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Thursday, December 13, 2007

MYTHICITY, THREAT OR MENACE?

In an earlier post I tossed out the term "mythicity," which term was, to the best of my knowledge, originated by Eric Gould in his MYTHICAL INTENTIONS IN MODERN LITERATURE. As I understand Gould's theme (I read the book some years back but don't have it handy), "mythicity" connotes the quality of being "myth-like" that one can find in all literary productions, thus making plain how one can justifiably speak of certain stories as "myths" because of that quality, rather than because they fulfill all other qualifications of myths. A distinction between "literary myths" and "religious myths" is probably appropriate, as well.



Though it's risky to write of a scholar's meanings without his work close to hand, I do have some excerpts provided in William Doty's MYTHOGRAPHY, which support my case. Here are some of Gould's comments on the intersections of myth and literature:



"The meaning of a fiction is always potentially mythic" (113)

"It is impossible to create a fiction without approaching the condition of myth"



I agree with both of those statements, though I would probably say that what makes a fiction actively mythic is a matter of "symbolic complexity," which notion I more or less derive from Northrop Frye. Here's Gould on what myth signifies in fiction:



"The fact that classical and totemistic myths have to refer to some translinguistic fact-- to the Gods and Nature-- proves not that there are Gods, but that our talents for interpreting our place in the world may be distinctly limited by the nature of language." To that I would answer, "Possibly," but Doty's summarization of Gould troubles me: "We live within a world where symbolic meanings may help-- do help-- yet are never fully able to bridge the ontological gap." In other words, primtives who don't know what a storm is, but who simply formulate a storm-god as a relational aid to the unknown phenomenon, have made an ontological myth, but one which is bound to collapse.

But is this really the case? Is is always going to "one step forward, two steps back," ontologically speaking?

I would suggest that in its most complex form the act of symbolification is a little more than just a vain attempt to bridge an ontological gap: that it is a way to see at least an aspect of selfhood. Though I'm not a Hegelian, I'm drawn to this phrase in a foreword to Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT, written by one J.N. Findlay:

"...in construing the world conceptually [absolute knowledge] is seeing everything in the form of self..."

And also....

"In its conceptual grasp of objects it necessarily grasps what it itself is..."

I will enlarge on the specific application of this conceptual grasping with respect to complexity in a future post.

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