Re: MYTH AND COLLECTIVE MEMORY (WAS: Photographs Reading Us?)

Matt Tomaso (Tomaso@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU)
Mon, 8 Jan 1996 13:25:17 -0600

I hope you dont mind me moving this discussion to anthro-l, where it should
have been in the first place.

In your post to arch-l, you wrote:
>If we dismiss the concept of 'collective memory' completely say instead of
>just in cases where your point warrents ... how do we explain the
>mythological symbols that Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell have shown to exist
>in the basic psych? While symbolic in nature these concepts go beyond the
>simple image of a mountain or a lake or a well mowed yard with sparse trees.
>I hope you don't sincerely feel that a 'tremendous body of literature' on
>any subject proves it to be a fact ... there are many works of literature on
>the philosophies of life and the world that are completely erroneous when
>read in the modern light. While some may feel this is a cop out, I tend to
>feel if there are a large number of reasons why something is true and there
>are an equally large number of instances where an alternative point is true
>... that, well maybe we should look and see if in fact both are true.
>There's my buck fifty (since pennies are now longer legal tender and until
>proven otherwise, my opinions have value here is my modern two cents).

Okay. For starters, let me say that I'm unsure of where we apparently
disagree. You should note that I did not advocate the complete dismissal of
anything, but rather, the dismissal of collective memory - in the particular
case referred to by Stacey - as a nonexplanation. My point was that terms
like 'collective memory' and "forgotten paradise' are all too easily
accepted and often tend to be non-explanations. This is similar to the
position 'ritual' and 'religion' once occupied for archaeologists - that is,
everything that we can't figure out. Further, I wanted to point out that
these terms are, potentially, black boxes - ideological traps where all
kinds of invisible, unexplainable, intellectual magic take place.

Second, I completely and totally agree that social facts are generally
multifaceted and multicausal. If you have the time, look back over my past
two years of anthro-l and arch-l participation. You'll notice that I
conistently argue this point. This, for me, is one of many aspects that
make human reality so interesting.

Third. Regarding Jung and Campbell. Honestly, I'm not sure that either
have "demonstrated" anything about the "basic psyche" that isn't encompassed
somewhere in Levi-Straus' notion of deep structure. Whether or not these
"Mythic symbols" are social constructs (as opposed to 'species memory') is a
matter for debate - nothing has been proven as far as I know. I don't
think that either Jung or Campbell would argue that these memories are
housed outside of individual (re: individually embodied social)
consciousness. And I'd argue vehemently against the idea that any of this
should be taken as 'demonstrated' (therefore 'assumed true').

Fourth. Of course there is a lot of garbage constituting whole genres of
literature. Again, this is a matter of opinion and interests and can not be
set in stone. If you mean to say that symbolic anthropology is one of these
dismissable genres, fine, that's your choice and I respectfully disagree.
What i had wanted to accomplish was to suggest that we shouldn't rely on
explanations like 'collective memory' and 'forgotten paradise' without
elaborately unwrapping the assumptions and implication of those
explanations. I have not yet seen any evidence here or elsewhere which
adequately does so. In fact, the concepts themselves seem so unwieldy that
I wonder if it would be possible to accomplish such a task. Feel free to
make the attempt...

Matt Tomaso
U. Texas Austin

It is a sick and beautiful world.