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Posts Tagged ‘mythology’

The Death of Romance in the Shadow of the Colossus by Jesse Miksic

In anthropology, art, history, mythology, technology, visual arts on October 13, 2013 at 18:05

From: The Death of Romance in the Shadow of the Colossus by Jesse Miksic, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

Myths have no life of their own. They wait for us to give them flesh. If one man in the world answers their call, they give us their strength in all its fullness. We must preserve this myth, and ensure that its slumber is not mortal so that its resurrection is possible. (Albert Camus, Prometheus in the Underworld, 1947)

We are drowning in myths.

Of course, I don’t mean myths like primitive folk stories transcribed in anthropology textbooks, transmitted in a way that no shaman could have foreseen. Those myths are under glass, specimens preserved for our edification and amusement. Some commentators – like the great Claude Levi-Strauss – didn’t bother acknowledging any other definition of the term.

I’m talking about myths in a more general sense… myths as stories that tie our random, noisy, contingent lives into meaningful narratives. These myths may serve as articles of faith, or as aspirations codified into archetypes, or as warnings to those who would repeat our half-remembered mistakes. I’m talking about myths as the semantic sinew connecting our individual identities with our groaning, patchwork collective consciousness.

This is an essay about how a particular video game – an acclaimed 2005 adventure game called Shadow of the Colossus – unmistakably echoes Romanticism (specifically, German Romanticism and its related movements). Quite a bit of second-hand research has gone into this analysis, and I’m ecstatic about the results, but the whole mess would have very little meaning if I wasn’t talking about something bigger than a particular reading of a particular game, according to this particular player at this particular moment.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

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Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia by Rane Willerslev

In anthropology, culture, humanities, society on January 19, 2013 at 00:24

From: Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia: Is Animism Being Taken too Seriously? by Rane Willerslev, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

In many respects, the Yukaghir distribution of resources reflects a traditional hunter-gatherer economic model of sharing, in that they run a “demand sharing” principle.18 People are expected to make claims on other people’s possessions, and those who possess more than they can immediately consume or use are expected to give it up without expectation of repayment. This principle of sharing applies to virtually everything, from trade goods, such as cigarettes and fuel, to knowledge about how to hunt, but it applies most forcefully to the distribution of meat: “I eat, you eat. I have nothing, you have nothing, we all share of one pot,” the Yukaghirs say [figure 3].19 The important point for my argument, however, is that Yukaghir hunters engage with the nonhuman world of animal spirits in much the same way as they engage with other humans, namely, through the principle of demand sharing. In the forest, hunters will ask—even demand—that spiritual owners share their stock of prey. They will also address the spirits of the rivers and places where they hunt, saying, “Grandfather, your children are hungry and poor. Feed us as you have fed us before!” In this sense, their animist cosmology could be interpreted as an integrated system, an “all-embracing cosmic principle based in sharing” in which the forest is akin to a “parent” who gives its human “children” food in overabundance, without expecting anything in return, as has been suggested for hunter-gatherer peoples more generally by Bird-David.20 The trouble is that in proposing this argument, Bird-David assumes that the official rhetoric of these hunter-gatherers faithfully corresponds to their activity of hunting. But this is not so—if it were, we would have aligned the Yukaghir with something akin to a “death wish,”21 for surely a community that hunts simply by waiting for the forest to “feed” them, without making any effort to control their prey, would not survive long.

What this points to, then, is that the Yukaghirs’ rhetoric about the forest being a “generous parent” is not meant to be taken too seriously. Rather, it is a sophisticated means of spirit manipulation, which is an inherent, even necessary, part of Yukaghir hunting animism. This becomes evident when we realize that a paradox is built into the moral economy of sharing, which makes it risky—lethal, in fact—to take the principle of unconditional giving at face value.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball

In astronomy, biology, literature, nature, philosophy, research, science on January 14, 2013 at 06:41

From: Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball, http://www.philipball.co.uk

In myth, legend, literature and the popular imagination, then, water is not a single thing but a many-faced creature: a hydra, indeed. This is the essence of water’s mystery, and it remains even when water is picked apart by science. Water is the archetypal fluid, the representative of all that flows, and yet science shows it also to be a profoundly anomalous liquid, unlike any other. Some scientists doubt whether water inside living cells, the very juice of life, is the same stuff as water in a glass; at the molecular scale, they think its structure may be altered; perhaps cell water even congeals into a kind of gel. Water behaves in unexpected ways when squeezed or cooled below freezing point. Life needs water, but it remains a profound mystery why water, a lively and reactive substance, didn’t break apart the complex molecules of the earliest life forms on Earth almost as soon as they were formed.

When a substance becomes mythical, it works curious things on our imagination, even without our knowing it. Substances like this are ancient, and they have magical powers. Gold and diamonds, bread and wine, blood and tears are agents of transformation in story and legend. But none, I think, surpasses the beauty, the grandeur, the fecundity and the potency of water. This is why water is, and must always be, much more than a simple compound of hydrogen and oxygen, or a dance of molecules. To explain its role in our imaginations, its life-giving potential, its bizarre and perplexing properties, its sweet nourishment and its glittering surface-to fully explain these things, we do perhaps have to reduce water to its mundane constituents. But even when we do so, we have to remember what we are dealing with: not just a chemical compound, but a fundamental part of nature, with aspects that are serene, enchanting, enlivening, profound, spiritual and even terrible. In the voice of the babbling stream, says Wordsworth, ‘is a music of humanity’. And Bachelard bids us listen well to this music: ‘Come, oh my friends, on a clear morning to sing the stream’s vowels! Not a moment will pass without repeating some lovely round word that rolls over the stones.’

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball

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