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Myth Around the Clock:
From Mama Myth to Mythographic Analysis
Myth study [in the 1960s] has not so much the purity and integrity of an homogeneous regional cooking as it has the syncretistic flavor of international cuisine: a dash of Cassirer, a dollop of Freud, a gram of Frazer, a minim of Graves, a pinch of Harrison, a smidgen of Jung, a taste of Thompson, all intriguing flavors in themselves, excellently cooked, but, still and all, not really a style.
Herbert Weisinger, The Agony and the Triumph:
Papers on the Use and Abuse of Myth
Mythology has been interpreted by the modern intellect as a primitive, fumbling effort to explain the world of nature (Frazer); as a production of poetical fantasy from prehistoric times, misunderstood by succeeding ages (Müller); as a repository of allegorical instruction, to shape the individual to his group (Durkheim); as a group dream, symptomatic of archetypal urges within the depths of the human psyche (Jung).... Mythology is all of these.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Myth is one of the genres of experience, a way that imagination wraps us in fantasy even as we dream or live out a day. It accounts for the deepest level of emotion, understanding, interpretation, and valuing in experience. Because it is so deep, it is collective in tone, full of memory that goes back so far as to feel antecedent to personal life and even to human life. Init, unfamiliar plants, animals, geographies, and notable events may take their place regardless of any connection to actual experience.... Mythology is a certain kind of story that describes the stratum of myth in imaginal experience.... It can open up a particular kind of vision, so that we see what otherwise would be hidden beneath a layer of literalism or personalistic fiction.
"Developing a Mythic Sensibility"
Believe it or not, I was in high school bands when "rock" became popular. "Rock Around the Clock" was a fundamental reorientation of our culture: from the restrained, polite expression of the upwardly mobile, to the inclusion of everyday interests and values. Only in my late fifties did I begin to appreciate that "old stuff" (early rock music) as opposed to the "classical music" in which I was steeped to the extent that I not only performed it for twenty-five years, but did public radio programming and announcing. "Myth Around the Clock" here refers to the long-term presence of things mythological, to the manifold ways in which every one of us is affected daily by some sort of mythological or ritual influence.
Our first task is to gain an overview of the many ways myths and rituals can be studied. This chapter treats terms and definitions, and acknowledges problems which can arise in that enterprise. Following the tracking of some beginnings is a study of subsequent historical meanings of "myth." Next comes the proposal of a comprehensive definition, the development of which will constitute the bulk of the following two chapters.
The sort of glaze that comes over our eyes when someone chants "In the beginning ..." is fazed only slightly by recent scholarly translations of the initial verse of that late-biblical source responsible for what now begins the Tanakh/Hebrew Bible. Bereshith/Genesis 1.1 is translated more adequately with a processive verbal form: "When the gods began creating ...," or in the striking rendering by Doria and Lenowitz, "At the first of the gods' godmaking skies and earth, the earth was all mixed up-darkness on top of deepness; so the gods' spirit swooped down on the waters" (1976: 37). That glaze on our eyes surely is related to the veneration our culture ascribes to anything that "goes way back"—especially to anything that goes way back to "the beginnings."
Those familiar with the mythographer Mircea Eliade will recognize the theme he often repeated, of the importance of the cosmogonic myth, the account of first beginnings that remains a potential source throughout the life of a culture, a powerful source that, in the many examples which Eliade cites, can be renewed and made present repeatedly in retellings of the cosmogonic myth and in rites (see extracts in Beane and Doty 1975). While I do not consider the cosmogonic myth to have the absolute priority of place that Eliade assigned to it and its kin, there is no doubt that Western civilization since the days of the Greeks—who used to compile lists of the "first finders" of all sorts of cultural practices or objects—has been devoted to the psychic reality of Beginnings rather than of Now as "the appropriate place to start." Even our narrative tales are structured not from a present instant backward, but by "Once upon a time there was ..."; and the habit reaches even into academe: woe betide the graduate student whose dissertation does not begin with a review of previous research (a pattern established by the German Forschungsbericht).
