UNDOING FORGETFULNESS: Chiasmus of Poetical Mind – a Cultural Paradigm of Archetypal Imagination

Nicoletta Isar
Associate Professor at the Institute of Art History, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies
University of Copenhagen
Karen Blixens vej 1, 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark
Office: +45-35329294; Private: +45-60948308; e-mail: isar@hum.ku.dk

This paper tries to investigate the problem of memory through one of its most intriguing patterns – chiasmus – reflected in old poetry, sacred texts, philosophy and theology, visual arts, as well as biology. It aims to search for some provisory explanation of why man was able once to acquire such excellence in memorizing internally thousands of lines of poetry, whereas now memory is expelled outside the human body and mind in a mere digital file. Contrasting the so-called “wish-dream for immortality” of the contemporary post-human body, this paper takes another path and looks into some old cosmologies and visions in which chiasmus constantly emerged as an enduring cultural paradigm with ontological relevance. Spanning from Plato to Christian theology, up to the contemporary Neo-Platonism of archetypal psychology, this paper hopes to put forth, if not a theory, at least a vision about man and cosmos, cosmos and man, a chiastic epiphany in which the body and the material world partake both of the sacred.
Keywords: memory; chiasmus; image; imagination; archetypal psychology; DNA.

With the invention of writing, human being and memory took a dramatic shift, culminating in the most recent transformations in informatics. Memory turns into a digital entry of the virtual body that could at any time store the information one needs to know, thus giving the modern literate “licence to forget.” Why mankind chose to forget, while it was once possible to memorize thousands of lines of poetry, and whether memory itself had always had the same meaning as we now attribute to remembering things – these are just rhetorical questions. This paper will not be able to answer them all, but at least to formulate. Meanwhile, the humanity moves slowly and decisively from humanism to what has been recently called “the era of the post-human.” All we can now contemplate is mere expanding memory, now reaching a cryptic and pseudo-mystical stage labeled “noocytes,” which looks as a kind of reversed ancient nous or noosphere – the network of intersubjectivities of the new post-human body.

Why was the ancient poet able to remember things or to never forget them? What is actually the true nature of human being, and how was such thing as memory approached before these cultural anthropological transformations took place? This paper attempts to deconstruct and reconstruct yet again the anatomy of memory, and hopefully to undo forgetfulness with the assistance of the ancient poet; it will search for the origins of the poetical mind, the primeval state of homo poeticus, and hopefully for something perennial beyond time. The guide in this quest is Levinas’ vision, and the intimate hope that, indeed: “Our period is not defined by the triumph of technology for technology’s sake, as it is not defined by art for art’s sake, as it is not defined by nihilism. It is action for a world to come, transcendence of its period-transcendence of self which calls for epiphany of the Other.”

In their book Information through the Ages: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Computer Revolution, Michael Hobart and Zachary S. Schiffman offer a broad picture of the phenomena with a special chapter (“Orality and the Problem of Memory”) devoted to the problem of memory in orality, in contrast to our notion in the era of technology:

The term ‘memory’ evokes the image of a thing, a container for information, or the content of that container. Thus, from our literate viewpoint, the Iliad preserves the knowledge of the Trojan War. But in jumping to this conclusion, we lose sight of the Iliad as an oral phenomenon, as the singing of a song. It is not so much a thing as an act, a gestalt, uniting bard and audience in a shared consciousness. This phenomenon has little in common with that desiccated thing we literates call “memory.” In the world before writing, memory is the social act of remembering. It is commemoration.

Commemoration is at the heart of oral culture and ritualized societies; it underlines the very mechanism of memory. As the etymology points out, commemoration is a sort of join “memorization” of things, a “holistic” event. Commemorative ritual gives wholeness and structure (relationships) to community. The poet plays a crucial role in this respect. He creates an image so immediate and so powerful in the consciousness of his audience, so that it is impossible to separate oneself from the actual experience. Everyone partakes in the experience of the world revealed by the poet. “Commemoration binds together the community as a living entity rather than passively storing information about it.”

But what made so effective the discourse of the poet? What gave such power to his words to work upon consciousness and bind people together as a living chain, a living tradition – the collective memory? As I hope to illustrate further in this paper, the poetical meters of his song were thus constructed, and the sequences so linked together, as to form patterns that were congenial to the human mind and the structure of memory. One of these patterns that informed the mythical mind was chiasmus, found in old poetry (epics or lyrics). Chiasmus was an intimate part of the world experienced and shared as collective reality, an experience that was translated into the collective consciousness and memory.

