon the permanent revolutionizing of its own conditions of existence such that the kernel its own fundamental, constitutive imbalance, contradiction perpetuates as a Hegelian absolute. iek, Sublime Object, 52



And what is upon the altar we have placed before this great god of light and flame? Our works and days, naturally; but also some very particular forms of labour, affecting the planet in very particular ways according to the fuels necessitated by the furnace and the mechanics by which it burns. To wit: as well as all manner of slave classes (sentient and otherwise), we sacrifice the stores, digging them out of the earth at ever-faster rates, nonrenewable fossil fuels never again to be made available to ours or any other imaginable civilisation in the millennia to come. In Heat, George Monbiot allegorises this burning of fossil fuels as a Faustian pact with the devil, whereby short-term transformative power is traded against long-term loss (of soul, as well as of habitat). Faustuss magically flying chariot burning bright is powered by Mephistophelian fossil fuel. 378 That civilising lamp still draws oil along its wick, only in ever greater amounts and via a much more complex system of extraction, storage, distribution and combustion. We sacrifice, in short, the very fuel the darkness upon which the flame feeds required for our great gift to the gods of consumption. The cities of light and their commodity fetish burn bright but they do not burn perpetually. The attempt to create the material form of an abstract ideal the eternal city of light fails because the earth and its resources obey much nearer gods of sacrifice and exchange than the distant sky father. If fossil fuels were foregone in a successful renewable energy revolution, it is possible that consumerist society could retain its fascination with the commodity fetish and the ephemeral, yet corporeal, sense of satisfaction that can be supplied by an endless array of novel goods. But without a concomitant revolution in ecosocial relations and therefore also consciousness, which would supply creative ways of modifying the anthropocentrism inherent in consumerism according to an ethic more aligned with ecocentrism, I find it hard to believe the human race can avoid catastrophe. While Louise Westling points out that this change must resist dualistic gendering of nature as feminine and culture as masculine, I would add that it needs to also avoid the common symbolic idea that associates light with the mind (of heaven) and darkness with the body (of earth). Otherwise, the kind of tampering Mary Shelley saw concentrated in her Promethean scientist Doctor Frankenstein may create the Brave New World Huxley predicted would be a grave new nightmare. The shadow of our materialistic city of light includes, alongside such dangerous open experiments as genetic engineering, the cloud of pollution eating away at the health of the biosphere. This includes not only the carbon dioxide sent into the atmosphere as a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels (heating up the planet as if it were a greenhouse); it is also associated with the chemical residues washed from plants and soils into the rivers and oceans. The effluent of the agricultural industries, reliant upon chemical fertilisation to create enormous surpluses, also creates dead zones (as pointed out in Rachel Carsons Silent Spring, 1962), along with many other forms of toxic pollution associated with increasing urbanisation. This is not to mention the reduction in availability of the nonrenewable fuel supplies themselves, leading to a situation in which entire countries can be held to ransom, if they want to match the levels of industrialisation enjoyed by developed nations, or invaded so that their supply of fuel can be ensured or redirected. The threat of apocalyptic scenarios at one end of the peak oil scale is matched by a range of less devastating but hardly benign possibilities if supply and demand become so unbalanced as to more closely resemble extortion and desperation. Fuel wars, explicitly waged on behalf of this dependency, cannot be ruled out (as forewarned in Marvin Harriss Cannibals and Kings, 1977).

George Monbiot, Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning (London: Allen Lane, 2006), 2. Mephistopheles appears in Marlowes original English text as a fiery man.


