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Mythology in Contemporary Literature
Sep 14, 2017 in Literature
Mythology is a product of the old world before they ran out of resources. It was invented before they ran out of imagination. It is evident that many poets were inspired by the American mythology. The 19th Century produced its most influential writer on literature and mythology in the name of Northrop Frye. According to Eric Gould, the term mythology means everything and nothing. Myth is a tautology and a reason that wakes dreams and thoughts. That is why a number of writers have written numerous critical essays on contemporary literature. They have also tried to point out the relationship of that literature with mythology.
The contemporary literature is closely related to mythologies. They have a variety of applications as well as origins. The social circumstances and the modern day events are also associated with mythology. Warrick et al reported that many theorists of the modern times have worked hard in order to reconcile their literature with the mythological structures, symbols as well as patterns. Richard Chase and Northrop are some of the literary giants who have done their best in this field of mythology and its associated branch of knowledge.
There were various schools of thought in the study of mythology in the contemporary literature. The first such school is the myth and symbol school of criticism. Leo Max, R.W. Lewis and Henry Nash featured highly in this area. It has been reported by Blazek that many contemporary literature writers have also greatly featured the role played by myth in the American cultures. In some parts of the world, the ancient mythologies play their role in people's life. Many workshops and conferences have been held in various cities of the world to discuss the various existing mythologies. Some of these conferences were held in Zurich, Helsinki and Salzbury. Here the participants dedicated their time to discuss American Myths and legends as well as the theories which are used to explain mythologies. Many authors argue that there is a strong case involving mythologies that need to be argued out. These arguments have contributed to large volumes of literature both in poetry and literature. This has been the case for over the last 30 years. The writers have been quick to accept that there is conflict and contradictions surrounding the topic of mythology.
When people view the topic of mythology from the perspective of postmodernism, then the analysis of mythology never comes to an end. There is great clarity achieved when we connect the mythologies of contemporary literature after accepting the definition of myth developed by Marshall Blonsky which says the 'narrative writ large'. According to Richard Slotkin, myths are basically stories which are attained from history. These are acquired due to usage over hundreds of years.
Some people claim that myth is capable of removing contradictions hence leaving readers with a clear image of life. Mythological studies involve the studies of unity and divergence. This is very necessary for proper analysis of mythology in contemporary life.
Many Indian writers use symbolic roles for all characters. These roles are always borrowed from the Indian mythology. The various tools of mythology are used in calling for sanity in the society. People are called to attention in order to identify their shortcomings. The contemporary literature sometimes offers solutions to such problems facing a particular society.
The American mythology is used in explaining the actions of people in the world. We are able to understand the world that we live in. We are also able to analyze the many people with whom we co-exist. The mythology is commonly found within individual or even national stories that we frequently hear. In order to promote a strong sense of self, we must first understand the relationship between myth and the community. Many writers always seek to create equilibrium between self and the surrounding community. The contemporary literature sometimes denies that there are some connections in mythology. It is even much harder to find such mythology connections in America because there are multiple communities that claim that they are modernized.
Mythology plays a central role in explaining some occurrences in our lives. What can you say of the following issue: As 1984 drew to an end, all world titles in 17 weight divisions were held by African Americans. This was a clear black dominance over the whites in the world of boxing. It is recorded in contemporary literature that the dominance was clearer at the heavy weight level. This is the time when we witnessed the fight between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. Ali won the fight and was awarded $5 million for that victory. That happened in 1975. It was claimed that after paying tax and clearing bills, he had pocketed some $1.3 million for his personal use. This can be said to be an African American supremacy sport. This supremacy it is said could have started early had there been no segregation laws affecting all official boxing competitions in America. This is what was simply called color bar. Many African Americans had won various titles starting with Patterson all the way to Holyfield but then, Mohammed Ali made the greatest impression by winning many titles right from the 60s all the way to the 70s. He was therefore, the finest world boxing athlete that the world has ever witnessed. The aim of explaining the African American supremacy in boxing is to place the mythic impact of Ali on heavyweight boxing in view of the African American culture. Secondly, Ali is portrayed as a character that plays a great role in building mythologies. This was responsible for creating a feeling that the African Americans were unique people.
Many people have tried for many centuries to keep myths at an arm's length for centuries. There are times when myths are seriously invoked. Mythology has tried to resist the developing scientific attitudes across the world.
Mythology and legend is very common in children contemporary literature. The retelling of stories from one generation to another has contributed towards the promotion of mythology. The stories help in keeping the mythology fire burning. This is what is termed as cultural continuity for all new generations. The stories which are aimed at younger audience sometimes attract the adults as well. The majority of new volumes of literature are inspired by old resources of literature. Many authors are interested in myths and legends from where they draw symbolic works. This practice has helped many writers to succeed in their artistic works.
Most contemporary literature is focused towards the criticism of mythology. The discussion on mythology attracts a lot of discussion. Some of the discussions might turn out to be dictatorial and even rough.
Mythology criticism is known to close the gap between formal analyses of any type such as that of genetic, rhetorical or functional concerns.
