Critical Trilogy

a critic's millennial journey

Kundalini’s Daughter

"La Parca on Connecticut Bridge"

The name for the Greek mythic figure, Psyche, is derived from psychein, meaning to breathe, to blow, and hence, to live.  Her symbol is the butterfly emerging out of the chrysalis. Critical Trilogy was created during the cultural shift coinciding with the change of millennium.  It took five years of gestation to find her form.

Yet, the origins of this book were much earlier, in a 1983 Kundalini awakening that gives this first volume its title.  My father was a pioneer in the Human Potential Movement of the early 1960s, who established Aureon, the east coast counterpart to Esalen, where I had my first encounter group at the age of five.  Before I graduated from high school, he became a disciple of Swami Muktananda, whom he introduced to the scientific community when the guru visited California in 1974.

I stayed at my father’s Kundalini Clinic in San Francisco during a college vacation in 1979, intrigued, but not fully aware of the mysterious serpent power and its potential for genius or insanity. I was soon to find out, because at his funeral in 1983, I experienced the healing heads of Sister Denise, a guide to my father’s exploration of Raja Yoga.  This remarkable woman was the most angelic being I have ever encountered in a life-long journey of meeting many sages, magicians and gurus.  She was so light that she seemed to glide on air, and when she cupped her hands over my head, as I wept before my father’s coffin, I felt the sensation of the thousand petal lotus opening–the tingling in the crown chakra known as the Kundalini awakening.

Following this sublime experience, I lived through a decade of personal turmoil while running across three continents as a writer, with little else but my pen to attach me to the earth.   Not until 1994, when I arrived back in my family home in Stamford, Connecticut, did I commit myself to the process of bringing this spirit fully into my physical body–and my body of writing.  Typically, I thought it would take a few days, maybe a month; instead it took fifteen years.  Along the way, I experienced the great paradox of my life as an extroverted Aquarian: in going inward, I found not only myself but also a profession.  Or I should say, criticism found me, for it gave me the ability to exorcise my daemon and reconcile persistent dreams of needing to relieve myself in public.  How else could I work through the challenges of grounding a new myth–Kundalini pioneer’s daughter awakened over his coffin–when the lack of roadmaps was compounded with the necessity to earn a living?

Psyche was a mythical mortal who symbolically reflects our soul.  You are already participating in her rebirth, simply by reading this introduction.  An odyssey, compiled in three volumes, brings an intensive decade-long process of relentlessly tracking the re-emergence of the sacred feminine in contemporary culture to an ending, and a new transformation.

Initially, the journey was propelled by my own struggle to find Psyche in a tangible form.  This evolved into a physical act of impromptu performance/installation art archived through traditional photography, later taking on an entirely new skin in The Alchemy of Love, a 2007 live multimedia production in the Lab Gallery of the Roger Smith Hotel in Manhattan.

Here you are with the outcome.  The first volume of Critical Trilogy covers Psyche’s falling in love with Eros and ends with the beginning of her disenchantment with romantic love.  Vol. II contains the character building that rewards Psyche with the profession of art critic under a gender-free label.  Vol. III results in the transition from critic to curator as a means of introducing the public to an aesthetic reflecting a new cosmology.

In 1997, I met acclaimed author Margaret Starbird (The Woman With the Alabaster Jar), whose search for the “lost bride” of the gospels was to inspire Dan Brown’s writing of The Da Vinci Code.  My passionate exchange with Margaret about the hieros gamos prompted me to begin a conscious and proactive journey to find evidence of the bride’s return in art.

The book you are holding is the refined product of this search.  In bringing together a vision of Psyche with a written chronicle of the journey of Her emergence, it reflects an authentic quest: to restore the image of the lost bride to psychic life through the passionate expression of a newly emerging face of the feminine.