Chiasmus – a visual and acoustic image turning around its centre
“Chiasm or chiasmus, the anglicization of the Greek chiasma, technically designates the disposition of two lines crossed like the letter X (chi), which refers to cross-shaped sticks, to a diagonally arranged bandage, or to a cruciform incision. Chiasmus is a rhetorical figure, which corresponds to inverted parallelism, so that the order of words in one of two balancing clauses or phrases is inverted in the other, which has the effect to produce a crisscross effect. Chiasmus is frequent in ancient cultures, especially in Near East, but also is to be found in more recent times in Greek and Latin literature.

Homeric chiasmus
To take the Classical example of the Homeric poetry, both Illiad and Odyssey contain a series of questions which is answered in exactly reversed order: Antinous’ three questions to Noemon (Od. 4.642-56); Hecabe’s several questions to Hector (Il. 6. 254-85); and, in the most elaborate example of this device, Odysseus’ seven questions to his mother Anticleia in Hades (Od. 11. 170-203). Here is an example quoted in diagrammatic form from Steve Reece (213):

Text 1 (Homer chiasm).jpg

This mnemonic poetic pattern, a most elaborate so-called hysteron-proteron, is one of multiple examples of the kind from the Homeric epics, a poetical figure by which the poet creates a most powerful image imprinted on memory and easily remembered by the audience. Scholars have noticed Homer’s fondness for having his characters answer questions in a reverse order. Chiasmus assists the narrator to hold the attention of his listener with a minimum of effort; it works upon mind as a psychological device. But if the procedure abba is perceptible to the audience in a small “compass,” the question arises when the pattern expands over many thousands lines, like in the vast architectonic scheme of Homeric epic. On this point, Cedric H. Whitman, the Homeric scholar, had this to say: “The mind is a strange organ, and one which perceives many things without conscious or articulate knowledge of them, and responds to them with emotions necessarily and appropriately vague.” This kind of intricate relationship established between the poet and his audience was metaphorically defined in Plato’s dialogue Ion in the image of the magnet. The poets and their interpreters are compared to a chain of magnetic rings suspended from one another to form a magnet. The magnet is the Muse, and the ring which immediately follows is the poet himself; from him are suspended other poets; there is also a chain of rhapsodists and actors, who also hang from the Muses, but are let down at the side; and the last ring of all is the spectator. The poet, like Homer, is the inspired interpreter of the God; and the rhapsodist is the inspired interpreter of the poet, like Ion. Through this living chain animated by the sacred discourse of the poet, the entire community was permeated by the vitality of hieros. The community was one living memory, ritually “ensouled” by the commemorative/performative body. Chiasmus was a means of imaginary binding, a most effective psychological device. There was – as Emmanuel Levinas put it – “a pleasure of contact at the heart of the chiasm.”

Chiasmus formed a most conspicuous geometric design, which could be visualized as a “ring composition,” “the acoustical analogue of the visual circle.” Analyzing the mnemonic patterns in the Iliad and Odyssey, Whitman demonstrates how after the middle of the epic the composition repeats the topics in a reversed order sequence, the symmetrical format of the chiasm taking a geometric structure of the most amazing virtuosity, a “fearful symmetry.” Ring composition is pregnant with stylist possibilities, says Whitman, because “it returns to its point of origin and effects circularity of design, while the inverted elements may also be spread out to include as a centrepiece a whole scene or scenes, as in a frame.” The combined structure of the Homeric chiasmus and ring composition suggests not only circularity, but also framing and balance, which were typical of Geometrical period in ancient Greek art, especially in Dipylon vases.

Biblical chiasmus
Yet it was not only the Greek mind that structured the things in a chiastic manner, but also the biblical world. The chiastic disposition of the biblical text extends the archetypal vocation of the chiasmus. The Bible owes much to the chiastic device. In his book, The Shape of the Biblical Language, Fr. John Breck provides ample evidence for the chiastic disposition of the Biblical text, pointing out to a way of reading the sacred text, of actually “seeing” it. The literate of the ancient time were long time trained for this sacramental task to grasp the hidden vision. They were taught not properly to read, but to “see” the text; they were taught how to look at it in a chiastic manner, by approaching it “from the center outward and from the extremities towards the center.” Vision of the text was thus structured around a center, the shape of chiasmus being properly a “helix.” This disposition of the text was compared by C. Lock with typology, both typology and chiasmus being structured around a centre. In the process of reading the text, a space of some kind apparently emerged, rather than being a mere surface on which words were displayed in linear succession. The sentence spiralled from A to B, and the eyes moved inwards and upwards, to the centre of the conical helix, describing an invisible sacred space.

