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10. From Ritual to the Archaic in Modernism: Frazer, Harrison, Freud, and the Persistence of Myth

Shanyn Fiske

Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780470658734.2013.00011.x


By now—through a robustly sustained critical history—the indispensability of myth to a competent understanding of modernism is well recognized. In an oft-cited 1923 review of Joyce's Ulysses , T. S. Eliot heralded the inevitability of modern literature's need for myth: “It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history” (177). The replacement of the “narrative method” with the “mythical method”—to borrow Eliot's terminology—allowed the accommodation of art within radically shifting social, political, and cultural conditions at the turn of the twentieth century. Further decades thereafter accumulated theories of modernism's hunger not only for classical mythology but for the gloomy, ineffable worlds underlying these seemingly cohesive narratives; worlds whose rituals and sometimes gruesome and irrational practices seemed to anticipate or at least offer a prehistory for the moral confusion and anarchy of the post-WWI experience. “It seems to me that the characteristic element of modern literature, or at least of the most highly developed modern literature, is the bitter line of hostility to civilization which runs through it” ( Beyond Culture 3), wrote Lionel Trilling, who elsewhere stated that “the ultimate questions of conscious and rational thought about the nature ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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