The obstacle facing the culture at the turn of the millennium was this: how do we penetrate beyond post-modern cynicism to the embrace of a new cosmology containing the full expression of the divine feminine in union with her male consort?  On a personal level, I embarked on a contemporary remaking of a twentieth century urban myth reflected in the title of the second volume, Psyche on 79th Street: the “underground” descent of the uptown New Yorker to an earthiness embodied in the downtown artist community.  By becoming fully engaged in developing a codex of this process, I confronted the challenge facing all art disciplines today: how to create an elastic form that is alive, yet timeless, contemporary, yet rooted in the past.  Above all, this new art form must tell the truth about the joys and sorrows of being awake at this crucial point of history.

The abyss we are staring into, declared by twentieth century critics as the End of Art, holds the potential for our transformation.  It is the paradigm leap we all face–the point where past and future converge into present, the collapse of the Quantum Wave.  It is precisely in this undefined space that Kundalini’s Daughter lives and breathes the fresh air of creative freedom–no matter if she is uptown, downtown, or anywhere in between!  Once it became obvious that the serpent power was pushing me to creating a new form, my path was clear: to establish myself as a leader in a new avant-garde.

How did I get to that place from my refuge in Connecticut?  In 2001, I plunged into a freelance job as regular art critic with Southern Connecticut Newspapers (Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time).  I began writing about visual art and eventually expanded into dance and theater. Over a span of five years, I published nearly 250 reviews and articles.  At every possible opportunity, I chronicled the return of the authentic feminine repressed by both the corporate media, on one hand, and academia with its institutionalized feminism, on the other.  Some of these reviews and articles appear in this volume, while others will appear in future volumes.

Paradoxically, the content and rhythm of this book are composed of the serpent’s shedding of the real life experiences required to write it.  Yet, beyond an immersion into the collective consciousness, my daemon required surrendering to the universal unconscious–a new version of the myth of Psyche and Eros.

There are aspects of the original Greek narrative that are missing, as the myth was being lived through a contemporary woman who had been schooled by a father whose core identity through all his transformations was unshakeable: participant and observer rolled into one.  In this respect, the virgin in the myth was being newly invented as the solitary female intellectual who betrays her own mind, as Eros betrays Psyche, in order to confront her veiled desire for an authentic connection to another human being.  In breaking through the modernist myth of the solitary genius, and narrowly escaping the trap of narcissism, she overcomes the illusions of romance to learn about a love that is real.  To succeed in this quest, she must develop her character through discrimination, courage and containment of spirit.  This growth leads to a new relationship between Eros and Beauty.  But wouldn’t a critic with a pioneering spirit embracing such an evolution expect to be enthralled by a bold new aesthetic?

Perhaps, yet to fall into its enigma meant betraying my professionalism. This was the paradox that I chose to embody, rather than repress, and therefore, the tension of risk defines the very structure of this trilogy.  My decision to publish this book was prompted by a mail delivery of my father’s introduction to a book on his guru.  A particular passage caught my attention:

A point that Muktananda keeps making…is the necessity of having direct, personal experience with higher states of consciousness and spiritual energy.  This may seem obvious but it is easy to forget this simple truth.  Again and again, he exhorts the scientist to study himself, the healer to heal himself, the psychologist to witness his own mind.  The pressures to achieve and perform in these fields before one has gone very far into one’s own Self are very great in America.  Muktananda says that the journey into the Self can only make one into a better therapist, a better minister, a better researcher.  Nothing will be lost; much will be gained.  That is what he told me when I first met him.  From direct personal experience I have found he was speaking the truth. 1

Naturally, I have something to add to that list: a better critic.  My father raised his progeny to undertake his own spirit of scientific inquiry in pursuit of the Self, breaking through any boundary standing in the way–whether in the body, society or profession. I never doubted that to understand art on the cutting edge, I had to follow my father’s path and balance the tension between the opposites to become both observer and participant.  The suspense was high, but triumph lay on the other side of the tightrope: a new language to interpret innovative art forms for the twenty-first century.

Kundalini’s Daughter goes beyond the struggle to cope with my father’s legacy as death-defying explorer of a forbidden realm.  It is also the attempt to make good on his unconventional teachings, particularly in regards to non-attachment.  The value propelling the narrative forward is not at all apparent in a consumerist culture.  And, even today, this is what relegates to the avant-garde the constant vigor of my neo-Reichian psychologist father’s tireless breakdown of energies blocked in the body.  As a critic, I followed in his footsteps by zeroing in on impediments within the body of the artist’s work, as well as those within the art world and celebrity-obsessed culture.  These dead zones harbor outworn archetypes and patriarchal myths that need be reinvented for a new age of gender equality.

