March 21, 2008


Image courtesy of wikipedia. Have you hugged a centaur today?

The theme lately at Goat Rope is the nature of myths. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find links and comments about current events.

One approach to understanding mythology is to see it as forming the basis of a given society. For sociology pioneer Emile Durkheim, myths and related rituals and symbols are an expression of social existence that represent the understandings, beliefs and practices of a group. They are in large measure the glue that holds a society together, continually renewing traditional understandings and norms.

In fact, Durkheim worried that such traditional understandings and practices were undermined in modern societies, which resulted in feelings of normlessness or anomie.

The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski expressed similar views of myths based on his fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands. He tended to see them as charters of social practices which promote the continuity of the social order.

Obviously, there is some merit in this approach, but it too has its limits. Even in modern societies such as our own, many people continue to study and appreciate the myths of ancient societies even though they are now divorced from our own rituals and practices.

Karl Marx tended to view myths both as a reflection of a given society and as part of the ideological system that supported existing social relations. Yet he was also aware of the continuing appeal of myths such as those of the Greeks. He gets the last word on the subject today (there will be more on myths here next week):

Is Achilles possible in a time of gunpowder and shot? Or is the Iliad possible in a time of the printing press or printing machine? Do not the necessary conditions of epic poetry, songs and legends and the muse, disappear with the coming of the printing-press handle?

But the difficulty does not lie in understanding how Greek art and epic poetry are linked to certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that they will still provide us with aesthetic pleasure and in certain respects serve as a standard and an unattainable ideal.

A man cannot become a child again, or he becomes childish. But does not the naivete of the child give him enjoyment, and must he not himself strive for a higher level to reproduce the child's truth? Does not the nature of the child in every epoch represent the epoch in its natural truth? Why should not the historical childhood of humanity, where it had unfolded most beautifully in a stage that will never recur again, not exert an eternal charm? There are ill-bred children and precocious children. Many of the ancient peoples belong to this category. The Greeks were normal children. The charm their art has for us is not in conflict with the undeveloped stage of society on which it grew. Its charm is, rather, the result of the fact, with which it is rather inseparably linked, that the immature social conditions, under which it arose, and could only arise, can never recur again.

In other words, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a myth is just a good Big Story and even if we can't live there the land of mythology is a nice place to visit.

1929? Here's Paul Krugman on the forgotten lessons of the crash.

EATING ONE'S HOUSE. From the Economic Policy Institute, here's a snapshot on how the housing slump may effect consumption and the overall economy.

PREDATORS. Also from EPI, here's a summary of a new report on how growing inequality has contributed to predatory lending practices and here's the full report.


ANTI-WAR EVENTS are occurring all around the nation and WV this week. Here's coverage from one such in Lewisburg.


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