Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return

This is the 5th book that I have read for My Two-Thirds Book Challenge.

I stated at the end of my review of Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces that I hoped that this might be a good follow-up book to Campbell and I have to say that I think it was. It is certainly a different project than Campbell’s but it dovetails nicely.


      • Introduction to the 2005 Edition by Jonathan Z. Smith
      • Foreword
      • Preface
      • Chap. 1: Archetypes and Repetition
        • § The Problem
        • § Celestial Archetypes of Territories, Temples, and Cities
        • § The Symbolism of the Center
        • § Repetition of the Cosmogony
        • § Divine Models of Rituals
        • § Archetypes of Profane Activities
        • § Myths and History
      • Chap. 2: The Regeneration of Time
        • § Year, New Year, Cosmogony
        • § Periodicity of the Creation
        • § Continuous Regeneration of Time
      • Chap. 3: Misfortune and History
        • § Normality of Suffering
        • § History Regarded as Theophany
        • § Cosmic Cycles and History
        • § Destiny and History
      • Ch. 4: The Terror of History
        • § Survival of the Myth of Eternal Return
        • § The Difficulties of Historicism
        • § Freedom and History
        • § Despair or Faith
      • Bibliography
      • Index

This is a fairly complicated book but I found it in no way tiresome to read, as I often did Campbell. Is it more “true” than Campbell? I don’t think we can ever know that but most of it is certainly plausible. My biggest concern, as it is in many areas, is can we really get into the head of archaic man? So many things were so different then than how they are, or have been for a good while, for any of us that can read (or could have written) this book.

The gist is a comparison of how primitive or archaic humans viewed history versus how historical man views history. For archaic human, Eliade claims, everything that mattered—that had meaning—was a repeat of an archetype of some previous event or action in ‘primordial’ time, and that these things were endlessly repeated as the world was, in fact, repeatedly re-created anew.

“The essential theme of my investigation bears on the image of himself formed by the man of the archaic societies and on the place he assumes in the Cosmos. The chief difference between the man of the archaic and traditional societies and the man of the modern societies with their strong imprint of Judaeo-Christianity lies in the fact that the former feels himself indissolubly connected with the Cosmos, whereas the latter insists that he is connected only with History. …” xxvii-xxviii

“The reader will remember that they [traditional civilizations] defended themselves against it [history], either by periodically abolishing it through repetition of the cosmogony and a periodic regeneration of time or by giving historical events a metahistorical meaning, a meaning that was not only consoling but was above all coherent, that is, capable of being fitted into a well-consolidated system in which the cosmos and man’s existence had each its raison d’être.” 142

The Hebrews, with their faith in Yahweh and their interpretation of events being a manifestation of His will, gave us ‘history.’ This view evolves over time, eventually leading to historicism.

“Thus, for the first time, the [Hebrew] prophets placed a value on history, succeeded in transcending the traditional vision of the cycle (the conception that ensure all things will be repeated forever), and discovered a one-way time. This discovery was not to be immediately and fully accepted by the consciousness of the entire Jewish people, and the ancient conceptions were still long to survive.” 104

“It may, then, be said with truth that the Hebrews were the first to discover the meaning of history as the epiphany of God, and this conception, as we should expect, was taken up and amplified by Christianity.

We may even ask ourselves if monotheism, based upon the direct and personal revelation of the divinity, does not necessarily entail the “salvation” of time, its value within the frame of history.” 104

“From the seventeenth century on, linearism and the progressivistic conception of history assert themselves more and more, inaugurating faith in an infinite progress, a faith already proclaimed by Leibniz, predominant in the century of “enlightenment,” and popularized in the nineteenth century by the triumph of the ideas of the evolutionists. We must wait until our own century to see the beginnings of certain new reactions against this historical linearism and a certain revival of interest in the theory of cycles; …” 145-46

The problem for modern man is one of existentialism, although that term is never used. It is, though, described in the text in places.

