Euripides, “The Bacchae”


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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7 Responses

  1. Avatar Jake says:

    Have you read Adorno/Horkheimer’s “Dialectic of Enlightenment,” which is an extended meditation on this dilemma of the entwinement of myth and enlightenment?
    Writing in 1947, they draw the same conclusion about the Nazism as an orgiastic abandonment of reason. They however realize that we can’t go back to a world of pure myth, which offers a partial explanation as to why the “return” to myth is so much more disastrous then mythical time itself.

    ” The German neopagans and administrators of
    war fever want to reinstate pleasure.But since, under the work-pressure
    of the millennium now ending, pleasure has learned to hate itself, in its
    totalitarian emancipation it remains mean and mutilated through self-
    contempt. It is still in the grip of the self-preservation inculcated in it by
    the reason which has now been deposed. ” Adorno DE 24Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      @Jake, Yes I have- a long time ago, but I remember admiring it. That’s my sense too- that we can’t go back to a world of pure myth, but that there were some terrible attempts to create a politics of irrationality in the 20th century. The Romantics wanted to create a politics of supposedly primitive folkloric inspiration as well- the 1848 revolution in France was animated by much talk of finding a prophetic poet to lead society. What I think people missed about the volkish enthusiasms in the next century was that their appeal was in their liberation from rationality- there was a prophetic psychopathology that’s tough for secular liberalism to deal with. We like to think that people are becoming progressively more rational.

      “German neopagans” is great! And they’re right- it’s impossible to ever go back to a time of mass belief in unbelievable things, although we keep on trying!Report

  2. Avatar Jake says:

    Just a few other quotes from DE that illuminate the issue.
    “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. Enlightenment’s program was the disenchantment
    of the world.* It wanted to dispel myths, to overthrow fantasy with knowl-
    edge…. ” (DE 1)
    “But the myths which fell victim to the Enlightenment were them-
    selves its products. The scientific calculation of events annuls the account
    of them which thought had once given in myth. Myth sought to report,
    to name, to tell of origins—but therefore also to narrate, record, explain.” (DE 5)
    “Whatever might be different is made the same. That is the verdict which critically sets the boundaries to possible experience… Not merely are
    qualities dissolved in thought, but human beings are forced into real con-
    formity… The horde, a term which doubtless* is to be
    found in the Hitler Youth organization, is not a relapse into the old bar-
    barism but the triumph of repressive égalité, the degeneration of the equal-
    ity of rights into the wrong inflicted by equals. The fake myth of fascism
    reveals itself as the genuine myth of prehistory, in that the genuine myth
    beheld retribution while the false one wreaks it blindly on its victims.” (DE 8-9)Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      @Jake, I’ll check it out from the library- I actually read it for my field exams about three years ago. The disenchantment of the world is a very famous term. My understanding of it is that we’re stuck- unable to go back to believing in absurdities, but many people still crave those commanding orders of being that they once could have placed themselves within. Myth provides a story and makes each of us a character in that story. It gives a sense of higher purpose, when most of us lead quite unspectacular lives. Blood and soil, I think, served that function- you can be someone too, just by virtue of your birth! It’s the possibility for selfhood- which is experienced as a burden- to be dissolved into something larger- the nation, race, party, church, etc. It’s that numinous feeling of self-annihilation!Report

      • Avatar Jake says:

        @Rufus F.,

        You seem to have a pretty good grasp of what Adorno’s about.
        One question raised by Adorno’s thought vis-a-vis your reading of Euripedies is whether myth/reason is an eternal division within the human soul, or a historical dialectic?

        You seem to be mostly thinking the former, and the possibility Adorno raises is that there is something qualitatvely different between mythic consciousness and the return to myth by post-Enlightenment consciousness.

        For Adorno, the idea that nothing ever changes (e.g., eternal cycle of seasons, or the binary of myth/enlightenment) is one of the main markers of mythic consciousness.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          @Jake, I do think the need for mythic belief is always there- I don’t think the psyche changes to great extent. But I would agree with them that modern attempts to return to myth tend to be failures, or even doomed in some sense. Not long ago, I attended a “neo-pagan” drumming circle/banquet, and after talking to everyone and socializing, it was hard not to think that these people weren’t atheists who weren’t yet willing to own up to it.Report