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MYTHS IN CRISIS. THE CRISIS OF MYTH
Edited by
JOSÉ MANUEL LOSADA and ANTONELLA LIPSCOMB
Myths in Crisis:
The Crisis of Myth
Edited by
José Manuel Losada
and Antonella Lipscomb
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth
Edited by José Manuel Losada and Antonella Lipscomb
This book first published 2015
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Copyright © 2015 by José Manuel Losada, Antonella Lipscomb
and contributors
All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright
owner.
ISBN (10): 1-4438-7814-6
ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-7814-2
Table of Contents
Acknowledgements / Agradecimientos / Remerciements....................	 ix
Scientific Board / Comité Científico / Comité Scientifique................	 xi
Preface..................................................................................................	 xiii
Prefacio.................................................................................................	 xix
Préface..................................................................................................	 xxv
I. Theory of Myth
Chapter One: The Structure of Myth and the Typology
of its Crisis.................................................................................	3
José Manuel Losada
Chapter Two: Estructura del mito y tipología de su crisis.........	33
José Manuel Losada
Chapter Three: The Challenge to Myth from Religion.............	63
Robert A. Segal
Chapter Four: Mitos y crisis de mitos: un problema
de conceptos y de terminología.................................................	71
Javier del Prado Biezma
Chapter Five: The Crisis of the Notion of Literary Myth in
French Literary Studies.............................................................	91
Marcin Klik
II. Ancient, Medieval and Modern Myths
A.	 Myth and Anthropology
Chapter Six: Panic Attacks: Myth as Critical Intervention........	105
Leon Burnett
Chapter Seven: The Myth of Apollo and Daphne as a Metaphor
of Personal Crisis in Daphne Du Maurier’s “The Apple Tree”.	 119
Marta Miquel-Baldellou
Chapter Eight: ¿Sueñan los humanos con Galateas eléctricas?
El mito de Pigmalión en Black Mirror y Her............................	 129
Adrián García Vidal
Chapter Nine: Acefalia e indiferenciación en la época de los
surrealismos...............................................................................	139
Javier Mañero Rodicio
6	 Table of Contents
Chapter Ten: Le mythe d’Icare à l’aune du nouveau lyrisme.
Tradition ascensionnelle versus descente dans le réel...............	151
Linda Maria Baros
Chapter Eleven: Faire choir le mythe dans l’Histoire, Rivage
à l’abandon, Matériau-Médée et Paysage avec Argonautes
d’Heiner Müller.........................................................................	159
Sophie Coudray
Chapter Twelve: Le retour des titans: aspects des crises
cosmiques dans les péplums mythologiques américains
(1997-2012)...............................................................................	169
Pierre Cuvelier
Chapter Thirteen: “Cuando un mito se desmorona”.
La Odisea en el siglo xx............................................................	 179
Helena González-Vaquerizo
B.	 Myth, Morality and Religion
Chapter Fourteen: “Where you’ve nothing else construct
ceremonies out of the air”: The Ethics of McCarthy’s
Post-Mythical Apocalypse in The Road....................................	 191
Rebeca Gualberto
Chapter Fifteen: El motivo fáustico en la obra de Adolfo Bioy
Casares.......................................................................................	203
Mariano García
Chapter Sixteen: Poetic Re-enchantment in an Age of Crisis:
Mortal and Divine Worlds in the Poetry of Alice Oswald.........	213
Ben Pestell
C.	 Myths, Politics and Society
Chapter Seventeen: Dos miradas femeninas al mito
de Casandra................................................................................	225
Juan Luis Arcaz Pozo
Chapter Eighteen: A Post-Colonial Critique of Gendered
Water Myth from India through the Myth of the Llorona
in Deepa Mehta’s Water: Siting the Hindu Widow in
Transcultural Becoming.............................................................	235
Sanghita Sen & Indrani Mukherjee
Chapter Nineteen: La transformación del mito de Antígona
en la teoría feminista y queer.....................................................	 245
Giuliano Lozzi
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 7
D.	 Myth and Meta-Literature
Chapter Twenty: Le prisme mythologique dans les romans
de Claude Simon........................................................................	257
Ian De Toffoli
Chapter Twenty-One: Antigüedad mítica y realidad crítica
en la poesía de Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen..................	267
Adriana Martins-Frias
Chapter Twenty-Two: La reinvención de las figuras
mitológicas en la literatura de Julio Cortázar............................	279
Manel Feijoó
III. Myths of Immanence
A.	 Mythologizing People
Chapter Twenty-Three: Edgar Allan Poe como mito
contemporáneo: del antihéroe al superhéroe.............................	293
Ana González-Rivas
Chapter Twenty-Four: Kristeva’s The Samurai: “Camouflage
of sacredness in a desacralized world”......................................	303
Metka Zupančič
B.	 Mythologizing Characters
Chapter Twenty-Five: Skyfall o el regreso de 007 como
héroe clásico..............................................................................	313
Alejandra Spagnuolo
Chapter Twenty-Six: Au-delà du bovarysme: Melancholia
de Lars von Trier, une figure récente de l’agonie de l’éros.......	323
Patricia Martínez
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Mutación cultural y tránsito del
mitologema de don Quijote a su utopía contemporánea............	333
Mª Ángeles Varela Olea
C.	 Mythologizing Nations, Places and Languages
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Mitos en crisis: la crisis del mito
o la supervivencia del eterno retorno.........................................	345
Juan González Etxeberria
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Myth Lost and Found in Proust’s
À la recherche du temps perdu..................................................	 359
Anja Schwennsen
8	 Table of Contents
Chapter Thirty: El Phoenix desde el siglo xx: la Numancia
de Jean-Louis Barrault (1937-1965)..........................................	367
Emmanuel Marigno Vázquez
Chapter Thirty-One: Language as Myth: Reinvented belief
in the spirit of language in Japan...............................................	379
Naoko Hosokawa
Abstracts ............................................................................................	 389
Index ....................................................................................................	 429
Acknowledgements / Agradecimientos /
Remerciements
This publication has been possible thanks to the funding of the Ministry
of Economy and Competiveness of Spain (General Directorate for Research)
via the RTD project Nuevas formas del mito: una metodología interdiscipli-
nar (“New Forms of Myth: An Interdisciplinary Methodology”, reference
number FFI2012-32594), and thanks to the funding of Banco Santander,
via the research group Acis. Grupo de Investigación en Mitocrítica (“Acis.
Research Group for Myth-Criticism” Complutense University of Madrid,
reference number 941730).
Amaltea, Journal of Myth-Criticism and Asteria, International
Association for Myth-Criticism have also actively cooperated.
The Index has been set up by Rebeca Gualberto. María Celaya (www.
apiedepagina.net) has designed the layout and made all orthotypographical
corrections.
***
Esta publicación se ha beneficiado de una ayuda del Ministerio de
Economía y Competitividad del Gobierno de España (Subdirección General
de Proyectos de Investigación), a través del Proyecto de Investigación I+D+
I Nuevas formas del mito: una metodología interdisciplinar (nº ref. FFI2012-
32594 ) y del Banco Santander, a través de Acis. Grupo de Investigación en
Mitocrítica (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, nº ref. 941730).
Han colaborado activamente, además, Amaltea. Revista de Mitocrítica y
Asteria. Asociación Internacional de Mitocrítica.
El índice ha sido establecido por Rebeca Gualberto. La maquetación
y corrección ortotipográfica han corrido a cargo de María Celaya (www.
apiedepagina.net).
***
Cette publication a bénéficié d’une aide du Ministère de l’Économie et
de la Compétitivité du gouvernement espagnol (Direction générale de pro-
jets de recherche), à travers le Projet de recherche n° réf. FFI2012-32594:
Nouvelles formes du mythe: une méthodologie interdisciplinaire et de la
Banque Santander, à travers Acis. Groupe de Recherche en Mythocritique
(Université Complutense de Madrid, n° réf. 941730).
Ont également collaboré activement Amaltea. Revista de Mitocrítica et
Asteria. Association Internationale de Mythocritique.
L’index a été établi par Rebeca Gualberto. La mise en page et la correc-
tion ortho-typographique ont été prises en charge par María Celaya (www.
apiedepagina.net).
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 11
Preface
Can it be said that myths, as man-made creations, are born, then grow,
reproduce and eventually die? If so, each stage of development would re-
quire examination. Yet this volume of essays explores something else: how
myths adapt to the trials and tribulations of our time (the 20th
and the 21st
centuries). The aim is to assess the evolution of myths across time and to
determine whether the contemporary crisis of myth may result in their death
or rebirth.
Several circumstances explain the crisis of myth.
First of all, it sometimes happens that the original sociocultural environ-
ment is transformed in such a way that the general context of a myth must
be changed as well. Take the mythical figure of the angel, for example.
The angels found in Western culture retain their fundamental functions as
messengers and helpers, but have also acquired new traits which are char-
acteristic of our time: in tune with the New Age phenomenon, the mythical
figure of the angel acquires aesthetic, sentimental or even sexual connota-
tions. Similarly, the myth of Pygmalion loses the mytheme of inert matter
coming to life in order to simply tell the story of a doomed love affair. More
significant, perhaps, is the transformation of the Grail myth. The Eucharistic
chalice of eternal life becomes—evidencing the contemporary crisis of tran-
scendence—a sacred cup that may only heal physical ailments or guarantee
a deathless life, but only on Earth.
In some other cases, myths may experience a crisis as the result of a
substantial change in the historical context. An example of this is the figure
of the Comendador in the myth of Don Juan—a figure that no longer exists.
This small inconsistency is of course exacerbated by the fact that a moving
statue would have no credibility today, and would instead be regarded as
the mere fantasy of unabashed machinery. Moreover, a myth as intrinsi-
cally theatrical as the myth of Don Juan cannot but be affected by the crisis
of theater under the overwhelming influence of cinema. Indeed, the crisis
of a genre, or medium, can certainly bring about a crisis in the traditional
manifestations of myth.
Other reasons—religious, anthropological—explain the crisis that af-
fects myths of human creation (Prometheus, Frankenstein). Furthermore,
these myths have crystalized in contemporary forms (the cyborg, the an-
droid, or the Matrix universe) that pose significant questions about what it
means to be human today.
And yet, beside this problematic issue of myths in crisis arises another
concern: the crisis “of” myth. This is particularly noticeable in the 20th
and
21st
centuries, when myths often function as dispensable complements of
discourses, rather than as their core constituents. Aesthetic movements such
12	Preface
as the Nouveau Roman, in their effort to undermine the foundations of the
traditional novel, reject all possibilities of a mythical dimension. The chal-
lenge of myth is thus to survive in an evidently immanent world, which
partly explains the emergence of new myths that bear no resemblance to tra-
ditional (sacred) mythology. Both kinds of myths are explored in this volume.
This book is not merely a compilation of the proceedings of the confer-
ence held at Complutense University of Madrid in October of 2014. A nu-
merous group of expert reviewers have assessed the more than two hundred
papers submitted for our consideration, among which a rigorous selection
has been made by the editors (only 1 of each 7 proposals has been accepted).
The selected articles advance methodological principles and practical
contributions on the topic of the crisis of ancient, medieval and modern
myths in contemporary art and literature (20th
and 21st
centuries). In this in-
troduction I will briefly explain the distribution of contents since the volume
includes an abstract of each article, along with a composite index to guide
the reader.
i. Theory of Myth
The first two articles explore the types of crisis that may affect myths
regarding their mythemes and the connections of these with religion (José
Manuel Losada, Robert Segal). The third and fourth articles are focused
on attempting to clarify the terminology that is applied to the concepts of
“myth”, “archetype” and “prototype”, specifically concerning literary myth
(Javier del Prado, Marcin Klik).
ii. Ancient, Medieval and Modern Myths
The largest part of the volume examines ancient, medieval and mod-
ern myths, in line with their literary and artistic manifestations. In order to
give shape to a coherent study, these articles have been classified accord-
ing to the dominant traits that characterize the individual and their culture:
psychophysical singularity, moral conscience, sociopolitical extension and
meta-literary dimension.
a) Myth and Anthropology
The crisis of myth is the crisis of contemporary men and women.
Due to their narrative structure and to their proverbial tendency to-
ward extreme situations, myths expose the anxiety and distress ex-
perienced in the face of disorientation or heartbreak; the incapacity
of feeling love for a machine, or the rejection of our own physical
appearance in a time that relentlessly challenges the core meaning
of human identity (Leon Burnett, Marta Miquel-Baldellou, Adrián
García Vidal, Javier Mañero Rodicio).
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 13
Simultaneously, each person’s crisis results in a crisis of myth ex-
pressed through a process of demystification. This happens when, for
example, the ideal of infinite ascent is left aside in favor of everyday
concerns (Linda Maria Baros), or when heroes, divested of their age-
old paraphernalia, are located in a familiar time and space, losing
their traditional invulnerability (Sophie Coudray, Pierre Cuvelier).
However, after every crisis comes an anti-crisis. The immedi-
ate reaction is re-mythologization in the form of a heroic quest for
freedom, in which contemporary men embark on an escape from
domestic dissatisfaction (Helena González-Vaquerizo).
b) Myth, Morality and Religion
The crisis of transcendence in today’s society entails the crisis
of myth, which traditionally has established a connection between
two worlds. With no faith in the Great Beyond, man is bound to a
hopeless apocalypse where he struggles to redeem himself (Rebeca
Gualberto). With no devil with whom to make a pact, mankind is less
obsessed with knowledge or power than they are with their own tem-
porary decay (Mariano García). Facing an ecological disaster and
the contractions of atheist rationalism and theist fundamentalism, the
poet wonders whether it is possible or even desirable to experience
a new enchantment.
c) Myth, Politics and Society
A considerable amount of myths have been interpreted as meta-
phors for the conflicts that articulate the relationship between the
individual and the state, between patriarchy and matriarchy, or even
between the members of a family. In these interpretations a woman
may choose to detach herself from a world made by men and for men
(José Luis Arcaz Pozo), where widows become second-class citizens
by virtue of divine sanction (Sanghita Sen & Indrani Mukherjee).
A change of paradigm may also be observed in contemporary dis-
courses which, as in the case of queer theory, dismantle traditional
dichotomies (Giuliano Lozzi).
d) Myth and Meta-Literature
The crisis of myth does not affect its meta-literary function.
The appearance of a mythical name may reveal the satirical use of
a hypo-text (Ian de Toffoli). The poet exterminates the monsters of
his labyrinth with a thread of words (Adriana Martins-Frias). Or,
perhaps, performance updates an old myth in an attempt to verbally
conquer reality (Manel Feijoó).
14	Preface
iii. Myths of Immanence
An issue which cannot be ignored by current criticism is the emer-
gence of new myths, easily differentiated from the traditional mythologies
of Antiquity, the Middle Ages or the Modern Era. These were defined by
transcendence—whether accepted or rejected. The new myths are pseudo-
myths, so to speak. Myths of immanence, deformations of contemporary
mass society… these may be the only myths possible today. Their inter-
pretations are infinite (I have attempted my own reading in the article
“Tipología de los mitos modernos” (“Typology of Modern Myths”) as a
way of epilogue to the book Nuevas Formas del Mito, Berlin, Logos, 2015),
but in their most basic terms these new myths result from a process of my-
thologization of real or fictive persons, peoples and nations.
a) Mythologizing People
This encompasses the ubiquitous “myth of the artist”, typical of
the romantic writer (Ana González-Rivas), and the myths of great
magicians of the Nouvelle Critique (Metka Zupančič).
b) Mythologizing Characters
In contemporary fiction, characters may acquire traits of saint-
hood, devilishness or ancient kingship (Alejandra Spagnuolo). They
may not only substantiate the pre-eminence of fiction over a lacklus-
ter reality (Patricia Martínez), but also become hostage to a partisan
political interpretation (Mª Ángeles Varela Olea).
c) Mythologizing Nations, Places and Languages
Communitarian myths may be subjected to endless reinter-
pretations, so, in consequence, politicians have often fabricated a
fraudulent use of mythology, transforming myth into a literary cour-
tesan that has allowed them to stoke the complacent dreams of a
whole nation (Juan González Etxeberria). Poets have elevated their
childhood, their name or their family on a mythical pedestal (Anja
Schwennsen). Theatre directors have returned to the representation
of a city’s resistance against an empire to depict their dramatic par-
oxysm (Emmanuel Marigno Vázquez).And, in spite of historical cri-
sis, peoples have strived to preserve the national awareness of their
language (Naoko Hosokawa).
The result of all these reflections is a solid, compact and uniformed vol-
ume. It is not faultless, but it is, in any case, a modest yet comprehensive
reflection of the contemporary paradigm in the discipline of myth-criticism.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 15
Reading will endorse or recuse the work hereby presented: an attempt to
understand through myth the literary and artistic manifestations of our time
and, above all, the expression of an honest desire to understand our world
and how we live it.
José Manuel Losada
Madrid, April 16, 2015
jlosada@ucm.es
www.josemanuellosada.es
Translated by Rebeca Gualberto Valverde
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 17
Prefacio
¿Es cierto que, producto del ser humano, el mito nace, crece, se repro-
duce y muere? Cada una de estas etapas requeriría una investigación. Aquí
analizamos cómo se adaptan a las turbulencias de nuestra época—ss. xx y
xxi—, queremos trazar su evolución y discernir si sus crisis acarrean resur-
gimiento o muerte.
Varias circunstancias explican que los mitos entren en crisis.
En ocasiones el entorno sociocultural originario se transforma de tal
manera que exige una modificación en el contexto general del mito. Así, el
ángel tradicional de la cultura occidental conserva sus funciones (mensajero
y colaborador), pero adquiere características propias de nuestra época: en
sintonía con el fenómeno de la Nueva Era (New Age), presenta una dimen-
sión estética, sentimental e incluso sexual. De igual modo, Pigmalión pierde
el mitema de la animación de la materia inerte para quedar reducido a una
aventura amorosa abocada al fracaso. En una línea de mayor calado, el mito
del Grial, cáliz eucarístico de la vida eterna, se convierte, ante la crisis de la
trascendencia, en el vaso sagrado que solo sana las heridas físicas o garan-
tiza una inmortalidad exclusivamente terrenal.
En otras ocasiones, los mitos también pueden entrar en crisis debido a
un cambio sustancial en su entorno histórico. Baste tomar el ejemplo del
Comendador en el mito de Don Juan: hoy ya no hay comendadores. A este
problema se añade la pérdida de verosimilitud de una estatua móvil, trans-
formada en pura fantasía por una maquinaria sin tapujos. Además, un mito
tan soberanamente dramatúrgico, no puede dejar de acusar el golpe de la
crisis del teatro frente al empuje arrollador del cine: la crisis de un género
puede acarrear la de las manifestaciones tradicionales de un mito.
Otras razones―religiosas, antropológicas―explican la crisis que afecta
al mito de la creación humana (Prometeo, Frankenstein), cuyas cristaliza-
ciones contemporáneas (el cíborg, el androide, el universo Mátrix) provo-
can no pocos interrogantes sobre la identidad del mismo ser humano.
Al margen de la problemática de los mitos en crisis, se encuentra otra: la
crisis del mito. Esta es particularmente notoria en los siglos xx y xxi, donde
los mitos no son tanto los ejes estructurales de los textos como accesorios
prescindibles del discurso. Con el objetivo de socavar las bases de la nove-
la tradicional, movimientos como el Nouveau Roman rechazan cualquier
dimensión mítica. El gran reto del mito es sobrevivir en un mundo decidi-
damente inmanente. Es una de las razones que explican el surgimiento de
otros “mitos”, sin aparente parentesco con los mitos tradicionales, sagrados.
Ambos tipos de mitos tienen cabida en este volumen.
Este libro no resulta propiamente de las “actas” del congreso que tuvo
lugar en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid en octubre de 2014. A las
18	Prefacio
doscientas comunicaciones presentadas ha seguido una profunda evalua-
ción efectuada por un nutrido grupo de revisores y una rigurosa selección
final por los editores (1 de cada 7 propuestas ha sido escogida).
Los artículos seleccionados aportan principios metodológicos y contri-
buciones prácticas sobre la problemática de la crisis en los mitos antiguos,
medievales y modernos en la literatura y las artes contemporáneas (ss. xx
y xxi). Dado que el volumen comprende un resumen de cada artículo y un
índice compuesto, que ayudará a orientar la lectura, aquí solo explicaré so-
meramente su distribución.
i. Teoría del mito
La primera pareja de artículos aborda los tipos de crisis que pueden
afectar a los mitos en función de sus mitemas y de su relación con la reli-
gión (José Manuel Losada, Robert Segal); la segunda se centra en sendos
intentos de clarificación terminológica sobre los conceptos de “mito”, “ar-
quetipo” o “prototipo” y sobre la especificidad del mito literario (Javier del
Prado, Marcin Klik).
ii. Mitos antiguos, medievales y modernos
De modo congruente con las manifestaciones literarias y artísticas, los
mitos antiguos, medievales y modernos acaparan la parte más voluminosa.
Con objeto de adoptar un estudio de conjunto coherente, los hemos dispues-
to según los aspectos dominantes del individuo y su cultura: su singularidad
físico-psicológica, su conciencia moral, su extensión sociopolítica y su ver-
tiente metaliteraria.
a) El mito y la antropología
Las crisis de los mitos son las crisis de la mujer y el hombre
actuales. Debido a su componente narrativo y a su proverbial incli-
nación por las situaciones extremas, los mitos ponen de relieve la
ansiedad o el sobrecogimiento ante la desorientación, el trance del
desamor, la imposibilidad de amar a una máquina y el rechazo de la
propia apariencia física en una época que cuestiona la identidad de
la persona humana (Leon Burnett, Marta Miquel-Baldellou, Adrián
García Vidal, Javier Mañero Rodicio).
