PDA

View Full Version : Critiquing fiction in terms of myth



GOTHOS
03-31-2008, 09:53 PM
I haven't been a member here long, but I thought it might prove interesting to post an excerpt from my blog here and see how posters feel about the notion of drawing parallels between fiction of our times and the myths (or myth-like stories, such as folklore) from archaic periods. Some critics draw such parallels rather carelessly, without any awareness of the difference between the types of stories involved, while some critics can't countenance any parallels between different fictions simply because of those differences.

As an amateur critic (though I have been paid for stuff, albeit rarely), I'm probably something of a Fryean with strong influences by certain structuralists, esp. Propp.

Here goes:

'As with many blogs mine starts with the desire to set down assorted thoughts and/or ideas. My primary reason for doing so is to keep them in an easily-accessible form, though of course I’m open for comment as well.

My basic posture is what has been called a “myth critic” or “archetypal critic.” I subscribe to the idea that literature in all its modes and media-manifestations is essentially homologous in form (if not function) with archaic myth/ folklore. There are differences that can be explored as well, but I find the similarities to be of greater importance.

Most of the essays and articles that I’ve had published in assorted magazines have concerned popular media like films and comic books. This blog can in theory allow me to deal with pretty much any sort of fictional narrative, whether deemed “high” or “low” by the more repressive representatives of academia. (Whether I actually will or not remains to be seen.)

One of the themes I hope to explore is what I call “mythic complexity,” which I derive from an almost-offhand statement made by Northrop Frye, often considered the ancestor of all literary theories that stress literature’s continuity with myth:

“Archetypes are associative clusters, and differ from signs in being complex variables.”—ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, p. 102

At this point I won’t go into talking about what Frye calls “signs,” which is a term he loosely derived from early writings on semiology. The essential thought here is that there is a hierarchy between simple and complex manifestations of the units of communication—whatever one chooses to call them—that make up a narrative. Frye doesn’t go into great depth in terms of using “complex variables” as a means of evaluating how well a narrative communicates, but it’s a centerpiece of my theory. Often, in the critique of popular artforms, I have seen any number of complex symbolic formations show up in narratives that are, on the surface, apparently simple, as are most of the myth-stories in the handed-down forms that we have them. This appearance of the complex within the apparently-simple convinces me that even these variables that we call “archetypes” have a propensity to generate themselves, at times without the conscious intent of the author. The poet William Butler Years, commenting on the poetry of Blake, said:

“It is the charm of mythic narrative that it cannot tell one thing without telling a hundred others. The symbols are an endless inter-marrying family. They give life to what, stated in general terms, appears only a cold truism, by hinting how the apparent simplicity of the statement is due to an artificial isolation of a fragment, which, in its natural place, is connected with all the infinity of truths by living fibres.” '

Ruv Draba
04-01-2008, 10:52 AM
This is an interesting opening manifesto, Gothos. My interest in critique is largely dilettante, but the possible connection between the social roles of traditional myth and how these social roles are met (or not) in modern storytelling has long held strong interest for me.

On a superficial reading of your post I'm not sure whether 'formations' of symbols as you describe them are simply associations of symbols (like frequency distributions in cryptography), or whether it may include some narrative structure - as in plot tropes; or whether they're more reflective of a cognitive element - as in themes. Can you elaborate please?

HeronW
04-01-2008, 02:53 PM
The archetype of the girl who is harmed/oppressed and has to find her way through obstacles via her wits aka she grows up with a minimum of spilt blood-reflecting her menses as entry into womanhood, is opposite that of the boy who swings a sword hacking his way to adulthood without any real personal growth.

GOTHOS
04-01-2008, 09:49 PM
This is an interesting opening manifesto, Gothos. My interest in critique is largely dilettante, but the possible connection between the social roles of traditional myth and how these social roles are met (or not) in modern storytelling has long held strong interest for me.

On a superficial reading of your post I'm not sure whether 'formations' of symbols as you describe them are simply associations of symbols (like frequency distributions in cryptography), or whether it may include some narrative structure - as in plot tropes; or whether they're more reflective of a cognitive element - as in themes. Can you elaborate please?

Thanks for the response, Ruv.

