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Explaining, Interpreting, and
Theorizing Religion and
Myth
Contributions in Honor of Robert A. Segal
Edited by
Nickolas P. Roubekas
Thomas Ryba
For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
Contents
Editors’ Acknowledgments xi
Notes on Contributors xii
Introduction: Toward a Segalian Religiology 1
Thomas Ryba
Part 1
Debating Religion
1 Reductionism in Retrospect: Assessing Robert Segal’s “In Defense of
Reductionism” (1983) Almost Four Decades On 23
Daniel L. Pals
2 Understanding Religion: Interpretation and Explanation 42
Douglas Allen
3 Robert Segal: Philosopher of Religion, or: Ye’ll huvtae furgi’e oor Robert.
He disnae ken his ane strength 70
Bryan S. Rennie
Part 2
History, Theory, and Religion
4 Presocratic Theories of Religion 89
Nickolas P. Roubekas
5 An Episode in the History of the “Science of Religion”: C. P. Tiele’s
Indecisive Scientific Practice 106
Ivan Strenski
6 Many-Titled One; Elephant and Blind Men; Hand and Fingers:
Classic Metaphors of Religious Pluralism 122
Eric Ziolkowski
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viii Contents
Part 3
Reapproaching Religion
7 Re-visioning Religious Archetypes: Cognitive Schemas and Material
Anchors in Biblical Criticism 149
Dexter E. Callender, Jr.
8 The Permeable Boundary between Christian Anti-Judaism and Secular
Antisemitism 174
Henry Munson
9 Experience and Ontology in the Study of Religion 196
Fiona Bowie
Part 4
Debating Myth
10 Theory of Myth versus Meta-theory of Myth: On the Political
Implications of a Late Twentieth-Century Distinction 219
Angus Nicholls
11 Deconstructing Myth 233
Jon Mills
12 Myth, Synchronicity, and the Physical World 248
Roderick Main
Part 5
Interrogating Myth
13 Mythic Aetiologies of Loss 265
William Hansen
14 Fictioning Myths and Mythic Fictions: The Standard-Babylonian
Gilgameš Epic and Questions of Heroism, Myth, and Fiction 282
Laura Feldt
15 The Millenarian Myth Ethnocentrized: The Case of East Asian New
Religious Movements 299
Lukas Pokorny
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Contents ix
Part 6
Myth Revisited
16 Métaphysique noire: The Dybbuk Myth and the Book of Job as
Mythological Subtexts in the Coen Brothers’ Film A Serious Man 319
Steven F. Walker
17 Jung’s “Very Twentieth-Century” View of Mind: Implications for
Theorizing about Myth 336
Raya A. Jones
18 Cultural Mythcriticism and Today’s Challenges to Myth 355
José Manuel Losada
Annex: Bibliography of Robert A. Segal, 1976–2019 371
Index of Names 385
General Index 389
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Chapter 18
Cultural Mythcriticism and Today’s Challenges to
Myth
José Manuel Losada
Neither our time nor our space is the time or space of myths. Judging by the
current state of human nature, it is not entirely unfounded that a cataclysm
of cosmic dimensions forever separated the primal world from the post-world.
We can surmise that most of the cosmogonic myths of antiquity arose from
this post-world. Nevertheless, the advent of Christianity involved a demythifi-
cation of those classic myths and the creation of new ones. Since the begin-
ning of modernity, our contemporary world has remained irrevocably divided
from the worlds of the ancient and Christian past (Faust, Don Juan, Franken-
stein, Dracula, and more). We can no longer think of nor live myth like it was
thought of or lived in ancient or Christian times. The main reason is that the
realm that favored the origin of those myths has disappeared, and so have
the conditions of its interpretation. Despite the differences, we can ask our-
selves what myth meant to our ancestors and what it can mean to us: myth
has lost its transparency, but maybe it has not lost all its valence. Perhaps now
anyone who has become a dedicated and active student of myth can answer
those questions. Cultural Mythcriticism must identify the causes of dominant
demythification, analyze the way in which those causes have influenced the
breakdown of myth, and individualize the resources needed so that myth re-
gains its hermeneutic functions. It is only then that the researcher will be able
to easily access the enlightening and disconcerting truth about myth and, con-
sequently, the truth about our time.
It is important to consider several factors from our time that influence the
assimilation, modification, and reuse of traditional myths in our day. We will
look at three factors: the phenomenon of globalization, the logic of imma-
nence, and the doxa of relativism. Evidently, these do not exhaust the panoply
of those factors that affect contemporary culture, but, usually ignored by myth-
criticism, they seem to be the most suitable to explain the current situation of
myth to us. In short, it is about supporting an epistemology of Cultural Myth-
criticism. We will later see the interaction of these factors with mythic imagi-
nation and thought.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004435025_020
For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
356 Losada
1 The Phenomenon of Globalization
Globalization, a large-scale cultural, social, political, economic, and techno-
logical process, involves the communication and dependency among vari-
ous countries worldwide and the hybridization of cultures, societies, and
markets—that is, the actual suppression of cultural boundaries despite their
geographic distances. Originating in Western civilization and expanding
across the world in the second half of the twentieth century, globalization
received its biggest boost with the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold
War. We will now focus on globalization as a cultural process.
In a broad sense, globalization incorporates local societies and cultures
into a single culture or global “village”; it is manifested in the integration and
contact of cultural practices: brands, values, icons, characters, customs, and
collective worldviews that circulate in countries with varying living standards,
mentalities, and traditions. In a narrow sense, globalization applies to the
distribution and consumption of cultural products on a global scale, includ-
ing tourist destinations and major events. In both cases, globalization aims
for a culture of universal appeal. However, what is the relationship between
the phenomenon of globalization and myth? Myth opposes the global unifor-
mity the same way minority communities oppose intrusion by states. Myth
is a product of a town’s tradition, a community, a culture, and not a single
model of life and society; its birth and development depend on its cultural
environment, not its official doxa. The endogenous myth confronts exogenous
intrusion, which only manages to cross physical or psychological boundaries
of other properties after paying high tariffs (stereotype, uniqueness, discredit).
In mythology, the cultural dialogue is restricted. Far from being an argument
against comparative mythology—whose epistemological bases (e.g., the col-
lective archetype) are beyond doubt—this dialogic restriction is a simple ob-
servation of the existing psychological barriers between neighboring mytholo-
gies.
Occasionally, the adoption of external elements has been positive. For ex-
ample, the Phrygian goddess Cybele was fortunately imported to Greece, and
in Rome she came to share, along with Jupiter, the sovereign power over the
reproduction of plants, animals, and humans—what one may call as the “li-
cences of polytheism.” Other times, the temptations of adoption were trau-
matic. The metalsmiths of Ephesus, led by the silversmith Demetrius, mobi-
lized the people against Paul for convincing many of them of the truth of his
God at the expense of the cult of Artemis (Acts 19:23–40). Paul’s deity was
exclusive and, furthermore, threatened to considerably reduce the monetary
income of a guild. In any case, adaptations like that of Cybele to the Graeco-
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Cultural Mythcriticism 357
Roman world were slow and peaceful: the exogenous deity had just gained
citizenship in her new destination, but not before submitting to an aggiorna-
mento.
In our time, the dynamic of globalization is fundamentally different. Today,
myths circulate freely throughout countries and in all languages so quickly
that they become fleeting showcase attractions or carousel troupes: they dis-
appear as fast as they come; they occur without being possible to consider
them carefully. The differences fade; when not the same, all become indiffer-
ent: in the streets of Madrid, many people observe a carnival parade in the
same way as a Holy Week procession or the Dragon Parade for the Chinese
New Year. In the era of globalization, myth loses character. Globalization in-
troduces a trivial bias that has little sympathy for the Western mythological
tradition. With respect to traditional mythcriticism, Cultural Mythcriticism
takes into account two fundamental types of globalization: the social and the
technological.
1.1 Social Globalization
The unavoidable and irreversible phenomenon of migration substitutes a pre-
dominantly static world with one that is constantly changing, where the rel-
ativist perspective causes a disaggregation of a (supposedly) unique heritage,
eclectically mixing it with exogenous elements. Contemporary globalization
cannot quantitatively be compared to any other in the history of humanity.
