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Island 16 - Isle of Ecstasy and Holy Terror (from Muse of the Long Haul)

Island 16 - Isle of Ecstasy and Holy Terror (from Muse of the Long Haul)

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Published by Ian Irvine (Hobson)
This sample chapter from 'Muse of the Long Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination', written by Ian Irvine (Hobson) assesses the Dionysian element in creativity. The author uses his time in a central Victorian alternative rock band, Goya's Child, in the early 1990s to illustrate the points being made. Descriptions of band life are mixed with discussions of Greek tragedy and the Orphic mysteries. Under exploration are lived contemporary experiences related to the 'worlds' associated with various archetypes associated with masculine 'creativity' in Western history.
This sample chapter from 'Muse of the Long Haul: Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination', written by Ian Irvine (Hobson) assesses the Dionysian element in creativity. The author uses his time in a central Victorian alternative rock band, Goya's Child, in the early 1990s to illustrate the points being made. Descriptions of band life are mixed with discussions of Greek tragedy and the Orphic mysteries. Under exploration are lived contemporary experiences related to the 'worlds' associated with various archetypes associated with masculine 'creativity' in Western history.

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Published by: Ian Irvine (Hobson) on Jun 06, 2013
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07/07/2013

 
Island Sixteen
 – 
Isle of Ecstasy and Holy Terror
(Extract from:
Muse of the Long Haul Thirty-One Isles of the Creative Imagination 
)
Copyright
, Dr Ian Irvine, 2013 allrights reserved. All short extractsfrom the texts discussed areacknowledged and used under fair 
usage related to ‘review’ andtheoretical ‘critique’ under 
international copyright law.
Images:
Various band-posters fromthe early 1991-1993 copyrightremains with various bands depicted
(mostly Goya’s Child
members/designers). Other images by Sue King-Smith, Ian Irvine or friends of the band, copyright 1992-1993.
Publisher
: Mercurius Press,Australia, 2013. NB: This piece is published at Scribd as part of aseries drawn from the soon to be print published non-fiction book onexperiential poetics entitled:
 Museof the Long Haul: Thirty-One Islesof the Creative Imagination.
 
 
Island Sixteen
 – 
Isle of Ecstasy and Holy Terror
 
‘Deities of this lower world, to which all we of mortal birth descend, if I have your permission to
dispense with rambling insincerities and speak the simple truth, I did not come here to see the dim
haunts of Tartarus, nor yet to chain Medusa’s monstrous dog, with its three heads and snaky ruff. I
came because of my wife, cut off before she reached her prime when she trod on a serpent and it poured its poison into her veins. I wished to be strong enough to endure my grief, and I will not
deny that I tried to do so: but Love was too much for me.’
1
 Where are you Dionysus? Leading your dancing bandsOver the mountain slo
 pes, past many a wild beast’s lair,
 Or upon rocky crags, with the thyrsus in their hands?Or in the woodland coverts, maybe, of Olympus, whereOrpheus once gathered the trees and mountain beasts,Gathered them with his lyre, and sang an enchanting air.Hap
 py vale of Pieria! Bacchus delights in you …
2
 
The Chills were an 80s band out of Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. Their hauntingguitar melodies are legendary in the deep south of that country. I heard a song of theirs called
‘Pink Frost’ in 19
88 or so
 — 
I was holidaying in South Australia with my brother and his partner,and they had a tape of the band. I also loved the famous English folk-
 poem ‘The UnquietGrave’— 
a variation on the theme of the lover stolen by death from the beloved. The romanticimage of the sleeping or dead muse/beloved cradled in the arms of her grieving lover 
 — 
 perhaps
there has been some kind of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ type tragedy— 
fascinated me at the time. Theimage, of course, is highly Romantic
 — 
almost Gothic/pre-Raphaelite, though in my young-adult
helplessness I also connected it to Dante’s loss of Beatrice. I’d read the
 Inferno
in 1984 and
understood that before Dante got to see Beatrice in ‘heaven’ he had to journey through theMedieval version of ‘hell’.
 At the time I linked the image-constellation to the Jungian concept of the sick or deeplyrepressed Anima archetype to the idea that in highly rational, highly patriarchal societies menneglect their feminine sides
 — 
the consequence being dissatisfaction in love, trouble inrelationships, an inability to relate to women properly, etc. To some degree, of course, my owncircumstances structured the imagery
 — 
if society had distorted, to some degree, my capacity toshare love then there was a sense in which my Anima/Muse was underground; symbolically
speaking, sleeping or dead. Indeed, in terms of Graves’ thesis, the Goddess figure generally (and
thus healthy models of the feminine for men and women) had been systematically banished bythe elites of Western civilisation!Under such circumstances, and given I fancied myself a poet/songwriter/fiction writer 
even then, it was likely that I’d interpret the terrible beauty of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth interms of both Graves’ general thesis and in terms of my own circumstances. The trouble
wasOrpheus never managed to revive his Eurydice
 — 
the myth was tragic and represented, to my
mind, a victory for ‘civilisation’ over the deeper needs of the soul. Eventually I wrote two songs
concerned with this imagery
 — 
one featured prominently in the live performances of 
Goya’s
Child 
, the band I formed with four other musos in 1991. On more than one occasion spectatorsclaimed that in listen
ing to the song they’d felt
hairs stand up pm the back of their necks
 — 
it wascertainly a very haunting song to play live. The myth also featured as a guiding metaphor for the
1
 