I think your formation question is answered to some extent by the semiological notion of dividing the world of signs (meaning anything that is used to signify something else) into what semiologist Charles Morris named "signals" and "symbols." I confess I haven't read Morris in the original, but he seems to have had an effect on a philosophical tome I did read: Suzanne Langer's PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY. Anyway, as I understand the argument a "signal" would be a sign that pretty much means something simple and uncomplicated: a red light signals drivers to stop, a green light signals them to go. A "symbol" would be a type of sign that takes more complex manifestations, which is more or less what Yeats is saying of myths in that quote: one symbolic construct suggests another, and then another, instead of just meaning one thing. In the major religions one can often observe this or that god taking on any number of seemingly-contradictory aspects.

What I've been most bending my brain over lately is the concept of "patterns," which is another way of speaking of "formations." For instance, Freud thought that his Oedipus complex was a pattern that possessed empirical existence. A lot of his examples don't hold water, but there are myths that seem to suggest such a pattern, some of which even do so better than the Oedipus tale. But once Freud puts the notion of the pattern into the minds of conscious readers, is it an empirical pattern as such, or is it an idea that educated writers are copying? I tend to think that if they're copying it just to score intellectual points, that their evocation is no more than a "signal," without any depth to speak of. However, a good artist like Richard Condon may be aware of Freud's identification of the complex before Condon writers MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, yet he still "fleshes out" his notion of the complex, making its pattern into his pattern, so that it can be fairly called a "symbol" rather than a "signal."

GOTHOS
04-01-2008, 09:56 PM
The archetype of the girl who is harmed/oppressed and has to find her way through obstacles via her wits aka she grows up with a minimum of spilt blood-reflecting her menses as entry into womanhood, is opposite that of the boy who swings a sword hacking his way to adulthood without any real personal growth.

I agree, though with a caveat. Though I think I may've been somewhat influenced by Ursula LeGuin's fantasy-critiquing essays from the 70s (which I encountered before I encountered Frye), I was never comfortable with her distinction (similar to yours above, maybe) between "true myths" and "false myths." I currently distinguish between "myths," which possess complexity, and "null-myths," which contain elements of myth that are so simple as to be negligible (and which I modeled on the mathematical concept of the "null set." Yet such a "null-myth," like your Conanesque example, can become mythic, depending on how its author chooses to relate that element to other elements, forming as it were a de facto literary "pattern."

Ruv Draba
04-01-2008, 11:15 PM
I think you're talking about some sort of story-pattern then, Gothos - how the symbols and signals relate to one another, and to the reader's mind.

There's an awful lot of this, and it delights me. I find it more blatant in movies (which rely heavily on imagery to signify and symbolise) than in literature (which often explores ideas directly rather than simply representing them).

My favourites for this are actually action movies - perhaps because they're so simple in the first place. Here are some examples:

Sample Signals: In Hollywood action movies villains are obliged to comport themselves differently from heroes (they'll sneer a lot, use offensive language, disparage people gratuitously and work hard to not just be malign but impolite with it). That's a signal, I think. Equally, action heroes are obliged to go through certain forms regardless of their motives. In Hollywood movies, an action hero is obliged to refrain from harming someone once, and very early on. The reason is irrelevant; the hero's intention is almost incidental - it could be compassionate (spare the unworthy) or cruel (as in Dirty Harry's "make my day" scene). But if you refrain from harming someone once you're a hero. It's a demonstration of restraint. After that, you can be as excessive in your violence as you like.

Sample Symbols: As they endure their travails, action heroes gradually lose their clothes. They'll often end up either semi-naked or in chic underwear - revealing the inner man. Frequently their heads and faces are redecorated (by design or happenstance) into a murderous mask. Notwithstanding this (or perhaps because of it), it's a rare Hollywood action hero who is not rewarded with sexual conquest - or at least recovery of sexual property - at the end of the movie.

These elements alone don't make action movies mythic for me. What makes them mythic I think are the 'rules' that bind the symbols and signals together. These create specific transformative and enabling steps that a hero must take to turn adversity into a meaningful victory. This links to Campbell's 'hero's journey' work, depicted in summary here (http://ias.berkeley.edu/orias/hero/) and with more links here (http://www.cerritos.edu/fquaas/resources/English102/hero.htm)-- although in action movies, this journey is often much abridged and somewhat distorted.