As a result of this fusion, Cultural Mythcriticism investigates the presence
of new perceptions and behavioral patterns with the objective of detecting
transfers of mythic elements between different cultures. Take for example
the television series American Gods (Starz Inc., 2017). Wednesday (an incar-
nation of the god Odin) travels around America with the intention of recruit-
ing his peers—the traditional gods—and engaging in a war against the “mod-
ern deities.” Gods, demi-gods, mythological and folkloric heroes of all cultures
abound in the eight episodes of the first season: African (Egyptians like Anu-
bis and Thoth, or from West Africa, like Anansi); Muslim (ifrits, djinns, and
Allah); Judeo-Christian (The Queen of Sheba and Jesus Christ); Roman (Vul-
can); Slav (Czernobog and Zorya); Nordic (Icelanders like Odin, Irish like the
Leprechaun, Germanic like Hinzelmann or Ostara); unidentified ones from the
Paleoamericans; and even others, apparently made-up (Nynyunnini). United
around Odin, everyone must face the new gods who are personifications of
new, omnipotent realities: Mr. World (globalization); Media (the media and
entertainment); and Technical Boy (internet and technology). In American
Gods the transfer of ancient gods symbolizes, through synecdoche, all cultures.
Their encounter with the modern deities results in a huge hybridization aimed
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at dissolving identities, spread religious indifferentism, and replace transcen-
dent values with fame and money.
1.2 Technological Globalization
Technological globalization leads to a series of first-rate changes in the world
of myth, both materially and mentally. With the progressive and rapid digiti-
zation of communication media, the barriers of worldwide distribution are re-
duced, reserved for much of the second half of the twentieth century to broad-
casting firms, exhibition centers, and international coverage of events. The
global culture is, above all, audiovisual and popular. The universal narratives
and symbolic plots tend to merge into new audiovisual icons, renewed in their
aesthetic, and aimed at the general public (actresses and actors, special ef-
fects, settings, etc.). However, the knowledge that is not translated through the
methods of telematic information is condemned to fall into oblivion (Lyotard
1979: 13; 1984: 4). This will happen to many mythical stories, which remain stag-
nant in an obsolete past, if no one revives them. The same way that most of
the knowledge inscribed in stone was lost when it was not transferred to pa-
per, mythical stories preserved in cellulose and celluloid that do not adapt to
digital media will vanish.
The example of American Gods, aimed at social globalization, is applicable
in regard to technology. Against old gods, the current society appears to be gov-
erned by new ones: communication (portrayed by the character Media), tech-
nology (Technical Boy), fame, sex, drugs, gambling, the military and weapons,
all led by the mysterious Mr. World. The old gods have exhausted bodies and
tattered clothes, a metonymy of their increasing failure in the world of mod-
ern deities, with the latter being all dazzling and spectacular in appearance.
To this end, the message of the eight episodes of the first season is mani-
fold:
– The old gods are in danger of extinction. This is shown through metaphor
and synecdoche as in the case of the god Nynyunnini: once the Siberian
tribe had crossed the Bering Strait, his followers forgot him and clung to the
gods of the new, American land.
– The survival of the old gods depends on their ability to adapt to the
new times. This is shown by the splendor of Easter at her namesake
celebration—derived from the old Ēostre or Ostara, the Germanic goddess
of spring. Unlike the other gods, here we have “[…] an old god new again,”
as Media blurts out to her, portrayed as Judy Garland (eighth episode of the
first season). This ability to adapt comes to be a “religious Darwinism” only
suitable for gods capable of adapting to the environment.
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Cultural Mythcriticism 359
– Beyond the extinction of some gods and the survival of others (by hy-
bridization or adaptation), we encounter the appearance of new “gods”
(from the modern generation).These are the gods of technological progress,
who control the audiovisual distribution platforms, the narrations, and any
other type of information that flows through the network. These are un-
deniably powerful gods, against whom all opposition seem laughable: “You
can’t fight progress,” the Technical Boy contemptuously challenges Wednes-
day.
The grid structure of the internet also threatens the hierarchical struc-
ture of traditional mythology. The social category, which is traditional in the
mythological field—descending order of gods to animals, passing through ti-
tans, demi-gods, humans, and monsters—is put to the test: the new technolo-
gies, the new computer and audiovisual media accessible to the public have
become a phenomenon of lateral distribution. Today myth flows, above all,
through the multidirectional systems of communication, governed by experts
at the service of multinationals and economic or ideological lobbies. The so-
cial scales have disappeared: the organizational pattern of the network is char-
acterized by its non-lineal relationships (Gómez García 2001: 671). The world is
not regulated anymore by supernatural beings, but by recursive loops that self-
regulate far from a predisposed equilibrium: individuals have become, in ap-
pearance, completely autonomous. Zeus is stripped of his power in the world
of hypertext.
The same can be said about the changing mindset of information media, in
contrast to the static mindset of the mythological world. Myth is a dynamic
and adaptable story, but within a constant world; technological globalization,
on the other hand, demands an incomplete updating of software. Moreover, in-
stead of the oral “document” written on stone, paper, or even chip, documents
no longer exist in the software culture; what do exist are “acts,” i.e., dynamic
executions in real time. In certain textual circumstances, a particular myth
will always be the same (e.g., the mythical character of Antigone in Sopho-
cles’ tragedy), contrary to the content of new technologies, which are virtually
endless due to the continuous flow of information (a regular user of Google
Earth verifies changes daily due to the new satellite, panoramic, and 3D data
that are incorporated time and again; see Manovich 2017: 20). Technological
globalization is working on users a series of psychological modifications in a
direction diametrically opposed to traditional myth. The study of the transfor-
mation and evaluation of myths in a global world cannot be excluded from
the new information technologies that become new creators of ideology and
culture.
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2 The Logic of Immanence
The old religions and all the current ones produce literary and artistic works,
where a plethora of myths open the way to transcendence. The same occurs,
at least in the beginning, with some common old and contemporary spiritual
currents (Gnosticism, Esotericism, New Age). The interpretation of the mythi-
cal story is arduous—if not impossible—when it is severed from the transcen-
dent dimension: transcendence and myth are inextricably intertwined.
In its study of artistic manifestations of those cultures, Mythcriticism
must—by combining the academic rigor and the utmost respect for all ethical
and sound religious choices—integrate new methods open to the understand-
ing of that which is transcendent and inherent in every mythic production.
This proposal retains its validity even when it deals with formulations that,
openly or allusively, disregard that interconnection and, even, parody it.
Moreover, the (mainly personal) Western religious phenomenon does not
defy its collective dimension, and neither do myths: they present an individual
and collective character, model a culture, sanction a historic reality, guarantee
an economic situation, explain social behavior, legitimize the political status
quo, and instill some ethical values. Cultural Mythcriticism considers two ways
of updating this logic of immanence: experience and reflexion.
2.1 Immanent Experience
Let us not be deceived: in contemporary Western society, immanent world-
view is as predominant and tacit as its acceptance of a non-transcendent
prospect in the individual and collective worldview. Wide layers of the mod-
ern, cultural worldview are based on the unquestionable and unquestioned
dogma of this vital and reflective immanence. The only existing world is ours;
a philosopher has expressed it in a particularly attractive and disconcerting
way: “There are other worlds, but they are in this one.”1 What is more, if there
were—so he thinks—they would be as irrelevant as inaccessible.
Let us go back to American Gods, which addresses the issue of immanence
from two points of view:
– The traditional gods are headed for extinction, adaptation, or ridicule. Me-
dia resorts to a categoric formula to this effect: “Now […] we’re living in an
1 This successful expression and its variants have been attributed erroneously to Paul Éluard
(1895–1952), who took the words from the German-speaking Swiss writer Ignaz Paul Vital
Troxler (1780–1866; see Éluard 1968 vol. 1: 986). Éluard took this quote (“Il y a assurément un
autre monde, mais il est dans celui-ci”) from Béguin 1939: 90–91.
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Cultural Mythcriticism 361
atheist world” (eighth episode of the first season). Atheism is the explicit
formula of immanence; without God or gods there is no transcendence
either. Despite his apparent calmness, Wednesday cannot hide his distress
at the twilight of the old gods.
– It also fits a sharp, theogonic approach. Wednesday summarizes it perfectly
in his strong response to Media:
People create gods when they wonder why things happen. Do you know
why things happen? Because gods make them happen. Do you want to
know how to make good things happen? Be good to your god. You give
a little, you get a little. The simplicity of that bargain has always been
appealing.
This statement about the origin of gods places religion in full dependency on
human needs. Just believe in the gods to fulfil your own desires—conviction
precedes existence. As soon as Wednesday states “I have faith,” the henchmen
of the new gods are immediately struck by lightning. And, after asking Shadow
and making sure he also has faith, Wednesday produces an atmospheric com-
motion, unleashing—with the help of Ostara-Easter—life and death in nature
revealing his majesty.
The concept of American Gods differs from mythological tradition. Let us
pay attention to the exclusively human approach of the scene. Transcendence
does not pre-exist faith, but the opposite. Faith—belief in a deity—causes the
being. This transcendence is no less immanent than that of Media’s character.
In this idealism, a substitute for Hegel’s absolute idealism, the deity is a human
creation destined to satisfy human needs. Immanence creates transcendence
like an antidote against existential affliction.
