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Foreword to Madness at the Gates of the City

 

Robert A. Johnson,  johnson_robert_a_jerry_ruhlauthor of He, She, We, Ecstasy,  Transformation, Owning Your Own Shadow and Inner Work

 

When political, economic and religious leaders no longer offer any solutions to the massive crises that confront us, it’s time to re-imagine who we are as individuals and as a nation. Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence shows how America regularly re-enacts old patterns that cause us to subvert our goals, miss the deeper meaning in events and, perhaps, fail to prevent our headlong slide into cultural collapse. But by looking at our history, politics and popular culture through the lenses of Greek mythology, indigenous wisdom and archetypal psychology, Barry Spector discovers new hope in very old ways of thinking.

To the Greeks, Dionysus was the god of paradox and extremes, of passion and masks, of ecstatic joy and vengeance, of tragic drama and of madness. But that was long ago. Or was it? After two millennia of Christianity and five hundred years of scientific rationalism, Dionysus and his modern substitutes persist in our imagination as images of “the Other.” He is everything that America has cast into the shadows: woman, race, nature and the body.

European settlers brought a legacy of puritanical intolerance to the New World. They developed literature, theology and political rhetoric that gradually coalesced into a mythology of divinely inspired new beginnings, heroic destiny and good intentions – the myth of American innocence. However, these stories covered over a legacy of racism and violent imperialism. Fear of the dark, Dionysian strangers at our doors – first Indians, then witches, then slaves and their descendants, then communists – both stimulated our anxieties and held them in check. Nearly four hundred years later, these mythic narratives have not lost their hold upon us. Now the fear of terrorism helps to define us as “not them.”

The Other provides a unique window into American history, and especially our current political madness. This irrepressible aspect of both soul and society may re-emerge at any moment, bringing either mass chaos or longed-for healing. The choice is up to us, because Dionysus is part of us.

Madness at the Gates of the City should appeal to anyone interested in myth, Classics, history, progressive politics or psychology. It will provide much new insight for people searching for new ways to understand how we behave in the world and what we might become.