Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Eliade: The Regeneration of Time

In Chapter Two of Cosmos and History, The Regeneration of Time, Mircea Eliade attempts to apply his insights to the very common symbols revolving around periodicity in archaic man's life. That is to say, he applies his insights to what he sees as archaic man's desire to "abolish history" by renewing time and creation at the New Year and other events that are assimilated to his cosmogony.

Eliade begins by noting that in all cultures of which we have knowledge archaic man demonstrates 1) a conception of an end and a beginning of a temporal period, based on his observation of cosmic rhythms, and 2) a need for periodic regeneration. This concept of "cyclical regeneration," according to Eliade, "poses the problem of the abolition of 'history.'" It is at this point, I believe, that Eliade goes too far: this conception of an abolition of history reads modern ideology back into the thought of archaic man.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Eliade: Cosmos and History

Mircea Eliade (1907 - 1986) made his first attempt at a systematic exposition of his views on the problem of meaning in history in his short book The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History (the original French edition, published in 1949, had the subtitle Archetypes and Repitition). Significantly, in the brief Foreword Eliade stated: "Had we not feared to be overambitious, we should have given this book a subtitle: Introduction to a Philosophy of History. For such, after all, is the purport of the present essay..." In this book, as in his other works, Eliade approaches the problem of man's search for meaning in existence and history by examining "the fundamental concepts of archaic societies." Eliade uses the expression "archaic" in its Greek etymological sense, meaning not "old" or "outmoded" but rather "original," the "principle" from which further developments are derived. The term thus comprises not only ancient "cosmological" civilizations (such as those of Egypt, the ancient Near East, China and India) but also peasant and tribal societies and, indeed, all societies of any stage of history that can be said to embody a "traditional" outlook.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Archaic Ontology in Homer and Aeschylus

Mircea Eliade based his theory of man in history on the claim that "archaic man" - by which he means man within "traditional" societies - has a characteristic ontology or theory of what it means for realities within his world to be "real." Building on the insight that the limited being of our universe must be dependent for its being on a divine "ground" of being, archaic man expresses this ontological vision in mythic form, giving expression to the view that to be real is to be an earthly expression of a divine or heavenly archetype. Only by sharing in or being an expression of this archetypal divine or heavenly reality does earthly reality become truly "real" and charged with meaning. There is, of course, also a moral component in this: for man to live a truly human life he must seek to conform himself to this divine pattern of humanity.