Re: myth & ideology

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Sun, 7 Apr 1996 13:39:58 -0500

On Sun, 7 Apr 1996, Richard G. Calo wrote:

<snip TK>

> True, and Malinowski also adds that myth, "as it exists in a savage
> community, that is, in its living primitive form, is not merely a
> story told, but a reality lived" (Magic, Science & Religion,
> p.100). He qualifies this in his conclusion by stating that he has
> "tried to show that folklore, these stories handed on in a native
> community, live in the cultural context of tribal life and not merely
> in narrative. By this I mean that the ideas, emotions, and desires
> associated with a given story are experienced not only when the story
> is told, but also when in certain customs, moral rules, or ritual
> proceedings, the counterpart of the story is enacted" (146).

Yes, that is why I have always wondered about "traditional" folklorists
who merely gathetred the stories and not the "lived reality" which they

<snip myths about Hopis, anthros, and the Alamo>

> Correct me if I'm wrong at this point, but following the preceding, myth
> belongs to inherited culture, and in and of itself it is not anything
> (is neither right nor wrong, true nor false) until it is manipulated
> for contemporary political purposes. As it is taken up and
> manipulated, it becomes endowed with a value-- right, wrong, true,
> false--, and this value is operationally defined in terms of the use
> to which the myth is put; that is, in terms of the kind of social
> actions it legitimizes.
> If this is the case, at what point would I be justified in
> claiming that the myth is a lived reality as Malinowski designates it?
> would it be this reality before I begin to use it as ammunition in my
> attempt to legitimize a social action? or would it acquire this
> reality through my use of it?

I would say that it becomes mythic in the use. The historical "fact" that
JEB Stuart turned left (north) at the corner of West Montgomery and
Jefferson in Rockville, MD in late June 1863 is merely a piece of
inherited culture, somewhat mythic as the source for community identity,
for those in the neighborhood. It becomes political when the neighborhood
tries to put up a historical marker.

[snip: Levi-Strauss]

To tell you the truth, I have never found L-S to be of much value in
understanding the kind of pragmatic uses of myth and mythic processes that
I am interested in. I read Structural Anthro years ago, and tried to do a
"structural study" of Siouan mythology, chasing motifs from Two-Face
Woman, Stone Boy, and The Corn Wife and the Buffalo Wife, but the only use
["operational value"? :-)] I ever found was the possibility that the
latter myth helped legitimize a shift from agriculture to buffalo
hunting. I have never read Savage Mind; I did read "Way of the Masks", and
tried to read Jealous Potter, but neither of them gave me turned me on.

On the other hand, Victor Turner's analysis of Father Hidalgo and myth
was much more interesting.