Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Iron John and Men

A few months ago, I read Iron John, by Robert Bly again. This time I got more out of it. Bly’s writing is very poetic and easy to understand.

Iron John is a book about men. A book that explores the make up of a man’s psyche through the interpretation of the myth of Iron John, focusing in on the Wild Man archetype. An archetype that has been and still is repressed in most men. On page 227 Bly talks about this community of archetypes in the man’s psyche:

“The Wild Man is part of a company or community in man’s psyche and it would be just as foolish to concentrate on him exclusively as to concentrate on the Warrior exclusively.” Later on in the paragraph he writes, “A whole community of beings is what is called a grown man.”

Then he breaks the community down into 7 archetypes:

1. Wild Man
2. Warrior
3. King
4. Lover
5. Trickster
6. Mythologist or Cook
7. Grief Man

The paragraph below has stuck with me for a few months now. Probably because my dad worked in a metal fabricating factory from the time I was born up until my late twenties. He dedicated thirty years of his life to that place. Another reason, I think, it has stuck with me is that I had the chance to work beside my grandfather as a logger from the time I turned 18 until I was 25. As I get older, I realize this experience had a huge impact on me.

“By the middle of the twentieth century in Europe and North America a massivechange had taken place: the father was working but the son could not see him working.

“Throughout the ancient hunter societies, which apparently lasted thousands of years—perhaps hundreds of thousands—and throughout the hunter-gatherer societies that followed them, and the subsequent agricultural and craft societies, fathers and sons worked and lived together. As late as 1900 in the United States about ninety percent of fathers were engaged in agriculture, In all these societies the son character- istically saw his father working at all times of the day and all seasons of the year.

“When the son no longer sees that, what happens? After thirty years of working with young German men, as fatherless in their industrial society as young American men today, Alexander Mitscherlich, whom we spoke of in the first chapter, developed a metaphor: a hole appears in the son’s psyche. When the son does not see his father’s workplace, or what he produces, does he imagine his father to be a hero, a fighter for good, a saint, or a white knight? Mitscherlich’s answer is sad: demons move into that empty place—demons of suspicion.

“The demons, invisible but talkative, encourage suspicion of all older men. Such suspicion effects a breaking of the community of old and young men. One could feel this distrust deepen in the sixties: “Never trust anyone over thirty.”

In our culture today, how many boys get to see what there fathers are up to while making a living? In the thirty years my dad worked at the factory I never once got to see him doing his job. As a child, going about my days doing what child does, I do remember wondering what my father was doing at his job. What was he making? Was he having fun?

In this culture are there a lot of young men running around with “holes in their psyches”? Are they listening to “demons of suspicion?” What does it take to be a real man?

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