The Death of the Academic Ivory Tower

December 21, 2012…this date has been the subject of all kinds of speculation regarding twisted interpretations of the Mayan calendar’s ending date. According to an interview with Mayan Elders posted on SERI’s (Subtle Energy Research Institute) website, the Mayan understanding of this time is not apocalyptic in the sense of linear history, but the renewing power of the coming of a new era. They suggest that what we are actually experiencing is the movement from a liminal space we have inhabited since the ending of the World of the Fourth Sun to the beginning of the World of the Fifth Sun.  Understood from their perspective, what is occuring is the opening of a cosmic channel that occurs only once every 26,000 years–the dissolution of the world as we know it, which has been in process for the past 25 odd years will have ended as the new is finally ushered into consciousness.

What does this mean for us? It means that there are many aspects of culture that are about to meet their demise. From the point of view of archetypal psychology, this newly opened cosmic channel is in the process bringing to light shadow aspects of our collective experience that 2012 offers an opportunity to dismember.

“The academy” will not be exempt from this period of change and dissolution. Specifically, within the context of the Humanities disciplines, the work of  the scholar has often been a haven for elitists who utlize the life of the mind as a platform to keep themselves alienated from larger humanity. Often called “The Ivory Tower,” this world  keeps important conversations and theoretical assertations safely ensconced away from those about whom these theories are often made. This is accomplished more effectively through attitude than through conscious design. A vicious cycle of shame and condescension keeps the free flow of useful ideas withdrawn from those outside the “tower.”

This “tower”, however, like many other structures is in the process of experiencing its own demise. The financial and social standings that once came with a higher graduate degree are beginning to unravel. More graduate students are completing degrees than ever before, utilizing such online platforms as University of Phoenix and National University. Masters degrees have become as common in this younger generation as Bachelors degrees were in the generation before. And yet, jobs are even more scarce and tenure practically unthinkable. In the context of a society that is becoming every more Spartan in its utlilitarianism, education is being stripped to the very basics necessary in order to find a job and fit like a good cog into the social machine. Where does the Humanities–by its very nature an undertaking intended to soothe the soul–fit into this kind of environment? I would suggest that the answer will become clear to us as we embrace the dissolution of our archaic notions of the “scholar”. We have an opportunity to be the actual soothing balm our culture needs during this process of dissolution, but that will require a willingness to set fire to our own “tower”. I suggest that this means defiantely reconsidering and perhaps dissolving our ideas of the kinds of topics that are considered scholarly, as well as our ways of engaging with these topics. While I am not suggesting that we sacrifice standards of excellence in research and quality of writing, I am suggesting that we reevaluate arbitrary paradigms, such as what Joseph Campbell called “high” and “pornographic” art. Contemporary societies have ignored the classic stories traditionally understood to be mythic. However, tragically, the importance of our popular stories, have also been dismissed, thereby stripping away an accepted outlet for for myth and ritual. In academic circles, where the ancient offerings of cultures past are perserved and appreciated, contemporary, popular myth and ritual making are often overlooked, or more commonly, ignored completely and dismissed. This presents a problem.  If we dismiss that which resonates with most of humanity, how then are we to connect with our soul(s), and futhermore, to orient ourselves in the context of planet Earth? These distinctions often keep us alienated in the “tower”, and bringing the life of the mind, the imagination, to a wider audience will help us become the cultural soothing balm that humanities scholars are intended to be.

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Filed under Depth Psychology, Joseph Campbell, Myth

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