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Anyone want to read and / or comment on my new 7 page intro to MA thesis on T?

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  • Walter Padgett
    I could try to paste it all in here, but I m just fishing to see if anyone wants to ...
    Message 1 of 3 , Oct 30, 2006
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      I could try to paste it all in here, but I'm just fishing to see if
      anyone wants to ...
    • Jason Fisher
      ... Yes, absolutely. :)
      Message 2 of 3 , Oct 30, 2006
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        > Subject: [mythsoc] Anyone want to read and / or
        > comment on my new 7 page intro to MA thesis on T?

        Yes, absolutely. :)
      • Walter Padgett
        OK. Here goes. Section 1 – Introduction The present inquiry into the relations of myth and ideology, and the relevance of the set of concepts arising from
        Message 3 of 3 , Oct 30, 2006
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          OK. Here goes.

          Section 1 – Introduction
          The present inquiry into the relations of myth and ideology, and the
          relevance of the set of concepts arising from such an inquiry to the
          significance of J. R. R. Tolkien's scholarly and literary oeuvre
          originated in the very infancy of my own intellectual birth.
          Tolkien's first popular work of literature, The Hobbit, was required
          reading in my twelfth-grade high school English class. Our classroom
          viewing of the animated movie adaptation, which was first released in
          1978 and which employed the entrancing voice of John Huston as
          Gandalf, was a remarkable event. As post-adolescents about to
          graduate from the security of high school life and embark on a journey
          into the world of responsibility, the idea of spending two days of our
          college-prep English class watching a cartoon surely seemed a bit
          juvenile to us. But, as I remember, a silence uncharacteristic of
          self-absorbed seventeen-year-olds permeated as the rapt attention we
          gave to Tolkien's story unfolding on the screen folded us together in
          a synchronously meaningful experience. Perhaps the journey of the
          hobbit-hero questing out of his comfortable home into a wide and
          dangerous world provided a metaphor for our own sense of adventure,
          whether we desired adventure or not.
          I cannot speak for all of the members of that class, still less for
          all readers of Tolkien's works or viewers of the movies his literary
          works have inspired and generated, but a review of the cultural
          response to those works readily bears witness to the emergence of an
          intensely inspirational experience for readers of them, on many
          levels, the scholarly and academic no less than the popular. By the
          time I first participated in those classroom discussions of The
          Hobbit, my fascination with Tolkien's novels had already been well
          cultivated. Like many other true Tolkien aficionados, I began reading
          and re-reading The Lord of the Rings on a regular basis, annually,
          usually around Christmas.
          I loved it. It meant everything to me. As a specific example, I
          think my growing acquaintance with Tolkien began teaching me what it
          means to heroically face human weakness as a domestically comfortable
          yet quietly desperate modern by relating the soul-transforming
          experience of Frodo's sacrifice and struggle to surrender the
          all-empowering ring to destruction. Perhaps more importantly, Tolkien
          communicated his sensibilities about the nature of friendship and
          truly selfless service in the example of Sam's loving relationship to
          Frodo, his master.
          It was not without much hesitancy and circumspection that I undertook
          the task of reading The Silmarillion, Tolkien's background history of
          the imaginary world he created as a setting for the events that occur
          in his most popular books. Since The Silmarillion is full of
          unfamiliar names and words from the languages Tolkien invented, its
          difficulty usually alienates all but the most passionate enthusiasts
          of his writing. But I read The Silmarillion over and over again until
          I became completely familiar with it, and I continued to regularly
          re-read it into my late thirties.
          By the time I became an undergraduate at Denison University, I had
          related just about all of the value-orienting experiences in my life
          to some aspect of the lessons Tolkien teaches us– lessons about what
          it means to be a small and rather unimportant human being in a big
          wide world full of greatness. Studying Philosophy there in the
          undergraduate mode was, for me, an identity-building process of
          developing a personal philosophy. I became at first most interested
          in answers to the fundamental questions posed by the French
          existentialists, Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The ensuing
          rigorous critical examination of my own beliefs about the existence of
          God turned to the most basic identifications of what is, ontologically
          speaking, and what is not.
          Introducing in his Myth of Sisyphyus "the philosophy of the absurd,
          which is named after the general notion aroused by man's confrontation
          with the 'inhuman', and which holds that our lives are meaningless and
          have no values other than those we create," Camus asks, "given such a
          futile world, what is the alternative to suicide?" (Camus wiki). If
          this question, as Camus argues, must be the intellectual's very first
          philosophical question, his or her answer to this question amounts to
          nothing less than that individual's expression of the meaning of life.
          Yet how could one encapsulate in a single answer to this question all
          the ideas, values and sensibilities which come into play in the
          determination of an ever-changing and dynamic worldview? Intellectual
          growth can be painful, and intellectual identity often emerges only
          after the conflict of resolving the contradictions within which one
          lives has ceased. It is within this context that the influence of
          Tolkien's writings can be viewed as significant to the central
          concerns of this paper. For my ideas about these values and
          sensibilities were deeply influenced by my reading of The Lord of the
          Rings, and the depth of my ontological perspective on the personal
          importance of every human experience began to grow as I became more
          familiar with the larger historical context of the events chronicled
          in The Lord of the Rings which Tolkien provided in The Silmarillion.
          Deducing here, one might conclude that the very capacity, in my case,
          for what the poet William Blake considered the all-important
          experience of imaginative sympathy became realized through the efforts
          of Tolkien's myth-making.
          In the preparation of my culminating research paper during my last
          year as an undergraduate at Denison, I found that ideology subjects
