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Myth, Mythology and Novel

Myth, Mythology and Novel

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Published by Myriam Aghazadeh

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Published by: Myriam Aghazadeh on Jun 13, 2012
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FRANCESCOLORlGGIO
Myth,MythologyandtheNovel:
TowardsaReappraisal
Reopenedtoday,thedossieronmythand
its
relationtoliterature,thenovel
in
particular,putsusface
to
facewith
issues
thatareintimidating.
It
isnot
just
that
thefirst
oftheterms,myth,has
beenvariouslyhandled
by
philosophers,anthropologists,psychoanalystsand
theologians
orthat
in
thelastfewdecades
we
havebeen
us
litterateurs,moreandmoresensitivetotherumblingsoccurring
in
andcomingfromotherdomains.Even
the
restrictions
OUT
riderimposes(withinliterature,thenovel)can-notalIayourdiscomfort.Theperfectinterdisciplinaryobject,atext,mythisatthesametimeadevicethatserves
to
encodeandtodecode:itconvenes
all
thecomponentsofcommunication,
in
amannerambiguous-
ly
circular.There
is,
inshort,a
preliminary
problem,and
it
hastodo
less
withthedefinitionofmyth
than
with
its
roleintheproductionandthereceptionoftexts,andless
with
eitherthanwiththeirinterdependence.
In
dealing
with
myth,poets,novelists,dramatistshavealwaysreliedonthesocialsciences,especiallyanthropologyandpsychoanalysis(Frazer,Freudand
Jung,
or,later,Levi-Strauss,
Eliade,
Turner,havebeenarchivalandthe<lreticalguides).
Whence
the
impression
thatmythisoneofthosetopicsthatbringstheextrinsicintoliterature,that,beingdetermined'outside.'theborrowednotions,once'inside:affectliteraryworksthroughthetracestheyretainoftheoriginalformulations.Bycontrast,
the
presenceofmythwithincriticismshiftstheemphaSisonthedialec-tics,thedynamicsofcreationandinterpretation.Thematternowbecomesaninternalone.Wherethedefjnitjonofmythbasbeenderivedfrom
is
animportantquestionbut
it
graftsonthemoreprimaryconcernabouttheeffectofmythonthewriter,thereaderandthetext.Sothatthefinalstepofanassessmentoftherelationbetweenmythandliteraturewouldhavetobethefittingofthepeculiaritiesofeachindividualcon-ceptiontoitspositionintheprocessesbywhichliteratureismadeorunderstood.Ofcourse
this
dualitydoesnotcontradicttheviewsaboutmyththatthesourcesofthewritersandthecriticshavepromoted.Indeed,
it
couldbearguedthatalldefinitionsmusthavebuilt
into
thematleastsome
CANAlllANB"VIEWOfCOll41'ARATIVl;LIT£ltATURE/R£V1lECAlIiADlENNEDE1.I'I:l:tRA7mu;COWAit!:aCL/llcLcDKEMBER/DECEM8KE
1984
0319-05J_x/84/~04-0501
$ol.25/°Canadian
Comparative
Literature
Association
 
502/
Prancescc
Loriggio
acknowledgmentofreception,Fullysummarized,inItsmostconven-tionalversionmythhasbeen:
(1)
astory
(2)
aboutgodsorexemplaryfigures,narratingeventsofatimebeforeorbeyondhistoryandperiodicallyre-enacted(rituallyor,inpsychoanalysis,asasymptom),Thatinrealitysocialscientistshaveprivilegedsomequalitiesattheex-penseofothersisprobablyduetotheextensionsthepartsofthedefini-tionpermit,
As
(1).
myth
is
asystemofsigns,thereforealsoessentially'false';as
(a).
its
main
property
is
itsefficacy:
it
is,
tothosewhoreiterate
it,
alsoanessentially'true'story.
In
thiscenturyeachoftheseaspects-
the'materialcontent'
orthe'intensity'whithwhich
it
is
experienced,torecallCassirer'sfamousopposition--haslinkedtospecificapproaches.
Forearly
functionalists
suchas
Malinowski
orhistorians
of
religionsuch
asMirceaEliadescientificanalysisofthenarrativeofmythyieldsIlttleinformation,andlessthat
is
pertinent,
if
itisnotprecededbyanex-aminationofwhatthenarrativedoes.!Forstructuralists
such
asL~vi-Straussthemythicaltextisnotonlyaccessibletosciencebutistheonlydepositoryofvaliddata.'Yetnoschoolorsingleauthorhasmanagedtocompletelyexpungethepragmaticelementfromitsaccountofmyth.WhenLevi-StrausstellsustnattheOedipusstoryreconcileslogicalalter-nativeswhich
in
reallifemustcontinuetocollide,ishenottalking,howeversurreptitiously,ofthesocialrelevanceofmyth1
4
Thelastdecadehas,
if
anything,furtherstressedthesepriorities,Onecanperhapsseethismoredirectly
in
Germany,wherearereadingofthevery
rich
10caJtraditiononmyth(goingbacktoSchelling,Herder,theRomantics)hasinvolvedphilosophers,sociologistsandliterarytheoristsandhasfocusedquiteovertlyonthelegitimatingpowerofmyth.onitsimpactoncommunicarion."But,again,itisalsoevidentinothercoun-triesandwithauthorswhohavechosenotherroutesandhaveother
in-
terests,Recently,thesemanticistThomasPavelhasrevisitedEliade's
1
E.Cassirer,
ThePhilDsophy
of
SymbolicForms.Il:MythicalThOllght
(NewHaven:
Yale
UniversityPress
195315
l
OfB.Malinowskiseehis
.Mi1gic:,
ScienceandJ?eligion
(NewYork:Doubledayn.d.)96and
108.
ForM,Eliadesee
his
MythandReality
(NewYork:Harper
&:
Row
196)
1-l0.
)C.
Lk>i-St~uss.
'La
Structu:_redesmythes,'
in
Anrhropo./ogie
structumle
(paris:
Plon19S&)~~7-55
4M.Frank,
Derkommend«
Golt:
Vorlesunge11
iloer
dieneueMythologie(FrankfurtaiM,Suhrkamp
19B)
7'1.
Alsotmportant
is
K.-H.
Bohrer,
M~tho5I.Ind
Modeme:
BegriffI.IndBild
einer
Rekonstnlldion(FTankfurta/M:Suhf,kamp
19B)).
5Uvi-Stlauss,
l)9
 
