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An overview of the four theories of myth

Some need to be developed more fully. Introduction Far from being primitive fictions — about the natural world, some supposed ancestor, or tribal practice — myths are reflections of a profound reality. They dramatically represent our instinctive understandings. Moreover, unlike Freud's concepts, myths are collective and communal, and so bring a sense of wholeness and togetherness to social life. Rather that justify what were little more than matters of preference i.

His first essay in Anatomy of Criticism recognized various levels of realism in literature, an articulation he termed a theory of modes. The second essay put forward a theory of symbols, recognizing five levels ranging from the mundane to the anagogic the last represented in work of a religious or spiritual nature. The theory of myths that forms the third essay has possibly been Frye's most influential contribution. These are further broken down into phases.

The mythos of winter consists of six phases, the last representing human life in terms of unrelieved bondage: The human figures of this phase are the dispossessed, the destitute and mad-ogres, witches, Baudelaire's black giantess and Pope's Dullness. Frye distinguishes between signs which point outward to things beyond themselves and motifs which are understood inwardly as parts of a verbal structure. Literature is preeminently an autonomous verbal structure where the sign-values are subordinate to the interconnectedness of motifs.

The fourth essay proposes a theory of genres, where Frye outlined the differences between the lyric, epic, dramatic work, etc. Frye's approach was invigorating, but has not been broadly accepted. His categories seem arbitrary, and many works of art do not fit neatly into any category.

For all his learning, Frye's focus was on western literature and its classification. So general a view does not help the practising poet with rewriting, or the critic explaining how one piece of literature is better than another, beyond of course understanding the larger picture. Finally, though Frye's own criticism was subtle and illuminating, the approach too easily degenerated into "hunt the symbol" exercises.

  1. This book is concerned with the most intimate of the narrative sciences, paleoanthropology.
  2. The following has been prepared on the basis of the conviction that scientists are, despite their use of logic and experimentation, still human beings like the rest of us and as such need an explanation of where they come from, a "myth of origin", to use the latest anthropological jargon.
  3. Just like in the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories and the Wolverine stories from the First Nations of North America, in the evolutionary origins myth one regularly encounters phenomena that are contrary to natural law and which have never been observed by any human. Although the following excerpt is fairly long, it exposes in non-technical language certain demands that are made of scientific theories or propositions that are little-known outside the scientific community.

Literature employs words, and the reality behind words has been the central preoccupation of twentieth century philosophy. Linguistic philosophy attempted to explain away the great philosophical dilemmas of existence as the improper use of words. Structuralism described literature as the surface expression of deep anthropological and often binary codes.

Structuralist theory of mythology

Poststructuralism denied that words could be anything but part of an endless web of yet more words, without final referent or meaning. Postmodernism uses words as flat, media images, without deeper reference. None of these has been very unconvincing.

Words do have great emotional and intellectual power if employed in certain ways, and these ways draw on matters of deep and lasting interest to the human psyche.

Four Theories of Myth in Twentieth-Century History Cassirer, Eliade, Lévi-Strauss and Malinowski

Mythic criticism indeed all criticism: Frye makes this point is subsequent to literature, as history is to action. We cannot clothe with plot and character the skeletal requirements of criticism and expect literature to result. Works of art follow their own devices and grow out of the artist's imagination, only submitting to criticism if they still seem incomplete or unsatisfactory.

But mythic criticism can show the writer where his imagery is coming from, and suggest reasons for its power. Subsequent work — deep thought, reading and endless toying with possibilities — may then turn up further material. Whether that material is useful can only be found by testing it in the poem, a trial and error process of continual adaptation and refinement that may eventually achieve the strengths of the coherence theory of truth: The Road to Xanadu.

Myth criticism is usually concerned to demonstrate that literary works draw upon a common reservoir of archetypes or recurrent images, or that their narrative patterns repeat those of ancient myths or religious rituals, as in quests for sacred objects, or cycles of death and rebirth.

Much psychoanalytic criticism overlaps with myth criticism, not just in the tradition of Jung but in that of Freudwho interpreted literary texts as well as dreams and neurotic symptoms as echoes of the Oedipus myth. A more elaborate theoretical foundation for myth criticism was proposed by Frye in his Anatomy of Criticism 1957.

These critics view the genres and individual plot patterns of literature, including highly sophisticated and realistic works, as recurrences of certain archetypes and essential mythic formulae. Archetypes, according to Jung, are "primordial images"; the "psychic residue" of repeated types of experience in the lives of very ancient ancestors which are inherited in the "collective unconscious" of the human race and are expressed in myths, religion, dreams, and private fantasies, as well as in the works of literature Abrams, p.

Some common examples of archetypes include water, sun, moon, colors, circles, the Great Mother, Wise Old Man, etc. In terms of archetypal criticism, the color white might be associated with innocence or could signify death or the supernatural.

Myth criticism, which flourished in the 1950s and 1960s, is less interested in the specific qualities of a given work than in those features of its narrative structure or symbolism that seem to connect it to ancient myths and religions.

Frazer's speculative anthropological work The Golden Bough 1890—1915which proposed a cycle.