A few examples will illustrate this phenomenon, yet in an imperfect manner, due to their linear (modern) transcription:
Text 2 (Biblic chiasm)_bis.jpg

Chiasmus – a form of thought. Chiastic cosmologies – doing and redoing totality
Chiasmus was employed not only with respect to specific visual or acoustic cultural events, but to thought as well, primarily giving “structure to the thought pattern” (John W. Welch). According to R. Gasché, grammatical, rhetorical, or psychological explanations cannot exhaust the role of chiasm. Especially when employed in order to draw together and connect juxtaposed terms in opposition, this literary form exceeds rhetoric. “Chiasm, then, is no longer a merely ornamental or psychological device but, rather, reveals itself as an originary form of thought, of dianoia.” Old cosmologies, like for example, those described by Heraclitus and Plato, disclose a paradigmatic vision: this vision reveals chiasmus as a powerful form of thought and structure in the organisation of the cosmos. As Gaché points out, in Heraclitus (fragment 51), through chiasmus the opposites are linked together into pairs of parallel and inverted oppositions, which manifest them as an inverted unity. The result is “that what is in opposition is in concert, and from things that differ comes the most beautiful harmony.” Chiasmus allows oppositions to be bound into unity. The unity (tauto) and the totality of the universe are made of chiastic reversals. In Heraclitus’ cosmology chiasmus is no longer an ornamental device, “it becomes dependent of content,” “(it) is a true form of thinking.” Heraclitus’ cosmology centred on the unity of opposites is basically chiastic, a form of balance by opposition, which from Homer on existed in the classical mind, shaping its artistic and philosophic approaches to experience. As Whitman has argued, Plato too reflected this principle when he finished off his cosmology with the two spheres of Sameness and Difference, which revolve in opposite directions.

But Plato’s cosmos reached its completion only with the creation of the soul. Then it became a “blessed god.” The cosmic soul was created even before the creation of the body. It is “the best of things created” because it partakes of reason and harmony, and because is made by the best of intellectual and everlasting natures. Most importantly, “the one and only existing thing which has the property of aquiring thought is soul” (46D). Therefore, the demiurge had to place him in a special disposition. This disposition was chiastic. The lines of the equator and the ecliptic, symbolizing the cosmic Soul, cross each other to form the Greek letter chi (X) (Fig. 1):

Fig. 1 Jan Gossaert A little girl c. 1520.jpg

”This whole fabric, then, he split lengthwise into two halves; and making the two cross one another at their centres in the form of the letter X, he bent each round into a circle and joined it up, making each meet itself and the other at a point opposite to that where they had been brought into contact.” (36B-D)

Plato describes the stuff out of which the cosmic soul is made, a sort of fabric or veil, interwoven from the centre everywhere:

”When the whole fabric of the soul had been finished to its maker’s mind, he next began to fashion within the soul all that is bodily, and brought the two together, fitting them centre to centre. And the soul, being everywhere inwoven (diaplakeisa) from the centre to the outmost heaven and enveloping the heaven all round on the outside, revolving within its own limit, made a divine beginning of ceaseless and intelligent life for all time.” (36D-E)

The vision of the world in Byzantine culture, following the Classical Antiquity, was marked by the Christian theology. With the Incarnation of Christ and His sacrifice it was possible to restore again the cosmos and aspire to the restoration of man as well, which in theological terms is known as the deification of man (theosis), the primordial state lost after the Fall. Fathers of the Church recognized the cross symbolism in the cosmic structure of the universe. According to Philo, De somniis, 6 (III, 266), the Creator impressed the Logos as his divine seal upon the cosmos. This was the cross of His sacrifice that sealed the world (Philo, De somniis II, 6). It marked the whole world, both its length and breadth and height and depth, as the Son of God was also crucified in these dimensions. The cross was the ground and the means by which the universe was re-dimensioned. It was even believed (Justin the Martyr) that what Plato himself meant when he said that the Demiurge placed Him (the cosmic Soul) in the form of the letter Chi (echíasen autón) in the universe, it was the Son of God. This vision, shared both by the Platonic cosmology and Byzantine theology (with the addition of the biblical dimension), is a paradigm of sacred space generated by the agency of chiasmus. This paper does not allow me to embark myself on further discussions on this matter, which I largely developed somewhere else. Yet one thing must be stressed, and this is that chiasmus was not a stable structure, but a dynamic pattern; chiasmus has always translated its motion over the text it structured, or the space it generated. The Platonic chôra space, the matrix or nurse of generation, the cosmogonic night that moved from chaos to cosmos, becomes the space of the Incarnation in Byzantine theology. The Byzantine chôra was a kenotic space, mystically eraced and “crossed through” by Christ’s sacrifice. The Platonic chôra becomes a “true cosmos” only after the chiastic veil is spread over the universe; then, the world’s body was finally fitted to its soul.

