Re: american myths
- Some thoughts:
Particularly in light of 9-11, the Spiderman 1 movie had some interesting
shots of New Yorkers on a bridge throwing stones at the Green Goblin. When I
saw this scene, I had the distinct feeling it would never have made it had
it not been for the New Yorker solidarity wrought by 9-11. It reinforced the
sense that "united we stand".
Spiderman, it should need no mention, is a familiar trailing "hero" in the
background of everyday American lore. Less than Superman since he cannot
fly, he is at the same time more down to earth because of this (like
Daredevil). I daresay the recent surge in comic-book based movies is due in
no small part to the resurging sense of individual heroism that is being
thrust upon Americans.
I also point to "Z", Woody Allen's character in Ants: the "individual" hero
in the midst of the mob/mass of ants. While I don't particularly subscribe
to the typical rags-to-riches view (of which this nobody-to-somebody
storyline is an offshoot), I do think it is prevalent in the
subway-and-graffiti mindset we see around us all the time.
For individual heroism, one need look no further than Hollywood: John Wayne
in Shane; Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Captain Kirk (Star Trek), Neo (The
Matrix), Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon, Braveheart, The Patriot), Sylvester
Stallone (Rambo), and Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven). It is even true of Disney
productions (The Lion King). Note that I don't even need an argument here;
the collage of imagery brought on by this simple litany of names is almost a
argument in and of itself.
So by individual heroism I would agree with your initial instinct in
reference to the "cowboy gene" in American life.
That said, the thing I find most untenable in your approach to myth is your
basic "one size fits all" approach. Ironically, much as you pooh-poohed the
mish-mashing of our lay views on the philosophy of science, I find your
understanding of mythology a bit naïve. No professor would ever categorize
urban myths as "mythology"--they serve vastly different ends! Also you seem
confused about what a fable is as opposed to a myth.
I think what you are really struggling with is the more the concept of story
itself, than mythology in particular. Story telling in general does observe
this one-size-fits-all methodology; but not mythology itself. For that, more
rigour and clinical distance would serve you better.
>Plato, and most classical philosophers for that matter, are obsessed with
> Another interesting point that has come to the surface follows from Plato's
> severe criticism of myth as 'poetry' - the work of the 'poets' Homer and
> Hesiod and their followers. This characterises myths as conveying 'poetic
> (something which Plato does himself) that is (at least in part) the
> expression of fictitious ideas that might educate, explain or simply
> despite their factual inaccuracy. Modern myths also do this.
"truth" and it is for this reason that mythology falls into disrepute. Yet
when you come to the 20th century, our views of what constitutes truth have
been bent and swayed so much that it hardly causes us to bat an eyelash at
the thought that truth *is* a story. As Virginia Woolf aptly said, "Fiction
here is likely to contain more truth than fact." Again, the mish-mashing
continues, but note that I am referring to story-telling rather than
mythology (a more limited subset of story telling) in particular.
>You missed me: founding stories. Think: the "Aeneid" to Rome (which Virgil
> I haven't come up with a mirror-image couple yet - though I do like yours
> Chris I'm not sure the founding fathers qualify as mythical beings,
based on one innocuous Trojan that escaped out of the escapades of the
Illiad); the Song of Roland to Gaul; or even King Arthur to your countrymen
once upon a time. It is not the writer I am referring to but the foundation
of their story. In "writing" the country into being (through the Declaration
of Independence), what were they doing but fashioning that model after the
living myth as they perceived it?
>or aOh? I would say what we perceive to be "rights" and "freedoms" are in many
> mythical story - in the sense of a fiction living in the popular imagination.
ways "popular imagination". By virtue of the very phrase, "god given right",
I suspect these ideals change with the times, pass with the centuries, and
indeed bend from the blowing myths of the day.
A "right" is an illusion; but it is one we fight for. Go figure.
> Stealing fire/ atomic fission may have some milage, though in the sense ofBurning down the house is exactly what I was referring to figuratively. Wait
> clear myth that we would have energy 'too cheap to meter'. I'm not sure the
> intentions of the story coincide - but I'm looking for contrasts as well as
> similarities that might work. Now if there were a 'Promethius gives fire to
> men, who then burn their houses down' myth we'd be in business!
till the world explodes...oh, that's right. It will be too late.