“For our purpose, only one question concerns us: How can the “terror of history” be tolerated from the viewpoint of historicism? Justification of a historical event by the simple fact that it is a historical event, in other words, by the simple fact that it “happened that way,” will not go far toward freeing humanity from the terror that the event inspires.” 150

What is interesting, and Eliade points towards it even in 1949, is that there is a nostalgia, a return even, towards the archaic view of history.

“Some pages earlier, we noted various recent orientations that tend to reconfer value upon the myth of cyclical periodicity, even the myth of eternal return. … …, it is worth noting that the work of two of the most significant writers of our day–T. S. Eliot and James Joyce–is saturated with nostalgia for the myth of eternal repetition and, in the last analysis, for the abolition of time.” 153

I think this kind of thinking is also reflected in the current interest in the Mayan calendar and 2012, in various forms of magical thinking like that involved in the Singularity, and other views and ideas floating around in early 21st-century consumer culture. I would really love to have Eliade’s take on this.

Eliade’s analysis leads him to claim that Christianity is the answer modern man has arrived at to combat the “terror of history.”

“But we are able to observe here and now that such a position [historicist] affords a shelter from the terror of history only insofar as it postulates the existence at least of the Universal Spirit. What consolation should we find in knowing that the sufferings of millions of men have made possible the revelation of a limitary situation of the human condition if, beyond that limitary situation, there should be only nothingness?” 159-60

“In this respect, Christianity incontestibly proves to be the religion of “fallen man”: and this to the extent which modern man is irremediably identified with history and progress, and to which history and progress are a fall, both implying the final abandonment of the paradise of archetypes and repetition.” 162

Personally, this leaves me unsatisfied. I am not sure that this is simply an objective (or as objective as possible) analysis or whether it is the answer Eliade wanted. Throughout most of the book, and even in the final clause above [the final sentence of the book], he seems to be more positively drawn towards the archaic human view than that of the modern, historical human.

I wonder whether the existential crisis is not simply overstated here, as it is in many places. Or perhaps it was more of a crisis when this book was written; it was certainly more of a ‘movement’ then than now. Perhaps 21st-century humans, at least those of us living our lives in our blogs and on twitter and so on, are simply too busy to feel the ‘crisis’ as deeply.

Something from the foreword which I fully agree would be a good thing:

“Our chief intent has been to set forth certain governing lines of force in the speculative field of archaic societies. It seemed to us that a simple presentation of this field would not be without interest, especially for the philosopher accustomed to finding his problems and the mean of solving them in the texts of classic philosophy or in the spiritual history of the West. With us, it is an old conviction that Western philosophy is dangerously close to “provincializing” itself … by its obstinate refusal to recognize any “situations” except those of the man of the historical civilizations, in defiance of the experience of “primitive” man, of man as a member of the traditional societies. … Better yet: that the cardinal problems of metaphysics could be renewed through a knowledge of archaic ontology.” xxiv

There are some interesting comments in a couple of places regarding the views of the elites (particularly the educated/intellectual elite) vs. the common person that I found intriguing, and that speak to related issues of today.

I imagine that I will revisit this work in the future. I am not entirely sure I understood everything Eliade claims; in fact, I know I didn’t. Another read might not fully solve that issue but it would help immensely I imagine. And I do think some interesting work on current culture could be done with the framework he has outlined here.


Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

This is the 4th book that I have finished in my Two-Thirds Book Challenge. I started it 6 October 2011 and finished it 15 January 2012. I had not intended to take so long but it is somewhat complex and, in all honesty, the rampant Freudianism/psychoanalysis is simply too much at times.

I have almost 6 pages of notes but I think I will ignore them for this review.

The central thesis is, I believe, reasonably sound. Although, certainly, it is not the only way to spin a description of cross-cultural mythology. It is in some of the (psychoanalytic) interpretation that the spinning out of control happens.

This past fall semester I took a course in classic literature and mythology, and as of today I finished a quick 3-week romp through 30 of the Grimm’s fairy tales. This book explains, or at least describes, much of what is present and happening in these stories.