In turning my Third Eye inward, I had to apply this same rigor to my writing.   To break through the shadow threatening the critic–who can profess to see everything, it would seem, except their own backside–requires the creativity and imagination of the novel, along with the rigorous adherence to truth required by journalism.  In combining both forms,Critical Trilogy makes a mythical, millennial journey filtered through the collective consciousness a living and breathing reality for our time.

In retrospect, it seems that such an unbearable task of bringing heaven down to earth was essential to drive the narrative forward.  Yet, confronting the seemingly impossible at every new turn was Psyche’s challenge in the Greek myth, as well. Coming upon the insurmountable obstacle, she didn’t simply whine as so many artists do about the state of things; instead, she fully surrendered.  In giving up her life to a higher power, the universe came to her aid in unpredictable ways.  This was also true of my journey.

But what about Critical Trilogy, that also took on a life of its own?  How did it evolve from lunar diary to e-mail novel to the present hybrid form?  A writer friend, Mary Lee Grisanti, could see the narrative in an evolution of e-mails I dared describe as a novel (well, it certainly was novel!), and suggested making it a unique book of fiction integrating my articles and reviews into the text, while adding fantasy elements to portray the unfolding of a romantic myth.  I had all sorts of doubts and anxieties regarding such a breakdown of boundaries.  Could I possibly exist as an astrologer, reporter, psychic, healer, novelist, lover, daughter and budding art critic in bloodstained pages between two covers?  Yet, as the creative urge took over, squelching any doubts by the mere force of its power, the Kundalini guided me to an entirely new form of expression, reflecting the New Woman born out of my awakening.  This process is best described by Richard Tarnas at the conclusion of his monumental book, Cosmos and Psyche:

In order to understand the cosmos better, perhaps we are required to not only transform our minds but our hearts.  For our whole being, body and soul, mind and spirit, is implicated.  Perhaps we must go not only high and far but down and deep.  Our world-view and our cosmology, which defines the context for everything else, is profoundly affected by the degree to which all our facilities enter the process of our knowing.  How we approach “the other,” and how we approach each other, will shape everything, including our own evolving self and the cosmos in which we participate.  Not only our personal lives but the very nature of the universe may demand of us now a new capacity for self-transcendence, both intellectual and moral, so that we may experience a new dimension of beauty and intelligence in the world– not aprojection of our desire for beauty and intellectual mastery, but an encounter with the actual unpredictably unfolding beauty and intelligence of the whole. 2

In keeping with this departure from Psyche’s “projection of our desire for beauty and intellectual mastery” onto the suitable hook, the art star, and into “an encounter with the actual unpredictably unfolding beauty and intelligence of the whole,” the form was conceived out of the integral process of weaving all these parts together.  This required connecting cosmos and psyche, not only through daily diligence to the positions of the planets in relation to the luminaries, but my instinctual attraction to symbol, encapsulated by the images guiding the reader into each chapter, with titles doubling as captions. Since my awakening, I was propelled towards such signposts, as if by an underground stream.  When I became a critic, I had many years of experimental automatic writing behind me, and this foundation allowed me to process material very rapidly for a review.  Moreover, as I started to write in this manner of following my instinctual attraction to opposites, I quickly gravitated to artists on a similar path.  They weren’t difficult to locate, as the few seeking an authentic connection between the Self and their material stood out among the many who “make art about art.” Symbolism had been neglected in art in the last half of the twentieth century.  Yet, in the art of these twenty-first century icon makers, I discovered personal narratives reflecting a shifting cosmology.

