on myth

A beginning with no resolution, in blogalectic with Jenna St. Hilaire and Masha

There’s something very odd about this new edition of the blogaletic. Jenna St. Hilaire’s introductory essay, “Beautiful Disaster,” was spot on time. Masha’s continuation, “Imaginative Reality,” was late by a day. My conclusion is late by a week.

The moral of all this, upon conclusion, is really quite obvious:

Any haphazard series of unrelated events can be given a moral.

The moral of the story is that there isn’t one.

A more fanciful blogger would be inclined to comment on the caprice of the gods and the petulance of fairies. If these beings have feelings as we know feelings (the fanciful blogger would write), surely they’d be resentful against little creatures who make machines to disprove their existence, and then use those machines to write about them. So they would blight them with headaches and mindaches and faulty wireless, and delay the writing until the writers offered the appropriate sacrifices. Or at least put down a bowl of cream.

I am not, of course, a fanciful blogger by any means.

Jenna will continue our conversation in about a month.

We are talking about myth, what the OED defines as :

A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon.

It derives ultimately from the Greek mythos, “story,” or “word,” or in fact most things related to narrative.* But here I must beg to disagree with the OED, and suggest that the term “traditional story” may be a tautology. At the very least, it may be a redundancy.

To tell a story is to enter into a tradition; a traditional story is arguably any story. I do not mean merely—as has been argued with varying degree of success—that every story in some way incorporates elements of every other, or that there may only really be one story, or four, or three thousand, depending on what critic you’re reading. Instead, I’m building on Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson’s suggestion that the essence of mythopoesis, or myth-making, is ultimately relational—partly between the characters within the myth, partly and perhaps mostly the tripartite relationship between the tale, the teller, and the hearers.

The act of storytelling, then, and the equal but distinct act of story-hearing, is inherently bound in the mythopoeic relationship of story; there is thus no story that is not traditional.

A myth can perhaps be best understood as a patterning, an ordering of thoughts about the world. It appeals to our need for “explanation, aetiology, or justification” whilst simultaneously gratifying our impulse toward narrative, relationship, and anecdote. It is simply our account of the ridiculous thing that happened when we were going for groceries today, and wasn’t that an odd thing that happened this afternoon, increased on a cosmic scale.

In this sense, the new, Victorian definition of the English word, and the old Greek definition may coalesce; all stories, from literature to anecdote, epic to jokelore, seem to be a practice of patterning the world.** Nor should it be mistaken that myth necessitates SF. Seen from this angle, science and philosophy may also be considered mythological.

The relevance of myth to this particular agglomerate of fanciful bloggers begins, I think, with a love of story, and a storied view of the world. I will not presume to speak for them—this is, after all, a shared platform of own voices. But I think each of us, in “catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart” that comes with “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

In choosing to discuss myth, despite headache and setback, avalanche and roadblock, we are replaying—ritualizing, if you will—that ancient story about the old man who stood at the crossing of the ways, a forest on his left and a forest on his right, the high old hills between him and the water, who crumpled the pages of his book and sang his songs till the hills wore down and he went on his way to the sea.

*It is perhaps useful to note that the earliest recorded occurrence of the English word myth is 1830, although mythos dates back to 1753 and appears to be a pedantic transliteration from the Greek, by one Rev. Samuel Shuckford.

**I would call this universal practice mythopoesis to make a point, but that robs the term of its usefulness.

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2 thoughts on “on myth

  1. Great post. If you keep using the word tautology, someday it’ll stick in my head what it actually means. I keep looking it up and promptly forgetting.

    Masha, we can totally do mythopoesis next. You’re right. This is a perfect lead-in piece.

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