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Laurence Coupe

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

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.

 

I interpret myth by way of what I call ‘radical typology’…

Myths never die: they are constantly being re-read and re-written. The original myth offers what we might call the promise, with later versions providing  their provisional fulfilment. That in turn becomes the source of further promise, further fulfilment. The meaning of a myth does not remain fixed and final: it constantly offers the possibility of new significance, as it is adapted and extended throughout history. See pages 98-108 of my Myth (2nd edition, Routledge, 2009).

The last century or so has been especially rich in myth. 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  Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

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.

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’).

I have consistently sought to challenge what I call ‘the semiotic fallacy’ …

I first used the phrase in the ‘General Introduction’ to The Green Studies Reader (Coupe, Routledge, 2000, p 2). Much later, in the course of a brief review written in 2015, I characterised it as follows : ‘the bizarrely widespread assumption that, because human words give human shape and significance to the non-human world, the latter is otherwise inarticulate’.

This review is available here on my website: see Landmarks in the collection of Times Higher Education reviews which I provide.

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.

And before I forget …

I don’t know where I’d be without the influence and inspiration of Marina Warner, a model of creative re-interpretation, both as theorist and as novelist.  I should also mention the ‘Beat’ writers, who sowed the seeds of a new religion of the earth.