R. Littlejohns and S. Soncini eds., Myths of Europe. Rodopi. , 2007

This brief overview is divided into sections: 1.1 Approaching “myth” and its divergent, indeed incompatible meanings; discussing first (in 1.2) Cassirer: all creative thought is myth; then (in 1.3) Frye: all stories are myths; and finally (in 1.4) Deconstruction: myth may (or may not) be anything. In 2.1: some objections and clarifications, I argue that myth, oriented toward constants, cannot constitute a useful theory of history in general, and in particular artistic or literary history, written against the horizon of organizing variable characteristics and constellations into specific fictional worlds and figures. I conclude (in 2.2,) that the scholar and critic of literature must honour myth in the sense of stories about superhuman beings as both sometimes fetching poetry and a reservoir of literary forms. But the concept of myth as a critical tool seems not only entangled in incompatible denotations and connotations, but it does not tell us whether in any particular fiction the myth has been transmuted, and into what. For example, Faulkner’s The Bear or Kafka’s The Metamorphosis use a mythological bestiary as well as the mythic pattern of trial and death with or without resurrection, but their stories are very different from a collective static vision, since they are written against the horizon of dynamic history. However, important aspects of literature (primarily, many significant plots) are mythomorphic. In 2.3 my “Parting Dilemma” is that either one allots myth a finite set of converging meanings: or, one says that myth can be used as a metaphor meaning something else. Depending on the poetic abilities of the metaphorizer, this can be fun or even useful, but it also runs two grave risks. The first risk is the interference with all the other meanings: story, lie, supernatural story, building block of a supernaturalist system, etc. The second risk is a privatization of critical language.

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