As it comes out from these old cosmologies, the discourse of chiasmus is the discourse of the totality’s irreducible reference. Indeed, one could say that chiasmus is “the primitive matrix of dialectics in its Hegelian form.” Yet chiasmus has continued to challenge not only some of the greatest thinkers of contemporary thought (de Man), but even one, most reputed for his systematic deconstruction of totality. In Derrida’s Archeology of the Frivolous, “the chiasm folds itself with a supplementary flexion.” The supplementary fold makes the chiasmus an unequal fork; it is “neither constitutive nor simply disruptive of totality.” Chiasmus is explored by Derrida in two other essays on Maurice Blanchot: “The Law of the Genre” and “Living On: Border Lines.” Here He coins the term “chiasmic invagination,” an expression of his concern with the unthought of “totality.” This is the movement that constitutes and deconstitutes the border, the limit of a closure. As Gaché explains: “the chiasm in Derrida is to be understood as the form of that exceedingly strange space within which the philosophical form of chiasm makes its incision, in order to cross-bandage, by analogy and dialectics, the same wound.” And further: “the doubly invaginated chiasm is what both makes possible and deconstitutes dialectics. It is an a priori counterlaw to the unifying role of chiasm, a counterchiasm, so to speak, within which the totalizing function of dialectics is rooted. This counterchiasm does not anihilate dialectics; it does not destroy it but ‘merely’ shows it to its ‘proper’ place.”

All these phenomena describing an enduring persistence of chiasmus over time could be perhaps better explained if we look at it from another perspective. Archetypal psychology may have something important to say around this subject.

Archetypal psychology – a cultural movement
Archetypal psychology was created by the American psychologist James Hillman in an effort to re-vision psychology’s approach to soul, or self. His theory is a critique of psychology’s traditional means of confronting the imagination. Taking as a point of departure Jung’s concept of archetype, Hillman departs from him, and replaces the notion of archetype as inherited pattern with the archetypal image as autonomous. Hillman’s theory is informed also by Edward Casey, from whom he takes a phenomenology of the imagination, and by Henry Corbin, from whom he adopts the notion of the mundus imaginalis, the imaginal world.

Archetypal psychology postulates the organization of the imaginary as the basis of cultural anthropology, which is also the basis of psychological meaning in all consciousness. Archetypal psychology is, according to Hillman, “psychology of archetypes,” where archetypes are “the primary forms that govern the psyche.” But as the archetypes manifest as well in various spiritual modes, such as linguistic and aesthetic, they cannot be contained only by psyche. That’s why archetypal psychology’s first links, says Hillman, are with culture and imagination, which is a “cultural movement.” Particular events are “always imagistic and therefore ensouled,” and for this reason “it (archetypal psychology) would resonate with soul.” The soul, as well as the imagination, play a special role and assume to be primordially patterned into typical themes or motifs. Archetypal images are in fact the means by which the world is imagined. These patterns form and inform the psychic and cultural life. The main concern of archetypal psychology is that it “restores to images their primordial place as that which gives psychic value to the world.” “Every psychic process is an image and an ‘imagining’, otherwise no consciousness could exist…” This concern of archetypal psychology with the image is highly relevant for this subject, and for any subject that would touch upon human creativity. The relevance of archetypal psychology resides at least in two points. First, it concerns the relation between imagination and the structure of the soul, which is, according to Hillman, structured much like poetic language, dreams and images. Second, it provides an ontological location of the archetypes of the psyche, which is a field of images, or, in Corbin’s words, a mundus imaginalis.

Hillman meets Plato, and the Neo-Platonists, as well as the theology of the Greek Fathers, and it comes as no surprise that his theory was labeled as Phenomenological Neo-Platonism. But it is exactly this dimension of his theory that I found so congenial with this subject, particularly those aspects in his research related to the power of image, and the cosmic perspective in which the soul participates in the archetypal image.

