Friday, November 11, 2005
The Cry for Myth
Renowned psychoanalyst Rollo May rediscovers the vitality of myth to our existence from a psychotherapist’s viewpoint in his The Cry for Myth (Norton and Co., New York, 1991). Defining ‘myths’ as ‘narrative patterns that give significance to our existence’, May stresses the phenomenon of myth making as essential in gaining mental health, particularly in our age of anxiety and disorientation.
May divides his book in three main parts viz. ‘The Function of Myths’, ‘Myths in America’, and ‘Myths of the Western World’. Even in the very first part, it becomes clearer that the author’s therapeutic illustration is yielding to historical and archetypal criticism of myths in literature. From ‘Oedipus’ to ‘Divine Comedy’ and ‘Gatsby’ to ‘Faustus’, May illumines his own talent beyond that of a hard-shelled psychologist, or scientist, and appears as a self-conscious existentialist commentator on myth and human life.
The merits of the book are manifest, as are its seams. May produces an easy English version of a topic otherwise vulnerable to philosophizing and linguistic complexity. The reader even need not have read the works being interpreted for the ‘mythemes’; a single passage masterfully compresses the plot. American life pattern of the day is probed in greater detail which, being a model for the post-industrial world, at first sounds a fair business.
Still, one cannot help thinking why whole three chapters have been devoted to the myth of Faust when a single, more compact one, would have sufficed. The implications of Oedipus’s myth are no less profound in our Narcissistic Age. An excessive treatment of American individualism might sound a little obsessed view, given the whole of Western World and May’s inattention to religious traditions of the West (Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Solomon, Christ). Then there are seemingly idiosyncratic terms coined like ‘Creative Waiting’.
The fourth part Myths for Survival virtually ends before starting. May’s cry for humans loving one another and be a great family of brothers and sisters sounds a little preachy (may be on account of a nonliterary plain language). One starts waiting for an extended version of this pastry since one is called on to love but never told ‘How’?