Bearing in mind this anti-transcendent context, Cultural Mythcriticism is
given the task of identifying epiphenomena that transfer inherent transcen-
dence to myth or “latent transcendence.” For example, consider the series
Westworld (HBO Inc., 2016), in which some droids from a theme park progres-
sively acquire—through an improvised emotional intelligence and a concate-
nation of memory sequences—an unexpected human state by their engineer
inventor. The series is nurtured by mythemes derived from the myth of human
creation. The transcendence here “beats” through the involuntary creation of
life (memory, imagination, conscience, feelings); at no time is there a discus-
sion of where that life may have come from. Rightfully, it cannot be from divine
origin, since here the only “god” is the engineer. The origin of life evokes, nev-
ertheless, a transcendence superior to the expectations of the inventor, who
ends up losing his life at the hands of a gynoid.
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It is precisely in its relationship with death, more than at any other time,
that the immanent prospect of our current collective worldview appears.
Western civilization has an issue with death; it is not understood, and it
is called a hateful, humiliating, and anti-human spectacle. Thus, today it is
considered in poor taste to talk about death. There are some who adopt a
somewhat more resigned attitude: without challenging the pretension of the
pharaohs—as social discretion demands—they consider their life worthy of
permanence and propose to erect it in “monument.” A work of art or a com-
memorative plaque ensures a substitute for persistence among those who are
still living. Javier Gomá (2017: 7) thinks that this monument to excellence is
“an objectivity which transcends the subject.” One cannot question the great
value of this position compared to those who flee from any mention of the
subject. But, from the point of view of Mythcriticism, even the “substitution
approach” lacks the slightest hint of transcendence: to remain in the memory
of those who will not escape death is confined to an illusory and immanent ex-
perience, whereas the transcendence of mythology itself establishes the real
and simultaneous existence—always in the world of fiction—of two lives, one
human and one supernatural.
2.2 Immanent Reflexion
The contemporary worldview and cultural imaginary replicate the immanent
reflexion of the main ideologies that go through Western thought, unable, of
course, to proceed with an objective analysis of themselves.2 All the world-
views immersed in this “plane of immanence” move in an “unlimited One-All,”
a fluid, shapeless, and fractal medium, an “absolute” horizon of all possible
events and their corresponding concepts, independent, of course, from any
outside observer. This imaginary level of thought does not refer to any spatial–
time coordinates: it is, therefore, a continuous, absolute horizon where going
is confused with returning, namely, a “reversibility, an immediate, perpetual,
instantaneous exchange, a lightning flash” (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 40–41;
1994: 38).
These approaches to myth—as old as Euhemerus of Messene (c. early third
century BCE)—became evident during the Enlightenment in the eighteenth
century, and the positivism of the nineteenth century. According to E. B. Tylor
(1871 vol. 1: 258), the mythical stories “rest upon a broad philosophy of nature,
early and crude indeed, but thoughtful, consistent, and quite really and se-
riously meant.” As a result, Tylor complains that his contemporaries reduce
2 H.-G. Gadamer (1986–1993 vol. 2: 8) clearly recognizes the web in which souls are found
trapped, attached to immanent reflexion.
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Cultural Mythcriticism 363
myth to mere literary figures, if not to delusions of feverish minds; but he him-
self falls into immanent reflexion when he states that the mythical stories must
be read literally, as serious personifications of a childlike imagination. Robert
Segal (1999: 10) disagrees: “It is not self-evident that myth must be taken liter-
ally to be taken seriously.”3
In the interest of a global understanding, necessarily imperfect, and even at
the risk of falling into generalities, it is advisable to outline a brief overview of
the Western ideological paradigms that inspired the main approaches of myth
in the twentieth century. Basically, they can be synthesized into two perspec-
tives: from essence and from existence.
Two general and neutral definitions: essence is that which makes a thing
what it is; existence is the state of being. Taken to its logical extreme and
charged with affectivity, apriorism, or viscerality as the case may be, essence
becomes essentialism and existence becomes existentialism—in subjective
ideology in both cases. The priority attributed to ideas, concepts and spirit,
rationalism and arbitrariness, logic, necessity and transcendence, is character-
istic of the essentialist concept. On the other hand, existentialism prioritizes
facts, things and matter, instincts and biology, determinism and spontaneity,
the psychology of the individual and feelings, contingency and immanence.
Essentialism is the philosophy of the concept that gives to the essence the pri-
macy over existence; existentialism is the philosophy of the way of being of
the individual.
Since the fall of Hegelian idealism, the great ideologies of literary and
mythological criticism—Marxism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, and, of
course, existentialism itself—are existentialists. These existentialist concep-
tions of people are not directly excluded. The primacy given to matter, in-
stincts and biology, determinism and feelings, explains its convergence in
the nomination of absolute contingency and immanence. It is no surprise
that the bonding bridges link, even explicitly, structuralism and Marxism
(Lucien Goldmann), structuralism and psychoanalysis (Claude Lévi-Strauss,
Jean Piaget, Jacques Lacan), or structuralism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis
(Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre). None of these schools ac-
cept transcendence: human beings are alone in their world, with their signs,
their impulses, and their phobias.
3 Segal’s shrewd response shows the weak side of Tylor’s view; thus, Joseph Campbell
(1904–1987) and Rudolph Bultmann (1884–1976) argue that the serious interpretation of
myth requires precisely a non-literal reading, and James G. Frazer (1854–1941) proposes an
eminently symbolic reading.
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3 The Doxa of Relativism
Relativism is the ideology which rules the relative character of everything: it
denies a permanent, ahistorical framework that determines the nature of ra-
tionality, knowledge, truth, and reality. Positively defined, relativism states that
our judgments and beliefs are intimately linked to our ways of life or social
status, which are adopted agreements in a community (Arregui 2001: 311). It
involves a reaction against objectivism, a conviction that there is or must be
an ahistorical and undeniable matrix that determines the nature of reason,
knowledge, and truth. The objectivist minds claim to have found the point of
support that Archimedes sought, without which is impossible to avoid radical
skepticism (Bernstein 1983: 8).
At certain moments in history relativism imposes itself as a doxa.4 There
is no doubt that there is a relationship between the truth and the individ-
ual: “truth is accessible only by means of an irreplaceable personal relation”
(Pareyson 2013: 15)5—but this does not mean that the true character of an on-
tology of the world can be broken. In its extreme form, relativism questions
the existence of something universal and true regardless of interpretations.
Without attempting to even answer the question, it is important to remember
that, in principle, the world of myth does postulate an unquestionable general
framework and supports a series of universally valid principles. For example:
the superiority of gods, the power of destiny, the human tendency to rebel as
well as their insatiable desire to create other human beings.
Relativism rebels against that absolute framework. In the West, the ques-
tioning of the universal truth primarily affects the ancient mythologies and,
subsequently, the biblical ones. Robert Segal (2012: 23–24) evaluates the
mythologies according to their resistance to these attacks:
4 According to Pierre Bourdieu, the doxa is the “set of fundamental beliefs which does not
need to be asserted in the form of an explicit, self-conscious dogma” (2000: 15; cf. 1997: 26).
In the cultural field, the doxa is neither formulated on explicit theses nor is based on reason;
if anything, a major crisis can precipitate its transformation into orthodoxy and its need for
justification, but, in general, it likes the implicit presence and is perpetuated at the latent
stage (see Bourdieu 1998: 306, 320). The doxa “formats” our interpretation of things, that
is, it delimits the space of legitimate discussion and excludes as absurd or unthinkable any
opposite or unexpected attempt; the doxa, in short, normalizes and legitimates a social order
(Golsorkhi and Huault 2006: 4–6).
5 The fact that the truth lends itself to many perspectives proves that the truth is simultane-
ously unique and infinite, but it does not mean that the interpretation can or should not
be relativistic. The incompatibility between the unicity of truth and the multiplicity of its
formulations is nothing but a “false dilemma.”
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Cultural Mythcriticism 365
The pervasiveness of classical, or pagan, mythology is even more of a
feat than the pervasiveness of biblical mythology. For classical mythol-
ogy has survived the demise of the religion of which, two thousand years
ago, it was originally a part, whereas biblical mythology has been sus-
tained by the solid presence of Christianity. Classical mythology has been
preserved by the culture tied to the religion that killed off classical reli-
gion.
Congrua congruis referendo, we could extend the formulation to a personal ca-
pacity: biblical mythology has survived the demise of the religion of which,
two thousand years ago, it was originally a part. Biblical mythology has been
preserved thanks to the culture linked to a religion that shows signs of deple-
tion, at least in the West. So today, as it happened twenty centuries ago, the
myths of the Jewish religion (Adam and Eve, Jonah, the Golem, etc.) and the
myths linked to the Christian religion (Faust, Don Juan, Frankenstein, Dracula,
etc.) hardly have greater significance than that conferred by the academia,
when it is not limited to the entertaining or merely referential. Let us go fur-
ther into detail in order to observe what are the main axes of contemporary
relativism that come into friction with myth.