The way commodity fetishism is instantiated as a way of life in the cities of light reflects a psychological addiction to the endless streams of stuff that are presented to us, as consumers, along channels of light on TV screens, the Internet, billboards, mobile phones and so on. The commodity is arranged according to the pose of the idol, rather than the icon, trapping the gaze in a tightly knit cycle of consumption, ephemeral satisfaction and perpetual repetition of the same process with new features. This is a desacralised version of an ancient attempt to realise a heavenly world of abundance here on earth an eternal feast in the halls of immortality, where lack and death are banished. This attempt, foisted upon the constituents of the cities of light by capitalism on behalf of the profit motive, transforms a mystic philosophy that something as abstract as perfection can be materialised on earth into a political economy. The story of Frankenstein, the modern Prometheus who steals fire from the earth as much as from heaven, reveals the parallel subterfuge behind western settlement civilisation, whose religion buries nature spirits on behalf of a universalist vision and who thus also steal fire from the future, whence payment for its fuels must be made. Intimations of social unity pervade the dominant mythic images of relentless consumption that pervade the cities of light. These images cohere a paradoxical ideology of collective individualism where we can all celebrate the right to remain anthropocentrically selfish and divorced from the earth. A shift from fossil fuel consumption to renewable energy sources should alleviate the worst of the toxifying effects of international industrialisation but will not necessarily transform the consciousness I diagnose as dominant in the cities of light that of alienated humanity yearning for a better world by way of commodity fetish and prepared to manipulate a passive earth in whatever ways necessary to achieve this outcome.


In Conclusion
This thesis responded to the research question: How are the way we symbolically imagine light and the way we treat the earth in material terms related? In doing so it points out that the dualising tendency so prevalent in western history cannot be divorced from the material conditions of settlement civilisation. This dualising model, of transcendent masculine cultural order (heaven) over inert feminine natural chaos (earth), maintains faith in the human ability to act upon the earth as if from a distance due to the profitability of such an ideological bias. According to the terms of this thesis, such a model can also be seen, symbolically, as a culture hero lighting up the city at night in order to ward off the lack, danger and death lurking in the mysterious and threatening darkness beyond the city walls. According to the laws of fuel fetish and directed attention, this culture hero heaps up fuel in the name of irresistible incandescence, within which the commodity takes centre stage, brightly lit with yearning and offering to fill the gap in such a soulless world with corporeal, yet ephemeral, satisfaction. Hence the positive connotations traditionally associated with light have been desacralised and transferred, in the modern era, to serve a capitalist framework that exacerbates the damage done to the earth by the alienated nature of settlement civilisation. Over the relatively recent 10,000 year history of this new way of life, human technologies within the city have developed to the point that the culture that supports them could be imagined to have replaced the earth as the ground of plenty. The new provider of abundance threatens, however, the very conditions upon which it depends. The commodity, as everliving, ever-dying god-king of capitalist materialism, keeps its worshippers addicted to ephemeral satisfactions in an endless array of new, improved forms, in a Protean spell we can never quite grasp. This convention, or dominant mode of ideology and material way of life, is countered by an emergent (although also perennial) rationality of earth-care. The irrational mysticism sneaking about behind the seemingly reasonable cover of the commodity can be exposed using the kind of Platonic doubt, matched with Enlightenment method, that has so often been put in service of the damaging industries that feed our addiction to the fuel fetish and its brightly lit consumables. The new mythopoeic narratives that serve to transform the dominant paradigm with reference to an emergent sensibility of earth-care will continue to consider the way the western metaphysics of home is composed and the Romantic movement continues to provide productive templates for this creativity. While such work is clearly being undertaken across all areas of western culture today, it is the initiatives that directly interrogate the metaphysical framework underpinning the western wordlview that most directly concern this thesis and could serve as a springboard for further investigation. With this in mind, it should be noted that a more ecocentric potential for the western individual is being explored not only in emergent areas such as neopagan and indigenous revival movements, but also in classically conservative ways and at the heart of the dominant religions, including the Biblical faiths of Judiasm and Christianity, as well as in the growing interfaith and greenfaith movements. 379 As I have pointed out, with reference to some of the issues that inhabit the shifting ground between classically Enlightenment and Romantic attitudes towards humanity and its place on earth, such acts of mythopoeia must deal with matters of primary concern such as

See also this thesis, Introduction, 31.


