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The Ouroboros seizes its tale : strategies of mythopoeia in narrative fiction from the mid-fifties to… Roksandic, Ivan 2002

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T H E O U R O B O R O S S E I Z E S ITS T A L E : S T R A T E G I E S O F M Y T H O P O E I A IN N A R R A T I V E F ICT ION F R O M T H E MID-F IFT IES T O T H E M I D - S E V E N T I E S : S IX E X A M P L E S by IVAN R O K S A N D I C B.A., The University of Belgrade, 1985 A T H E S I S S U B M I T T E D IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L M E N T O F T H E R E Q U I R E M E N T S F O R T H E D E G R E E O F D O C T O R O F P H I L O S O P H Y in T H E F A C U L T Y O F G R A D U A T E S T U D I E S The Programme in Comparat ive Literature W e accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F BRIT ISH C O L U M B I A October 2002 © Ivan Roksand ic , 2002 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. of ^ -on Department f ^~ohpflB.A7/ue. £<Te/zA7~ &<? The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date DE-6 (2/88) 11 A B S T R A C T The research presented here examines complex interrelations between myth and literature, focusing specifically on mythopoeia in some narrative fictions in the period from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies. After giving an overview of different theories of myth developed in the Western tradition since ancient Greek times, the thesis examines both their usefulness and the value of the concept of myth itself, and proposes a new way of defining it by delimiting its semantic field through four separate sets of features: in terms of its structure, content, function and social role. It then analyses six largely modernist novels representative of literary mythopoeia, namely Yacine Kateb's Nedjma (1956), Wilson Harris' Palace of the Peacock (1960), Wole Soyinka's The Interpreters (1965), Chingiz Aitmatov's Eejibin napoxoa IThe White Steamship! (1970), Michel Tournier's Le Roi des aulnes (1970), and Darcy Ribeiro's Maira (1976). They were all written during the decades when the 'mythic method' spread worldwide, and when differences between various national literatures diminished as they got closer, influencing each other to a larger extent than ever before. The novels, which come from six different cultural backgrounds on four continents, reflect various mythopoeic stances, using myth not to rediscover some pristine immediacy, but as a tool for exploring and contesting both the socio-historic world and larger questions of human existence. Although widely dissimilar in regard to their narrative strategies, their novelistic form and content, they have a number of common characteristics: eclectic use of myth, the merging of mythic and realistic planes, interplay of space and time, preference for totemism, animism and shamanism to monotheistic religions, consideration of problems of roots, identity and hybridity, concern for nature, ambiguous ends. More importantly, they all have cyclical time as the main structural device, because uncertainty about the future and loss of belief in eternal progress are primary preoccupations of their authors. As the examined novels show, mythopoeia in narrative fiction is very much present and productive in the second half of the twentieth century, making up an important part of contemporary world literature, for the human propensity to create mythic stories is perennial. iii TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract ii Table of Contents iii Acknowledgements iv Dedication v Epigraph vi I N T R O D U C T I O N 1 C H A P T E R 1 Myth and Literature: Intricate Connections and Continuing Interdependence 6 C H A P T E R 2 Chingiz Aitmatov's The White Steamship: Myth as Metaphysical and Moral Allegory 67 C H A P T E R 3 Darcy Ribeiro' s Maira: Search for Spirituality in a Despiritualized World 101 C H A P T E R 4 Wole Soyinka's The Interpreters: Mythical Essences and the Contemporary World 140 C H A P T E R 5 Kateb Yacine's Nedima: The Polyphony of Myth, History and Fiction 184 C H A P T E R 6 Michel Tournier's Le Roi des aulnes: Multiple Strata of Meaning in Mythopoeic Fiction 221 C H A P T E R 7 Wilson Harris' Palace of the Peacock: Writer as Trickster and Shaman 254 A F T E R T H O U G H T S 274 References 280 iv ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS It is with the greatest of pleasure and gratitude that I acknowledge my indebtedness to many people, professors, colleagues, friends and family members, without whose assistance this thesis would not be possible. M y deepest thanks are due to my supervisor, Professor Patricia Merivale, for her guidance, fruitful discussions which helped crystallize my often rambling ideas, and innumerable useful comments and suggestions. I am grateful for the time she was able to offer and for encouragement in times of doubt. Special recognition is extended to Professor Steven Taubeneck for his generous assistance when it was most needed. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with Professors Graham Good, Gloria Onyeoziri, and Julie Cruikshank, who provided excellent direction and constructive criticism throughout my research. Professors Thomas Salumets, Eva-Marie Kroller, Nancy Frelick, and Carlo Testa have helped make my years at the U B C an excellent academic experience. I would like to express my thanks to all of them, and to my fellow students at the Programme in Comparative Literature, for stimulating and gratifying intellectual atmosphere. I acknowledge financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and from the U B C Faculty of Graduate Studies, which, through the S S H R C graduate fellowship and the U G F , made this research possible. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to my nearest and dearest: to my mother for being my first and most influential teacher of world literature, to my father for his unfailing generous support of all my academic endeavors, to Mirjana for serious conversations, and, last but most important, to Koshtana for being an inspiration. O f course, the list would not be complete without Bananas, who kept me company in the long lonely nights polluted by droning of the computer fan. V To the memory of all civilians dismissed as 'collateral damage' "The obliterated shall be remembered." vi Cuando desperto, el dinosaurio todavia estaba alii. 1 INTRODUCTION II prit une plume pour crayonner sur I'innocence du papier la cruaute de son ame. Espines d'amour (qtd. in Bechtel and Carriere 189) Se non e vera, e molto ben trovato. Italian common saying (Oxford Dictionary 21) Interrelations between myth and literature are perennial and very complex. Although myth is sometimes seen as a minimal narrative sequence, a condensed story-image, an 'elementary form' existing prior to verbal or any other expression (Jolles 77-101), a collection of symbols that can be reduced to a permanent structure (Bilen 861), or "un systeme dynamique de symboles, d'archetypes et de schemes, systeme dynamique qui, sous l'impulsion d'un scheme, tend a se composer en recit" (Durand 54), whose meaning can be put forth just as well through some other mediums — for example, in the form of drawings or "pictomyths" (Vizenor 20) — it is undeniable that all that is mythic is most often expressed by means of literature (Boyer 164), that is, either through oral recitations or through the written word. This state of affairs justifies the often asked question: "Is there such a thing as a non-literary myth?" and explains the fact that myth is usually seen as a specifically literary form: "Myth is literature and must be considered as an aesthetic creation of the human imagination" (Chase 73). Conversely, it is impossible to overlook the importance of myth for literature. Many writers thought it absolutely crucial, as is illustrated by the famous statement of Jorge Luis Borges: "For in the beginning of literature is the myth, and in the end as well" (242). We do 2 not need to go that far, or to claim, as Northrop Frye did, that myth furnishes literature with all its principal structures and defines narrative types, poetic forms, character types and patterns of imagery (Anatomy); nonetheless, we are bound to come up against myth at some point of literary analysis, for mythology, in the sense of a body of myths belonging to particular cultural traditions, has always been a source from which writers took themes, subjects, characters, situations, plots, scenes and images for their works, using them in many different ways. Old mythic narratives are sometimes retold from the modern point of view (e.g., Hercules, M y Shipmate by Robert Graves, or Joseph und seine Bruder by Thomas Mann), used as principal structural devices for literary works (e.g., Los pasos perdidos by Alejo Carpentier, or L'Emploi du temps by Michel Butor), or employed as structural devices in counterpoint to contemporary plots, giving them larger perspectives (e.g., Ulysses by James Joyce, or The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor). Mythologems, i.e., mythical motifs, can be used as resonant, powerful stories inside longer works of fiction (e.g., Eejihiii napoxoj [The White Steamship! by Chingiz Aitmatov, or M / T et l'histoire des merveilles de la foret1 by Kenzaburo Oe), combined into a network of connotations, suggestions, associations and metaphors blended into the basically realistic fabric of a novel (e.g., Les Soleils des independances by Ahmadou Kourouma, or Leaves of the Banyan Tree by Albert Wendt), or woven into a complex myth-like structure (e.g., MacTep H Maprapnra fThe Master and Margarita! by Mikhail Bulgakov, or Hombres de maiz by Miguel Angel Asturias). 1 The only rendering to date of Oe's novel M/T to mori no fushigi no monogatari into a European language is its translation into French by Rene de Ceccatty and Ryoji Nakamura. 3 A "universal cultural phenomenon" (Bidney 22), present in all societies around the globe, myth has attracted a lot of theoretical consideration in the course of centuries, since interest in it has never waned, and it has been explained and understood in many different ways. Throughout the twentieth century, too, it has been "a fascinating and controversial subject for scholars and writers" (Patai 11). Always protean, polyfunctional, multivalent and "everlastingly elastic" (Symonds 313), myth appears in a variety of forms, manifestations and avatars, defying any simple interpretation. Although studied by numerous scholars in relevant disciplines, from anthropology to literary criticism, an agreement about "what the term 'myth' means has never been achieved within any of these fields, let alone among them" (Priebe 12). As none of its features can be isolated as the 'essential one,' and no simple definition can cover all aspects of its nature, the only way to comprehend it is to take into consideration all of its important traits, shedding light on it from various angles simultaneously. Mythopoeia in literature has been very rich in the twentieth century, with numerous writers using myth in their works, both as a structural element and as received thematic material. The 'mythic method' developed during the first decades of the century as a modernist reaction to the nineteenth-century conventions of realism, and has constantly grown and expanded ever since. It became a global literary phenomenon after the Second World War, spreading especially during the fifties, sixties and seventies, i.e., during the years when myth criticism, a theoretical approach to myth in literature, flourished. During the same period, as a consequence of accelerated inter-cultural communication, differences between various national literatures diminished, as they tended to get closer and to 4 influence each other to a larger extent than ever before. However, in spite of such prominence of mythopoeia, few critical efforts have been committed to studying this significant stream of literary production on a comparative, inter-cultural basis. By examining en bloc mythopoeic novels from four continents and six different cultures, the present research helps shed more light on alternative but important branches of contemporary world literature. It compares and investigates the affinities of these works, and the profound similitude of their authors' horizons — in spite of the differences between their backgrounds — thus contributing to the understanding of the importance and development of a global mythopoeia. The aim of the present study is threefold: first, to survey different views of myth and their usefulness for understanding it, to examine the value of the concept itself, and to propose a new approach to defining it. Second, to investigate six novels written and published in the period from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies — i.e., during the years which marked the worldwide spread of the "mythic method" and the heyday of myth criticism — namely: Yacine Kateb's Nedjma (first published in 1956; the title henceforth abbreviated to ND) , Wilson Harris' Palace of the Peacock (1960; PP), Wole Soyinka's The Interpreters (1965; IN), Chingiz Aitmatov's Eenbin napoxon [The White Steamship1 (1970; WS), Michel Tournier's Le Roi des aulnes (1970; RA) , and Darcy Ribeiro's Maira (1976; M R ) . The novels, which — although diverse in many respects — also share some important similarities, come from different countries — Algeria, Guyana, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, France, and Brazil respectively — and are representative of mythopoeic writing in the mentioned period. Third, to draw conclusions from these examples about the applicability 5 of the proposed definition in regard to literary myth, about the place of myth in contemporary literature, about different aspects of contemporary mythopoeia in narrative fiction, and about the kind of criticism appropriate for analyzing it. The thesis is presented in eight chapters. Chapter One provides an overview of the prominent theories of myth in the Western tradition, classifies them according to their usability, explores the reasons of the failure of myth criticism, examines terminologies of myth-like stories in small-scale societies, and proposes a new way of defining myth by delimiting its semantic field, hi the same chapter, I discuss mythopoeic writing in the third quarter of the twentieth century, and look into the significance and similarities of the novels which are the object of this study. In Chapters Two to Seven I analyze these six novels, each in its appropriate context, and investigate their authors' views on myth, how each of them understands the concept in general, and how he adapted mythic materials and structures in his work. The last chapter, entitled "Afterthoughts," sums up the argument and draws conclusions. 6 CHAPTER 1 MYTH AND LITERATURE: INTRICATE CONNECTIONS AND CONTINUING INTERDEPENDENCE Mythology, n. The body of a primitive people's beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities, and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later. Ambrose Bierce (90) One can study only what one has first dreamed about. Gaston Bachelard (13) As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the eternal Way. As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name. The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousand things. Lao Tzu (53) If every methodologically sound scholarly work is expected to begin with a definition of its topic, then the present study is bound to form an exception, at least for a while, as "the difficulty of defining myth is equaled only by that of any attempt to define literature" (Bilen 861). In spite of many efforts, nobody has so far been able to give a generally acceptable answer to a simple question: What is myth? Like so many other basic concepts, myth appears impossible to define.2 So much so, in fact, that it has become customary to devote a few introductory paragraphs in relevant works to lamenting its indefmability. It seems to prove George Steiner's admonition that "in the humanities, aspirations to systematic definition end, virtually always, in sterile tautology" (Passion 149). This problem arises because different people have attached many different levels of meaning to the term 'myth,' and no definition has been able to encompass all interpretations. As a consequence, many critics state explicitly in their books devoted to the 2 In linguistics, for example, it is easy to describe abstract notions of linguistic analy sis such as phoneme, morpheme or lexeme, but far more difficult to find a sound definition for the seemingly self-evident concept of'word' (Crystal 104). 7 study of literary myth that it is impossible to define myth (e.g., Botero Jimenez 16; Kolakowski ix; Righter 5-7; Ruthven 1), whereas others, instead of trying to provide a simple definition, proceed by describing those manifestations and avatars of myth they consider essential (e.g., Fisch), or by adopting a historical perspective regarding different theories (e.g., Meletinsky 3-124; Weimann 306-359). Those who insist on defining it, like William Bascom ("Forms" 9), Alan Dundes ("Madness" 147-8), Mircea Eliade (Aspects 16-26), and Claude Levi-Strauss, inevitably come up with a far too narrow semantic field, which tends to answer only to their particular interests, or to those of their field of specialization.3 More 'open' definitions fare no better: neither Kirk's explanation that myth is "a traditional oral tale" with "some serious underlying purpose beyond that of telling a story" (41) displaying "a curious lack of ordinary logic" (39), nor Walter Burkert's elucidation that myth is "a traditional tale with secondary, partial reference to something of collective importance" (22-3), is very clear; both make it difficult to distinguish between a mythic story and any other. Such definitions tend to use the term 'myth' in the meaning of "an all-purpose category of symbolic story" (Leach and Aycock 96), which it obviously cannot be. One of the reasons for this confusion is the universality of myth; as has been pointed out more than once, "there has been no culture which has not generated a set of myths uniquely its own" (Vickery 806). 3 Certain authors seem to be really annoyed by those who do not accept their definition of myth. For example, Alan Dundes strongly expresses the view that only folklorists have the right to define myth and berates the "sloppiness" of scholars of other disciplines ("these would -be mythologists"), whose practice, in his words, has "little to do with scholarship and intellectual rigor," for not accepting the rule that myth can only be "a sacred narrative offering an explanation of how the world and mankind came to be in their present form." For example, he insists that the Oedipus story is not a myth, but a folktale ("Madness" 147-9). 8 Such a state of affairs came about as a result of multiple misuses and abuses of the term, for it has been rightly noted that "hardly any other word today is loaded with more resonance and less meaning" (Michel Panoff, qtd. in Brunei, Preface ix). But this confusion is by no means new; actually, it can be traced back as far as written documents exist, which — in the Western tradition — means pre-Socratic Greek philosophy. In fact, it is precisely during this formative period in the development of European culture, when the foundations of many other key ideas and fields of intellectual endeavor were also laid, that the seeds of understanding myth, as well as of controversies about it — as we perceive the notion today — were planted. Xenophanes of Colophon (c. 570-c. 478 BC) , the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy, noted for its scepticism, was the first in recorded history to 'deconstruct' mythic stories and to attack the polytheism and anthropomorphism of the traditional religion. His famous statements, for example that Homer and Hesiod imputed to gods all that is shameful in humans, such as theft and adultery, or that horses and oxen, had they been able to paint and sculpt, would surely have represented their gods in their own image, i.e., as horses or oxen, mark the beginning of innumerable attempts to use logical reasoning in order to explain human fascination with myth (Lesher 23-5). Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535-c. 475 BC) also denounced myth as a false story, which is why he wrote: "Homer I deem worthy [...] of good cudgeling" (83). He thought that narratives about gods, rooted in concrete perceptual reality, cannot — and so falsely claim to — explain the principles of cosmic order: "Many who have learned from Hesiod the countless names of gods and monsters never understand that night and day are one" (23). 9 At the same time, there arose alternative, more accommodating, philosophic views, initiating the dispute, which continues to this day, between aficionados and denouncers of myth. Theagenes from Rhegium (c. 525 BC) introduced the allegorical understanding of mythic stories and interpreted gods as representations of natural forces and ethical principles. According to his exegesis, Artemis symbolizes the moon, Hera air, Athena wisdom, and Aphrodite libidinousness (Morgan 63). Metrodorus from Lampsacus (c. 450 BC) pushed this approach even further and explained not only gods, but also heroes and humans who take part in myths by similar allegorical schemata. Thus, The Iliad is to be understood as an allegory of cosmic arrangement: Helen stands for Earth, which is surrounded by air (Paris), ether (Agamemnon), the sun (Achilles) and the moon (Hector) (Morgan 98-99). Some later schools accepted and developed this line of thinking. The Stoics used Homer's and Hesiod's epics as proofs of their own pantheistic views. They tried to explain the apparent lack of ordinary logic in mythical discourse by postulating that myth is a deceitful discourse which expresses the truth in images (Theon of Alexandria [I cent. B C ] , qtd. in Hiilser 4: 1916). For example, the struggle between Apollo and Python is simply a depiction of the dispersion by the warm rays of the rising sun of fumes and vapors, which, snake-like, creep low above the ground. Other schools of interpretations of myth soon followed. The sophist Prodicus of Ceos (V cent. B C ) was the father of the psychological approach. He rationalized mythic stories as psychological reactions of primitive humanity to natural phenomena. A l l rituals and mysteries are, in his theory, connected with the benefits of agriculture and cattle-breeding; religion itself springs from the gratitude people feel for the goods they receive 10 from the earth. Just as the Egyptians believe the Nile to be a god, bread is in Greece worshipped as Demeter, wine as Dionysus, water as Poseidon, and fire as Hephaestus (Waterfield 249-250). Epicurus from Samos (341-270 B C ) accepted Prodicus' idea in general, but turned his argument upside down. For Epicurus, myths are the ailments of the soul; they arose as a consequence of ignorance and the existential terror of the unknown and of death. Democritus of Abdera (c. 457-c. 357 BC) , the famous atomist, tried to find rational explanations for myth and to replace them by naturalistic interpretations. Attacking "the madness" of mythmakers and the primitivism of their listeners, he tried to prove that only need, want, fear and folly lie at the source of mythical narratives: "Some men, not knowing about the dissolution of mortal nature, but acting on knowledge of the suffering in life, afflict the period of life with anxieties and fears, inventing false tales about the period after the end of life" (Freeman 118). Critias of Athens (c. 460-403 BC) introduced, rather cynically, the myth-as-social-charter approach, declaring myth to be a hoax, albeit a necessary one, myth and religion being the only tools capable of introducing laws which would establish order and quell inborn human unruliness and aggressivity (Lincoln 34-35). Palaiphatos (IV-III cent. BC) and Euhemerus of Messene (c. 300 BC) maintained that the gods and goddesses were deified men and women; myths are, according to them, accounts of real historical events and people. Careful analysis of mythic stories can help us, it is suggested, to recover the lost knowledge of historical development in ancient times. Euhemerus wrote the famous novel of travel lepd ctvaypcKpfj [Sacred Scripture! in which he described an imaginary voyage to a group of islands in the Indian Ocean. On the chief of them, called Panchaia, he allegedly saw a golden column with a long inscription from 11 which he learned that Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus had been great kings and were worshipped beyond the grave by their grateful subjects.4 The Stoic Cleanthes of Assos (c. 331-232 BC) introduced the etymological interpretation, believing that the secrets of the gods lay in their names and epithets; following such reasoning, he found two possible sources for Apollo's name: ajroA-Auvou, "to destroy," and ot7roA,ai3vsiv, "to dispel" (Honko 45). However, it was Plato (427-347 BC) whose influence proved to be the most influential one in the subsequent development of the usage of the term 'myth.' He opposed o Aoyoc,, logical discourse, to 6 uuOoc,, invented or fabricated story, which he deemed tolerable only in cases where it fosters the acceptable norms of human behavior. Therefore, mythic stories should be cleansed of their immoral and illogical parts. Ironically, he himself was a great mythologian who created several famous myths, such as those of Er the Pamphylian, pervaded with Orphic ideas of metempsychosis (in The Republic), of Eros (in The Symposium), of the creation of the universe (in Timaeus), and of Atlantis (in Critias). He treated his own myths as 'useful lies' necessary to counter the poets' dangerous ones. As for Aristotle (384-322 BC) , he declared that myths — at least those known in the Greece of his times — were corrupted in their historic transmission by poets, whose aim had been either to introduce laws and thus promote the common good, or to nurture their own selfish ends. However, he thought it possible to uncover the vestiges of ancient wisdom in myth by applying a careful analysis. It is plausible that philosophy and arts were developed to a high degree in the remote past, and that all we have left of them are their remnants in myth 4 Some later historians, e.g., Megasthenes the Ionian (c. 350-290 BC), Polybius (c. 200-118 BC), and Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-21 BC), accepted euhemerism in their attempt to reconstruct the more distant past for which there were no historical documents. 12 (Metaphysics 380-81). Aristotle was also the first thinker to connect myth with dreams and visionary experience. Apart from all these theoreticians, a number of so-called logographers, who compiled oral traditions and wrote them down during the sixth and fifth centuries B C , and mythographers, who continued to collect myths in the subsequent periods, were content to gather and systematize the available mythic material and preserve it for future generations. At times they tended to indulge in genealogical minutiae or similar hair-splitting; nonetheless, their work was of remarkable quality and usefulness. Their interests did not lie in trying to understand mythic stories, but rather in enjoying their retelling as they were handed down from the past. Many Greek writers in the Alexandrian and Roman periods, such as the learned poet Callimachus of Cyrene (c. 305-c. 240 BC) , his pupil and friend Philostephanus of Cyrene (III cent. BC) , the head of the Alexandrian Library Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180 BC) , or, perhaps the best known of them all, Apollonius of Rhodes (c. 295-215 BC) , were of the same mind, often basing their literary works on all kinds of mythical lore. In an era of all-embracing historical change, when ancient gods were rapidly losing their adherents, their retelling gradually altered, redefined and reformulated ancient stories, giving them the shape they were to retain for the next two thousand years. This literary tendency was, like so much of Greek culture, exported to Rome, where a number of Latin authors adopted Alexandrian mythopoeic fashion in their works, among them such great luminaries as Virgil (70-19 BC) and Ovid (43 B C - A D 17). The second crucial step in the development of the notion of myth in Europe came about as a consequence of the political and ideological takeover of the Roman Empire by 13 the followers of the new monotheistic religion. Christianity, once established, introduced a far more radical approach, which was to change significantly the general attitude towards myth, right down to the contemporary period. Unlike the open-mindedness of classical antiquity in which it was a matter of polite behavior to worship in an alien temple while visiting a foreign city, where different religions and mythologies peacefully co-existed, foreign gods were easily adopted into one's own pantheon and often equated with indigenous ones, and mythic stories freely circulated among different peoples, the teachings of the church, like those of other monotheistic religions, tended to build an impenetrable wall between believers and non-believers. This new attitude was characterized by a rigid dichotomy between, on the one hand, canonical biblical stories that were considered to be the truth, to the letter, and the only legitimate word of the one God himself; and, on the other, all other myths, all other stories about gods or events of ontological and cosmological significance, which were dismissed as false stories about false gods that only corrupt and puzzle the uninitiated and unenlightened. The New Testament makes it perfectly clear: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1.16).5 It urges its followers to "have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives' tales" (1 Tim. 4.7), and "not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith" (1 Tim. 1.4). Those who "will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths" (2 Tim. 4.4) should be "rebuked sharply, so that they may become 5 Al l Biblical quotations are taken from The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 14 sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who rej ect the truth" (Tit. 1.13-14). In spite of the fact that such attitudes persisted throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, allegorical interpretation of classical narratives continued to be popular; it purported to unveil Christian truths hidden in the works of pagan poets such as Ovid. Dante himself, applying this kind of literary analysis, regarded Virgil not only as the greatest Italian poet, but also as a prophet of Christianity (Howatson and Chilvers 567). Although Renaissance humanism revived classical models of literature and resuscitated interest in old myths, they were still — even when taken to contain the profound wisdom of ancient sages or to be extravagant but important accounts of ancient history — regarded as just fables, as opposed to the fundamental truths of Christian doctrine. As a consequence, being more and more intellectualized and less and less alive, they were downgraded into folk legends, fairy tales, and motifs to be used in literary works or in arts (Seznec). This state of affairs began to change only in the beginning of the eighteenth century, when, induced by the growth of the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the emergence of a new rational spirit of inquiry (Feldman and Richardson xx), the next major step in the development of Western notion of myth was taken. Now, for the first time, both Christian traditions and 'heathen idolatry' were being examined on the same level, and became objects of rationalist scepticism. In addition, the voyages of discovery from the early sixteenth century on "widened the mythological horizon," as adventurers, conquistadors and missionaries brought home reports about customs and traditional stories from many regions of the Earth; their travel narratives "proved more influential in the long run" for 15 mythological studies than the Renaissance humanistic tradition (Puhvel 11). The newly available information on beliefs and myths worldwide was used as raw material for comparison with classical mythology. As a result, many new ideas and theories about myth began to appear. The real beginnings of an independent mythical hermeneutics are to be found in Giambattista Vico's L a scienza nuova ["The New Science! (first edition published in 1725) and in German Romanticism. Vico was the first to interpret the concept of myth as something ancient and primitive, a phenomenon belonging to the distant past which gradually disappears with the development of civilization. The most interesting part of his theory considers the instinctive activity of the poetic consciousness — "the primary form of mind" — which generates myth. Unlike animals who belong to the purely biological sphere and are strangers to anxiety or horror as a reaction to chaos, the first generations of the giants after the flood, although being "stupid, insensate and horrible beasts" (Vico 116), were human enough to create myth as a response to environmental pressures and as an attempt to comprehend the world that surrounded them. In that respect myth, expressed through a language of metaphors and personifications, is 'a true story' which introduces the metaphysical significance necessary for humankind in order to structure experience. In other words, myth, whose external literary forms are identical with its internal philosophic logic, is poetry in its essence, a vehicle of truth, and the source for the later rise of rational thinking. Without it we would have neither philosophy, nor any civilization at all. Vico's conviction that literature is, historically, born out of myth was taken over by many thinkers in the twentieth century, in whose opinion myth is not only the original literature of 16 humankind, but also the literature of the state of wholeness, before distinctions between art, science, philosophy, religion, law, etc., were made (Munch 68). In such a way Vico, and those who followed his ideas, stirred up interest in exploring small-scale "societies with no written language," because scholars who studied myth hoped to find in them "myth of a more pure and more living nature than is to be found in civilizations where it has been treated in a 'literary' form" (Rudhardt 14). Most other philosophers of the Enlightenment stressed primarily the 'crude' and 'irrational' traits of myth, opposing it to rational thinking, i.e., in Platonic terms, to Xoyoc,. They considered that the replacement of the former by the latter constituted the key evolutionary step in human history.6 In the same age, thinkers like Pierre Bayle and Voltaire denounced myth even more, claiming that mythic stories were simply false statements "invented by wicked priests to bamboozle and acquire power over the masses" (Berlin 193). German romanticists, flourishing mainly at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, formed what was called "the first real 'school' of myth" (Feldman and Richardson 303) in the post-Renaissance Europe. They introduced pioneering new theories which were profoundly important for most subsequent discourses on myth in various disciplines. In fact, even the very word 'myth' as a substantive in modern languages is a product of the Romantic age, appearing in French in 1811 (Robert), in German in 1815 (Grimm), in English in 1830 (OED) (Righter 8), and in Russian in 1847 (Backes 43). Romantic myth scholarship, based on the conviction of the superiority of imagination over reason, developed the claim of myth to totality and perceived it to be the ultimate 6 Many contemporary scholars adapt this stance; there are innumerable articles and books with titles like "From Myth to Reason" (Vemant 341 -374), or From Myth to Modem Mind (Schlagel). 7 Voltaire even thought that the study of myth is "a pastime for blockheads" (qtd. in Chase 29). 17 manifestation of the imaginative faculties of genus humanus. As the deepest ground of knowing humanity and expressing it, myth expanded "to encompass dimensions of the collective and historical by way of the genetic derivation of myth from the original proximity of man to nature preserved by the individual in his imagination and fantasy" (Weissenberger 241). Thus the mythopoeic imagination, in the romantic view, was associated with natural instinct, which was believed to be more developed in individuals unspoiled by decadent civilization and living in harmony with the natural environment. Johann Gottfried Herder, the earliest of the German romanticists, thought that individual ethnic groups, assumed by him to be natural collectives in which humans must live, have their particular identities and characters whose main expression are their mythologies. He praised Scandinavian Eddas, and Chinese and Indian myths, insisting that they are just as worthy of studying as the myths of classical antiquity or the Bible. Myths grow naturally from collective, rather than individual, creative primal wisdom, and through organic historical processes develop as sublime spiritual power which always belongs to a particular nation and historical epoch. Therefore, it makes no sense to reduce them to any universal source or principle, nor to try to explain them allegorically. They "can be understood only if livingly assented to in the spirit of those who created and believed" in them (Feldman and Richardson 226). Myth thus can never be simply true or false, but only relatively so, because its meaning cannot be referred to anything outside of myth itself. In such a manner, Herder dissolved "the distinction between irrational and rational, between 'primitive' and 'enlightened' man," and postulated that his contemporaries must either find their own authentic myths or "assimilate the past in a way wholly true to the present" (227-18 28). Friedrich Schlegel, hailed by Novalis as the apostle of the romantic movement, thought the imagination to be the primary faculty in our encounter with the world, and that reason is able to operate only after we have established a poetic relationship with our environment. Emphasizing that the task of literature is to cancel "the laws of rationally thinking reason, and to transplant us once again into the beautiful confusion of imagination, into the original chaos of human nature" (Friedrich Schlegel, qtd. in Behler 79), he called on contemporary poets to create a new mythology for modern times. His brother, August Wilhelm Schlegel, regarded mythology as the '"metaphorical language' of the human mind created according to the needs of the human being in which 'everything corporeal is animated' and 'the invisible is made to appear'" (Behler 158). Mythology, in his judgment, provides a complete view of the world and is the basis of both poetry and philosophy. The staunchest advocate of myth among the romanticists, however, was Friedrich Schelling, who continued to elaborate his philosophy of mythology for several decades after mythopoeic concerns had faded out of intellectual fashion. His approach to myth, usually qualified as idealist and metaphysical, emphasizes that mythic thought