3.1 The Democratic System
Without considering the good or the bad of political systems, it is clear that
none of the current ones is reducible to myth. Mythology is outside of the
city and the laws as we know them—that is, as a form of a political system
established by consensus and based on a written document. This also applies
to the democratic system, a modern concept unparalleled in the mythological
world.
The mythic universe does not abide by the criteria of quantitative or qual-
itative order, with dimensions only partly corresponding to the criteria of to-
talitarian and democratic systems known in the West. We would commit a
gross mistake if, moved to the implicit or explicit adoration which (based on
latitudes) the West professes toward democracy, we would judge the world of
myth according to the democratic parameters. It is not so much about oppos-
ing worlds as it is about strangers against each other.
This difference between mythical and democratic worlds explains that,
occasionally, the critic makes huge mistakes. Therefore, in the name of
democracy—dominated by the doxa of individual relativism of an absolute
immanence—there are misguided judgments about the predominantly un-
equivocal sense of myth. There is no doubt that, like every story, myth is pol-
ysemic; but its deeper sense is always charged with a certain veracity. Disre-
For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
366 Losada
garding this sense, the critic will try to go through other additional meanings,
when not dispensable, in whatever mythical story.
One can look at, for example, Antigone by Sophocles as a metaphor of a
“democratic art,” that is, as an instrument “to reassert the Athenian democ-
racy”—i.e., the “democratic myth” (Herreras 2010: 19–21, 214). But if the critics
do not take note of the fate that burdens Antigone (the curse that fell on the
descendants of Cadmus and Harmony), they will always see in the subsequent
texts (here, the Sophoclean tragedy) mere storyline conflicts whose solution
resides in the application of the principles of our democratic institutions. On
the contrary, Cultural Mythcriticism remembers that the culture of myth is
not reducible to our culture. Undoubtedly, the myth of Antigone talks about
the conflict between her and Creon, but the young girl, precisely due to her
mythic origin, cannot be considered as just a character in a city dominated by
a tyrannical power. The intimate contradiction of Antigone is not solely the
fruit of her love for Polynices or her defiance of Creon; it is, above all, the con-
tradiction of a heroic being in a tragic situation due to a transcendent origin.
It is understood that, hiding behind the democratic aura of our society, cer-
tain critics approach myths according to criteria outside of those myths. Em-
bedded in a series of values considered sacred and set, they assume the right
to judge the events of a mythical story from ontologically and chronologically
invalid premises. Myth does not refer to a certainty created to deviate from the
consensus of the majority, but to inherent truths in the depths of our individ-
ual and social being, both archetypal and real, manifested in symbolic form.
The world of myth and the world of democracy are irreducible.
3.2 The Consumer Mentality
Nonetheless, the relationships between the economic logic of consumerism
and the mythical world surprisingly create bedfellows. Recent studies have
shown that the most successful brands surpass the competition not only by
delivering innovative benefits, services, and technologies, but also by build-
ing or recreating history in connection with mythology. Marketing mobilizes
advertising techniques carefully crafted around mythical references to stimu-
late the impulsive nature of people—and by doing so it reaches new sectors
of consumerism and multiplies its profits. In this field, the language of ad-
vertising acquires a prominent role, being perhaps the most functional of all
languages. Therefore, it is apparently placed at the antipodes of mythical lan-
guage. Recent studies have shown, however, how advertising agencies resort
to mythical stories cleverly seasoned with personal techniques of more tra-
ditional rhetoric: irony, parody, amphibology, hyperbole, prosopopoeia, visual
and verbal chiasmus, puns, and more (De Martino 2011: 54, 66). Every mytho-
For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
Cultural Mythcriticism 367
logical semiotic is placed at the commercial services to persuade intellectually
and emotionally about the goodness of a product.
The result of this method generates a new paradox against the nature of
myth. This commercialism leads to the systematic disappearance of the con-
cept of a unique and lasting model, which is myth. For the consumer mental-
ity, everything becomes “ephemeral” (Pope Francis 2014; 2016).6 Consumerism
in the new society is based on the multiplication and standardization of prod-
ucts: companies resort to mass reproduction of mythical objects. In the past,
the destruction of a statue of a deity endangered its very worship by its follow-
ers. Today, a company can daily produce thousands of figurines of that same
deity without any implications. The sacred nature of statues is connected to
their uniqueness, not their origin: the Palladium, the statue of Athena suppos-
edly fallen from heaven, was unique and, therefore, in some regards, real and
true image of the goddess—in other words, undeniably mythical.
Any myth submits to referentiality. All the recursive manifestations of a
mythicized product refer to a unique and unforgettable myth. Hence the ten-
sion between the massive proliferation of goods in the consumer society and
the attractiveness of the unique object. This, for example, explains the mythi-
fication of a select production (the perfume Olympea by Paco Rabanne) and
an exclusive production linked to a film hero: James Bond’s Aston Martin.
Among recent production, it is worthy to highlight again the case of Ameri-
can Gods, where the celebrities (Lucille Ball, David Bowie, Marilyn Monroe,
and Judy Garland) represent new gods, or that from the first movie Westworld
(1973), where the visitors attend a theme park with an uncontrollable desire,
and aware that the humanoids of the theme park, which were once used, are
immediately replaced.
This phenomenon of mythification also affects the perception of the char-
acters. The mythified real characters (the vedettes) are seen as soon as they
are supplied as devoid of an aura of exception, placed on a pedestal or rel-
egated to oblivion; the time lapse is inexplicable. It also happens in the art
market, whose strategies enhance the exclusive nature of the products in or-
der to mythicize them among merchants and therefore gain greater profits.
6 There is a link between technological globalization and the consumer mentality (Lovink and
Rossiter 2017: 15). In the fifth episode of the first season of American Gods, Mr. World mocks
the old gods, confident in the uniqueness of the model, “the brand.” The present world,
paradoxically, yearns for uniformity, also in consumption: “Brands. Sure. A useful heuristic.
But ultimately, everything is all systems interlaced, a single product manufactured by a single
company for a single global market. Spicy, medium, or chunky. They get a choice, of course.
Of course! But they are buying salsa.”
For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
368 Losada
Cultural Mythcriticism cannot avoid the changes created by this con-
sumerism phenomenon in the contemporary perception of the traditional
nature of myths: equation between supply and demand, assessment of the
ephemeral and the enduring, evolution of consumer response, access to con-
sumer goods, advertising phenomena, sophistication of strategies relating to
art objects, merchandising before and after the release of films and musicals,
museum and exhibition programs, rituals, seasonal celebrations, commemo-
rations, centenaries, etc.
The researcher is thus confronted with the dilemma of reinventing myth-
criticism. The myth of traditional mythology is still—and will continue to
be—in existence, but it must share its space now with new, contemporary
articulations that reflect the three shaping factors of our society: the phenom-
enon of globalization, the logic of immanence, and the relativistic doxa. Myths
now emerge and develop at the crossroads of traditional and modern media,
they are perceived as ephemeral phenomena, and they are exploited for the
benefit of ideological and market interests. Cultural Mythcriticism posits a me-
thodical examination of this contemporary tendency to purge mythical narra-
tives of their mythical valence, and also of the mechanisms of the subversive
process as it operates in the Western tradition. It also investigates the inflation
of new “myths,” the volatile conditions of their survival and their extinction.
This is all directed to understanding a major part of postmodern writing and
contemporary culture.