There are no traditional models for incorporating psychic material–or human emotions–into journalism.  An instinctual reaction to art is at odds to the claim to objectivity required by the profession.  Yet, as the media became more corporate at the close of the twentieth century, I felt blessed to have found outlets where I could express what was needed, without either overt censorship or more subtle repression, such as the apathy to the authentic rampant in the market-driven art world of the time.  I quickly learned that I had a much wider berth to create a new dialectic in a daily newspaper, with a sophisticated readership, than in publications devoted to meaningless “artspeak.”  Trained as a journalist and having heeded my dreams to steer clear of the academy, I felt it was my duty to report from the cutting edge where my Kundalini instinct guided me. Writing reviews rather than articles gave me more freedom to interpret my discoveries.

Ramped up by the Kundalini, my critical eye was constantly on the lookout for truth tellers directly addressing the thorny problem of the Uncertainty Principle, where the experimenter cannot avoid affecting the outcome of the experiment.  Even now they are rare, though the number of artists has multiplied. If criticism is in crisis, it is because a devotion to experimentation has been lost in the rise of professionalism among both artists and curators–all operating, in the well-rounded view of my father, at a loss to the Self.

For these reasons, there is a general failure to reconfigure the relationship between artist, critic and audience, following the demise of postmodernism. The corporate-dominated and celebrity-obsessed 24-hour media environment seemed to determine the need for the rebellion of Kundalini’s Daughter as it was being written.

Still, can society continue to permit the widespread loss of an authentic connection to art that has propelled the evolution of human history? Fueled by Kundalini, I was able to surmount this challenge by inventing a new role for the critic as interpreter in the gray area where a universal archetype meets the collective consciousness.  For years I struggled to do so in newspapers, where the boundaries between writer and subject are fairly clear. Today, I continue to evolve this role through blogs where I can rely on an internal structure developed over many years of writing to maintain a critical detachment, and fewer years of performing to embrace the Uncertainty Principle.

Woven among multiple genres in this book is a diary.  All of the characters in the diary, including the narrator, are real.  For those who are not professional artists, I used only first names.  With professional artists, I used the full name, as these associations were born out of public dialogue.  The urge for Critical Trilogy to be transparent in every aspect and stage of the writing was both impetus and outgrowth of the Zen practice of scrubbing my mirror clean of projections every day, through incessant scribbling into a reporter’s notebook as well as a personal journal. Attempts to free myself of detachment were acts of survival that necessitated crossing boundaries between forms.  If publishing this account of my journey puts me at professional risk, well, that certainly is the intension!  My intention to embrace the Uncertainty Principle so publicly, in an era of social networking on the web, makes the outcome all the more exciting.

The initial decision, in 2005, to publish this trilogy in a collaborative and incremental manner, arose out of evolutionary concerns as well as economic necessity.  At the time, I was still writing newspaper criticism; publishing this book would have staked, not only my reputation, but my livelihood, on an unknown as I made a public leap over boundaries forbidden by my profession.  The breakthrough was necessary, even if it was the Kundalini that gave me energy to drill down into the subterranean waters with my pen to deliver the ever-present origin of critical knowledge to readers old and new.   Perhaps the prospect of facing this unknown realm while seeking publicity for my dangerous game was the reason why the project was dropped for four years, and resurrected when the times seemed to demand it.

Is the book you are holding fiction or nonfiction? It is, of necessity, a bridge between both; for fiction can create the forces that stir up archetypes that nonfiction cannot, in its alleged adherence to “objective truth.”  I am in keeping with Tarnas when he writes: “I believe our intellectual quest for truth can never be separated from the cultivation of our moral and aesthetic imagination.” 3

Perhaps in giving the hybrid voice of Critical Trilogy the opportunity to be heard, I am hoping to heal the fissure caused by an ongoing literary debate.  Postmodernism sought definition through erasing the hand of the author to the point of utter banality; now is the time for a declaration of the author’s fated hand to embrace a new spirit of omnism gathering beyond the darkening cloud of consumerist categorization and labels.  It is nice to think this publication establishes a newly emerging form of literature for a post-consumer culture.  But typically, I am at the mercy of the Uncertainty Principle and, therefore, blind to the outcome.  If “literary” publishing denies such a hybrid form, it is because participants cannot make their own conscious embrace of uncertainty to confront the shadow of commercialism that effectively smothers the revolutionary impulse.

