some thoughts on some rather timely ideas from Mircea Eliade's The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History I've been meaning to share
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been pondering the implications of cyclical time vs. the modern, linear conception of time, and their relationship to current art and culture
"The chief difference between the man of the archaic and traditional societies and the man of the modern societies... lies in the fact that the former feels himself indissolubly connected with the Cosmos and the cosmic rhythms, whereas the latter insists that he is connected only with History."
under the cyclical model of time, everything - order, art, behavior - derives its existence and value from archetypes...
"If we observe the general behavior of archaic man, we are struck by the following fact: neither the objects of the external world nor human acts, properly speaking, have any autonomous intrinsic value. Objects or acts acquire a value, and in so doing become real, because they participate, after one fashion or another, in a reality that transcends them. Among countless stones, one stone becomes sacred - and hence instantly becomes saturated with being - because it constitutes a hierophany, or possesses mana, or again because it commemorates a mythical act, and so on. The object appears as the receptacle of an exterior force that differentiates it from its milieu and gives it meaning and value... It resists time; its reality is coupled with perenniality."
the very architecture - in every sense of the word - of the culture and its sacred sites are built upon the model of its mythical origin
"In Iranian cosmology of the Zarvanitic tradition, "every terrestrial phenomenon, whether abstract or concrete, corresponds to a celestial, transcendent invisible term, to an "idea" in the Platonic sense" .... The Temple, in particular - pre-eminently the sacred place - had a celestial prototype. On Mount Sinai, Jehovah shows Moses the "form" of the sanctuary that he is to build for him. ... Cities too have their divine prototypes. All the Babylonian cities had their archetypes in the constellations: Sippara in Cancer, Nineveh in Ursa Major, Assur in Arcturus, etc. ... We find the same theory in India: all the Indian royal cities, even the modern ones, are built after the mythical model of the celestial city where, in the age of gold the Universal Sovereign dwelt. And, like the latter, the king attempts to revive the age of gold, to make a perfect reign a present reality."
indeed, there is an intent to identify with and share in the perfection and vitality of the original condition
"To assure the reality and the enduringness of a construction, there is a repetition of the divine act of perfect construction: the Creation of the worlds and of man. As the first step, the "reality" of the site is secured through consecration of the ground, i.e., through its transformation into a center; then the validity of the act of construction is confirmed by repetition of the divine sacrifice. Naturally, the consecration of the center occurs in a space qualitatively different from profane space. Through the paradox of the rite, every consecrated space coincides with the center of the world, just as the time of any ritual coincides with the mythical time of the "beginning." Through the repetition of the cosmogonic act, concrete time, in which the construction takes place, is projected into mythical time, in illo tempore when the foundation of the world occured. Thus the reality and the enduringness of a construction are assured not only by the transformation of profane space into a transcendent space (the center) but also by the transformation of concrete time into mythical time. Any ritual whatsoever... unfolds not only in a consecrated space (i.e., one different in essence from profane space) but also in "sacred time," "once upon a time" (in illo tempore, ab origine), that is, when the ritual was perfomed for the first time by a god, an ancestor, or a hero."
a strict, symbolic repetition of the founding event/ritual/performance
of course, time will do its thing, which is unwelcome to archaic man... reality/order becomes corrupted and things become stale, so there is a need for continual renewal... The Eternal Return... cyclical time
"The beginning of the year varied from country to country as well as in different periods. ... the essential thing is that there is everywhere a conception of the end and the beginning of a temporal period, based on the biocosmic rhythms and forming part of a larger system - the system of periodic purifications... and the periodic regeneration of life... a new Creation, that is, a repetition of the cosmogonic act."
so the event of Creation repeats, on some ritual - yet 'real'/accepted level every year...
this requires the destruction of the old one, however:
"...periodic ceremonies, which, we can group under two main headings: (1) annual expulsion of demons, diseases, and sins; (2) rituals of the days preceding and following the New Year... in certain societies the extinguishing and rekindling the fire predominate; in others, it is the material expulsion (by noise and violent gestures) of demons and diseases. ... The meaning of the whole ceremony, like that of each of its constituent elements, is sufficiently clear... we witness not only the effectual cessation of a certain temporal interval and the beginning of another, but also the abolition of the past year and of past time... Regeneration, as its name indicates, is a new birth."
with every year, reality is born anew.
these cycles, by the way, sometimes happened in ages as well as in yearly cycles - today being the big reset day for the Mayan calendar.
this conception of the cyclical year, was shared by civilizations as well as smaller hunter and gatherer communities...