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Cultural Myth Criticism and Today’s Challenges to Myth - Brill.pdf

  • 1. Explaining, Interpreting, and Theorizing Religion and Myth Contributions in Honor of Robert A. Segal Edited by Nickolas P. Roubekas Thomas Ryba For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 2. Contents Editors’ Acknowledgments xi Notes on Contributors xii Introduction: Toward a Segalian Religiology 1 Thomas Ryba Part 1 Debating Religion 1 Reductionism in Retrospect: Assessing Robert Segal’s “In Defense of Reductionism” (1983) Almost Four Decades On 23 Daniel L. Pals 2 Understanding Religion: Interpretation and Explanation 42 Douglas Allen 3 Robert Segal: Philosopher of Religion, or: Ye’ll huvtae furgi’e oor Robert. He disnae ken his ane strength 70 Bryan S. Rennie Part 2 History, Theory, and Religion 4 Presocratic Theories of Religion 89 Nickolas P. Roubekas 5 An Episode in the History of the “Science of Religion”: C. P. Tiele’s Indecisive Scientific Practice 106 Ivan Strenski 6 Many-Titled One; Elephant and Blind Men; Hand and Fingers: Classic Metaphors of Religious Pluralism 122 Eric Ziolkowski For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 3. viii Contents Part 3 Reapproaching Religion 7 Re-visioning Religious Archetypes: Cognitive Schemas and Material Anchors in Biblical Criticism 149 Dexter E. Callender, Jr. 8 The Permeable Boundary between Christian Anti-Judaism and Secular Antisemitism 174 Henry Munson 9 Experience and Ontology in the Study of Religion 196 Fiona Bowie Part 4 Debating Myth 10 Theory of Myth versus Meta-theory of Myth: On the Political Implications of a Late Twentieth-Century Distinction 219 Angus Nicholls 11 Deconstructing Myth 233 Jon Mills 12 Myth, Synchronicity, and the Physical World 248 Roderick Main Part 5 Interrogating Myth 13 Mythic Aetiologies of Loss 265 William Hansen 14 Fictioning Myths and Mythic Fictions: The Standard-Babylonian Gilgameš Epic and Questions of Heroism, Myth, and Fiction 282 Laura Feldt 15 The Millenarian Myth Ethnocentrized: The Case of East Asian New Religious Movements 299 Lukas Pokorny For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 4. Contents ix Part 6 Myth Revisited 16 Métaphysique noire: The Dybbuk Myth and the Book of Job as Mythological Subtexts in the Coen Brothers’ Film A Serious Man 319 Steven F. Walker 17 Jung’s “Very Twentieth-Century” View of Mind: Implications for Theorizing about Myth 336 Raya A. Jones 18 Cultural Mythcriticism and Today’s Challenges to Myth 355 José Manuel Losada Annex: Bibliography of Robert A. Segal, 1976–2019 371 Index of Names 385 General Index 389 For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 5. Chapter 18 Cultural Mythcriticism and Today’s Challenges to Myth José Manuel Losada Neither our time nor our space is the time or space of myths. Judging by the current state of human nature, it is not entirely unfounded that a cataclysm of cosmic dimensions forever separated the primal world from the post-world. We can surmise that most of the cosmogonic myths of antiquity arose from this post-world. Nevertheless, the advent of Christianity involved a demythifi- cation of those classic myths and the creation of new ones. Since the begin- ning of modernity, our contemporary world has remained irrevocably divided from the worlds of the ancient and Christian past (Faust, Don Juan, Franken- stein, Dracula, and more). We can no longer think of nor live myth like it was thought of or lived in ancient or Christian times. The main reason is that the realm that favored the origin of those myths has disappeared, and so have the conditions of its interpretation. Despite the differences, we can ask our- selves what myth meant to our ancestors and what it can mean to us: myth has lost its transparency, but maybe it has not lost all its valence. Perhaps now anyone who has become a dedicated and active student of myth can answer those questions. Cultural Mythcriticism must identify the causes of dominant demythification, analyze the way in which those causes have influenced the breakdown of myth, and individualize the resources needed so that myth re- gains its hermeneutic functions. It is only then that the researcher will be able to easily access the enlightening and disconcerting truth about myth and, con- sequently, the truth about our time. It is important to consider several factors from our time that influence the assimilation, modification, and reuse of traditional myths in our day. We will look at three factors: the phenomenon of globalization, the logic of imma- nence, and the doxa of relativism. Evidently, these do not exhaust the panoply of those factors that affect contemporary culture, but, usually ignored by myth- criticism, they seem to be the most suitable to explain the current situation of myth to us. In short, it is about supporting an epistemology of Cultural Myth- criticism. We will later see the interaction of these factors with mythic imagi- nation and thought. © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004435025_020 For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 6. 356 Losada 1 The Phenomenon of Globalization Globalization, a large-scale cultural, social, political, economic, and techno- logical process, involves the communication and dependency among vari- ous countries worldwide and the hybridization of cultures, societies, and markets—that is, the actual suppression of cultural boundaries despite their geographic distances. Originating in Western civilization and expanding across the world in the second half of the twentieth century, globalization received its biggest boost with the fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War. We will now focus on globalization as a cultural process. In a broad sense, globalization incorporates local societies and cultures into a single culture or global “village”; it is manifested in the integration and contact of cultural practices: brands, values, icons, characters, customs, and collective worldviews that circulate in countries with varying living standards, mentalities, and traditions. In a narrow sense, globalization applies to the distribution and consumption of cultural products on a global scale, includ- ing tourist destinations and major events. In both cases, globalization aims for a culture of universal appeal. However, what is the relationship between the phenomenon of globalization and myth? Myth opposes the global unifor- mity the same way minority communities oppose intrusion by states. Myth is a product of a town’s tradition, a community, a culture, and not a single model of life and society; its birth and development depend on its cultural environment, not its official doxa. The endogenous myth confronts exogenous intrusion, which only manages to cross physical or psychological boundaries of other properties after paying high tariffs (stereotype, uniqueness, discredit). In mythology, the cultural dialogue is restricted. Far from being an argument against comparative mythology—whose epistemological bases (e.g., the col- lective archetype) are beyond doubt—this dialogic restriction is a simple ob- servation of the existing psychological barriers between neighboring mytholo- gies. Occasionally, the adoption of external elements has been positive. For ex- ample, the Phrygian goddess Cybele was fortunately imported to Greece, and in Rome she came to share, along with Jupiter, the sovereign power over the reproduction of plants, animals, and humans—what one may call as the “li- cences of polytheism.” Other times, the temptations of adoption were trau- matic. The metalsmiths of Ephesus, led by the silversmith Demetrius, mobi- lized the people against Paul for convincing many of them of the truth of his God at the expense of the cult of Artemis (Acts 19:23–40). Paul’s deity was exclusive and, furthermore, threatened to considerably reduce the monetary income of a guild. In any case, adaptations like that of Cybele to the Graeco- For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 7. Cultural Mythcriticism 357 Roman world were slow and peaceful: the exogenous deity had just gained citizenship in her new destination, but not before submitting to an aggiorna- mento. In our time, the dynamic of globalization is fundamentally different. Today, myths circulate freely throughout countries and in all languages so quickly that they become fleeting showcase attractions or carousel troupes: they dis- appear as fast as they come; they occur without being possible to consider them carefully. The differences fade; when not the same, all become indiffer- ent: in the streets of Madrid, many people observe a carnival parade in the same way as a Holy Week procession or the Dragon Parade for the Chinese New Year. In the era of globalization, myth loses character. Globalization in- troduces a trivial bias that has little sympathy for the Western mythological tradition. With respect to traditional mythcriticism, Cultural Mythcriticism takes into account two fundamental types of globalization: the social and the technological. 1.1 Social Globalization The unavoidable and irreversible phenomenon of migration substitutes a pre- dominantly static world with one that is constantly changing, where the rel- ativist perspective causes a disaggregation of a (supposedly) unique heritage, eclectically mixing it with exogenous elements. Contemporary globalization cannot quantitatively be compared to any other in the history of humanity. As a result of this fusion, Cultural Mythcriticism investigates the presence of new perceptions and behavioral patterns with the objective of detecting transfers of mythic elements between different cultures. Take for example the television series American Gods (Starz Inc., 2017). Wednesday (an incar- nation of the god Odin) travels around America with the intention of recruit- ing his peers—the traditional gods—and engaging in a war against the “mod- ern deities.” Gods, demi-gods, mythological and folkloric heroes of all cultures abound in the eight episodes of the first season: African (Egyptians like Anu- bis and Thoth, or from West Africa, like Anansi); Muslim (ifrits, djinns, and Allah); Judeo-Christian (The Queen of Sheba and Jesus Christ); Roman (Vul- can); Slav (Czernobog and Zorya); Nordic (Icelanders like Odin, Irish like the Leprechaun, Germanic like Hinzelmann or Ostara); unidentified ones from the Paleoamericans; and even others, apparently made-up (Nynyunnini). United around Odin, everyone must face the new gods who are personifications of new, omnipotent realities: Mr. World (globalization); Media (the media and entertainment); and Technical Boy (internet and technology). In American Gods the transfer of ancient gods symbolizes, through synecdoche, all cultures. Their encounter with the modern deities results in a huge hybridization aimed For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 8. 358 Losada at dissolving identities, spread religious indifferentism, and replace transcen- dent values with fame and money. 