Mundus imaginalis. The Imaginal field – a space in between
The idea that the imagination is the primary activity of the soul is crucial for archetypal psychology. The soul is the source of images and poetic response, and in response images return back to the soul. At the same time, the images are, according to Hillman, autonomous like the gods, timeless and transcendent, yet phenomenal rather than instinctual as Jung’s archetypes. But most importantly, as Hillman insists, “the mind is in the imagination rather than the imagination in the mind.” Such assertion, as strange as it may sound, encapsulates the very specificity of vision in archetypal psychology. The mind is located in the imagination means that there is more to it than our imaginative experience, that imagination is not primarily and exclusively subjective. As Casey argues, our imaginative experience is rooted “outside of human consciousness,” it is “another world” and “another reality.” Imagination is both subjective and transpersonal. The “imaginal field,” a concept elaborated by Corbin and adopted by archetypal psychology, is the “space” where the personal encounters the transpersonal; it is an intermediary between the personal and the transpersonal, a space in between – a “topography of interworlds” – a term presumably adopted by Corbin from the same Mazdean source.

In Marc Fonda’s interpretation, the mundus imaginalis or the imaginal as a space, recalls the tripartite model of human agency developed by Hillman, where the soul is an intermediary between mind and body. The imaginal operates as a tertium between the person’s unconsciousness and the person’s consciousness, between the personal and the impersonal, between the person and the world, the anima mundi. At the same time, the imaginal is the space, which is already present when images are produced, and where images emerge and present themselves to human apprehension. Therefore, the fact that the mind is located in the imagination means that the mind is something constructed by the images (like myths) and presented to us through some connection with anima mundi. This connection between the human imagination (read it the human soul) and the anima mundi may be the ultimate ground and meaning of man in the world, and his relationship to the cosmos. Archetypal psychology advocates the perspective that self (properly the soul) communes with and is connected to the things and beings of the world. Indeed, according to Hillman, the soul is something connected to anima mundi through an affective relationship, which Plato calls the cosmic soul. According to Avens, Hillman’s notion of the soul as transhuman refers to a “realm of between or metaxy,” which has the function of connecting “the human with the non-human world or, in the terms of the later Heidegger, to integrate earth and sky, the gods and mortals.” One aspect remains however to be inquired, and this is that which could enable this communication between the upper world and the human soul. To clarify this aspect we may now look back into Plato’s text.

Chiastic breath – recollection and soul-union
The idea of likeness pervades the entire dialogue of Timaeus, in respect to the making of man, as well as of the cosmos, both created in the image and likeness of the demiurge. There is one particular episode however where the imitation becomes meaningful for this subject, and this concerns the description of the vital function of the human organism: the respiration process. The respiration is a double “circular motion swaying to and from”, inspiration-expiration, and it is interlaced or interwoven (diaplakeisa) throughout the whole body. It is vital because it “takes place in order that the body, being watered and cooled, may receive nourishment and life.” (78D) Therefore, the function of the respiration demands that it must imitate the motion of the universe, and indeed, it does: “The process of repletion and evacuation is effected after the manner of the universal motion by which all kindred substances are drawn towards one another.” Plato originates the movement of respiration in a place, fountain of fire, which he describes as a network (plegma) of a creel, woven of fire and extended through the whole body:

Respiration is “a circular motion swaying to and from” and is “produced by the double process, which we call inspiration and expiration.” The origin of this movement “it is in a manner on internal fountain of fire, which we compare to the network of a creel (kurtou plegmati) been woven all of fire and extended through the centre of the body, while the outer parts are composed of air.” (72D-81E)

Plegma, from the Greek plekô, which means to twine or braid a plait, could be a sort of fabric, which vividly evokes the constitution of the veil of the cosmic soul, which was said to be woven (diaplakeisa). There is a constitutional kindredness in terms of the stuff out of which the human breath and the cosmic soul are made (veil, plegma), as well as a similarity in the disposition of their motion. Yet there is another thing, which connects the two together, and this is the fire factor. The origin of the respiration, says Plato is fire, “fire and breath rising together and filling the veins” (80D); at the same tine, the divine and archetypal soul is the cosmic fire. This is the premise and the condition of their connection. In like manner, the movement of the cosmic soul takes a similar disposition, which is said to be “interfused everywhere from the centre to the circumference.”

The connection between the soul and the world, and the soul and memory gains more clarity by reading Jean-Pierre Vernant’s essays ‘Aspects mythiques de la mémoire’ and ‘Le fleuve “amélès” et la “mélétè” thanatou’. Anamnesis or recollection is a strain of the soul for Plato, and Empedocles associates it with the term prapides (prapur, in Romanian), which is a bodily organ and a psychic faculty; prapídes is nothing but the diaphragm, by which respiration is controlled. The relation between the soul and the breath was known in archaic thinking, and the spiritual exercises of recollection were intimately related to old techniques of respiration, which allowed the soul to achieve extasis. For this reason, memory was considered such a power in ancient time that could permit the soul to exit from time and return to the divinity. Memory, it was believed to be divine. The exercises of recollection, based on breathing exercises, followed the cosmic soul’s movement in its disposition.