Following this tradition, mythography begins literally at the beginning—or at least at the beginning of words. With the mother, whose Proto-Indo-European root appears to be *ma-, identified by the second edition of the American Heritage Dictionary as "an imitative root derived from the child's cry for the breast (a linguistic universal found in many of the world's languages ...)"; and it begins with the similar root of the word myth, the Proto-Indo-European root of which is *mu-. The Greek stem is apparently the noun my, pronounced "muh" or "moo," and referring to a mu-ttering sound made with the lips. So from the similar ma- and mu-, or as I will arbitrarily connect them, "Mother Myth," we have the noun mythos in Greek, as the term for what was made as a sound with the mouth, that is, for "word" (cf. the French cognate mot). Mythos came to designate a particular organization of words in story form.
In Homer and the early Greek poets, mythos signified the ways words are treated on the surface level of the text, their ornamental or fictional use, or the beauty of arrangement of the words in a literary work. Plato (strictly, Aristokles, surnamed Platon) considered myth to be an art of language alongside of and included within poetry. He cited mythic stories even while he suggested that the creativity of the poet-artist ought to be regulated closely by the state. Plato shifted to the mythic or legendary mode, or at least to extended metaphors, just at those points where his "rational" discourse needed to be amplified emotionally or aesthetically—that is to say, at those points where the logical mode exhausted rather than elucidated the subject (see especially Friedländer 1958: ch. 9; Detienne 1981: chs. 4 and 5). In his Poetics, Plato's pupil Aristotle (strictly, Aristoteles) used mythos more restrictively to refer to what we now call plot or fabula, treating the organization of words and actions of a drama into a sequence of narrative components as the most important dramatic element.
Mythos "word" or "story"—could be combined with an equivalent Greek noun for "word," namely logos (related to the verb legein, "to speak"). The result: mythologia (English: mythology), literally "words concerning words." However, historically, apart from its place in mythologia, logos gained the sense of referring to words comprising doctrine or theory, as opposed to mythos for words having an ornamental or fictional, narrative function. When Greek philosophical and scientific discourse began to claim that its rationality (its logos) had supplanted mythological thinking (identified as mythos, although that same discourse was still heavily indebted to mythological thinking), the mythological came to be contrasted with logic (the logos-ical) and later with "history" in the sense of an overview or chronicle of events (epos or historia, not necessarily chronologically distant from the present).
Mythology as the imaginative rather than the historical resulted from this course of linguistic development, and it influenced the Latin adaptations of these terms. Hence mythos came into Latin as fabula, the basis of both "fable" and "fabulous" (and as indicated above, it is used also in Romance languages as a synonym for plot). Now the emphasis is purely upon the poetic, inventive aspects of mythological creations. Precisely this fictional aspect has colored the majority of approaches to mythology, especially when knowledge in the sciences (science is from scire, Proto-Indo-European *skei-, to know by separating things rather than showing their commonalities; cf. scission, scissors from the same root) is conceived of as being based in the concretely experienced, the empirical, the study of that which can be measured and quantified. In these cases the realm of science is considered to be the opposite of the mythological (or the religious, or the metaphysical), which is considered to be the realm of fiction, fantasy, the imagination. Such technical treatment of myth as the nonscientific may be what brought the term myth into modern usage—as late as 1830 in English, 1815 in German, 1818 in French (on the role of the concept in French intellectual history, see Detienne 1981, 1996). Fritz Graf (1993: 55-56) reminds us that the construct obtained its current usage in the Enlightenment, and that by failing to examine it carefully, "it is entirely possible that in speaking of `myths' in non-European societies we are projecting our own conceptions, which go back to fifth-century Athens, onto those societies."
One of the underlying intentions of this book is to question this distinction, to raise qualifications to such a separation between science and mythology as both terms usually are conceived. I suggest that our myths are fictional, to be sure, but that fictional need not mean unreal and certainly not non-empirical; myths are mysterious (another side-formation from the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European stem, *mu-), but they are not incomprehensible, and the most statistically driven science is shaped by the values of the underlying mythical orientations of cultures. Fiction is a sort of interpretation of the world, notes Mark Schneider, and "in this context is neither pejorative nor congratulatory, but simply refers to the fact that interpretation and explanation, like any other human artifacts, have to be made" (1993: 45).