          the individual to an illusory system of ideas that determine a
          fundamental framework for understanding reality, and that these
          systems of ideas arise out of the conditions determined by
          historically competing interests in a society's economy and culture.
          Academically, I had used the theoretical propositions of thinkers like
          Karl Marx, Louis Althusser, and Michel Foucault, to formulate an
          explanation of how the human individual understands and responds to
          the reality of the human condition– economic man struggling to justify
          his self-image within seamless webs of power. But I had not really
          left much room for the human in my explanation of this concept of
          reality because I had ignored the rather potent personal influence a
          writer, or perhaps even the structure of a work of literature, can
          have on the development and affirmation of individual values.
          As a post-graduate, I wanted to explore how Tolkien's The Silmarillion
          informed my sense of values. Somehow, whenever the question of values
          rose up in my burgeoning intellect I always referenced in a general
          way my recollections of Tolkien's world, as if my moral sensibilities
          about right and wrong somehow resided there. I have sought to explain
          this experience according to a conception of ideology, thinking that
          Tolkien's myth somehow "interpellated" a set of ideas in my mind which
          were used to structure my sense of reality. In this context, my
          concern about how ideology determines our values and goals eventually
          merged with a growing realization that most of my existential values,
          as well as many of my own philosophical and theological sensibilities,
          could be traced to the influence of Tolkien's literary works. What
          makes this inquiry worthwhile is the fact that I am not alone. The
          cultural phenomenon manifesting around Tolkien's works has been
          well-documented in both scholarly and popular discourse.
          Thinking of Tolkien's influence on the development of values that give
          life meaning for the culture of his readers makes more sense after a
          brief consideration of the function of myth. In Myth and Meaning,
          Myth and Order, Stephen Ausband states that "Myths are tales which
          demonstrate the order that a man or a society perceives in natural
          phenomena. It is the role of mythology to make the world coherent and
          meaningful by demonstrating or imposing order on it" (Ausband 2).
          I do not mean to argue that my total sense of reality is made coherent
          and meaningful because Tolkien's mythology has imposed a sense of
          order upon my mental perceptions of the world. I have never felt that
          I was "programmed" by Tolkien. But it is my contention that because
          of my deep interest in and knowledge of Tolkien's literary creations,
          my perceptions of the world have somehow been infused with a peculiar
          sensibility which relates directly to what I have learned from my
          reading of Tolkien's writings, regardless of his authorial intentions.
          There is nothing too astonishing in this observation. "[L]iterature
          necessarily posits values," Daphne Patai explains clearly in Myth and
          Ideology in Brazilian Fiction, "of which the writer may or may not be
          explicitly aware," and like her "I wanted to discover what these are
          and how they are communicated to the reader" (Patai 1).
          I can say, for example, (and really mean it) that my personal sense of
          identity is profoundly informed by an ontological understanding of
          man's relation to God, others and the outside world which derives from
          Tolkien's theological and philosophical sensibilities, laid out in his
          cosmology at the beginning of The Silmarillion. And when you are
          talking about literature positing values, that is really something
          significant.
          My thesis is that Tolkien's writings perpetuate mythological themes
          that impose order, both in terms of the communication of moral or
          ethical values to their reader, and also in terms of giving meaning to
          the complex natural and psychological phenomena made sensible by those
          mythological themes, structuring the ideological mindset of his
          readers in a collective way, resulting in the existence of a common
          understanding and worldview among participants in the cultural
          phenomenon connected to Tolkien's works.
          Since this claim rests on a set of concepts that emerge from the
          present inquiry into the relations of myth and ideology, these terms
          need to be critically analyzed and assessed. Many of the concepts
          with which this thesis is concerned have arisen in the "formal" study
          of literature throughout the last century, "wherein scholars try to
          study at close range the actual form literature takes and how it
          works" (Davis 19). The editors of a current educational text on this
          subject, Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schleifer, provide an overview of
          some of the basic issues in literary studies and literary theory that
          give rise to the immediate concerns about the status of myth and
          ideology. Since "literary criticism defines its objects of study [as]
          literature and culture," ground for the present inquiry into the
          nature of the Tolkien phenomenon can be established through a
          selective appraisal of myth and ideology within the discourse of
          critical scholarship represented in Davis and Schleifer's analysis.
          Scholars and critics who have written chiefly from a central concern
          about Tolkien's works make many more interesting and relevant
          observations about the significance of Tolkien's literary endowment,
          especially in terms of its evocation of the mythic. Books and
          articles selected from among their contributions to the growing body
          of Tolkien scholarship offer a number of valuable insights into the
          structure of Tolkien's works, the mythological sources of his stories,
          the relation of his invented languages to his mythology, and perhaps
          most importantly, the influence of Tolkien's strongly held religious
          convictions on the works as a mythology.
          To clarify my pursuit in order to delineate more specific criteria to
          bound for my purpose evaluations of relevance in the body of
          scholarship and criticism surrounding Tolkien's works,
          [I need to analyze the conclusions of my thesis better before
          concluding this introductory section.]
          This part should also address the "explanation of the methodology"
          area of concern. Although, to my way of thinking, it only amounts to
          something like "critical analysis of existing scholarship on the
          subject," I can state my review of published works of criticism and
          scholarship on Tolkien's work, studies on myth and ideology as
          separate concepts, and other works that deal with them comparatively.
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