One of the things I appreciated and respected is that Campbell clearly includes the stories of the Christian Bible–Old and New Testaments–in his analysis of myth.

One of the things I am unsatisfied with—I fear to be expected in Western culture and, in particular, with psychoanalysis—is the gendered explanation.

I do think the book is worth reading; some parts are certainly much better than others. In most places my notes are fairly detailed but in a few I wrote “This [such and such] is crap!” or “mumbo jumbo.”

I am going to provide a detailed list of the contents as perhaps that will provide the best overview of what the book contains/discusses:

Prologue: The Monomyth

  • 1. Myth and Dream
  • 2. Tragedy and Comedy
  • 3. The Hero and the God
  • 4. The World Navel

Part I: The Adventure of the Hero

  • Chapter I: Departure
    • 1. The Call to Adventure
    • 2. Refusal of the Call
    • 3. Supernatural Aid
    • 4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
    • 5. The Belly of the Whale/li>
  • Chapter II: Initiation
    • 1. The Road of Trials
    • 2. The Meeting with the Goddess
    • 3. Woman as the Temptress
    • 4. Atonement with the Father
    • 5. Apotheosis
    • 6. The Ultimate Boom
  • Chapter III: Return
    • 1. Refusal of the Return
    • 2. The Magic Flight
    • 3. Rescue from Without
    • 4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
    • 5. Master of the Two Worlds
    • 6. Freedom to Live
  • Chapter IV: The Keys

Part II: The Cosmogonic Cycle

  • Chapter I: Emanations
    • 1. From Psychology to Metaphysics
    • 2. The Universal Round
    • 3. Out of the Void–Space
    • 4. Within Space–Life
    • 5. The Breaking of the One onto the Manifold
    • 6. Folk Stories of Creation
  • Chapter II: The Virgin Birth
    • 1. Mother Universe
    • 2. Matrix of Destiny
    • 3. Womb of Redemption
    • 4. Folk Stories of Virgin Motherhood
  • Chapter III: Transformations of the Hero
    • 1. The Primordial Hero and the Human
    • 2. Childhood of the Human Warrior
    • 3. The Hero as Warrior
    • 4. The Hero as Lover
    • 5. The Hero as Emperor and as Tyrant
    • 6. The Hero as World Redeemer
    • 7. The Hero as Saint
    • 8. Departure of the Hero
  • Chapter IV: Dissolutions
    • 1. End of the Microcosm
    • 2. End of the Macrocosm

Epilogue: Myth and Society

  • 1. The Shapeshifter
  • 2. The Function of the Myth, Cult, and Meditation
  • 3. The Hero Today

As a follow-up book to this one, I began another of my 2/3rds Challenge books, Mircea Eliade’s The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History. It, too, is in the Bollingen Series. So far I am enjoying it. It is also a quite deep book and I am taking many notes. Thus, it may also take a while to get through.


My friend Jess talked me into participating in JaPoWriMo, or January Poetry Writing Month. At least that is how I am parsing it out.

The idea is simply to write one poem a day. She insisted they could be a short as haiku and that there was no requirement for them to be any good. I am sharing them with her and my wife, of course and, so far, one or two with the odd other here and there.

Much of my month is taken up with my Grimm’s Fairy Tale class and editing and other magazine production duties putting together this year’s issue of the Briar Cliff Review. Thus, a couple have been about Grimm’s; I foresee one or more about editing; I have written a couple about books, those I’ve read and those I won’t be reading (end-of-2011 book post); one about meetings (after a long meeting on Friday); one about our SirsiDynix Symphony ILS (subject of said and several other meetings); one about not having a subject; and so on.

There is no need to worry—not much anyway— as I will not be sharing all of them with you here. Many of them are bad, and I doubt that any of them are actually good. But I agreed to commit to this writing a poem a day in an otherwise already quite busy month as I hoped that more writing, even if mostly tossed off, would help me in assorted ways as a poet and a writer. The bottom-line is that I am a lazy poet. Perhaps this will cultivate a habit, perhaps this will leave me with a few choice phrases or lines or ideas, perhaps nothing will come of it.

