Raconteurs and Myth Makers: David Metcalfe and Willi Paul Stir in the Story. Email, March 2010.
Raconteurs and Myth Makers: David Metcalfe and Willi Paul Stir in the Story. Email, March 2010.

Hi Willi,

Well, it seems to me our societies are built ground up on stories. From the personal through to the national level it's all based on ideas (potential action) being encapsulated in a form (story) that allows that idea to become realized.

Looking at what Alan Lomax did (really the entire group of folklorists working for the Library of Congress) to create a national myth that guided the country through WW2 and into the post war period and how those ideas still resonate really strikes a chord with me.

I see so much potential in the internet, the ability for people to truly connect, but I see a lot of that being wasted. There are tons of story tellers, but their stories are dispersed, self involved, not motivated by any higher ideal.

While assisting with the TEDx event I've been reading over Renaissance/Enlightenment era thinkers. Their concepts of natural harmony as portrayed in music/art/reinvention of cultural myths, has really got me thinking. As I contact local organizations (libraries/colleges/etc.) I'm seeing the potential that could be there, but meeting the resistance of calcified organizational structures.

So that brings me back to thinking about myths, the power of the myth is that it hits on those innate structures, sub-conscious nodes, that we can't ignore even if we want to. The necessity to bring that to sustainability is undeniable.

People will follow a political platform only so far, and religious institutions have become so enmeshed with politics that they've begun to lose their ability to guide anything towards a higher ideal, but Myths can emerge that act to spark a subtle ember that sets the whole thing alight.

We need raconteurs and myth makers to start the wheel spinning. We have the technology, the access to information, and the situation itself that demands something be done. Now we need the storytellers to create the Myths that drive it all along.

I appreciate your efforts on this front. Do you think Joseph Campbell saw this coming? I know that he worked with SRI on some forecasting initiatives that portrayed a pretty bleak view of the decades to come.

David Metcalfe
Davidbmetcalfe at gmail dot com

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Hi back -

My work in the intersection of art, innovation, mythology and sustainability include attempts to forecast the future (see "Fiction" section on my site); explore a process to build new myths ; a mythic tool kit disguised as a Survival Guide ; and multiple digs into the emerging values and pitfalls of the street scape at Williville.

Who is the new Alam Lomax? Campbell? Are rock musicians the alchemic agents we seek?

How do we locate and grow a leader and his/her new stories? Barriers in this?

Are you a raconteur and myth maker?


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Hi Willi,

So far I've been whatever the situation requires. My approach has been fairly experimental, an exploration of the emerging digital space in terms of information dissemination and its effect and also looking at how this amorphous space effects and changes the physical world.

I've been active as the creative director/illustrator for The Absurdist Monthly Review, which focuses avant-garde critical theory and taking traditional ideas espoused by surrealism, absurdism, dada, etc. and moving them into the digital culture. This was an early effort, I just started dabbling online in Jan. 09, and it was one of the first opportunities that I had to begin developing a presence.

As a visual artist I've been working with an "office zen" style using sharpies, computer paper, and recently pastels to sort of scrawl out reactions to the day. A critique of the cultural void so often found in the corporate landscape. This lead to the development of year long digital art project, The Eyeless Owl, which culminated in a limited live release of an animation called A Serious Enquiry into the Vulgar Notion of Nature.

Both the Eyeless Owl blog (which ended when the animation was shown) and the animation itself were fairly assaulting, I'm not sure I want to continue down the negative line that they followed. Seems to me something more positive can be down with the medium than simply playing the provocateur.

It did surprise me, however, who many people reacted positively. I got compliments from a wide range of folks I wouldn't expect to react well to the art including chief executives at Microsoft, academic chairs at universities and professionals in the advertising industry.

Some examples:




One of the illustrations will be housed in the Long Now Foundations 10,000 year library.

Recently I've moved to a more obscure/collage based aesthetic. In part as a quiet rest period after The Eyeless Owl, and in part because my scanner broke down so I've had to resort to pure photoshop technique, ha.

So my story telling at this point has been, for the most part, visual. As a marketing consultant I do some blogging and social media work. When doing corporate blog posts I try to incorporate cultural messages, references to history, literature, art, and comparative religion. Build up themes for business writing from deeper sources to try and seed the culture with something more than just rehashed Drucker.

