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Absence of Myth, The

Sophia Heller

Publication Year: 2006

In this provocative work, Sophia Heller challenges the assumption that we cannot be without myth, that myth is necessary to vital, soulful living. Indeed, Heller argues, we have been living in a world without myth for a long time. The Absence of Myth examines the loss of a religious mode of being-in-the-world and demonstrates how theorists who insist on the presence of myth deny its historical end. Absence of myth may seem obvious: evidenced by our lack of cult and ritual, and by our de-animated natural world, as well as in the emergence of conceptual thought and psychological awareness, which could only arise with the dissolution of a prereflective (mythic) mode of being-in-the-world. But what appears to be straightforward becomes complicated when myth is intentionally conflated with thought and reflection, usually in the attempt to cultivate a “mythic consciousness” that aims to restore meaning to life and assuage the spiritual malaise of contemporary culture. Myth cannot rest in peace. It must be continually unearthed, redefined, and recontextualized such that modern and postmodern notions of myth are made to substitute for something that has never been experienced, only imagined.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

I would like to thank my colleagues and teachers at Pacifica Graduate Institute for helping to incubate this work, particularly Kristina Berggren, Sue Bozzo, Carrie Clark-Kenny, Christine Downing, David Grady, Gard Jameson, Zena Juhasz, Debra Knowles, Patrick Mahaffey, Dara Marks, Dan Noel, Ginette Paris, Raina Paris, Laura Parrish, Catherine Sanders-Hart, Dennis Slattery, Richard Stromer,...

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pp. 1-11

The absence of myth is, to a certain extent, a “nonstatement.” Echoing what German theologian Dorothee Sölle said about Nietzsche’s pronouncement of the death of God—“Those who believed in God were in no way affected by the statement, and those who did not believe in God were also not affected” (see Bierlein 325). Myth means nothing to those who have no use for or interest in it, and to...

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1. The Absence of Myth

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pp. 13-63

The absence of myth is hardly a radical notion. It antecedes the phenomenon called mythology insofar as a loss of myth makes theorizing about myth possible. A culture still living in myth would not need to theorize about that which fashioned the fabric of its existence. The narratives would be self-explanatory and sufficient. The...

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2. The Personalization of Myth

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pp. 65-111

Delving deeper into the absence of myth and into the fragmentation that results from a lack of collective center, one confronts the individual crux of the matter: namely, what is the lone individual to do when there are no collective myths to orient him or her? If one is committed to salvaging meaning where one can, one option is to seek out the sacred stories in other people’s myths, as Wendy...

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3. The Lingering of Myth

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pp. 113-161

An assumption of the absence of myth has fueled this discussion thus far. First, a sampling of contemporary myth theory was reviewed according to the different manner in which each theorist prejudges the question of the presence or obsolescence of myth. This was followed by an analysis of the “personal myth” movement, a phenomenon that receives its inspiration from the absence of collective...

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4. The Negation of Myth

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pp. 163-211

God may be dead, and his traces may lead to little more than a dead, mirroring end—but this doesn’t mean that God has fully disappeared. What I am referring to is the idea of “God” that still manages to serve as a placeholder for the telos of human consciousness, even in a demythologized world. Though this God can be referred...

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pp. 213-223

This study began with the absence of myth and ended with the negation of myth. In taking the absence of myth to its logical conclusion, the negation of myth is the final stop in asserting myth’s obsolescence. As I have attempted to demonstrate, the absence of myth is essentially a given. This is seen in the founding and flourishing of a mythology or mythography that could only have...


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pp. 225-242


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pp. 243-256


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pp. 257-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780791482551
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791465899
Print-ISBN-10: 0791465896

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2006