The Mythic Dimension of the 21st century

Asking the fundamental question of being in our own times, we face the gaping existential blindspot of our absolute historicity, the unconscious framework of the collective, which prevents us from properly knowing ourselves or our “place in history.”

Turning our studies of culture to our own times, the intersection of myth and history becomes obvious enough. In an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” far from being governed by soulless rationalism or skepticism, people will believe in anything with all their hearts and minds; no matter how absurd or outlandish, we’ll believe something as long as it fits our preferred ideological fantasy. In this respect, not much has changed since the Middle Ages or the time of the Ancients. We just have a different set of superstitions and anthropomorphic projections. Humanity continues to be led by the great mytho-historic forces that make up the symbolic fabric of our own times.

Without obscuring the line that separates myth from ideology, we should not assume that they are external or moral opposites. The two are rather complementary; they remain precise variations and demarcations of a certain metaphysical relation to the transcendent. As such a complementary pair, they are a twinship of double vision not external to each other, not absolutely alien or irreconcilable to one other. As a dialectical pair of opposites, myth and ideology are a dynamic interplay, two distinct perspectives into the metaphysical space of human values, such as love, beauty, and truth. At the crossway of myth and history, one is always found in the other and the other in the one. Myth and ideology need each other like sun and moon need the sky: one being the mutating source of light, the other, its changing reflections in time.

The mythic core that founds the partial “rationality” of any ism or system of belief, for example, is not hard to see “at face value.” The mythic icon is always given in the very presentation of its brand or symbol, from the illuminati to the government of the United States, as with any traditional religion. To be sure, religion itself is but a crystallization of the fusion of myth and ideology on the side of a rigid belief system. On the other hand, Art crystallizes the fusion on the side of the mythic image.

The Mythic Dimension of Ideology is always staring us in the face.

Asking the fundamental question of being in our own times, we face the gaping existential blindspot of our absolute historicity, the unconscious framework of the collective, which prevents us from properly knowing ourselves or our “place in history.” This is not simply a question of not knowing what we’re capable of given the right or wrong circumstances. It is not about who we are or could be in the most extreme situations, but quite the contrary; it is rather a question of knowing ourselves precisely in our most banal every-day existence, our basic functioning and habits of mind, unconsciously participating in the collective mind. As when Brutus is seduced by Cassius, we always stand in our own historical shadow not knowing who we are in the eye of the collective.

Act I Sc2


Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?


No, Cassius; for the eye sees not itself,

But by reflection, by some other things.


‘Tis just:

And it is very much lamented, Brutus,

That you have no such mirrors as will turn

Your hidden worthiness into your eye,

That you might see your shadow.

Do we have such mirrors with which to reflect our own historical shadow? Let us ask about the mythico-ideological container of our own times—the overarching myth of globalization and accumulation we are living by? For what otherwise is our fundamental faith in Capital across systems of belief and cultural identities? 

Lacking the mirrors of true myth, however, we face a profound unconsciousness and lack of self-awareness, where we are as good as lost in the ideological forests of our times. This remarkable state of affairs is not only to be found among ordinary people or the poorly educated, it is evident in the confessions of our greatest minds. 

Even Carl Jung, renowned depth psychologist and student of Freud, had to admit to himself his bewilderment and utter lack of self-awareness—so crucial for the understanding of the plight of the soul in modern times. But when it came to question his own unconscious system of assumptions, Jung became uncomfortable and helpless, compelled to bring self-reflection to a stop. As he famously writes in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections:

I had explained the myths of peoples of the past; I had written a book about the hero, the myth in which man has always lived. But in what myth does man live nowadays? In the Christian myth, the answer might be, “Do you live in it?” I asked myself. To be honest, the answer was no. For me, it is not what I live by.” “Then do we no longer have any myth?” “No, evidently we no longer have any myth.” “But then what is your myth—the myth in which you do live?” At this point the dialogue with myself became uncomfortable, and I stopped thinking. I had reached a dead end. (MDR 171) 

Is it because the fish have no way of knowing about the composition of the waters? Or is it because “evidently we no longer have any myth”? But if myth is always the carrier of meaning, how is mythlessness even a possibility for a creature that speaks and imagines? Does not mythlessness itself—a sense of metaphysical homelessness and none-identity—take on the unconscious identity of our own myth? Is this not, on point of fact, the oldest of myths, the myth of the death of gods—a myth so old and significant that it had to be inscribed at the heart of the Christian religion and its bleeding Christ? 

For a moment, God himself becomes an atheist!

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

(Mathew 27:46)

Failing to venture too far away from our particular tree and totem of belief, however, it is extremely difficult to grapple with these questions; we cannot see our position among the trees nor make out a universal global framework as we cannot stand over our own shoulders nor see our own seeing eyes. So we are left without a sense of direction, profoundly unaware of what we take for granted: the larger framework of globalization—the logic or syntax—that interweaves our identity in and out of the mythic dimension of the 21st century.


Norland Téllez

Norland Téllez, is an Artist and Teacher with over two decades of experience in the animation industry. Grounding himself in classical painting and drawing, he remains committed to the art of the moving image and the archetypal power of Story.

The Mythic Dimension of the 21st century


Works Cited

Jung, Carl Gustav. Memories Dreams and Reflections. Ed. Aniela Jaffé.. New York: Pantheon, 1963.