Centaur Consciousness: Technology, Myth and the Cultural Narrative

A Conversation with Dr. Ted Friedman, Georgia State University

Discussion via – David b. Metcalfe

_______________________________________________________________________ _ “For the last few years, I’ve been preoccupied with a concept that hasn’t received much academic attention lately: myth. Specifically, the idea that popular culture narratives are forms of myth.” - From Myth, the Numinous and Cultural Studies, first published online at

In an age of near ubiquitous communications, the classic divisions of society still affect our interactions. Barriers between businesses and consumers, academia and the public, governmental groups and their constituents, each block the development of a sustainable society and silence valuable discussion.

antihumanism. For example two of my greatest mentors and inspirations were advisors on my dissertation committee. it’s an overview of .”From Myth. it’s also become a keyword for the New Age movement. But in the disavowals of poststructuralism – antiessentialism. In particular I found a wonderful book by the writer Howard Siegel. I turned to my intellectual commitments to find solid ground. not only physically.” – From Vertigo. but also intellectually and spiritually. In grad school. But as I struggled to define myself on my own. first published online at FlowTV *** What lead to your interest in mythology and fantasy as valueable tools for cultural analysis and critique? This seems far a field from your first book Electric Dreams. antimetanarrativity – I found nothing to believe in. I was feeling sort of stuck at that theoretical spot. but I figured I’d go and look more carefully. My book had started as my dissertation. But as scholars of popular culture we ought to take vernacular theory seriously. I took a leap. inspired by Campbell’s injunction to “follow your bliss. At the same time the project of writing a dissertation has to *** Do the ideas of Joseph Campbell and mythographers of previous eras still hold value for you? Campbell was not one of my biggies. away from my classmates and professors.“I’d lost my bearings. I’d learned to talk the talk. disoriented.” The very ubiquity of the concept of myth in American popular culture may help explain its absence from academic discourse – a term which once held a lot of academic cachet has become awfully déclassé. Fredric Jameson and Janice Radway. and to try to understand the continuing resonance of a concept we’d thought we’d left behind. but how much of it was really important to me? Dizzy. “At the same time that myth has become a touchstone for screenwriters. the Numinous and Cultural Studies. first published online at FlowTv please so many masters and has politics behind it. and I think by the time I finished my dissertation and then tried to turn it into a book I had changed a lot of my thinking from where I started. I’d imbibed a heady brew of postmodern theory. I realized I didn’t really know what I stood for. called Joseph Campbell: An Introduction.

he’s turned back. Now. the Campbellians who I think are more naïve about the limitations of that often apolitical approach. Sauroman sends a storm to him it’s too strong. So they’re actually afraid of going completely under. *** “Magic serves the role in fantasy that technology does in science fiction . and you might even argue that perhaps this a flaw in the Lord of the Rings. The funny thing. and Gandalf tries to lead the group over the mountains. we grow more and more alienated from the actual workings of our technology. Instead they’re forced to go through the Mines of Moria. Technology. I don’t know if idealistic is the right word. first published online at Scope *** How does the Lord of the Rings reflect the hero’s journey and Jung’s concept of integration? Does Tolkien affectively address the darker aspects of reality? There’s that great scene where they are crossing the Mountains of Mordor. all of Howard Siegel’s stuff is really smart and great and is a very helpful dash of cold water on the more. the suitcase. Think about all the technological devices you own. and Nature in the 21st Century. He wants to take the path the world that our world has taken.” From The Poltics of Magic: Fantasy Media. At first they hit the sea monster who threatens to pull them under. for how many of them do you actually understand how they work? In an increasingly technologically complex society. the role that technology serves in real life. We don’t get the exploration of the Cthonic forces that other more emotionally mature authors provide. he wants the world of the mind. and Siegel’s work helps those who never thought through his politics or came to different conclusions. though. Campbell himself was a conservative.Campbell’s ideas and the limitations of Campbell’s ideas. So if you want to follow the Cartesian split that says the mind is opposite the body. he was very Franco-phobic and sort of emotionally stunted. and they have to turn back. in terms of Tolkien’s own psychology. For instance in Pulp Fiction. Siegel also has another book called Myth: A Very Short Introduction. he realizes he can’t win against the mind. Magic is the fictional force that makes tools work in fantasy worlds. Jung’s the Numinous.and in fact. Hitchcock’s . is how little separates technology from magic in our own everyday experience of the world. which is in that great Oxford Press series of Very Short Introductions.

Tolkien was a scholar. its virtue lies in opening up the possibility to imagine new and different futures beyond the ideological constraints of conventional wisdom. The “Twitter Revolution” rhetoric fits a familiar American narrative of technological utopianism. because like Campbell. they’re versions of the unrepresentable. This is the dynamic I describe in my book Electric Dreams: Computers and American Culture as the dialectic of technological determinism. *** “The American media’s enthusiasm for the new media elements of the Iran story. the rhetoric of technological determinism opens up a utopian sphere where we can momentarily transcend immediate pragmatic concerns – since the magic of technology will take care of the “how” – and imagine a more radically different future. Technological determinism wants to achieve that future immediately. that richness of understanding of world building. in which hopes for social and political transformation become attached to the promise of new technologies.MacGuffin. then. One day we want a world were high technology allows us to continue to live within our means sustainably. technological determinism reifies complex social phenomena. may have less to say about what’s going on in Iran than it does about the United States. He’s also interesting. for example. and other technofetishist cultural narratives? Do you think that these movements will provide the solutions they are promising? It’s technological utopianism very much in the mode of. is really critical to the power and depth of Tolkien’s vision. The technology is part of the . in my first book I mention hydrogen fueled cars. But if cybertopianism offers a distorted lens for understanding the complexities of political struggles. of history upon which to build a world. all of these are versions of the same thing. he’s a conservative.” – From Tweeting the Dialectic of Technological Determinism. minimizing the role of human agents by ascribing change to the impersonal.” On the other hand. They were pulled out every year that Bush was in office in inauguration speeches as just around the corner. inevitable force of technological “progress. published online at FlowTV first *** What are your thoughts on contemporary myths such as the Singuarity.7 On the one hand.