is total and unified, and asserts myth as the highest point of art and a decisive key to the purposes of Absolute Spirit. In words of one of his admirers, Schelling "replaces the allegorical interpretation of the world of myths by a tautegorical interpretation, i.e., he looks upon mythical figures as autonomous configurations of the human spirit" (Cassirer 2: 4). In this manner German Romanticists associated myth and mythopoeia with eschatology and the aesthetic, and attributed an immediate mythic quality to the literary symbol. They believed that all great literature must possess an underlying mythology as "a 19 focal point" (Behler 160), and that the reason why the poetry of their contemporaries was inferior to the ancient was the lack of an authentic mythology, which they then strived to construct. Perhaps their conception was best expressed by the fairy tale/myth told by Klingsohr in Novalis' Heinrich von Ofterdingen, in which the evil enchantment of nature and human beings is ended because Eros and Fable (i.e., love and myth) are able to awake Freya, the soul of the world (127-153). In other European countries during the same period myth was also a major concern of romantic literature. Thus in England William Blake sought to create a new mythology which would suit the new era, basing it both on traditional elements from Biblical, classical, Cabalistic, British, Nordic and Indian mythologies, and on contemporary political and social events. In the works he called "prophecies" or "visions," such as The Four Zoas, Milton, or Jerusalem, he created new mythical figures (e.g., Los-Urthona, Luvah-Orc, Tharmas, Urizen), as well as a new hierarchy of beings (e.g., Eternals, Specters, Emanations) and new spiritual realms (e.g., Ulro, Golgonooza), in an attempt to recover and reformulate in his personal cosmogony the true origins of the divine from which nature, history and religion emerged. As the nineteenth century progressed, romanticism gave way to realism, which became the dominant literary movement of the age, while rationalistic views inherited from Enlightenment philosophy got the upper hand in all branches of western sciences and arts. Accordingly, in spite of the fact that a number of thinkers continued to search for and be influenced by myth, mainstream nineteenth-century literature adhered to the realistic school, while at the same time new sciences were, for the first time in history, developing fast enough to replace religion as the dominant source of explanation of the world that 20 surrounds us. The thus created dichotomy, ironically, was not unlike the medieval one, with the difference that, by the last decades of the nineteenth century, scientific discourse managed to attain the level of the paradigmatic form of truth statement, while religious tales were more and more understood either symbolically, or only as a foundation of social morality.8 Therefore, it is not surprising that myth theorists in this period did not see their topic in a favorable light; rather, they were annoyed by the fact that mythic narratives were not only scientifically and historically untrue, but often also brutal and bizarre. Two main group of theories on myth appeared: those put forth by the early ethnologists, and those of the so-called nature myth school. The representatives of the latter saw gods as symbols of nature; their interpretations are best described as "nature allegories tinged with a monomaniacal reductionism to one single type" (Puhvel 13-14). Thus, Adalbert Kuhn, "reducing mythology to meteorology" (Ruthven 13), postulated that the key to all world mythologies can be found in atmospheric phenomena, especially in thunder and storm, which early humans regarded as gods (Vries 31-2); similarly oversimplified explanations lie behind the fire mythology of Johannes Hertel, the moon myths of Georg Hiising, and the animal allegories of Angelo de Gubernatis (Dorson 47-8). Friedrich Max Muller's solar mythology is probably the best known of them all. He thought that poetry was the original, intuitive, spontaneous human response to the world, whereas myth came about much later, as a result of what he called "disease of language" (Vries 39). Because the early language was capable only of poetic metaphors, myth arose when their original meaning was forgotten, in an attempt to justify figures of speech no longer understood. 8 Matthew Arnold, for example, in his essay "Literature and Dogma," published in 1873, expressed the view that Bible was a profound, collective moral experience arising from specific historical situations, rather than the discourse of God. 21 Early ethnologists thought that myth only exists among 'primitive peoples' and opposed 'science' to 'superstition,' and 'progressive and dynamic contemporary society' to static and primitive 'savages.' In E. B. Tylor's view, myths had expository and explanatory functions in the time before the emergence of philosophy and science, as some sort of a childlike, crude philosophy of nature (Segal 8-9). Andrew Lang postulated that the fantastic elements in myths, which he called "barbaric," "absurd," "foolish" and "repulsive" stories (qtd. in Detienne 2), belong to an earlier stage of human development, which can still be found in a greater or lesser degree of purity among modern 'primitive' peoples. The reaction was not slow in coming. After the prevalence of realism and positivism in the nineteenth century, which claimed the vital importance of 'reality' and fostered ideas of scientific knowledge and evolutionary development, came a period of 'return to myth' during the years of Modernism.9 This is hardly surprising if we remember, as Harry Slochower has suggested (15), that mythopoeic works are more likely to arise in periods of crisis or cultural transition, offering both writers and readers a means of overcoming depersonalization and alienation. The end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century were times of quick changes, of a technological revolution, of remarkable economic growth, rapid industrialization and urbanization, which were followed by cultural disintegration and breaking up of traditional ways of living. People found themselves in an era for which there were no set schemes, no historical prototypes, and where events 9 'Modernism' will be understood here as a general term for "different modernist tendencies" (Nicholls viii) and the "polyphony of ideas, issues, and discourses" (Williams and Matthews 3) which made a remarkable break with the past in literature and other arts during the last decade of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. 22 revealed themselves as irreversible. A l l that brought about a turmoil of uncertainty, so it is not surprising that myths became so important in the literature of the period. Friedrich Nietzsche anticipated many later positions on myth, although his views are difficult to ascertain because of contradictory statements in different works. Myth, for him, is "a concentrated image of the world" connected to the principle of irrational and instinctive chaos (135). He thought that human beings psychologically require myth to address their spiritual needs through imaginative fiction (Solomon and Higgins 226). Nietzsche criticized Socrates as the champion of the spirit of science and rationality which pushed art, passion and myth into steady decline, and robbed classical culture of its natural creativity. He wrote that the modern "mythless man" "stands eternally hungry, surrounded by all past ages, and digs and grabs for roots," because he is so affected by "the critical-historical spirit of our culture," that, unfortunately, "he can only make the former existence of myth credible to himself by means of scholarship, through intermediary abstractions" (135-36). Nietzsche's "interpretation of mythopoeia as the only means by which people and culture can be reborn is another idea with modern echoes" (Meletinsky 15). The modern world grown pale 1 0, mechanical and abstract, characterized by a lack of aura and by impotence (Benjamin 223-25), needed some rich and imaginative form of life to revive it. Many writers and thinkers felt exiled away from the "Being" (Heidegger 117-19), and hoped to escape the "absolutism of reality" by way of myth, assumed to be the only possibility for humans to feel "at home in the world" (Blumenberg 113), and the only chance of redeeming them "from the formless universe of contingency" (Harvey 31). 1 0 "Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown gray from thy breath; / We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death" (Swinburne 31). 23 "Mythical method" in literature was thus deemed necessary as "a step toward making the modern world possible" (T. S. Eliot 178), and as the answer to "agnostic secularism" found to be "more or less unendurable" (Steiner, Presences 221). Such idealization of myth in Modernism was a direct consequence, on the one hand, of the modern fear of history (Rahv 637-42), i.e., of the impossibility of finding "significant relationships between historical experience and significance, understanding and representation" (Schleifer xii), and, on the other, of the conflicts within Western civilization, as ideas of Enlightenment were exhausted and thus no longer sufficient to explain the unsatisfying incompleteness and tentativeness of science. It is interesting to note that in each of the three 'revolutionary' periods in the history of European culture — the Renaissance, Romanticism, and Modernism — the main tendency was to reach into the past for inspiration and ideas for renewal. In the case of the latter two, it was most notably expressed through the yearning for myth, yearning which is best described as "an aspect of a great longing for primitive mentality, for unity of being" (Kermode 37). Mythical imagination was understood to have "no separation of a total complex into its elements," i.e., to be "a totality in which there has been no 'dissociation' of the separate factors of objective perception and subjective feeling" (Cassirer 2: 108), through which humans could fight "the extreme oblivion of Being" and perceive the distant spiritual lights in the "darkness" of "the world's night" (Heidegger 95, 91). Those same years constituted "the period in which national and linguistic boundaries were crossed far more than previously" (Hewitt 7), and in which philosophical, literary and artistic ideas flowed much faster between different European and Western 24 nations. Modernism was also the time when, for better or for worse, "European civilization and culture exercised a practically world-wide hegemony" (Quinones 21). This primacy extended to the field of literature as well. As a result, Western literary genres and attitudes spread world-wide, to the detriment of many native literary traditions in different countries. In the domain of narrative fiction, the European novel and short story was accepted as the main outlet for literary production in cultures as far apart as Japan, China, India and the Arab world. This was the beginning of the process which, for lack of a better denomination, can be called "globalization of culture" and "the emergence of a world literature" (Moses x). The popularity of myth in Modernism has suffered from a fairly substantial shrinkage in the subsequent period, caused mainly by the post-structuralist critics' "incredulity toward metanarratives" (Lyotard xxiv), their belief that the time of the telling of the great stories is now over, and their attempt to show that myth is a "rigid, 'totalitarian' structure, [...] a lie or an illusion" (Eysteinsson 120). Myth was given the shadowy status of "a second order semiological system" (Barthes 114), was understood to deal "in false universals, to dull the pain of particular circumstances" (Angela Carter, qtd. in Schmid 145), and was considered dispensable (Vareille 90). Such hard views, however, rather seem to indicate that those critics were themselves indulging in what was called the "myth of mythlessness" (Jewett and Lawrence 250). Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty has aptly remarked that the "reports of the death of mythology have been greatly exaggerated" (135), as is witnessed by the presence and acknowledged importance of myth in contemporary literature. Such a situation is best described by Michael Bell's metaphor in which the 25 mythopoeic in contemporary world is likened to the alligators in Thomas Pynchon's novel V . : "these grow and multiply precisely because of the attempts to destroy them or drive them underground" (Literature 200). In other words, as Hans Blumenberg has suggested, the attacks on myth constitute the essential mode through which it continually transforms itself and survives (629). Throughout the second half of the twentieth century there has been a constant stream of literary production characterized by the use of myth. Literary works that belong here display a variety of styles and have been labeled in different ways. They are by no means limited to Europe and the West, but come instead from many different parts of the world. Myth criticism is a special branch of literary criticism developed for examination of the complex interrelations between literature and myth. It arose in the first decades of the last century when the interest in myth suddenly increased and when the modernist critics, such as T. S. Eliot, propounded the idea that one of the main tendencies of the new literary movement was the revival of the mythic in the production of the new generation of writers. At the same time, new theories of myth were formulated in other academic disciplines. In this way myth came into the focus of intellectual attention and became an object of study in many different branches of the humanities such as philosophy, ethnology, sociology, cultural anthropology, psychology, folkloristics, classics, and religious studies. Such a wide span of interest confirms the importance of myth in the twentieth century, and strongly suggests that it was an era in which myth was studied more and had more prominence than in any previous period in history. Early in the century, philosopher Henri Bergson put forth 26 what was called a 'biological' theory of myth. It contends that human intelligence is an ambiguous faculty which easily becomes self-destructive, threatening not only social cohesion, but also the life of individuals, through their awareness of being mortal. Therefore, in order to prevent the possible destructive consequences of too much thinking, "le residu d'instinct" that humans still have generates reassuring images — out of which myths are made — capable of countering representations of reality produced by reason (Bastide 1049-50). Another philosopher, Ernst Cassirer, postulated that myth is an autonomous form of the human spirit, a self-contained, irreducible, and non-referential symbolic structure, whose functions stand in opposition to those of language, aesthetics and logical reasoning. Best understood as a kind of imaginative language of feeling which organizes a priori the perception, and even the thinking process in the pre-scientific periods of human culture, myth-making is "rooted in 'the perception of expression itself" and has no independent explanatory value (Cohen 339). Cassirer's followers, above all Susanne Langer and Philip Wheelwright, accepted the view that both the subject-object division and material causality were unknown in primeval myth: "Early man, unlike ourselves, did not dichotomize his world into a law-abiding physical universe on the one hand and a confused overflow of subjective ideas on the other. Nature and self, reality and fancy were radically interpenetrative and coalescent" (Wheelwright 134). They concluded that literature, religion, science, history and philosophy gradually emerged from myth through historical processes. However, the most influential theories of myth in the twentieth century were those made by scholars in the related fields of ethnology, sociology and cultural anthropology, 27 and those in the field of psychoanalysis. Lucien Levy-Bruhl believed that mythological thinking was characteristic of the "primitive mentality" and pre-rational thinking of tribal peoples whose minds were "more like those of children than of adults" (35). For Emile Durkheim myth is a narrative with symbolically significant content which reflects the values of a society and certain features of its social structure. It is a part of the religious system and has the role of promoting solidarity, thus giving the members of a society their identity and their historical anchor in the universe. The proponents of myth and ritual theory postulated that myths and rituals always operate together and that myth is the verbalization of ritual. Initiated by James G . Frazer and expanded further by, among others, Jane Harrison, S. H . Hooke, and Clyde Kluckhohn, this approach had considerable success in the early decades of the twentieth century, especially in literary myth criticism, but was later dismissed for its reductionism. Bronislaw Malinowski developed the myth-as-social-charter theory, arguing that there exists an intimate connection "between the word, the mythos, the sacred tales of a tribe, on the one hand, and their ritual acts, their moral deeds, their social organization, and even their practical activities, on the other" (78). Myths are thus not isolated pieces of literature; quite on the contrary, their meaning is always closely linked to specific situations in life. Their role is to give meaning to life, to make the world more acceptable than it would otherwise be, and to assure social harmony. In A . R. Radcliffe-Brown's view, myth serves to regulate the conduct of the individual in conformity with the needs of a society. In the domain of psychoanalysis two main positions arose: Freudian and Jungian. Sigmund Freud and his followers saw in myths the unconscious manifestations of the 28 Oedipus complex and repressed sexual desires, and compared myths to day- and night dreams: "Dreams and myths function as infantile wish fulfillment" (Abraham 2: 180). For Carl Gustav Jung, myth is a universal human phenomenon stemming from 'the collective unconscious,' formed during the prehistory of mankind, which is impersonal and lies at the bottom of the unconsciousness of us all. It is expressed through archetypal images which can acquire many different shapes, but can be brought down to six figures (the shadow, the anima-animus, the mother, the child, the maiden, and the wise old man), and an unspecified number of situational archetypes. Jung highlighted the distinction between the work of archetypes in 'primitive' and modern minds: "the primitive mentality does not invent myths, it experiences them" (qtd. in Hudson 185), whereas modern humans need myth to achieve psychic wholeness and balance. Joseph Campbell, originally a Jungian, developed his own very popular theory by simplifying the tenets of his teacher. He tried to prove that all myths are one, like "a collective Bible for all humanity" (Segal 137), that they are absolutely indispensable for leading a normal life, and that people in small-scale societies are much closer to sources of myth, whose meaning modern humans can extricate only with a lot of difficulty. Folklorists regarded myth as a specific type of oral narrative, different from legend and fairy tale, whose listeners believe it to be sacred and entirely true; its action takes place in a different world, in the remote past when the present world was still being negotiated (Bascom, "Forms" 4-24), while its principal characters are "gods or other beings larger in