Certain similarities of this phenomenon may be found in the Christian world, and this is not only in terms of formal denomination. Byzantine hesychasm (from the Greek Hesuchia = silence) is a monastic movement, which practiced in 14th c. the so-called prayer of the heart or the prayer of Jesus. This consisted in a repetitive intonation of a short, yet complete, prayer of recollection of the Name of Christ. There is a circular movement within the Prayer, explains Father Kallistos, a sequence of ascent and return. The breathing is to be made slowly and coordinated with the rhythm of the Prayer. The first part of the prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”) is said while drawing in the breath, and the second part (“Have mercy on me a sinner”) while breathing out. This alternating internal movement of respiration (inspiration and respiration), described by Plato as well, medicine defines it as somatic rhythm: all somatic process takes place in rhythmic, cyclical patterns (diastole/systole/expansion/contraction etc.). Yet somatic alone cannot give full account of human being, but merely of its body. But the final goal of the hesychast prayer is the union with God, vision of light of the uncreated divine energy. The union of the soul with God in prayer is based on the power of the Name (IC XC), a chiastic anagram of the Name of Christ, formed of the two first letters of the name in Greek, X and P, Chi-Ro (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Monogram Chi-Ro Vatican.jpg

“The Name of God is numen praesens, God with us, Emmanuel. To invoke God’s Name is to place oneself in His presence, to open oneself to His energy, to offer oneself as an instrument and a living sacrifice in His hands.” The flowing movement of the hesychast Prayer is like a gently murmuring stream (Starets Parfenii of Kiev, The Art of Prayer, p. 110). Prayer of the heart is prayer of the body as well as the soul, since the heart has a twofold aspect, at once visible and invisible. Here, Christian theology meets archetypal imagination, and they both meet Mystical Experience in Byzantine hesychasm and Sufism. They all speak about the poetics of the soul and its imagining capacity, about the soul as something connected to the world beyond, or in between, to which man has access but grace (the hesychast) or by the cultivation of the soul (where the soul is via regia in the world, says Hillman).

In a paper under the historical title “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids. A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid,” published on April 25, 1953 in the journal Nature No. 4356, the molecular biologists James D. Watson and Francis H. C. Crick came to inform the whole world about their discovery, which was “the molecule of life.” They put forward what they described as “a radically different structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid. This structure has two helical chains each coiled round the same axis (see diagram).” (Fig. 3)

Fig. 3 Double helix.jpg

“Both chains follow right-handed helices, but owing to the dyad the sequences of the atoms in the two chains run in opposite directions.” The structure is an open one, and this specific pairing, they say, “suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.” The event was rewarded with a Nobel Price, and few years later, in 1956, World Health Organization (founded in 1948) adopted at Havana conference as its own emblem the symbol of Asclepius (god of Medicine) as its own emblem, a kind of Caduceus (1 snake and 1 staff). The snake and the bowl is the symbol of pharmacies in Europe. (Fig. 4)

Fig. 4 simbols asclepius hermes medicina.jpg

The resemblance between the double helix that spirals around each other in the DNA pattern of life and the pattern of chiasmus discussed in this paper may be just mere coincidence. This remains, of course, to be thought over and established by a concerted mind of scientists and cultural anthropologists. One thing is however sure that the scientists did not invent the DNA pattern, rather they unveiled the code which has been already there, an Image, like the archetypal theophanic image of Hillman. No doubt, this relatively recent discovery in the history of mankind has opened up the door to a new understanding of life in general, and genetics in particular. But one should hope that it will not take too long until its yet unexplored cultural implications will be revealed. The implications concerning the structure of thinking and creativity, of memory and imagination, might unveil ultimate answers. Fifty years after the discovery, Bruno J. Strasser rhetorically asks himself in a paper significantly entitled: “Who cares about the double helix? Collective memory links the past to the future in science as well as history.” In searching for his answer, Strasser takes the double helix as a symbol of “the values and ideals that make science itself what it is today.” Quite relevant for this paper are his remarks on how “our collective memories of the past play a crucial contemporary role,” “we witness collective memory in the making.” The iconicity of the molecule of DNA is evoked recently in the book of Dorothy Nelkin and M-Susan Lindee:

“DNA – the invisible, eternal, and fundamental basis of human identity – has acquired many of the powers once granted to the immortal soul. Like the sacred texts of revealed religion, DNA explains our place in the world: our history, our social relations, our behaviour, our morality, and our fate.” “DNA in popular culture functions, in many respects, as a secular equivalent of the Christian soul.”