"How can we sleep when our beds are burning?" -Midnight Oil
>This never occurred to me: though it does fit the generic sinister-female
> What about the sense in which Pandora's opening of the box relates the curse
> of having meddling women around, making men's lives endless misery?
motif (a la Tiamat et al.).
>Is thatNow we return to other troubling topics involving greater and lesser uses of
> just a side-issue, a way of conveying the idea that too much inquisitiveness
> can be a dangerous thing? Can we not relate that to anti-sciencism?
> You are quite right - I'm playing with ideas of what 'myths' _are_
> deliberately. In many ways they are what we make them - that is, are what we
> them to be.
story-telling, myth-making or metaphor-generating: namely, the "sacred" in
"sacred landscape" has no meaning, or rather, it has what meaning we imbibe
to it; likewise, "science" is an emergent system more than any one thing--
it is a sum that is greater than its parts.
To talk about any one of these issues involves the use of communication; and
in communication we use turns of phrases, metaphors, we refer to allusions
(biblical or otherwise) and quite often call upon the general framework of
"myth" currently in place to spade our ideas to.
So I would agree with you conceptually that story-telling is what we make it
to be, and I would include all communicative acts under that umbrella term.
But not the "scientific method" per se (a more precise subset); not
"mythology" per se (a more precise subset); and not "sacred landscape" per
se (a more precise subset perhaps more aptly labelled "mythic geography").
>I think my broad analysis of stories that sit in betweenBut not if you wish to study "mythology", and not if you wish to discuss an
> and undisproveable, yet serving a purpose is fine - as far as it goes.
"American mythology" in particular. But if you just want to shoot the breeze
about belief in general, than that is fine by me.
>Its real meaning is simply how it is used now, regardless of what it once
> Not only that - according to the OED the term was first employed in english
> in the early 19th C, to describe 'purely fictitious stories involving the
> supernatural'; and is 'properly distinguisher from allegory and legend, which
> have elements of fact.'
may have meant.
>An urban myth is a far cry from a mythology.
> My 'urban' etc 'myths' borrow the fictitious part of that meaning without
> the superstitious parts.
>Myths serve as the foundation material for *society*, Mike. Religion is a
> If you want to refine your own definition according to Cambell's ideas
> that's fine too. I agree that Campbell - but others too - have helped us
> understand that some myths may refer to historical events, and that most
> serve some
> kind of purpose - they are not pointless.
> A few thoughts:
> I can never see any myths as they might have been seen to the ancient
> storytellers. My standpoint is massively distant. I can gain ideas from
> living myths - preferably of aboriginal peoples, but will never 'connect'
> with the stories. You may - if you are religious - find things different.
> you are a Christian then you can believe in the myths of the bible for
> example. More than anything, myths serve as the foundation material of
by-product of society, not the other way around. Stories are the
social-cement that glue our interactions together into a meaningful and
ordered whole. It is a gestalt, not a discrete thing.
By the way, I have the opposite experience: by studying myths I am able to
distance myself from the prevailing mythology of today. By staring at Isis
and imagining Mary's face superimposed upon it, I can see the glue in our
society as it must have been in Egyptian society; and seeing both, lessens
the stickiness of either, freeing me to think even more what I want to, and
less what I am told to by my culture.
>It isn't about "disbelieving stories", and I feel like you miss so much
> I think it is probably _usually_ the case that within any society the
> religious foundations are believed more by some than other, and some will
> disbelieve some of the stories entirely. A few 'fanatics' will believe the
> lot, despite obvious disconnects and contradictions.
because this is probably how you really think. It is about making
connections among disparate cultures and centuries; it is about the golden
rule as I see it: observe yourself in others.
> We know very little of the uses or meanings or whatever of the originalHistory as we "know" it is a mythology told by the victor, with the moral
> myths. Our written sources are not myths at all, but frozen accounts of
"might is right".
Side notes and summary:
(1) The only thing that is new is the history you don't already know;
(2) the only thing that history has taught us is that we have learned
nothing from it; and
(3) there are no answers; there are only choices.