Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Bly was interviewed by Robert Donnan of WUNC Radio and by Jeffery Beame of THE SUN.
RD: The relationship between men and women — what is that like now in the Seventies?
BLY: I don’t know. We’re all learning about this and we don’t know much about it. The sixties seem to have been a disaster period as far as relationships between men and women go, though one thing did come forward. Women began to feel much more confidence in their own energies. I think women realized that their consciousness had not produced the war, and so they became more confident, and I think their confidence in female energy helped many males — I was one of them — to feel more confidence in my own feminine side.
Everyone has two relationships. If I am a man, I have a relationship with a woman, or women; and then I have a relationship with my interior woman. One becomes a model for the other. We have a role model; and the way you relate to your interior woman probably decides how you will behave with other women.
The woman is in a similar situation. If she despises her interior male she will find herself constantly attacking the outward male side in feminist groups. Her hostility to outward males means that she will probably never establish a decent relationship with her own male side. So something is going wrong here in the way the women’s movement has turned more and more to attacking males. Because all they are doing is tearing themselves to pieces. If you understand that no one is completely female and no one is completely male, it has to be. So from that point of view the whole matter is more complicated than I felt in the beginning; and I think one has to be very careful to avoid the constant attack on males or females once you understand that each is inside us.
Probably men have to develop their female sides if they want to become a grown man. I feel Lincoln was a grown man, Nixon was merely a male. Apparently, women have to develop their male side if they want to become a grown woman. It’s said that three of the generals that Caesar faced were women. In the old Celtic civilization, there were many grown women. I’ve recently become aware that it’s important also which side is developed first. I think a man needs to develop his male side first, and after that it is time to develop the female side. Now, there are many cases in the sixties when boys in their twenties, because inside they were rejecting male consciousness along with Vietnam involvement, tried to develop their female side first. And they became babysitters before they became men. They became bakers of brown bread before they had actually developed their male consciousness. How you want to interpret “the male side” is all up to you. But it seems to me that in ancient life the emphasis for men was on developing the male side and then the female side, in that order. Many women, I think, hesitate to go to law school at twenty because they feel a danger that they may lose touch with their own feminine side. That’s right. In a culture like ours in which woman is not really respected, many women are already out of touch with their woman side. If they ignore that and attempt to go forward and develop the male then they begin to deny any of the distinction between male and female. What is missing in our culture for women involves really respecting what is womanly and basing, grounding yourself in that. That means not so much to be feminine, but womanly, taking life seriously.
RD: How can we tune into these parts of ourselves within ourselves? Do we need to see others doing that, or can we just look within ourselves?
BLY: I don’t know. I first began to experience the female inside myself by experiencing the lack of it. I experienced the loneliness and desolation of having nothing but the male side developed. That’s part of the feeling a male has in his twenties when you walk into a room and it’s so ungodly lonely and barren. So I experienced the female side by its absence and then I started to study poems like Vita Nuova, where Dante describes what it’s like when the female side begins to develop.
RD: As a final question, how is your relationship to your work with yourself as an artist changed as you have become grounded by being in touch with your female side?
BLY: I don’t know that I am grounded. I’m not sure that I am in touch with my female side but I feel it more than I used to. I’d say two things have happened. One is that I’m more aware of objects outside. It’s possible that there are male things in the universe and female things in the universe. Perhaps one gets in touch with his or her female side by studying objects out there in the way that Durer did! Maybe in the way science has done. What’s missing in recent American art is the joy of the object. Abstract Expressionism denies the object; Pop Art is without joy. I believe the study of the object is a discipline. The Buddhist gives honor to the pine tree.
Lately, I’ve also become more aware of sound. I don’t know how that fits in.
JB: How do these ideas relate to bisexuality and homosexuality?
BLY: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I really don’t. I can make just a generalization: sometimes a homosexual appears where there is no strong male model in the house. The father may be “male” but not “grown” (the mother, however, is strong) or maybe the father is gone. So, it appears that the feminine side developed before the male side. Maybe the father was cruel and they couldn’t follow that male side. The homosexual is looking for a male model.
JB: And bisexuality?
BLY: I don’t know. I don’t understand about that. Jung also said, you know, all this way of talking about homosexuality implies that homosexuality is some kind of mistake of nature. But Jung says also one has to realize that there are certain sensibilities in the world that only homosexuals bring. So apparently they have something special to give.
JB: Plato describes an ancient Greek idea of there being originally three sexes: male, female and a union of the two, the androgyne.
BLY: Yes, indeed.
JB: In Sleepers Joining Hands you discuss an idea of Erich Neumann’s in which he describes Mother Energy imagined as the ancients did, as a four-armed cross. On the vertical line, above, we have the Good Mother (Life) and below, the Death Mother (Death). The horizontal line represents the mental and spiritual life with the east arm as the Ecstatic Mother and the west as the Stone Mother. Can Father Energy be imagined in similar images?
BLY: I think so. Yes. We’re trying to work out things like that at The Conferences on the Great Mother and the New Father. Perhaps, the Good Grandfather is at the top. At the bottom is the Corrupt Judge; Nixon belongs in that area — a Death Father. And then at the left hand side you would have the Shaman, who has almost disappeared in our culture, and then possibly the fourth one, I don’t know, it might be the Clown — the Trickster, the Clown, the Coyote, which they respect so much in other civilizations. Neither the shaman nor the clown is much worshipped with us.
JB: In your reading last night you displayed characteristics of the shaman and the trickster. Do you see poetry returning to that?
BLY: Yes, I do, and poetry is one place in our culture where you notice these two energies returning.
JB: Why do you think it’s returning?
BLY: We need it. We need it. Catholic priests and Protestant ministers were meant to represent shaman energy, but they’ve become moral leaders as opposed to shamans. I mean, when you’re in trouble you need all four sides of the human being, and we’re in trouble. Acid was an attempt to make instant shamans. It didn’t work, but it indicated the hunger that was felt in that area.
JB: As the struggle continues what do you see for the near future?
BLY: I don’t have any idea. I feel that the culture of the United States is going to get worse and worse. Television is going to dominate more and more. The children are failing to develop now into what Piaget calls the “cognitive stage” because children are not active enough. They’re receiving information. So the level of the students will continue to fall until eventually people are willing to wipe out television. That will happen when they’re willing to wipe out heroin. Heroin is equally as destructive as television; the middle class makes television legal and heroin illegal. Both murder the cognitive mind. The Americans have so much laziness that they are not willing to entertain themselves, so I believe they will continue to destroy young people with television. That means everything’s going to get worse in the next twenty years.