Sample Rules: In Hollywood action movies, heroes must typically claim the weaponry of fallen foes. They can't use their own weapons to create the ensuing carnage. This somehow exculpates them from responsibility for the mayhem they cause. In Chinese action movies, heroes must perform a necessary ancestral or cultural reverence before they are ready to do successful battle - they cease to fight for themselves, then but are rather fighting as a cultural avatar. Chinese action heroes almost always use their own weapons or ancestral weapons. They seldom claim the weaponry of foes because it would contaminate their purpose. But if they do claim their foes' weaponry it's only temporary and often parodic or poetic. In Hollywood action movies, the mayhem caused by heroes is accidental for the early part of the story - but after the hero suffers crippling betrayals it's allowed to be deliberate.

It can be a lot of fun to interpret what mythic messages such movies may be offering us. I'll leave it here for now though to see if we're still talking about the same things.

Medievalist
04-01-2008, 11:28 PM
This is a side-ways glance at Freud's family romance, with a cursory nod at Propp.

JBI
04-02-2008, 12:12 AM
This is a dangerous form of criticism. In theory it works, but in practice, many critics, such as Joseph Campbell, have used it to fuel their own beliefs, rather than to uncover things. There have been many successful uses of this, but at other times, people have used it to try and make a work fit a diagram which it didn't.

ColoradoGuy
04-02-2008, 01:09 AM
This is a dangerous form of criticism. In theory it works, but in practice, many critics, such as Joseph Campbell, have used it to fuel their own beliefs, rather than to uncover things. There have been many successful uses of this, but at other times, people have used it to try and make a work fit a diagram which it didn't.
Criticism is dangerous? And are you suggesting literary criticism is some species of hard science, rather than generally one person's opinion (albeit an opinion with often interesting insights), bolstered by the critic's particular interpretation of the text?

Medievalist
04-02-2008, 02:21 AM
I gotcher mythic crit right here (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=2221984#post2221984).

ColoradoGuy
04-02-2008, 05:59 AM
Good Lord, woman. Glad I am not a mythic critic to be.

Ruv Draba
04-02-2008, 01:53 PM
This is a dangerous form of criticism. In theory it works, but in practice, many critics, such as Joseph Campbell, have used it to fuel their own beliefs, rather than to uncover things.I had a longer response but my short form response is this: I don't believe that challenging intensive scholarship with unsupported opinion gets us very far. Myths are a legitimate area of literary interest, since so many stories have moral or teaching roles. Finding what the moral or teaching messages might be can be pretty speculative - especially in old stories or those outside our culture. It's hard to evaluate one opinion against another too, other than by weight of textual and cultural evidence.

I don't pretend to have the scholarship to be able to do this, by the way, but this doesn't stop mythic analyses from being of interest to me. The main reason is that my brain tends to pull things apart in this way anyway - I read for symbol, moral and meaning whether I desire to or not; whether I find meaning or not. It's just part of how I try to comprehend things.

Campbell's Hero's Journey definitely has limitations (it's not a great fit any of the action movies I based my last post on, for instance). But if you're proposing a better starting place for discussing myth, let's hear it!

If you're just pointing out the high level of subjectivity then I agree, but as CG pointed out: that's crits all over.

Ruv Draba
04-02-2008, 02:27 PM
I gotcher mythic crit right here (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=2221984#post2221984).
Thank you for the link, Lisa. I found it really interesting, if daunting to flick past the translations (which meant nothing to me) to the interpretations (which interested me a lot).

I wish I had the knowledge to be able to offer you critical comentary on your analysis, but I don't. The Mabinogion is one of those wonderful, alien pieces of fantasy that both underpins so much of recent fantasy yet is too eldritch for most modern fantasy readers to get - much like pre-Mallorian Arthurian myth. My introduction to it was fairly gentle - mainly via Alan Garner as a child. I think it's the ancient symbolism coupled with the impenetrable values and the bizarre sense of consequence that I most like.

I drew a few thoughts from your critique though... the importance of otherworld as a motif, and the importance of spiritual and social testing in the tale. What I wasn't clear on was what insights (if any) you drew from the myth about one's worth and how it can amass or diminish.

GOTHOS
04-02-2008, 09:58 PM
Thanks for the responses. Unfortunately, my schedule is such that usually I can only post on lunch hour, so my responses will be slow.

