Myth Today: the Traditional Understanding of Myth in Critical Theories of Society and the Usefulness of Vernant's Concept of Ancient Greek Mythology for Contemporary Cultural Studies

  • Jože Vogrinc Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Breg 12, 1000 Ljubljana
Keywords: sociology of culture, ancient mythology, mythology, popular culture

Abstract

There is no shortage of speaking about »myths« in contemporary popular culture, and often ancient Greek myths are evoked. »Myth«, however, is usually taken to mean a widely distributed story or belief which is inexact, false and/or fabricated – typically, to manipulate the multitude. In critical theories of society after Marx there are hints of different, theoretically more productive accounts of modern heritage or modern correspondences with Greek mythology.

Marx himself has influenced cultural theorists with his account of the relationship between Greek mythology and Greek art as given in his Grundrisse. In his view, mythology serves as the arsenal and foundation of art because in mythology »nature and social forms are already reworked in an unconsciously artistic way by the popular imagination«.

This account, together with a hint that there exist (in newspapers) modern correspondences with such a relationship, has led to various theoretical elaborations of contemporary popular culture and ideology (e.g. in A. Gramsci, R. Williams, L. Althusser, P. Macherey etc.). None of them, however, retains »myth« as a concept; the word, when used, refers to ideology. Even R. Barthes, who developed a semiological concept of myth, did not refer to its Greek cultural meaning but used it explicitly as a tool for analysing the ideological manipulation of popular culture.

C. Lévi-Strauss in social anthropology in general and J.-P. Vernant in the anthropology of ancient worlds have, on the other hand, developed the structural analysis of myths as essential to a culture without reducing it disparagingly to ideology. In our view, it should be possible to transpose Vernant's treatment of myth as a variable and shifting popular account of topics vital to its consumers to the study of today's popular culture and media.

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Published
2004-12-06
How to Cite
Vogrinc, Jože. 2004. “Myth Today: The Traditional Understanding of Myth in Critical Theories of Society and the Usefulness of Vernant’s Concept of Ancient Greek Mythology for Contemporary Cultural Studies”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 6 (2), 111-20. https://doi.org/10.4312/keria.6.2.111-120.
Section
Scholarly Articles