Paralelamente, las crisis de cada mujer y cada hombre ocasio-
nan crisis en los mitos―procesos de desmitificación―, por ejemplo,
cuando el ideal de ascenso infinito es marginado en favor de la coti-
dianeidad (Linda Maria Baros), o cuando los héroes, despojados de
la parafernalia multisecular, se sitúan en unas coordenadas espacio-
temporales reconocibles y quedan despojados de la invulnerabilidad
(Sophie Coudray, Pierre Cuvelier).
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 19
Toda crisis implica una anticrisis, la reacción surge inmediata―
la remitificación―a través de la búsqueda heroica de la libertad por
los hombres que se consideran presa del hastío doméstico (Helena
González-Vaquerizo).
b) El mito, la moral y la religión
La crisis de la trascendencia en la sociedad contemporánea con-
lleva la crisis del mito, tradicionalmente basado en la combinación
de dos mundos. Sin creencia en un más allá, el hombre se encamina a
un apocalipsis sin Dios donde pueda “redimirse” a sí mismo (Rebeca
Gualberto); sin diablo con quien pactar, el hombre se obsesiona me-
nos por el saber y el poder que por su propia decrepitud temporal
(Mariano García); frente a la catástrofe ecológica y las contradiccio-
nes del racionalismo ateo o del fundamentalismo teísta, el poeta se
pregunta si es posible y merece la pena vivir un nuevo encantamien-
to (Ben Pestell).
c) El mito, la política y la sociedad
Un número considerable de mitos ha sido interpretado como me-
táfora de conflictos entre el Estado y el individuo, entre la sociedad
patriarcal y la sociedad matriarcal, entre relaciones de parentesco;
así, la mujer opta por desligarse de un mundo hecho por los hom-
bres y para los hombres (José Luis Arcaz Pozo), donde las viudas
son relegadas a seres de segunda categoría por designación divina
(Sanghita Sen & Indrani Mukherjee). El cambio del paradigma tam-
bién se puede constatar en algunas tendencias de la sociedad con-
temporánea―por ejemplo, la teoría queer― que dan al traste con las
dicotomías habituales (Giuliano Lozzi).
d) El mito y la metaliteratura
La crisis de los mitos no afecta a sus funciones metaliterarias: la
emergencia de un nombre mítico puede revelar la utilización paró-
dica de un hipotexto (Ian de Toffoli), el poeta aniquila a los mons-
truos de su laberinto mediante el hilo de la palabra (Adriana Martins-
Frias), o la performance actualiza el mito antiguo en una empresa de
conquista verbal de la realidad (Manel Feijoó).
20	Prefacio
iii. Mitos de la inmanencia
Un problema que la crítica no puede obviar es la aparición de mitos
diversos de los antiguos, medievales y modernos, de los mitos tradicionales
marcados por una trascendencia aceptada o rechazada. Pseudomitos, mitos
de la inmanencia, deformaciones de la sociedad de masas, únicos mitos hoy
posibles… hay infinitas maneras de interpretarlos (yo he procurado hacerlo
en el artículo “Tipología de los mitos modernos”, a modo de epílogo del li-
bro Nuevas formas del mito, Berlín, Logos, 2015). Básicamente resultan de
procesos de mitificación de personajes reales, ficticios y pueblos o naciones.
a) Personaje real mitificado
Comprende el omnipresente “mito de artista”, tipo de emanación
romántica del escritor (Ana González-Rivas), o el mito de los gran-
des magos de la Nouvelle Critique (Metka Zupančič).
b) Personaje ficticio mitificado
Los personajes de la ficción contemporánea pueden adquirir los
poderes de los santos, los diablos y los reyes de antaño (Alejandra
Spagnuolo), o afirmar la preeminencia de la ficción artística sobre
las insuficiencias de lo real (Patricia Martínez). También pueden ser
rehenes de la reinterpretación política partidista (Mª Ángeles Varela
Olea).
c) Nación, espacio y lenguaje mitificados
Los mitos comunitarios son susceptibles de innumerables rein-
terpretaciones. Así, no faltan políticos que pergeñan una utilización
fraudulenta y prostituida del mito, convirtiéndolo en cortesana lite-
raria que les permita mantener vivos los sueños complacidos de un
pueblo (Juan González Etxeberria). O escritores que elevan su in-
fancia, un nombre o una familia sobre una peana mistificadora (Anja
Schwennsen). O directores de teatro que recurren a la heroicidad de
una ciudad contra un imperio para alcanzar el paroxismo escénico
(Emmanuel Marigno Vázquez). O los recursos de un pueblo para
preservar, a pesar de las crisis históricas, la conciencia nacional de
su lengua (Naoko Hosokawa).
El resultado de estas reflexiones es un volumen sólido, compacto, uni-
forme, no sin fallas, pero en cualquier caso un reflejo modesto y cabal del
panorama “crítico” del mito en nuestro tiempo.
La lectura será un refrendo o una recusación del trabajo efectuado: un
intento de comprender, a través del mito, las manifestaciones literarias y ar
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 21
La lectura será un refrendo o una recusación del trabajo efectuado: un
intento de comprender, a través del mito, las manifestaciones literarias y ar-
tísticas del tiempo presente, y, sobre todo, un anhelo de comprender nuestro
mundo y nuestra manera de vivirlo.
José Manuel Losada
Madrid, 16 de abril de 2015
jlosada@ucm.es
www.josemanuellosada.es
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 23
Préface
Est-il vrai que, à l’image de l’être humain, le mythe naît, grandit, se
reproduit et meurt? Chacune de ces étapes nécessiterait une enquête. Nous
analyserons ici comment les mythes s’adaptent aux épreuves de notre temps
―xxe
et xxie
siècles―, et retracerons leur évolution afin de discerner si les
crises qu’ils ont traversées ont entraîné avec elles la résurgence ou la mort.
Plusieurs facteurs expliquent que les mythes sont en crise.
Parfois l’environnement socioculturel originel se modifie de telle sorte
qu’il exige un changement du contexte général du mythe. Ainsi, l’ange tra-
ditionnel de la culture occidentale conserve ses fonctions (de messager et
de collaborateur), mais acquiert des traits caractéristiques propres à notre
époque: en phase avec le phénomène de la Nouvelle Ère (New Age), l’ange
présente une dimension esthétique, sentimentale, y compris sexuelle. De
même, le mythe de Pygmalion perd le mythème de l’animation de la matière
inerte pour être réduit à une histoire amoureuse vouée à l’échec. Dans un
registre de plus grande envergure, le mythe du Graal, le calice eucharistique
de la vie éternelle, devient, face à la crise de la transcendance, la coupe
qui soigne uniquement les blessures physiques ou garantit une immortalité
exclusivement terrestre.
En d’autres occasions, les mythes peuvent aussi entrer en crise à cause
d’un changement important du contexte historique. Il suffit de prendre
l’exemple du Commandeur dans le mythe de Don Juan: aujourd’hui, il n’y
a plus de commandeurs. Ce problème s’ajoute à la perte de crédibilité d’une
statue en mouvement, transformée ouvertement en pur fantasme par une
machinerie sans dissimulation. En outre, le déclin d’un mythe si souverai-
nement dramaturgique ne peut s’expliquer seulement par la crise du théâtre
face à l’essor retentissant du cinéma: la crise d’un genre peut apporter avec
elle celle des manifestations traditionnelles d’un mythe.
D’autres raisons―religieuses, anthropologiques―expliquent par
ailleurs la crise qui affecte le mythe de la création humaine (Prométhée,
Frankenstein), dont les manifestations contemporaines (le cyborg, l’an-
droïde, l’univers Matrix) amènent un certain nombre de questions sur
l’identité même de l’être humain.
Outre la problématique des mythes en crise, il en existe une autre: la
crise du mythe. Celle-ci est particulièrement observable lors des xxe
et xxie
siècles, quand les mythes ne sont pas tant les axes structuraux des textes que
les outils accessoires du discours. Dans le but de renverser les bases litté-
raires du roman traditionnel, des mouvements comme le Nouveau Roman
rejettent toute dimension “mythique”. Le grand défi du mythe est de sur-
vivre dans un monde décidément immanent. C’est l’une des raisons qui
expliquent l’émergence d’autres “mythes”, sans relation apparente avec les
24	Préface
mythes sacrés traditionnels. Les deux types de mythes ont leur place dans
ce volume.
Ce livre n’est pas issu à proprement parler des actes du congrès qui s’est
tenu à l’Université Complutense de Madrid au mois d’octobre 2014. Deux
cents communications furent présentées lors de cet événement. À la suite
d’une évaluation approfondie effectuée par des examinateurs externes, les
éditeurs ont parachevé une sélection finale rigoureuse (une proposition sur
sept a été retenue).
Les articles sélectionnés fournissent des principes méthodologiques et
des contributions pratiques sur la problématique de la crise des mythes an-
tiques, médiévaux et modernes dans la littérature et les arts contemporains
(xxe
et xxie
siècles). Étant donné que le volume comprend un résumé de
chaque article et un indice composite associé qui aidera à guider la lecture,
je me limite à expliquer ici brièvement sa répartition.
i. Théorie du mythe
Les deux premiers articles abordent les types de crises qui peuvent af-
fecter les mythes sur la base de leurs mythèmes et leur relation à la religion
(José Manuel Losada, Robert Segal); les deux suivants se focalisent sur
deux tentatives distinctes de clarification terminologique sur les concepts de
mythe, d’archétype ou de prototype, et sur la spécificité du mythe littéraire
(Javier del Prado, Marcin Klik).
ii. Les mythes antiques, médiévaux et modernes
De manière conséquente avec les événements littéraires et artistiques,
les mythes anciens, médiévaux et modernes monopolisent la partie la plus
volumineuse. Afin d’adopter une étude d’ensemble cohérente, ils ont été
organisés selon les aspects dominants de l’individu dans sa culture: sa sin-
gularité physique et psychologique, sa conscience morale, son étendue so-
ciopolitique et sa dimension métalittéraire.
a) Le mythe et l’anthropologie
Les crises des mythes sont les crises des femmes et des hommes
d’aujourd’hui. En raison de leur composante narrative et de leur pen-
chant proverbial pour les situations extrêmes, les mythes soulignent
l’anxiété ou la crainte d’être désorienté, la peur du désamour, l’inca-
pacité à aimer une machine et le rejet de sa propre apparence phy-
sique dans une époque qui remet en question l’identité de l’individu
(Leon Burnett, Marta Miquel-Baldellou, Adrián García Vidal, Javier
Mañero Rodicio).
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 25
Parallèlement, les crises de chaque femme et de chaque homme
engendrent des crises de mythes―processus de démythification―
par exemple, lorsque l’idéal de l’ascension infinie est repoussé en
faveur de celui de la vie quotidienne (Linda Maria Baros), ou lorsque
les héros, dépouillés de l’attirail des siècles passés, se retrouvent dans
des coordonnées spatio-temporelles reconnaissables et s’avèrent pri-
vés d’invulnérabilité (Sophie Coudray, Pierre Cuvelier).
Chaque crise entraînant une anti-crise, la réaction est immé-
diate―la remythification―à travers la quête héroïque de la liberté
par des hommes qui se considèrent prisonniers de l’ennui domes-
tique (Helena González-Vaquerizo).
b) Le mythe, la morale et la religion
La crise de la transcendance dans la société contemporaine
entraîne la crise du mythe, celui-ci traditionnellement fondé sur la
combinaison de deux mondes. Sans croyance dans une vie après la
mort, l’homme chemine vers une apocalypse dans un monde sans
Dieu où il cherche à se racheter par lui-même (Rebeca Gualberto);
sans diable avec qui faire un pacte, l’homme s’obsède moins pour
la connaissance et le pouvoir que pour sa propre décrépitude tem-
porelle (Mariano García); face à la catastrophe écologique et aux
contradictions du rationalisme athée ou du fondamentalisme théiste,
le poète se demande s’il vaut la peine de vivre un nouveau sortilège
(Ben Pestell).
c) Le mythe, la politique et la société
Un certain nombre de mythes ont été interprétés comme une mé-
taphore du conflit entre l’État et l’individu, entre la société patriar-
cale et matriarcale, entre les relations de parenté; ainsi, la femme
choisit de rompre avec un monde fait par les hommes et pour les
hommes (José Luis Arcaz Pozo), où les veuves sont reléguées à
des êtres de seconde classe par désignation divine (Sanghita Sen &
Indrani Mukherjee). Le changement de paradigme peut également se
refléter dans certaines tendances de la société contemporaine―par
exemple, la théorie queer―qui bouleversent les dichotomies habi-
tuelles (Giuliano Lozzi).
d) Le mythe et la métalittérature
La crise des mythes n’affecte pas leurs fonctions métalittéraires:
l’émergence d’un nom mythique peut révéler l’utilisation parodique
d’un hypotexte (Ian de Toffoli), le poète détruit les monstres du laby-
rinthe par le fil de la parole poétique (Adriana Martins-Frias), ou la
26	Préface
performance met à jour le mythe antique grâce à une entreprise de
conquête verbale de la réalité (Manel Feijoó).
iii. Mythes de l’immanence
Un problème crucial qui ne peut être ignoré est l’émergence de mythes
autres que les mythes antiques, médiévaux et modernes, c’est-à-dire, les
mythes traditionnels marqués par une transcendance, fût-elle acceptée ou
rejetée. Pseudo-mythes, mythes de l’immanence, perceptions déformées de
la société de masse, aujourd’hui seuls mythes possibles… il y a une infi-
nité de manières de les interpréter (j’ai traité cette problématique du mythe
dans l’article “Typologie des mythes modernes”, sous forme d’épilogue de
l’ouvrage Nuevas formas del mito, Berlin, Logos, 2015). Elles résultent fon-
damentalement de divers processus de mythification de personnages réels,
fictifs, et de peuples ou de nations.
a) Personnage réel mythifié
On trouve ici l’omniprésent “mythe de l’artiste”, un type d’éma-
nation romantique de l’écrivain (Ana González-Rivas), ou le mythe
des grands magiciens de la Nouvelle Critique (Metka Zupančič).
b) Personnage de fiction mythifié
Les personnages de fiction peuvent acquérir les pouvoirs de
saints, de diables et d’anciens rois (Alejandra Spagnuolo), ou affir-
mer la primauté de la fiction artistique sur les insuffisances du réel
(Patricia Martínez). Ils peuvent également résulter de la réinterpréta-
tion politique partisane (Mª Ángeles Varela Olea).
c) Nation, espace et langue mythifiés
Les mythes communautaires sont sujets à de nombreuses réin-
terprétations. Ainsi, les politiciens ne manquent pas d’exercer une
utilisation frauduleuse et travestie du mythe, afin d’entretenir les
rêves heureux d’un peuple (Juan González Etxeberria). Parfois les
écrivains placent leur enfance, un nom ou une famille dans une
dimension mystificatrice (Anja Schwennsen). Ailleurs, des met-
teurs en scène ont recours au passé héroïque d’une ville contre un
empire pour atteindre le paroxysme scénique (Emmanuel Marigno
Vázquez). Enfin, tout un peuple cherche à préserver, en dépit des
crises de l’histoire, la conscience nationale de sa langue (Naoko
Hosokawa).
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth	 27
Le résultat de ces réflexions est rassemblé dans un volume solide, com-
pact, uniforme, non sans failles, dont la réflexion modeste et juste se veut
un panorama “critique” du mythe dans notre temps. La lecture sera une
approbation ou une disqualification du travail effectué, qui se résume en
une tentative de compréhension, par le prisme du mythe, des manifestations
littéraires et artistiques du temps présent, et s’attache en définitive à com-
prendre notre monde et notre façon d’y vivre.
José Manuel Losada
Madrid, le 16 avril 2015
jlosada@ucm.es
www.josemanuellosada.es
Chapter One
The Structure of Myth and
Typology of its Crisis
José Manuel Losada1
Saussure affirmed that language is not substance, but form, a principle
of classification and a system of signs wherein only the union of sense and
acoustic image is essential, to the point that some languages differ from oth-
ers on the principle of difference between their respective signs.
Hjelmslev agreed with the general premises of Saussure’s theory, but
he maintained that linguistic units cannot be reduced to the aspect of dif-
ferentiation, the phonic and semantic context that they involve. For them
to be projected into reality, they need to exist independently of that reality.
Consequently, he stated that linguistic units are defined by the connections
that bind them to other units of language. For Hjelmslev, the sign must
give precedence to the phoneme and the seme, and definition to connec-
tion; likewise, it is necessary to define linguistic elements according to their
combinatorial relations.
I do not intend to enter into semiology or glossematics. I am taking these
analyses of the Swiss and Danish linguists to demonstrate the fundamen-
tal units that structure myth. Hjelmslev sought to determine the specificity
of languages from the commutative study of units smaller than the sign.
Similarly, I posit that it is possible to identify the structural specificity of
myths from the combinatorial relations that their fundamental elements es-
tablish among themselves. What interests me is accentuating the elements
that allow us to detect a myth and distinguish it from others.
These constant elements, which criticism calls invariants or “large consti-
tutive units or mythemes” (“grosses unités constitutives ou mythèmes”, Lévi-
Strauss, 241), can appear in one or various myths, but—just as in linguis-
tics—must maintain among themselves certain connections or laws of func-
tioning, i.e., they must establish a set of combinatorial relations. This explains
the plurality of manifestations of a single myth, which remains identifiable as
such as long as the combinations that shape it are not substantially modified.
If these are essentially altered, the myth is noticeably disturbed: sometimes
distorted, and sometimes irreconcilable; in all cases, suffers a crisis.
1 This article has been translated by Veronica Mayer, Ph.D. candidate in Spanish at
Yale University, New Haven, CT.
30	 Chapter One
1. The Structure of Myth
1.1. Theme and Mytheme
One of the common mistakes among young (and not-so-young) scholars
of myth-criticism is to confuse theme and mytheme. It is not enough that
a theme occurs frequently in a myth for it to be identified as a mytheme. A
mytheme is a theme whose transcendent or supernatural dimension allows
it to interact with other mythemes to form a myth.
Another important aside: we must distinguish between storyline and
mytheme. I do not mean to claim that the narrative occurrences of a text
do not constitute a myth, but it is useful to distinguish between the events
of a myth’s story and its mythic structure. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (c. 430
bc) contains narrative episodes that are nonessential to the plotline: the
plague that strikes the city, the city of Thebes itself, Tiresias’s revelation
to Oedipus, the confrontation between Creon and the king, or Jocasta’s ob-
structing the investigation of Laius’ death. By contrast, there are the “fun-
damental episodes”: the abandonment of the baby on Mount Cithaeron, the
circumstances of the patricide, the victory over the Sphinx, the incest, and
the punishment (Astier, 20). These episodes could be summarized in the
following themes: orphanhood, patricide, riddle, incest, and punishment.
When removed from their accidental connections, these themes expose the
authentic skeleton of the myth. We must not forget, though, that themes
are merely unvarying elements when they possess a mythic, transcendent
dimension. In the myth of Oedipus, for instance, patricide and incest are
inevitable because they determine the hero’s fate.
Of course, these unvarying elements are adapted in every era. Thus, for
instance, orphanhood is privileged in Gide’s Œdipe (1931), as the author is
particularly inclined to understand freedom as undoing the obligations of
the past (Morales Peco, 296-98). From his first speech, the protagonist is
shown to be proud of his uprooting:
Je suis Œdipe. Quarante ans d’âge, vingt ans de règne. Par la force de mes
poignets, j’atteins au sommet du bonheur. Enfant perdu, trouvé, sans état
civil, sans papiers, je suis surtout heureux de ne devoir rien qu’à moi-même
(i; t. ii, 683).
I am Oedipus. Fourty years old, twenty years reigning. By the force of my
hands, I have reached the height of happiness. Child lost, found, without
official status, without papers, I am above all happy not to owe anything to
anyone but myself.
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	31
The most clearly observable proof of the claim that myth is made up of
specific elements is the presence of these in texts that intentionally remove
traces of the original storyline; only the reader’s expertise can dust them
off and identify them. Les Gommes, by Robbe-Grillet (1953), is a detec-
tive novel in which a terrorist group’s attempt to assassinate Daniel Dupont
has failed. Wallas, a recently promoted agent, is determined to uncover the
culprits. This plot seems to have nothing to do with the myth of Oedipus.
Along the lines of the Nouveau Roman, the text questions the existence
of any psychological substance. All that remains is a descriptive record of
material atomized into a multiplicity of variants that neutralize any attempt
at finding meaning. Yet all the unvarying elements of the myth are pres-
ent in Les Gommes, even if they are hidden: 1. the uncertain origin of the
protagonist (motifs drawn on a curtain show an abandoned child raised by
shepherds, and Wallas is called a “found child”); 2. the identification of
the protagonist with the killer (the detective unintentionally kills Daniel
Dupont, his father); 3. the riddle posed by the Sphinx (recurrent appearance
of the drunkard who ceaselessly poses the question, “What animal, in the
morning…?”); 4. the relationship between the protagonist and his mother
(Wallas remembers that, as a boy, he had come to the city with his mother);
5. the exile from the city (the detective must resign from his position in
the Investigation Department). Other indications (Corinth Street, the half-
erased name “…di…”, the feet swollen from too much walking) also point
inexorably toward Sophocles’ tragedy; these, however, are less important
for our purpose. Only the five indicators listed comprise the skeleton of the
myth of Oedipus. This is ever more relevant insofar as the aesthetic move-
ment that frames Les Gommes proposes the dissolution of the concepts of
character and meaning. And yet, just as in Gide, both the structure and the
meaning of the text would be considerably diminished if bereft of these
unvarying elements.