With all of that said, I would like to share two that I wrote in response to my Grimm’s class. The first was written about 15 minutes before the class met for the first time; the second was written this morning and is a conflation of “Snow-white and Rose-red” and “Little Snow White,” which we read for and discussed this past Friday, along with other generic thoughts on the role of “beauty” in the tales we’ve read so far (~10).


Grimm’s excitement today
Innocents start to play
Villains and ogres slay
Justice wins come what may

3 January 2012

Beauty for its own sake, enticement.
Or is it really entrapment?

The hunter spares her …
The wicked queen poisons her …
The dwarves domesticate her …
The prince wants her … dead and mute.

Snow-white. Rose-red. Two
Halves of the same girl.
A maiden on the edge
Of womanhood.

Tame the bear,
Emasculate the dwarf,
Remain kind to the vile.
Gentleness, purity, innocence

Retained. These are the steps to
Make oneself a woman.
Chaste, yet chargedly erotic.
Snow-white. Rose-red.


8 January 2012

I may spend some time with the second as it could undoubtedly be improved. But, considering that I wrote it in about 10 minutes this morning I can live with it.

Two-Thirds Book Challenge Update 3

This is the 3rd update to the Two-Thirds book Challenge.


Themes are the structure to Sara’s Challenge so we’ll honor those here. Her comments on the following four books can be seen here: Books of 2011


The Late American Novel, edited by Jeff Martin, “was an excellent choice.”

“Dozens of writers of various genres put in their two cents about the future of writing, reading and books. The reactions are all over the place, the styles vary dramatically, and the different voices are very strong. Out of all these essays, there were only a couple I found myself skimming through rather than reading carefully and soaking up. I took many notes and in some places laughed out loud. Ironically, I read the book in the Kindle app on my iPad. I would love to get a paper copy and read it again in a year to see how the predictions are faring. Highly recommended for personal collections and gift giving.”

I am hoping to read this so I sure hope lending is enabled on this title.


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

“Gaiman takes Kipling’s classic The Jungle Book and changes the setting to a graveyard. He pulls it off in a wonderful way, and without a tacky ending. I would love to see more stories with these characters.”

Perhaps this can be my entrée to Gaiman.

The Magicians AND The Magician King by Lev Grossman

“When Magician King came out, I saw all sorts of interviews and reviews on book blogs discussing the allusions and references to writers like C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, Neal Stephenson, and many others. Just like my fascination with retold myths, I was intrigued by this series that admitted to so many influences. It took me a couple times to start The Magicians — Quentin is not the most sympathetic character, after all. But once I pushed through the first few chapters, the book really took off for me and the second book was even better.”


E found Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End “an enjoyable, engaging read” that she “zipped through” in a couple of days for her book club. She found several aspects well done: “the first person plural narration, the sense of futile frenetic energy in a workplace trying to justify its existence, the disconnect between real life and work life. I loved the bits and pieces of Chicago that emerged throughout the story. The interlude at the center of the book – a meditation on a woman’s cancer diagnosis – was moving and effective.” But she also felt that on occasion it fell flat and was clichéd.

Part of the problem for her might be that it reminded her of Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, one of her favorite books. If you are not overexposed to the workplace novel, or simply love them, then check out E’s review in its entirety and consider Then We Came to the End.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Another book club selection for Miss E, and a Kindle read. She thinks she may have gotten through it primarily by being stuck in a lengthy blood drive line, which gave her “time to really get hooked on the story, if not on the characters themselves.”

“I can say definitively that Egan is a master storyteller. A Visit from the Goon Squad weaves in and out of time, with a number of stories told in layers, folding and unfolding onto themselves. The reader encounters characters at different points in their lives. … Each of these stories – episodes – windows of time is deftly, though not always gracefully, presented, surrounded by music and an indelible scene, whether it is the Bay area in the 70s, New York in the early 90s, full of optimism, or New York in the near future, recovering but not recovered from 9/11.”

