The Cry for Myth Paperback – 25 Mar 1993
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About the Author
Rollo May (1909-1994) taught at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, and was Regents' Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. An influential psychologist, he was the best-selling author of Love and Will, as well as the author of The Courage to Create, Man's Search for Himself, The Meaning of Anxiety, and Psychology and the Human Dilemma. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Dante's Inferno and The Great Gatsby but it was with May's look at the myth of Faust through three sources - Marlowe, Goethe and Thomas Mann - that he brings the great myth of our times to life.
The final chapter on space flight and those first astounding images of the Earth from space back in the 1960s speculates on what our myths may be, may need to be, in the 21st century.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
From time immemorial, cultures have woven intricate, fantastic stories, parables, myths and guiding narratives about the world, helping them to understand the universe, carve out a unique place within it and establish values. As societies grew, cultures passed these myths and stories down to their descendants. Communal traditions developed from these myths and guiding narratives, building among participants a sense of cultural kinship, identity and solace. People derived strength and direction from their guiding narratives, and these myths unified individuals in a commonality, supplying them with a vision.
Carl Jung's influence here is distinct, as May attributes the sense of meaninglessness, isolation and disoriented alienation of modern culture largely to the human "cry" for new myths (similar to Jung's Weltanschauung) that incorporate all facets of our humanity (both spirit and matter) and address our current reality.
May defines the myth as follows: "A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence [...] myths are our way of finding meaning and significance. Myths are like the beams in a house; not exposed to outside view, they are the structure which holds the house together so people can live in it." May is also careful to address our modern misunderstanding of what myth entails: "There can be no stronger proof of the impoverishment of our contemporary culture than the popular - though profoundly mistaken - definition of myth as falsehood." Read the book for more on this and for a clearer understanding of how the traditional "myth" is distinct from things like fundamentalism, or dogma. Nowhere is myth more evident than literature and the rich, vivid literature of past cultures demonstrates this. In fact, May goes to great lengths in his analysis to amply illustrate the crucial need for literature and the arts.
As scientific rationalism has swept in and usurped the position of omnipotent "God," our sense of meaningful myth has been eroded, particularly in America, where a strong sense of rich, cultural myth has not been as rooted in our understanding of community as it has in other cultures. (May discusses an entire spate of prevalent American myths, as expressed through literature.) The technological advances of the industrial age have all but completely divorced humans from the natural world, further contributing to our schizoid sense of spirit and matter. All in all, this has resulted in a severe fragmentation of community and knowledge of self, as we believe the appreciation of myth to be beneath our superior rationality and reason.
Despite this surface disdain for myth, we are still clinging to the old, impoverished myths which play a great role in our lives ("beams" in our "structure") and how we view the world, whether we realize it or not. We have not yet created new myths and guiding narratives to help us find meaning, and so we remain fragmented, repressed and separated from ourselves, the natural world and one another.
Like Jung, May asserts that self-knowledge and communal anchor arise from the search for the spiritual and awakening of the spiritual consciousness. May further asserts that our rejection of myth has left us drifting along, leaving us prone to depression, mental illness, dysfunction and fundamentalism of all kinds.
One of the elements I most appreciate about Rollo May is his ability to elegantly write readable books, without muddying the waters or losing the reader in a fog of dense language. I think that anyone who loves classic literature will also love this book, thanks to May's thorough discussion of Faust among a number of other literary and mythical characters.
Along the way, May takes a critical look at fairy tales and discloses hidden "messages" that we normally pick up on only subliminally. His inquiry helps to elucidate many of the themes that we teach to our children, and hints at why fairy tales have such an abundant popularity in diverse cultures.
May also describes to us how myths evolve and develop over time, changing with the sociological paradigms of each successive epoch. In doing so, he uses the Faust legend as an example. The text offers some nice highlights on the transcendence of the motif as it was first penned by Christopher Marlowe and subsequently revised by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Thomas Mann.
This is an excellent read for anyone who is interested in mythology, and is a serious warning of the consequences that go along with marginalizing the importance of liberal arts.
Lonliness is epidemic in modern society. We spend our lives burying ourselves in mental boxes that reassure us and prop us up. Unfortunately, this avoidance and fragmentation leads to existential anxiety. May argues that we are all driven by existential anxiety and the only way to defeat it is to form our own myths in order to make sense of our world. Facing life's conflicts involves short-term costs (pain, loneliness,) but leads long-term benefits (fulfillment, happiness). May compares a man trying to live outside of myths to a man without a country, a man banished from his community, tying it to the sense of fragmentation that seems to mark modern society. This "lonely search for internal identity" is why we need myths. Myths permit us to confront our mental rigidity and confront deeper meaning in our lives. We need to embrace these conflicts and delve deeper into them. We need to deeper purpose to help us seek our way on our journey of life.
A few of the myths explored by May include:
1. The myth of the "new" frontier,
2. The Horatio Alger rags-to-riches drama (The American Dream),
3. Peer Gynt conflict between demanding a woman's admiration and desiring her care
4. Gatsby's obsessive and futile dream of self-creation
5. "Briar Rose" version of the Sleeping Beauty tale,
6. Faust's deal with the devil
It's not surprising that so many people are disillusioned and looking in all the wrong places for happiness. Every individual needs to make the journey in his and her own unique way. For Rollo May, myths are the tap to the unconscious and the means for gaining understanding of our lives. We identify with myths because they help us to articulate, or to see more clearly, what we've already sensed. Myths can be used as exploratory analysis of to help us face life's challenges. As described by Joseph Conrad, a myth is a "secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation." In other words, myths do not originate from the external empirical world, but emanate from within you. Ultimate reality and self-identity comes through a journey that is defined by myths and how these myths resonate within us.