The Modern Construction of Myth
This book offers an integrated critical account of the career of myth in modernity. It takes as its starting point some crucial moments in the eighteenth-century reinvention of the concept and then follows the major branches of theorising as they appear in the work of theologians, philosophers, literary artists, political thinkers, folklorists, anthropologists, psychologists, and others from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.
The modern construction of myth began during the eighteenth century with the gradual transformation of the genre of the fable into what we know now as "myth." This transformation was capped by the romantic definition of the concept elaborated by two generations of German and English poets and philosophers. The entrenchment of their transcendental premises in nineteenth-century culture provoked the appearance of three major rivals: Marx's "ideological" conception of myth as widely propagated lie; Grimm's "folkloristic" view of myth as a genre of story held sacred in traditional oral societies; and Nietzsche's "constitutive" conception of myth as a foundational belief, at once necessary and fictive.
Von Hendy pursues each of these four fundamental strains of theory as a guide through the explosion of speculation about myth that characterises the twentieth century. First, he considers the rise of neo-romantic theories in depth psychology, modernist literature, and a subsequent mid-century burst of theorising in religious phenomenology, philosophy, and literary criticism. Next he marks the establishment by Boas, Malinowski, and eventually Levi-Strauss of folkloristic theory as the norm in modern ethnological fieldwork and ultimately in classical studies. Then Von Hendy traces the growth of ideological theories from Sorel at the beginning of the century to Barthes and Derrida toward the close. These theories become in the latter part of the century particularly powerful enemies of neo-romantic pretensions. The final section of the book concerns the still more recent ascent of constitutive theories of myth as necessary fiction. Von Hendy examines the work of five theorists who attempt to come to terms with the lessons of the ideological critique and yet regard myth as a constructive phenomenon.
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