myth

"Only when we become aware of a sudden consistency between incompatibles can we say we have crossed the threshold of myth." Roberto Calasso."Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation." Joseph Campbell

Mircea Eliade speaks of myths as being always an account of a "creation," accounts that deal only with that which really happened. "These things never happened, but are always." Saloustios, Of Gods and of the World. "The mystical memory of a blessedness without history haunts man from the moment he becomes aware of his situation in the cosmos." Mircea Eliade.

According to most accounts, in myth concepts are expressed in images, not in philosphical terms. Claude Levi-Strauss describes mythic thought as a well-articulated system, lying halfway between percepts and concepts. While percepts are impossible to separate from the concrete situations in which they appeared, concepts need be abstracted (in Husserl's sense that thought must put its projects "in brackets.") from the event and understood in their unlimited systematic substitutibility. For Levi-Strauss, signs are intermediaries between images and concepts, in the way that de Saussure described their double articulation of phonic material and undifferentiated thought.

For Levi-Strauss, the characteristic feature of mythic thought is that it expresses itself by means of a heterogenous repertoire, which even if extensive, is nevertheless limited. (The Savage Mind, p17) In a famous passage, he goes on to compare mythic thought to the activity of the bricoleur, who makes do with "whatever is at hand," that is, a set of tools and materials which bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all previous occasions to renew or enrich the stock. The tools of the bricoleur are not instrumental in the sense of the engineer. Nor, according to Levi-Strauss, does the bricoleur try to go beyond the constraints imposed by a particular state of civilization the way the engineer is always trying to. (p. 19) (see structure / event)

"There is no society wit hout a myth. In what measure can we choose or adopt and impose a myth fostering the society which we judge to be desirable?"
--André Breton, Prolegeman to Third Surrealist Manifesto

Freud thought of myths as the external projections of dim perceptions of the psychical apparatus. These "endospychic" myths make up a psycho-mythology.Thus Freud saw the symbolic function he attributed to dreams as residing in myth -- a set of rules which, according to the ancients, governed human destiny. Myth provided the very substance that makes up the process of psychoanalysis. The Oedipus myth thus furnished for Freud what Thomas Mann called "a general category that enables the facts to be specifically understood." By inventing the Oedipus complex, Freud symbolically realized his own Oedipus complex, conquering the unconscious and grasping one of its essential structures. If dreams represent the body of the mother, the primal place where infantile wishes are fulfilled, Freud's publication of The Interpretation of Dreams was thus an Oedipal reconquest.