1.2 Technological Globalization Technological globalization leads to a series of first-rate changes in the world of myth, both materially and mentally. With the progressive and rapid digiti- zation of communication media, the barriers of worldwide distribution are re- duced, reserved for much of the second half of the twentieth century to broad- casting firms, exhibition centers, and international coverage of events. The global culture is, above all, audiovisual and popular. The universal narratives and symbolic plots tend to merge into new audiovisual icons, renewed in their aesthetic, and aimed at the general public (actresses and actors, special ef- fects, settings, etc.). However, the knowledge that is not translated through the methods of telematic information is condemned to fall into oblivion (Lyotard 1979: 13; 1984: 4). This will happen to many mythical stories, which remain stag- nant in an obsolete past, if no one revives them. The same way that most of the knowledge inscribed in stone was lost when it was not transferred to pa- per, mythical stories preserved in cellulose and celluloid that do not adapt to digital media will vanish. The example of American Gods, aimed at social globalization, is applicable in regard to technology. Against old gods, the current society appears to be gov- erned by new ones: communication (portrayed by the character Media), tech- nology (Technical Boy), fame, sex, drugs, gambling, the military and weapons, all led by the mysterious Mr. World. The old gods have exhausted bodies and tattered clothes, a metonymy of their increasing failure in the world of mod- ern deities, with the latter being all dazzling and spectacular in appearance. To this end, the message of the eight episodes of the first season is mani- fold: – The old gods are in danger of extinction. This is shown through metaphor and synecdoche as in the case of the god Nynyunnini: once the Siberian tribe had crossed the Bering Strait, his followers forgot him and clung to the gods of the new, American land. – The survival of the old gods depends on their ability to adapt to the new times. This is shown by the splendor of Easter at her namesake celebration—derived from the old Ēostre or Ostara, the Germanic goddess of spring. Unlike the other gods, here we have “[…] an old god new again,” as Media blurts out to her, portrayed as Judy Garland (eighth episode of the first season). This ability to adapt comes to be a “religious Darwinism” only suitable for gods capable of adapting to the environment. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 9. Cultural Mythcriticism 359 – Beyond the extinction of some gods and the survival of others (by hy- bridization or adaptation), we encounter the appearance of new “gods” (from the modern generation).These are the gods of technological progress, who control the audiovisual distribution platforms, the narrations, and any other type of information that flows through the network. These are un- deniably powerful gods, against whom all opposition seem laughable: “You can’t fight progress,” the Technical Boy contemptuously challenges Wednes- day. The grid structure of the internet also threatens the hierarchical struc- ture of traditional mythology. The social category, which is traditional in the mythological field—descending order of gods to animals, passing through ti- tans, demi-gods, humans, and monsters—is put to the test: the new technolo- gies, the new computer and audiovisual media accessible to the public have become a phenomenon of lateral distribution. Today myth flows, above all, through the multidirectional systems of communication, governed by experts at the service of multinationals and economic or ideological lobbies. The so- cial scales have disappeared: the organizational pattern of the network is char- acterized by its non-lineal relationships (Gómez García 2001: 671). The world is not regulated anymore by supernatural beings, but by recursive loops that self- regulate far from a predisposed equilibrium: individuals have become, in ap- pearance, completely autonomous. Zeus is stripped of his power in the world of hypertext. The same can be said about the changing mindset of information media, in contrast to the static mindset of the mythological world. Myth is a dynamic and adaptable story, but within a constant world; technological globalization, on the other hand, demands an incomplete updating of software. Moreover, in- stead of the oral “document” written on stone, paper, or even chip, documents no longer exist in the software culture; what do exist are “acts,” i.e., dynamic executions in real time. In certain textual circumstances, a particular myth will always be the same (e.g., the mythical character of Antigone in Sopho- cles’ tragedy), contrary to the content of new technologies, which are virtually endless due to the continuous flow of information (a regular user of Google Earth verifies changes daily due to the new satellite, panoramic, and 3D data that are incorporated time and again; see Manovich 2017: 20). Technological globalization is working on users a series of psychological modifications in a direction diametrically opposed to traditional myth. The study of the transfor- mation and evaluation of myths in a global world cannot be excluded from the new information technologies that become new creators of ideology and culture. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 10. 360 Losada 2 The Logic of Immanence The old religions and all the current ones produce literary and artistic works, where a plethora of myths open the way to transcendence. The same occurs, at least in the beginning, with some common old and contemporary spiritual currents (Gnosticism, Esotericism, New Age). The interpretation of the mythi- cal story is arduous—if not impossible—when it is severed from the transcen- dent dimension: transcendence and myth are inextricably intertwined. In its study of artistic manifestations of those cultures, Mythcriticism must—by combining the academic rigor and the utmost respect for all ethical and sound religious choices—integrate new methods open to the understand- ing of that which is transcendent and inherent in every mythic production. This proposal retains its validity even when it deals with formulations that, openly or allusively, disregard that interconnection and, even, parody it. Moreover, the (mainly personal) Western religious phenomenon does not defy its collective dimension, and neither do myths: they present an individual and collective character, model a culture, sanction a historic reality, guarantee an economic situation, explain social behavior, legitimize the political status quo, and instill some ethical values. Cultural Mythcriticism considers two ways of updating this logic of immanence: experience and reflexion. 2.1 Immanent Experience Let us not be deceived: in contemporary Western society, immanent world- view is as predominant and tacit as its acceptance of a non-transcendent prospect in the individual and collective worldview. Wide layers of the mod- ern, cultural worldview are based on the unquestionable and unquestioned dogma of this vital and reflective immanence. The only existing world is ours; a philosopher has expressed it in a particularly attractive and disconcerting way: “There are other worlds, but they are in this one.”1 What is more, if there were—so he thinks—they would be as irrelevant as inaccessible. Let us go back to American Gods, which addresses the issue of immanence from two points of view: – The traditional gods are headed for extinction, adaptation, or ridicule. Me- dia resorts to a categoric formula to this effect: “Now […] we’re living in an 1 This successful expression and its variants have been attributed erroneously to Paul Éluard (1895–1952), who took the words from the German-speaking Swiss writer Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler (1780–1866; see Éluard 1968 vol. 1: 986). Éluard took this quote (“Il y a assurément un autre monde, mais il est dans celui-ci”) from Béguin 1939: 90–91. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 11. Cultural Mythcriticism 361 atheist world” (eighth episode of the first season). Atheism is the explicit formula of immanence; without God or gods there is no transcendence either. Despite his apparent calmness, Wednesday cannot hide his distress at the twilight of the old gods. – It also fits a sharp, theogonic approach. Wednesday summarizes it perfectly in his strong response to Media: People create gods when they wonder why things happen. Do you know why things happen? Because gods make them happen. Do you want to know how to make good things happen? Be good to your god. You give a little, you get a little. The simplicity of that bargain has always been appealing. This statement about the origin of gods places religion in full dependency on human needs. Just believe in the gods to fulfil your own desires—conviction precedes existence. As soon as Wednesday states “I have faith,” the henchmen of the new gods are immediately struck by lightning. And, after asking Shadow and making sure he also has faith, Wednesday produces an atmospheric com- motion, unleashing—with the help of Ostara-Easter—life and death in nature revealing his majesty. The concept of American Gods differs from mythological tradition. Let us pay attention to the exclusively human approach of the scene. Transcendence does not pre-exist faith, but the opposite. Faith—belief in a deity—causes the being. This transcendence is no less immanent than that of Media’s character. In this idealism, a substitute for Hegel’s absolute idealism, the deity is a human creation destined to satisfy human needs. Immanence creates transcendence like an antidote against existential affliction. Bearing in mind this anti-transcendent context, Cultural Mythcriticism is given the task of identifying epiphenomena that transfer inherent transcen- dence to myth or “latent transcendence.” For example, consider the series Westworld (HBO Inc., 2016), in which some droids from a theme park progres- sively acquire—through an improvised emotional intelligence and a concate- nation of memory sequences—an unexpected human state by their engineer inventor. The series is nurtured by mythemes derived from the myth of human creation. The transcendence here “beats” through the involuntary creation of life (memory, imagination, conscience, feelings); at no time is there a discus- sion of where that life may have come from. Rightfully, it cannot be from divine origin, since here the only “god” is the engineer. The origin of life evokes, nev- ertheless, a transcendence superior to the expectations of the inventor, who ends up losing his life at the hands of a gynoid. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 12. 