I would like to end this essay on chiasmus – a cultural paradigm, and, possibly, a genetic model – with an emblematic image inspired by Mircea Eliade’s mystic story Rejuvenation by Lightning. The rejuvenation of Dominic Matei after being struck by lightning is a genetic mutation, manifested as “youth everlasting” and hypermnesia, a mystical return of memory, lost and recovered epiphanically the night of the Resurrection. As Doina Rusti interprets Eliade’s symbolism, the hypermnesia of Dominic Matei doesn’t represent a path only for personal salvation, but for the salvation of the collective memory. The character lives Christ’s experience (death and resurrection) and becomes the saviour of the world, where memory is a sort of ark (like Noah’s Ark), a container storing information and samples of human civilisation (from “dead languages” to most recent scientific discoveries) that will allow the universe to be born again after the Apocalypse.

This is a larger version of the paper presented at the conference “The Cultural Heritage of Medieval Rituals III: Confronting the Heritage,” at the Centre for the Study of the Cultural Heritage of Medieval Rituals, Copenhagen, 10th-13th December 2004. I would like to thank the readers and the editors of Europe’s Journal of Psychology, Beatrice Popescu si Andreea Enache, for their positive response and support, as well as to my brother Aurelian Isar for assisting me in preparing the text-images of chiasmus inserted in this article.
2 “We need first to understand that the human form – including human desire and all its external representations – may be changing radically, and thus must be re-visioned…five hundred years of humanism may be coming to an end as humanism transforms itself into something we must helplessly call posthumanism.” (Ihab HASSAN, “Prometheus as Performer: Towards a Posthumanist Culture?” in Performance in Postmodern Culture, Madison, Wisconsin: Coda Press, 1977, p. 212).
3 Katherine HAYLES, How we Became Posthuman. Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (The University Chicago Press, 1999), p. 254.
4 Michael HOBART and Zachary S. SCHIFFMAN, Information through the Ages: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Computer Revolution (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).
5 Ibid., p. 15.
6 Ibid., p. 16.
7 Rudolphe GACHÉ, Introduction to Andrzej WARMINSKI, Readings In Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger Theory and History of Literature, vol. 26 (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1987), p. xvi.
8 Steeve REECE, “The Three Circuits of the Suitors: A Ring Composition in Odyssey 7-22,” Oral Tradition 10/1 (1995): 207-229.
9 Cedric M. WHITMAN, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1958), p. 256.
10 M. CLARKE, “The Wisdom of Thales and the Problem of the Word IEROS,” Classical Quarterly 45 (ii) 296-317 (1995).
11 WHITMAN, “Geometric Structure of the Illiad,” Homer and the Heroic Tradition, pp. 249-84, espec. 253-4. See also REECE, “The Three Circuits of the Suitors: A Ring Composition in Odyssey 7-22.”
12 WHITMAN, p. 253.
13 WHITMAN, p. 255.
14 WHITMAN, p. 254.
15 WHITMAN, p. 256.
16 John BRECK, The Shape of Biblical Language (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994).
17 “Seeing” is to be understood here as theoria – the mode of contemplation of the sacred in ancient world. Greek metaphysics conceives the essence of theoria in terms of what it is contemplated. But theoria means also true participation, sharing in the total order itself, namely being purely present to what is truly real, being totally involved in and carried away by what one sees. The beholder is a theoros, the spectator in the proper sense of the word, since he participates in the sacred act of contemplation. See H-G GADAMER, Truth and Method, Second, Revised Edition, Sheed&Ward, London, 1993, pp. 124-5; 454; J. DANIÉLOU, “La teoria chez Grégoire de Nysse,” Studia Patristica, v. XI (1972), 131.
18 C. LOCK, ”Some Words after Chiasmus,” Afterword to J. BRECK, The Shape of Biblical Language, p. 362.
19 BRECK, The Shape of Biblical Language, p. 57.
20 GACHÉ, p. xvii.
21 Kathleen FREEMAN, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers (Cambridge University Press, 1983),
p. 25.
22 WHITMAN, p. 254.
23 Ibid.
24 “And in the centre he put the soul, which he diffused throughout the body, making it also to be the exterior environment of it; and he made the universe a circle moving in a circle…he created the world a blessed god.” (34B)
