Myth and the Limits of Reason
Rodopi, 1996 - 133 pages
Traditionally understood as pre-critical, even pre-rational, mythical thought has in fact played a critical role in post-Enlightenment intellectual history. Modernists in philosophy and literature have used the depictive rationality of myth to disclose, in self-reflective ways, the limits of discursive sense-making in various domains of human experience. In so doing, they have effectively furthered, without resort to analytical abstractions, the epistemological critique of reason begun during the Enlightenment. Stambovsky illustrates four widely diverse examples of this critical form of mythical thinking in works by Kierkegaard, Miguel de Unamuno, Henry James, and Margaret Atwood. The selected texts focus respectively on religious, national-cultural, psychosocial, and psychobiological realms of experience. These illustrations follow an inquiry into why the very possibility of critical, mythically inventive (mythopoetic) reflection is unsatisfactorily explained by leading rationalist accounts of myth. It is with this problem in mind that Stambovsky begins his monograph with observations on the origins of rationalist and counter-rationalist conceptualizations of myth in the fragments of Xenophanes (the father of rationalist mythology) and in Plato's Phaedrus. Of pivotal import is the early rationalist discrimination of mythos from logos and its epistemological implications (the rationalist legacy) in the history of the idea of myth. Following his look at paradigmatic classical precedents, Stambovsky traces the influence of the rationalist legacy in the myth theory of Malinowski, Lévi-Strauss, Cassirer, Ricoeur, and Blumenberg. The aim is to reveal how this influence in different ways limits these theories as instruments for detecting and explaining the seminal critical and historical significance of modern mythopoeia. This study will be of particular interest to teachers and students of myth theory in departments of philosophy, religion, literature, and cultural anthropology.
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Key Terms Concepts and Sources
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Abraham abstractive accounts analysis analytical appear applied approach articulated assumptions Atwood Blumenberg calls Cassirer Cassirer's Chapter classical cognitive concepts consciousness consider constitutes context critical mythopoeia critique cultural definitive depictive rationality derivative determine dialectical discursive Don Quixote elements employ Enlightenment ethical example experience explain expression fact faith Fear and Trembling figuration finds formal four frame function Giving Birth Greek hermeneutic human idea identify illustrate instance intellectual intelligible interpretation James Kierkegaard knowledge language Lévi-Strauss limits linguistic literary living logic Malinowski meaning mode modern modernist moral myth theory mythic mythology mythopoetic mythos and logos mythos/logos narrative nature notion object opening origin perception Phaedrus Philosophy Plato position possibility present Press rationalist reality reason reflection relation religious respect Ricoeur Science scientific sense Silentio Socrates story structuralist structure symbolic things thinking thought traditional Trans transformative Unamuno understanding University values Xenophanes
Page 86 - Look over there, friend Sancho Panza, where more than thirty monstrous giants appear. I intend to do battle with them and take all their lives. With their spoils we will begin to get rich, for this is a fair war, and it is a great service to God to wipe such a wicked brood from the face of the earth.
Page 48 - Myth fulfils in primitive culture an indispensable function: it expresses, enhances, and codifies belief; it safeguards and enforces morality; it vouches for the efficiency of ritual and contains practical rules for the guidance of man.
Page 10 - I had only to succeed in guessing what they were like for them to be deprived of their strangeness: in which case, I might just as well have stayed in my [own] village.
Page 118 - Melanesians agree, however, with this opinion? Certainly not. They do not want to "explain," to make "intelligible" anything which happens in their myths - above all not an abstract idea. Of that there can be found to my knowledge no instance either in Melanesia or in any other savage community. The few abstract ideas which the natives possess carry their concrete commentary in the very word which expresses them. When being is described by verbs to lie, to sit, to stand, when cause and effect are...
Page 92 - This situation had been occupying, for months and months, the very centre of the garden of her life, but it had reared itself there like some strange, tall tower of ivory, or perhaps rather some wonderful, beautiful, but outlandish pagoda...
Page 48 - Myth, as a statement of primeval reality which still lives in present-day life and as a justification by precedent, supplies a retrospective pattern of moral values, sociological order, and magical belief.
Page 53 - But if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use.