Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dr. Keith Dickson : “Mythic Objects”


Purdue University

“Mythic Objects”


Three worthies of the last half-century or so — Dr. Carl Jung, Professor Joseph Campbell, and Mr. Frodo Baggins (erstwhile of the Shire) — have done much to skew our present reception of myth. They have packaged myth respectively as (1) the autonomous, oracular voice of the Self, “the primordial language natural to the psychic prodesses”, “a projection from the unconscious and not a conscious invention at all”; (2) an ancient self-help manual, quasi-gnostic and somewhat paradoxically guided by a rather new-agey pursuit of one’s own “bliss”; and (3) a high-budget but stunningly naïve Manichaean romance. Each in his way has thereby (perhaps unwittingly) shilled for myth, representing myth precisely as myth would have itself presented: namely, as a fundamental discourse, a discourse of essences, a noncontingent discourse, a discourse whose universality — minor cultural differences excepted — confirms its status as natural discourse and thereby guarantees its unquestionable truth and so too rightly insists on our unquestioning allegiance. For our three worthies, myth is essentially a natural language whose purity of content and spontaneity are sure indices of a mode of expression that predates any compromised, cultural involvement.

A Barthian approach to myth — an approach motivated by historical memory, deft semiotics, and scepticism (against which myth is apparently defenseless) — reminds us that myth’s „naturalness’ is little more than a rhetorical pose. The same approach also allows us to explore how precisely myths parasitically graft themselves into the natural life of objects around us, animating their shells, appropriating their forms so as to masquerade as natural creatures too. The semiotic value of Pandora’s pithos will illustrate this point.

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