But that is to anticipate somewhat; the main point I want to convey here is that the heavy burden of our cultural background lies upon the all too frequent weighting of mythology with the sense "unreal, fictional." Precisely such a rationalizing approach to myths has dominated the study of mythology, even as it has excluded myth from philosophical or scientific exploration. Later phases of a myth's situation within a culture are marked by increasing rationalization, so that most theories of myth and ritual derive ultimately from the tendency to rationalize, to substitute abstract social or philosophical-scientific meanings for the graphic imagery of narrative myths and performed rituals.
Bruce Lincoln notes an agonistic (combat-related) use of mythos in Greek myth and epic: it is "speech that is raw and crude, but forceful and true" (in Hesiod, Theogony); it "denotes a blunt and aggressive act of plain-speaking: a hardboiled speech of intimidation" (in Homer, Iliad) (1996: 3-4, with reference to R. Martin 1989). "Highly male gendered, it is an act of speech that in its operation establishes the speaker's domination of interlocutor and audience alike" (5).
Thanks to the perspective initiated by Wilhelm Nestle and followed by F. M. Cornford, Bruno Snell, W. K. C. Guthrie, and other scholars early in this century, the developmental schema mythos-to-logos has been presumed by (largely male-dominant) scholarship. Hence Lincoln's summary comparison comes as a surprise: "Mythos is a blunt speech suited for assembly and battle, with which powerful males bludgeon and intimidate their foes. Logos, in contrast, is a speech particularly associated with women, but available to the gentle, the charming, and the shrewd of either sex. It is a speech soft and delightful that can also deceive and entrap" (10). Bolle, Buxton, and Smith (1993: 715; cf. Vernant 1983: 205-6) also observe that "the unquestioned validity of mythos could be contrasted with logos, the word whose validity or truth can be argued and demonstrated."
Such findings clarify not only how easily assumptions with respect to gender or social control are constituted, even for noble causes: Nestle's "creation account for Western civilization," as Lincoln terms it (2), sought to combat Nazi craziness. But it also alerts us to semantic contexts quite possibly alien to our own. "These are not words with fixed meanings" (11), as Roland Champagne (1992: 187) bears out in reporting on the research of Marcel Detienne: there are "separate meanings in the word `myth' for Hesiod (the story of human beings), Herodotus (an absurd and nonsensical discourse), Aristotle (the plot of a tragedy), and Plato (the derived way of talking about existing Ideas)."
The closer students of myth examine the originative scenes, the more artificial seems the mythos-to-logos pattern, but it has held sway as part of the attitude by which, within our own experience, the materialist, natural-sciences emphasis upon mathematics and abstract rationality came to be thought "naturally" more sophisticated than attention to narrative or idea. From a different perspective, Robert Parker is more likely on target when he suggests that "we should consider the history of mythology not as a decline from myth into non-myth but as a succession of periods or styles, developing out of one another, as in art" (1987: 189).
Our current "style" is clearly less ordered by the desire to demonstrate the rationality of mythic reference. In fact, the contemporary philosophical scene is frequently quasi-antirationalistic, because, as Paula Cooey summarizes:
Reason, far more narrowly and less morally defined than Kant would have intended, has itself taken on connotations of the censorial.... [It] has become a domain of elite interpreters, now primarily academicians, whose knowledge is so specialized and esoteric that intelligent lay people have little or no access to knowledge. Defined even more narrowly in a positivistic, scientific context as technological ratiocination ... and abstracted from any historical context, the exercise of reason has often masked authoritarian ideological concerns, such that one necessarily comes to regard appeals to reason as suspicious and to view the authority vested in both reason and science as troubling and problematic. (1994; viii)
Copyright © 1992 Nanci Kincaid. All rights reserved.