1.2. The Articulation of the Mythemes
For there to be myth, there must be at least two mythemes laid out in a
specific combination. This is similar to linguistics, where phemes (distinc-
tive phonic traits) and semes (distinctive semantic traits) are articulated to
configure a phoneme and a sememe. Myths are also constituted by relevant
themes in an equally relevant distribution. When a relevant theme becomes
part of the basic configuration of a singular myth, it then becomes a my-
theme.
The connection of mythemes occurs in two main planes, similar to those
in which signs are associated in language: in praesentia, or syntagmatic,
and in absentia, or paradigmatic. This requires us to explain the degree of
32	 Chapter One
abstraction of the invariants (unvarying elements). Components of myth
become related to each other on paradigmatic level, and they substitute each
other in a context, that is, in the syntagmatic level. But in the paradigmatic
level they appear in an abstract or thematic way, just as in the syntagmatic
level they appear in a concrete, phraseological way. It is of particular inter-
est to study the characteristics and consequences of the relationships that the
elements of a given mythic paradigmatic axis establish with the elements of
a given mythic syntagmatic axis. The result will help us clarify which are
the relevant elements of a particular version of a myth, and which are the
unvarying elements of a singular myth.
Now we shall focus on the myth of the vampire. One of its themes is
hematophagy, or feeding on blood. But hematophagy, on its own, is merely
a theme: mosquitoes, too, drink blood, as do ticks, fleas, lice, leeches, lam-
preys, vampire finches, and even some mammals such as the phyllostomi-
dae, called “vampire bats”, of the Desmodontinae subfamily. Feeding on
human blood (human hematophagy) is also (just) a theme, as many mosqui-
toes are nourished on human blood, and so is the resulting parasitism. Even
the transition from a simple to a complex theme (predation > hematophagy
> human hematophagy) does not make the theme inherently mythic. Rather,
when human hematophagy is the sole source of sustenance is when we begin
to see the myth shine through. Indeed, it does not seem natural, nor is there
any scientific basis that sustains the possibility of an organism subsisting
solely on human blood. Furthermore, in the figure of the vampire this type
of predation coincides with other themes: evilness, aversion, and seduction.
These themes, in turn, would be no more than mere thematic compo-
nents if it were not for their intimate relationship with a supernatural dimen-
sion (the diabolical in the case of the vampire). For instance, if we think
about seduction, the peacock spreads its fan of tail feathers to seduce the
female, but this seductive metamorphosis is natural. By contrast, the vam-
pire’s metamorphosis into a cloud of smoke to gain access to the victim, in
addition to the inevitable fascination that entails, demonstrates an incon-
trovertible transcendent dimension that determines that the theme becomes
authentically mythic. Moreover, there can be no predator without a prey,
without another life, without the blood of a living organism: hence the vic-
tim is a theme as well. But, again, this remains a mere theme, even when
the victim is human. The natural victim of a mosquito bite is also human.
We see, then, that it is the diabolical anthropohematophagy that closes the
circle: this is almost the complete shape of myth.
Finally, the transformation that a victim of hematophagy undergoes is
not in itself a mythic theme, either: the infection caused by the parasite
introduced by the predator affects the victim considerably, even bringing
death in its wake in some cases (for instance, with malaria transmitted by
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	33
the Anopheles mosquito), but again, the result is natural. Instead, the meta-
morphosis experienced by the victim of a vampire bite is supernatural, since
it causes a substantial change: the victim transforms from human being to
vampiric being. To conclude, the conjunction of all these themes—on the
one hand, the predator’s human hematophagy and seductive metamorpho-
sis, and, on the other, the victim’s metamorphosis into the predator’s dou-
ble—is what makes them mythic, and thus constituents of the myth of the
vampire. The union and combination of mythic themes can only produce
one myth, the definition of which must contain them all in a unified way.
This series of abstractions is exemplified in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
(1897). Count Dracula is the predator par excellence, who, along with his
vampiresses, drinks the blood of his victims to survive and rejuvenate. He is
a murderer (of the zoophagous maniac Renfield), and personifies diabolical
evil (is rendered powerless when facing a consecrated host) and seduction
(of the vampiresses in the castle in Transylvania and of the young Londoners
Lucy and Mina). Among his victims are also the lawyer Jonathan Harker,
Lucy, and Mina, who represent goodness and love.
F. W. Murnau’s film adaptation Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens
(1922), presents clear differences, such as the names of the characters
(Dracula/Orlok, Harker/Hutter, Mina/Ellen) and the location (London,
Viborg—Bremen in the French version). The reason for this is well-known:
Murnau, who had not obtained the rights for the story, decided to film his
own version of the novel (this did not, however, prevent him from being
sued for infraction of copyright). The plot changes are even more signifi-
cant: Hutter’s stay in the castle, the epidemic in the city on Orlok’s arrival,
the heroines’fates… From the point of view of myth-criticism, these chang-
es are irrelevant, since they do not affect the unvarying elements of the
myth, that is, the mythemes. The mytheme of the diabolical is exemplary in
the film. In the novel, the protagonists sterilize all the Count’s hideouts in
London by placing consecrated hosts in every casket containing earth from
Transylvania; in the film, while Hutter is having dinner, he cuts his finger,
and Orlok tries to suck his blood, but he holds himself back when he sees
the crucifix that his guest is wearing. While the means by which the Count’s
diabolical nature materializes vary, the mytheme remains the same. This is
what I mean when I say that a mytheme is the unvarying component of a
myth. In the case of the vampire, the diabolical predation is indispensable in
any of its versions; by contrast, the way in which the vampire is fought (with
the Host in the novel) or discovered (with the crucifix in the film) is not.
We have seen how the combination of mythemes, often in a specific
order, originates the myth. Thus, we could define myth as a combination of
mythemes. This means that a specific myth is a specific combination of a
specific set of mythemes. In mythemes and their combination we can find,
34	 Chapter One
metaphorically speaking, the genetic code of a myth. In fact, if we consider
mythemes as the genes in a myth’s dna, their combination becomes like a
sequence of dna in a chromosome. All the genetic information of the myth
can be summarized in a simple mythic conjunction: the rest are the varia-
tions of that myth.
It is not unusual for a myth to share mythemes (“genes”) with another,
but the difference between these two myths results from the different com-
position and distribution of their mythemes. When two mythic phenomena
share the same “genetic” composition and distribution, that is, when they
have exactly the same dna, they are the same myth with different variations.
One of the most exciting tasks of myth-criticism is the following process,
divided in phases: a) identifying the mythic tales from within the common
universe of themes, archetypes, images and symbols; b) isolate the myths
contained in those stories; c) group these myths according to their invariants
or mythemes; d) analyze the structure of these mythemes; e) understand the
only possible way in which these mythemes are distributed in order to con-
stitute one single myth, which can then be developed into an infinite number
of mythic variations.
I also like to compare themes and mythemes with the id cards used by
Europeans in their daily lives. Any European citizen can have various types
of cards: to accumulate points at a supermarket, to enter the parking lot at
the workplace, credit or debit cards…All of them are useful, but expendable.
There is only one necessary card for most European citizens: the “national
identity card” (or the passport in some countries, i.e., the United Kingdom
and United States), which includes a series of necessary facts: first and last
name, identification number, fingerprint, expiration date... Among the mass
of cards in a wallet, this is the only administratively valid one. Many citi-
zens also possess other comparable cards, such as a passport or driver’s
license. Only these types of cards are official, i.e., allow for the adminis-
trative identification of the citizen. The others are, administratively speak-
ing, nonfunctional. In a similar way, myths can inform of different realities:
community, space, time, socio-political or economic environments… But
the identity of a myth does not reside there. Its mythic uniqueness, which
defines it and distinguishes it from all other myths, resides in the combina-
tion of its mythemes, like a citizen’s administrative identity is confirmed in
the national identity card, passport, or driver’s license. The other themes,
like the other cards, are the paratexts of myth, an object of the study of its
variations. The configuration of mythemes is the ID of myth.
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	35
1.3. The Co-Possession of Mythemes
Just as a myth has various mythemes in a certain combination, various
myths can share one or various mythemes. Mythemes, which are infinite
in theory, are finite in practice. This is why it is possible to establish paral-
lelisms between different myths when they have similar mythemes. This
exercise allows for a better understanding of how mythemes are combined,
how myths can be differentiated, and how to distinguish between myths and
pseudo-myths. Two groups of myths will serve as an example:
1.3.1. Don Juan, Faust, the Vampire, the Fallen Angel
This first group includes two myths (Don Juan and Faust) that appeared
at the beginning of the modern era, and two ancient myths (the vampire and
the fallen angel) which crystallized into their current mythic structure to-
wards the middle of the modern era, specifically, at the end of the eighteenth
century and during Romanticism.
The Don Juan myth is intimately related to the vampire myth: like
Dracula, Don Juan is, depending on the version, a predator of women, dia-
bolical, and a seducer. The myth is also related to the Faust myth. In Goethe’s
Faust. Eine Tragedie (1808), the protagonist, thanks to Mephistopheles, se-
duces Margaret (Gretchen), who dies when she sees the devil again. Similar
analogies can be found amongst Don Juan, Faust, and an ancient myth
popular in Romanticism: the fallen angel. Two theatrical pieces are particu-
larly symptomatic for this purpose. 1. The tragedy Don Juan und Faust by
Grabbe (1829), where Faust makes a pact with the knight (Der Ritter), who
is the representative of the devil or “fallen angel”, and tries to seduce Donna
Anna before causing her death. 2. The fantasy play Don Juan de Maraña ou
la chute d’un ange, by Dumas senior (1836), where Don Josès, stripped of
his inheritance by his brother Don Juan, sells his soul to the devil to get re-
venge, and where a good angel—Le Bon Ange—obtains the Virgin Mary’s
permission to descend to earth, in the appearance of Sœur Marthe, to save
the seducer from Heaven’s wrath. An invisible line unites the unvarying
elements of the myths of Don Juan, Faust, the vampire and the fallen angel;
another runs parallel and does the same with the play’s victims. All of these
hold a notable place in the pantheon of Judaeo-Christian myths.
The relationships between two or more myths allow for very productive
readings. We observe, therefore, that a mytheme could be indispensable in
one myth and in its versions, but only optional in another, where hardly
any version uses it. In the first case, the mytheme belongs; in the second,
it is complementary. The devil (and the pact with him) is necessary in all
versions of Faust, but appears rarely in the different versions of Don Juan.
In the Faust stories the Devil is relevant, for there is no Faust without the
36	 Chapter One
Devil. In the Don Juan stories, however, the devil is complementary, such
as in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Don Juan (1812), where the hero’s physiogno-
my acquires traces of Mephistopheles (“etwas vom Mephistopheles in die
Physiognomie”, Fantasiestücke, 1993, 85), or in the aforementioned Don
Juan de Maraña by Dumas, where the Bad Angel disappears after propos-
ing the pact, “Call me, Don Juan, I will come to you” (“Appelle-moi, don
Juan, je monterai vers toi”, 1, 1er tableau, 7, Trois Don Juan, 1995, 55). The
Devil and/or the pact with the Devil emerge occasionally in the Don Juan
myth, proving that it is not an unvarying element of this myth. Lesson: a co-
possession of mythemes does not imply a confusion of myths.
1.3.2. “Der Muselmann”, the Hunchback, the Werewolf, and the
Vampire
We have just seen an example of a grouping of several myths by a co-
possession of mythemes. We should also group myths from the opposite
perspective, that is, not by the connection between the myths themselves
but by one mytheme only. The group that is subsequently brought up thus
contains four “myths” (the discrimination will come shortly) the origin
of which does not matter now as much as the mytheme that groups them:
mythic hybridization.
Hybridization has always been a breeding ground for myths. In Se
questo è un uomo (1947), Primo Levi describes interesting characters from
Auschwitz, a sort of zombies:
Lalorovitaèbreve,mailloronumeroèsterminato;sonoloro,iMuselmänner,
i sommersi, il nerbo del campo; loro, la massa anonima, continuamente rin-
novata e sempre identica, dei non-uomini che marciano e faticano in silen-
zio, spenta in loro la scintilla divina, già troppo vuoti per soffrire veramente.
Si esita a chiamarli vivi: si esita a chiamar morte la loro morte, davanti a cui
essi non temono perché sono troppo stanchi per comprenderla.
Their life is brief, but their number is limitless; they are the Muselmänner,
the sunken, the foundation of the camp; they, the anonymous mass, continu-
ally renewed and always identical, of un-men that march and toil in silence,
the divine flame in them gone out, already too empty to truly suffer. One
hesitates to call them alive: one hesitates to name their death ‘death’, in the
face of which they do not fear, for they are too tired to understand it (2005,
120-21).
Monsters according to Foucault’s definition, Muselmänner present char-
acteristics closely related to those of werewolves, not in the fusion of hu-
man and lupine nature, but in the social exclusion and, more concretely, in
their “relative” life according to the parameters of society. Peter Arnds has
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	37
observed this well: “The Muselmann between life and death is the twentieth
century’s version of the medieval wolfman between human and animal”
(361). Arnds also establishes a relationship between the werewolf and the
hunchback, the modern metaphor of the representation of the monstrous, as
various texts he has selected show: The Tin Drum (Günter Grass), Le Roi
des aulnes (Michel Tournier), and Se questo è un uomo (Primo Levi). Oskar
Matzerath, Abel Tiffauges or the dwarf Elias respectively, act as representa-
tions of mythic concepts (the sub-human, the superman, the monster hybrid
between animal and human).
Peter Arnds’ interpretation brings to the table the current remodeling of
ancient and medieval myths. Even by scratching the surface of the texts,
we can contrast these modulations throughout history. Take the case of the
hunchback. In Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), by Victor Hugo, the narrator
defines the famous Quasimodo as an instinctual and savage half-man (“sorte
de demi-homme instinctif et sauvage;” 1. iv, ch. 5, 160). On the border
between beast and man, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame is in an uncertain,
ambivalent position, in the ante-chamber of the sinister, concomitant, to a
large extent, with the mythic. The setting of the novel in the Late Middle
Ages, specifically in 1482, responds to the mythic dimension of the era in
the creative imagination of the author.
Surely, this mythic interpretation of two social and literary types (the
Muselmann and the hunchback) cannot escape a brief discussion. In my
opinion, the co-possession of mythemes is less real than imaginary. They
are not hybrids; rather, they are attributed hybrid qualities, analogous to real
hybridizations, by the other characters (the prisoners of the concentration
camps and the citizens of Paris), unlike the werewolf or the vampire, who
truly are hybrid beings. One could say that the imaginary co-possession of
mythemes opens a more or less ephemeral mythologizing process: this co-
possession, then, gives them a similar mythic “side” But to be precise, they
lack an authentic mythic dimension.
What we can most clearly learn from this analysis is to understand, by
contrasting mythemes, the authentic hybridization of two other myths: the
werewolf and the vampire. Let us take the case of the werewolf, that ancient
myth that achieves particular fame in the Middle Ages. In the lai called
Bisclavret, by Marie de France (1160-75), we read:
Jadis le poeit hume oïr,
E sovent suleit avenir,
Humes plusurs garval devindrent
E es boscages meisun tindrent
(1959, 56).
38	 Chapter One
Once, one could hear it told,
And oft it happened,
That many a man a were-wolf became
And the woods had as a dwelling.
The Old French term garval (also garwaf, garvalf) comes from the
Frankish *wariwulf or *werewolf (close to the English werewolf) and means
the same as “wolfman”, since wer (as in Old English) comes from the Indo-
European *wiro (“man”, such as vir in Latin) and wulf (“wolf”). The garval,
like any werewolf, adopts its lupine form and ferocity at night, but returns to
human form and rationality in the day. A similar ambiguity affects the vam-
pire, who has to sleep in the daytime and hunt at night. Both beings used to
be human but are now a wolf and a vampire that adopt a human appearance
in the daytime. This appearance is a negative one: in the daytime, they do
not behave according to their true form.
Nonetheless, the human appearance of these beings keeps popular
imagination from identifying them as mere animals (a wolf, a vampire bat).
This is the root of their mythic nature: the extraordinary combination of an
animal nature and a human (in this case, daytime) appearance. Symbols of
group and solitary nocturnal predation respectively, wolves (the largest car-
nivorous mammal in Europe) and vampires (the only flying mammal) have
fascinated the imagination of European inhabitants since ancient times.
These Europeans do not hesitate to project themselves onto these symbols,
while at the same time remaining themselves. The resulting ambiguity of
this hybridization is, without any doubt, mythic.
2. The Crisis of Myth
Once we have established the structure of myths through its basic prin-
ciples, we are ready to tackle the dangers that threaten it: distortion, devia-
tion, and disappearance. But what does this mean?
In the traditional formula, man is born, grows, reproduces, and dies. The
same does not occur with myth. Unlike man, where biology plays an irre-
placeable role, myth is an eminently cultural product; as such, its endurance
does not depend as much on the vicissitudes that affect every person as on
those that affect every civilization.
Myth has its roots in human beings, in their cognitive, volitional, and
imaginative faculties… and even in their biology. In this way, it does de-
pend on the vicissitudes that affect every human being: myth can also “die”
in each person, independently of its development in a culture. Its consis-
tency is continually threatened, as we see in Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann
(1817). Clara, Nathanael’s lover, is convinced that Coppelius and Coppola
only exist in the young man’s imagination, that they are phantoms of his
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	39
own self, and that they will disappear like dust as soon as he realizes this
(“daβ Coppelius und Coppola nur in meinem Innern existieren und Fantome
meines Ich’s sind, die augenblicklich zerstäuben, wenn ich sie als solche,
erkenne”, Nachstücke, 1985, 24). Nathanael even begins to accept that the
attorney and barometer dealer are two distinct people, the former German,
the latter Italian; the myth suffers when encountering Clara’s “didactic” rea-
soning. Nonetheless, the fantastic nature of the story continues the confu-
sion of imagination and reality, which becomes a paroxysm in the mind of
the protagonist, because of the optical illusion of the automaton, and thus
triggers his madness. The final appearance of Coppelius among the curious
bystanders after Nathanael’s suicide transfers the uncertainty to the reader’s
mind: the myth recovers its consistency.
These vicissitudes—of every culture, every woman and every man—
bring about a “crisis” of myth which must be analyzed. The way in which
myth, because of its development in the story, reacts to that crisis will lead
to its resurgence, its degeneration or its decease. In this way, the conditions
under which myths adapt to the crises that threaten them are an indispens-
able element of myth-criticism.
These conditions of adaptation are intimately related to mythic invari-
ants, or mythemes. Mythic invariants make up the skeleton of myth, the
structure that gives a story mythic consistency. To be precise, myth never
exists only in “bone” but in “flesh and bone”, i.e., in cultural, anthropologi-
cal, and sociological phenomena, most of the time through artistic or liter-
ary resorts. In other words, myths are inseparable from the combinations
that they form amongst themselves. Earlier, we superficially analyzed some
of these relationships (articulation, co-possession, relevance, and comple-
mentarity). Now, we must analyze the different crises that threaten myths
as a consequence of the shift of these relationships among their mythemes.
2.1. Typology of the Crisis of Myth
There are various types of crisis of myth, depending on the mythemes.
I will discuss three:
1. The relative modification of a myth’s constitutive or unvarying ele-
ments causes its distortion. In these cases, the myth is easily recognizable.
2. The inversion of a myth’s constitutive elements causes its subversion.
The myth is still recognizable, but its appearance is noticeably changed.
3. The absolute modification and even suppression of a myth’s constitu-
tive elements implies different consequences, depending on the case: dif-
ficulty in identifying the myth, disappearance, transformation, demytholo-
gizing, etc.
40	 Chapter One
Beyond the crisis that affects specific myths, depending on the internal
structure of each, there is another problem: the crisis of myth itself, particu-
larly infamous in postmodernity. Unlike in other eras, myths are not regu-
larly the primary subjects of the plot—as in the classical period—or even
their complementary motifs—as in Romanticism. Certainly, current literary
and artistic creation tends to reject the mythic dimension as a basis, but this
does not mean the disappearance of myth. Truth be told, it is not as much a
problem of myth as it is a problem of contemporaneity itself: its question-
ing of artistic creation, of the author, of characters, and even of the reader.
Despite this crisis, myth endures in one way or another.
My thesis about the mythic “skeleton” is that, despite appearances, the
absolute modification of unvarying elements is truly rare. The mythologi-
cal universe is immense precisely because individual mythemes are rela-
tively easily modified. These changes suppose a distancing from the rule, a
“heresy” of the canon shaping a specific myth tradition. But this is normal:
literature and the arts are characterized by their subversive, heterodox, and
consequently, heretical quality compared to the “ideal” standard of each
myth. In reality, the history of myth is a continuous variation of the constitu-
tive mythic elements. Myth is less fragile than it seems.
In a parallel way, it would be useful to consider that relative or absolute
modifications of a myth’s constitutive elements are products of the times
and, for that reason, reveal not only the conditions of the mythemes, but also
the conditions of each time, place, and civilization.
Next, we shall study cases of myth variations regarding the relative and
absolute modifications of their mythemes.
2.1.1. Relative Modification of Mythemes, Distortion of Myth
An example from the Bible: the traditional angels of Judeo-Christian
culture. In the contemporary Western world, they are still the messengers
and helpers of human beings, but they have lost some of the characteristics
specific to the Jewish or Christian angel. Instead, they adopt others from our
era, and so the angels of today are spiritual beings endowed with a body,
completely in tune with the New Age movement.