25 IRENAEUS, Demonstration (34 p. 69f) is referring back to Plato, perhaps via Justin. See G. Q. REIJNERS, The Terminology of the Holy Cross in Early Christian Literature (Dekker & Van de Vegt N. V. – Nijmegen, 1965), p. 196.
26 N. ISAR, “The Dance of Adam: Reconstructing the Byzantine Chorós,”Byzantinoslavica LXI (2001): 179-204.
27 REIJNERS, The Terminology of the Holy Cross in Early Christian Literature, p. 195, note 8.
28 N. ISAR, “Chorography (Chôra, Chôros, Chorós) – A performative paradigm of creation of sacred space in Byzantium,” in Hierotopy: Studies in the Making of Sacred Space (forthcoming 2005).
29 From kenosis, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
30 GACHÉ, xviii.
31 Jaques DERRIDA, Archeology of the Frivolous, trans. John P. Leavy (Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, 1980), p. 134.
32 GACHÉ, xix.
33 GACHÉ, xxii.
34 Ibid.
35Among his major works: James HILLMAN, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper & Row, 1975); Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account (Dallas: Spring Publications, 1983) (reprinted 1985, 1993).
36 Corbin himself must have been inspired by Mazdean concept of Image and Imagination, and mundus archetypus (al-‘âlam al-mithâlî), the world of the archetypal Image. See more in “DA ‘UD QAYSARI (d. 751/1350) Mundus Archetypus”, in Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth From Mazdean Iran to Shi’ite Iran, Princeton University Press, 1977, pp. 144-147.
37 HILLMAN, Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account, 1993, p. 12.
38 Ibid., p. 13.
39 Ibid., p. 1.
40 Ibid., p. 2.
41 Ibid., p. 13.
42 Ibid.
43 C. G. JUNG, The Collected Works 11, & 889, apud. HILLMAN, 1993, p. 12.
44 HILLMAN, Archetypal Psychology, p. 7.
45 Edward CASEY, “Towards an Archetypal Imagination,” Spring 1974: 23.
46 CASEY, ”Towards an Archetypal Imagination,” 27.
47 CORBIN, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth From Mazdean Iran to Shi’ite Iran p. 145.
48 Marc FONDA, Examining the New Polytheism: A Critical Assessment of the Concepts of Self and Gender in Archetypal Psychology, a doctoral dissertation. (unpublished)
49 Marc Fonda.
50 Robert AVENS, “Heidegger and Archetypal Psychology,” International Philosophical Quarterly 22 (1982), 185.
51 First published in Journal de Psychologie, 1959, pp. 1-29, and republished in Jean-Pierre VERNANT, Mythe et pensée chez les grecs études de psychologie historique, Paris, 1966, pp. 51-78.
52 This essay was first published in Revue philosophique, 1960, 1960, pp. 163-179, and republished in Mythe et pensée chez les grecs études de psychologie historique, pp. 79-94.
53 VERNANT, « Aspects mythiques de la mémoire, » Mythe et pensée chez les grecs études de psychologieHistorique, p. 52.
54 Humans of the golden race were called, according to VERNANT, hesuchoi (see VERNANT, Mythe et pensée chez les grecs, p. 27).
55 Archimandrite Kallistos WARE, The Power of the Name The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality, Oxford,1974, p. 8.
56 This is also known as the sign of Constantine, in which he was told that will win: “In hoc signo vinces” (in this sign thou shalt conquer).
57 p. 10.
58 CORBIN, “Man’s Prayer and God’s Prayer The Method of Theophanic Prayer,” Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, London, 1969, pp. 246-257.
59 James D. WATSON and Francis H. C. CRICK, “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids. A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid,” Nature No. 4356 April 25, 1953, p. 737.
60 Ibid.
61 Ibid.
62 Bruno J. STRASSER, “Who cares about the double helix? Collective memory links the past in the future in science as well as history,” Nature v. 422 (2003), 803. I would like to use this opportunity to warmly thank Bruno J. Strasser for his kindness to send me his paper on this great subject.
63 Ibid.
64 The DNA Mystique: The Gene As a Cultural Icon (The University of Michigan, 2004).
65 Mircea ELIADE, Mystic Stories. The Sacred and the Profane (inspired by the Romanian folk tale Tinerete fara batranete si viata fara de moarte, in English Youth Everlasting and Life Without End), translated by Ana Cartianu, Bucharest, 1992, pp. 218-302.
66 Hypermnesia, from the Greek hyper + mneme (memory), is an enhancement of memory function as compared to hypomnesia and amnesia (forgetting). Hypermnesia is a condition in which the person has an absolutely exceptional, perfect, detailed, vivid memory. First, it was demonstrated scientifically by Ballard (1913), although it was present in 19th c. novelistic. Eliade wrote his story in 1936.
67 Doina Rusti, Dictionar de symboluri din opera lui Mircea Eliade, Ed, Coresi, 1997.

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