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Laurence Coupe

If you find any of the following statements interesting, then you might want to explore my work:

1.We live by myths…

The word ‘myth’ is often used to mean ‘false idea’ (as in ‘the myth of the free individual’); but it is more accurately defined as a narrative form of understanding that proves indispensable to a community.

We need stories that help us understand our collective identity. For me, the essential types of story answer certain key questions:

1.Where we come from: creation myth

2.How we survive: fertility myth

3.What we value in humanity: hero myth.

4.Where we want to go: deliverance myth.

Myths inform modern literature and culture: one thinks, obviously, of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. But we should not overlook the mythic structure which underlies other modern works of imagination, from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, from James Joyce’s Ulysses to Ted Hughes’s Crow.

2.We need to realise the importance of thinking in a way that is ‘green’ through and through…

We have to consider seriously the relationship between human culture and non-human nature. Thus interest in ecology overlaps with interest in mythology: we need to re-imagine the earth, and so recover the sense of its sacredness.

3.Religion has an important role to play in the collective imagination…

Giving up literal belief in God – or, more dramatically, deciding that ‘God is dead’ – does not mean that we can live without religious narratives. Again, this brings us back to mythology, and the primacy of mythos (‘story’). It also brings us back to ecology, and the archaic sense of the sacredness of oikos (the earth as our ‘home’).

4.A shift in consciousness was brought about by the ‘Beat’ writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, and by their friend, the philosopher Alan Watts…

The Beats opened our eyes to the possibility of the ‘sacred’ being manifest in the ‘profane'; they preached the holiness of everyday life. Far from being ‘know-nothing bohemians’, as they were once called, they were spiritual visionaries. For ‘Beat’ ultimately means ‘beatific’, as Kerouac insisted from the start. The Beat message could be summed up in the cryptic words of Watts, which are well worth pondering: ‘This is IT!’

5.A writer who realised the link between mythology and ecology before most people had even started using the latter word was Kenneth Burke…

His thought is very wide-ranging and complex, but it is always expressed in a striking way which leaves a lasting impression. One of his most famous statements is his definition of the human being, which might give some sense of what he is about:

the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal

inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative)

separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making

goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order)

and rotten with perfection.

 

6.A writer who has done more than most to bring to our attention the way that myths persist in our culture is Marina Warner…

As novelist and as cultural historian, she has shown how mythology manifests itself in a variety of ways, many of which we don’t normally notice. She helps us understand how myths can be misused, in order for one group to wield power over another. She also helps us understand how myths can be re-read and re-written, in a spirit of ‘metamorphosis’, of endless transformation – thus preventing them from becoming static and oppressive.

 

Note: The above photograph was taken by Margie Plant.