9483Re: [ANE-2] Mythic Mind (was:Tardy response...)
- Dec 4, 2008Dear Frank,
now I seem to be more in agreement with you on some points. "Rationality and sophistication are not incompatible with a mythic-magic worldview". Agreed, of course. And plenty of Mesopotamian (and Egyptian) evidence is proof of that, as you indicate.
Yet, I think we must sharpen our analytical tools and concepts in order to avoid a sense that anything pre-18th cent. was submerged in a 'mythopoetic fog' (as someone criticised my views in another list--otherwise it's a cool name for a blog) but also without conceiving pre-modern people just as modern is short pants.
I liked your reference to Carlo Ginzburg.
--- On Thu, 12/4/08, Frank Polak <frankha@...> wrote:
From: Frank Polak <frankha@...>
Subject: Re: [ANE-2] Mythic Mind (was:Tardy response...)
Date: Thursday, December 4, 2008, 6:12 PM
I see hat you are saying, but I also sense some difficulties. On the
one hand, the light metaphor of
Enlightenment itself entails a myth of knowledge. Kant's >synthesis a
priori< was palatable only in
a period in which the only axiom system was the Euclidean one, but in
the nineteenth century its
metaphysical nature (and thus its 'myth') became obvious with the
advent of various non-Euclidean systems.
And in Newton's thought physical theory is thoroughly framed by
So to describe modern thought as non-mythical is, in my view. more
than a bit misleading. Misleading ourselves that is.
Just think of the thought power of men like Plato and Aristotle, and
the residues of pure myth in their thought. They were
eminently rational and scientific, but also thought in mythical terms.
On the other hand, if one envisions a different mind when approaching
antiquity, one immediately places the
'ancients' in a position which is not ours. But this attitude
actually precludes a better understanding of, e.g,
Sumerians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, and other People/Societies/
Communities/ Cultures. We cannot get a step further
as long as we do not understand that those PSCC, when viewed on their
own terms, are as logical as we are in our terms.
If there is place for relativism (which in itself should not be taken
too serious), it is for self-relativization of the scholarly
community. Their (with apologies for the collective) worldview is
different from ours, but demands our respect, and our
insight into the infinite differentiation (an insight which also is
thwarted by the collectivity of the 'mythic mind').
My insights on this point are not so much related to Carlo Ginzberg's
'worms,' but rather to what I saw in a documentary
movie about the cattle market in Northeast Holland, where a 'modern,
urbane' trader could not negotiate with
the local peasants (actually agricultural entrepreneurs of course),
because he could not understand their way of
bargaining by hand clash, and since they did not understand his
procedures, they could not deal one with another.
The local agricultural entrepreneurs have their own culture, which is
not better understood by any appellation
we might apply to them.
By the same token they also have (or rather had) their own literary
culture, in which the oral element is (or was, I fear) very importanrt,
but which also had its sophistication.
And think of the supreme sophistication of characterization and
description of inner life in the Iliad (Achilles, Hector, Odysseus)
and the Odyssea (Odysseus, Penelope, and their meeting; Telemachos),
in any case in the centuries preceding Bacchyludes,
and the great Attic dramaturgs and historians. The psychological
insight of these poets, and the power of their imagination
could never be covered by the notion of 'mythical mind.'
There is something different going on. Let us follow Ranke: every
PSCC is immediate to God (unmittelbar zu Gott).
If we think of the period of Hammurabi, we have to think, not only of
all kinds of mythucal thought patterns, but
also on very clever and determined negotiation tactics vis-a-vis
Zimrilim's envoys (I just had a paper on this subject
in the Shalom Paul Jubilee Volume, Birkat Shalom, just out in Winona
Lake). Rationality and sophistication
are not incompatible with a mythic-magic worldview. Even if in our
SCC such worldviews could not be held (and even
though unbeknown to us we entertain similar views in our way).
On Dec 4, 2008, at 4:28 PM, Emanuel O. Pfoh wrote:
> Dear Frank,
> I agree with some of your comments. Malinowski showed (I guess it
> was in his Crime and custom in primitive society ) that
> agency can in fact bend the structure, that is, that what natives
> used to say about their beliefs and social behaviour was not always
> corroborated by him (Malinowski) . Yet, one thing is still relevant:
> why do these people have their myths? Why do they keep their
> rituals? I believe that it's in the practice, more than in myths,
> that the mythic mind is evidenced.
> And it was M. Eliade in his Myth and Reality  who made a
> comparison between Christian escatology and Marxist escatology, so
> here we may find another clue regarding the presence of mythic
> dynamics in modern ideologies.
> Now, here we are dealing with two yet intertwined aspects of
> intellectual history: a) how the mythic mind was active in the
> ancient world (the ANE) and how can we know of this presence from
> the extant mythic text (no ethnographic research possible
> unfortunately) ; and b) how was the pre-mondern (mythic) worldview
> affected by the spread of the Enlightenment' s principles of reality
> (Newton, Kant).
> My stand is that, in order to understand how ANE people lived and
> what the believed, one must un-pack the modern, post-Enlightenment
> principles that rule our lives and get back to that ancient mythic
> mind that was part of the worldview of ancient people.
> No doubt, the ancient Egyptians who planned and built the pyramids
> knew a lot about architecture, mathematics, etc., and they were
> most logical engineers. But at the end of the day the recalled that
> they were contributing to the eternal rest of their living god on
> earth, the pharaoh, and making sure that maat prevail over chaos.
> Best regards,
> Emanuel Pfoh
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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