Myth & Disenchantment

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Myth & Disenchantment

interview with Gyrus on Dreamflesh

Quote:After reviewing Jason Ā. Josephson-Storm’s book The Myth of Disenchantment I was gratified that Jason responded positively on Twitter, despite — or, really, because of — my criticisms. Naturally he wanted to respond, and I certainly wanted to engage further with this very smart and engaging scholar of magic and myth. We conducted this interview via email.

Quote:I grew up in a New Age milieu and I knew full well that many Americans and Europeans also believed in protective icons and spiritual premonitions. In fact, my grandmother (Felicitas Goodman) was a famous professor of anthropology who after her retirement went public with her belief in spirits and ecstatic trances. Throughout my childhood I remember scholars, scientists, and artists travelling from Europe, Mexico, and the United States in order to participate in ‘shamanic’ trance workshops under her leadership.

Quote:Many scholars tend to assume that belief is binary — either you believe in Santa Claus or you don’t. But that doesn’t fit the anthropological evidence. By way of illustration, in a classic ethnography of French witchcraft belief (Jeanne Favret-Saada, ‘Les mots, la mort, les sorts’ Paris: Gallimard, 1977) Favret-Saada provides a number of examples of French farmers repeatedly stating things like ‘I don’t believe in witches, but…’, and then go on to act in every way as if witches exist. There is also a contemporary Japanese expression ‘hanshin-hangi’ (half-belief, half-doubt) that describes a common attitude toward the supernatural that is neither fully believing nor fully doubting, which captures this ambiguity nicely. Furthermore, if I ask my students if they ‘believe’ in talismans they often answer in the negative, but if I ask them if they have good luck charms they often say that they do and that these charms are very important to them. So it would seem they have talismans that they don’t ‘believe’ in, but act like they do. So in all these ways we have to recognise that our notion of binary ‘belief’ doesn’t map very well onto our data. Moreover, if you look at the long history of discussions of ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ one can see how both concepts evolved significantly over the last five-hundred years. Hence, one might hazard the guess that this notion of ‘belief’ itself is the product of recent history.

Quote:In the book, I argue for a particular definition of ‘myth’ as a prefabricated narrative trope whose transposition meaning from one domain to another. I have in mind myths as repeated narrative symbols (e.g., the death of God, Achilles’s heel, the naked truth), but also fundamentally as models or narratives we tell about the past. I also agree with Hayden White and Paul Ricœur that history always requires ’emplotment’. Basically, writing history requires arranging historical events into a series, which forces you to tell a story about how they relate to each other. This narrative isn’t arbitrary insofar as it is constrained by the available evidence. Still there are many ways to connect the dots. It is a curve through a complex space.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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