"...there are... very considerable differences between the various groups of periodic ceremonies, if only for the simple reason that we are dealing with both historical and "anhistorical" peoples... It is further of interest to note that the New Years scenarios are particularly explicit among the historical peoples, those with whom history, properly speaking, begins - that is, the Babylonians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Iranians. It almost seems that these peoples, conscious that they were the first to build "history," recorded their own acts for the use of their successors (not, however, without inevitable transfigurations in the matter of categories or archetype). These same peoples also appear to have felt a deeper need to regenerate themselves periodically by abolishing past time and reactualizing the cosmogony."
"We might point out that an outstandingly historical people, the Romans, were continuously obsessed by the "end of Rome" and sought innumerable systems of renovatio."
"As for the primitive societies that still live in the paradise of archetypes and for whom time is recorded only biologically without being allowed to become "history" - that is, without its corrosive action being able to exert itself upon consiousness by revealing the irreversibility of events - the primitive societies regenerate themselves periodically through the expulsion of "evils" and confession of sins... among these peoples too, the existence of man in the cosmos is regarded as a fall."
"What does living mean for a man who belongs to a traditional culture? Above all, it means living in accordance with extrahuman models, in conformity with archetypes. Hence it means living at the heart of the real."
" ...if, through the repetition of paradigmatic gestures and by means of periodic ceremonies, archaic man succeeded, as we have seen, in annuling time, he none the less lived in harmony with the cosmic rhythms..."
so, to compare cyclical time to modern linear (which isn't to say necessarily the present conception of time, whatever that is):
"The present world is not entirely converted to historicism; we are even witnessing a conflict between the two views: the archaic conception, which we should designate as archetypal and anhistorical; and the modern, post-Hegelian conception, which seeks to be historical. ... From Hegel on, every effort is directed toward saving and conferring value on the historical event as such, the event in itself and for itself. ... Historical man lies in the increasing value [given] to historical events, that is, to the "novelties" that, for traditional man, represented either meaningless conjunctures or infractions of norms (hence "faults," "sins," and so on) and that, as such, required to be expelled (abolished) periodically. [But] the modern man can be creative only insofar as he is historical; in other words, all creation is forbidden him except that which has its source in his own freedom; and consequently, everything is denied him except the freedom to make history by making himself. ... The "freedom" that historical existence implies was possible - and even then within certain limits - at the beginning of the modern period, but it tends to become inaccessible as the period becomes more historical, by which we mean more alien from any trans-historical model."
interesting, I wonder if this is even more or less true now compared to when this book was written
"Thus, for traditional man, modern man affords the type neither of a free being nor of a creator of history. On the contrary, the man of the archaic civilizations can be proud of his mode of existence, which allows him to be free to create. He is free to be no longer what he was, free to annul his own history through periodic abolition of time and collective regeneration"
an interesting take^^
as far as my take on cyclical time vs. linearity, my own preference falls somewhere into a synthesis of the two... spiraling time, perhaps...
I will say, regardless of any futurity to so much of the music I've enjoyed over the years, I think the driving force to a lot of it was considerably closer to the archaic/ritual model... a stepping into a freedom from time
although, untraditionally (but not entirely modern either) I definitely don't attribute this transcendent agency to merely some power in the form, but to the freshness/vitality inherent in the act of aspiring towards the transcendent ideal beyond - or before - its established signifier/form finds definition ('transcendent ideals' can include a vague idea of 'modernity'). the vital form is cut diving into the prima materia
and somewhere between these two time models lies the key - that the truly identification with - or realization of - the original creative state (which is in effect the Heroic act after which traditional schemas build their archetype, or to the modern subject, makes History) is not achieved with some form used correctly (as traditional man asserts in fidelity to his ritual - and as retroists assume*), but by acting on this ideal of vitality and creation at the deepest, most pre-symbolic level
*but which still worked for traditional man, but not for retroists, because retro doesn't have a meaningful narrative
or in-built birth>death cycle** to renew the 'tradition' and sustain its vitality
**unless you count trend cycles, but those have diminishing returns!
**unless you count trend cycles, but those have diminishing returns!