She certainly has some more to say so check out her review if the above intrigues you.


Jen has been ripping through books!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Jen almost beat the buzz around this by starting on it with her son a few years ago. He finished it but she did not. 🙁 With the family slated to see the new movie (Hugo) and a bit of peer pressure she read it.

Her bottom line, post-movie: “To sum up: great book, great movie, just see the movie first.”

Sara and I both also read this recently. We loved it! It is a ~530-page book but with so many beautiful illustrations I read it in under 2 hours. It isn’t a graphic novel but it isn’t simply a text novel either. It is something else and, whatever that something is, it is wonderful.

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

Jen didn’t have a lot to say about this one directly, but we’ll chalk that up to her being under the weather. It sounds like this is a book to focus on, unlike how many of us read sometimes.

“Most books I can easily drop in and out of and not lose my place, as it were, but I had trouble with this book. That aside, the book is both as fantastical in parts as it is earthbound and realistic in others. Since the voice changes between characters, I was sometimes lost if I went too long without reading or was waiting to hear the voice from someone in another book (the problem mentioned above). I don’t think that these characters will haunt me in the ways that other ones do, but I will carry with me some of the observations they made along the way. I wish I had marked pages and passages that touched me, but I didn’t.”

Between Jen’s comments and looking at the book at amazon (gorgeous covers on her books!) this one sounds intriguing as hell.

Black Like Me (50th anniversary ed.) by John Howard Griffin

“This is a wonderful book about racial inequalities, laid about as bare as possible. While the writing isn’t eloquent, it doesn’t need to be. The author used medicine to change the color of his skin from white to black and lived for ~6 weeks as a black man. Nothing else changed about him–he kept his name, profession, history, etc. While I found the whole of the book to be enlightening in many unexpected ways, I found the last part and the afterward the most intriguing.”

This is one of those books I need to read. Many others, I suspect, do to.

My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business: A Memoir by Dick Van Dyke

A memoir in the man’s own words. Nothing shocking here, Jen says. But would one expect shocking from Dick Van Dyke?

“He did smoke for a long time, and was an alcoholic and that’s as scandalous as it gets. If you’re looking for something disreputable, stay away from this book. Instead, it’s a happy walk down a fantastic memory lane.”

Mark (me)

I called Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov an “odd text” and that it is. Nowadays there are more things like it but for its time it was pretty groundbreaking. I had a fair bit to say about it in my post but the gist is that:

“I did enjoy Pale Fire although I doubt that I yet appreciate it as much as a few trusted recommenders do. I will need to reread it some day to better appreciate it in all its nuances: hidden, overt, and otherwise. Nabokov is a master of indirection as Rorty points out in his introduction.”

Transformations by Anne Sexton

“Brutal. Unflinching. Caustic. Anne Sexton let loose on fairy tales.”

“Sex and death. The never-ending story. Incest. (Real or contrived.) Old aunt. Father. Mixed in with the typical fare of lust, greed, hate, pride, and all of the other human foibles.”

Not, as I say, for the uninitiated. Sexton is quite powerful: pulls no punches, spares no sacred cows.


That does it for this installment in the Two-Thirds Book Challenge. Stay tuned.

Sexton, Transformations

Brutal. Unflinching. Caustic. Anne Sexton let loose on fairy tales.

This is another book in my Two-Thirds Book Challenge.

There isn’t a lot to say here unless one is a fan of Sexton. We read a few of these along with many other Sexton poems (and those of Sylvia Plath) in the Madwomen Poets class I took in fall of 2010. I found an excellent copy of this in a lovely used bookstore (Defunct Books) in Iowa City sometime after the class was over so I bought it.