Ovid, ‘Book X’,
 Metamorphosis,
p. 225,Trans. M M. Innes, 1975.
2
Euripides,
The Bacchae
, in
The Bacchae and Other Plays
, p. 198, Penguin, 1969, translators Radice and Baldick.
 
last chapter of my Honours thesis on the poetry of Robert Graves.
I first came across the story in Ovid’s
 Metamorphosis
. In simple terms Eurydice,
Orpheus’ new bride, is bitten by a snake on the ankle and ‘sinks lifelessly to the ground’. Ovidtells us: ‘The Thracian poet mourned her loss; when he had wept for her to the full in the upper 
world, he made so bold as to descend through the gate of Taenarus to the Styx, to try to rouse thesympathy of 
the shades as well.’ Inevitably ‘Orphic’ music came to be representative of the poet’s grief and in the myth his mournful songs of grief are used to plead with Hades andPersephone, King and Queen of the Underworld, for his wife’s release from death. The s
trategyis successful and Eurydice is permitted to return with Orpheus to the upper-world, provided, thatis, Orpheus can keep his faith and resist the urge to look back at Eurydice during the ascent.Ovid takes up the story:
Up the sloping path, through the mute silence they made their way, up the steep dark track, wrapped in impenetrable gloom, till they had almost reached the surface of the
earth. Here anxious in case his wife’s strength be failing and eager to see her, the lover 
looked behind him, and straightway Eurydice slipped back into the depths.
3
 
Things go to pieces somewhat after this event. The poet grieves excessively and Ovid tells us:
‘Orpheus had shrunk from loving any woman, either because of his unhappy experience, or 
 because he ha
d pledged himself not to do so.’ Eventually, Ciconian women caught sight of him,one screams: ‘See! Look here! Here is the man who scorns us!’ A musical battle— 
symbolically between Apollo and Dionysus
 —ensues in which ‘clamorous shouting, Phrygian flutes wi
thcurving horns, tambourines, the beating of breasts, and Bacchic howlings drown out the music of 
the lyre.’ Ovid narrates that the women’s weapons, at length, ‘draw crimson’ and eventually,‘Dead to all reverence, they tore him apart.’
 But the poet is not easily silenced. As a gruesome addenda we are told that though his
limbs were scattered his head and lyre remained animated: ‘Wonderful to relate, as they floated
down in midstream, the lyre uttered a plaintive melody, and the lifeless tongue made a piteous
murmur …’
 I never quite knew what to make of this story
 — 
in some respects Orpheus seemed too precious, too wussy, to use the Australian vernacular, to me. More importantly I found theending puzzling and dissatisfying. It had one redeeming feature, however, another kind of musichelped Orpheus out of his existential impasse
 — 
Bacchic music! From one perspective the manic
women had done the poor fellow a service through their actions, they’d reunited him with
Eurydice, his dead beloved. Such is the paradox of Dionysian liberation.I studied a number of Greek tragedies, including
The Bacchae,
early in my arts degree and
couldn’t help superimposing Jim Morrison singing ‘The End’ in some dingy LA pub over the
figure of Dionysus as depicted in that ancient play. I remember being fascinated by the way inwhich the deity undermined the morality police
 —the ‘authorities’— 
of the town. He was an un-easing figure for me, however 
 — 
a product perhaps of the moral extremism that placed Apollo thesun God
 — 
God of reason and measured musical composition
 — 
at one pole, and Dionysus, Godof chaos, drugs, madness and manic violence at the other. To my mind there had to be some kindof in-between.
In Euripides’ play Dionysus tells of his purpose in visiting Thebes:
 
3
Ovid,
 Metamorphoses,
p.226.

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