Books

Myth (1997 and 2009)

Beginning with a reading of the Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now, and branching out from there to include discussions of most of the key writers of the Anglo-American tradition, this book proceeds to demonstrate the mythic basis of literature and culture; in doing so it puts forward a new way of thinking about how myths function and evolve, which the author calls ‘radical typology’.

The second, fully revised edition (2009) includes an extra chapter, ‘Earth’, which significantly expands the original argument by discussing the relation between mythology and ecology.

Note on the back cover:

Laurence Coupe offers students a comprehensive overview of the development of myth, showing how mythic themes, structures and symbols persist in literature and entertainment today. This introductory volume:

  • illustrates the relation between myth, culture and literature with discussions of poetry, fiction, film and popular song
  • explores uses made of the term ‘myth’ within the fields of literary criticism, anthropology, cultural studies, feminism, Marxism and psychoanalysis
  • discusses the association between modernism, postmodernism, myth and history
  • familiarizes the reader with themes such as the dying god, the quest for the Grail, the relation between ‘chaos’ and ‘cosmos’, and the vision of the end of time
  • demonstrates the growing importance of the green dimension of myth.

Fully updated and revised in this new edition, Myth is both a concise introduction and a useful tool to students first approaching the topic, while also a valuable contribution to the study of myth.

Buy Myth (2009) on Amazon UK



The Green Studies Reader: From Romanticism to Ecocriticism (2000)

A pioneering anthology of writings on the connection between ecology and literature, and between nature and culture, this book demonstrates that there is a vital ‘green’ tradition to be drawn upon in this age of planetary crisis and offers a corrective to the all-too-common notion in literary and cultural studies that ‘there is no such thing as nature’.

Green Studies is a booming area for study and The Green Studies Reader is a fantastically comprehensive selection of critical texts which address the connection between ecology, culture, and literature. It offers a complete guide to the growing area of ‘ecocriticism’ and a wealth of material on green issues from the romantic period to the present.

Included are extracts from today’s leading ecocritics and figures from the past who pioneered a green approach to literature and culture. This Reader sets the agenda for Green Studies and encourages a reassessment of development of criticism and offers readers a radical view of its future.

Buy The Green Studies Reader from Amazon UK



Kenneth Burke on Myth (2005)

The first study of Burke’s work on mythology, this book explains the relevance of his ideas on society as ‘ritual drama’, on ‘victimage’ and the sacrificial process, and above all on the link between mythology and ecology. The original book is no longer in print, but it has been revised and republished under a different name. See next item below.

 

The first study of Burke’s work on mythology, this book explains the relevance of his ideas on society as ‘ritual drama’, on ‘victimage’ and the sacrificial process, and above all on the link between mythology and ecology.

Kenneth Burke on Myth takes very seriously Burke’s classic definition of the human being: ‘the symbol-using (symbol-misusing) animal’ who is ‘rotten with perfection’. That is, his/her ‘words’ always seem to gesture towards some absolute ‘Word’, regardless of whether religious belief is involved.

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Please note: This edition is out of print. I am, however, leaving this information as it stands because the book forms the basis of Kenneth Burke: From Myth to Ecology. Please see a separate entry for the later volume.



Kenneth Burke: From Myth to Ecology (2013)

This is a revised version of Kenneth Burke on Myth. Being published in paperback, it is much more affordable than the original, which was only ever available as an expensive hardback. The change in title is intended to draw attention to the ‘green’ dimension of Burke’s thinking: this was fully dealt with in the first version, but not obvious from the title.

Note on back cover:

Kenneth Burke: From Myth to Ecology is the first full-length study of a remarkable thinker’s approach to those founding narratives, those essential structures of thought, which cannot be credited to any one individual but rather belong to the whole community.

As such, it explores the way Burke developed an increasingly ‘green’ perspective on the stories we tell one another in order to make sense of our world.

