Monday, November 21, 2005

On Mythology

Margaret Atwood was on the Leonard Lopate Show discussing her new book, The Penelopiad, which is part of a series of books retelling great myths, written by great writers. Atwood mentioned in the interview that dogs do not have mythology because their language does not include a past or future tense. They do not ask "Where did I come from?" They do not ask, "What will I be?"

Myths have been given a bad wrap in American culture. Save for, oh, The West with a capital W, and George Washington telling no lies, etc., what stories do we tell over and over? I sometimes wonder if the myths of the future will be told about Bill Gates and Fifty Cent.

Americans view myths as lies. George W. Bush refers to myths as false ideals: "...the terrorists' most powerful myth is being destroyed."* And if I say to you "the myth of politics," or "the myth of morality," even if I say "the myth of grapefruit," what you hear is something that is already understood to be false.

Perhaps someday we will return to the days of mythology in the truest sense. Where the whole of human experience--vast and impossible to comprehend--is shared through stories told to one person by another. Where the pains of the present can be ameliorated by the lessons of the past.

*State of the Union Address, February 2, 2005.

1 comment:

SmokyMtnMander said...

Myths were a method by which a culture, not possesing the appropriate or adequate technology, gave an explanation of what otherwise would be without explanation. For example, how did we get here, what's on the other side of that ocean, or why is bob diving a Porsche and I'm not. All of these are great mysteries in their own right.

The lack of myth today, or the assumption that by prefacing something with the word "myth" is untrue is due to the CNN "we've got someone on the scene" attitude that prevails today. I don't believe there's actually a hurricane in the tropics. I need Al Roker to be blown off his feet for me to have the appropriate "holy shit, that's for real" response.

As sad as it may seem, I doubt out culture will return to the days of mythology, with the exception of religion. At what point does faith become myth?

I have faith in God's existence but the myth of the Yeti is simply that. A myth. The "myth of grapefruit" may yet be understood, de-bunked, or reject as an old wive's tale. That's where the real injustice is.