Recently I started helping a Chicago filmmaker promote his documentary on William S. Burroughs. This was a good way to test some of what I'd been learning and experiencing with my own creative projects and corporate work, a sort of combination of the two areas into a focused experiment.

Reading some of your posts on music and mythmaking definitely hits on one of the key points I've discovered in the artistic process. There is a very deep ritual level to it. This is one of the reasons I solidified and moved on from The Eyeless Owl. The intensity of the work was disrupting my ability to focus on positive aspects, the critique I was evoking was becoming too deeply embedded in the negative. It's entire creation was based on an immediatism, the illustrations were done stream of conscious, the collaboration for the animation was very loose, allowing all the parts to flow naturally, these were positive aspects, but the emotions that I was working with and working into the piece were very dark and that did take a toll on my day to day.

All art is alchemy, I find the most effective artists don't just rely on one creative aspect, they embrace the fact that sound, image, text are all different frequencies of the whole structure. I play guitar to focus my mind and train my hands for more fluid drawing, I read and write to focus my imagination on immediate narratives that I can direct into the creation of images. It all flows together.

It all has to come from that immediate experience I think. The immediate experience, though, is a unified flow from the creation of the universe until its end. I see no different in a Medieval saint and the hustler I talk to in downtown Chicago, meaning that I look at them all equally as teachers, pointers, and their messages flow into what is created through my artistic pursuits. Events I view the same way, war is war, whether it's happening now or in dynastic Egypt. The emotions are the same, the causes are the same, it's all the same ebb and flow of forces that shape our existence.

I really don't see any new Lomax' or Campbell's, but I do see decentralized groups working in similar veins. Radio stations like WFMU, websites like Ubuweb, Arthur Magazine, individuals circling those hubs or moving out on their own. There are some wonderful cultural curators I've run across on Twitter. Tumblr seems to be a good curatorial tool as well, my stream at this point looks like a fin de siecle salon with the people whose posts I've ended up following.

That's where I see a lot of value emerging, individuals, on a very personal level, are beginning to create cultural resources on their own. The projects that I've worked with on a personal level have all come from individuals taking the responsibility on themselves to create cultural value. Library of Congress doesn't need to start a program or ship off grants, it's happening on the street level. If anything I would like to see some of the foundations and established outlets step down into it and regain their relevancy by partnering with the people who are getting active at the community level.

As for finding new leaders, I think organized gatherings are a great way to identify talent. Those who are willing to come out, those who are willing to put on the events, gatherings, coffee shop meet ups, it's very similar to how it has always been, but with more interactive tools and means of reaching out.

The New York Review of Books just had an interesting article on this:

"Blogging brings out the hit-and-run element in communication. Bloggers tend to be punchy. They often hit below the belt; and when they land a blow, they dash off to another target. Pow! The idea is to provoke, to score points, to vent opinions, and frequently to gossip."

It's tempting to focus only on the new means, but I think that with all of the technology saturating the field archaic methods can become more effective. They break the constant stream of slick, digital, mediated messaging we're assaulted with and give people something tangible to react to.

Barriers emerge from the curators and cultivators focusing too far ahead. It takes a very slow, solid mind set to really grow something of value. The 'fast, fast, fast' messaging that's so prevalent is doing a great detriment to growing truly active communities. We've forgotten that you don't just plant some seeds and get a crop the next day, sometimes you've got to work a field for years to get the right mixture to really grow something of worth.

I've taken a very person to person, direct approach to my efforts. Encouraging connections between creative folks I know, and trying to get them to see potential in areas they might not be fully aware of. Connecting academics to artists, or at least making artists aware that academic sources have value to add depth and anchorage to their art, connecting filmmakers to culture to give an impetus for something more than just personal narratives in their work. Reawakening the sense of the whole, using religious themes and translating their essence into something that eschews the political ramblings and negative connotations that have emerged from sectarian bickering.

This has all been very personal at this point, as I mentioned I only got fully into the digital sphere as of Jan. 09. Prior to that I'd been working in traditional marketing, research, working on private creative projects and studying culture. It's been very chaotically methodical.

I'm looking forward to delving deeper into your site.