power than humanity" (Berthoff 278). Several classicists have written significant studies of myth, but have, in most cases, refrained from speculating much on the essence of the 29 'mythic,' concentrating rather on the historical fortunes of the notion (Graf; Kirk). On the other hand, in the field of the history of religions, Mircea Eliade has formulated one of the best known contemporary theories of myth. According to him, myth has explanatory and regenerative functions, namely, to answer questions on the origins of the universe, as well as questions about who we are and why we are: "Myths reveal the structure of reality, and the multiple modalities of being in the world" (Myths, Dreams 15). Myth is a story which is "a most precious possession because it is sacred, exemplary, significant"; it always directly concerns its listeners and supplies "models for human behavior and, by that very fact, gives meaning and value to life" (Myths, Rites 2-3). Claude Levi-Strauss developed the structuralist theory of myth, basing it on the hypothesis that myth is a mode of communication and that its underlying logic, in the form of transformations, binary oppositions, and dialectical relationships, has its foundation in universal structures existing in the human unconscious, which also generate similar systems, such as language, kinship structures, and gift exchange patterns. Myth is thus a metalanguage whose primary function is to express the essential structures of the human mind. Culture is a system of communication, and myth is one specific form of it. Its role is to justify our relationship to the world by resolving the contradictions which the human mind, through its binary structure (i.e., through the biogenetic limitation of the human brain), imposes on our experience of the world. Therefore, in analyzing myths, our task is not to discover "how men think in myth, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact" (Tonkin 98-9). Most often, Levi-Strauss finds this unconscious meaning, i.e., the inner logic of myth, in binary oppositions between concepts 30 such as incest and exogamy, or the raw and the cooked. The main problem with his theory is that it is not always possible to contract complex mythic structures to binary oppositions, nor to reduce intricate symbolism to simple algebraic formulas (Eigeldinger 198). Furthermore, he was criticized "on the basis that his selection of data" for his huge four-volume monograph Mythologiques "has been directed by a preconceived purpose" (Faraday 404). The theories mentioned so far — and I have outlined only the most important ones — represent just a small portion of all of those put forth during the last hundred years. William Doty examines more than fifty of them in his book Mythography, but even his inventory is far from being exhaustive. A closer look at the theories listed here makes several points immediately clear: in spite of much effort, a lot of sophistry, and some quite genuine interest in the topic, it is only fair to say that modern attitudes to myth are not particularly original, and that they all, excepting the structuralist theory, give one a sense of deja vu. Some authors, (e.g., Freud; Malinowski) have a reductive approach, since, in their view, "myth is nothing but whatever [the] theorist is primarily interested in" (Russell 132), i.e., the analysis of myth is used only as a proof for their more general theories. Others propose far too monolithic definitions which do not hold water, simply because "we can always find some myth that does not fulfill the conditions stipulated" (Versnel 43). Still others get carried away by their enthusiasm for the subject: "What Levy-Bruhl has to say, and what those who love to listen to his story, or to the variants diffused by Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell or Martin Heidegger, want to hear, is not an explanation of myth but a myth about myth, expressing more a wish than a theory and more a longing than a wish" 31 (Goodman 68). In my view, all theories of myth, both those developed in the twentieth century and the earlier ones, can conveniently be divided into five categories: Enlightenment theories, romantic theories, rationalistic theories, structuralist theories, and cynical theories. Enlightenment views conceive myth as a phase in the growth of human mind, one which was inevitable, but is now past and obsolete. Whether understood as a primitive and irrational worldview of our yet undeveloped and unenlightened ancestors (Epicurus; Freud; Muller; Tylor), or as forming the crucial part of an important, 'synthetic' stage of our consciousness from »which all our essential faculties gradually arose (Vico; Cassirer; Wheelwright), myth is necessarily endemic to primitive mentality and represents the beginning of the fundamental process which, in Blumenberg's words, goes "from myth to logos" (49). Romantic theories posit myth as a superior intuitive mode of cosmic understanding, a primal, original, and essential form of truth, or "the archetype of every phenomenal cognition of which the human mind is capable" (Hermann Broch, qtd. in Strelka x). Authors who subscribe to this outlook (German Romanticists; Jung) are thus inclined to overestimate the scope of myth, claiming that it is either a depository of superior ancient wisdom (De Santillana and Dechend 1-11), or one of the most profound achievements of the human spirit (Campbell), and often end with conclusions such as "Myth can only be understood mythically" (Rudhardt 42). Contrary to those two categories, rationalistic approach understands myth simply as a specific kind of narrative fiction. Although several authors whose theories belong here 32 tend to restrict its range far too much — here I have in mind allegorical, euhemerist and folkloric interpretations — or to overemphasize the social role of myth (Durkheim; Malinowski), this approach nonetheless seems to be the only one that offers a solid logical base for demarcating the notion of myth (see pp. 45-50 below). The fact that myth is still very much alive today, and that many modern writers use it in a quite rational way, undermines Enlightenment assumptions. Romantic theories, on the other hand, are untenable through their own exaggerations; Lowell Edmunds described their main difficulty succinctly: "Myth is everywhere and thus nowhere" (2). Structuralists perceive myth as a mode of communication that, curiously, "has a meaning" only "on the unconscious level" (Patte 234). Although it is undeniable that Levi-Strauss has enriched the study of mythology with useful methodology 1 1 and many important insights, his theory, strangely lying between open-mindedness and strict dogmatism, also has several very serious limitations. His attempt to explain so many different forms of human interaction by simple binary oppositions, supposedly based on the biogenetic built of the brain itself, is rather overstretched. Another problem with his formal approach is that "without ethnographic detail it is impossible to factor out any meaningful structure on which to build a paradigmatic hierarchy that might ultimately lead to the formulation of universal principles" (LeCron Foster 374-375). In his analysis of Native South American mythology, Levi-Strauss treated as a synchronically given set "myths which no one before him had ever envisaged en bloc, myths not found side by side in any 1 1 E. C. Barksdale successfully applied Levi-Strauss' methodology to examine several famous Russian realistic novels of the nineteenth century, whereas Eric Gould used the structuralist approach for analyzing the mythopoeic works of T. S. Eliot, J. Joyce, and D. H. Lawrence. 33 culture, but only in Americanist libraries" (Sperber 81). 1 2 Furthermore, his equation of myth with language is far from being proved. As Dan Sperber rightly noted: Unlike language, governed by a grammar, myths are, according to Levi-Strauss, generated by the transformation of other myths or of texts which carry a certain mysticism, i.e., by a device that allows an infinite and non-enumerable set of possible inputs. No grammar therefore generates by itself the set of myths, any more than the mechanism of visual perception generates by itself the set of possible perceptions. The device that would generate myths depends on an external stimulus; it is thus similar to cognitive devices and opposed to semiological devices: it is an interpretative, and not a generative system. (82-3) Cynical theories, finally, see myth essentially as a scheme for deception and insist that it should be exposed and unmasked. Such views were already widespread in Ancient Greece (Xenophanes; Heraclitus; Democritus) and in Early Modern Europe (Descartes; Bayle; Voltaire). In this way, the word 'myth' was first used in the sense of collective belief or ideology, and then —- by extension — with the pejorative significance of an improbable and implausible story, a collective deception, or "a concealment and a repression, and a self-delusion" (Samuel 17). B y postulating that myth is a system of signs, essentially 'false,' whose property is its efficacy (Loriggio 502), Levi-Strauss has invigorated this approach. The crucial work in such development of the term was Roland Barthes' Mythologies, in which the author claimed that, since "myth is a type of speech," "not defined by the object of its message, but by the way it utters this message," then "everything can be a myth provided it is conveyed by a discourse"; or, in other words, 1 2 Another important limitation of his theory has been pertinently noted by Henry Wald: "By reducing men to the station of a thing structuralism reduces time to the present and thus abolishes man's most human property: the freedom to contest and to create" (23 -24). 34 "myth is not an object, a concept, or an idea," but "a mode of signification" whose "function is to distort" (109, 121).13 In such a way, advertising, political slogans, ideologies, and even gossip have all come under the heading of 'myth.'14 The weaknesses of cynical theories are similar to those of the romantic ones: they are too inflated to be useful; those two categories stand at the opposite extremes of the discourse on myth. Approaches and methods of literary myth criticism were largely developed under the influence of theories from these other disciplines sketched above. They affected not only critics, but also writers, such as T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Hermann Broch, and Thomas Mann. Most decisive in that respect were Frazer's version of myth and ritual theory, Jung's archetypes, and Cassirer's view of myth as an undifferentiated symbolic form, but also ideas of Vico, Freud, Eliade, and Levi-Strauss. After its slow but steady growth in the first half of the twentieth century, myth criticism had its heyday in the fifties and sixties — ironically, during the same years that marked the decline of Modernism and the initial spurt of postmodern tendencies in literature — when it spread like prairie fire, rapidly displacing New Criticism as the dominant critical discourse. Its glory, however, did not last long. While as early as 1953 Philip Rahv was complaining of the inflation of myth in literary criticism (635), less than four decades later, in the late eighties and early nineties, 1 3 Curiously enough, Barthes thinks that contemporary myths, as he understands them, come exclusively from the political right wing, whereas the left, and — above all — the revolutionary left, is characterized by outspokenness that does not need to resort to the subterfuge of myth: "la bourgeoisie se masque comme bourgeoisie et par la meme produit le mythe; la revolut ion s'affiche comme revolution et par la meme abolit le mythe" (234). Conversely, Lucian Boia wrote an exhaustive study of the 'scientific' ideology of communism, which he also calls "myth." 1 4 The fallacy of such assumption lies in the fact that myth is — in narrative terms — diametrically opposite to advertisement or political propaganda; whereas ambiguity and multiplicity of possible meanings are its key characteristics, in advertisement the message has to be as direct as practically achievable. 35 lexicons of literary criticism were either omitting any mention of this critical approach, or drastically reducing the space for it, as it was deemed it to be a dead issue (Resina 7). Three main problems of myth criticism were the misuse of the word 'myth,' the insufficiency of the theories it was based on, and reductionism. 'Myth' as a term was employed in many different ways, which gave an impression that it has "almost as many meanings as critics who use it" and that "the word is protean and its fate is procrustean" (Douglas 232). At the same time, its two opposing connotations diverged even more than before: on the one hand, 'myth' came to be identified with profundity and meaningfulness, so that the mere detection of 'mythic elements' in a literary work was considered "the blank cheque of honorific commentary" (Bell, Primitivism 76-7), while, on the other, it was more and more often used in the sense of illusion or falsehood. As Tournier correctly observed: "La notion meme de mythe est frappee d'equivoque: un mythe, c'est a la fois une belle et profonde histoire incarnant l'une des aventures essentielles de l'homme et un miserable mensonge debite par un debile mental, un 'mythomane' justement" (Vol 12). Such proliferation of usage made it possible that, for instance, female beauty can have its own 'mythology' (Smith), as well as mountain landscapes (Sussez), sea travel (Corbin), nationalism (Trumpener), psychoanalysis (Baker), crime and violence (Jeffrey), and so forth. Secondly, myth criticism was from its outset based on premises borrowed from anthropological, psychological, and philosophical theories that were not only originally insufficient, as discussed above (pp. 30-34), but also already outdated if not defunct. "The assumptions of Frazerian comparativism were scorned by many anthropologists well before the time that the literary critics were canonizing Frazer" (Manganaro 19). Jung's lumping 36 together the images of poetry, dream, legend, theology and myth, without paying attention to their specifics, has been criticized for quite some time, and yet there are some fairly recent critical works which propose to establish "a new myth criticism" based on his theories (e.g., Spivey). The third main problem in the study of literary myth stemmed from the curious inclination of several very influential myth critics to try to provide one single answer15 which would explain either all myths, or the mythopoeic attitude in general16 (e.g., Frazer's rite of the ritual murder of the king; Jung's limited number of archetypes; or Frye's attempt "to show how all literary genres are derived from the quest-myth" rFables 9]). Such a tendency, typical for Modernism, is based on the belief that there exists "a sharp opposition between conscious 'surfaces' and unconscious 'depth,' between ordinary experience and a hidden realm of mental life of which we are generally unaware" (Schwartz 4). The actuality of such opposition was accepted as a fact in several branches of humanities (e.g., in anthropology, linguistics, psychoanalysis), in which researchers tried to 1 5 An excellent exposition of one such approach is Joseph Fontenrose's summary of Lord Raglan's extreme version of myth and ritual theory: "All myths are ritual texts and all myth -ritual complexes go back to a single ancient ritual. What about legends and folktales? [...] Lord Raglan sees no real differences among traditional tales: a legend or folk tale is simply a myth cut loose from its ritual. As he sees it, all traditional tales, all existing rituals, all religious systems, and, in fact, a good deal else — magic, nursery rhymes, games, riddles, etiquette — are derived from a single Ur-ritual. Historical events, intellectual curiosity, dreams, fantasies, poetic invention, have nothing to do with either the origin or the development of myths, or any part of them. [...] In some late neolithic kingdom of the ancient Near East men thought it a good idea to kill their 'divine king' every year; neighboring kingdoms took up the practice with alacrity, and it spre ad in ever-widening circles until it embraced the world — to everyone's satisfaction, it seems, except perhaps the divine king's. And so charged with emotion was this ceremony that it not only colored but provided the whole mythico-religious structure of human society thereafter" (2-3). 1 6 Such an attitude was parodied by George Eliot in Middlemarch in the person of Edward Casaubon, a pedantic scholar engaged in a lunatic and worthless project, "The Key to All Mythologies," which he proposes to discover and then use for explaining the entire field of mythopoeia (277). 