In celebrating Burke’s achievement, Coupe presents us with a complete picture of a mind which is comprehensive, compassionate, and ‘comic’.

For Burke, myth is the chief means by which humanity can come to terms with itself and its own dangerous ambitions. Hence to be alert to the way myth functions is to become responsible towards the planet which is our home. In emphasising this aspect of Burke’s work, Coupe argues that Burke’s theory of myth is urgently contemporary.

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Buy KENNETH BURKE: FROM MYTH TO ECOLOGY (Parlor Press, 2013) on Amazon UK

This is a revised version of Kenneth Burke on Myth.



Marina Warner (2006)

The first study of this contemporary novelist and cultural historian, this book explains the structure and symbolism of her fiction, and demonstrates the connection between her various reflections on such topics as female representation, fairy tales and horror, and above all on myth and history.

Marina Warner is such a widely celebrated writer that it is a source of some wonderment that this is the first full-length study of her work. Perhaps that is because she is so hard to characterise. For example, she is an English writer yet she has an international perspective on her country. Also,  she is a novelist who is rooted in traditional forms such as myth and fairy tale yet who is wholly contemporary in her thinking.  Again, her vision is secular, yet in both her critical and creative writing she returns again and again to the idea of the sacred or supernatural.  Above all, she has an equally strong sense of myth and of history, their interaction being the basis of her fiction and the focus of her scholarship. In sum, she is a wonderfully ambitious and challenging writer whose contribution has yet to be assessed. What is required now is a systematic survey of her oeuvre, book by book: this latest volume in the ‘Writers and their Work’ series is written to supply this need.

The first study of this contemporary novelist and cultural historian, this book explores the structure and symbolism of her fiction, and demonstrates the connection between her various reflections on the question of female representation, on fairy tales and horror, and above all  on myth and history.

Marina Warner is informed by my conviction that myths are not fixed in stone but are constantly open to re-reading and re-telling. Warner has, of course, shown how both can be done: through works of cultural history such as Managing Monsters and through novels such as Indigo.

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Beat Sound, Beat Vision: The Beat Spirit and Popular Song (2007)

The first ever exploration of the influence of the Beat movement (notably Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, but also the philosopher Alan Watts) on the songwriters of the 1960s (including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Leonard Cohen and others), this book opens up new possibilities for the interpretation of literature and popular song alike.

This book reveals the ideas behind the Beat vision which influenced the Beat sound of the songwriters who followed on from them. Having explored the thinking of Alan Watts, who coined the term ‘Beat Zen’, and who influenced the counterculture which emerged out of the Beat movement, it celebrates Jack Kerouac as a writer in pursuit of a ‘beatific’ vision. On this basis, the book goes on to explain the relevance of Kerouac and his friends Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder to songwriters who emerged in the 1960s.

Not only are new, detailed readings of the lyrics of the Beatles and of Dylan given, but the range and depth of the Beat legacy within popular song is indicated by way of an overview of some important innovators: Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, the Incredible String Band, Van Morrison and Nick Drake.

While this may seem at first sight to be a deviation from my earlier themes, I should stress that the book addresses the recurrent theme of the interplay of ‘the sacred and the profane’ –  the two dimensions of all religious experience, according to the historian of religion, Mircea Eliade.

The Beat writers were obsessed by the possibility of apprehending the spiritual dimension of the everyday, ‘fallen’ world. In Buddhist terms, this means recognising the identity of ‘nirvana’ and ‘samsara’. Alan Watts and Gary Snyder are particularly impressive in the way they effect this in their own writings.

Again, in the final chapter, entitled “‘Eco-Zen’, or ‘a heaven in a wild flower’”, I bring my interest in mythology and my interest in ecology together, in assessing the Beat legacy within the work of a wide variety of sixties songwriters. The ‘green’ emphasis, I argue, began with the Beats and was developed by Joni Mitchell and others.

 

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Now available in paperback for £14.99