Fragments

The web journal qarrtsiluni is running an issue on “fragments.” I feel a bit fragmented myself lately. Here are a few recent, fragmentary thoughts.

~

I am reading Lewis Mumford’s tome The City in History and enjoying it for a number of reasons. One is Mumford’s ability to employ words such as “forfend” in a correct and even natural way. Another reason is the approach he takes to trying to reason through and tease out strains of pre-history that lead up to the establishment of cities world-wide, a kind of philosophical anthropology. Sixty years of subsequent archeological discovery and interpretation may alter his theories, or perhaps lean toward confirming them; I’m not enough of a scholar to know. I do, however, find his speculations appealing. One of his theories suggests that war developed along with hierarchical religion, kingship, and the city. It makes sense that militarization on any significant scale was not “invented” until there was population enough to support it and reasons (defend the king, the god, or the goods) to deploy a military body.

He does not say human beings are not inherently aggressive. He merely suggests that when we live in smaller, more isolated groups it is in our best interest to cooperate rather than to expend resources on warfare (soldiers, arms, defenses). Something to meditate upon in current times.

~

Mumford was researching and writing this book in the late 1950s (publication date was 1961). Interesting to me, he cites Jung’s archetypes and theories–though not in a way that implies Mumford was in any way a Jungian–about the feminine and the masculine as regards the development of human social structures. Bachelard, writing at about the same time, also cites Jung when he discusses the poetic space. I think of Bachelard’s brief passage about how a bird creates its nest with its own body, its breast molding the shape of the container that is its temporary home, and how this correlates with Mumford’s observation that the tent, hut, or village dwelling–indeed, often the village itself (and later, the city)–tends toward a cup-shape; it is a container. The earliest communities of human beings needed to develop containers in order to improve their chances of survival: jugs, skins, gourds for water and covered bowls or jars for grain and seed storage. Once humans could last through times when game or gathered food was scarce, they could procreate more efficiently. Mumford defines irrigation ditches as containers, too, as “feminine” objects as per Jung.

The garden wall, the city wall contained the human community or the sustenance for the human community, especially once domesticated animals were added to our communities.

As for the masculine/phallic, Mumford’s examples are all the expected objects: tools and weapons and stele.

~

The ancient Persian word that is the root for our “paradise” comes from the term for garden, specifically a walled garden. The Egyptian hieroglyph for “city” is a circle with “crossroads” inside it. A link to one of Notre Dame’s open course lecture pages has an illustration comparing this hieroglyph with other ancient representations of cities. (Notre Dame course on the geometry of buildings that demonstrates some of the universality of “containers” as Mumford observed: Geometry of Buildings.)

~

Also, I wonder whether Jung’s archetype theories were still new enough in 1960 that it was kind of a trend to cite him in works like these two books. Jung does not seem to be as popular these days except among his devoted followers–a niche audience. Perhaps his ideas are now just accepted as given? Not all of his ideas, but the general understanding of archetypes, I mean. Or is he out of fashion? Or am I just missing the current books that base a significant understanding of human cultural development upon these aspects of his thinking?

~

Man and His Symbols was an important book for me when I was a college freshman.

~

I keep thinking of the places I find in the meadow where the deer bed down. They are round, cup-shaped, molded to the bodies of the deer. Containers, temporarily, for the warm animal that sleeps, that breathes.

5 comments on “Fragments

  1. singingbones says:

    Thanks for the synopsis of this fascinating subject, Ann… I would never have picked up this book but am glad to know a little more through your research. The word container is such a catchphrase these days…. nice to know a bit of historical background about this ancient concept.

  2. gaiamethod says:

    Jung is one of my favourite ‘old-schooler’s’ and ‘Man and his Symbols’ changed the course of my thinking when I was a teenager in the 70’s. Jung’s archetypes should be required study for people who want to know more about the collective unconscious as they impact on our daily lives in a way which people don’t even recognise. Perhaps people are not yet connected to that level of consciousness? Spiritual exploration in this New Age seems to have jumped into upper levels without recognising the foundations. As a teacher of spiritual exploration I find that few of my students understand the concept of archetypes. They can understand it intellectually but not really experience the reality of them. Most of the old gods and goddesses are archetypes which help us in our understanding of the powers that exist both in nature and the world around us. It is a great roadmap to follow. If only people didn’t place these archetypes outside of themselves instead of recognising them as being part of their ‘insides’ too!
    Interesting too the hieroglyph for ‘city’ as the temples and their living quarters were built on sacred geometric principles of ‘complete balance’ or Maat. This symbol is a universal one for the balance of everything.

    • My experience with younger people is that the “New Age” connotation turns many of them away from what is often quite scientific or legitimate research. I hear people suggest that something is “too new-agey,” which lumps all spiritual approaches together in a negative way…as you say, “Spiritual exploration in this New Age seems to have jumped into upper levels without recognising the foundations.”

      That’s what I like about this book of Mumford’s. He really tries to unearth, recognize, and rationalize (if possible) the foundations, not just of cities but of culture/human society in the process. Given who he was and what his background was, he is scholarly and speculative in his approach. I wonder: if students today were introduced to archetypes through more “authoritative” sources, would they be so quick to pigeonhole archetypes as “new age” or outside of themselves and their experiences?

      And what/whom to young people consider “authoritative”? Maybe authority doesn’t hold any weight, either.

  3. Beth says:

    I like your fragmentary thoughts here, Ann — adn they’re not really so fragmentary! Good question about Jung — I wonder too. There is a Jungian society here, perhaps appealing to the French intellectuals, but I rarely hear his name mentioned except by people our age. I do think a lot of his ideas have worked their way into common culture, but I also wonder if there is a strong counter-current of individualism that resists the archetype-explanation — or perhaps simply a shift away, these days, from the need we felt to deconstruct “the feminine” and “the masculine” back in the 60s and 70s. I’d like to ask one of today’s 20-year-olds what they thought of “Man and his Symbols!”

  4. Beth, I wonder if people got tired of hearing about the masculine and the feminine after the 1970s. The exploration got all theoretical and played out in literary theory, sociological theory, psychology, feminism (where some theorists embraced the dichotomy and others pooh-poohed it)…etc. So Jungian archetypes, particularly the masculine/feminine observations, became either totally intellectualized or else suffused into quasi-religious spiritual new-age-ism.

    Well, there is seldom really an either-or. I am totally generalizing here!

    Per your question–I asked my two offspring (20-ish, college-educated) if either of them has read Man & His Symbols. Neither one has…not assigned in college. Which is where I re-read it–as a college assignment.

Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s