37 track down the connections between the ordinary consciousness and the unconscious systems that condition and govern it, and discover their elementary rules. As a consequence, myth criticism was — often rightly — accused of offering a fairly limited, repetitive and, above all, reductionist vision of literature, quite unable to account for more than a restricted number of features of literary works. It is always dangerous to assume that a "purportedly universal theory, be it psycho-analytical, dialectical, or whatever, can go straight to the heart of a myth before having considered its place in a genre structurally defined and functionally integrated in ways perhaps particular to the culture in question" (Hymes 275-6). Laura Bohannan has shown how one of the best known Western narratives — Shakespeare's Hamlet — can easily be misunderstood and interpreted in yet unknown ways by people from a different cultural background — the Tiv from West Africa — and how even the Bard is not universally intelligible (29-33). Quite obviously, myth is a narrative with multiple functions and complex levels of meaning, and no single theory can possibly do it justice; it can be properly understood only if studied in its own context (Vazquez 117). However, different schools of thought need not be in competition, but can be used rather in a complementary manner to address different aspects of myth (Kongas Maranda 12), as well as to shed light on myth in literature from different angles and thus enhance our ability to analyze and explain it. Anthropological and ethnological investigations of traditional oral narratives in small-scale societies, mythic and otherwise, have provided literary research on myth with several noteworthy insights. Two of those issues are important for this study. Firstly, it is 38 interesting to note that even those anthropologists who interpret myth as a meaningful element of culture, and who are not, as a rule, prejudiced against tribal peoples, often subscribe to the view that myth is characteristic of archaic societies, as if they were somehow trying to push it as far into the obscure past as possible. Eliade, for example, in spite of his enthusiasm for myth and his insistence that it is still important today, tends to see it as belonging predominantly to tribal peoples, arguing that it cannot exist in contemporary world in its 'pure' form, because its original characteristics are likely to change and conform to modern narrative modes (Myths, Rites 92). Levi-Strauss made a similar mistake when he described South American small-scale societies as "cold," lacking historical consciousness, and consequently having a homogeneously 'mythic' understanding of social reality. The fact is, as Stephen Hugh-Jones has shown for the Barasana from southeast Colombia (140), and Terence Turner for the Kayapo of Central Brazil (208), that 'mythic' and 'historical' 'consciousnesses' are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Such residues of nineteenth century social evolutionism, smacking of Levy-Bruhl's "primitive mentality," are truly astonishing, especially in the light of recent archaeological discoveries which proved that anatomically modern humans, i.e., people exactly like us, have been around for more than 100,000 years (Stringer and Andrews 1264). Other excavations unearthed numerous graves, as well as traces of red ochre used for decoration, i.e., evidence both of typical human activities and of symbolic thinking, from 77,000 years ago (Rossouw 13-14). This means that neither we as a species, nor our brains, have changed at all for a very long time, and that our distant ancestors from those ancient times thought in the same way we do today. Any investigation into the development of 39 human consciousness would have to penetrate much deeper into the past, but, unfortunately, there is no kind of evidence from those primordial times which might be helpful for the project, so all similar attempts are bound to remain purely conjectural. Human societies display an astonishing variety of cultures and traditions, or, at least, they did before the onslaught of globalization and the multinationals, but in all of them human minds and consciousnesses are the same. Secondly, a closer look at 'ethno-religious' myths can help us establish logical connections between classical, 'ethnological' and literary myth. The first thing that will catch our eye is that native terminologies for different types of narratives are just as confusing as Western ones, and that stories which anthropologists tend to classify as 'myths' are classified variously in different small-scale societies. In some cases, we encounter terms that are quite close to Western suppositions of what an 'ethno-religious' myth should be. For example, godiyihgo nagoldi', "to tell of holiness" of the Western Apache from Arizona, which deal with the events that occurred "in the beginning," i.e., in "a time when the universe and all things within it were achieving their present form and location" (K. H . Basso 34); 'ai-ni-mae of the Lau from Malaita in the Solomon Islands in Melanesia (Kongas Maranda 3); pelunga, "stories from the time before" of the Kaliai from Papua New Guinea, considered "to contain important truth" and to be "reasonably accurate accounts of events that took place in the remote past" (Counts 33, 35), i.e., in the time before intercourse between the world of humans and that of the antu, anthropomorphic spirit beings, ceased to take place; and niag-lelengba, "ce-qui-parle-sans-mentir" of the Fali from North Cameroon, who distinguish it from niag-ni-bantu, "ce-qui-parle-de-ce-qui-est-40 ancien," i.e., legends and historical accounts, saglu, "folktales", and ndalam, "anecdotes" (Gauthier 42). However, these categories do not correspond with each other, and often include stories which do not agree with Western notions of 'myth.' Conversely, among the Zuni in New Mexico "tales fall into no clearly distinguishable categories"; even the origin stories, considered to be "the Zuni scripture," are not labeled in any special way and its versions differ markedly (Benedict 1: xxx). In East Africa, the story of Kintu, in spite of its multiple cosmogonic, ontological and ritual dimensions, is called simply olugero, "story," in Buganda (Ray 60). Likewise, most other African languages also make no distinction "between 'folktale' (or ordinary fictional narrative) on the one hand and a blend of myth and legend on the other" (Finnegan, Oral Literature 363). Natives from the Marshall Islands in Micronesia recognize three narrative categories: bwebwenato, "myth," inon, "fairy tale," and inon-bwebwenato, "fairy tale-myth"; stories are classified differently in different villages, or by people of different professions, or even if told on different occasions (Davenport 221, 229). Another way of discriminating various types of traditional narratives is through specific requirements or restrictions which are, in some cases, imposed when particular types of stories are told. Some myths can only be recited in specific circumstances and in presence of certain persons; otherwise, the presence of a shaman may be required, or celebration of certain rites. For example, among the Klamath and Modoc, two closely related native peoples of Oregon and California, it was preferred "that in addition to the narrator, at least two individuals thoroughly familiar with the myth were present to guard against narrative error" (Sobel and Bettler 307). They believed that telling myths during the 41 day would put the teller in danger of being bitten by a rattle-snake, and that, if it was done during the warmer months of the year, it might cause him or her to age quickly. Among the Fali from North Cameroon all stories are divided into two supra-categories: "night stories," where niag-lelengba and niag-ni-bantu belong, and "day stories," which encompass all other types of narratives; the telling of a "night story" during the day requires an expiatory rite (Gauthier 48-49). Their women are not supposed to hear and learn cosmogonic myths (44). Among the Western Apaches godiyihgo nagoldi' are told only by the medicine men and medicine women (K. H . Basso 34). On the other hand, among the Zuni in New Mexico, even the origin stories are not restricted to priests; they are freely reproduced by all members of community without any concern for the 'true' version (Benedict 1: xxx). Natives from the Marshall Islands in Micronesia have restrictions in regard to inon, "fairy tale," and not to bwebwenato, "myth"; it is the inon that must be told only at night, or else "the heads of both teller and listeners will swell up 'big as a house'" (Davenport 224). In many small-scale societies we encounter literary categories which are defined along completely different lines than are the Western ones. For example, me turn iaren, "sayings about the old ones" of the Kayapo of Central Brazil, is the typical vehicle of both mythic narratives and of one type of historical accounts (Turner 198). The Mayas from Chamula in the State of Chiapas, Mexico, make a distinction between, on the one hand, bac'i ?antivo k'op, "true ancient narrative," which comprises Western categories of myth, legend and folk tale, and, on the other, rios, "ritual speech" and resal, "prayer," which contain much mythic material concerning ritual and cosmogonic beliefs (Gossen 150-165). In Madagascar angano, "fable, story, legend, myth," is distinguished from tantara, "history, 42 accounts of events that really happened," but, as Robert Jaovelo-Dzao explains, "dans la mesure ou certains mythes racontent, selon les croyances populaires, les faits ou evenements qui se sont reellement passes dans les temps immemoriaux, on emploierait volontiers tantara a la place d'angano" (15), i.e., in Eliadic terms, events from illo tempore belong in Madagascar to two different narrative categories. Furthermore, it happens quite often that the members of the studied society themselves admit that their 'myths' are fictions — as do the Kewa of New Guinea about their lidi (LeRoy 4). In many cases it is possible to chart the distance between the mythic and the fictive in the same story (Ramsey 34), and even when etiological or ontological motives are clearly present in traditional narratives, they are also understood as manifestations of feeling and literary pleasure (E. B. Basso 37-62). Retelling myths is, in the words of Franz Boas, "an outflow of artistic, more specifically literary activity. The one-sided emphasis laid upon the intimate relation between religion and mythology obscures the imaginative play that is involved in the formation of myths" (611). A l l this clearly demonstrates that it is unjustifiable to set 'ethno-religious,' i.e., 'true' myth, against its 'watered-down version,' i.e., literary myth (Albert 22; Astier 729; Swiggers 339). Different societies have different narrative categories and different attitudes toward 'mythic' stories. Written literary myths have the same function which oral narratives perform in traditional societies. I am using the term 'literary myth' only to stress the fact that my study is devoted to the avatars of myth in contemporary narrative fiction. And we should not forget that ' T entree en litterature ne degrade nullement le mythe," quite 43 on the contrary, it "lui donne une vigueur nbuvelle" (Chevrel and Dumoulie 4), i.e., the presence of myth in contemporary literature is rather a sign of its permanence and vitality. Returning now to the initial problem set forth at the beginning of this chapter, the central question remains unanswered: how can we formulate a suitable definition for such a multiform concept? If it is impossible — or nearly so — not only to define, but to make any sense of the term and notion of 'myth,' how can we study it at all? Is it possible that, precisely because so many people have been discussing and writing about it, myth is, in fact, just another 'imagined' concept? Arthur Schnitzler once remarked that "the things which are most often mentioned do not actually exist" (qtd. in Schwarz 143). While what he had in mind was love, Egon Schwarz used the same line to comment on Central Europe, and here I am using it in regard to myth. Some scholars have followed such an argument very seriously. Marcel Detienne suggested that myth existed in Ancient Greece only as an academic fabrication which, through Alexandrian intellectual games, stressed primarily its fabulous and extravagant elements. He claimed that the Greeks did not a have a notion of 'myth' as we understand it today, and that their word b ymQoq did not refer to it, but that it simply meant "story" (131-32). Other studies tried to prove that "myth is a construct that arose in Europe during the age of Enlightenment" (Graf 56), and that Western scholars, by way of terminological ethnocentricity, projected their own conceptions onto small-scale or ancient societies. Conversely, there is no shortage of theories showing how 'mythic idiom' not only exists, but also pervades many discourses in other, supposedly 'objective' branches of knowledge. Thus, for example, it was claimed that the structure of some contemporary 44 scientific theories closely follows that of ancient fables (e.g., the 'big bang' hypothesis on the origin of the universe [Deforge 13]), while Hayden White postulated that much of history-writing is myth-ridden (Metahistory). However, there is no need to follow all secondary or metaphorical meanings that a word can bear in an attempt to define it. Wittgenstein's famous remark is very pertinent here: "Many words in this sense then don't have a strict meaning. But this is not a defect. To think this would be like saying that the light of my reading lamp is no real light at all because it has no sharp boundary" (27). Before proceeding any further, it is important to first point out what myth is not: it is not a semiological device or a type of speech which can convey just any message regardless of its content; in fact, plot constitutes an important part of every myth. It is not a simple projection of the subconscious drives, nor a purely instinctive function; it is, at least partly, a product of conscious activity. It is not a metaphysical construct either, because its imagery always depends on experienced reality, 1 7 nor a theory or a hypothesis, because it cannot be proven true or false. Contrary to the claims of Bolle and Smith (720), it is neither 18 ideology, nor confirmation of a society's religious beliefs, nor a charter of behavior: it "has no obvious practical function" (Charbonnier 55). It is not a symbolic system closed in on itself, since several human faculties, such as imagination, feelings, and reason, are involved in both creating and enjoying mythic narratives. It is a story, though not necessarily sacred, and certainly not explanatory, because, as Stith Thompson has shown, "explanations are often added as an afterthought" (173). A n d it does respond to changing 1 7 As Furio Jesi remarked, "la mitologia non fii [...] religione rivelata. Essa fu piuttosto una partecipazione al reale, un aprirsi alia conoscenza del reale" 'mythology was not [...] a revealed religion. Rather, it was a way to participate in reality, an opening to learning about reality' (53). 1 8 Blumenberg rightly notes that "there is no such thing as an 'adherent' of myth" (237). 45 conditions in which humankind finds itself by saying something that can only be said in a story. In short, myth is an amusing and meaningful narrative which can be applied in an unlimited number of ways and which helps us establish a balance in spiritual and social values. Thus, if myth exists, it must be understood as a kind of fictional narrative. In fact, that is the common denominator of nearly all theories (Astier 725; Brunei, Preface ix; Coupe 4; Doty 16-19; Gould 113; Honko 49; Loriggio 506; Munch 69; Righter 5), so the only way to define it is by making a difference between mythic and other kinds of narratives. Since 'ethno-religious' and literary myth are essentially the same, the definition sought should be applicable to both varieties. Narratological analysis has been applied to mythic stories on several occasions, but, as Claude Calame writes, it left it hardly distinguishable from other narrative forms (150-51), which proves that myth cannot be delimited only on the base of its formal characteristics. A useful definition should not be a straitjacket, but leave instead enough leeway, especially when, as is the case, the concept in question is a tricky one. In that sense, Don Cupitt's suggestion that the least misleading approach to defining myth would be to make a list of all of its main characteristics, is pointing in the right direction (29). Even better, in my opinion, is to delineate its semantic field by four separate sets of features, formulated in terms of its structure, its content, its function, and its social role as a shared story. Several other types of narrative fiction may have some of the features described here as typical of myth; however, only a mythic story should have all of them. 46 Defined in terms of its structure, myth is a narrative characterized by a density of symbolic meaning, a firmness of inner organization, and a rich weave of metaphysical considerations (Sellier 118-125; Brunei, Mythocritique 56-71). As a rudimentary story sequence constructed by a multiplicity of coherently interlocked meanings which create its symbolic richness, myth represents, as Frye has correctly noted, the opposite narrative stance to that of naturalism (Anatomy 51-52). Such structure accounts for the polymorphous semantics and plasticity of myth. Mythic narratives can be approached in many different ways and are always capable of several interpretations, i.e., "le mythe n'offre jamais a ceux qui l'ecoutent une signification determinee" (Fricker 130). Through historical development mythic narratives are constantly taken up and reshaped, acquiring new meaning to fit the specific requirements of a given philosophical argument or aesthetic goal. In that way, myth is "un concept malleable et multiforme par excellence: il vit d'inversions, de substitutions, d'ajouts, d'emprunts, de retraits, de multiplications, de divisions, d'innombrables metamorphoses done, a travers les cultures et les epoques de l'humanite" (Tremblay 133). The 'distinctive' or 'curious' logic of myth, which has disconcerted scholars for such a long time, is a direct consequence of such a structure. The content of mythic stories has always been a controversial problem. Myth theorists have most often claimed that it consists primarily of origin stories, understood to be true, which explain both "how the world or important features of the world first came to be" (Hatab 146) and "the basic facts of human existence, such as birth, death, storms, floods, fire, and earthquakes" (Littleton 22). However, myth "does not need to be true — or even necessarily be believed to be true — to be powerful, to make a difference in how 47 people think and live" (Eller 6). Rather, it is to be understood as a 'true story' only because it is able to express "man's understanding of himself in the world in which he lives" (Bultmann 1: 10), in a way rational and scientific language cannot. Myths are, essentially, "neither true or false," but rather "adequate or inadequate, [...] alive or dead" (Deutsch 44). Because they are always situated vis-a-vis a known reality and address questions "about meaning itself (O'Flaherty 28), their specific content depends on the culture in which they grow. Addressing in an imaginative way essential problems such as the human relationship to the powers controlling the universe, or the limits people must not overstep, they combine facts,19 concrete reality, figurative objectivity, and free-ranging fantasy to create narratives which destroy the barrier between the serious and the ludic. In such a manner, "what is told in myth seems to be at an infinite distance from ordinary reality but yet to be relevant for it" (Waardenburg 53). Helping us envisage a condition beyond our finite existence by projecting it against the metaphysical canvas of eternity, mythic narratives often break usual concepts of time and space. Mythic time is reversible, in it no event happens before or after any other event, it conflates the past and the present, or rather the eternal and the present. Mythic space is not geometrical, but primarily axiological and symbolical. Even cause and effect rules are sometimes abolished. Myth has two main functions: existential and exploratory. Firstly, it emerges as an answer to important human needs, i.e., to questions pertinent to non-empirical unconditioned reality that are not and cannot be answered by science; there are three groups 1 9 The importance of facts and concrete reality for myths should not b e overlooked, as is recognized by Alan Watts in his definition of myth as "a complex of stories — some no doubt a fact, and some fantasy — which, for various reasons, human beings regard as demonstrations of the inner meaning of the universe and of human life" (7). 48 of such needs: to make empirical realities understandable, to keep faith in the permanence of human values, and to see the world as continuous (Kolakowski 2-4). Arising in response "to a situation of challenge" (Firth 216) whenever we experience "a certain despair in the knowledge that man is doomed to an irredeemable cycle of errors" (Okpewho 218), myth provides us with "an apparent resolution or 'mediation' of problems which are by their very nature incapable of any final resolution" (Leach 80), and makes it possible to create in this world a meaningful place for human beings. 2 0 Secondly, myth is not, as it has been often claimed, an explanation or a means of sustaining the status quo in a society, but rather it acts to contest and explore the socio-historic world. Operating "at the boundaries of understanding" (Goodman 77) as "a discovery procedure par excellence''' (Weiner 609) which "interprets rather than squarely represents" (594), or — as Levi-Strauss put it — when it is about to tell a story (confer) it actually retells it (conte redire) by contradicting it (contredire) (Naked 644), and in such a way "breaks free of the constraints and organizations of everyday life and entertains new possibilities of thought and action" (Jackson 51). Unlike positivist ontology, "myth contains a fundamental extra-territoriality to finitude," i.e., it is always open-ended, and thus has "transrational possibility" (Steiner, Presences 219). As "an opening on to other possible worlds which transcend the established limits of our actual world" (Ricoeur, Reader 490), it becomes a tool of learning and contest, and serves to promote ambivalence, exploit ambiguity, and provide us with "une ontologie spontanee" which is preliminary to any abstraction (Gusdorf 11-19, 287). In a similar vein, Bernard Dupriez defines myth as "a symbolic narrative in which characters, speeches, and action aim to establish a balance in spiritual and social values [and] in which there is room for everyone" (292). 