Myth,MythologyandtheNovel:TowardsaReappraisal/503hypothesisabouttheexistential,ritualisticeffectivenessofmythtosug~gestthatinsocietieswhichadapttwo-tieredontologiesandadmitthepossibilitythatasacred,'true'realitymaycoexist
side
bysidewithapro-fane,'false'one,themythicaltextcanbeclassifiedwithnon-fictionalgenres.s
C,S.
Kirk,
inhisbookonmyth,'MarcelDetienne,
l~P.
Vemantandtherestofthecontributorstothenumberthejournal
LeTempsdela
Ref/e:riD'n
hasdevotedtothesametopic,have,instead,downplayedtheconnectionwithritualismor
with
religion,Forthemtheterm'myth'doescoverstoriesaboutgodsbutitcanbeadequatelyappliedtostoriesof
Eolkloricnature,
togenealogies.proverbs,oldwives'tales,general
hear-
say,Ratherthanatextitdesignatesafield.Somuchsothatitcouldeasi-
Iy
be
replaced
by
theadjective'mythic.
'.S
Ononeissueonlyistherecom-mongroundbetweenthesevariousauthors,Whateveritisoneconsiderstobemythical,itmustbeoperative.Sacredorprofane,'true'or'false:mythmustbedifferentiatedfromothertextsinthatitcanbeusedtointerpret
them
(whilethereversemay
OF
may
notbe
true:
itdearlyisnotwith'sacred'texts),Butthebackdropcanstillbeenlarged.Theculturalhorizon
in
which
therevivalofmythwearewitnessingtodaysituatesitselfallowsustodiscernanalogies
in
otherwisedistantanddisparate
items,
Cadamersrehabilitationofprejudice,ofpre-judgment,asahermeneuticconcept,asawayofFore-knowing",thedebate,ongoingwithinpsychology,
aboutthe
roleof
belief-systems
incognition
10;
notionssuchasthat
of
script('apredetermined,stereotypedsequenceofactionsthatdefinea
well-known
situation'll)nowcurrent
in
artificialintelligenceorthatofsecondarymaddingsystem('communicationstructuresbuiltassuperstructuresuponanaturallinguisticplane[mythandreligion,for
6T,
Pavel,The'Bordersof
Fiction:
PoeticsTodll,y
4,NO.1
(J,gS3)83-8
7G,S,Kirk.
Myth:
Its
Meaningand
1t5
F~nr:tion
UI
AncientandOtherCultures
(Cambridge:CambridgeUniversityPress1973)30ff8SeeM,Detienne,TIneMythologiesansillusion,'Le
TempsdelaIUf1exion
J.
(1.¢oJ
50-).foragoodsumma.ryofanargumentthat
is
espousedbyallcontributorstothat
i55U~
of
thejournal.9H.
.c,
Gadamer,
Wahrheit
.1111«
Methode
(Tiibingen:
J,eB.
Mohr297,5)
<16111,
acRecen]surveysof
the
issuesare
in
RP.
Abelson,'DifferencesBetweenBeliefandKnowledgeSysterm;:Cogrritivt
Science),
(1979)35;-66andD,A,Norman,TwelveIssuesforCognitiveSden<:e:
CognitiveScience
4
(I.¢o)
2-)2:,
1.1
R.C.Schankand
RP,Abelson.
'Scripts,Plans,
and
Knowledge,'
in
P.N,Johnson-
laird,
P.c.Wason,eds.
Thinking:Readingsin
Cognitive
Science
(Cambridge:
CambridgeUniversityPressJ.977)
4=

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