Science, once the great explicator, garbles life with complexity and perplexity. Who can listen without cynicism to economists, sociologists, politicians? Religion, for many, has become an empty ritual that masks hypocrisy. As our source for traditional ideologies diminishes, we turn to the source we still believe in: story.
I´ve been considering the role of storytelling, its possibilities and its limitations. Everybody has a story to tell. It might be a story of love achieved or failed. It might be a story of confrontation faced or shrunken from. But whatever it was, it taught them about themselves and their societies. And whatver it is, different versions of many people have had a similar experience.Maybe the reason why so many people think that their lives are passing through history like a field-mouse, not leaving a trace, is not that they feel they have never had stories to tell, but they lacked an interested audience. This brings me onto the idea of ´myth´.
A myth is a story that in some sense, happened once, but is also happening all the time. It is of unknown origin, is never closed to thoughtful revision, and instead of a specific historical context, it tends to have taken place in the sacred time of everywhen. The reason why so many myths of the twentith century failed is that they were narrowly ideological (Leninism), ethnic (Nazism), dogmatic (Islamism) or selfish (neo-liberalism/consumerism).
According to Karen Armstrong, a successful myth is a story that all human beings can relate to their own lives. The perilous journey through the mines of Lascaux is comparable to the journey we all took out of the amniotic bliss of the womb and into this world. The myth of the Odyssey taken by Ulysses teaches us that to reach the end of our journey is to arrive at the beginning and know the place for the first time. CP Cavafy illustrated the evolution of this myth in his poem Íthaca´ stating that if you should find her bare (Ithaca) shall not have deceived you. You will be rich with everything you have gained on the journey itself.There are obvious differences between a novel and a myth. A novel has a known author. A novel is a commodity. Societies have survived without novels but never without myths. But in Á Short History of Myth´, Armstrong concludes that as religion, with other traditional ideologies, fails to do its job, it might be the task of novelists to bring fresh insight into our lost and damaged world.
As writer John Berger pointed out in the introduction to his Ínto Their Labours´trilogy, the most noble ideologies can dwarf death "Rivoluzione O La Morte", the most trivial can only ignore it "consumerism". In his Theses on the Philosophy of History, Walter Benjamin wrote:
For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.
Maybe this is the danger of allowing our stories to go untold. And maybe the novel, where the footprints of the present can fit into those of the past; where the dead can live alongside the living; where dreams can become manifest alongside the everyday; and the relationship between private lives and the great historical events that they coincide with, is more vivid than in ordinary modes of thought. Maybe that is how fresh insight canbe brought and death be dwarfed.