Ruv,

I think we're basically on the same page despite any differences in terminology. I would say that there are elements in a given grouping of narratives (say, action movies, which do as you say make for good explication because of their simpleness) that tend more to fall into "signal" configurations and other elements that tend to be "symbols." The reason as I see it is that the former elements are to the narratives what the "spear-carrier" is to the acted play: someone who comes on and performs a needed narrative function. The latter elements tend to receive much more elaboration.

I'll pass over the "rule" you suggest for the present (to avoid complication) and contrast only your examples of signal and symbol.

It's quite possible that the signal you suggest-- "hero shows forbearance to establish beneficence"-- is fairly standard in its uses. Bruce Lee does it at the beginning of ENTER THE DRAGON, embarassing a showoff character rather than beating the guy up. I would generally concur that this motif doesn't tend to mean a lot, though in my theory it would always be *possible* for it to take on greater symbolic complexity.

In contrast, your example of a "symbol," also a plot-function, is an element that often receives greater symbolic attention: the matter of how the hero/heroine is dressed so as to display power and/or sexuality. The Rambo of FIRST BLOOD is an obvious example, since the hero clearly passes from looking like an ordinary-looking vet in ordinary clothes to something of a "Red Indian." The fact that David Morrell's text mentions Rambo as being part Amerindian makes one suspect that his physical transformation was consciously planned, as were other uses of Amerindian paraphernalia and imagery. Not every male hero loses clothes, though: James Bond may start a film in a tuxedo and end up in black-ops gear, but he's rarely barechested because he's not meant to suggest the world of savagery. Rambo could also be viewed as a refutation of older, intolerant views of Amerindians-- he is, technically, what early racist fictions would call a "half-breed."-- since instead of being divided into Lone Ranger and faithful Indian companion, he's actually both in one man.

(However, though R's displayed musculature does connote power, it doesn't seem to have much to do with how much action he gets, which is an area where the fully-clothed Bond does better in just about any film-to-film comparison.)

And it's certainly possible for another author to do a clumsy riff on Rambo that rips off the image of the barechested hero but has no undercurrents of American mythology to it. The old VHS sections used to be full of such ripoffs.

GOTHOS
04-02-2008, 09:59 PM
This is a side-ways glance at Freud's family romance, with a cursory nod at Propp.

Well, it's just one example, that's all.

As to the Welsh legends you explicate later on, I didn't go through everything you wrote either, in part because I didn't get the context. I assume it's something you did in an academic setting, but I'm not clear from what I read of the essay's intent. I also don't follow the relevance. If as I surmise you're critiquing an authentic myth-tale, what has that to do with whether or not one can critique literary works with some (not all) of the same intellectual tools used on myth-tales?

sunandshadow
05-21-2008, 12:21 AM
Just wanted to add a note here that I'm another AW member interested in looking at modern writing in terms of myth. I'm a Levi-Strauss style structuralist myself, but also familiar with Propp, LeGuin, etc. My personal interest is not really in critiquing anything, but in analyzing myth to discover fundamental principles of good fiction which can then be used as guidelines when creating modern novels and other types of fiction. My most recent research has been into the symbolism of the labyrinth (not in the greek myth but in cathedral and turf labyrinths and Jim henson's movie Labyrinth). I'm also particularly interested in animal symbolism and totemism.

ColoradoGuy
05-21-2008, 04:32 AM
. . . analyzing myth to discover fundamental principles of good fiction which can then be used as guidelines when creating modern novels and other types of fiction. . . .
I don't know--sounds a little cookbookish to me. It's often said there are only a few basic plots, only a few ingredients for the stew, so I suppose it depends upon the skill of the cook. Of course there's the knotty problem of what 'good fiction' is, or are you defining myth as necessarily that?

sunandshadow
05-21-2008, 06:22 AM
While I've seen books designed to teach a cookbook method of writing based on a mythic template, that's not the kind of thing I do. Rather than elevating myth as good just because it's old, I personally think that good fiction is fiction people find likable, satisfying, worth passing on to others, whether that's a myth, a modern novel, a movie, a videogame, or any type of fiction. Then, I think myth in particular is valuable because it's simple, and often a force that resonates through from a writer's childhood subconsciously or consciously into their adult creations. So I feel that in looking for similarities between different types of fiction I gain insight into what we all subconsciously recognize as memorable and in some way psychologically useful plot patterns, character archetypes, and symbolic elements.