Consequently, one could argue that this materialization of angels implies
an absolute modification of an unvarying element, a disappearance of the
angels of myth. It is true that according to Christian doctrine, angels are
created beings endowed with exclusively spiritual substance, superior to hu-
mans and inferior to God, who undertake specific missions. This is a theo-
logical definition debated by Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, 1a
, 50,
a.1) and declared by Pius x in his motu proprio “Doctoris Angelici”, from
1914 (“Creatura spiritualis est in sua essentia omnino simplex”). According
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	41
to Thomistic thought, angels are only composed of essence in their being,
and composed of substance through accidents, and not made of spirit with
matter (as is the case with humans). But we cannot confuse a theological
definition, later adopted as dogma by the Catholic Church, with the mythic
development of the figure of the angel. We cannot confuse either the theol-
ogy or the theme of the angel with the myth of the angel.
Since very ancient times, angels were conceived as spiritual beings en-
dowed with matter. This belief was common, even among numerous Church
Fathers of the West and East. The fact that our time continues to identify
angels independently of their material or spiritual nature clarifies for us the
variable nature of this element in the plane of myth: absolute spirituality is
not a mytheme of the myth of angels.
This does not preclude spirituality from being preponderant over ma-
teriality in the angel myth (similar to how the werewolf’s lupine nature
predominates over the human). Furthermore, the mythic quality of the angel
is based on its spiritual predominance, as its iconography makes clear: it is
frequently represented with wings, able to move around without the mate-
rial restrictions to which human beings are subject (slowness, grounding on
the earth, impossibility of passing through matter…). This spiritual preva-
lence is indeed an invariant of myth, as is the role of undertaking specific
missions, such as transmitting messages or predicting the future. Any sub-
stantial adjustment of these unvarying elements (spirituality, message, or
mission) would indeed constitute a disappearance of the angel myth.
In the case that concerns us, contemporary angels do not forego their at-
tributes or missions, but these mythemes suffer a relative adjustment. To this
end, the film Michael (Nora Ephron, 1996) is very illuminating. Evidently,
this archangel’s (John Travolta) taste for wine and women distances him
from the religious stereotype, but his name (the most important of the arch-
angels), his wings (even if filthy), and his mission (to fix broken hearts) suf-
fice to place him in the mythic world in which we would expect to find an
angel. The film somewhat distorts the traditional myth, but does not render
it unrecognizable. One could say the same of Dudley (Denzel Washington),
the angel sent to the reverend Henry Biggs to save him from his familial and
financial troubles in the film The Preacher’s Wife (Penny Marshall, 1996). It
matters little that, because of his attraction to Julia, Henry’s wife, Dudley is
almost led astray in his purpose: his spiritual nature is made manifest in his
mission among humans.
When asked about the angelic spirits in her film Michael, Nora Ephron
replies: “I think angels have become the embodiment of fate, and love, and
a need to believe that there is a God and that God cares about the details”,
(“The Morning Call”, 12/21/1996). This combination of spirit and matter,
especially underscored in this “incarnation” of angels, is an adjustment of
42	 Chapter One
our time, a relative change that does not keep them from completing their
mission: getting humans in contact with God.
2.1.2. Inversion of Mythemes, Subversion of Myth
In order to show the refractory nature of myth, which resists intense
assaults upon its unvarying elements, I shall discuss a variation in stat-
ure: subverted myth (already discussed at length in the volume Myth and
Subversion, Losada, 2011, but not from the point of view of the structure
and crisis of myth, which concerns us here).
I will discuss three examples of subversion: two ancient myths
(Pygmalion and the Trojan War) and one medieval myth (the Holy Grail), in
order to analyze their crisis.
2.1.2.1. Pygmalion
Pygmalion is the famed sculptor who fell in love with the statue of a
young woman, sculpted by his own hands. According to Ovid, his prayers
that his wife be “similar to the one made of ivory” (Metamorphosis 10)
earned Venus’ approval. The unvarying elements are clear: the artist’s fall-
ing in love with his own work and the statue’s vivification. In the original
version, when she comes to life and feels the enamored sculptor’s kisses,
the young woman blushes; then they marry, and from this union, Paphos is
born.
It is typical that Ovid’s text does not discuss Galatea’s love for
Pygmalion: a mutual love is not an indispensable element of this myth. In
fact, the different modern versions expand on the impossibility of a love
between the artist and his work. In Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1912),
Eliza rejects the love of her “sculptor-professor” Higgins and opts for the
poor Freddy. The various film versions develop in a similar way: Anthony
Asquith and Leslie Howard’s Pygmalion (1938), George Cukor’s musical
My Fair Lady (1964), and Andrew Niccol’s Simone (2002).
I shall briefly discuss another version of the myth: the theatrical piece
El Señor de Pigmalión, by Jacinto Grau (1921). Pigmalión, who owns a
company in which he makes dolls, is in love with his doll Pomponina. When
he introduces her to theater directors, the night before a public showing, a
duke takes a fancy to her and convinces her to run away with him. All the
dolls take advantage of the occasion to escape from their tyrannical owner.
Pigmalión manages to get them back, but he is gravely wounded by a shot
that the doll Urdemalas fires at him.
Aside from the dramatized prologue—a protest against commercial-
ized theater, obsessed with financial gain—, the play remains faithful to
the constitutive elements of the myth: the dolls come to life and the artist
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	43
falls in love with one of them. The doll-protagonist casts aside her maker,
Pigmalión, and the rich duke, and instead gives her charms over to the most
unexpected suitor, the old man Mingo. Eliza’s indifference to Higgins’s love
turns, here, into Pomponina’s hatred for Pigmalión; and yet, the myth sur-
vives, an evident proof that the created being’s returning her creator’s love
is not an unvarying element: Ovid did not base this myth on Galatea’s love.
(We do find an artificial being’s “amorous passion” in the film Her [Spike
Jonze, 2013], in which Samantha, an intelligent operating system, confesses
to having fallen in love with hundreds of users…, see in this volume Adrián
García Vidal’s article.)
The greatest innovation of all is Pigmalión’s death at the hands of his
dolls. Enraged by their maker’s tyranny, they all fear and despise him, but
only Urdemalas is capable of rebelling, honoring his name.Availing himself
of his master’s inattention, he fires a shot at point-blank. All of them flee.
When Pigmalión painfully lifts himself off the ground, he cries out the fol-
lowing eloquent words:
¡No puedo!... ¡Me desangro, me muero solo, sin que nadie me auxilie!... Los
dioses vencen eternamente, aniquilando al que quiere robarles su secreto…
Iba a superar al ser humano, y mis primeros autómatas de ensayo me matan
alevosamente… ¡Triste sino del hombre héroe, humillado continuamente
hasta ahora, en su soberbia, por los propios fantoches de su fantasía!... (a. iii,
escena última; 1977, 113).
I cannot! I am bleeding out, I am dying alone, with no-one to help me!...
The gods conquer eternally, obliterating anyone who wants to steal their
secret… I was to become greater than a human being, and my first attempts
at automata kill me treacherously… Oh sad fate of a heroic man, continually
humbled until now, in his pride, by the very puppets of his fantasy (act iii,
last scene; 1977, 113)!
He then discovers that he is not alone: Juan the Fool has not yet left.
While he awaits his help, the doll finishes him off in one blast of a shotgun,
and disappears after making grotesque faces and rubbing his hands together
in glee.
The subversion of the myth is complete: the created kills the creator.
After receiving the shotgun blast from the doll, “Pigmalión”, I quote, “hits
the ground forcefully with his bust” (“Pigmalión da con el busto presada-
mente en tierra”). This scene is the exact opposite of the ancient version
of myth, wherein Pygmalion realized that the marble “bust” was gradually
coming alive, that is, was rising from the ground. The mytheme of the dolls’
vivification does not appear explicitly, but it does remain latent, so that the
murder of the creator at the hand of his creations does not completely invali-
date it. As was said, the core of myth lives on; the text is perfectly framed
44	 Chapter One
within the Pygmalion myth. The conclusion to be drawn is that the absolute
inversion of the mytheme of animation does not invalidate the myth.
2.1.2.2. The Trojan War
I also propose that the absolute inversion of the invariant does not in-
validate the myth, even in the most extreme cases. In the 13th
scene of the
second act of La Guerre de Troie n’aura pas lieu, by Giraudoux (1935), the
hero from Ithaca begins to return to his boat: despite fate, he and Hector
have achieved peace. In the 14th
and last scene, the Greek Oiax reappears,
drunk, and provokes Hector in the person of Cassandra, but Priam’s son
holds himself back, and does not kill him in order to maintain the pact.
Demokos arrives unexpectedly, angered by the concessions in the pact, and
rouses the Trojans to war. Hector, determined to maintain the pact, kills the
Trojan who, before dying, falsely accuses Oiax of his murder. The Trojans
cry out for vengeance, and Hector exclaims, powerless, that the war will
take place (“Elle aura lieu”, ii.14: 1991, 163), as confirmed by the opening
of the war gates and Helen’s newest infidelity. Cassandra announces her
prophesy: “The Trojan poet has died…. The Greek poet will have his word”
(“Le poète troyen est mort…La parole est au poète grec”, ibid.). The seer’s
prediction heralds the story to come, The Iliad.
A question: if the war, as the provocative title of the play announces,
had not occurred, could we talk about the myth of the Trojan War? Yes. I
am aware that a voice as authoritative as Genette asserts the contrary. The
dramaturge had “little room for maneuvering” (Palimpsestes, 531). Homer
had decreed that Hector should fail in his attempts to avoid the war: the
whole play would be a sort of grand variation in the form of a prelude play-
ing with a preordained conclusion, like a mouse thinks it is playing with a
cat. Colette Weill develops this further: “as the story situates itself before
the legend, the myth cannot be inverted, it will be as if…suspended; […] but
in the end we shall find the story we expected: the war «will take place»”
(ed. 1991, 21). I believe that the author is free to make, unmake, and recre-
ate the story, whether the Homeric or the factual. If in the end the Trojans
had not killed Oiax, Ulysses might have been successful in his mission,
Helen would have returned with her husband Menelaus, and we would still
have lived through two tragic hours. The Trojan “war” is not the myth of
“the Trojan War”, while the enmity between Greeks and Trojans (after the
discord among gods) “is”, as is the casus belli (the abduction of Helen, the
result of Aphrodite’s former promise)—both possessing a mythic dimen-
sion. Their appearance in Giraudoux’s play makes it a variant of the myth.
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	45
2.1.2.3. The Grail (i)
In Le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes (c. 1180), the knight
Perceval, housed in the castle of the Fisher King, witnesses a strange pro-
cession as he dines with his host in a banquet hall: parading before them
are a page with a bloody lance, followed by two with gold candelabra and
accompanied by a very elegantly-attired young woman, who carries in her
hands a golden grail (bowl or cup), encrusted with precious stones, out of
which emanates a dazzling light. The young woman with the cup passes
and, along with the three pages, she walks into an adjoining chamber. After
her, another young woman passes by, with a silver tray to cut meat. Perceval
is perplexed, but does not dare to ask what the grail is used for, for he holds
in his heart the words of gentleman Gornemant de Goort, who had advised
him to be cautious (“Le jeune homme les vit passer et il n’osa pas deman-
der qui l’on servait de ce grail, car il avait tojours au coeur la parole du
sage gentilhomme”, ed. 2003, 141). Later, Perceval’s cousin, in the forest,
reveals his irreparable error and misfortune: if he had asked during the pro-
cession, the sickly king would have regained his health, the use of his limbs,
and the dominion of his lands (“car tu aurais bien pu guérir le bon roi qui est
infirme qu’il eût recouvré l’entier usage de ses membres et le maintien de
ses terres”, 147). After five years of searching in vain, three knights and six
penitent ladies lead Perceval to a hermit who unearths the mystery for him:
“A single host that is brought to him in that grail sustains and brings comfort
to that holy man” (ed. 2004, 460; “Le saint home, d’une simple hostie qu’on
lui apporte dans ce graal, soutient et fortifie sa vie”, 195). The Eucharistic
sacrament provides immortality for the soul. By a generalizing or inductive
synecdoche, the cup that holds it becomes consecrated, and itself turns into
the Eucharistic myth par excellence: the Holy Grail.
Since its literary origins, the chalice of Christian communion intersects
with Celtic mythology: the hideous woman who reproaches Perceval, the
curse controlling the lands of the injured king, etc. From this symbiosis be-
tween the mythologized Christian Grail and the Celtic legend, very soon the
cup from Jesus’Last Supper acquires new significances in the continuations
of the Grail story. In the Première Continuation (c. 1200), protagonized
by Gauvain, the Grail is suspended in the air while he serves his guests.
In the Seconde Continuation (c. 1208), the Grail is once again carried in
front of Perceval, who this time does ask the questions and receives, after
a second test, the answers. In the Troisième Continuation or Continuation
de Manessier the Grail procession is renewed, the Fisher King explains to
Perceval that the bloody lance is the spear that Longinus used to pierce
Christ’s side and that the Grail had been used to collect his blood after the
crucifixion; in the end, the narrator leads us to believe that Perceval takes the
Grail, the lance, and the tray with him to Heaven. In the Roman de l’histoire
46	 Chapter One
du Graal (c. 1200), Robert de Boron combines the Gospel of Nicodemus
with other Arthurian and Christian legends. Here, the Grail appears inti-
mately tied to the Last Supper and Jesus’ passion: it had been entrusted to
Joseph of Arimathea, who collected Christ’s precious blood in it as it fell
from the cross. The cup is also miraculous (“il agrée”), that it to say, it gives
grace to the good and the pure. In this story, Joseph of Arimathea’s brother-
in-law founds the lineage of the guardians of the Holy Grail that, following
Jesus’ orders, settle in England. Perlesvaus (c. 1230) gives a Eucharistic
explanation for the Grail and associates it with the search and hope for the
future kingdom; a voice from above unveils God’s will to the hero and his
men (that they give His relics to the hermits in the woods) and announces
to them that the Grail will not return, but they will soon know its resting-
place (“Le Saint Graal ne viendra plus jamais ici, mais vous apprendrez
avant longtemps où il se trouve”). The Élucidation (by Maître Blihis?) sug-
gests a secret interpretation of the Grail, in which the defilement of a young
woman is associated with the theft of the golden cup, occurrences that bring
about several misfortunes. Along this line, progressing in time, in the third
part of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (c. 1470) the legend appears
in a Grail copy carved by Solomon from a gem of Lucifer’s, used by Jesus
in his last supper and preserved by Joseph of Arimathea during the Lord’s
Passion. Lost in England, the Knights of the Round Table pledge their lives
to recovering it. In more recent times, Wagner’s Parsifal (1882) also uses
the redemptive meaning of the sacred cup, guarded on Montsalvat by King
Titurel and his faithful knights, while also transferring to the Holy Lance
the power of curing mortal wounds. The texts are countless: I have chosen
these as indispensable for understanding the unvarying elements of myth.
In this brief review, especially in the thirteenth century, we observe that
this unique container appears under multiple appearances, from which we
can synthetically extract its mythemes. Situated in the utopic place and the
ahistorical time of King Arthur, the Grail is a relic linked in its origins to the
passion of Christ (not only to the Last Supper). Because of its connection to
the Redeemer, the holy vessel materializes the union of Heaven and earth,
as Michel Stanesco also claimed about the procession episode in Chrétien’s
work:
…ce sera précisément dans cet espace épuré, à la jonction des univers d’en
bas et d’en haut, d’ici et d’ailleurs, qu’apparaîtra le château du Graal, où se
jouera le destin d’un homme comme celui d’un monde (ed. 2003, 9).
…it will be precisely in this purified space, at the junction of the universes of
above and below, of here and beyond, that the castle of the Grail will appear,
the place where the fate of a man, like that of a world, is in play.
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	47
From here derives the immense value of the cup, which can heal physi-
cal and spiritual ailments. Like an amulet or, better, a talisman (from the
Arabic ‫,مسالط‬ tilasm, and the Greek τελέω, “to initiate in the mysteries”),
the Grail symbolizes a supernatural power, depending on the versions, as
much for the material it is made of as for its content (perhaps reading my
article “La nature mythique du Graal…” could be useful for understanding
the subject; see Bibliography).
This force of the Grail, whether a real faculty or an apotropaic effect,
makes it an object of desire and the object of a knightly quest, in the sense
that it is the object that triggers a mythic quest of initiation. It is worth
stressing that the appetite for the Grail does not merely set off a series of
adventures; it is not only a “theme” structuring a plot. It involves a mythic
quest, in which a viator discovers, through a series of extraordinary adven-
tures, his own identity and becomes a miles, a soldier, of a type similar to St.
George or St. Michael, icons of the solar knight and slayer of the dragon, it-
self the chthonic evil creature (Stanesco, 30). The Grail is a Christian-Celtic
relic, an object of desire because of its supernatural and/or magical virtues.
Other spurious elements can be added to the tradition of the myth. In
Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (c. 1210), the Grail is a stone descend-
ed from heaven that, besides bestowing food and drink at will, restores its
pure-hearted guardians to the beauty of youth. In Rabelais’ Quart Livre
(1552), the Grail is parodied when the Queen of the Chitterlings explains
that the mustard for her servants is “her Holy Grail and celestial Balsam”.
In the last century, Julien Gracq’s Le Roi Pêcheur (1948) includes a king
afflicted by a wound, inhabitants held captive by spells, and a Perceval
thrilled at having reclaimed the Grail; the piece is a metaphor for the pleni-
tude and happiness of human life. In Pierre Benoit’s Montsalvat (1957), the
relic appears as a “power that it is better not to know”. In accordance with
the world of alchemy, the Grail becomes a token of bodily immortality and
acquires inscrutable derivatives, doubtlessly favored by Robert de Boron’s
version, where Christ taught a secret lesson to Joseph of Arimathea. The
Grail’s esoteric dimension, surely motivated by the pagan derivatives of the
legend, causes an ambiguity of meaning.
Along these lines, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg,
1989) combines all the elements that make up a breeding ground for ritu-
al. The protagonist (Harrison Ford) sets off to find Henry Jones, his father
(Sean Connery), an academic who disappeared while he was searching for
the Grail. Indy and Elsa are in the brink of death when the Brotherhood of
the Cruciform Sword, the secret society that protects the Grail from the im-
pure, sets fire to the catacombs. Thanks to one of these knights, Indy finds
his father, who had been kidnapped by the Nazis so that he could take them
to the Grail. Adventures ensue, and Henry is mortally wounded: in the end,
48	 Chapter One
the water he drinks from the Grail saves him, before the temple collapses
and the cup disappears into the abyss… Spielberg’s film has all manner
of flavors: a combination of Christian and pagan traditions, esotericism,
curative powers and immortality. The film assumes the unvarying original
elements—the Christian relic, its supernatural faculties, the quest and the
desire to possess the Grail for its supernatural reasons—and adds the vary-
ing elements that were later incorporated—the safekeeping of the vessel and
its esoteric meaning.
The inversions produced in the Grail myth come to view. In the medieval
versions, the foundational metonymy—designating Jesus’ body or blood
(the content) through the vessel (the container)—and metaphor—applying
the quality of the sacred to the vessel for the co-possession of semes after
the application of metonymy—led into the great metaphorical derivative,
which is also foundational: the immortality of the soul of whoever possesses
and guards the Grail. The contemporary versions invert the meaning of this
metaphor: immortality does not affect the soul but the body. Similarly, the
search for transcendence—the Grail as an object of desire or as the object
pursued in a mythic quest of initiation—turns into a greater understanding
of man in today’s world, whether due to the reencounter with the father
(Indiana Jones) or to the obtaining of human happiness (Le Roi Pêcheur).
The fundamental invariants have not been destroyed, rather they have been
subverted; they do not eliminate the tradition of the Grail: the myth is still
recognizable.
2.1.3. Absolute Modification and Suppression of Mythemes, Disap-
pearance of Myth
Until now, everything has seemed to obey the instinct of preserving
myth: a survival peppered with relative modifications or inversions that only
distort or subvert the myth. Nonetheless, on occasion, an absolute modifica-
tion and suppression of mythemes can entail a crisis of great importance in
myth, which becomes unidentifiable, is transformed, or even disappears.
Here I shall use an ancient myth (Ariadne) that becomes unrecogniz-
able; another, a modern myth (Frankenstein), that results from the radical
transformation of another ancient one (Pygmalion), and shall again take up
the medieval case we already studied (the Grail) to analyze its unexpected
disappearance in a contemporary text.
2.1.3.1. Ariadne
Constitutive elements of the Ariadne myth are her assistance to the hero
when he faces an insuperable test (the Minotaur and the inescapable mythic
The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis	49
Labyrinth) and her accursed or providential fate (Theseus’ abandonment
leads her to suicide or glory, depending on the version). In the story Ariane
by Le Clézio (1982), Christine wanders through the city streets; sudden-
ly surrounded by motorcyclists, she tries to escape but ends up raped and
abandoned. Nothing seems to remain of the original myth except the name,
and even that could be referencing, preceded by the definite article, to the
working-class neighborhood L’Ariane in Nice, where Christine’s tragic
story takes place. The connection, although tenuous, seems intentional. One
might say that the myth has been rewritten in a subverted way: the slum
becomes a labyrinthine backdrop where the young woman is imprisoned
by the Minotaur (the bikers) and thereafter abandoned without any hope of
vengeance or rehabilitation (“If you talk, we’ll kill you”: her act of washing
her face in the rear-view mirror of a car means that nobody will know what
happened). Christine is an Ariadne that has not found the ball of string to
escape from the Labyrinth or a hero able to confront the Minotaur (Herrero
Cecilia, 121). The absence of Theseus emphasizes even further the indif-
ference that the bandits’ violence represents. Nevertheless, we must admit
that the presence of the Ariadne myth here can be contested; the disappear-
ance of some cardinal mythemes, when not suppressing the myth, makes it
almost unrecognizable.