In the contemporary children literature many writers normally include inappropriate concepts for children. That is mythology is loaded with materials which are termed as inappropriate economy. These materials are therefore supposed to undergo great change before they are presented to children. Some ideas such as the ones presented by Kevin Crossley-Holland in his book The Norse Myths where a giant's daughter menstruates into a river where a flood is caused. This kind of myth selection is not appropriate. This book should be read by adults instead of young children. The right book for children should actually omit the giant's daughter. Writer should carefully consider what is to be included and what is to be eliminated from children stories on mythology.
Campbell was one of the leading mythologists of all time. He was highly convinced that many people were quite illiterate when it comes to world of myths. That is why he embarked on writing The Musks of God. The aim of writing this book was to spread high comparative mythology to the wide public who were non-academic. The book tackles the myths of various cultures covering many millennia from all over the world. He widely lectured on comparative myth and religion at the US Department's Foreign Service Institute. Whenever he got a chance, he always lectured people on mythology. This is what he did for the rest of his life.
Campbell had great ideas regarding myth and its relationship with human psyche. He borrowed a lot from the works of Carl Jung who studied human psychology in great details. Jung had a great influence on Campbell. Jung had discovered a method that he used to interpret dreams. This method relied on symbols to interpret dreams and it was adopted by Campbell as well.
There is a book that was written by Bardo Thodol titled The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Campbell always liked quoting The Mythic Image as it was used by Jung.
After attending a lecture by Professor Heinrich Zimmer in 1940 at Columbia University, Campbell became a great friend of Zimmer. This is how Zimmer ended up being a mentor to him. He taught Campbell that myth plays a key role in drawing the psychological map for people. This is one of the best ways to find you in the complex modern life. It provides interpretation for symbols, imagery as well as metaphors. This is where Campbell borrowed Jung's techniques of interpretation that he used to shape Zimmer's ideas. This is a good explanation that shows why Campbell never followed Jung's study of applied psychology.
Campbell's theories on Comparative Mythology
Campbell used the phrase monomyth to refer to a hero's journey. This is a basic pattern which is found in a large number of narratives across the globe. Campbell was a great believer in people's use of poetic expressions in mythology. Campbell realized that the whole world can be unified in telling the same story which will be of great importance. This was the general idea in The Hero with a Thousand Faces since it was the author's goal to show the existing similarities between Western and Eastern religions.
Some of the stories narrated are always broken down into different guises of local origin. This normally depends on the social structure and necessities. The meaning that is provided is aimed at showing the efforts made in order to search for the unknown forcewhich is the origin of everything. This is a force which is said to be 'unknowable' due to its existence before knowledge came into being. During that time, it was not possible to describe the extraordinary forces because words were not yet created.
In contemporary literature, we understand that it is not possible to express the complete truth through the use of words. That is why such truth is referred to by the use of metaphors. The Genesis Mythology as used in the Bible should not be taken literary because they describe events of an historical nature. These events did not happen during our time and space. They are instead used as a metaphor to show the rise of man's cognitive consciousness. This explains why in the year 2000 Joseph Campbell's documentary: A Hero's Journey they explains God in terms of a metaphor. Incontemporary literature, God is shown as a metaphor which makes great sense in mythology. This is how to categorize thoughts. It is now upon the reader to find out whether these thoughts are doing any good. The reader also determines whether the mythology is putting you in touch with your own being. If these ends are never met, then, it is a great lie. It is a fact that nearly half of the people around the world are very religious people. They, therefore, take the metaphors as facts. The people who know that the metaphors are not facts are known as atheists. They believe the information provided consists of lies. That is how the classification is done.
The concept of monomyth as developed by Joseph Campbell in explaining mythology in contemporary literature faces disagreements from a number of scholars. These scholars have expressed their concerns that the concept tends to oversimplify the cultures of various cultures of the world. There is an indicator therefore that there are great flaws in mythological thinking.
Functions of Mythology in Contemporary Literature
According to Campbell, mythology serves four functions for the human society. These functions are covered in his book The Masks of God: Creative Mythology and his numerous lectures.
a)The Metaphysical Function
Campbell clearly points out that great mysteries of life cannot be expressed using words or images. Mythology consists of 'being statements'. The participation in mythology rituals is the only way one can get experience of the mysteries involved. The symbols used in mythology are known to touch the centers of life in a powerful way which is beyond the reason of coercion or reason.
b)The Cosmological Function of Mythology
Mythology has been identified to have a function of serving as proto-science which brought about the physical world into accord with psychological and metaphysical meanings. Campbell also pointed out that there is great dilemma between science and religion more especially on matters of truth. Blazek reported that there is a problem is the connection between modern science and the ancient world and that of the modern times.
c) Sociological Function
The ancient societies are reported to have evolved under pressure. They actually had to conform to the existing social order. This was a must if they were to survive.
d)The Pedagogical Function
Mythology is used in guiding people through the various stages of life. There are many challenges which are encountered in daily life. This provides a guide on how to handle these challenges in life.
Joseph Campbell believed that if myths were to serve their role in life, they have to evolve or transform in a continuous manner. This is because the old mythologies usually grow out of touch with modern realities. That is why writers build their work on old mythologies, but they transform them a little bit so as to fit the modern world.
In conclusion, Mythology plays a central role in contemporary literature because a majority of the modern writers derive their ideas from existing mythologies. Mythology plays a great role in transforming the world. This highly depends on individual beliefs.