Perhaps this universal struggle for an omnism–encompassing past, present and future–is the ultimate reason why you are holding the first volume of the journey.  Like its namesake, the Kundalini, the unfolding of this text permits a feedback loop in an upward spiral.  In this manner, the occult will become known through the collaborative process, integrating the artist’s gift with a ready recipient.  In this novel exchange, Kundalini’s Daughter acts as transparent messenger of the universal consciousness, reflecting an inevitable collapse of boundaries between observer and observed in art.  Today, the work seems less transgressive as literature than telling of a new world of social networking media, embracing the authenticity of the Self by facilitating its passage into the collective consciousness.

Yet, this book took form right in keeping with its times.  I was present at a landmark San Francisco conference in February 1997.  Organized by Tarnas, it brought together astrologers and scientists to celebrate a new cosmology being formed by the very timing of the event: a Valentine’s Day line-up of Uranus and Jupiter with the Sun in Aquarius.  The heavens called for a new mythology, and there it began: James Hillman, “father of archetypal psychology,” overthrown by the upstart Uranus, evidently, in the form of organizer Tarnas, who emerges now in the twenty-first century as the “father of archetypal astrology” which is all too appropriate for the “galactic shift” in consciousness.

But, from the perspective of Art, the overthrow came from the Kundalini, when I confronted Hillman with the force of this power and demanded to know why he referred to Venus as the patriarchal Aphrodite in his Valentine’s Day workshop, rather than the pre-patriarchal love goddess, Inanna.  This was surely the moment that Kundalini’s Daughter was seeded, in an act of rebellion against the father (Hillman) in favor of the son (Tarnas), who was at that time writingCosmos and Psyche, a monumental book that is sure to be recognized as the most significant of the twenty-first century.  It certainly was for me, not simply with its 2004 publication, but the fact of knowing it was being written as I consciously embarked on the cosmological journey contained within these covers.  With the 1997 San Francisco conference serving as my launching pad (I took cover in the Quetzal coffeehouse), I was in conscious collaboration with the philosophy delivered by the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction in a stunning Seal of Solomon configuration summed up the conclusion to Tarnas’ book:

I have found the archetypal astrological perspective, properly understood, to be capable of illuminating the inner dynamics of both cultural history and personal biography.  It provides extraordinary insight into the deeper shifting patterns of the human psyche, both individual and collective, and into the complexly participatory nature of human reality.  It places the modern mind and the modern self into an altogether new light, radically re-contextualizing the modern project.  Perhaps most important, it promises to contribute to the emergence of a new, genuinely integral world view, one that, while sustaining the irreplaceable insights of the modern and postmodern development, can reunite the human and the cosmic, and restore transcendent meaning to both. 4

My natural astrological chart, with zero degrees Aries Rising, revealed a pioneering position in this millennial unfolding, along with the excruciating difficulty of manifestation (my 13 squares and no trines establishing an uncommon affinity with Uncertainty).  In innovating my own path through the chaos of the millennial shift, I had to be my own healer, astrologer, educator, mentor, psychologist, publicist, travel agent, life coach, stylist–and yes, publisher.

It is telling of my process that the passage chosen for me to print this universal story was i-Universe, recommended by Unitarian Universalist Rev. Dorothy May Emerson.  This final leap in a step-by-step grounding of a new cosmology in the 12 years of Jupiter’s cycle in Aquarius–from the 1997 conjunction with Uranus to the 2009 conjunction with Neptune/Chiron–brings into form a prediction for the 2008-2010 Uranus-Saturn era (the Obama evolution) not ventured by Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche.  It wasn’t necessary, for he had already done it earlier, in his epilogue to Passion of the Western Mind:

Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of modern man, indeed, that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of “man” himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome–and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine. 5

In keeping with this symmetry between poetry and philosophy, my introduction closes with a telling revelation: my deliberate choice, at the time of this writing, to place the T.S. Eliot quote, with which Tarnas provides a mysteriously enigmatic close to his text, at the entrance to my own.  Where philosophy departs, life begins.

Lisa Paul Streitfeld

September 22, 2009

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