If I had to pick a metaphor, rather than a cook I might think of myself as a wise and efficient programmer, plugging existing libraries and functions into my program so I can spend my time and brainpower on the specific thing I want to accomplish rather trying to reinvent the wheel.

Ruv Draba
05-22-2008, 04:25 AM
I think myth in particular is valuable because it's simple, and often a force that resonates through from a writer's childhood subconsciously or consciously into their adult creations. So I feel that in looking for similarities between different types of fiction I gain insight into what we all subconsciously recognize as memorable and in some way psychologically useful plot patterns, character archetypes, and symbolic elements.
Myth is a very special kind of fiction. It arises from shared cultural concerns, and uses shared imagery and symbols. It typically illustrates or exemplifies key cultural values and moral viewpoints, so it has symbolic, intellectual and emotional resonance.

Well-accepted myths are almost by definition good fiction - in that they reach their audience, provoke thought, convey meaning and frequently create language and metaphor in which a culture reasons.

Despite some popular claims of myths being 'formulaic', I don't believe or accept that; if it's not true of mythic characters or events, then it's not true of myths as a whole.

There are certainly mythic archetypes - but they're not limited to a predefined selection. For instance, the Doris Day housewife character from the 1950s is a mythic figure but you don't see her in ancient myth. Ancient myth has responsible middle-aged matrons and naive young maidens, but you don't see too many naive yet responsible young matrons.

There are certainly mythic events (departures, returns, transformations) etc... but they're not limited either -- at least, they're no more limited than any other fiction. Myth draws indiscriminately from the stuff of human striving and strife.

As for the sequence in which events "must" occur, I believe that's pure tosh. A monomyth structure is descriptive, not prescriptive. There are many mythic stories that don't follow this structure. Rosemary's Baby for instance, is a mythic story, but you'd need machine-oil and a shoe-horn to stuff it into a monomyth cycle.

Wanting to write new myth is a very legitimate auctorial aspiration, and there are several ways you can attempt it:

Rearrange or adapt tropes from old myth and hope that it wins. (Star Wars is an example of this). This sort of approach is supported by using monomyth in a prescriptive fashion.
Try and dig into the subconscious of your culture by digging into your own subconscious, take a punt and hope that it's mythic.
Study myths and modern cultural concerns, try to interpret what the culture's thinking about, try to work out what it's trying hard not to think about, then try and bridge it.Or, you might attempt some combination of the above - but the more you study, the more I think you learn.

sunandshadow
05-22-2008, 05:24 AM
I've never been particularly interested in the heroic monomyth type of story - I like marriage tales such as beauty and the beast, creation myths, trickster tales, curse breaking tales where a riddle must be solved, and stories where a character is tested and cannot pass the test until they overcome a character flaw.

So one of my personal goals is to identify what types of myths particularly interest me and analyze them the way Propp and others have analyzed monomyths.

In terms of using them in a story, I like both the way LeGuin created myth systems to characterize alien cultures, and the way anime and television series often use a particular myth as the template for a single episode or character and then weave these together to tell a larger multiplot story.

Kalyke
05-23-2008, 11:49 AM
Well this has always been a part of literary theory-- are you re-inventing it?

bylinebree
09-14-2008, 10:19 AM
What happened to this thread? Helllooooo, are you out there??

I just wrote a grad paper, not all that scholarly btw, on Heroic Archetypes as related to a particular prize-winning modern novel. AND I was going to send this thread to a friend-writer who's interested in studying myth and it's affect on storytelling around the world.

But this seems to have fizzled (sniff)

Birol
09-14-2008, 10:21 AM
It still needs to be active for you to forward it to your friend?

bylinebree
09-14-2008, 10:52 AM
Nope. But it would be more interesting if it was active, is all.

(Heck, I didn't understand half of what they were talking about, but she might!)

Bufty
09-14-2008, 07:49 PM
You understood a half? That puts you way up the scale.

I don't think I get close to understanding any of it. Wish I did.


...(Heck, I didn't understand half of what they were talking about, but she might!)

Ruv Draba
09-15-2008, 11:37 AM
What happened to this thread? Helllooooo, are you out there?? Yes, still here. Why don't you post a comment or question?

bylinebree
09-17-2008, 09:22 AM
(from Ruv) 'Why don't you post a comment or question?'