2.1.3.2. Frankenstein
Now that I am in the midst of many disquisitions on the idiosyncrasy
of mythemes, I will briefly look at a myth closely related to the Pygmalion
myth: the myth of Frankenstein, i.e., of the doctor who makes men (inter-
estingly, transposing the doctor’s name onto the monster through a process
of causal metonymy does not affect the myth). It first appeared in litera-
ture in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818).
Thereafter, it has been embodied in dozens of film adaptations. Generally,
the hero is the prisoner of his fate: the monster cannot survive his creator, as
is the case, for instance, in the film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Kenneth
Branagh (1994).
Doctor Frankenstein shares a mytheme with Pygmalion: the coming to
life of an artificial creature. The capability of giving life, of being in that
sense like God, is as old as the origins of humans: “You will be as gods”,
whispers the serpent into Eve’s ear in Eden (Gen. 3:5). But these are two
different myths:
― In the case of Pygmalion, the sculptor carves a statue, falls in love
with it (treats it as a woman), and asks the gods to have a wife as beautiful
as his statute (“similar to the one made of ivory”, Metamorphosis 10, 276,
567).
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.
Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.

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Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth (José Manuel Losada & Antonella Lipscomb eds.), Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, xxix-441 p. ISBN: 978-1-4438-7814-2.

  • 1. MYTHS IN CRISIS. THE CRISIS OF MYTH Edited by JOSÉ MANUEL LOSADA and ANTONELLA LIPSCOMB
  • 2.
  • 3. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth Edited by José Manuel Losada and Antonella Lipscomb
  • 4. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth Edited by José Manuel Losada and Antonella Lipscomb This book first published 2015 Cambridge Scholars Publishing Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2015 by José Manuel Losada, Antonella Lipscomb and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-7814-6 ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-7814-2
  • 5. Table of Contents Acknowledgements / Agradecimientos / Remerciements.................... ix Scientific Board / Comité Científico / Comité Scientifique................ xi Preface.................................................................................................. xiii Prefacio................................................................................................. xix Préface.................................................................................................. xxv I. Theory of Myth Chapter One: The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis................................................................................. 3 José Manuel Losada Chapter Two: Estructura del mito y tipología de su crisis......... 33 José Manuel Losada Chapter Three: The Challenge to Myth from Religion............. 63 Robert A. Segal Chapter Four: Mitos y crisis de mitos: un problema de conceptos y de terminología................................................. 71 Javier del Prado Biezma Chapter Five: The Crisis of the Notion of Literary Myth in French Literary Studies............................................................. 91 Marcin Klik II. Ancient, Medieval and Modern Myths A. Myth and Anthropology Chapter Six: Panic Attacks: Myth as Critical Intervention........ 105 Leon Burnett Chapter Seven: The Myth of Apollo and Daphne as a Metaphor of Personal Crisis in Daphne Du Maurier’s “The Apple Tree”. 119 Marta Miquel-Baldellou Chapter Eight: ¿Sueñan los humanos con Galateas eléctricas? El mito de Pigmalión en Black Mirror y Her............................ 129 Adrián García Vidal Chapter Nine: Acefalia e indiferenciación en la época de los surrealismos............................................................................... 139 Javier Mañero Rodicio
  • 6. 6 Table of Contents Chapter Ten: Le mythe d’Icare à l’aune du nouveau lyrisme. Tradition ascensionnelle versus descente dans le réel............... 151 Linda Maria Baros Chapter Eleven: Faire choir le mythe dans l’Histoire, Rivage à l’abandon, Matériau-Médée et Paysage avec Argonautes d’Heiner Müller......................................................................... 159 Sophie Coudray Chapter Twelve: Le retour des titans: aspects des crises cosmiques dans les péplums mythologiques américains (1997-2012)............................................................................... 169 Pierre Cuvelier Chapter Thirteen: “Cuando un mito se desmorona”. La Odisea en el siglo xx............................................................ 179 Helena González-Vaquerizo B. Myth, Morality and Religion Chapter Fourteen: “Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air”: The Ethics of McCarthy’s Post-Mythical Apocalypse in The Road.................................... 191 Rebeca Gualberto Chapter Fifteen: El motivo fáustico en la obra de Adolfo Bioy Casares....................................................................................... 203 Mariano García Chapter Sixteen: Poetic Re-enchantment in an Age of Crisis: Mortal and Divine Worlds in the Poetry of Alice Oswald......... 213 Ben Pestell C. Myths, Politics and Society Chapter Seventeen: Dos miradas femeninas al mito de Casandra................................................................................ 225 Juan Luis Arcaz Pozo Chapter Eighteen: A Post-Colonial Critique of Gendered Water Myth from India through the Myth of the Llorona in Deepa Mehta’s Water: Siting the Hindu Widow in Transcultural Becoming............................................................. 235 Sanghita Sen & Indrani Mukherjee Chapter Nineteen: La transformación del mito de Antígona en la teoría feminista y queer..................................................... 245 Giuliano Lozzi
  • 7. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 7 D. Myth and Meta-Literature Chapter Twenty: Le prisme mythologique dans les romans de Claude Simon........................................................................ 257 Ian De Toffoli Chapter Twenty-One: Antigüedad mítica y realidad crítica en la poesía de Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen.................. 267 Adriana Martins-Frias Chapter Twenty-Two: La reinvención de las figuras mitológicas en la literatura de Julio Cortázar............................ 279 Manel Feijoó III. Myths of Immanence A. Mythologizing People Chapter Twenty-Three: Edgar Allan Poe como mito contemporáneo: del antihéroe al superhéroe............................. 293 Ana González-Rivas Chapter Twenty-Four: Kristeva’s The Samurai: “Camouflage of sacredness in a desacralized world”...................................... 303 Metka Zupančič B. Mythologizing Characters Chapter Twenty-Five: Skyfall o el regreso de 007 como héroe clásico.............................................................................. 313 Alejandra Spagnuolo Chapter Twenty-Six: Au-delà du bovarysme: Melancholia de Lars von Trier, une figure récente de l’agonie de l’éros....... 323 Patricia Martínez Chapter Twenty-Seven: Mutación cultural y tránsito del mitologema de don Quijote a su utopía contemporánea............ 333 Mª Ángeles Varela Olea C. Mythologizing Nations, Places and Languages Chapter Twenty-Eight: Mitos en crisis: la crisis del mito o la supervivencia del eterno retorno......................................... 345 Juan González Etxeberria Chapter Twenty-Nine: Myth Lost and Found in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.................................................. 359 Anja Schwennsen
  • 8. 8 Table of Contents Chapter Thirty: El Phoenix desde el siglo xx: la Numancia de Jean-Louis Barrault (1937-1965).......................................... 367 Emmanuel Marigno Vázquez Chapter Thirty-One: Language as Myth: Reinvented belief in the spirit of language in Japan............................................... 379 Naoko Hosokawa Abstracts ............................................................................................ 389 Index .................................................................................................... 429
  • 9. Acknowledgements / Agradecimientos / Remerciements This publication has been possible thanks to the funding of the Ministry of Economy and Competiveness of Spain (General Directorate for Research) via the RTD project Nuevas formas del mito: una metodología interdiscipli- nar (“New Forms of Myth: An Interdisciplinary Methodology”, reference number FFI2012-32594), and thanks to the funding of Banco Santander, via the research group Acis. Grupo de Investigación en Mitocrítica (“Acis. Research Group for Myth-Criticism” Complutense University of Madrid, reference number 941730). Amaltea, Journal of Myth-Criticism and Asteria, International Association for Myth-Criticism have also actively cooperated. The Index has been set up by Rebeca Gualberto. María Celaya (www. apiedepagina.net) has designed the layout and made all orthotypographical corrections. *** Esta publicación se ha beneficiado de una ayuda del Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad del Gobierno de España (Subdirección General de Proyectos de Investigación), a través del Proyecto de Investigación I+D+ I Nuevas formas del mito: una metodología interdisciplinar (nº ref. FFI2012- 32594 ) y del Banco Santander, a través de Acis. Grupo de Investigación en Mitocrítica (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, nº ref. 941730). Han colaborado activamente, además, Amaltea. Revista de Mitocrítica y Asteria. Asociación Internacional de Mitocrítica. El índice ha sido establecido por Rebeca Gualberto. La maquetación y corrección ortotipográfica han corrido a cargo de María Celaya (www. apiedepagina.net). *** Cette publication a bénéficié d’une aide du Ministère de l’Économie et de la Compétitivité du gouvernement espagnol (Direction générale de pro- jets de recherche), à travers le Projet de recherche n° réf. FFI2012-32594: Nouvelles formes du mythe: une méthodologie interdisciplinaire et de la Banque Santander, à travers Acis. Groupe de Recherche en Mythocritique (Université Complutense de Madrid, n° réf. 941730). Ont également collaboré activement Amaltea. Revista de Mitocrítica et Asteria. Association Internationale de Mythocritique. L’index a été établi par Rebeca Gualberto. La mise en page et la correc- tion ortho-typographique ont été prises en charge par María Celaya (www. apiedepagina.net).
  • 10.
  • 11. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 11 Preface Can it be said that myths, as man-made creations, are born, then grow, reproduce and eventually die? If so, each stage of development would re- quire examination. Yet this volume of essays explores something else: how myths adapt to the trials and tribulations of our time (the 20th and the 21st centuries). The aim is to assess the evolution of myths across time and to determine whether the contemporary crisis of myth may result in their death or rebirth. Several circumstances explain the crisis of myth. First of all, it sometimes happens that the original sociocultural environ- ment is transformed in such a way that the general context of a myth must be changed as well. Take the mythical figure of the angel, for example. The angels found in Western culture retain their fundamental functions as messengers and helpers, but have also acquired new traits which are char- acteristic of our time: in tune with the New Age phenomenon, the mythical figure of the angel acquires aesthetic, sentimental or even sexual connota- tions. Similarly, the myth of Pygmalion loses the mytheme of inert matter coming to life in order to simply tell the story of a doomed love affair. More significant, perhaps, is the transformation of the Grail myth. The Eucharistic chalice of eternal life becomes—evidencing the contemporary crisis of tran- scendence—a sacred cup that may only heal physical ailments or guarantee a deathless life, but only on Earth. In some other cases, myths may experience a crisis as the result of a substantial change in the historical context. An example of this is the figure of the Comendador in the myth of Don Juan—a figure that no longer exists. This small inconsistency is of course exacerbated by the fact that a moving statue would have no credibility today, and would instead be regarded as the mere fantasy of unabashed machinery. Moreover, a myth as intrinsi- cally theatrical as the myth of Don Juan cannot but be affected by the crisis of theater under the overwhelming influence of cinema. Indeed, the crisis of a genre, or medium, can certainly bring about a crisis in the traditional manifestations of myth. Other reasons—religious, anthropological—explain the crisis that af- fects myths of human creation (Prometheus, Frankenstein). Furthermore, these myths have crystalized in contemporary forms (the cyborg, the an- droid, or the Matrix universe) that pose significant questions about what it means to be human today. And yet, beside this problematic issue of myths in crisis arises another concern: the crisis “of” myth. This is particularly noticeable in the 20th and 21st centuries, when myths often function as dispensable complements of discourses, rather than as their core constituents. Aesthetic movements such
  • 12. 12 Preface as the Nouveau Roman, in their effort to undermine the foundations of the traditional novel, reject all possibilities of a mythical dimension. The chal- lenge of myth is thus to survive in an evidently immanent world, which partly explains the emergence of new myths that bear no resemblance to tra- ditional (sacred) mythology. Both kinds of myths are explored in this volume. This book is not merely a compilation of the proceedings of the confer- ence held at Complutense University of Madrid in October of 2014. A nu- merous group of expert reviewers have assessed the more than two hundred papers submitted for our consideration, among which a rigorous selection has been made by the editors (only 1 of each 7 proposals has been accepted). The selected articles advance methodological principles and practical contributions on the topic of the crisis of ancient, medieval and modern myths in contemporary art and literature (20th and 21st centuries). In this in- troduction I will briefly explain the distribution of contents since the volume includes an abstract of each article, along with a composite index to guide the reader. i. Theory of Myth The first two articles explore the types of crisis that may affect myths regarding their mythemes and the connections of these with religion (José Manuel Losada, Robert Segal). The third and fourth articles are focused on attempting to clarify the terminology that is applied to the concepts of “myth”, “archetype” and “prototype”, specifically concerning literary myth (Javier del Prado, Marcin Klik). ii. Ancient, Medieval and Modern Myths The largest part of the volume examines ancient, medieval and mod- ern myths, in line with their literary and artistic manifestations. In order to give shape to a coherent study, these articles have been classified accord- ing to the dominant traits that characterize the individual and their culture: psychophysical singularity, moral conscience, sociopolitical extension and meta-literary dimension. a) Myth and Anthropology The crisis of myth is the crisis of contemporary men and women. Due to their narrative structure and to their proverbial tendency to- ward extreme situations, myths expose the anxiety and distress ex- perienced in the face of disorientation or heartbreak; the incapacity of feeling love for a machine, or the rejection of our own physical appearance in a time that relentlessly challenges the core meaning of human identity (Leon Burnett, Marta Miquel-Baldellou, Adrián García Vidal, Javier Mañero Rodicio).
  • 13. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 13 Simultaneously, each person’s crisis results in a crisis of myth ex- pressed through a process of demystification. This happens when, for example, the ideal of infinite ascent is left aside in favor of everyday concerns (Linda Maria Baros), or when heroes, divested of their age- old paraphernalia, are located in a familiar time and space, losing their traditional invulnerability (Sophie Coudray, Pierre Cuvelier). However, after every crisis comes an anti-crisis. The immedi- ate reaction is re-mythologization in the form of a heroic quest for freedom, in which contemporary men embark on an escape from domestic dissatisfaction (Helena González-Vaquerizo). b) Myth, Morality and Religion The crisis of transcendence in today’s society entails the crisis of myth, which traditionally has established a connection between two worlds. With no faith in the Great Beyond, man is bound to a hopeless apocalypse where he struggles to redeem himself (Rebeca Gualberto). With no devil with whom to make a pact, mankind is less obsessed with knowledge or power than they are with their own tem- porary decay (Mariano García). Facing an ecological disaster and the contractions of atheist rationalism and theist fundamentalism, the poet wonders whether it is possible or even desirable to experience a new enchantment. c) Myth, Politics and Society A considerable amount of myths have been interpreted as meta- phors for the conflicts that articulate the relationship between the individual and the state, between patriarchy and matriarchy, or even between the members of a family. In these interpretations a woman may choose to detach herself from a world made by men and for men (José Luis Arcaz Pozo), where widows become second-class citizens by virtue of divine sanction (Sanghita Sen & Indrani Mukherjee). A change of paradigm may also be observed in contemporary dis- courses which, as in the case of queer theory, dismantle traditional dichotomies (Giuliano Lozzi). d) Myth and Meta-Literature The crisis of myth does not affect its meta-literary function. The appearance of a mythical name may reveal the satirical use of a hypo-text (Ian de Toffoli). The poet exterminates the monsters of his labyrinth with a thread of words (Adriana Martins-Frias). Or, perhaps, performance updates an old myth in an attempt to verbally conquer reality (Manel Feijoó).
  • 14. 14 Preface iii. Myths of Immanence An issue which cannot be ignored by current criticism is the emer- gence of new myths, easily differentiated from the traditional mythologies of Antiquity, the Middle Ages or the Modern Era. These were defined by transcendence—whether accepted or rejected. The new myths are pseudo- myths, so to speak. Myths of immanence, deformations of contemporary mass society… these may be the only myths possible today. Their inter- pretations are infinite (I have attempted my own reading in the article “Tipología de los mitos modernos” (“Typology of Modern Myths”) as a way of epilogue to the book Nuevas Formas del Mito, Berlin, Logos, 2015), but in their most basic terms these new myths result from a process of my- thologization of real or fictive persons, peoples and nations. a) Mythologizing People This encompasses the ubiquitous “myth of the artist”, typical of the romantic writer (Ana González-Rivas), and the myths of great magicians of the Nouvelle Critique (Metka Zupančič). b) Mythologizing Characters In contemporary fiction, characters may acquire traits of saint- hood, devilishness or ancient kingship (Alejandra Spagnuolo). They may not only substantiate the pre-eminence of fiction over a lacklus- ter reality (Patricia Martínez), but also become hostage to a partisan political interpretation (Mª Ángeles Varela Olea). c) Mythologizing Nations, Places and Languages Communitarian myths may be subjected to endless reinter- pretations, so, in consequence, politicians have often fabricated a fraudulent use of mythology, transforming myth into a literary cour- tesan that has allowed them to stoke the complacent dreams of a whole nation (Juan González Etxeberria). Poets have elevated their childhood, their name or their family on a mythical pedestal (Anja Schwennsen). Theatre directors have returned to the representation of a city’s resistance against an empire to depict their dramatic par- oxysm (Emmanuel Marigno Vázquez).And, in spite of historical cri- sis, peoples have strived to preserve the national awareness of their language (Naoko Hosokawa). The result of all these reflections is a solid, compact and uniformed vol- ume. It is not faultless, but it is, in any case, a modest yet comprehensive reflection of the contemporary paradigm in the discipline of myth-criticism.
  • 15. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 15 Reading will endorse or recuse the work hereby presented: an attempt to understand through myth the literary and artistic manifestations of our time and, above all, the expression of an honest desire to understand our world and how we live it. José Manuel Losada Madrid, April 16, 2015 jlosada@ucm.es www.josemanuellosada.es Translated by Rebeca Gualberto Valverde
  • 16.
  • 17. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 17 Prefacio ¿Es cierto que, producto del ser humano, el mito nace, crece, se repro- duce y muere? Cada una de estas etapas requeriría una investigación. Aquí analizamos cómo se adaptan a las turbulencias de nuestra época—ss. xx y xxi—, queremos trazar su evolución y discernir si sus crisis acarrean resur- gimiento o muerte. Varias circunstancias explican que los mitos entren en crisis. En ocasiones el entorno sociocultural originario se transforma de tal manera que exige una modificación en el contexto general del mito. Así, el ángel tradicional de la cultura occidental conserva sus funciones (mensajero y colaborador), pero adquiere características propias de nuestra época: en sintonía con el fenómeno de la Nueva Era (New Age), presenta una dimen- sión estética, sentimental e incluso sexual. De igual modo, Pigmalión pierde el mitema de la animación de la materia inerte para quedar reducido a una aventura amorosa abocada al fracaso. En una línea de mayor calado, el mito del Grial, cáliz eucarístico de la vida eterna, se convierte, ante la crisis de la trascendencia, en el vaso sagrado que solo sana las heridas físicas o garan- tiza una inmortalidad exclusivamente terrenal. En otras ocasiones, los mitos también pueden entrar en crisis debido a un cambio sustancial en su entorno histórico. Baste tomar el ejemplo del Comendador en el mito de Don Juan: hoy ya no hay comendadores. A este problema se añade la pérdida de verosimilitud de una estatua móvil, trans- formada en pura fantasía por una maquinaria sin tapujos. Además, un mito tan soberanamente dramatúrgico, no puede dejar de acusar el golpe de la crisis del teatro frente al empuje arrollador del cine: la crisis de un género puede acarrear la de las manifestaciones tradicionales de un mito. Otras razones―religiosas, antropológicas―explican la crisis que afecta al mito de la creación humana (Prometeo, Frankenstein), cuyas cristaliza- ciones contemporáneas (el cíborg, el androide, el universo Mátrix) provo- can no pocos interrogantes sobre la identidad del mismo ser humano. Al margen de la problemática de los mitos en crisis, se encuentra otra: la crisis del mito. Esta es particularmente notoria en los siglos xx y xxi, donde los mitos no son tanto los ejes estructurales de los textos como accesorios prescindibles del discurso. Con el objetivo de socavar las bases de la nove- la tradicional, movimientos como el Nouveau Roman rechazan cualquier dimensión mítica. El gran reto del mito es sobrevivir en un mundo decidi- damente inmanente. Es una de las razones que explican el surgimiento de otros “mitos”, sin aparente parentesco con los mitos tradicionales, sagrados. Ambos tipos de mitos tienen cabida en este volumen. Este libro no resulta propiamente de las “actas” del congreso que tuvo lugar en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid en octubre de 2014. A las
  • 18. 18 Prefacio doscientas comunicaciones presentadas ha seguido una profunda evalua- ción efectuada por un nutrido grupo de revisores y una rigurosa selección final por los editores (1 de cada 7 propuestas ha sido escogida). Los artículos seleccionados aportan principios metodológicos y contri- buciones prácticas sobre la problemática de la crisis en los mitos antiguos, medievales y modernos en la literatura y las artes contemporáneas (ss. xx y xxi). Dado que el volumen comprende un resumen de cada artículo y un índice compuesto, que ayudará a orientar la lectura, aquí solo explicaré so- meramente su distribución. i. Teoría del mito La primera pareja de artículos aborda los tipos de crisis que pueden afectar a los mitos en función de sus mitemas y de su relación con la reli- gión (José Manuel Losada, Robert Segal); la segunda se centra en sendos intentos de clarificación terminológica sobre los conceptos de “mito”, “ar- quetipo” o “prototipo” y sobre la especificidad del mito literario (Javier del Prado, Marcin Klik). ii. Mitos antiguos, medievales y modernos De modo congruente con las manifestaciones literarias y artísticas, los mitos antiguos, medievales y modernos acaparan la parte más voluminosa. Con objeto de adoptar un estudio de conjunto coherente, los hemos dispues- to según los aspectos dominantes del individuo y su cultura: su singularidad físico-psicológica, su conciencia moral, su extensión sociopolítica y su ver- tiente metaliteraria. a) El mito y la antropología Las crisis de los mitos son las crisis de la mujer y el hombre actuales. Debido a su componente narrativo y a su proverbial incli- nación por las situaciones extremas, los mitos ponen de relieve la ansiedad o el sobrecogimiento ante la desorientación, el trance del desamor, la imposibilidad de amar a una máquina y el rechazo de la propia apariencia física en una época que cuestiona la identidad de la persona humana (Leon Burnett, Marta Miquel-Baldellou, Adrián García Vidal, Javier Mañero Rodicio). Paralelamente, las crisis de cada mujer y cada hombre ocasio- nan crisis en los mitos―procesos de desmitificación―, por ejemplo, cuando el ideal de ascenso infinito es marginado en favor de la coti- dianeidad (Linda Maria Baros), o cuando los héroes, despojados de la parafernalia multisecular, se sitúan en unas coordenadas espacio- temporales reconocibles y quedan despojados de la invulnerabilidad (Sophie Coudray, Pierre Cuvelier).