autochthony and individuation. In terms of this thesis, this could be put as a play wherein the light of life (for us, unavoidably, also of human consciousness) can be explored as something that emanates out from matter, or is indivisible from it, or is in constant negotiation with it, or possibly even still and again as something that enters from without and survives the death of the body. If this latter is to remain a part of the western story of consciousness, however, ecological concerns would suggest a way in which such transcendental terms did not concurrently encode a sense that the light is held at a distance from the material realities of earth. The possibilities are endless and researching the figure of light within the kinds of western counter-discourses of the earth and the sacred that I have touched on here would constitute a fruitful further line of inquiry, as would a comparative study of the figure of light as it is culturally construed within one or more other settlement civilisations or in a non-agricultural culture. These however were not areas I could explore within the limits of this thesis, with its focus on the dominant strand of Eurowestern myth. The western traditions in religion, philosophy and literature reveal a remarkable capacity for transformation. I think this needs to be underscored alongside ecocritical recognitions of the same traditions negative capacities, especially in terms of the way these can be seen to have condoned large-scale devastation of the earth and our fellow creatures upon it. But while certain historical influences have set in place for the western imagination a soulless, mechanical model of the universe and hardened it against change, the laws of mythopoeia state that any lasting image or narrative must be adaptable as well as stable. The creative spirit inherent in western culture at its best will not rest with the destruction of the earth but will reach deeply into the roots that can still nourish it from the depths of its layered history and reinvent new ways to celebrate life on earth beyond the stolid dictates of settlement civilisation. Myth liberates as well as obfuscates this is a central point in two of my main theoretical touchstones, Hans Blumenbergs Work on Myth and Laurence Coupes Myth. The mythic value of light can be coloured in any way we choose, but will always be associated with life, beauty, truth and order as some primal level. This thesis has shown, however, ways in which the positive value of light is used on behalf of purposes that are detrimental to the health of the earth and its living creatures. There is a choice as to how this positive value can be utilised or interpreted and it is not within the bounds of this thesis to outline how this employment might better serve the flourishing of the earth and its creatures. Yet the ecological crisis of the early twenty-first century requires that the dualistic mythos of masculine cultural subjugation of passive feminine earth continue to be modified in accord with the absolute aegis of adaptation. The place of technology, the types of energy sources and the status afforded the commodity in this new mythos will be of real interest in terms of this thesis. Further, the blurring of firm anthropocentric biases in favour of a new ethos of ecocentrism the recognition that we are dependent on the earth as well as a powerful agent within it seems to me an integral part of this process. The ideological bias that accompanies this shift proceeds from within the world as we know it, reformulating theory and identity with the use of flotsam from earlier shipwrecks (as Blumenberg so poetically put it). New mythopoeic narratives arise out of this process as light out of earth, modifying the idea that the light of truth and order must have shone down upon this chaos as if from a heavenly order of objective observation. The postmodern hero of light does not stand over the vanquished chaos monster but recognises kinship if not identification with it. This realm of transformed human relations within an earth of extended, nonhuman kin would be a likely source of much valuable and important work in regards to the way the symbol of light could be deployed on behalf of an ecocentric mythopoeia, especially if it were undertaken in tandem with an exploration into the strands of western thought and art that have always run counter to the dominant tradition of


instrumental subjugation of the earth and its other lifeforms. While this turning away from a position of assumed dominance over a subjugated earth is never unproblematic, it at least turns to face the earth despoiled in the name of humanity. It is from this point today, at what is hopefully the apogee of destruction, that a new mythopoeia of humanity at home on earth may transform both western art and everyday life. Coupes aforementioned commentary on Apocalypse Now may then become meaningful in terms of the collective and individual rituals of consumption; a kind of One Heart sacrament beyond the commodity fetish and its perpetual and ephemeral self-defeat. 380 Such a creative response to ecological crisis would be a valuable ally in dispelling the capitalist fascination with evernew, shiny, wasteful reproductions of the ever-living, ever-dying god-king that will supposedly resurrect the alienated individual from the soulless, mechanical world they inhabit when falling under the sway of addiction to the fuel fetish and directed attention of the commodification of the light. This thesis will have satisfied its aims if it takes some small steps towards such an outcome.


See this thesis, Introduction, 2729, on Coupes analysis of Apocalypse Now as living mythopoeia, and Introduction, 31, on the Bwiti cult of the One Heart ritual.



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