TOTEM BODY Gallery
This project will investigate a specific new ‘myth’ of the human body. The physical body is widely understood today in terms of the modernist, reductionist model — as a ‘walking chemical laboratory’ ruled by the mechanical laws of medical bioscience. Totem Body will explore an alternative, radically holistic model of the human body, fusing rational with non-rational participatory forms of knowing, to reveal the animal body as a vital, potent and physical presence.
In the context of this project, myths are understood psychologically as “constellations of thoughts, feelings, images, motives, values and priorities.”1 They take the form of “explanatory narratives...both within and outside of awareness…that address existential human issues.”2 ‘Myth-making’ is seen as “the primary… psychological mechanism by which human beings order reality and navigate their way through life.”3 While myths are commonly misunderstood as ‘superstitious falsehoods,’ this is “a formulation which belies the reductionism of modern technological, industrial societies.”
The idea behind this research originates from my book, The Way Beyond The Shaman - Birthing A New Earth Consciousness (O Books, 2008) which presents a new vision and understanding of our relationship with the Earth, based on the recognition of the ‘spirit of shamanism.’ Central to this vision is an awareness of the human body as being part of the Earth.
In Western civilization the human body has long been seen as a symbol of the isolated, Cartesian self, separate from and superior to all other forms of life in the natural world. Against this dominant construct, the research in Totem Body will explore and present both visual and textual elaborations of a more indigenous, shamanic and totemic understanding of the human body. The body is presented as emblematic of a more expanded, social and inclusive self, expressing our universal, shared species-specific humanity (goodwill) and the mutuality of our inter-species relationships (respect). It is seen less as a symbol of our separation from each other and the planet, and more as “an experience of utter participation with the life of planet Earth” and with each other.5 Totemism, in particular, affirms the relationship between humans and animals as participating in a shared existence.
Totems have been described by writer, Vanessa Carlisle, as “symbols of unity and tools for transcending oppressive systems of thought and being.”6 In Totem Body the concept is developed further so that the human body itself is understood and portrayed as being a totem object in its own right, a ‘symbol of unity’ with other human beings, and also as an animal body with its own intrinsic ‘power’ — a shamanic ‘power animal.’ The main aim of this research could therefore be articulated as a contribution towards the “recovery of indigenous mind.”7
French sociologist and anthropologist, Bruno Latour, recently commented: “the planet will no longer be modernized. Something radically different is going on.”8 This research project is generally aligned to the position that we are living in a transitional period, in “a borderline region between modernity and a new as yet inadequately theorized, social situation.”9 The challenge of postmodernism has already thrown into doubt the Grand Narrative of Progress and reliance on reason, which supposedly characterized Western modernity, while process philosophy views pre-rational experience, or feelings, as our primary means of knowing the world. The non-rational participatory epistemologies of indigenous and other non-Western traditions point to alternate realities; together, these avenues might fuse leading to “something radically different,” to new transmodern myths, and a refreshment of both personal and collective narratives beyond the “morass of deferred solutions on every level” - along with the cynicism and erosion of meaning - which many find in contemporary postmodernism.10 Richard Grossinger is one of the harbingers of the radically new: “As long as we profess and practice ignorance about our own creature manifestation and do not develop our energetic potentialities, we forget the crux of our astonishing existence.”11
1. Krippner, Stanley & Feinstein, David. “A Mythological Approach to Transpersonal Psychotherapy.” ReVision 30 (1 & 2), 2009, p. 21.
5. Cottrell, Barry. The Way beyond the Shaman - Birthing a New Earth Consciousness. Winchester, UK & Washington, USA, 2008, p. 114.
6. Carlisle, Vanessa. “Totem and Fetish.” Georgeous Curiosity – Gems for Threadbare Pockets. Thursday, February 5th, 2009. http://gorgeouscuriosity.blogspot.com/search?q=totem.
7. Kremer, Jürgen W. “Shamanic Inquiry As Recovery of Indigenous Mind. Toward an egalitarian exchange of knowledge.” Published in Schenk & Ch. Rätsch (Eds.) 1999, What is a shaman? Journal for Ethnomedicine, special volume 13, 125 -140. Berlin: VWB – Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung.
8. Latour, Bruno. “Will Non-humans be Saved? An Argument in Ecotheology.” The Henry Myers Lecture – Royal Institute of Anthropology. 13th April 2009. P. 3
9. Gabardi, Wayne. Negotiating Postmodernism. University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p. 15.
10. Zerzan, John. “ The Catastrophe of Postmodernism.” http://www.primitivism.com.postmodernism.htm
11. Grossinger, Richard. The Bardo of Waking Life. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 2008, p.186.
Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.
Barfield, Owen. The Rediscovery of Meaning. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1977.
Campbell, Joseph. Historical Atlas of World Mythology. Vol 1: The Way of the Animal Powers. London: Times Books, 1984.
Cottrell, Barry. The Way beyond the Shaman - Birthing a New Earth Consciousness. Winchester, UK & Washington, USA, 2008.
Cowan, James. Mysteries of the Dream-Time. Bridport, Dorset: Prism Press, 1989.
Gibson, James. “Call of the Wild: The Cultural Re-Enchantment of Nature.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Montreal Convention Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Aug 10, 2006.
Gibson, James. “The New Totemism: Nature Writing and the Consecration of Animals as Sacred Beings.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, TBA, New York, New York City, Canada, Aug 11, 2007.
Grossinger, Richard. The Bardo of Waking Life. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 2008.
Krippner, Stanley, Ph.D. “Consciousness and the Mythologies of Society.” Mount Shasta Magazine, Vol 5 Issue 3, Spring 2007, 19 – 21.
Latour, Bruno. “Will Non-humans be Saved? An Argument in Ecotheology. The Henry Myers Lecture – Royal Institute of Anthropology. 13th April 2009.
Levine, Peter with Frederick, Ann. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1997.
Mithen, Steven. The Singing Neanderthals – The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body. London: Phoenix, 2006.
Zerzan, John. “ The Catastrophe of Postmodernism.” http://www.primitivism.com/postmodernism.htm