Veils beyond Veils

Review of Mythopoiesis: Mythic Patterns in the Literary Classics by Harry Slochover. Detroit, Wayne University Press, 1970

British Journal of Psychiatry, 117, 1970, p. 591.

There are two ways of using language. The engineer uses words to convey information which will be the same for all recipients, and this function is their only purpose. For the artist, the words he uses may have a value independent of the information they carry, and their shape and sound play an important part in word‑painting and word‑music. The message, moreover, is perhaps something more than information – rather, an input intended to trigger off a succession of emotional responses – and not the same to all recipients alike. Words that are vague, allusive, global, having multifarious meanings at concrete and abstract levels, convey not so much a message as an adumbration of a message, perhaps only an apprehension that there is a message there, if one could but listen keenly enough.

   Dr. Harry Slochover is a psychoanalyst, a Professor at the Dew and Syracuse Universities, and the Editor‑in-Chief of The American Imago. He uses language an artist rather than an engineer. In this book every kind of dereistic thinking is employed to induce in the reader a numinous experience, such as might less harmlessly be derived from a load of hashish. There are mysteries here, veils beyond veils; the flickering light thrown on them suggests, but never haws, the immensely significant shapes that lie or do not lie?) somewhere in the depths. The great mythic works of the past, the Book of Job, the Greek tragedies, the Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, Hamlet, Faust, Moby Dick, the Brothers Karamazov and others are called in to help Dr. Slochover to paint his word‑pictures. It is not a rational message that is to be sought here, but something else, something that is perhaps as good in a different way. Reader, put your critical intellect out of gear and listen to this:

The perennial appeal and vitality of mythic thinking stem from the fact that it makes us feel that in all civilizations men face analogous situations, undergo similar experiences. Myth draws on these underlying correspondences which inevitably make for One World .... Myth supplies a symbolic memory and a symbolic hope, and an allegorized account of the perils of the way. In sum, the myth unfolds the living chain which connects the recurrent recognition scenes of the human drama. They assure us that we are not strangers and alone in the world.

   Dr. Slochover really knows and loves the great dramas and tragedies and poems he uses to such purpose, and his understanding and sensitivity are matched by his scholarship. But his appeal depends on the extent to which the reader can put himself en rapport. When one has submitted, and the debauch is over, what remains? Well, you can read it again.