Saturday, July 20, 2013
Myth, History and Norman O. Brown
Todd Walton in Counterpunch:
...“Great things happen when God mixes with man.” — Nikos Kazantzakis
So…in The Last Temptation of Christ there is a memorable scene in which Jesus and his disciples are sitting around a campfire after a long day of spreading their gospel, when Matthew, a recent addition to the crew, is suddenly impelled by angels (or so he claims) to write the biography of Jesus. So he gets out quill and papyrus and sets to work transcribing the angelic dictation; and Jesus, curious to see what’s gotten into his latest convert, takes a peek over Matthew’s shoulder and reads the opening lines of what will one day be a very famous gospel. Jesus is outraged. “None of this is true,” he cries, or words to that effect. And then Judas (I’m pretty sure it was Judas and not Andrew) calms Jesus down with a Norman O. Brown-like bit of wisdom, something along the lines of: “You know, Jesus, in the long run it really doesn’t matter if he writes the truth or not. You’re a myth now, so you’d better get used to everybody and his aunt coming up with his or her version of who you are.” Kazantzakis, trust me, wrote the scene much more poetically and marvelously than the way I just recounted it, but…
“All good books have one thing in common. They are truer than if they had really happened.” — Ernest Hemingway
Back to Norman O. Brown. In the late 1960s, Norman was among the most famous pop academic writers in the world. Not only had he written Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History, which made him famous, he had just published (in 1966) Love’s Body, a mainstream and academic bestseller exploring the impact of erotic love on human history; or was it the struggle between eroticism and civilization? In any case, here is one of my favorite blurbs from the hundreds of reviews that made Love’s Body so famous in its time. I will digress again (thank you, Norman) by saying if any book I ever publish gets a blurb even remotely as stupendous as the following, and said blurb appears in, say, the San Francisco Chronicle or even the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, drinks are on me.
“Norman O. Brown is variously considered the architect of a new view of man, a modern-day shaman, and a Pied Piper leading the youth of America astray. His more ardent admirers, of whom I am one, judge him one of the seminal thinkers who profoundly challenge the dominant assumptions of the age. Although he is a classicist by training who came late to the study of Freud and later to mysticism, he has already created a revolution in psychological theory.” — Sam Keen, Psychology Today
The myth and history web site known as Wikipedia says that Norman was a much-loved professor at UC Santa Cruz where he taught and lived to the end of his days (he died in 2002, or so they say).
More here. (Note: Why am I posting a 2011 article today? Because I am in the process of re-reading Brown and am deeply deeply affected. Please read his Life against Death and The Prophetic Tradition for a stunning snapshot of what history and the collective psyche of an epoch looks like when the mind-forged manacles are cast off)
Posted by Azra Raza at 07:22 AM | Permalink