  • 19. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 19 Toda crisis implica una anticrisis, la reacción surge inmediata― la remitificación―a través de la búsqueda heroica de la libertad por los hombres que se consideran presa del hastío doméstico (Helena González-Vaquerizo). b) El mito, la moral y la religión La crisis de la trascendencia en la sociedad contemporánea con- lleva la crisis del mito, tradicionalmente basado en la combinación de dos mundos. Sin creencia en un más allá, el hombre se encamina a un apocalipsis sin Dios donde pueda “redimirse” a sí mismo (Rebeca Gualberto); sin diablo con quien pactar, el hombre se obsesiona me- nos por el saber y el poder que por su propia decrepitud temporal (Mariano García); frente a la catástrofe ecológica y las contradiccio- nes del racionalismo ateo o del fundamentalismo teísta, el poeta se pregunta si es posible y merece la pena vivir un nuevo encantamien- to (Ben Pestell). c) El mito, la política y la sociedad Un número considerable de mitos ha sido interpretado como me- táfora de conflictos entre el Estado y el individuo, entre la sociedad patriarcal y la sociedad matriarcal, entre relaciones de parentesco; así, la mujer opta por desligarse de un mundo hecho por los hom- bres y para los hombres (José Luis Arcaz Pozo), donde las viudas son relegadas a seres de segunda categoría por designación divina (Sanghita Sen & Indrani Mukherjee). El cambio del paradigma tam- bién se puede constatar en algunas tendencias de la sociedad con- temporánea―por ejemplo, la teoría queer― que dan al traste con las dicotomías habituales (Giuliano Lozzi). d) El mito y la metaliteratura La crisis de los mitos no afecta a sus funciones metaliterarias: la emergencia de un nombre mítico puede revelar la utilización paró- dica de un hipotexto (Ian de Toffoli), el poeta aniquila a los mons- truos de su laberinto mediante el hilo de la palabra (Adriana Martins- Frias), o la performance actualiza el mito antiguo en una empresa de conquista verbal de la realidad (Manel Feijoó).
  • 20. 20 Prefacio iii. Mitos de la inmanencia Un problema que la crítica no puede obviar es la aparición de mitos diversos de los antiguos, medievales y modernos, de los mitos tradicionales marcados por una trascendencia aceptada o rechazada. Pseudomitos, mitos de la inmanencia, deformaciones de la sociedad de masas, únicos mitos hoy posibles… hay infinitas maneras de interpretarlos (yo he procurado hacerlo en el artículo “Tipología de los mitos modernos”, a modo de epílogo del li- bro Nuevas formas del mito, Berlín, Logos, 2015). Básicamente resultan de procesos de mitificación de personajes reales, ficticios y pueblos o naciones. a) Personaje real mitificado Comprende el omnipresente “mito de artista”, tipo de emanación romántica del escritor (Ana González-Rivas), o el mito de los gran- des magos de la Nouvelle Critique (Metka Zupančič). b) Personaje ficticio mitificado Los personajes de la ficción contemporánea pueden adquirir los poderes de los santos, los diablos y los reyes de antaño (Alejandra Spagnuolo), o afirmar la preeminencia de la ficción artística sobre las insuficiencias de lo real (Patricia Martínez). También pueden ser rehenes de la reinterpretación política partidista (Mª Ángeles Varela Olea). c) Nación, espacio y lenguaje mitificados Los mitos comunitarios son susceptibles de innumerables rein- terpretaciones. Así, no faltan políticos que pergeñan una utilización fraudulenta y prostituida del mito, convirtiéndolo en cortesana lite- raria que les permita mantener vivos los sueños complacidos de un pueblo (Juan González Etxeberria). O escritores que elevan su in- fancia, un nombre o una familia sobre una peana mistificadora (Anja Schwennsen). O directores de teatro que recurren a la heroicidad de una ciudad contra un imperio para alcanzar el paroxismo escénico (Emmanuel Marigno Vázquez). O los recursos de un pueblo para preservar, a pesar de las crisis históricas, la conciencia nacional de su lengua (Naoko Hosokawa). El resultado de estas reflexiones es un volumen sólido, compacto, uni- forme, no sin fallas, pero en cualquier caso un reflejo modesto y cabal del panorama “crítico” del mito en nuestro tiempo. La lectura será un refrendo o una recusación del trabajo efectuado: un intento de comprender, a través del mito, las manifestaciones literarias y ar
  • 21. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 21 La lectura será un refrendo o una recusación del trabajo efectuado: un intento de comprender, a través del mito, las manifestaciones literarias y ar- tísticas del tiempo presente, y, sobre todo, un anhelo de comprender nuestro mundo y nuestra manera de vivirlo. José Manuel Losada Madrid, 16 de abril de 2015 jlosada@ucm.es www.josemanuellosada.es
  • 22.
  • 23. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 23 Préface Est-il vrai que, à l’image de l’être humain, le mythe naît, grandit, se reproduit et meurt? Chacune de ces étapes nécessiterait une enquête. Nous analyserons ici comment les mythes s’adaptent aux épreuves de notre temps ―xxe et xxie siècles―, et retracerons leur évolution afin de discerner si les crises qu’ils ont traversées ont entraîné avec elles la résurgence ou la mort. Plusieurs facteurs expliquent que les mythes sont en crise. Parfois l’environnement socioculturel originel se modifie de telle sorte qu’il exige un changement du contexte général du mythe. Ainsi, l’ange tra- ditionnel de la culture occidentale conserve ses fonctions (de messager et de collaborateur), mais acquiert des traits caractéristiques propres à notre époque: en phase avec le phénomène de la Nouvelle Ère (New Age), l’ange présente une dimension esthétique, sentimentale, y compris sexuelle. De même, le mythe de Pygmalion perd le mythème de l’animation de la matière inerte pour être réduit à une histoire amoureuse vouée à l’échec. Dans un registre de plus grande envergure, le mythe du Graal, le calice eucharistique de la vie éternelle, devient, face à la crise de la transcendance, la coupe qui soigne uniquement les blessures physiques ou garantit une immortalité exclusivement terrestre. En d’autres occasions, les mythes peuvent aussi entrer en crise à cause d’un changement important du contexte historique. Il suffit de prendre l’exemple du Commandeur dans le mythe de Don Juan: aujourd’hui, il n’y a plus de commandeurs. Ce problème s’ajoute à la perte de crédibilité d’une statue en mouvement, transformée ouvertement en pur fantasme par une machinerie sans dissimulation. En outre, le déclin d’un mythe si souverai- nement dramaturgique ne peut s’expliquer seulement par la crise du théâtre face à l’essor retentissant du cinéma: la crise d’un genre peut apporter avec elle celle des manifestations traditionnelles d’un mythe. D’autres raisons―religieuses, anthropologiques―expliquent par ailleurs la crise qui affecte le mythe de la création humaine (Prométhée, Frankenstein), dont les manifestations contemporaines (le cyborg, l’an- droïde, l’univers Matrix) amènent un certain nombre de questions sur l’identité même de l’être humain. Outre la problématique des mythes en crise, il en existe une autre: la crise du mythe. Celle-ci est particulièrement observable lors des xxe et xxie siècles, quand les mythes ne sont pas tant les axes structuraux des textes que les outils accessoires du discours. Dans le but de renverser les bases litté- raires du roman traditionnel, des mouvements comme le Nouveau Roman rejettent toute dimension “mythique”. Le grand défi du mythe est de sur- vivre dans un monde décidément immanent. C’est l’une des raisons qui expliquent l’émergence d’autres “mythes”, sans relation apparente avec les
  • 24. 24 Préface mythes sacrés traditionnels. Les deux types de mythes ont leur place dans ce volume. Ce livre n’est pas issu à proprement parler des actes du congrès qui s’est tenu à l’Université Complutense de Madrid au mois d’octobre 2014. Deux cents communications furent présentées lors de cet événement. À la suite d’une évaluation approfondie effectuée par des examinateurs externes, les éditeurs ont parachevé une sélection finale rigoureuse (une proposition sur sept a été retenue). Les articles sélectionnés fournissent des principes méthodologiques et des contributions pratiques sur la problématique de la crise des mythes an- tiques, médiévaux et modernes dans la littérature et les arts contemporains (xxe et xxie siècles). Étant donné que le volume comprend un résumé de chaque article et un indice composite associé qui aidera à guider la lecture, je me limite à expliquer ici brièvement sa répartition. i. Théorie du mythe Les deux premiers articles abordent les types de crises qui peuvent af- fecter les mythes sur la base de leurs mythèmes et leur relation à la religion (José Manuel Losada, Robert Segal); les deux suivants se focalisent sur deux tentatives distinctes de clarification terminologique sur les concepts de mythe, d’archétype ou de prototype, et sur la spécificité du mythe littéraire (Javier del Prado, Marcin Klik). ii. Les mythes antiques, médiévaux et modernes De manière conséquente avec les événements littéraires et artistiques, les mythes anciens, médiévaux et modernes monopolisent la partie la plus volumineuse. Afin d’adopter une étude d’ensemble cohérente, ils ont été organisés selon les aspects dominants de l’individu dans sa culture: sa sin- gularité physique et psychologique, sa conscience morale, son étendue so- ciopolitique et sa dimension métalittéraire. a) Le mythe et l’anthropologie Les crises des mythes sont les crises des femmes et des hommes d’aujourd’hui. En raison de leur composante narrative et de leur pen- chant proverbial pour les situations extrêmes, les mythes soulignent l’anxiété ou la crainte d’être désorienté, la peur du désamour, l’inca- pacité à aimer une machine et le rejet de sa propre apparence phy- sique dans une époque qui remet en question l’identité de l’individu (Leon Burnett, Marta Miquel-Baldellou, Adrián García Vidal, Javier Mañero Rodicio).
  • 25. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 25 Parallèlement, les crises de chaque femme et de chaque homme engendrent des crises de mythes―processus de démythification― par exemple, lorsque l’idéal de l’ascension infinie est repoussé en faveur de celui de la vie quotidienne (Linda Maria Baros), ou lorsque les héros, dépouillés de l’attirail des siècles passés, se retrouvent dans des coordonnées spatio-temporelles reconnaissables et s’avèrent pri- vés d’invulnérabilité (Sophie Coudray, Pierre Cuvelier). Chaque crise entraînant une anti-crise, la réaction est immé- diate―la remythification―à travers la quête héroïque de la liberté par des hommes qui se considèrent prisonniers de l’ennui domes- tique (Helena González-Vaquerizo). b) Le mythe, la morale et la religion La crise de la transcendance dans la société contemporaine entraîne la crise du mythe, celui-ci traditionnellement fondé sur la combinaison de deux mondes. Sans croyance dans une vie après la mort, l’homme chemine vers une apocalypse dans un monde sans Dieu où il cherche à se racheter par lui-même (Rebeca Gualberto); sans diable avec qui faire un pacte, l’homme s’obsède moins pour la connaissance et le pouvoir que pour sa propre décrépitude tem- porelle (Mariano García); face à la catastrophe écologique et aux contradictions du rationalisme athée ou du fondamentalisme théiste, le poète se demande s’il vaut la peine de vivre un nouveau sortilège (Ben Pestell). c) Le mythe, la politique et la société Un certain nombre de mythes ont été interprétés comme une mé- taphore du conflit entre l’État et l’individu, entre la société patriar- cale et matriarcale, entre les relations de parenté; ainsi, la femme choisit de rompre avec un monde fait par les hommes et pour les hommes (José Luis Arcaz Pozo), où les veuves sont reléguées à des êtres de seconde classe par désignation divine (Sanghita Sen & Indrani Mukherjee). Le changement de paradigme peut également se refléter dans certaines tendances de la société contemporaine―par exemple, la théorie queer―qui bouleversent les dichotomies habi- tuelles (Giuliano Lozzi). d) Le mythe et la métalittérature La crise des mythes n’affecte pas leurs fonctions métalittéraires: l’émergence d’un nom mythique peut révéler l’utilisation parodique d’un hypotexte (Ian de Toffoli), le poète détruit les monstres du laby- rinthe par le fil de la parole poétique (Adriana Martins-Frias), ou la
  • 26. 26 Préface performance met à jour le mythe antique grâce à une entreprise de conquête verbale de la réalité (Manel Feijoó). iii. Mythes de l’immanence Un problème crucial qui ne peut être ignoré est l’émergence de mythes autres que les mythes antiques, médiévaux et modernes, c’est-à-dire, les mythes traditionnels marqués par une transcendance, fût-elle acceptée ou rejetée. Pseudo-mythes, mythes de l’immanence, perceptions déformées de la société de masse, aujourd’hui seuls mythes possibles… il y a une infi- nité de manières de les interpréter (j’ai traité cette problématique du mythe dans l’article “Typologie des mythes modernes”, sous forme d’épilogue de l’ouvrage Nuevas formas del mito, Berlin, Logos, 2015). Elles résultent fon- damentalement de divers processus de mythification de personnages réels, fictifs, et de peuples ou de nations. a) Personnage réel mythifié On trouve ici l’omniprésent “mythe de l’artiste”, un type d’éma- nation romantique de l’écrivain (Ana González-Rivas), ou le mythe des grands magiciens de la Nouvelle Critique (Metka Zupančič). b) Personnage de fiction mythifié Les personnages de fiction peuvent acquérir les pouvoirs de saints, de diables et d’anciens rois (Alejandra Spagnuolo), ou affir- mer la primauté de la fiction artistique sur les insuffisances du réel (Patricia Martínez). Ils peuvent également résulter de la réinterpréta- tion politique partisane (Mª Ángeles Varela Olea). c) Nation, espace et langue mythifiés Les mythes communautaires sont sujets à de nombreuses réin- terprétations. Ainsi, les politiciens ne manquent pas d’exercer une utilisation frauduleuse et travestie du mythe, afin d’entretenir les rêves heureux d’un peuple (Juan González Etxeberria). Parfois les écrivains placent leur enfance, un nom ou une famille dans une dimension mystificatrice (Anja Schwennsen). Ailleurs, des met- teurs en scène ont recours au passé héroïque d’une ville contre un empire pour atteindre le paroxysme scénique (Emmanuel Marigno Vázquez). Enfin, tout un peuple cherche à préserver, en dépit des crises de l’histoire, la conscience nationale de sa langue (Naoko Hosokawa).
  • 27. Myths in Crisis: The Crisis of Myth 27 Le résultat de ces réflexions est rassemblé dans un volume solide, com- pact, uniforme, non sans failles, dont la réflexion modeste et juste se veut un panorama “critique” du mythe dans notre temps. La lecture sera une approbation ou une disqualification du travail effectué, qui se résume en une tentative de compréhension, par le prisme du mythe, des manifestations littéraires et artistiques du temps présent, et s’attache en définitive à com- prendre notre monde et notre façon d’y vivre. José Manuel Losada Madrid, le 16 avril 2015 jlosada@ucm.es www.josemanuellosada.es
  • 28.
  • 29. Chapter One The Structure of Myth and Typology of its Crisis José Manuel Losada1 Saussure affirmed that language is not substance, but form, a principle of classification and a system of signs wherein only the union of sense and acoustic image is essential, to the point that some languages differ from oth- ers on the principle of difference between their respective signs. Hjelmslev agreed with the general premises of Saussure’s theory, but he maintained that linguistic units cannot be reduced to the aspect of dif- ferentiation, the phonic and semantic context that they involve. For them to be projected into reality, they need to exist independently of that reality. Consequently, he stated that linguistic units are defined by the connections that bind them to other units of language. For Hjelmslev, the sign must give precedence to the phoneme and the seme, and definition to connec- tion; likewise, it is necessary to define linguistic elements according to their combinatorial relations. I do not intend to enter into semiology or glossematics. I am taking these analyses of the Swiss and Danish linguists to demonstrate the fundamen- tal units that structure myth. Hjelmslev sought to determine the specificity of languages from the commutative study of units smaller than the sign. Similarly, I posit that it is possible to identify the structural specificity of myths from the combinatorial relations that their fundamental elements es- tablish among themselves. What interests me is accentuating the elements that allow us to detect a myth and distinguish it from others. These constant elements, which criticism calls invariants or “large consti- tutive units or mythemes” (“grosses unités constitutives ou mythèmes”, Lévi- Strauss, 241), can appear in one or various myths, but—just as in linguis- tics—must maintain among themselves certain connections or laws of func- tioning, i.e., they must establish a set of combinatorial relations. This explains the plurality of manifestations of a single myth, which remains identifiable as such as long as the combinations that shape it are not substantially modified. If these are essentially altered, the myth is noticeably disturbed: sometimes distorted, and sometimes irreconcilable; in all cases, suffers a crisis. 1 This article has been translated by Veronica Mayer, Ph.D. candidate in Spanish at Yale University, New Haven, CT.
  • 30. 30 Chapter One 1. The Structure of Myth 1.1. Theme and Mytheme One of the common mistakes among young (and not-so-young) scholars of myth-criticism is to confuse theme and mytheme. It is not enough that a theme occurs frequently in a myth for it to be identified as a mytheme. A mytheme is a theme whose transcendent or supernatural dimension allows it to interact with other mythemes to form a myth. Another important aside: we must distinguish between storyline and mytheme. I do not mean to claim that the narrative occurrences of a text do not constitute a myth, but it is useful to distinguish between the events of a myth’s story and its mythic structure. Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (c. 430 bc) contains narrative episodes that are nonessential to the plotline: the plague that strikes the city, the city of Thebes itself, Tiresias’s revelation to Oedipus, the confrontation between Creon and the king, or Jocasta’s ob- structing the investigation of Laius’ death. By contrast, there are the “fun- damental episodes”: the abandonment of the baby on Mount Cithaeron, the circumstances of the patricide, the victory over the Sphinx, the incest, and the punishment (Astier, 20). These episodes could be summarized in the following themes: orphanhood, patricide, riddle, incest, and punishment. When removed from their accidental connections, these themes expose the authentic skeleton of the myth. We must not forget, though, that themes are merely unvarying elements when they possess a mythic, transcendent dimension. In the myth of Oedipus, for instance, patricide and incest are inevitable because they determine the hero’s fate. Of course, these unvarying elements are adapted in every era. Thus, for instance, orphanhood is privileged in Gide’s Œdipe (1931), as the author is particularly inclined to understand freedom as undoing the obligations of the past (Morales Peco, 296-98). From his first speech, the protagonist is shown to be proud of his uprooting: Je suis Œdipe. Quarante ans d’âge, vingt ans de règne. Par la force de mes poignets, j’atteins au sommet du bonheur. Enfant perdu, trouvé, sans état civil, sans papiers, je suis surtout heureux de ne devoir rien qu’à moi-même (i; t. ii, 683). I am Oedipus. Fourty years old, twenty years reigning. By the force of my hands, I have reached the height of happiness. Child lost, found, without official status, without papers, I am above all happy not to owe anything to anyone but myself.