362 Losada It is precisely in its relationship with death, more than at any other time, that the immanent prospect of our current collective worldview appears. Western civilization has an issue with death; it is not understood, and it is called a hateful, humiliating, and anti-human spectacle. Thus, today it is considered in poor taste to talk about death. There are some who adopt a somewhat more resigned attitude: without challenging the pretension of the pharaohs—as social discretion demands—they consider their life worthy of permanence and propose to erect it in “monument.” A work of art or a com- memorative plaque ensures a substitute for persistence among those who are still living. Javier Gomá (2017: 7) thinks that this monument to excellence is “an objectivity which transcends the subject.” One cannot question the great value of this position compared to those who flee from any mention of the subject. But, from the point of view of Mythcriticism, even the “substitution approach” lacks the slightest hint of transcendence: to remain in the memory of those who will not escape death is confined to an illusory and immanent ex- perience, whereas the transcendence of mythology itself establishes the real and simultaneous existence—always in the world of fiction—of two lives, one human and one supernatural. 2.2 Immanent Reflexion The contemporary worldview and cultural imaginary replicate the immanent reflexion of the main ideologies that go through Western thought, unable, of course, to proceed with an objective analysis of themselves.2 All the world- views immersed in this “plane of immanence” move in an “unlimited One-All,” a fluid, shapeless, and fractal medium, an “absolute” horizon of all possible events and their corresponding concepts, independent, of course, from any outside observer. This imaginary level of thought does not refer to any spatial– time coordinates: it is, therefore, a continuous, absolute horizon where going is confused with returning, namely, a “reversibility, an immediate, perpetual, instantaneous exchange, a lightning flash” (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 40–41; 1994: 38). These approaches to myth—as old as Euhemerus of Messene (c. early third century BCE)—became evident during the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, and the positivism of the nineteenth century. According to E. B. Tylor (1871 vol. 1: 258), the mythical stories “rest upon a broad philosophy of nature, early and crude indeed, but thoughtful, consistent, and quite really and se- riously meant.” As a result, Tylor complains that his contemporaries reduce 2 H.-G. Gadamer (1986–1993 vol. 2: 8) clearly recognizes the web in which souls are found trapped, attached to immanent reflexion. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 13. Cultural Mythcriticism 363 myth to mere literary figures, if not to delusions of feverish minds; but he him- self falls into immanent reflexion when he states that the mythical stories must be read literally, as serious personifications of a childlike imagination. Robert Segal (1999: 10) disagrees: “It is not self-evident that myth must be taken liter- ally to be taken seriously.”3 In the interest of a global understanding, necessarily imperfect, and even at the risk of falling into generalities, it is advisable to outline a brief overview of the Western ideological paradigms that inspired the main approaches of myth in the twentieth century. Basically, they can be synthesized into two perspec- tives: from essence and from existence. Two general and neutral definitions: essence is that which makes a thing what it is; existence is the state of being. Taken to its logical extreme and charged with affectivity, apriorism, or viscerality as the case may be, essence becomes essentialism and existence becomes existentialism—in subjective ideology in both cases. The priority attributed to ideas, concepts and spirit, rationalism and arbitrariness, logic, necessity and transcendence, is character- istic of the essentialist concept. On the other hand, existentialism prioritizes facts, things and matter, instincts and biology, determinism and spontaneity, the psychology of the individual and feelings, contingency and immanence. Essentialism is the philosophy of the concept that gives to the essence the pri- macy over existence; existentialism is the philosophy of the way of being of the individual. Since the fall of Hegelian idealism, the great ideologies of literary and mythological criticism—Marxism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, and, of course, existentialism itself—are existentialists. These existentialist concep- tions of people are not directly excluded. The primacy given to matter, in- stincts and biology, determinism and feelings, explains its convergence in the nomination of absolute contingency and immanence. It is no surprise that the bonding bridges link, even explicitly, structuralism and Marxism (Lucien Goldmann), structuralism and psychoanalysis (Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jean Piaget, Jacques Lacan), or structuralism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis (Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre). None of these schools ac- cept transcendence: human beings are alone in their world, with their signs, their impulses, and their phobias. 3 Segal’s shrewd response shows the weak side of Tylor’s view; thus, Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) and Rudolph Bultmann (1884–1976) argue that the serious interpretation of myth requires precisely a non-literal reading, and James G. Frazer (1854–1941) proposes an eminently symbolic reading. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 14. 364 Losada 3 The Doxa of Relativism Relativism is the ideology which rules the relative character of everything: it denies a permanent, ahistorical framework that determines the nature of ra- tionality, knowledge, truth, and reality. Positively defined, relativism states that our judgments and beliefs are intimately linked to our ways of life or social status, which are adopted agreements in a community (Arregui 2001: 311). It involves a reaction against objectivism, a conviction that there is or must be an ahistorical and undeniable matrix that determines the nature of reason, knowledge, and truth. The objectivist minds claim to have found the point of support that Archimedes sought, without which is impossible to avoid radical skepticism (Bernstein 1983: 8). At certain moments in history relativism imposes itself as a doxa.4 There is no doubt that there is a relationship between the truth and the individ- ual: “truth is accessible only by means of an irreplaceable personal relation” (Pareyson 2013: 15)5—but this does not mean that the true character of an on- tology of the world can be broken. In its extreme form, relativism questions the existence of something universal and true regardless of interpretations. Without attempting to even answer the question, it is important to remember that, in principle, the world of myth does postulate an unquestionable general framework and supports a series of universally valid principles. For example: the superiority of gods, the power of destiny, the human tendency to rebel as well as their insatiable desire to create other human beings. Relativism rebels against that absolute framework. In the West, the ques- tioning of the universal truth primarily affects the ancient mythologies and, subsequently, the biblical ones. Robert Segal (2012: 23–24) evaluates the mythologies according to their resistance to these attacks: 4 According to Pierre Bourdieu, the doxa is the “set of fundamental beliefs which does not need to be asserted in the form of an explicit, self-conscious dogma” (2000: 15; cf. 1997: 26). In the cultural field, the doxa is neither formulated on explicit theses nor is based on reason; if anything, a major crisis can precipitate its transformation into orthodoxy and its need for justification, but, in general, it likes the implicit presence and is perpetuated at the latent stage (see Bourdieu 1998: 306, 320). The doxa “formats” our interpretation of things, that is, it delimits the space of legitimate discussion and excludes as absurd or unthinkable any opposite or unexpected attempt; the doxa, in short, normalizes and legitimates a social order (Golsorkhi and Huault 2006: 4–6). 5 The fact that the truth lends itself to many perspectives proves that the truth is simultane- ously unique and infinite, but it does not mean that the interpretation can or should not be relativistic. The incompatibility between the unicity of truth and the multiplicity of its formulations is nothing but a “false dilemma.” For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 15. Cultural Mythcriticism 365 The pervasiveness of classical, or pagan, mythology is even more of a feat than the pervasiveness of biblical mythology. For classical mythol- ogy has survived the demise of the religion of which, two thousand years ago, it was originally a part, whereas biblical mythology has been sus- tained by the solid presence of Christianity. Classical mythology has been preserved by the culture tied to the religion that killed off classical reli- gion. Congrua congruis referendo, we could extend the formulation to a personal ca- pacity: biblical mythology has survived the demise of the religion of which, two thousand years ago, it was originally a part. Biblical mythology has been preserved thanks to the culture linked to a religion that shows signs of deple- tion, at least in the West. So today, as it happened twenty centuries ago, the myths of the Jewish religion (Adam and Eve, Jonah, the Golem, etc.) and the myths linked to the Christian religion (Faust, Don Juan, Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) hardly have greater significance than that conferred by the academia, when it is not limited to the entertaining or merely referential. Let us go fur- ther into detail in order to observe what are the main axes of contemporary relativism that come into friction with myth. 3.1 The Democratic System Without considering the good or the bad of political systems, it is clear that none of the current ones is reducible to myth. Mythology is outside of the city and the laws as we know them—that is, as a form of a political system established by consensus and based on a written document. This also applies to the democratic system, a modern concept unparalleled in the mythological world. The mythic universe does not abide by the criteria of quantitative or qual- itative order, with dimensions only partly corresponding to the criteria of to- talitarian and democratic systems known in the West. We would commit a gross mistake if, moved to the implicit or explicit adoration which (based on latitudes) the West professes toward democracy, we would judge the world of myth according to the democratic parameters. It is not so much about oppos- ing worlds as it is about strangers against each other. This difference between mythical and democratic worlds explains that, occasionally, the critic makes huge mistakes. Therefore, in the name of democracy—dominated by the doxa of individual relativism of an absolute immanence—there are misguided judgments about the predominantly un- equivocal sense of myth. There is no doubt that, like every story, myth is pol- ysemic; but its deeper sense is always charged with a certain veracity. Disre- For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 16. 