Words are clunky things I use them in an unthinking and clunky way. I have to do something about that. In particular the word of the moment is myth. I am having difficulty reading History of Science papers as I can’t yet grasp how terms I am familiar with are used and understood here.
One of the first steps to creating a myth is enfolding it in a memorable story. Thinking about the issue for the first time I find myself engaging in this activity. Is my mind in mythical mode? Does it convey some truth? Am I attempting to create a legend which is going off the rails but has some basis in my history and past attempts at reading H.O.S?
I have no idea but I have a very clear idea about the tale, when it was told, the context which gave it shape.
My friends visited Egypt on a late minute package tour that they picked up for a really good price. On return I mentioned the word tourist, they got rather insulted and pointed out that they were not on a package tour but were travellers.
Conversation then turned to cultural difference. In the first case on the differences between the games played in English holiday resorts of old, knobbly knee competition etc. and the German equivalents that they had noted at the hotel they stayed in.
Then came the comedy tale (1), framed by this introduction into the subject, and it was a good one.
They had gone to take a camel ride, and asked the camel owner what the camel was called. The owner replied “Michael Jackson.” They then enquired after the name of his donkey. “Michael Jackson” was the response. Surprised, they then asked why both animals were named Michael Jackson. The response.
“In Egypt all animals are called Michael Jackson.”
Ali Baba’s Camel
H.O.S seems to be deploying the term myth in the same way as my Egyptian camel owner used the term Michael Jackson. While I can suspect the Egyptian example points to differing cultural perceptions and customs regarding animals. My issue with myth in H.O.S. seems little different.
It seems somewhat curiously attached to the term, deploying it in a variety of ways without clear definition.
I appear to be looking at a variety of differing things I want to classify differently. Everything here does not appear to be Michael Jackson and I am not getting the language and terminology I need to explore this further from what I am reading.
I am not certain but so far I think the issue is it is trying to inflect clearly the notion of historical falsehood. The mythical being is here strictly a creature of error.
To my mind this idea can only be reached by taking the narrative out of context, out of its time and placing it in a context it does not belong. i.e. the historical period it appears to present.
This move does begin to identify what is going on. We can arrive at an obvious statement but any accurate identification is going to require looking at the subject carefully in its context, the date of its composition and creation rather than complete evaluation based on what it claims but clearly does not represent.
A List of Things?
H.O.S may not at times be engaged in identifying myths but may at times be creating them. A myth by its nature has no sense of history. By denying the object a place in history and a context in which we can understand clearly, results in the potential to create rather than identify a myth.
The term Myth is used consistently, the processes by which myth making unfolds varies from Historian to Historian with little clarity.
The only things I see clearly here.
Tradition is not a static processes as the traditional deployment of myth in H.O.S indicates.
Myth making is an ongoing processes, like tradition it is strongly related to the present rather than the past.
H.O.S myths may be better understood as part of a contemporary cultural processes rather than as the strict identification of a historical one.
This does not encompass the processes as a whole but may be a good start position and may be particularly relevant to sources that seek to place myth in single rather than multiple context, using a cluster of negative associations indicating error, worthlessness, rubbish, etc.
The identification of myth as a prolific breeder may also play into wider cultural associations, as the subject plays out on-line and in the popular media. Here the motif is deployed and used extensively to promote negative evaluations and arrive at gender, class and ethnic distinctions based on such association.
The creature of error and anxiety forever breeds in an uncontrolled manner.
The terse comic tale, a rare surviving and still thriving example of oral story-telling. Wonder-tales, the telling of traditional myths and legends have altered as the situations and spaces they were told in have been transformed by the differing rhythms, space and organization of the modern world.
Shorter, terse, comic examples, related to personal experience made the leap from an older world to the new.
In my family this form of tale revolved around the return from the city and Scotland to the old world of rural Ireland. It generally contained observations on this altering external/ internal landscape. “When Uncle Peter Thought he heard the Banshee.” It of course transpired to be a screeching wheelbarrow that needed oiled.
Such things point to who we are the cultures we come from and our every -altering relationships within them.