|Preface: A ReadMe File for the User||xi|
|PART 1 ACCESS TO TOOLS AND DEFINITIONS||1|
|CHAPTER 1 Myth Around the Clock: From Mama Myth to|
|Myth the Mother||5|
|Positive and Negative Uses of "Myth"||12|
|The Myth- Terms of Our Analyses||16|
|Hermeneutics and Interpretation||22|
|The Range of Definitions||28|
|CHAPTER 2 The Nature of the Mythical Beast: A|
|Comprehensive, Polyphasic Working Definition (Part 1)||31|
|(1) Network of Myths||34|
|(2) Culturally Important||37|
|(5) Metaphoric and Symbolic Diction||49|
|(6) Graphic Imagery||53|
|(7) Emotional Conviction and Participation||55|
|(8) The Primal, Foundational Accounts||58|
|(9) The Real, Experienced World||61|
|(10) Humankind's Roles and Relative Statuses||63|
|CHAPTER 3 Maieutic, Creative Myth: Conveying Values and|
|Systems of Interpreting Reality (Definition, Part 2)||66|
|(11) Convey Politicaland Moral Values||68|
|(12) Systems of Interpretation||69|
|(13) Individual Experience within Universal|
|(14) Intervention of Suprahuman Entities||74|
|(15) Aspects of the Natural and Cultural Orders||77|
|(16) Rituals, Ceremonials, and Dramas||78|
|(17) Secondary Elaborations||79|
|CHAPTER 4 The "Noble White Man": Why Myths Seem|
|Déclassé in Today's Glitz Culture||88|
|Those Primitive Savages Lacked Scientific Truth||89|
|Myths, Science, and Truth(s)||92|
|Phenomenologically Existential Mythicity||101|
|The Greeks Are Still Very Much With Us||104|
|Myth and/versus Biblical History||107|
|The Smart and the Proper: When Do We Do What We Say|
|PART 2 MYTHOGRAPHY: HISTORICAL SCHOOLS AND ISSUES||123|
|CHAPTER 5 Comparativism and the Functional Contexts of|
|Myths and Rituals||125|
|Sociofunctionalism: Myth as "Cement" and as|
|How Myths Serve Society||135|
|Levels of Operational Vitality||137|
|Functional Contexts of Myths and Rituals||140|
|Reducing Anxiety and Communicating: Two German|
|Polyfunctional and Polysemantic Meanings||150|
|CHAPTER 6 Myth on the Psychoanalytical Couch: Freud and|
|MANIFEST CONTENTS VERSUS LATENT CONTENTS||160|
|THE PRIMAL HORDE, CIVILIZATION, AND RELIGION||165|
|A MYTHOLOGICAL READING OF FREUD||169|
|CHAPTER 7 The Imaginal, Archetypal Turn: Jung, Hillman,|
|and Further Beyond||194|
|Jungian Archetypes and Amplifications||196|
|The Animated Mythological Terrain of James Hillman||211|
|Other Semi-/Hemi-/Neo-Jungian Myth Studies||217|
|Psychologically Affective Myths and Rituals||223|
|CHAPTER 8 Mything Links: Mythlitcrit and Cultural Studies|
|Analyses (Marx Was a Smoothie)||228|
|The Literary Importance of The Golden Bough||230|
|Mythicosymbolism and Monomythicism||238|
|Northrop Frye's Myth||245|
|Mythic Figures in Literature||251|
|Mythicity and the Modern/Postmodern||254|
|Gould's Intentions of Mythicity||256|
|Cultural Studies of Cultural Studies||259|
|CHAPTER 9 The Enframing Prime-time Context Is All:|
|Structuralisms, Semiotics, and Cultural History||266|
|Structuralism and the Concepts of|
|Lévi-Strauss: The Myth and the Mythed||274|
|Sequential and Semiotic Structuralists||284|
|The New French Cultural History||291|
|PART 3 EMBODIMENTS, RITES, AND CEREMONIALS||303|
|CHAPTER 10 The Cosmological/Symbological Human/Social Body||305|
|Biofunctional, Biogenetic Approaches||307|
|Joseph Campbell's Mythography||307|
|The Local and the Universal||309|
|The Cosmological Human Body||314|
|Mythologically Attuned Bodies||319|