49 Myth is supraindividual in the sense that it is a story which is important to and shared by a group of people. A writer cannot create a myth in the same way he or she can write a novel or a poem; a story becomes a myth only when it is accepted by a community. Levi-Strauss' description of the position of myth in societies with no written literature is very appropriate: "Myths are anonymous: from the moment they are seen as myths, and whatever their real origins, they exist only as elements embodied in a tradition. When the myth is repeated, the individual listeners are receiving a message that, properly speaking, is coming from nowhere; this is why it is credited with a supernatural origin" (Raw 18). The situation of literary myth is surprisingly similar: although we know when and by whom the first account of a myth was written, the writer is always overshadowed by his or her creation. Johann Spies, who in 1587 published the first Faustbuch, is not nearly as well known as his hero, and the same can be said about Tirso de Molina, whose E l burlador de Sevilla featuring Don Juan first appeared in 1630. For that reason Michel Tournier defines myth as "une histoire que tout le monde connait deja" (Vent 184) and insists that his mythopoeic novels should be reread at the very first reading. A myth thus always consists of several versions, and can be defined as the totality of its variants (Firth 208-9). New generations of writers invent their own versions of old myths, and interpret them in a new fashion. In such a way some myths can stay alive for a very long time. However, myths are products of specific societies and specific times, so they can also die (Mortier 147), while new myths will rise with emerging new cultures. Thus the historically new society of the early modern period in Europe (1500-1700) invented new myths as a response to the profound cultural change it was going through. "Three great ideas" of that period are, 50 according to Soren Kierkegaard, those of Don Juan, Faust, and the Wandering Jew (1: 368), while Ian Watt, writing a century and a half later and seing things a bit differently, stressed the importance of four key "myths of modern individualism" — those of Don Juan, Faust, Don Quixote, and Robinson Crusoe (vii-xii). Myth is sometimes seen as a mode of narration. In that sense the term has been "used not only as a specific genre word, but also in a more general sense which indicates the somehow symbolizing, cosmic, eternity-laden aspects of human consciousness" (Finnegan, Oral Traditions 154). In other words, some narratives, although not socially accepted as myths, may have mythic structure, content and function. Writers like William Blake or E . T. A . Hoffmann consciously, and quite successfully, created new personal mythologies, while novels such as Herman Melville's Moby Dick or Franz Kafka's Das Schloss have been widely acclaimed for having 'mythic quality.' John White proposed a distinction between "mythic" and "mythological" fiction, i.e., between works characterized by the distinctive logic and polymorphous semantics of myth, and those employing traditional mythologems in their structure (7-11). However, it is difficult to accept such a division, because both approaches are usually applied simultaneously. A number of contemporary works of fiction, which cannot be labeled as myths in the full sense of the term, do have characteristics and interests typical for myth, and thus belong to mythic literary production. Their importance lies — like that of the traditional mythologies — in their responding to the new and changing conditions in which humankind finds itself, conditions which require new stories to help us redefine the end of the millennium and find new answers for the future and fresh beginnings. 51 The contemporary period of literary history, which roughly corresponds to the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, is characterized above all by two things: by the diversity of styles and approaches which make it impossible to subsume the whole of its literary production under a single designation, and by the globalization of literature. Cornelius Castoriadis compared the state of global connectedness during the (European) late Middle Ages with that in the contemporary world: while in the thirteenth century great cultural centers, such as Venice in Italy, Nara in Japan, Borobudur in Java, Baghdad in Iraq, and Tikal in Mexico, hardly knew anything about each other, by the late twentieth century all that variety was gone and countries became different "only in terms of their past" (196). The emergence of a world literature began in the nineteenth century and was accelerated in the twentieth, when ever-growing cultural connections between different parts of the world "steadily eroded the customary boundaries between different national literatures and distinct literary traditions" (Moses x). In the period after the Second World War this process continued at an ever-increasing pace, intensified by modern means of travel and communication, mass media, and expanding international trade and cultural relations, which lead to profound interpenetration of different traditions (xii-xiii). As Carlos Fuentes explains: E impossivel — alem de ridiculo — falar em literaturas nacionais. Isto e uma invencao do romantismo. Hoje, nao se pode falar de uma fisica nacional, uma biologia nacional, uma botanica nacional, uma astronomia nacional. E nao se pode falar de um cinema nacional, porque, com a velocidade das comunicacoes, voce se dirige, cada vez mais, a uma plateia internacional. O que ha sao homens e mulheres. (qtd. in Reis 281; Spanish source not given) 52 It is impossible — almost ridiculous — to speak of national literatures. That was invented by romanticism. It is not possible to speak today about national physics, national biology, national botany, national astronomy. Nor is it possible to speak about national cinema, because, with the speed of means of communication, you are always addressing an international audience. There are only men and women. Contemporary postcolonial and Third World literatures are thus not only "distinctive and extremely significant reflections of the rise and diffusion of global modernity" but also a part of it (Moses xiii). Although this period in literary history is most often referred to as postmodern, both the concept and its time frame are still hotly debated, so that "a consensual definition of postmodernism in literature" has not yet been reached (Calinescu 296). A l l that can be said with certainty is that postmodernism grew out of late modernism and replaced it as the dominant trend in contemporary literature at some time, according to different critics, between the late sixties and mid-seventies (Berman 87), in the sixties (Eysteinsson 103), in the early sixties (Hassan 55-8), in the late fifties (Huyssen xi), in the fifties (Baldick 174), in the forties (Cuddon 734; Quinones 17), or even with the publication of Finnegans Wake in 1939 (Bell, Literature 173). The word 'postmodern' was first used in relation to literature as early as in 1946 by Randall Jarrell to describe the poetry of Robert Lowell as "post- or anti-modernist" (Longenbach 101), and during the mid-fifties the term gained some currency. At the other end of this time span, at the M L A meeting of 1976 there were already six sections on postmodernism (Quinones 4), which indicates that by that time the new tendencies were prevailing. As no literary movement can end, or emerge, abruptly, this 53 period between the mid-fifties and the mid-seventies marks the change from the dominance of modernism to that of postmodernism. However, many literary works written during this period are not classifiable as postmodern,2 1 but display instead a variety of styles and are labeled in different ways. Many authors continue modernist traditions both in technical aspects of their writing, and in their acceptance of art as the foremost kind of coherence available to humans. Since no single truth or organized system of knowledge can fully apprehend the world and render it intelligible, art is the only way to create a meaning about the universe that surrounds us, an "art richly charged with multiple and overlapping perspectives" (Breslin 18). In opposition to the postmodern random swirl of empty signals and narcissistic involvement with language, as well as to principles of nonselection, aleatory structuring and the ironic dissolution of form (Fokkema 83-85, 87), these writers do not abandon conscious organization of textual elements; rather, they are trying to establish new conventions of mimesis appropriate for the contemporary world. Their works often have certain postmodern traits as well, on the one hand, because of the influence of the age, and, on the other, because modernist and postmodern literatures share many characteristics, such as self-reflexivity, fragmentation, parody and irony, the difference being one of degree. One stream of such non-postmodern literary production uses myth as the main source of inspiration and material for structuring fiction. The six novels which are the 2 1 Principal characteristics of 'canonic' postmodern writing are its insistence on indeterminacy or undecidability of meaning (Calinescu 298), abandonment of the quest for artistic coherence, fragmentation, playful irony, parody, parataxis (Waugh 3), eclecticism, bricolage, fabulation and pastiche. 2 In the same period, several postmodern novelists have also employed myths in their works, only, as one would expect, their "writing reveals more often [...] the reductio ad absurdum of all 54 object of this dissertation are representative of this mythopoeic stream: Yacine Kateb's Nedjma, Wilson Harris' Palace of the Peacock, Wole Soyinka's The Interpreters, Chingiz Aitmatov's EejibiH napoxoa |~The White Steamship!, Michel Tournier's Le Roi des aulnes, and Darcy Ribeiro's Maira. Written and published between the mid-fifties and the mid-seventies, i.e., during the two decades which separate late modernism from postmodernism and mark the period of transition between the two, the novels reflect various mythopoeic stances in narrative fiction, but their main approach — as will be shown — lies between the modernist use of myth as a structuring device necessary for ordering the "futility and anarchy which is contemporary history" (T. S. Eliot 177), and "the postmodern ironic contesting of myth as master narrative" (Hutcheon 50). Each of the six novels is a recognized masterpiece acclaimed by both critics and the reading public. Their authors, accepted as the most respected contemporary writers in their respective literatures, have all been well received abroad and widely translated into foreign languages. Their influence and importance confirm that their approach to literature and their mythopoeia are still very significant for the contemporary world. Paradoxically, in spite of the diversity of the countries they come from, their cultural backgrounds and their narrative stances, they have a lot of similarities, which proves their common concerns, corresponding interests, and mutual cultural influences in an era of global literature. Although only one of them comes from the First World (Tournier), and the rest from the archetypes" (Fisch 155). For example, in John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy (1966), myths, such as those from the Old Testament, The Odyssey and The Divine Comedy, those of salvation based on the New Testament, and the hero monomyth as elaborated by Joseph Campbell (1 -46) and Otto Rank, are all examined, dissected, discredited and rejected. Similarly, John Updike in The Centaur (1963) "toys wittily and self-consciously with a 'mythic' dimension of its plot" (Von Hendy 153). Such attitudes, considering that all myths are meaningless and deluding, and that dea ling with them in any serious way amounts to "cultural complicity" (Hutcheon 40), are typical for postmodernism. 55 Third World, the differences between, e.g., Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria, or between the Native peoples of Brazil and Berbers of Algeria are far too important to warrant an approach which would simply counterpose the writing from the 'center' to that from the 'margin.' 2 3 The first and most important thing they have in common is that they all regard myth as being extremely relevant for contemporary humans, and that mythopoeia pervades the bulk of their literary output. Although they vary in the way they use mythic themes and structures in composing their fiction, they display a number of common features, as well as a very similar general attitude. Their mythopoeic approach to literature highlights the imaginative experience as primordial: "in the domain of myth we can short-circuit the intellect and liberate the imagination which the scientism of the modern world suppresses" (Kermode 37). Three of these authors, Soyinka, Tournier and Harris, are not only creative writers, but also critics, and have in their theoretical works expressed their own ideas about myth. For Soyinka, the mythic essence goes more deeply into the heart of a culture than anything else; any attempt to restore the dignity of African cultures, which is one of his main goals, must include those essences, and one way to do it is by redefinition of African traditions through contemporary mythopoeia. He found a metaphor for such a project in ancient African practices of replacing old statues of gods with new ones: When gods die — that is, fall to pieces — the carver is summoned and a new god comes to life. The old is discarded, left to rot in the bush and be eaten by termites. The new is invested with the powers of the old and may acquire new powers. In literature the writer aids the process of desuetude by acting as the termite or by ignoring the old deity and creating the new ones. (Myth 86) As Aijaz Ahmad has convincingly argued, "there is no such thing as a 'Third World literature'" ("Jameson" 77). 56 Tournier understands myth as "une histoire fondamentale." He claims that "l'homme n'est qu'un animal mythologique," and that "l'homme ne s'arrache a l'animalite que grace a la mythologie. [...] L'homme ne devient l'homme, n'acquiert un sexe, un coeur et une imagination d'homme que grace au bruissement d'histoires, au kaleidoscope d'images qui entourent le petit enfant des le berceau et l'accompagnent jusqu'au tombeau" (Vent 183-86). As for Harris, he stresses above all the importance of imagination for human self-realization, and explains that myth "endorses a series of instinctualities in all useful but partial windows that we erect upon and into reality" (Selected 207). Although this new mythopoeia of the third quarter of the twentieth century represents, in its approach, an important shift from the modernist one, it is undisputable that the writers of this period are inheritors of the modernist interest in myth. The fact is that literary mythopoeia can never be the same after its encounter with modernism, when "in the absence of Enlightenment certitudes the search for myth appropriate to modernity became paramount" (Harvey 30). Eager to find depth and coherence outside historical time, modernists developed "the mythic method" as "the central means of assimilating, and yet transcending, realist form." Their mythopoeia had claims on universality "even if it has itself come to seem increasingly questionable and Eurocentric" (Bell, Literature 167). The new mythopoeic writers, however, do not use myth to escape from the existential situation in history, but rather to confront it, though they also stress the importance of myth and continue to employ some modernist formal solutions in mythopoeia. Thus, for example, Soyinka, Kateb and Harris use the "spatial form" of modernist novels in which all events are to be understood simultaneously, rather than as a sequence, and which transmutes "the 57 time world of history into the timeless world of myth" (Frank 9, 60); on the other hand, the 'musical method,' which Joyce employed in Ulysses and Mann in Der Zauberberg, is taken over by Ribeiro, whose novel M R is constructed as a four-part requiem mass, and by Tournier, who structured R A on J. S. Bach's Art of the Fugue. Balancing carefully between the serious and the ludic, these writers neither take themselves too seriously, nor fall into the trap of epistemological nihilism. At the same time, they do not understand myth as a 'master narrative,' but rather as a tool for exploring and contesting both the socio-historic world and larger questions of human existence. Instead of basing their works on any one given myth — or on only a single mythology — the authors tend to employ mythic stories from many different sources in an eclectic 2 4 way, and use them on different levels to construct their novels (for instance, Tournier uses classical, Biblical and medieval mythology, while Harris incorporates in his fiction Ancient Greek, African and Amerindian stories). Various ways in which numerous mythic themes appear and combine within a narrative give these novels a mythic character. At the same time, these mythologems, surrounded by others from different traditions, change and acquire new shades of meaning. The main plots of W S and M R are basically realistic, with embedded myths and traditional tales which create a rich weave of echoes, metaphors, associations and connotations. Soyinka and Kateb created new structures which are, like traditional myths, characterized by a plurality of possible meanings through several levels of abstraction. Tournier conflated two different mythic patterns to create the main Of course, "eclecticism is a derogatory epithet only to someone who professes adherence to a 'pure' religion" (Rigby 28). 