366 Losada garding this sense, the critic will try to go through other additional meanings, when not dispensable, in whatever mythical story. One can look at, for example, Antigone by Sophocles as a metaphor of a “democratic art,” that is, as an instrument “to reassert the Athenian democ- racy”—i.e., the “democratic myth” (Herreras 2010: 19–21, 214). But if the critics do not take note of the fate that burdens Antigone (the curse that fell on the descendants of Cadmus and Harmony), they will always see in the subsequent texts (here, the Sophoclean tragedy) mere storyline conflicts whose solution resides in the application of the principles of our democratic institutions. On the contrary, Cultural Mythcriticism remembers that the culture of myth is not reducible to our culture. Undoubtedly, the myth of Antigone talks about the conflict between her and Creon, but the young girl, precisely due to her mythic origin, cannot be considered as just a character in a city dominated by a tyrannical power. The intimate contradiction of Antigone is not solely the fruit of her love for Polynices or her defiance of Creon; it is, above all, the con- tradiction of a heroic being in a tragic situation due to a transcendent origin. It is understood that, hiding behind the democratic aura of our society, cer- tain critics approach myths according to criteria outside of those myths. Em- bedded in a series of values considered sacred and set, they assume the right to judge the events of a mythical story from ontologically and chronologically invalid premises. Myth does not refer to a certainty created to deviate from the consensus of the majority, but to inherent truths in the depths of our individ- ual and social being, both archetypal and real, manifested in symbolic form. The world of myth and the world of democracy are irreducible. 3.2 The Consumer Mentality Nonetheless, the relationships between the economic logic of consumerism and the mythical world surprisingly create bedfellows. Recent studies have shown that the most successful brands surpass the competition not only by delivering innovative benefits, services, and technologies, but also by build- ing or recreating history in connection with mythology. Marketing mobilizes advertising techniques carefully crafted around mythical references to stimu- late the impulsive nature of people—and by doing so it reaches new sectors of consumerism and multiplies its profits. In this field, the language of ad- vertising acquires a prominent role, being perhaps the most functional of all languages. Therefore, it is apparently placed at the antipodes of mythical lan- guage. Recent studies have shown, however, how advertising agencies resort to mythical stories cleverly seasoned with personal techniques of more tra- ditional rhetoric: irony, parody, amphibology, hyperbole, prosopopoeia, visual and verbal chiasmus, puns, and more (De Martino 2011: 54, 66). Every mytho- For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 17. Cultural Mythcriticism 367 logical semiotic is placed at the commercial services to persuade intellectually and emotionally about the goodness of a product. The result of this method generates a new paradox against the nature of myth. This commercialism leads to the systematic disappearance of the con- cept of a unique and lasting model, which is myth. For the consumer mental- ity, everything becomes “ephemeral” (Pope Francis 2014; 2016).6 Consumerism in the new society is based on the multiplication and standardization of prod- ucts: companies resort to mass reproduction of mythical objects. In the past, the destruction of a statue of a deity endangered its very worship by its follow- ers. Today, a company can daily produce thousands of figurines of that same deity without any implications. The sacred nature of statues is connected to their uniqueness, not their origin: the Palladium, the statue of Athena suppos- edly fallen from heaven, was unique and, therefore, in some regards, real and true image of the goddess—in other words, undeniably mythical. Any myth submits to referentiality. All the recursive manifestations of a mythicized product refer to a unique and unforgettable myth. Hence the ten- sion between the massive proliferation of goods in the consumer society and the attractiveness of the unique object. This, for example, explains the mythi- fication of a select production (the perfume Olympea by Paco Rabanne) and an exclusive production linked to a film hero: James Bond’s Aston Martin. Among recent production, it is worthy to highlight again the case of Ameri- can Gods, where the celebrities (Lucille Ball, David Bowie, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland) represent new gods, or that from the first movie Westworld (1973), where the visitors attend a theme park with an uncontrollable desire, and aware that the humanoids of the theme park, which were once used, are immediately replaced. This phenomenon of mythification also affects the perception of the char- acters. The mythified real characters (the vedettes) are seen as soon as they are supplied as devoid of an aura of exception, placed on a pedestal or rel- egated to oblivion; the time lapse is inexplicable. It also happens in the art market, whose strategies enhance the exclusive nature of the products in or- der to mythicize them among merchants and therefore gain greater profits. 6 There is a link between technological globalization and the consumer mentality (Lovink and Rossiter 2017: 15). In the fifth episode of the first season of American Gods, Mr. World mocks the old gods, confident in the uniqueness of the model, “the brand.” The present world, paradoxically, yearns for uniformity, also in consumption: “Brands. Sure. A useful heuristic. But ultimately, everything is all systems interlaced, a single product manufactured by a single company for a single global market. Spicy, medium, or chunky. They get a choice, of course. Of course! But they are buying salsa.” For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 18. 368 Losada Cultural Mythcriticism cannot avoid the changes created by this con- sumerism phenomenon in the contemporary perception of the traditional nature of myths: equation between supply and demand, assessment of the ephemeral and the enduring, evolution of consumer response, access to con- sumer goods, advertising phenomena, sophistication of strategies relating to art objects, merchandising before and after the release of films and musicals, museum and exhibition programs, rituals, seasonal celebrations, commemo- rations, centenaries, etc. The researcher is thus confronted with the dilemma of reinventing myth- criticism. The myth of traditional mythology is still—and will continue to be—in existence, but it must share its space now with new, contemporary articulations that reflect the three shaping factors of our society: the phenom- enon of globalization, the logic of immanence, and the relativistic doxa. Myths now emerge and develop at the crossroads of traditional and modern media, they are perceived as ephemeral phenomena, and they are exploited for the benefit of ideological and market interests. Cultural Mythcriticism posits a me- thodical examination of this contemporary tendency to purge mythical narra- tives of their mythical valence, and also of the mechanisms of the subversive process as it operates in the Western tradition. It also investigates the inflation of new “myths,” the volatile conditions of their survival and their extinction. This is all directed to understanding a major part of postmodern writing and contemporary culture. Bibliography Arregui, Jorge V. (2001). Sobre algunas raíces particulares de la razón universal. In J. B. Llinares and N. Sánchez Durá (eds.), Filosofía de la cultura. Actas del IV Congreso internacional de la Sociedad Hispánica de Antropología Filosófica (SHAF), 311–319. Valencia: Sociedad Hispánica de Antropología Filosófica. Béguin, Albert (1939). L’Âme romantique et le rêve. Essai sur le romantisme allemand et la poésie française. Paris: José Corti. Bernstein, Richard J. (1983). Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Bourdieu, Pierre (1997). Méditations pascaliennes. Paris: Éditions du Seuil. Bourdieu, Pierre (1998). Les Règles de l’art. Genèse et structure du champ littéraire. Paris: Éditions du Seuil. Bourdieu, Pierre (2000). Pascalian Meditations. Translated by R. Nice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 19. Cultural Mythcriticism 369 Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari (1991). Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit. Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari (1994).WhatisPhilosophy? Translated by H.Tomlinson and G. Burchill. London: Verso. De Martino, Delio (2011). “Io sono Giulietta”. Letterature & miti nella pubblicità di auto. With a Forward by C. Morenilla and R. Stefanelli. Bari: Levante Editori. Éluard, Paul (1968). Œuvres complètes. Edited by L. Scheler and M. Dumas. 2 vols. Paris: Gallimard. Gadamer, Hans-Georg (1986–1993). Gesammelte Werke. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck). Golsorkhi, Damon & Isabelle Huault (2006). Pierre Bourdieu: Critique et réflexivité comme attitude analytique en sciences de gestion. Revue Française de Gestion 32 (165): 15–35. Gomá, Javier (2017). Humana perduración. ABC cultural. February 24. Online: http:// www.abc.es/cultura/cultural/abci-sueno-posteridad-201702260108_noticia.html (accessed: April 20, 2019). Gómez García, Pedro (2001). Evolución de la diversidad cultural en la sociedad global informacional. In J. B. Llinares and N. Sánchez Durá (eds.), Filosofía de la cultura. Actas del IV Congreso internacional de la Sociedad Hispánica de Antropología Filosó- fica (SHAF), 669–681. Valencia: Sociedad Hispánica de Antropología Filosófica. Herreras, Enrique (2010). La tragedia griega y los mitos democráticos. Madrid: Editorial Biblioteca Nueva. Lovink, Geert & Ned Rossiter (2017). El supuesto digital: 10 tesis. Cuadernos de Infor- mación y Comunicación 22: 13–18. Lyotard, Jean-François (1979). La Condition postmoderne. Rapport sur le savoir. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit. Lyotard, Jean-François (1984). The Post Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by G. Benington and B. Massumi. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Manovich, Lev (2017). Los algoritmos de nuestras vidas. Cuadernos de Información y Comunicación 22: 19–25. Pareyson, Luigi (2013). Truth and Interpretation. Translated by R. T. Valgenti. Revised edition. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. Pope Francis (2014). Address to participants in the colloquium on the complementar- ity between man and woman. November 17. Online: http://w2.vatican.va (accessed: April 20, 2019). Pope Francis (2016). Apostolic exhortation “Amoris Lætitia”. March 19. Online: http:// w2.vatican.va (accessed: April 20, 2019). Segal, Robert A. (1999).Theorizing about Myth. Amherst, MA: University of Massachus- setts Press. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV
  • 20. 370 Losada Segal, Robert A. (2012). Myth and literature. In J. M. Losada and M. Guirao (eds.), Myth and Subversion in the Contemporary Novel, 23–37. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Tylor, Edward Burnett (1871). Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom. 2 vols. London: John Murray. For use by the Author only | © 2020 Koninklijke Brill NV