Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Myth definitions

This post is a rolling inventory of definitions and descriptions of myth – mine, and those of others. I’ll move it to the top of the blog every time I update it.

“Myths are compost.”

--- Neil Gaiman, from Reflections on Myth, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, No. 31 (WINTER 1999), pp. 75-84 (https://www.jstor.org/stable/41807920)

He says, “They begin as religions, the most deeply held of beliefs, or as the stories that accrete to religions as they grow. . . . And then, as the religions fall into disuse, or the stories cease to be seen as the literal truth, they become myths.” Further on: “But retelling myths is important. . . . . Instead we have to understand that even lost and forgotten myths are compost, in which stories grow.”

(January 2020)

“… the ways that [a country] explains itself to itself.”

--- Neil Gaiman, Reflections on Myth, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, No. 31 (WINTER 1999), pp. 75-84 (https://www.jstor.org/stable/41807920):

Excerpt: “I have lived here for six years, and I still do not understand it: a strange collection of home-grown myths and beliefs, the ways that America explains itself to itself.”

(January 2020)

“Typically, myths provide symbolic representations of cultural priorities, beliefs, and prejudices.”

--- William G Doty, Myth: A Handbook, Greenwood Folklore Handbooks, 2004

Typically, myths provide symbolic representations of cultural priorities, beliefs, and prejudices. They dramatize and make abstractions concrete (Girling 1993: 14); perhaps we might say that they embody important sociocultural notions in such ways that they produce charters (Bronislaw Malinowski's term) for social formation and development. They can be referred to not as equivalent to fairy tales and fantasy literature, but as enacted (performantial) narratives, that is to say, as language that does something, namely legitimizing and establishing the social realities that form real life.
(December 2019)

“myths are the stories other people believe”

--- Yours truly. Put another way: We have truth, other people have myth, or, We have religion, they have myths.

(December 2019)

“a set of narratives that acquire through specifiable historical action a significant ideological charge”

--- Slotkin, Richard (1985). The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890. New York: Antheneum. p. 19; cited in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frontier_myth.

(November 2019)

“a symbolic narrative about a series events driven, and/or suffered, by larger-than-life characters”

--- Yours truly. In other words, I’m excluding myth in the sense of a popular belief, tradition, argument, theory or model (often portrayed as an unfounded or false notion) that has grown up around something or someone. For my purposes, myth includes those elements, but primarily tells stories through characters.

(November 2019)

“a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone – especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society”

--- Merriam-Webster, definition 2(a) of myth (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/myth)

(November 2019)

“widely shared stories that we use to make sense of the world”

--- Yours truly

(November 2019)

“myth—an uncritically accepted story that provides a model to interpret current experience, disclosing the meaning of the self, the community, and the universe”

--- Robert Jewett & John Shelton Lawrence, The American Monomyth, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1977; from the glossary

(November 2019)

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