Myth and Narrative

What is myth?  How is it related to narrative? Going back to the epistemology of the word, - “myth” is derived from the Greek, “mythos”, meaning fable, storytelling or fictions to make a sense of the world, or as Hayden White would state, “it is a mode of discourse” (2000). As discourse pertains to “telling”, narrative subsumes within it discourses built on silence and speech, memory and history, which could be delineated through semiotics of visuals, music, mime, or any forms of aesthetic expression. Theoretical reflections on myth, history and memory are variegated and related to narrative strategies which are even more diverse, depending on cultural specificities, rituals, beliefs, oral traditions and human imagination. Bidderman and Scharfstein opine that a myth is formed by “contradictory narratives, which become involved in one another like threads of a tapestry, too intertwined to summarize adequately, and endless” (1993). According to Barthes, myth is a “system of communication” (1972). It is a message not merely confined to oral speech. It is a mode of representation through written and oral discourse as well as through a semiological system, including photography, cinema, reporting, sports, shows, publicity, which can serve as a support to mythical speech and its signification. However, to abide by Sanders’s analysis, a culture’s mythology is its body of traditional narratives, appropriated to diverse circumstances (2008). So the mythical paradigm offers the reader or spectator “a series of familiar reference points and a set of expectations” which any artiste “can rely upon” to relocate and recreate in “newly resonant contexts” (ibid).

 

Myth could also be a disguised political message (Robert Graves 1972), as in the case of Mozart’s subversive operas like The Marriage of Figaro (1786) or The Magic Flute (1791). It could also be Mahasweta Devi’s representation of the myth of Draupadi in her Breast Stories (1997), in the modern socio-political context of the tribal people’s plight in the Jharkhand region of India. Myth could also be a memory with a “projective past” in Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poem, “The Past” (1990), where,

            Let no one say the past is dead.

            The past is all about us and within.

            Haunted by tribal memories, I know.

            This little now, this accidental present

            Is not the all of me, whose long making

            Is so much of the past.

 

Again, myth could also be the inscriptions on the walls of caves, broken pillars of ancient temples, pictorials in old manuscripts, patachitras, thangkas and epigraphy. Thus, going back to Barthes, mythological concepts and their representation could be various, variously confused and ambiguous and multi-resonantly multi-creative. So, it is history which chooses myth as a type of speech, which cannot possibly “evolve from” the “nature” of things. In a world of increasing individualism and the growth of global capitalism, the history of a nation thus is interlaced with myth and memory. Possibly the “Writers in the New World” after Derek Walcott, would agree to “reflect the idea of history as time ( … ) for its original concept as myth (…) history is fiction, subject to a fitful muse, memory.” (1974:64).

 

So, the Volume 2: Issue 2 of Caesurae, covers some of the areas of scholarship discussed above, in its variant essays this time. This issue, offers its readers four interesting essays, out of which three write about the myths as social constructs in the oral tradition differently. The essay on the mythical supernatural character of Vetala, by Nidhi Kalra and Pooja Ranade, negotiates the idea of the monster in European cultures with that of the pishaach in the Indian, to suggest that Vetala cannot be contained in either.  The essay engages in a quasi-religious, philosophical discourse, interrogating the myth and its relevance beyond postcolonial specifications. Norky Wangu’s essay on the Yolmo tribe, write about the migrant nature of the tribe and its cultural association with other Himalayan tribes. Yet the researcher is keen to point out even when she draws parallels with other funeral rituals of tribes in India and in other parts pf the world, that the Yolmo rituals follow the scriptures religiously and remain unadulterated by the processes of cultural translation. The essay on Patachitra of Orissa, by Manisha Misra, who is also a patachitra painter writes about the preservation and promotion of the art which is singular in its technique and imagination, conjuring up composite figures from Indian mythology. Dhrubajyoti Bannerjee’s essay on Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome, interrogates the western theory of historiography to suggest that the novel turns tables on the Western myth about the native knowledge, as being inferior or subservient. Using the western theories of history and narratology, Banerjee points out deftly that the writer’s narrative intention is to deconstruct the western myth about Indian ignorance, and western illumination. Banerjee’s analysis lays bare the subversive strategies of narrative confusion employed by Ghosh in the text to demystify the ideas of western superiority about scientific discovery and knowledge.

 

Jayita Sengupta

Contents:

  1. Interrogating Vetala: An-other Monster? (Click Here)

  2. Yolmo Funeral at Homeland and Abroad (Click Here)

  3. Contemporary Trends in traditional Patachitra of Odisha (Click Here)

  4. The Myth of Power, The Power of Myth: Science, Subversion and Fiction in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome (Click Here)

© 2017 by Caesurae. Developed by Surjo Sengupta