|The Human Social Experience||322|
|BLISS AT THE MOTHER'S BREAST||323|
|THE FAMILY AND THE CLAN||327|
|DUALITIES, POLARITIES, AND THEIR MEDIATION||330|
|CHAPTER 11 Yesterday's World Wide Web? Ritual as|
|Culture's Symbolic Nexus||335|
|The Historical Ritual-Dominant (Myth-and-Ritual)|
|Emphasis upon the Priority of Ritual||345|
|Victor Turner's Ritual Studies||348|
|THE MEANS OF ANALYSIS||349|
|RITUALS REFLECT SOCIAL STRUCTURES||354|
|RITUALS INFLUENCE SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS||357|
|THE TRICKSTER AND THE LIMINAL/LIMINOID||360|
|CHAPTER 12 Sacrificial Scapegoating the Origin of|
|Myth/Religion? Ritualizations as Necessary Gestures||368|
|Definitions and Attitudes and Functions||370|
|Girard: Violence, the Sacred, and the Sacrificial|
|THE THEORY: A COMPRESSED VERSION||379|
|TRACING THE THEORY'S HERITAGE AND FUTURE||382|
|GIRARD'S NATURAL BORN KILLERS||384|
|DEVELOPING GIRARDIAN MYTHOGRAPHIES||388|
|Contemporary Antiritualism and the Postmodern||390|
|How Rituals Serve Society||398|
|PART 4 MYTHIFIED EXISTENCE||405|
|CHAPTER 13 Making Do in a Decentered Cosmos: Signs of Our|
|Myths and Tales||407|
|Social and Cultural Semiotics||409|
|Transformation and Transmission of Mythic Materials||420|
|Universalizing Fairy Tales and Myths||426|
|CHAPTER 14 Don't Myth (with) the Boat: Our Deconstructed,|
|From Realism on Down||437|
|The Sacred as Fictive Mythicity||443|
|FURBISHING THE CREATIVE MYTHOGRAPHER'S TOOLKIT|
|II Questions to Address to Mythic Texts||466|
|III The New Mythical Iconography||468|
|IV Myth on the Internet||473|
|V Selected Introductory Bibliography: Access to|
|Individual Mythological Figures and Topics||476|
|1 General Introductions to the Study of Mythology||476|
|2 The Historical Development of Mythographic|
|3 Collections of Myths||478|
|4 On Defining Myth and Ritual||478|
|5 Sociofunctionalism; Comparativism||479|
|6 Ritual Studies Materials||479|
|7 Anthropological-Ethnographic Studies||480|
|8 Psychological Perspectives||480|
|9 Philosophical Perspectives||481|
|10 Religious and Theological Approaches||482|
|11 Archetypal Criticism and Myth Analysis of|
|12 Linguistic-Narratological-Semiotic Structuralism||483|
|13 Transmission and Themes of Myths and Folklore||484|
|14 Feminist/Gender-Studies Aspects||485|
|15 Modern Appropriations of Myth; Contemporary|
|16 Myth and Ritual and the Arts||487|
|17 Exploring the Individual Mythostory||487|
|18 Advanced and Specialized Studies||487|
|19 Anthologies, Monographs, and Collections of Essays||488|
|20 Journal Issues with Thematic Emphasis on|
|21 Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Handbooks||489|
|23 A Mythographer's Basic Book List||491|
Posted October 4, 2002
This work is indispensable as perhaps the only comprehensive and encyclopedic overview of the analytical study of myth and ritual. Every significant theoretical perspective is covered in depth and placed within a systematic context. I found the author's philosophic and discursive approach valuable as he provides both a broad conceptual framework and the specific tools and resources necessary for deeper investigation and study. The personalized style-- at times lighthearted, wry, or ironic-- leavens the deep insights and consistent scholarly substance of this updated edition.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.