1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Caveat emptor: short and sweet does not mean simple or spicy,
This review is from: Myth: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
This will be a very short review on this very short introduction to a very large topic.
Segal does so much right. The study of mythology is a multi-disciplinary affair. Segal breaks down his material in terms of the ways different subjects offer insights on myth. Hence, there are chapters on science, philosophy, religion, ritual, literature, psychology, structure and society. Then each chapter is divided up in a by the half dozen or so top thinkers and contributors to the area.
I like this. It suits me, a beginner, better than a thematic approach; each theory becomes personalised as it is set in the context of the time and worldview of its originator. This is especially significant when grasping one of Segal's basic points: there is a big difference between nineteenth and twentieth interpretations of myth.
Nineteenth century thinkers contrasted, even conflicted, myth with science. Twentieth century thinkers felt compelled to save myth from science due to the fact of myth's continued existence despite science. Segal hints that the twenty-first century will see myth applied to science, science seen as another species of myth; unfortunately he doesn't have time to develop this tasty morsel.
Instead, he concludes with some apt insights from the world of popular culture, that place where post-modern mythology seems the most palpable. Here there are myth peddlers (Tony Robbins) and mythical heroes (Hollywood stars). Segal attempts to make space for the contemporary use of myth by relating it to Winnicott's concept of play: both are something that is known to be 'unreal' yet treated 'as if' they were.
Segal has written books on Campbell and Jung on myth so those parts are particularly strong. There were many names I was completely unfamiliar with almost to the point of information overload. His attempt to string the whole thing together with reference to the Adonis myth was well-intentioned but didn't work for me due to that myth's relative unfamiliarity and originally fragmented nature. Well-intentioned again was Segal's constant compare and contrast between thinkers, although I sometimes found this a bit like figuring out the London underground system by words alone; some sort of diagram(s) would have been a demigod-send. Still, you get a few black-and-white pictures, so ...
The dense style and the Wikipedia-like factualising will put noobs off; this newb will reread, regroup and take my myth smarts to the next level, after a little well-earned mental R&R.
PS Segal makes a factual blooper on page 81 where he says that Northrop Frye paralleled the genres of romance with spring and comedy with summer. It's the other way around. Forgive the anality of it all.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Feb 2013 07:47:32 GMT
Simon Loveday says:
I'm reading your reviews with pleasure - and mostly with agreement - and was particularly pleased to find someone else who had read, and indeed remembered, my great hero Northrop Frye!
In reply to an earlier post on 23 Feb 2013 19:21:40 GMT
Last edited by the author on 24 Feb 2013 20:09:11 GMT
Allen Baird says:
Thank you, Mr Loveday, for your positive words about my reviews.
Northrop Frye is one of the geniuses of the 20th century; I'm so certain of this I don't even feel the need to add the obligatory 'IMHO'. His work transcends mere criticism and, I think, encompasses, indeed ties together, so many juicy concepts in philosophy, psychology and religion. I still remember the shift in my mind when I read him relating the four seasons with a different type of literature, and then connecting them all together! It's a pity Frye isn't better known outside academic circles.
Since reading Segal's book, I've read 'Myth' by Laurence Coupe with great satisfaction. Frye is one of his key sources. In due time I'll review it too. It would be pleasant to hear your thoughts on it then.
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Feb 2013 12:00:16 GMT
Simon Loveday says:
Dear Mr Baird - thanks for your courteous reply. Let us focus on what we agree on - Frye - rather than on Goleman and Gladwell where we are poles apart. I shall greatly enjoy reading your review on 'Myth'. Most of my sources on this are well out of date but I always enjoyed the work of Edmund Leach (my tutor at Cambridge) on the social, as well as the structural, dimensions of myth - where Frye of course has also written so well ('The Modern Century').
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Feb 2013 20:14:18 GMT
Allen Baird says:
Unfortunately Sir Edmund is not mentioned in Coupe's book. But there should be enough to keep us going...
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