Ah, got myself into hot water, didn't I? I've been reading the posts, but haven't had time to run to my Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary and look up all the terms unknown to me - and that's the truth.


Myth is a very special kind of fiction. It arises from shared cultural concerns, and uses shared imagery and symbols. It typically illustrates or exemplifies key cultural values and moral viewpoints, so it has symbolic, intellectual and emotional resonance.

YES. But what of the universality of myths - why certain themes show up all over the world for example, like the anointed one/messianic figure, or a world-wide disaster like a global flood, regardless of culture; though the localized story reflects those cultural concerns and the shared imagery. (Which, btw, you expressed very well - in all of your post, which I've edited so we dont't belabor the thread.)


There are certainly mythic archetypes - but they're not limited to a predefined selection. For instance, the Doris Day housewife character from the 1950s is a mythic figure but you don't see her in ancient myth. Ancient myth has responsible middle-aged matrons and naive young maidens, but you don't see too many naive yet responsible young matrons. I can't think of any, either, but I'm certainly not an expert in ancient myths. Interesting point, and the archetype is likely evolved out of the transition from traditionalism into feminism; I don't have the vocab to say it exactly.


Wanting to write new myth is a very legitimate auctorial aspiration, and there are several ways you can attempt it Isn't that what all of fiction is? We're all hoping to create mythic stories, some more so than others. Something that influences people or expresses a value, or interprets the world in a way that readers will remember or that even, ultimately, might affect the way they live their lives.

Anyway, that's the way I write. I'm not terribly analytical as it's a very linear process to me & "hurts" my brain, but when I do use things like Campbell's ideas (from The Writers Journey by Vogler), it's to explore "what has worked." It can give me ideas in improving my story, as to why certain things are NOT succeeding & how I can convey what I really want to say.

Higgins
09-17-2008, 05:29 PM
I can't think of any, either, but I'm certainly not an expert in ancient myths. Interesting point, and the archetype is likely evolved out of the transition from traditionalism into feminism; I don't have the vocab to say it exactly.


There is one possible naive yet responsive young matron in Classical Myth...or perhaps not exactly accepted in the mythology since the story was obsessively redone with simulacra: Helen of Troy. Helen's story seems to have caused mental problems for the ancient Greeks.
As I noted in the now-locked thread called "Shameless Phantom",
we are now better equiped to deal with Stesichorus "problems" with Helen of Troy and the Euripidean problem with writing a "tragedy" where she is found and mistaken for a eidolon (ghost, simulacrum) or copy (mimetic thing) in Egypt, where the good Helen sat out the war while her evil copy went to Troy.

sunandshadow
09-23-2008, 01:39 AM
Not terribly related, but I discovered this weekend that a university library near me had a _circulating_ copy of the Thompson Folktale Motif Index, so I grabbed all 6 volumes and am browsing through it taking notes on things to look up. Pity it's from 1932, missing a lot of myths that weren't recorded and translated yet. But I love the topic-outline view of mythology as a whole. It's sort of like reading a thesaurus, which is a topic-outline view of, well, everything.

Ruv Draba
09-23-2008, 10:11 AM
what of the universality of myths - why certain themes show up all over the world for example, like the anointed one/messianic figure, or a world-wide disaster like a global flood, regardless of culture; though the localized story reflects those cultural concerns and the shared imagery.It's not terribly popular in some circles these days to say that experiences in different cultures have a lot in common -- but really, I think that we do.

The architecture of mind, while hardly being identical even within cultures, is nevertheless so similar in its general patterning that psychology for instance, can apply transculturally. Not only that, but in terms of our basic human needs, our experiences are very similar too. Floods cause the same sorts of problems (e.g. to safety, travel, destruction of food and shelter) whether you're an American in Louisiana or a Khmer in Cambodia. So if our mental architectures tend to conform to common patterns, and our experiences do too then why shouldn't our myths contain common symbols and stories?

Interesting point, and the archetype is likely evolved out of the transition from traditionalism into feminism; I don't have the vocab to say it exactly.Or maybe it's more a question of 'feminology' than purely feminism. The social role of women has been changing for nearly two centuries. Some of those changes have been created by political activism (e.g. the work of suffragettes to gain the vote), but many have occurred for economic or technological reasons too (e.g. the appearance of automatic washing machines and microwaves, the centralisation of women's labour and the contraceptive pill). Maybe the Doris Day archetype reflects the tensions between traditional roles and economic/technological changes? Certainly, as women have mastered technology and new economic/social roles, that archetype has virtually disappeared from stories. (I personally reckon that it died in the early 1970s with Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stepford_Wives) -- even though feminism itself was still evolving at that time.)