58 plot of his novel, while in PP the myth of Eldorado is simultaneously metamorphosed in several different ways. However, the most important connection among the novels studied here is their attitude in regard to narrated time. Nicolas Berdyaev has postulated that there are three basic categories for describing time-history: cosmic time, which is measured by the circular change of seasons, refers to the endless recurrence of things in the natural world, and can be graphically depicted by a circle; historical time, represented by a horizontal line stretching out forward into the future towards what is new, characterized by the fact that every event is unrepeatable, and measured by years and millennia of human history; and existential time, symbolized either by a vertical line or a dot, which is individual and mystical, tells of movement in depth, and does not differentiate between the beginning and the end, or the future and the past; it thus depends only upon intensity of experience and changes in a person, and is not susceptible of mathematical calculation (206-8). Simple linear historical time, supposedly objective and no more than a surrounding 'ether' to events, was characteristic of realistic novels of the nineteenth century. Modernist writers, no longer able to see in history a progressive triumph of reason, concentrated much more than their predecessors on the problem of representing time in narrative fiction. They saw it as "discontinuous and inexorably bound up with both their subject and events that seem to inhabit it" (Schleifer xii). Their anti-historicism and focus on the microcosmic, rather than the macrocosmic, made existential time the most appropriate for their works, especially in view of such techniques as stream of consciousness or juxtaposition. Henry James' The Sense of the Past or Virginia W o o l f s To the Lighthouse are examples of such 59 employment of existential time. Circular time also became important in Modernism; as early as in the novels of late Victorian writers like Thomas Hardy men and women are represented in their monotonous existence, propped against the ceaseless cycles of nature and the endless recurrence of things, their only certitude being an allegiance to the past (Raleigh 51). In Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake circular and existential time complement each other (53). In the same period, scholars like Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West) and Arnold Toynbee (A Study of History) developed the cyclic conception of history, according to which human societies and civilizations rise and wane just like the seasons of the year. Cyclical time is sometimes attributed to traditional, or small-scale societies, since it often appears in their oral traditions, and is opposed to the linear time usually understood to be characteristic of more complex civilizations. However, no real human society could be said to live entirely in a cyclical time in which the difference between past and future can be dispensed with and where "destiny is synonymous with origin" (Adam 518). Traditional societies are just as able to control the dimension of time in everyday life as we are. Their time is not linear only "because it is the time of each group in relation to each group," i.e., because "each and every group has its own time and its own space, and, therefore, there is no universal time and space, no dimensional coordinates common to every society" (Duerden 17). In all probability, they too need fictional narratives employing circular time to cope with the contingencies of life. The importance of ever-recurring cycles of nature of which human beings are a part became even clearer later in the twentieth century, as a result of increasing fear of the future 60 and a growing distrust of modern science. A stability based on the renewal of human proximity to nature seemed preferable to 'progress,' which was understood primarily as a mad rush into the unpredictable and probably sinister future. At the same time, myth was seen as being necessary for achieving spiritual balance. Obviously, 'myth' in this sense has nothing to do with dogma, political ideology, or any other such 'metanarrative'; rather, it should be understood as a meaningful and amusing traditional story (see p. 45 above). For example, the myth of the Homed Deer-Mother in WS neither empowers nor dupes anyone, but it does help those who cherish it to find meaning in life. In all six novels studied here cyclical time is used as one of the main structural features. The end of one cycle is perceived to be close at hand, but the continuation of the process is uncertain. Or — in alchemical terms — some important element seems to be missing from the cauldron and we are not sure if the mythic Ouroboros will manage to swallow its own tail, ensuring the beginning of a new cycle and avoiding the apocalyptic end. This structure is adapted to specific novels in different ways: In MR and WS we are informed about a whole cycle, in ND and PP we see several of them, whereas Soyinka and Tournier concentrate on only a small segment, the one just before the critical passage to the next cycle. Related problems which emerge in the six novels are those of roots, origins and identity, of hybridity and liminality. Thus, the main myth retold in WS describes the origin of the Kyrgyz people, in MR we are told how the Mairum people and their environment came to be, the protagonists of ND are in constant search for their roots, while the main goal of Harris' mythopoeia is to establish a meaningful identity for the displaced peoples of 61 the Caribbean. Cultural hybridity in many cases seems to be inevitable and is accepted by, among others, Soyinka and Harris, who see cross-fertilization between different traditions as beneficial, and would surely agree with Balachandra Rajan's formulation of it: The presence of two cultures in one's mind forms a wider and therefore saner basis on which to originate the quest for identity, and [...] the discordance between these cultures can be creative as well as merely confusing. Perhaps one can go further and suggest.that the man with mixed allegiances is contemporary Everyman and that to shut oneself off from the challenge of the 'non-Indian' betrays not a sense of nationality, but an obsession with insularity. (107-8) Aitmatov does not reject hybridity, but insists that every nation should keep its own individuality, while Ribeiro, the least optimistic, sees in the disappearance of smaller cultures an ominous sign for the future of the planet. A l l these processes are reflected in their respective mythologies; thus, while the chief Mairum god begins to doubt his own immortality by the end of M R , in the painting of "The Pantheon" in IN Christian symbolism is merged with Yoruba mythology. The problem of language must be a part of such considerations: some of the authors write in languages which are not their mother tongues (Soyinka), or in both their mother tongue and another language (Aitmatov, Kateb). Such practice provoked a lot of different opinions: from Ngugi wa Thiong'o's pronounced opposition to the use of the colonizer's language, which he saw as acculturation imposed through linguistic imperialism ("Language"), to its acceptance by people like Aijaz Ahmad who remarked that "one cannot reject English now [...] any more than one can boycott the railways" (Theory 77). Those who choose to write in a foreign language do it in a creative way, enriching it by 62 literal translation of idioms and by introducing expressions, proverbs and specific words from their first language (thus, for example, Soyinka provides at the end of IN a short glossary of the Yoruba words he incorporated into the text [259-60]). The novels contain many different traditional myths. The myth of the Golden Age with its variant, the myth of the garden of Eden, appears in W S , M R and R A . It is one of "the most widespread of humanity's great myths, attested on all continents, from the distant past to our own times"2 5 (Benejam-Bontems 460). It reflects the human ideal of living in harmony with the environment and one's own nature, and, in its Biblical variant, illustrates the state of "exile [which] is a primary symbol of human alienation" (Ricoeur, Symbolism 18). Therefore, it is no surprise that it gained prominence in an age when confidence in future was abandoned, and when it was perceived that, as Marcel Proust thought, the only paradise is the one we have lost. Trickster figures and stories have been used by Ribeiro, Kateb, Soyinka and Harris. Trickster is an ambiguous character, both dupe and manipulator, humble and pretentious, altruistic and selfish, creator and destroyer, but always full of ingenuity, resourceful and cunning (Colardelle-Diarrassouba 29-43). His main characteristics are liminality, wit and metaphysical slipperiness. As he does not belong anywhere entirely, he is able to cross all sorts of borders, to joyfully violate taboos, to demolish systems and to break down categories and conventions of behavior and thought, dispelling the belief that any given social order is absolute and objective. The agility and metaphysical slipperiness of the trickster, which result from his liminality and control over language, represent a power that 2 5 Some of its famous variants are, for example, the myth of Dilmun in Sumer, of Re and Isis in Ancient Egypt, of the Garden of Eden in the Bible, of the Isles of the Blest in Ancient Greece, and of the tempus aureum in Horace's Epodes. 63 works through discourse building and sacrifice to restore lost wholeness and reform consciousness. Therefore, "tricksters are agents of creativity" who help us understand "that our actions have roots in many layers of reality" (Fabre 10) and "transcend the constrictions of monoculturality" (Hynes 211-12). In a fragmented age, and especially in connection with the problems of roots, identity and hybridity, precisely such interventions are necessary. The quest-myth, employed in MR, ND, RA and PP, is one of the commonest mythic patterns encountered in many cultures around the globe. The stories about descent into hell or the underworld, those of the Grail and the Golden Fleece, and narratives of initiation are some of its avatars. Contemporary writers gave it new shapes; thus in Ribeiro's novel it appears in the form of futile pilgrimages, in Kateb's it merges with yet another myth - that of the labyrinth, while Tournier posits the goal of the quest as the pure land of the Hyperboreans. Some other important myths are also present in these novels: nature myths, myths of origin, of Eldorado, of ogres, of dying gods, of Noble Savages, as well as several others, which will be taken account of in the analysis of individual works. All the novels which are the object of this study are very interesting and important in the literature of the second half of the twentieth century. They belong to a significant stream of literary production which has not so far received as much attention as it deserves. Although individual authors, as well as their main works, have been all highly praised, widely read, and critically acclaimed, their similarity in attitude and concerns has passed largely unnoticed. And yet it is important to note that mythopoeia in narrative fiction spread practically worldwide in the period that interests us here (mid-fifties to mid-seventies), and 64 that a number of significant writers from different countries had similar concerns, asked kindred questions about the future, and fell back on the cyclical time of nature and myth in order to recover the balance that appeared to be lost. It has been claimed that the mythic approach to literature "virtually perished with the major modernists," i.e., with W. B. Yeats, D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, and J. Joyce (Von Hendy 153). That, however, is not so, as these novels here show; on the contrary, the 'mythic method' in narrative fiction not only stayed alive, but also spread. It was very much present during the decades which separate the high modernists from the period investigated here: in the thirties, forties, and early fifties were composed such seminal mythopoeic masterpieces as are Bulgakov's MacTep H MaprapnTa [The Master and Margarita], Mann's Doktor Faustus, Asturias' Hombres de rnaiz, and Carpentier's Los pasos perdidos. Modernist fascination with myth thus initiated an approach which was adopted by many writers throughout the twentieth century, and which continued to be productive in the last quarter of it, as is shown by works such as Kenzaburo Oe's M/T et l'histoire des merveilles de la foret Keri Hulme's The Bone People, Mario Vargas Llosa's El hablador, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel, and Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water. All this suggests that formation of one world literature is well under way, that it cannot be defined by any single term because of its diversity, and that mythopoeia makes up an important part of it. The six novels I am focusing on here have at their base the same cyclical structure, they all address analogous problems and employ a number of myths in an eclectic way, but, at the same time, they are widely dissimilar in regard to their narrative attitudes, novelistic 65 form and content. This corroborates Liesbeth Korthals Altes' remark that, simultaneously with the post-structuralist announcement of the death of grand narratives, there came an upsurge of interest in narrativity: "Le Recit est moit, vive les recits" (Salut 3). Although the Ouroboros pattern described here is widespread, it is by no means the only structural feature of contemporary mythopoeic novels: other myths have also been used as a base for constructing works of fiction. For example, Andre Siganos in his book Mythe et ecriture investigates nine novels written between the fifties and the eighties which as their principal structural device use the myth of the labyrinth. These novels come from three continents (Asia, Europe, Latin America) and display a huge variety of forms, themes and topics. Obviously, contemporary mythopoeia, although rather neglected by the critics, is very creative. Since Aitmatov, Ribeiro, Kateb, Soyinka, Tournier and Harris are close contemporaries who were publishing their works almost simultaneously, it is pointless to discuss their novels in chronological order. A different sequence based on the novels' structure is preferable, since it can highlight their variety and diversity. They show a multiplicity of narrative stances and techniques which can be briefly described as follows: a realistic novel with embedded and juxtaposed mythic stories which comment on the contemporary plot (WS); a fragmented novel with multiple narrative threads whose antiphonal structure opposes fictional and non-fictional elements (MR); a densely textured satirical novel in which the facts of contemporary life are transmuted within the symbolic parameters of traditional mythology (IN); a novel with several narrative voices in which pattern is substituted for plot and whose circular unfolding confuses present, past and future 66 (ND): an apparently traditional but in fact complexly symbolic and metaphysical novel alternating first-person and third-person narration (RA); and a poetic novel which blurs distinctions between dreams and reality and recreates the history of a country by merging events and legends (PP). Accordingly, I will examine these novels in this sequence of increasing formal complexity. 67 CHAPTER 2 CHINGIZ AITMATOVS THE WHITE STEAMSHIP: MYTH AS METAPHYSICAL AND MORAL ALLEGORY By the disappearing sail The sea beyond is known. Kenkabo(Senryu 26) People create stories create people; or rather stories create people create stories. Chinua Achebe (qtd. in Chinweizu xxviii) Among contemporary writers who consciously and persistently employ myth in their opuses, Chingiz Torekulovich Aitmatov (1928- ) is one of the most prominent. Using in his fiction mythic and other folk narratives — legends, epics, fairy tales and ballads — as embedded stories commenting on the master plot, and myth as primal structuring principle, he weaves intricate networks of symbolism, imagery and themes pertinent to the actual state of affairs in his own country and in the world. The human condition is always at the heart of his stories and novels, and he uses traditional narratives as a tool to explore it by setting his characters' plights between finite and infinite aspects of experience. For Aitmatov, "the mission of literature is to express the essence [...] of man's spiritual quest" (Shneidman, "Interview" 268), while the questions he asks are always moral, human and universal. Although, like many of his compatriots, Aitmatov began his literary career writing in strict obedience to the official directives of socialist realism, he began very early to embed elements of Kyrgyz folklore in his works. Having published his first beginner's short stories in the fifties, his early mature works in the sixties (especially "npomaH, ryjibcapbi! [Farewell, Gulsary!]" in 1966) quickly established him as one of the leading 2 6 The Kyrgyz are a Turkic-Mongol people who live in the mountainous regions of Central Asia, primarily in Kyrgyzstan, but also in China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan; their population is estimated at 2.5 million (Kuehnast and Strouthes 228). 68 Soviet writers (Paton 496). His mythopoeic endeavors received their initial impulse from studies inspired by ethnological and folklorist insights. The fact is that he has absorbed in equal measure, on one hand, the traditional culture and oral literature of his Kyrgyz ancestors, and, on the other, classical and modern Russian literature, as well as a number of Western authors in Russian translation. The seventies and eighties saw the publication of his major novellas and novels and his fame grew both at home and abroad. His mythopoeia, originality, exotic Central Asian plots, and complex juxtaposition of different narrative layers attracted a number of western researchers, so that some thirty-six Ph.D. theses in Europe and North America have been devoted so far to his literary corpus (Blankoff-Scarr 83). At the same time, he was one of the three most widely read authors in the U S S R in the seventies and eighties, and several of his works were adapted to the stage or the cinema. Aitmatov is thus one of "the world's most published modern authors" (Riordan 4), his works having been translated, according to U N E S C O , into no less than one hundred and nineteen languages. His last novel, TaBpo KaccampH fThe Mark of Cassandra!, was published simultaneously in Russian and in German and Japanese translations (Blankoff-Scarr 83, 89-90). Aitmatov was also one of the pioneers of Kyrgyz cinema and the head of the Union of Kyrgyz Film-Makers (Shneidman, Soviet 33). He currently lives in Brussels as the ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to the E E C and "travels frequently in Europe to read from his works to enthusiastic audiences" (Mozur 7). It is important to note that Aitmatov's mythopoeic approach to writing fiction did not make him a lone swallow in an empty sky. The fact is that, in the sixties, seventies and eighties in the Soviet Union, interest in folklore on one hand, and in myth and mythopoeia 69 on the other, was renewed and that it was shared by many people in different spheres of intellectual life. Eleazar Meletinsky's landmark study, IIoaTHKa MHuba [The Poetics of Myth], was published in 1976. Its third part, "Mn(pojiorH3M B JiHrepaType X X Beica [Mythification in Twentieth-Century Literature]," gave an excellent overview of the topic. Russian mythopoeic literary works from the early part of the century were now republished, and some were made available for the first time (e.g., Bulgakov's MacTep H Maprapnra [The Master and Margarita] in 1966-7). A number of writers from different Soviet republics — writing in different languages — experimented with these, for them, new literary possibilities. Thus, for example, Valentin Rasputin's novel flpomaHHe c MaTepon [Farewell to Matyoral (1975) is an elegiac farewell to an already lost paradise, i.e., to an island in a big Siberian river, which will soon go underwater because of a new hydroelectric dam. The writer describes the events during the last summer on the island, the last cycle of natural life before the flood, where present and past, and the living and the dead come together in a mutual exchange of feeling. Otar Chiladze from Georgia probed much deeper into the past and in his novel Uleji no aopore qenoBeK [A Man Walked along the Road! (1974) reinterpreted on both epic and psychological levels the myth of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, adding to it the stories of Ariadne, Daedalus and Icarus, as well as some myths from the Old Testament. Iurii Rytkheu retold in K o r j a K H T M yxojgTb TWhen the Whales Leave] (1977) the legend about Nau, the thousand-year-old primordial mother of the Chukchi. In her youth, she married a whale who was through a miracle of love changed into a man, and gave birth to the first generation of her people. In the contemporary world, however, humans no longer cherish their links with their sea-born relatives, and because of 70 their treason and brutality, the whales swim away far from the shore and Nau dies/' This literary approach was particularly well received by the writers of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Far East (Kolesnikoff, "Myth" 63), probably because oral literature in those regions was very much alive until recently. A debate arose in Soviet literary journals about the acceptability and meaning of such works (Panchenko 86-89). In spite of many opposing voices, a number of critics hailed such combinations of different stylistic attitudes in contemporary Soviet fiction, "6jiaro,napji HeMy CKjiaAMBaeTcs ee xyAoacecTBeHHaa o6teMHOCTb" 'which adds to its artistic richness' (Epshtein and Iukina 247). Vladimir Voronov expressed the view that the role of myth in literature is not simply illustrative or allegorical, but ideologico-constructive, that it expresses the problems of contemporary humans, and is turned towards the future (207-8). What resulted was a relatively high degree of artistic and ideological independence for the writers who used folkloric material and traditional narratives in various ways in their fiction. This approach became so popular that Levon Mkrtchian complained, in an article originally published in Russian in 1981, that "legends and myths have become an almost obligatory attribute of modern prose" (29). Aitmatov was one of the first to choose that direction, and he followed it more persistently than anyone else. Aitmatov learned to love and appreciate his people's traditions early in life. Born in a small Kyrgyz village in the Talas valley, and growing up partly there, and partly in 2 7 There are several other very interesting novels, novellas and collections of short stories written in a similar vein, of which the most important are Uap-pbi6a [Emperor-Fish] (1977) by Viktor Astafev (Russian), M M H Hanm ropbi [We and Our Mountains] (1967) by Hrant Matevosian (Armenian), BTopoe nyTeniecTBHe Kanna [The Second Voyage of Kaip] (1970) by Timur Pulatov (Uzbek), Koraa OHH CTajm ztepeBflMH [When They Turned Into Trees] (1972) by Kazys Saja (Lithuanian), )KeHHTb6a KeBOHTOB [The Wedding of the Kevongi] (1977) by Vladimir Sangi (Nivkh), and Cica3Ka npo 6ej ioro 6hiqica [The Story of the White Bullock] (1969) by Vasile Vasilake (Moldovan). 