  • 31. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 31 The most clearly observable proof of the claim that myth is made up of specific elements is the presence of these in texts that intentionally remove traces of the original storyline; only the reader’s expertise can dust them off and identify them. Les Gommes, by Robbe-Grillet (1953), is a detec- tive novel in which a terrorist group’s attempt to assassinate Daniel Dupont has failed. Wallas, a recently promoted agent, is determined to uncover the culprits. This plot seems to have nothing to do with the myth of Oedipus. Along the lines of the Nouveau Roman, the text questions the existence of any psychological substance. All that remains is a descriptive record of material atomized into a multiplicity of variants that neutralize any attempt at finding meaning. Yet all the unvarying elements of the myth are pres- ent in Les Gommes, even if they are hidden: 1. the uncertain origin of the protagonist (motifs drawn on a curtain show an abandoned child raised by shepherds, and Wallas is called a “found child”); 2. the identification of the protagonist with the killer (the detective unintentionally kills Daniel Dupont, his father); 3. the riddle posed by the Sphinx (recurrent appearance of the drunkard who ceaselessly poses the question, “What animal, in the morning…?”); 4. the relationship between the protagonist and his mother (Wallas remembers that, as a boy, he had come to the city with his mother); 5. the exile from the city (the detective must resign from his position in the Investigation Department). Other indications (Corinth Street, the half- erased name “…di…”, the feet swollen from too much walking) also point inexorably toward Sophocles’ tragedy; these, however, are less important for our purpose. Only the five indicators listed comprise the skeleton of the myth of Oedipus. This is ever more relevant insofar as the aesthetic move- ment that frames Les Gommes proposes the dissolution of the concepts of character and meaning. And yet, just as in Gide, both the structure and the meaning of the text would be considerably diminished if bereft of these unvarying elements. 1.2. The Articulation of the Mythemes For there to be myth, there must be at least two mythemes laid out in a specific combination. This is similar to linguistics, where phemes (distinc- tive phonic traits) and semes (distinctive semantic traits) are articulated to configure a phoneme and a sememe. Myths are also constituted by relevant themes in an equally relevant distribution. When a relevant theme becomes part of the basic configuration of a singular myth, it then becomes a my- theme. The connection of mythemes occurs in two main planes, similar to those in which signs are associated in language: in praesentia, or syntagmatic, and in absentia, or paradigmatic. This requires us to explain the degree of
  • 32. 32 Chapter One abstraction of the invariants (unvarying elements). Components of myth become related to each other on paradigmatic level, and they substitute each other in a context, that is, in the syntagmatic level. But in the paradigmatic level they appear in an abstract or thematic way, just as in the syntagmatic level they appear in a concrete, phraseological way. It is of particular inter- est to study the characteristics and consequences of the relationships that the elements of a given mythic paradigmatic axis establish with the elements of a given mythic syntagmatic axis. The result will help us clarify which are the relevant elements of a particular version of a myth, and which are the unvarying elements of a singular myth. Now we shall focus on the myth of the vampire. One of its themes is hematophagy, or feeding on blood. But hematophagy, on its own, is merely a theme: mosquitoes, too, drink blood, as do ticks, fleas, lice, leeches, lam- preys, vampire finches, and even some mammals such as the phyllostomi- dae, called “vampire bats”, of the Desmodontinae subfamily. Feeding on human blood (human hematophagy) is also (just) a theme, as many mosqui- toes are nourished on human blood, and so is the resulting parasitism. Even the transition from a simple to a complex theme (predation > hematophagy > human hematophagy) does not make the theme inherently mythic. Rather, when human hematophagy is the sole source of sustenance is when we begin to see the myth shine through. Indeed, it does not seem natural, nor is there any scientific basis that sustains the possibility of an organism subsisting solely on human blood. Furthermore, in the figure of the vampire this type of predation coincides with other themes: evilness, aversion, and seduction. These themes, in turn, would be no more than mere thematic compo- nents if it were not for their intimate relationship with a supernatural dimen- sion (the diabolical in the case of the vampire). For instance, if we think about seduction, the peacock spreads its fan of tail feathers to seduce the female, but this seductive metamorphosis is natural. By contrast, the vam- pire’s metamorphosis into a cloud of smoke to gain access to the victim, in addition to the inevitable fascination that entails, demonstrates an incon- trovertible transcendent dimension that determines that the theme becomes authentically mythic. Moreover, there can be no predator without a prey, without another life, without the blood of a living organism: hence the vic- tim is a theme as well. But, again, this remains a mere theme, even when the victim is human. The natural victim of a mosquito bite is also human. We see, then, that it is the diabolical anthropohematophagy that closes the circle: this is almost the complete shape of myth. Finally, the transformation that a victim of hematophagy undergoes is not in itself a mythic theme, either: the infection caused by the parasite introduced by the predator affects the victim considerably, even bringing death in its wake in some cases (for instance, with malaria transmitted by
  • 33. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 33 the Anopheles mosquito), but again, the result is natural. Instead, the meta- morphosis experienced by the victim of a vampire bite is supernatural, since it causes a substantial change: the victim transforms from human being to vampiric being. To conclude, the conjunction of all these themes—on the one hand, the predator’s human hematophagy and seductive metamorpho- sis, and, on the other, the victim’s metamorphosis into the predator’s dou- ble—is what makes them mythic, and thus constituents of the myth of the vampire. The union and combination of mythic themes can only produce one myth, the definition of which must contain them all in a unified way. This series of abstractions is exemplified in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Count Dracula is the predator par excellence, who, along with his vampiresses, drinks the blood of his victims to survive and rejuvenate. He is a murderer (of the zoophagous maniac Renfield), and personifies diabolical evil (is rendered powerless when facing a consecrated host) and seduction (of the vampiresses in the castle in Transylvania and of the young Londoners Lucy and Mina). Among his victims are also the lawyer Jonathan Harker, Lucy, and Mina, who represent goodness and love. F. W. Murnau’s film adaptation Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), presents clear differences, such as the names of the characters (Dracula/Orlok, Harker/Hutter, Mina/Ellen) and the location (London, Viborg—Bremen in the French version). The reason for this is well-known: Murnau, who had not obtained the rights for the story, decided to film his own version of the novel (this did not, however, prevent him from being sued for infraction of copyright). The plot changes are even more signifi- cant: Hutter’s stay in the castle, the epidemic in the city on Orlok’s arrival, the heroines’fates… From the point of view of myth-criticism, these chang- es are irrelevant, since they do not affect the unvarying elements of the myth, that is, the mythemes. The mytheme of the diabolical is exemplary in the film. In the novel, the protagonists sterilize all the Count’s hideouts in London by placing consecrated hosts in every casket containing earth from Transylvania; in the film, while Hutter is having dinner, he cuts his finger, and Orlok tries to suck his blood, but he holds himself back when he sees the crucifix that his guest is wearing. While the means by which the Count’s diabolical nature materializes vary, the mytheme remains the same. This is what I mean when I say that a mytheme is the unvarying component of a myth. In the case of the vampire, the diabolical predation is indispensable in any of its versions; by contrast, the way in which the vampire is fought (with the Host in the novel) or discovered (with the crucifix in the film) is not. We have seen how the combination of mythemes, often in a specific order, originates the myth. Thus, we could define myth as a combination of mythemes. This means that a specific myth is a specific combination of a specific set of mythemes. In mythemes and their combination we can find,
  • 34. 34 Chapter One metaphorically speaking, the genetic code of a myth. In fact, if we consider mythemes as the genes in a myth’s dna, their combination becomes like a sequence of dna in a chromosome. All the genetic information of the myth can be summarized in a simple mythic conjunction: the rest are the varia- tions of that myth. It is not unusual for a myth to share mythemes (“genes”) with another, but the difference between these two myths results from the different com- position and distribution of their mythemes. When two mythic phenomena share the same “genetic” composition and distribution, that is, when they have exactly the same dna, they are the same myth with different variations. One of the most exciting tasks of myth-criticism is the following process, divided in phases: a) identifying the mythic tales from within the common universe of themes, archetypes, images and symbols; b) isolate the myths contained in those stories; c) group these myths according to their invariants or mythemes; d) analyze the structure of these mythemes; e) understand the only possible way in which these mythemes are distributed in order to con- stitute one single myth, which can then be developed into an infinite number of mythic variations. I also like to compare themes and mythemes with the id cards used by Europeans in their daily lives. Any European citizen can have various types of cards: to accumulate points at a supermarket, to enter the parking lot at the workplace, credit or debit cards…All of them are useful, but expendable. There is only one necessary card for most European citizens: the “national identity card” (or the passport in some countries, i.e., the United Kingdom and United States), which includes a series of necessary facts: first and last name, identification number, fingerprint, expiration date... Among the mass of cards in a wallet, this is the only administratively valid one. Many citi- zens also possess other comparable cards, such as a passport or driver’s license. Only these types of cards are official, i.e., allow for the adminis- trative identification of the citizen. The others are, administratively speak- ing, nonfunctional. In a similar way, myths can inform of different realities: community, space, time, socio-political or economic environments… But the identity of a myth does not reside there. Its mythic uniqueness, which defines it and distinguishes it from all other myths, resides in the combina- tion of its mythemes, like a citizen’s administrative identity is confirmed in the national identity card, passport, or driver’s license. The other themes, like the other cards, are the paratexts of myth, an object of the study of its variations. The configuration of mythemes is the ID of myth.
  • 35. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 35 1.3. The Co-Possession of Mythemes Just as a myth has various mythemes in a certain combination, various myths can share one or various mythemes. Mythemes, which are infinite in theory, are finite in practice. This is why it is possible to establish paral- lelisms between different myths when they have similar mythemes. This exercise allows for a better understanding of how mythemes are combined, how myths can be differentiated, and how to distinguish between myths and pseudo-myths. Two groups of myths will serve as an example: 1.3.1. Don Juan, Faust, the Vampire, the Fallen Angel This first group includes two myths (Don Juan and Faust) that appeared at the beginning of the modern era, and two ancient myths (the vampire and the fallen angel) which crystallized into their current mythic structure to- wards the middle of the modern era, specifically, at the end of the eighteenth century and during Romanticism. The Don Juan myth is intimately related to the vampire myth: like Dracula, Don Juan is, depending on the version, a predator of women, dia- bolical, and a seducer. The myth is also related to the Faust myth. In Goethe’s Faust. Eine Tragedie (1808), the protagonist, thanks to Mephistopheles, se- duces Margaret (Gretchen), who dies when she sees the devil again. Similar analogies can be found amongst Don Juan, Faust, and an ancient myth popular in Romanticism: the fallen angel. Two theatrical pieces are particu- larly symptomatic for this purpose. 1. The tragedy Don Juan und Faust by Grabbe (1829), where Faust makes a pact with the knight (Der Ritter), who is the representative of the devil or “fallen angel”, and tries to seduce Donna Anna before causing her death. 2. The fantasy play Don Juan de Maraña ou la chute d’un ange, by Dumas senior (1836), where Don Josès, stripped of his inheritance by his brother Don Juan, sells his soul to the devil to get re- venge, and where a good angel—Le Bon Ange—obtains the Virgin Mary’s permission to descend to earth, in the appearance of Sœur Marthe, to save the seducer from Heaven’s wrath. An invisible line unites the unvarying elements of the myths of Don Juan, Faust, the vampire and the fallen angel; another runs parallel and does the same with the play’s victims. All of these hold a notable place in the pantheon of Judaeo-Christian myths. The relationships between two or more myths allow for very productive readings. We observe, therefore, that a mytheme could be indispensable in one myth and in its versions, but only optional in another, where hardly any version uses it. In the first case, the mytheme belongs; in the second, it is complementary. The devil (and the pact with him) is necessary in all versions of Faust, but appears rarely in the different versions of Don Juan. In the Faust stories the Devil is relevant, for there is no Faust without the
  • 36. 36 Chapter One Devil. In the Don Juan stories, however, the devil is complementary, such as in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Don Juan (1812), where the hero’s physiogno- my acquires traces of Mephistopheles (“etwas vom Mephistopheles in die Physiognomie”, Fantasiestücke, 1993, 85), or in the aforementioned Don Juan de Maraña by Dumas, where the Bad Angel disappears after propos- ing the pact, “Call me, Don Juan, I will come to you” (“Appelle-moi, don Juan, je monterai vers toi”, 1, 1er tableau, 7, Trois Don Juan, 1995, 55). The Devil and/or the pact with the Devil emerge occasionally in the Don Juan myth, proving that it is not an unvarying element of this myth. Lesson: a co- possession of mythemes does not imply a confusion of myths. 1.3.2. “Der Muselmann”, the Hunchback, the Werewolf, and the Vampire We have just seen an example of a grouping of several myths by a co- possession of mythemes. We should also group myths from the opposite perspective, that is, not by the connection between the myths themselves but by one mytheme only. The group that is subsequently brought up thus contains four “myths” (the discrimination will come shortly) the origin of which does not matter now as much as the mytheme that groups them: mythic hybridization. Hybridization has always been a breeding ground for myths. In Se questo è un uomo (1947), Primo Levi describes interesting characters from Auschwitz, a sort of zombies: Lalorovitaèbreve,mailloronumeroèsterminato;sonoloro,iMuselmänner, i sommersi, il nerbo del campo; loro, la massa anonima, continuamente rin- novata e sempre identica, dei non-uomini che marciano e faticano in silen- zio, spenta in loro la scintilla divina, già troppo vuoti per soffrire veramente. Si esita a chiamarli vivi: si esita a chiamar morte la loro morte, davanti a cui essi non temono perché sono troppo stanchi per comprenderla. Their life is brief, but their number is limitless; they are the Muselmänner, the sunken, the foundation of the camp; they, the anonymous mass, continu- ally renewed and always identical, of un-men that march and toil in silence, the divine flame in them gone out, already too empty to truly suffer. One hesitates to call them alive: one hesitates to name their death ‘death’, in the face of which they do not fear, for they are too tired to understand it (2005, 120-21). Monsters according to Foucault’s definition, Muselmänner present char- acteristics closely related to those of werewolves, not in the fusion of hu- man and lupine nature, but in the social exclusion and, more concretely, in their “relative” life according to the parameters of society. Peter Arnds has
  • 37. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 37 observed this well: “The Muselmann between life and death is the twentieth century’s version of the medieval wolfman between human and animal” (361). Arnds also establishes a relationship between the werewolf and the hunchback, the modern metaphor of the representation of the monstrous, as various texts he has selected show: The Tin Drum (Günter Grass), Le Roi des aulnes (Michel Tournier), and Se questo è un uomo (Primo Levi). Oskar Matzerath, Abel Tiffauges or the dwarf Elias respectively, act as representa- tions of mythic concepts (the sub-human, the superman, the monster hybrid between animal and human). Peter Arnds’ interpretation brings to the table the current remodeling of ancient and medieval myths. Even by scratching the surface of the texts, we can contrast these modulations throughout history. Take the case of the hunchback. In Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), by Victor Hugo, the narrator defines the famous Quasimodo as an instinctual and savage half-man (“sorte de demi-homme instinctif et sauvage;” 1. iv, ch. 5, 160). On the border between beast and man, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame is in an uncertain, ambivalent position, in the ante-chamber of the sinister, concomitant, to a large extent, with the mythic. The setting of the novel in the Late Middle Ages, specifically in 1482, responds to the mythic dimension of the era in the creative imagination of the author. Surely, this mythic interpretation of two social and literary types (the Muselmann and the hunchback) cannot escape a brief discussion. In my opinion, the co-possession of mythemes is less real than imaginary. They are not hybrids; rather, they are attributed hybrid qualities, analogous to real hybridizations, by the other characters (the prisoners of the concentration camps and the citizens of Paris), unlike the werewolf or the vampire, who truly are hybrid beings. One could say that the imaginary co-possession of mythemes opens a more or less ephemeral mythologizing process: this co- possession, then, gives them a similar mythic “side” But to be precise, they lack an authentic mythic dimension. What we can most clearly learn from this analysis is to understand, by contrasting mythemes, the authentic hybridization of two other myths: the werewolf and the vampire. Let us take the case of the werewolf, that ancient myth that achieves particular fame in the Middle Ages. In the lai called Bisclavret, by Marie de France (1160-75), we read: Jadis le poeit hume oïr, E sovent suleit avenir, Humes plusurs garval devindrent E es boscages meisun tindrent (1959, 56).
  • 38. 38 Chapter One Once, one could hear it told, And oft it happened, That many a man a were-wolf became And the woods had as a dwelling. The Old French term garval (also garwaf, garvalf) comes from the Frankish *wariwulf or *werewolf (close to the English werewolf) and means the same as “wolfman”, since wer (as in Old English) comes from the Indo- European *wiro (“man”, such as vir in Latin) and wulf (“wolf”). The garval, like any werewolf, adopts its lupine form and ferocity at night, but returns to human form and rationality in the day. A similar ambiguity affects the vam- pire, who has to sleep in the daytime and hunt at night. Both beings used to be human but are now a wolf and a vampire that adopt a human appearance in the daytime. This appearance is a negative one: in the daytime, they do not behave according to their true form. Nonetheless, the human appearance of these beings keeps popular imagination from identifying them as mere animals (a wolf, a vampire bat). This is the root of their mythic nature: the extraordinary combination of an animal nature and a human (in this case, daytime) appearance. Symbols of group and solitary nocturnal predation respectively, wolves (the largest car- nivorous mammal in Europe) and vampires (the only flying mammal) have fascinated the imagination of European inhabitants since ancient times. These Europeans do not hesitate to project themselves onto these symbols, while at the same time remaining themselves. The resulting ambiguity of this hybridization is, without any doubt, mythic. 2. The Crisis of Myth Once we have established the structure of myths through its basic prin- ciples, we are ready to tackle the dangers that threaten it: distortion, devia- tion, and disappearance. But what does this mean? In the traditional formula, man is born, grows, reproduces, and dies. The same does not occur with myth. Unlike man, where biology plays an irre- placeable role, myth is an eminently cultural product; as such, its endurance does not depend as much on the vicissitudes that affect every person as on those that affect every civilization. Myth has its roots in human beings, in their cognitive, volitional, and imaginative faculties… and even in their biology. In this way, it does de- pend on the vicissitudes that affect every human being: myth can also “die” in each person, independently of its development in a culture. Its consis- tency is continually threatened, as we see in Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (1817). Clara, Nathanael’s lover, is convinced that Coppelius and Coppola only exist in the young man’s imagination, that they are phantoms of his
  • 39. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 39 own self, and that they will disappear like dust as soon as he realizes this (“daβ Coppelius und Coppola nur in meinem Innern existieren und Fantome meines Ich’s sind, die augenblicklich zerstäuben, wenn ich sie als solche, erkenne”, Nachstücke, 1985, 24). Nathanael even begins to accept that the attorney and barometer dealer are two distinct people, the former German, the latter Italian; the myth suffers when encountering Clara’s “didactic” rea- soning. Nonetheless, the fantastic nature of the story continues the confu- sion of imagination and reality, which becomes a paroxysm in the mind of the protagonist, because of the optical illusion of the automaton, and thus triggers his madness. The final appearance of Coppelius among the curious bystanders after Nathanael’s suicide transfers the uncertainty to the reader’s mind: the myth recovers its consistency. These vicissitudes—of every culture, every woman and every man— bring about a “crisis” of myth which must be analyzed. The way in which myth, because of its development in the story, reacts to that crisis will lead to its resurgence, its degeneration or its decease. In this way, the conditions under which myths adapt to the crises that threaten them are an indispens- able element of myth-criticism. These conditions of adaptation are intimately related to mythic invari- ants, or mythemes. Mythic invariants make up the skeleton of myth, the structure that gives a story mythic consistency. To be precise, myth never exists only in “bone” but in “flesh and bone”, i.e., in cultural, anthropologi- cal, and sociological phenomena, most of the time through artistic or liter- ary resorts. In other words, myths are inseparable from the combinations that they form amongst themselves. Earlier, we superficially analyzed some of these relationships (articulation, co-possession, relevance, and comple- mentarity). Now, we must analyze the different crises that threaten myths as a consequence of the shift of these relationships among their mythemes. 2.1. Typology of the Crisis of Myth There are various types of crisis of myth, depending on the mythemes. I will discuss three: 1. The relative modification of a myth’s constitutive or unvarying ele- ments causes its distortion. In these cases, the myth is easily recognizable. 2. The inversion of a myth’s constitutive elements causes its subversion. The myth is still recognizable, but its appearance is noticeably changed. 3. The absolute modification and even suppression of a myth’s constitu- tive elements implies different consequences, depending on the case: dif- ficulty in identifying the myth, disappearance, transformation, demytholo- gizing, etc.
