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  • Human Society, Our Tradition, Filmmaking, and My Efforts
  • Ritwik Ghatak
    Translated by Moinak Biswas

All art has aesthetic relish coursing through multiple layers. People derive the relish from various levels depending on their capabilities of appreciation.1 Take the cinema, for instance. There could be an unfolding story at the primary level—a tapestry of laughter and tears, sadness and joy. If we delve a little deeper, we find the political and social connotations at play. The mind that probes deeper still sees the philosophical insights as well as those signals that come from the artist’s self-reflection. And the one who goes even further enjoys momentary feelings that cannot be expressed in words. Those moments take him close to something unknowable. [End Page 13]

No one can enjoy aesthetic relish at all these levels equally; one should not expect that either. It is desirable that one derive pleasure from the level he can access. But truly great art touches all the levels. It is the primary condition of great art.

At this point the whole thing has a lot in common with divine worship. The latter is concerned with worldly transactions with the gods at the first level, while at its deepest point lies the ineffable.

Comparative mythology helps us grasp the most profound aspects of it, its real nature. And that is true not only of cinema, but of all art.

We get to know about some basic principles of understanding art from the experiments and research of the new psychologists, for which comparative mythology provides good illustrations.

Take, for instance, the question of the archetype. Even before man became human, the social collective unconscious, the storehouse of collective memory beyond consciousness, had formed itself. It is the source of all our deepest feelings. And some fundamental symbols (archetypes) determine our reaction to various things. Most of our spontaneous reactions have their roots there. And the archetypes always find their way into images in the form of symbols. It is a greatly complex thing, which I cannot hope to fully explain, especially in the space of this brief essay.

Yet I could possibly make it a little clearer if I gave some examples. It can be shown that almost all human societies place value on things ultimately as an expression of the mythical values we have in mind. Some islands in Polynesia, for instance, use the pig as barter (the substitute for money), the reason being that the pig is the most sacred animal in all their mythical tales. And those tales, through their complex logic of derivation, would tell us that the pig is the symbolic representation of the moon in those societies. The moon, moreover, is the fulcrum of their daily lives.

It is not as nonsensical as it sounds. Is there really more value in gold than in pigs? Gold does not have much use as a metal, apart from its lasting nature. But then there are more durable and easily available metals than gold. But the reason gold has found such a place in European and Asian civilizations is that mythical narratives present it as a symbol of the sun. And the sun is central to the life of these civilizations.

Let me take this opportunity to explain the case of mythology a little bit:

Myth—and therefore civilization—is a poetic, super-normal image, conceived, like all poetry, in depth, but susceptible of interpretation on various levels. The shallowest minds see in it the local scenery; the deepest, the foreground of the void.

—Joseph Campbell, Masks of God2

And this mythology shows us that all history is the history of the conflict between two kinds of human consciousness. One is that of the action oriented, the other belongs to the contemplative.3 It is the contemplative who appears in the guise of the poet, artist, shaman, medicine man, sage, and seer: [End Page 14]

The two types of mind, thus, are complementary: the tough-minded, representing the inert, reactionary; and the tender, the living progressive impulse—respectively, attachment to the local and timely and the impulse to the timeless universal. In human history the two have faced each other in dialogue...


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