There is a forward by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. but I honestly don’t know what role it is supposed to play. From a purely mercenary capitalistic perspective I guess it was even better than a blurb by a “name.” ::sigh::

These are not accessible poems to the uninitiated. Clearly, most adults brought up on the Disney-fied versions of fairy tales can appreciate some of what is going on here. But Sexton pulls no punches and, as she is a confessional poet, one needs to know her story.

Sex and death. The never-ending story. Incest. (Real or contrived.) Old aunt. Father. Mixed in with the typical fare of lust, greed, hate, pride, and all of the other human foibles.

The poems are:

  • The Gold Key
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The White Snake
  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • The Little Peasant
  • Godfather Death
  • Rapunzel
  • Iron Hans
  • Cinderella
  • One-Eye, Two-Eyes, Three-Eyes
  • The Wonderful Musician
  • Red Riding Hood
  • The Maiden Without Hands
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses
  • The Frog Prince
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)

Some excerpts to whet your appetite (or not):

From “Iron Hans” p. 50

“Without Thorazine
or benefit of psychotherapy
Iron Hans was transformed.
no need for Master Medical;
no need for electroshock—
merely bewitched all along.
Just as the frog who was a prince.
Just as the madman his simple boyhood.”

Opening to “Cinderella” p. 53

“You always read about it:
the plumber with twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.

Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son’s heart.
From diapers to Dior.
That story.


From “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, Three-Eyes” p. 60-61

“The unusual needs to be commented upon…

The idiot child,
a stuffed doll who can only masturbate.
The hunchback carrying his hump
like a bag of onions…
Oh how we treasure
their scenic value.”

One group I can recommend this book of transformed fairy tales to, besides Sexton fans who have yet to read this, is those interested in critiques of the “traditional” Disney-fied, male-centered fairy/folk tale.

Sexton, as usual, is quite powerful.


Books Read in 2011

Having learned from the painful construction of last (and previous) year’s list here are the links to assorted places to find good first approximations of which books I read in 2011:

And I must say that this is far easier. There was still a lot of effort to get good entries into Zotero, to add or fix records at Open Library and/or goodreads. But that all had to be done previously and then there was still all of the HTML/CSS wrangling to be done, which I skipped this year.


In 2011, based on other data, it appears I read 96 books, am currently still reading 9 books (some far more actively than others), and have given up on 6 books.

Assorted breakdowns

Fiction: 15
Nonfiction: 29
Poetry: 33 + 2 about poetry
Graphic novels: 17

Continued from 2010: 1 (poetry)
Read & Reread: 2 (2nd reading not counted in total: Dickens’ Hard Times; Brontë’s, Jane Eyre)
Ebooks: 6 Finished (1 poetry, 4 fiction, 1 nonfiction), 2 Not finished (1 about poetry, 1 nonfiction), 2 Quit (both nonfiction)

Still reading (9): 7 nonfiction, 1 poetry, 1 about poetry
Gave up (6): 3 nonfiction, 1 fiction, 1 poetry, 1 about poetry

Male authors: 47 different
Female authors: 25 different
2 Male authors: 2 books
2 Female authors: 2 books
1 each: 4 books

Same author, multiple books

Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead): 13
Karen Armstrong: 2
Alan Jacobs: 2
John Maynard Smith: 2

Lee Ann Roripaugh: 3
Pablo Neruda: 2
Billy Collins: 2
Kristen McHenry: 2
Tomas Tranströmer: 2

I reviewed many of these books either here or at goodreads, and in the case of LibraryThing Early Reader books also at LibraryThing. If interested, the easiest way to find my comments would be to use the category Books here at the blog. I did, however, make a few shorter comments on some books at goodreads that I did not post here. I believe that any review I posted at LibraryThing was also posted at goodreads.

A few that I would highly recommend:

  • Rachel Maines, The Technology of Orgasm
  • Brown & Duguid, The Social Life of Information
  • Erwitt, Personal Exposures (photographs) – wrote about this book for my summer Digital Photography class
  • Abbas, Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Bauer, jeni’s splendid ice creams at home
  • Scholes, English After the Fall
  • Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret

 Previous Books Read posts