discussing the similarly counterintuitive contraction of the genre after the Sputnik launch in 1957. and hasn’t made it into a movie yet. in these uneven modes and models of uneven development *** Millions of people.solution somehow. China Melville. as real life became more cyberpunk. Real space travel almost killed the science fiction field" (Hartwell. and the creation of these alternate universes seems to have a particular imaginative crux to it.” From The Poltics of Magic: Fantasy Media. but we can also ask intelligently what are the best tools available that we have to address the situation. 1996: 109). but take something like Gaiman’s Sandman. started in the early 90’s and HBO is just now making the mini-series. And no new movement of science fiction writers emerged to capture the public's imagination as cyberpunk once did. "When it becomes real. Similarly. it's merely technology. first published online at Scope Harry Potter. Science fiction television series such as Star Trek (1966-2005) and The X-Files (1993-2002) ran out of steam. We can fantasize that there’s a technofix. *** “A funny thing happened to cyberpunk in the twenty-first century. the wonderful Tolkien’esque fantasy written by George Arimartis. and only now with True Blood is a different. or Lord of the Rings. and no new SF blockbusters emerged to take their place. There was a twenty year echo for cyberpunk. Technology. all of this world building. fictional cyborgs grew redundant. In the 90’s and into the early 21st century when cyberpunk became interesting in academia. or a novelists like Susanna Clark. just like there was this 15 year echo between London 1977 and Seattle 1992 with grunge rock. this boggling amount of world building. it lost its critical edge. which was written in the late 80’s and early 90’s. enjoying stories that Buffy was telling better nearly 20 years previously So this is the way culture works. Buffy was the best show on television for much of the 1990’s. and Nature in the 21st Century. Its insights absorbed by the culture. or comic book writers like Neil Gaiman or Michael Bendis. and that’s naïve. I’m not sure the time line will stay the same. it was capturing something that avantgardists like William Gibson had addressed nearly 20 years prior. As SF editor David Hartwell once put it. me included whether it’s the universe of . The Matrix sequels (2003) were critical and commercial disappointments. Game of Thrones. more adult audience.

plant. fantasy writers and hundreds of people at the conferences apparently. Learning the lessons of fantasy. But if we are to have any hope for the future. But it will require us to re-imagine the future. and vice versa. 1981: 273): the fact that we are all us . wind -part of the same integrated circuit. like animism. That’s really starting to change. animal. In calling for a "reenchantment of the world. They host two large conferences. Technology. Most of the fantasy writers that I’ve talked with. first published online at Scope * * * This conversation is hosted by [ open myth source ] In collaboration with Planetshifter.human. then. we retreat to our movie. To be a centaur is already to be a cyborg. it must involve just the kind of marriage of science and spirit that these fantasies are groping towards. inextricably enmeshed in multiple feedback loops. and computer screens to recreate an imaginary version of the world we've lost. With such a lack of focus on myth in academia how have you branched out in search of other contemporary mythographers? I was fortunate enough to get in touch with the Mythic Imagination Institute. a fantasy boom. Cybernetics. stone. but they were very receptive to discussion and interested in what I am working on. but they hosted something called Fairy Escapes. and Nature in the 21st Century. were finding that most of the money was in young adult fantasy. of the emerging centaur consciousness produced by twentyfirst century fantasy media? We could certainly see the strange mixture of technology and nature in these stories and games as simply a compensatory fantasy: as the globe melts. At this point I think that we are in the middle of. it was mostly fantasy writers and fans. recognizes "the relational nature of reality" (Berman. does not need to mean clinging to a lost. TV. machine. mythical past." Morris Berman points out that the posthuman science of cybernetics actually has much in common with the archaic tradition.” From The Poltics of Magic: Fantasy Media. even if they were ambitious. They haven’t had the money to stage a third big conference.and lags. *** “What are the possible consequences. with various theorists. then.com Magazine . certainly economically.

*** Dr. *** GreenVision – Vol. business .com Planetshifter. Planetshifter. interviews.com And Via Twitter @ TedFriedman PlanetShifter OpenMythSource DavidBMetcalfe leaders.com is an online blog network devoted to bringing clients and the community together to share ideas and news on sustainability. Ted Friedman Associate Professor of Communications Georgia State University Through conversation and collaboration with academics. 1. artists. musicians and alchemists across the sustainability spectrum. images and sounds from thought leaders.This is the first part in a continuing conversation with Dr.com TedFriedman. philosophers. green politics and the impact we have on our planet. Issue 1 Planetshifter. Friedman You can join the conversation at: Openmythsource.come features articles. essays. artists and musicians [ open myth source ] reactivates myth and storytelling to develop sustainable philosophies for the 21st century.

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