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Myth and Ideology

Edited By Cyril Levitt and Sabine Sander

This posthumously published work by Lawrence Krader surveys the study of myths from ancient times (in classical Greece and Rome, Egypt, Babylon, Akkad, Sumer, China), in the Biblical traditions, of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia, and from Northeastern and Central Asia. It also covers the various approaches to the study of myth in Europe in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and the Romantic movement in the late eighteenth and early to mid-nineteenth century; it discusses evolutionist, structuralist, hermeneutic, and linguistic approaches. The book covers on the one hand the treatment of myth from the inside, that is from the experience of those committed to the myth, and on the other the perspective of those ethnologists, philosophers and other students of myth who are outsiders. Krader takes up the theme of esoteric and exoteric myths as he rejects some of the assumptions and approaches to the study of myth from the past while singling out others for approval and inclusion in his general theory of myth. The book includes a discussion of myth in science and in infinitesimal mathematics. It also considers the relationship between myth and ideology in the twentieth century in relation to politics and power. It both incorporates and broadens Krader’s theory of nature as a manifold consisting of different orders of space-time which he developed in his magnum opus Noetics: The Science of Thinking and Knowing.

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1 The Treatment of Myth as a Code

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Many writers about myth have treated their subject as a code or a cipher, both in olden times and in the present. Among the chief protagonists of the view of myth as a code have been the structuralist schools of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Edmund R. Leach.

A code is a process which is part of the more general one of encryption and decryption. Parallel to the overarching category, it is composed of the acts of encoding and decoding; the code, whether of laws, transactions, thoughts, symbols, letters, or numbers, is the product of a codification process of a kind relevant to the given product. Myths are coded, as, for example, Antti Aarne and Hunter S. Thompson have accomplished this. But the code of myth in question is the work of scientists, who are outsiders to the myth. The myths are not codes as such, in this case, but are treated in an analogy with respect to codes.

The codes, according to Lévi-Strauss, are not analogies, but are intrinsic to the myths, in which they are conceived as indigenous models; these are of two kinds, natural and cultural, together with a transposition from one model to another. Thus, he refers to the Maori myths in which the entire cosmos unfolds itself as a kind of “kin,” in which heaven and earth are the first parents, the natural model thus transposing into a cultural model. In his article, “How myths die,” he conceives of myths as...

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