On the Uses of Myth

Caveat: Mythology is not purely a matter of historical fictions and partial-truths or parables told to instruct in moral or ethical ideals.  Mythology is also the overall cultural narrative which attaches to, or emerges from, any system or set of concepts or ideas – generally of an influential or persuasive scale and of indefinite complexity: ideologies, political theories, religions and historical constructs.  These thoughts below are brief and primarily in response to some reflections which appear here: We Are Not Safe and Never Will Be.

The myths we create, or accept and absorb, around our heroes (or heroic narratives and ideologies) and their antagonists are so very often far from truthful representations. It seems that human beings prefer a fairly simple narrative and caricatured portrayals of both the Good and the Bad – this likely aligns closely to the widespread use (and overuse) of generalisations; generalisations which, regardless of their inaccuracy, may be necessary  for, and implicit within, large-scale social communication systems and their successful function. This allows us to insert our own contexts, to decorate and embellish the mythology with our own ideas and concepts – often to the point of such significant departure from the original idea that it is unrecognisable: religion, politics, moral philosophies, various -isms and -ologies on a spectrum of translation and interpretation from attempted faithful adherence through to rampantly corruption of the original concept, person or narrative for purely selfish purposes. To some extent we psychologically require the anchor of a caricatured narrative (in whose reflection the Self is reflected, although perhaps more as in the fairground trick mirror of biased perception which warps and twists the image in response to our needs and desires).

If a literary or intellectual hero does not meet the mythic perfection we have attributed to them or their ideas, we shouldn’t be surprised. The greatest myths and mythic figures are those that have just enough credibility and just enough pure fiction to give us something solid to hang our own beliefs and interpretations upon. The extent of fiction or uncertainty allows for a simpler acts of retrospective denial of stated beliefs and political or ideological positions if we discover something unsavoury or unpleasant in a hero or something noble or heart-warming in a villain.  There is very likely something deeper going on here.

An ideological investment in heroic figures at least partially represents the externalisation or projection of an ideal self, tainted by the biased interpretations of enlightened self-interest or other potential narrative corruption Industries of interpretation and translation of mythic texts inevitably arise and the role of the interpreter assumes the hallowed saintliness of the hero, as though by cultural osmosis or narrative associationA high-priest of interpretative narrative analysis usually ends up in politics or academia.  Academia is generally a less harmful source for creative reinterpretation of mythic narratives.  Politics is a self-perpetuating social meta-system which professes to be concerned with the society from which it emerges as a priority but in essence is more concerned with its own self-perpetuation.  Reinventing and recycling the mythic heroic narratives of favourite ideologues and intellectual figures rapidly becomes a game of Chinese Whispers in which the preferred interpretation, translation or other narrative corruption is more closely aligned to the translator’s goals than the original narrative and myth.

drmanhattan
Dr. Manhattan is Atlas, revisited ?

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