“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation (h/t Schelling)

I meant to post this back in August when Levi Bryant finally started blogging again, but it somehow got stuck in my drafts (a veritable grave yard of unfinished thoughts and undead ideas). The philosophical spirit Bryant expresses in his writing is rather unique in its capacity to inspire me to resist. I am very grateful to him for this. So many of my posts on Footnotes2Plato have been provoked by the ideas he has shared on Larval Subjects. I’ll add another to that long list.

In his post on the trauma of speculative realism (etc.), Bryant draws on a passage from Foucault’s Archaeology of History to link the essential structure of myth to the synthetic activity of the subject, that is, to the “temporalizing activity of the subject capable of forming a totality for itself in how it links historicity and futurity in the formation of a present” (Bryant’s words). [Speaking of the present, those in the Bay Area should join us at CIIS tonight for a lecture on Foucault’s life and works by Jamie Socci.] He argues that all prior forms of consciousness (i.e., ideologies) were possessed by the drive to mythologize, that is, to long for a lost origin. Speculative realism (etc.), finally, has exorcised humanity (or some posthuman object formerly known as a human subject) of this possession, freeing ‘us’ to contemplate the fact that ‘we’ are already dead. The enlightened speculative realist no longer believes in ghost stories, not even the ghost story called human subjectivity.

There is much I agree with Bryant about. I align myself with the same “minor” tradition in the history of philosophy that he hints at. I also seek to undermine “the self-present mastery of the subject” and take every opportunity I can to remind myself and others that “we live in the orbit–-in the astronomical sense of the word–-of things that exceed us.”

For precisely these reasons, I am drawn to the work of Schelling (no doubt a heterodox thinker not easily categorized by Western philosophical norms). His early Naturphilosophie and later positive philosophy of mythology and revelation were a century ahead of their time as a forerunner of depth psychology.


“The crisis through which the world of the gods unfolds,” writes Schelling, “is not external to the poets. It takes place in the poets themselves, forms their poems” (Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, 18).

Joshua Ramey and Daniel Whistler discuss the implications of Schelling’s philosophy of mythology in their essay “The Physics of Sense: Bruno, Schelling, Deleuze” (2014).

For Schelling, myth is not the way the human subject “reconciles itself with itself” or “achieves self-present mastery,” as Bryant puts it. Myth is precisely the opposite: it is another way of speaking of the subject’s inability to achieve complete self-mastery, of the cision at the generative root of subjectivity. Myth is the human imagination’s way of coming to terms with the soul’s creative becoming (i.e., with its lack of substantial being). Myth is soul-making. Humans do not invent myth; rather, argues Schelling, it is myth that invented (and continues to reinvent) humanity.

For Schelling, rejecting the mythopoiesis at the core of our becoming-soul in favor of some supposedly myth-free enlightened view of a meaningless existence (metaphysically speaking) is the route of infantile escapism. His philosophy of mythology urges us to stay with the eternally unfolding crisis and not to fear the infinite depths of its creative becoming. Myth is not a facade painted atop Nature, but Nature’s way of becoming human (and perhaps humanity’s way of becoming other than human).




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10 responses to “Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation (h/t Schelling)”

  1. noblesirstein Avatar

    This is great. I have a lot of skepticism about the anti-Romantic Enlightenment jettisoning of myth as well. I’ll try to make a more substantive response to your post later on, but I was wondering where you think a good place to start with Schelling might be. I’ve read a bit of Hegel and a decent amount of depth psychology, but never Schelling himself

      1. noblesirstein Avatar

        Ah okay, thanks. What would be a good place to start in terms of his own writings?

      2. Matthew David Segall Avatar

        Specifically on myth: http://www.amazon.com/Historical-Critical-Introduction-Philosophy-Contemporary-Continental/dp/0791471322/

        Since I see you have recently been reading Heidegger, you might enjoy Schelling’s book on Freedom, which had a big influence on Heidegger: http://www.amazon.com/Philosophical-Investigations-Contemporary-Continental-Philosophy/dp/0791468747/

      3. noblesirstein Avatar

        Ah alright terrific. It was actually over the summer that I was reading Heidegger, I just haven’t updated my blog in a while 😛 I’m always kind of reading him though.

  2. Roy Avatar

    I applaud your insight into mythology. Is Schelling’s idealism more in line with more in line with Whitehead or with Sankara?

  3. Nelwamondo Rembuluwani Phumudzo Avatar

    I agree with Schelling that myth makes us humans this is the same argument that Alfred North White Head used in process and reality page 184 The Propositions Section I quote “They are the prehensions of ‘theories.’ It is evident, however, that the primary function of theories is as a lure for feeling, thereby providing immediacy of enjoyment and purpose. Unfortunately theories, under their name of ‘propositions,’ have been handed over to logicians, who have countenanced the doctrine that their one function is to be judged as to their truth or falsehood.”

  4. Jean-Paul Sartre | Earthpages.ca Avatar

    […] Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation (h/t Schelling) […]

  5. Cengiz Erdem Avatar

    Reblogged this on Senselogi© and commented:
    Clarity, precision and exactitude at their best to say the least…

  6. Fragments on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit – Footnotes2Plato Avatar

    […] so Hegel’s story goes. The next module of the course I’m teaching focuses on Schelling’s late philosophy of mythology and revelation. Schelling offered it as an alternative way forward for philosophy after […]

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