The Town

The Town

In dreams, I sometimes find myself visiting various destinations along an unremarkable road on the outskirts of cities in which I’ve lived, a place I have no particular reason to feel emotionally connected to. This arc of highway came to suggest to me a segment of a subconscious symbol of a community’s wholeness: the circle. You can find circuits of highways on the maps of many cities, sometimes in concentric form around an undefined center. The small town where I spent most of my childhood was built on a similar series of loops in microcosm.

Carl Jung saw the circle motif as symbolic of the wholeness of the psyche. It is also commonly used to depict the structure of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, an archetypal Hero’s Journey he believed existed throughout the world’s cultures. (“Community” and “Rick and Morty” showrunner Dan Harmon has his own nicely streamlined version. Check out this video by Will Schoder for a good breakdown.) The idea of the nicely streamlined narrative with harmonious continuity at both ends also describes the kind of stereotypically circumscribed life course available to those people who choose to never leave their hometown. The same could be said of various established cultural traditions at nearly every scale.

Of course, if archetypes (much less stereotypes) have any descriptive power in the real world, they are fractal patterns at best. Nobody really follows that 100% circumscribed, mechanical path. Some mark their own revisions and return, affirming the pattern even as they affirm it; some tangentially break from their community completely. In this day and age, with the endemic warp and interplay of cultural patterns, it might be more practical to find ways to make friends with chaos. Instead of looking for that asymptotic guiding ring exclusively in the disintegrating crystals of past institutions, remember it was an emergent property in the first place, and try considering it as one guiding principle among others.

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