Isn't that what all of fiction is? We're all hoping to create mythic stories, some more so than others.Writers seem to disagree about this. I personally find mythic elements in just about every story I write, but there are other writers who shudder at the thought. If you read (say) Ian McEwan's writing, his preoccupation with human psychology in the raw makes it almost anti-mythical. Or look at China Mieville's writing for fantasy stories that deliberately disorient the reader's mythic sense -- in what is normally a myth-dominated genre.

Higgins
09-23-2008, 04:29 PM
Certainly, as women have mastered technology and new economic/social roles, that archetype has virtually disappeared from stories. (I personally reckon that it died in the early 1970s with Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stepford_Wives) -- even though feminism itself was still evolving at that time.)



Or perhaps interest in robots/simulacra is deeper than fear of technology and women?
Aren't the stepford wives a bit robotic? Doesn't a simulacrum of Helen go to Troy several times over in Greek Lit?

Doesn't HD meditate on Helen on the beach in Egypt in the early 1950s?

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15449

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0403/is_4_44/ai_54370331/pg_15?tag=artBody;col1


The poem's initial starting point presumably takes up the alternative tale that Helen was never at Troy but "had been transposed or translated from Greece into Egypt" (1). However, soon enough Helen herself appears uncertain as to whether or not she was at Troy, and the likelihood is that she was, if only in the sense that the dominant narrative of herself would insist that she was. There are even hints of an explanatory link between these versions since, as Troy is falling, Helen escapes down a spiral stairway, apparently makes her way to the harbor, and then presumably is transported to Egypt (127-28, 143, 26667). So, early on we have less alternative versions to choose between than two, held in dialogue with Helen learning to accept her complicity in both. This doubleness characterizes the figure of Helen throughout the classical tradition (Austin 48n, 83-89), and H.D. reiterates many of its traditional manifestations: Helen's double twin birth (Clytemnestra and the Dioscuri) and their twinned destinies, her double fatherhood (Zeus and Tyndareus), her double kidnapping (Theseus and Paris), her two husbands (Menelaus and Paris). As mentioned, Achilles too is double, and Helen acts to bring forth the lover-poet out of the warrior. The spiraling staircase down which Helen flees is obviously another version of H.D.'s favorite image of the seashell whose involutions spiral back to the groundlessness of the rhythms of the sea, an image of poetry itself. In this sense, Helen at Troy dissolves back into the sea, the shifting matrix of poetry, to be reborn as Helen in Egypt.(18)

Ruv Draba
09-23-2008, 04:58 PM
Or perhaps interest in robots/simulacra is deeper than fear of technology and women?The Pygmalion myth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_(mythology)) is almost as old as recorded history, but the Stepford Wives shows some interesting inversions. Firstly, the main character is a plucky woman and not a lust-crazed man; secondly it's not a fantasy but a dark thriller story by an author who is considered by some to be the 20th century's master of suspense fiction.

Aren't the stepford wives a bit robotic?Yes, and their robotic Doris Day activities look satirical (again, sign of changed thought), even while the conspiracy itself is very dark. The imagery isn't terribly new, I agree, but the use and viewpoint seems to reflect some quite different thinking.

I believe that it's new myth (by which I mean, it's caught, consolidated and propagated new thought in a popular fashion). As supporting evidence, the term 'Stepford Wife (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=stepford+wife)' looks like new urban metaphor; I'm not aware of any preceding term that it replaces.

Higgins
09-23-2008, 09:57 PM
The Pygmalion myth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_(mythology)) is almost as old as recorded history, but the Stepford Wives shows some interesting inversions.

These are inversions from the point of view of transformation as a defense or protective coloring. For example, Helen in Greek myth already has an evil duplicate (Clytemnestra) and moreover has no normal birth (she hatched from an egg). So you might say she escapes mythic fate by being supernatural in the natural way. All of these transformations protect Helen...but the opposite is true of Stepford wives since in their case I assume...their robotic duplicates don't do them much good.