  • 40. 40 Chapter One Beyond the crisis that affects specific myths, depending on the internal structure of each, there is another problem: the crisis of myth itself, particu- larly infamous in postmodernity. Unlike in other eras, myths are not regu- larly the primary subjects of the plot—as in the classical period—or even their complementary motifs—as in Romanticism. Certainly, current literary and artistic creation tends to reject the mythic dimension as a basis, but this does not mean the disappearance of myth. Truth be told, it is not as much a problem of myth as it is a problem of contemporaneity itself: its question- ing of artistic creation, of the author, of characters, and even of the reader. Despite this crisis, myth endures in one way or another. My thesis about the mythic “skeleton” is that, despite appearances, the absolute modification of unvarying elements is truly rare. The mythologi- cal universe is immense precisely because individual mythemes are rela- tively easily modified. These changes suppose a distancing from the rule, a “heresy” of the canon shaping a specific myth tradition. But this is normal: literature and the arts are characterized by their subversive, heterodox, and consequently, heretical quality compared to the “ideal” standard of each myth. In reality, the history of myth is a continuous variation of the constitu- tive mythic elements. Myth is less fragile than it seems. In a parallel way, it would be useful to consider that relative or absolute modifications of a myth’s constitutive elements are products of the times and, for that reason, reveal not only the conditions of the mythemes, but also the conditions of each time, place, and civilization. Next, we shall study cases of myth variations regarding the relative and absolute modifications of their mythemes. 2.1.1. Relative Modification of Mythemes, Distortion of Myth An example from the Bible: the traditional angels of Judeo-Christian culture. In the contemporary Western world, they are still the messengers and helpers of human beings, but they have lost some of the characteristics specific to the Jewish or Christian angel. Instead, they adopt others from our era, and so the angels of today are spiritual beings endowed with a body, completely in tune with the New Age movement. Consequently, one could argue that this materialization of angels implies an absolute modification of an unvarying element, a disappearance of the angels of myth. It is true that according to Christian doctrine, angels are created beings endowed with exclusively spiritual substance, superior to hu- mans and inferior to God, who undertake specific missions. This is a theo- logical definition debated by Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, 1a , 50, a.1) and declared by Pius x in his motu proprio “Doctoris Angelici”, from 1914 (“Creatura spiritualis est in sua essentia omnino simplex”). According
  • 41. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 41 to Thomistic thought, angels are only composed of essence in their being, and composed of substance through accidents, and not made of spirit with matter (as is the case with humans). But we cannot confuse a theological definition, later adopted as dogma by the Catholic Church, with the mythic development of the figure of the angel. We cannot confuse either the theol- ogy or the theme of the angel with the myth of the angel. Since very ancient times, angels were conceived as spiritual beings en- dowed with matter. This belief was common, even among numerous Church Fathers of the West and East. The fact that our time continues to identify angels independently of their material or spiritual nature clarifies for us the variable nature of this element in the plane of myth: absolute spirituality is not a mytheme of the myth of angels. This does not preclude spirituality from being preponderant over ma- teriality in the angel myth (similar to how the werewolf’s lupine nature predominates over the human). Furthermore, the mythic quality of the angel is based on its spiritual predominance, as its iconography makes clear: it is frequently represented with wings, able to move around without the mate- rial restrictions to which human beings are subject (slowness, grounding on the earth, impossibility of passing through matter…). This spiritual preva- lence is indeed an invariant of myth, as is the role of undertaking specific missions, such as transmitting messages or predicting the future. Any sub- stantial adjustment of these unvarying elements (spirituality, message, or mission) would indeed constitute a disappearance of the angel myth. In the case that concerns us, contemporary angels do not forego their at- tributes or missions, but these mythemes suffer a relative adjustment. To this end, the film Michael (Nora Ephron, 1996) is very illuminating. Evidently, this archangel’s (John Travolta) taste for wine and women distances him from the religious stereotype, but his name (the most important of the arch- angels), his wings (even if filthy), and his mission (to fix broken hearts) suf- fice to place him in the mythic world in which we would expect to find an angel. The film somewhat distorts the traditional myth, but does not render it unrecognizable. One could say the same of Dudley (Denzel Washington), the angel sent to the reverend Henry Biggs to save him from his familial and financial troubles in the film The Preacher’s Wife (Penny Marshall, 1996). It matters little that, because of his attraction to Julia, Henry’s wife, Dudley is almost led astray in his purpose: his spiritual nature is made manifest in his mission among humans. When asked about the angelic spirits in her film Michael, Nora Ephron replies: “I think angels have become the embodiment of fate, and love, and a need to believe that there is a God and that God cares about the details”, (“The Morning Call”, 12/21/1996). This combination of spirit and matter, especially underscored in this “incarnation” of angels, is an adjustment of
  • 42. 42 Chapter One our time, a relative change that does not keep them from completing their mission: getting humans in contact with God. 2.1.2. Inversion of Mythemes, Subversion of Myth In order to show the refractory nature of myth, which resists intense assaults upon its unvarying elements, I shall discuss a variation in stat- ure: subverted myth (already discussed at length in the volume Myth and Subversion, Losada, 2011, but not from the point of view of the structure and crisis of myth, which concerns us here). I will discuss three examples of subversion: two ancient myths (Pygmalion and the Trojan War) and one medieval myth (the Holy Grail), in order to analyze their crisis. 2.1.2.1. Pygmalion Pygmalion is the famed sculptor who fell in love with the statue of a young woman, sculpted by his own hands. According to Ovid, his prayers that his wife be “similar to the one made of ivory” (Metamorphosis 10) earned Venus’ approval. The unvarying elements are clear: the artist’s fall- ing in love with his own work and the statue’s vivification. In the original version, when she comes to life and feels the enamored sculptor’s kisses, the young woman blushes; then they marry, and from this union, Paphos is born. It is typical that Ovid’s text does not discuss Galatea’s love for Pygmalion: a mutual love is not an indispensable element of this myth. In fact, the different modern versions expand on the impossibility of a love between the artist and his work. In Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1912), Eliza rejects the love of her “sculptor-professor” Higgins and opts for the poor Freddy. The various film versions develop in a similar way: Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard’s Pygmalion (1938), George Cukor’s musical My Fair Lady (1964), and Andrew Niccol’s Simone (2002). I shall briefly discuss another version of the myth: the theatrical piece El Señor de Pigmalión, by Jacinto Grau (1921). Pigmalión, who owns a company in which he makes dolls, is in love with his doll Pomponina. When he introduces her to theater directors, the night before a public showing, a duke takes a fancy to her and convinces her to run away with him. All the dolls take advantage of the occasion to escape from their tyrannical owner. Pigmalión manages to get them back, but he is gravely wounded by a shot that the doll Urdemalas fires at him. Aside from the dramatized prologue—a protest against commercial- ized theater, obsessed with financial gain—, the play remains faithful to the constitutive elements of the myth: the dolls come to life and the artist
  • 43. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 43 falls in love with one of them. The doll-protagonist casts aside her maker, Pigmalión, and the rich duke, and instead gives her charms over to the most unexpected suitor, the old man Mingo. Eliza’s indifference to Higgins’s love turns, here, into Pomponina’s hatred for Pigmalión; and yet, the myth sur- vives, an evident proof that the created being’s returning her creator’s love is not an unvarying element: Ovid did not base this myth on Galatea’s love. (We do find an artificial being’s “amorous passion” in the film Her [Spike Jonze, 2013], in which Samantha, an intelligent operating system, confesses to having fallen in love with hundreds of users…, see in this volume Adrián García Vidal’s article.) The greatest innovation of all is Pigmalión’s death at the hands of his dolls. Enraged by their maker’s tyranny, they all fear and despise him, but only Urdemalas is capable of rebelling, honoring his name.Availing himself of his master’s inattention, he fires a shot at point-blank. All of them flee. When Pigmalión painfully lifts himself off the ground, he cries out the fol- lowing eloquent words: ¡No puedo!... ¡Me desangro, me muero solo, sin que nadie me auxilie!... Los dioses vencen eternamente, aniquilando al que quiere robarles su secreto… Iba a superar al ser humano, y mis primeros autómatas de ensayo me matan alevosamente… ¡Triste sino del hombre héroe, humillado continuamente hasta ahora, en su soberbia, por los propios fantoches de su fantasía!... (a. iii, escena última; 1977, 113). I cannot! I am bleeding out, I am dying alone, with no-one to help me!... The gods conquer eternally, obliterating anyone who wants to steal their secret… I was to become greater than a human being, and my first attempts at automata kill me treacherously… Oh sad fate of a heroic man, continually humbled until now, in his pride, by the very puppets of his fantasy (act iii, last scene; 1977, 113)! He then discovers that he is not alone: Juan the Fool has not yet left. While he awaits his help, the doll finishes him off in one blast of a shotgun, and disappears after making grotesque faces and rubbing his hands together in glee. The subversion of the myth is complete: the created kills the creator. After receiving the shotgun blast from the doll, “Pigmalión”, I quote, “hits the ground forcefully with his bust” (“Pigmalión da con el busto presada- mente en tierra”). This scene is the exact opposite of the ancient version of myth, wherein Pygmalion realized that the marble “bust” was gradually coming alive, that is, was rising from the ground. The mytheme of the dolls’ vivification does not appear explicitly, but it does remain latent, so that the murder of the creator at the hand of his creations does not completely invali- date it. As was said, the core of myth lives on; the text is perfectly framed
  • 44. 44 Chapter One within the Pygmalion myth. The conclusion to be drawn is that the absolute inversion of the mytheme of animation does not invalidate the myth. 2.1.2.2. The Trojan War I also propose that the absolute inversion of the invariant does not in- validate the myth, even in the most extreme cases. In the 13th scene of the second act of La Guerre de Troie n’aura pas lieu, by Giraudoux (1935), the hero from Ithaca begins to return to his boat: despite fate, he and Hector have achieved peace. In the 14th and last scene, the Greek Oiax reappears, drunk, and provokes Hector in the person of Cassandra, but Priam’s son holds himself back, and does not kill him in order to maintain the pact. Demokos arrives unexpectedly, angered by the concessions in the pact, and rouses the Trojans to war. Hector, determined to maintain the pact, kills the Trojan who, before dying, falsely accuses Oiax of his murder. The Trojans cry out for vengeance, and Hector exclaims, powerless, that the war will take place (“Elle aura lieu”, ii.14: 1991, 163), as confirmed by the opening of the war gates and Helen’s newest infidelity. Cassandra announces her prophesy: “The Trojan poet has died…. The Greek poet will have his word” (“Le poète troyen est mort…La parole est au poète grec”, ibid.). The seer’s prediction heralds the story to come, The Iliad. A question: if the war, as the provocative title of the play announces, had not occurred, could we talk about the myth of the Trojan War? Yes. I am aware that a voice as authoritative as Genette asserts the contrary. The dramaturge had “little room for maneuvering” (Palimpsestes, 531). Homer had decreed that Hector should fail in his attempts to avoid the war: the whole play would be a sort of grand variation in the form of a prelude play- ing with a preordained conclusion, like a mouse thinks it is playing with a cat. Colette Weill develops this further: “as the story situates itself before the legend, the myth cannot be inverted, it will be as if…suspended; […] but in the end we shall find the story we expected: the war «will take place»” (ed. 1991, 21). I believe that the author is free to make, unmake, and recre- ate the story, whether the Homeric or the factual. If in the end the Trojans had not killed Oiax, Ulysses might have been successful in his mission, Helen would have returned with her husband Menelaus, and we would still have lived through two tragic hours. The Trojan “war” is not the myth of “the Trojan War”, while the enmity between Greeks and Trojans (after the discord among gods) “is”, as is the casus belli (the abduction of Helen, the result of Aphrodite’s former promise)—both possessing a mythic dimen- sion. Their appearance in Giraudoux’s play makes it a variant of the myth.
  • 45. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 45 2.1.2.3. The Grail (i) In Le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes (c. 1180), the knight Perceval, housed in the castle of the Fisher King, witnesses a strange pro- cession as he dines with his host in a banquet hall: parading before them are a page with a bloody lance, followed by two with gold candelabra and accompanied by a very elegantly-attired young woman, who carries in her hands a golden grail (bowl or cup), encrusted with precious stones, out of which emanates a dazzling light. The young woman with the cup passes and, along with the three pages, she walks into an adjoining chamber. After her, another young woman passes by, with a silver tray to cut meat. Perceval is perplexed, but does not dare to ask what the grail is used for, for he holds in his heart the words of gentleman Gornemant de Goort, who had advised him to be cautious (“Le jeune homme les vit passer et il n’osa pas deman- der qui l’on servait de ce grail, car il avait tojours au coeur la parole du sage gentilhomme”, ed. 2003, 141). Later, Perceval’s cousin, in the forest, reveals his irreparable error and misfortune: if he had asked during the pro- cession, the sickly king would have regained his health, the use of his limbs, and the dominion of his lands (“car tu aurais bien pu guérir le bon roi qui est infirme qu’il eût recouvré l’entier usage de ses membres et le maintien de ses terres”, 147). After five years of searching in vain, three knights and six penitent ladies lead Perceval to a hermit who unearths the mystery for him: “A single host that is brought to him in that grail sustains and brings comfort to that holy man” (ed. 2004, 460; “Le saint home, d’une simple hostie qu’on lui apporte dans ce graal, soutient et fortifie sa vie”, 195). The Eucharistic sacrament provides immortality for the soul. By a generalizing or inductive synecdoche, the cup that holds it becomes consecrated, and itself turns into the Eucharistic myth par excellence: the Holy Grail. Since its literary origins, the chalice of Christian communion intersects with Celtic mythology: the hideous woman who reproaches Perceval, the curse controlling the lands of the injured king, etc. From this symbiosis be- tween the mythologized Christian Grail and the Celtic legend, very soon the cup from Jesus’Last Supper acquires new significances in the continuations of the Grail story. In the Première Continuation (c. 1200), protagonized by Gauvain, the Grail is suspended in the air while he serves his guests. In the Seconde Continuation (c. 1208), the Grail is once again carried in front of Perceval, who this time does ask the questions and receives, after a second test, the answers. In the Troisième Continuation or Continuation de Manessier the Grail procession is renewed, the Fisher King explains to Perceval that the bloody lance is the spear that Longinus used to pierce Christ’s side and that the Grail had been used to collect his blood after the crucifixion; in the end, the narrator leads us to believe that Perceval takes the Grail, the lance, and the tray with him to Heaven. In the Roman de l’histoire
  • 46. 46 Chapter One du Graal (c. 1200), Robert de Boron combines the Gospel of Nicodemus with other Arthurian and Christian legends. Here, the Grail appears inti- mately tied to the Last Supper and Jesus’ passion: it had been entrusted to Joseph of Arimathea, who collected Christ’s precious blood in it as it fell from the cross. The cup is also miraculous (“il agrée”), that it to say, it gives grace to the good and the pure. In this story, Joseph of Arimathea’s brother- in-law founds the lineage of the guardians of the Holy Grail that, following Jesus’ orders, settle in England. Perlesvaus (c. 1230) gives a Eucharistic explanation for the Grail and associates it with the search and hope for the future kingdom; a voice from above unveils God’s will to the hero and his men (that they give His relics to the hermits in the woods) and announces to them that the Grail will not return, but they will soon know its resting- place (“Le Saint Graal ne viendra plus jamais ici, mais vous apprendrez avant longtemps où il se trouve”). The Élucidation (by Maître Blihis?) sug- gests a secret interpretation of the Grail, in which the defilement of a young woman is associated with the theft of the golden cup, occurrences that bring about several misfortunes. Along this line, progressing in time, in the third part of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (c. 1470) the legend appears in a Grail copy carved by Solomon from a gem of Lucifer’s, used by Jesus in his last supper and preserved by Joseph of Arimathea during the Lord’s Passion. Lost in England, the Knights of the Round Table pledge their lives to recovering it. In more recent times, Wagner’s Parsifal (1882) also uses the redemptive meaning of the sacred cup, guarded on Montsalvat by King Titurel and his faithful knights, while also transferring to the Holy Lance the power of curing mortal wounds. The texts are countless: I have chosen these as indispensable for understanding the unvarying elements of myth. In this brief review, especially in the thirteenth century, we observe that this unique container appears under multiple appearances, from which we can synthetically extract its mythemes. Situated in the utopic place and the ahistorical time of King Arthur, the Grail is a relic linked in its origins to the passion of Christ (not only to the Last Supper). Because of its connection to the Redeemer, the holy vessel materializes the union of Heaven and earth, as Michel Stanesco also claimed about the procession episode in Chrétien’s work: …ce sera précisément dans cet espace épuré, à la jonction des univers d’en bas et d’en haut, d’ici et d’ailleurs, qu’apparaîtra le château du Graal, où se jouera le destin d’un homme comme celui d’un monde (ed. 2003, 9). …it will be precisely in this purified space, at the junction of the universes of above and below, of here and beyond, that the castle of the Grail will appear, the place where the fate of a man, like that of a world, is in play.
  • 47. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 47 From here derives the immense value of the cup, which can heal physi- cal and spiritual ailments. Like an amulet or, better, a talisman (from the Arabic ‫,مسالط‬ tilasm, and the Greek τελέω, “to initiate in the mysteries”), the Grail symbolizes a supernatural power, depending on the versions, as much for the material it is made of as for its content (perhaps reading my article “La nature mythique du Graal…” could be useful for understanding the subject; see Bibliography). This force of the Grail, whether a real faculty or an apotropaic effect, makes it an object of desire and the object of a knightly quest, in the sense that it is the object that triggers a mythic quest of initiation. It is worth stressing that the appetite for the Grail does not merely set off a series of adventures; it is not only a “theme” structuring a plot. It involves a mythic quest, in which a viator discovers, through a series of extraordinary adven- tures, his own identity and becomes a miles, a soldier, of a type similar to St. George or St. Michael, icons of the solar knight and slayer of the dragon, it- self the chthonic evil creature (Stanesco, 30). The Grail is a Christian-Celtic relic, an object of desire because of its supernatural and/or magical virtues. Other spurious elements can be added to the tradition of the myth. In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (c. 1210), the Grail is a stone descend- ed from heaven that, besides bestowing food and drink at will, restores its pure-hearted guardians to the beauty of youth. In Rabelais’ Quart Livre (1552), the Grail is parodied when the Queen of the Chitterlings explains that the mustard for her servants is “her Holy Grail and celestial Balsam”. In the last century, Julien Gracq’s Le Roi Pêcheur (1948) includes a king afflicted by a wound, inhabitants held captive by spells, and a Perceval thrilled at having reclaimed the Grail; the piece is a metaphor for the pleni- tude and happiness of human life. In Pierre Benoit’s Montsalvat (1957), the relic appears as a “power that it is better not to know”. In accordance with the world of alchemy, the Grail becomes a token of bodily immortality and acquires inscrutable derivatives, doubtlessly favored by Robert de Boron’s version, where Christ taught a secret lesson to Joseph of Arimathea. The Grail’s esoteric dimension, surely motivated by the pagan derivatives of the legend, causes an ambiguity of meaning. Along these lines, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg, 1989) combines all the elements that make up a breeding ground for ritu- al. The protagonist (Harrison Ford) sets off to find Henry Jones, his father (Sean Connery), an academic who disappeared while he was searching for the Grail. Indy and Elsa are in the brink of death when the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, the secret society that protects the Grail from the im- pure, sets fire to the catacombs. Thanks to one of these knights, Indy finds his father, who had been kidnapped by the Nazis so that he could take them to the Grail. Adventures ensue, and Henry is mortally wounded: in the end,
  • 48. 48 Chapter One the water he drinks from the Grail saves him, before the temple collapses and the cup disappears into the abyss… Spielberg’s film has all manner of flavors: a combination of Christian and pagan traditions, esotericism, curative powers and immortality. The film assumes the unvarying original elements—the Christian relic, its supernatural faculties, the quest and the desire to possess the Grail for its supernatural reasons—and adds the vary- ing elements that were later incorporated—the safekeeping of the vessel and its esoteric meaning. The inversions produced in the Grail myth come to view. In the medieval versions, the foundational metonymy—designating Jesus’ body or blood (the content) through the vessel (the container)—and metaphor—applying the quality of the sacred to the vessel for the co-possession of semes after the application of metonymy—led into the great metaphorical derivative, which is also foundational: the immortality of the soul of whoever possesses and guards the Grail. The contemporary versions invert the meaning of this metaphor: immortality does not affect the soul but the body. Similarly, the search for transcendence—the Grail as an object of desire or as the object pursued in a mythic quest of initiation—turns into a greater understanding of man in today’s world, whether due to the reencounter with the father (Indiana Jones) or to the obtaining of human happiness (Le Roi Pêcheur). The fundamental invariants have not been destroyed, rather they have been subverted; they do not eliminate the tradition of the Grail: the myth is still recognizable. 2.1.3. Absolute Modification and Suppression of Mythemes, Disap- pearance of Myth Until now, everything has seemed to obey the instinct of preserving myth: a survival peppered with relative modifications or inversions that only distort or subvert the myth. Nonetheless, on occasion, an absolute modifica- tion and suppression of mythemes can entail a crisis of great importance in myth, which becomes unidentifiable, is transformed, or even disappears. Here I shall use an ancient myth (Ariadne) that becomes unrecogniz- able; another, a modern myth (Frankenstein), that results from the radical transformation of another ancient one (Pygmalion), and shall again take up the medieval case we already studied (the Grail) to analyze its unexpected disappearance in a contemporary text. 2.1.3.1. Ariadne Constitutive elements of the Ariadne myth are her assistance to the hero when he faces an insuperable test (the Minotaur and the inescapable mythic
  • 49. The Structure of Myth and the Typology of its Crisis 49 Labyrinth) and her accursed or providential fate (Theseus’ abandonment leads her to suicide or glory, depending on the version). In the story Ariane by Le Clézio (1982), Christine wanders through the city streets; sudden- ly surrounded by motorcyclists, she tries to escape but ends up raped and abandoned. Nothing seems to remain of the original myth except the name, and even that could be referencing, preceded by the definite article, to the working-class neighborhood L’Ariane in Nice, where Christine’s tragic story takes place. The connection, although tenuous, seems intentional. One might say that the myth has been rewritten in a subverted way: the slum becomes a labyrinthine backdrop where the young woman is imprisoned by the Minotaur (the bikers) and thereafter abandoned without any hope of vengeance or rehabilitation (“If you talk, we’ll kill you”: her act of washing her face in the rear-view mirror of a car means that nobody will know what happened). Christine is an Ariadne that has not found the ball of string to escape from the Labyrinth or a hero able to confront the Minotaur (Herrero Cecilia, 121). The absence of Theseus emphasizes even further the indif- ference that the bandits’ violence represents. Nevertheless, we must admit that the presence of the Ariadne myth here can be contested; the disappear- ance of some cardinal mythemes, when not suppressing the myth, makes it almost unrecognizable. 2.1.3.2. Frankenstein Now that I am in the midst of many disquisitions on the idiosyncrasy of mythemes, I will briefly look at a myth closely related to the Pygmalion myth: the myth of Frankenstein, i.e., of the doctor who makes men (inter- estingly, transposing the doctor’s name onto the monster through a process of causal metonymy does not affect the myth). It first appeared in litera- ture in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818). Thereafter, it has been embodied in dozens of film adaptations. Generally, the hero is the prisoner of his fate: the monster cannot survive his creator, as is the case, for instance, in the film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Kenneth Branagh (1994). Doctor Frankenstein shares a mytheme with Pygmalion: the coming to life of an artificial creature. The capability of giving life, of being in that sense like God, is as old as the origins of humans: “You will be as gods”, whispers the serpent into Eve’s ear in Eden (Gen. 3:5). But these are two different myths: ― In the case of Pygmalion, the sculptor carves a statue, falls in love with it (treats it as a woman), and asks the gods to have a wife as beautiful as his statute (“similar to the one made of ivory”, Metamorphosis 10, 276, 567).