71 Russia, he learned both languages, and, being" already in touch in childhood with different cultures, became receptive to ideas and philosophies of various origins. Living in the village gave him first-hand experience of the traditional Kyrgyz ways and philosophy of life (Salk 125). Those were the times of sweeping changes, so he also witnessed the forced settling and collectivization of his people. What influenced him the most was the natural beauty of the region and the perpetual cyclical rhythm of life derived from the constant movements between winter, spring, and summer pastures (Kasybekov 43-44). Aitmatov remembers that each moving from pasture to pasture was connected with rituals and celebrations. Although Islam first penetrated into Kyrgyz lands in the ninth century, its progress was very slow, and as late as in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Muslim historians were still referring to Kyrgyz as 'Kaffirs,' i.e., "infidels" (Abramzon 267). Even during the following centuries, when Islamic pressure mounted, its influence remained mainly on the surface, leaving shamanism, totemism and animism almost intact as the mainstream of Kyrgyz popular religion until the twentieth century. As a nomadic people, the Kyrgyz did not have any system of writing until 1924 when their first alphabet was made from modified Arabic letters. Only four years later it was replaced by a Latin one, which in turn was abandoned in 1940 when the modern Kyrgyz Cyrillic alphabet was adopted (Kuehnast and Strouthes 228). Other aspects of written culture developed at the same time: the first printing press and the first newspapers were established in 1924, and the first publishing house in 1926 (Gutschke 35). Up to that time Kyrgyz literature was only oral. Soon, 72 however, the first stories and theatre pieces appeared, followed by the first novella in 1928 (Gachev 76), and the first novel in 1937-38 (Mirza-Akfimedova 20). Aitmatov thus belongs to the first generation of Kyrgyz writers who were able to learn to read and write as children. At the same time, he had the chance to hear in his youth some of the last traditional bards who used to recite Manas and other Kyrgyz epics. He once said that his first 'library' was the Talas valley with its songs, legends and stories (qtd. in Agranovich 144), where he could study the different genres of the very rich Kyrgyz oral literature. The best known such work is Manas, a huge epic with more that 500,000 lines in verse in each of its several versions. It was described as a veritable encyclopedia of Kyrgyz life, containing Kyrgyz myths, tales, and legends, as well as customs, beliefs, geographical and medical knowledge (Valikhanov 288). A special class of traditional bards known as manaschi, i.e., reciters of Manas, specialized in performing this epic and in transmitting it orally. Aitmatov was particularly impressed by the interpretation of Sayakbai Karalayev, one of the most famous among them (Time 11-14). It appears as if Aitmatov sought to continue through his writing the role which in the traditional Kyrgyz society was held by manaschis. Both Manas and other epics, such as Kozhozhash, Karagul, Seitek and Semetei (Musaev, Rudov and Orusbaev), had an influence on his understanding of literature. Well aware that this rich tradition which infatuated him was dangerously close to extinction, he criticized its ideological detractors, encouraged work on its preservation and secured parts of it in his own fiction. He thus became known as " 3 a n r H T H H K HaiiHOHajibHoii ammecKOH TpaflHiiHH" 'a protector of national epic tradition' (Nikadem 29) and took an active part in publishing a four-volume edition of one of the versions of Manas (Aitmatov et al.). 73 Like Soyinka, Aitmatov uses a medium foreign to his ancestral traditions to safeguard and transmit those same traditions. However, there is an important difference between the two: while both of them are perfectly bilingual, Soyinka writes exclusively in English, whereas Aitmatov uses both Russian and Kyrgyz (Dadazhanova 70). He began his literary career by translating Russian fiction into Kyrgyz. His early stories were first written (and published) in Kyrgyz and then translated by himself into Russian, whereas later on — since the appearance of "nponran, Tyjibcapbi! [Farewell, Gulsary!]" in 1966 — he wrote directly in Russian. It appears that Aitmatov had problems at the time with the political establishment in Kyrgyzstan, and found it easier to publish his works in the more relaxed atmosphere in Moscow (Mozur 181). Aitmatov claims that he sometimes writes first in Russian, and sometimes first in Kyrgyz (B coaBTopcTBe Tin Co-Authorshipl 110), that writing in another language helps him expand his vision (283), but that he prefers to speak Kyrgyz at home (Mozur 17). Both language versions have been highly praised: on one hand, his literary Kyrgyz has become a modern standard (Hu and Imart 214), and, on the other, he was lauded for perfectly rendering Kyrgyz eloquence into Russian (S. Soucek, qtd. in Ryskulova 82), and for successfully merging the language of folk tradition with that of written literature (Zalygin 363). Some other critics thought that both Russian and Kyrgyz versions of his stories and novels were independent works rather than translated, i.e., secondary (Ryskulova 82). Aitmatov introduced a number of literally translated Kyrgyz idioms and proverbs into Russian, as well as a number of Kyrgyz words, which are indispensable for giving local flavor to his stories and novels (Naurzbaeva 34-37). 2 8 Some such examples are: aic-KOJinaK (retained in English translations, but printed in italics: ak-kulpak), national Kyrgyz cap of white felt; aKcaicaji (aksakal), "elder"; 6an6HHe (baibiche), term of 74 Aitmatov's creativity "founds its sources at the confluence of two distinct traditions: Kyrgyz national folklore and Russian classical and modern literature" (Riordan 8), and that is clearly reflected in his works. Influences of oral literature are very important in Aitmatov's prose. They are not confined only to borrowed themes, motifs, and expressions, or to his worldview, but also qualify his style, which Joseph Mozur describes as follows: [Aitmatov's] prose possesses a distinct oral quality, with numerous refrains and subplot digressions punctuating the narration. As in the performance of a manaschi, such elements retard the portrayal of events and serve to heighten the expression of the conceptual basis of the composition. A n air of improvisation pervades his fiction, with abrupt shifts in styles, themes, and even genres. [...] A n impression is created that Aitmatov, like a manaschi, chooses to relax during certain parts of the 'performance,' only to renew its intensity later. (13) Classical Russian literature was also instrumental in shaping Aitmatov's manner of writing. Among those who influenced him, he mentions Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Mikhail Sholokhov, Maksim Gorky, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Anton Chekhov, Ivan Bunin, Leonid Leonov, and, especially, Leo Tolstoy, with whom Aitmatov shares the belief that literature can be used to the benefit of humankind. It was suggested that A . N . Ostrovsky's drama fp03a [The Storm] provided him with the plot for W S (Mozur 60). As for contemporary foreign authors, Aitmatov was particularly impressed by the Japanese writer Kobo Abe ("HenoBeK [Man]" 547), and by the Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose magical realism he tried to emulate in such later novels as respect for older woman; /PKHTHT (dzhigit), "a brave"; TOKOJI (tokol), "second wife"; iopTa (yurt), "nomad's tent"; and KOMy3 (komuz), Kyrgyz string instrument. 75 EypaHHbiH nojivcTaHOK: H nojibine Beica jnHTca genb [Blizzard Waystation: The D a y Lasts More than a Hundred Years] and Ujiaxa [The Place of the Skull] (Time 48). Miroslav Mikulashek defined Aitmatov's literary attitude appropriately as "pOMaHTHnecKHH peajiH3M" 'romantic realism' (147). The feelings of his main characters are often reflected onto the surrounding nature as a seemingly objective quality; such fusion of the outer world of nature and the inner one of emotion is an effect familiar in romanticism. Main plots in his works are always realistic; they are usually simply but neatly constructed, with masterfully depicted atmosphere, believable and psychologically convincing characters and rural settings. Aitmatov never idealizes the nomadic Kyrgyz past or the Soviet present. His narration, uncomplicated on the surface, exposes in a provocative and poignant way important contradictions in the lives of ordinary people. In the core of his stories and novels there is always an inquiry related to the "essential relativity of things human" (Kundera 6). Various types of traditional narratives — myths, legends, epics, and fairy tales, as well as ballads, songs, sayings and invocations — retold and reinterpreted by the author, are embedded in and counterpointed to the realistic plot at particular stages of its development. Aitmatov does not use myths simply as allusions or just to give ornamental overtones to his Central Asian or Siberian plots; rather, they provide the organizing principle and basic narrative mode of much of his fiction. B y linking the present to the past, and the actual to the mythical, he makes simple everyday events extraordinarily expressive, almost like legends in their own right, while "minor local events" acquire "universal spiritual and ethical significance" (Shneidman, Soviet 36). Myth exercises the controlling 76 influence in the whole novel or novella, commenting on the main plot, underlining the master themes and pointing out the problems and possible solutions. Different ways in which mythic themes appear and combine within a narrative give the whole work a mythical character. The embedded myths indicate to the readers that the story is not just a story, but that it must contain a more or less hidden message; it is expected that they — the readers — w i l l react to the presence of myth by exploring those deep structures of meaning. The polyvalence of those myths permits them to develop their own free and creative responses. The presence of myths in Aitmatov's stories and novels is explicit — they are announced as such and rendered in a style reminiscent of that of oral story-tellers, which differs from the style in other parts of the narrative. Although Kyrgyz mythology prevails in general in his work, our writer borrows elements from other mythologies as well , e.g., from Kazakh, Georgian and Nivkh folklore, and also from traditions of Islam, Buddhism and Christianity. Thus, for example, Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate appear in fljiaxa [The Place of the Skull], the Kyrgyz cult of the earth is combined with Greek myths of Antheus and of Demeter in "MaTepHHCKoe none [Mother-Earth]," while the plot of the novella ' T l e r H H nec 6eryniHH KpaeM Mopa [Piebald Dog Running Along the Shore]," which takes place in a remote village of N ivkh sea-hunters, is organized around two creation myths from the folklore of this Paleo-Siberian people. One of the best examples of Chingiz Aitmatov's mythopoeia is his novel E e j i b i i i napoxoj [The White Steamship] 2 9 (1970), which "many would regard [...] as the author's 2 9 WS has been classified either as a 'novel,' or as a 'novella' by different critics. Its length and complexity, in my opinion, favor the former designation. 77 most mature work" (Porter 68), and with which he reached " H O B V K > CTyneHt xyziOKHHHecKOH 3pejiocTH" 'new heights of [his] artistic maturity' (Lebedeva 72). Its original title was flocjie CKa3KH [After the Fairy Tale], while EejTbin napoxoj TThe White Steamshipl was the subtitle in parentheses. The editor of the first edition thought the subtitle more poetic and substituted it for the title. Although ITocxie CKa3KH fAfter the Fairy Tale] is probably more appropriate in view of the content of the novel, his choice was maintained in subsequent editions and translations. W H was a success both among adult reading public and among children. Its illustrated Russian edition for younger readers was republished several times (Porter 68). In such a way Aitmatov managed to realize Tournier's ideal of creating a mythic novel which appeals to all generations. In W S the central, seemingly unsophisticated, realistic storyline takes place in a remote outpost in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, practically cut off from the rest of the world, consisting of only three households. In spite of the grandiose landscapes which surround the little village, the story is anything but idyllic (Jagusztin 354), so that the magnificence of nature stands in contrast to the insignificance and pettiness of human beings. The plot incorporates four folk narratives: two legends, a fairy tale and a myth. They are told to the protagonist, a nameless seven-year-old boy, by his grandfather Momun. The boy himself invents his own fairy tale in an effort to escape the unbearable situation he lives in. Apart from these stories, the novel also contains other elements of Kyrgyz folklore in the form of proverbial sayings, prayers, and a traditional sacrifice to the Horned Deer-Mother. Its narrative point of view is excellently described by Nina Kolesnikoff: Written in the third person, [the novel] seems at first to employ an omniscient narrator who presents the story, comments on the events, and sketches the 78 characters. But a closer look at the narrative reveals that the predominant point of view [...] is not that of the omniscient author, but that of the young hero. While retaining the third-person narration, the narrator identifies himself with his young protagonist and reproduces his perception of the world. ("Child" 102) The novel, which consists of seven chapters, is tripartite in form. In the first three chapters the scene is set for the dramatic confrontation which comes in the last part, whereas the central position is occupied by the myth of the Horned Deer-Mother. In the long exposition we become acquainted with the situation in the village and with seven people — the boy and six adults — who live there. The small community lives in terror of Orozkul, the local petty tyrant, who brutally beats his barren wife whenever he gets drunk and abuses and humiliates her father Momun. The boy has been deserted by both of his parents, who divorced, left the village, remarried and established their new families in which there is no place for him. His mother went to live in the distant city where she found a job in a factory, while the father works as a sailor on the Issik-Kul lake. As a result, the boy lives with his grandfather and his second wife, a malicious old woman who persistently harasses the boy for having been abandoned. Contrary to the traditional Kyrgyz view which respects elders as repository of wisdom, Momun is not appreciated, in spite of being good-natured and always ready to help; rather, he is belittled and made the butt of jokes. The third household in the village consists of Seidakhmat, a lazy young man whose only ambition in life is to avoid any kind of work or confrontation, and his wife. We also learn about the boy's inner life, which is shaped mainly by the legends and tales his grandfather tells him during the long winter nights, and by the majestic natural 79 setting of the outpost. Two o f the legends eulogize love for the Kyrgyz homeland. The first one tells how OneHb-OHeHb .naBHO B p a a c e c K n e BoiicKa num, HTO6W 3axBaraTb 3Ty 3eMjno. H BOT Tor/ia c Hamero CaH-Tama TaKoii BeTep nonyj i , HTO Bparn He ycH^enn B ce^nax. ITocne3ajiH c KOHen, HO H nemKOM H^TH He MorjiH. BeTep c e K HM jiHiia B KpoBb. Toraa OHH oTBepHynncb OT BeTpa, a BeTep raan HX B cnHHbi, He flaBan OCTaHOBHTbCa H BblTHail HX c HccbiK-Kyj iH Bcex RO oflHoro. (42) Long, long ago, enemy forces came to capture [the Kyrgyz] land. And a that time, such a wind blew up from San-Tash that the enemy couldn't sit i n their saddles. They got o f f their horses but couldn't even move forward o n foot. The wind whipped their faces until they bled. Then they turned away from the wind, but it drove at their back so that they couldn't look around. It didn't even let them hold their ground, and the wind drove every last one o f them from the Issik-Kul. (44) The second legend is about a Kyrgyz prisoner whose last wish before his execution was to hear a Kyrgyz folk song. The fairy tale relates how Chupalak, a Kyrgyz Tom Thumb, was swallowed by a wolf, but prevented the beast from attacking the sheep herds again by shouting loudly from its stomach. The wolf almost starved to death and i n the end decided to go and try to hire himself out as a dog. The boy's own story reflects his two wishes: to be reunited with his parents, and to escape the situation in the village. He often goes to the summit o f the Guard Mountain and, through the binoculars grandfather Momun gave him as a present, observes the mountains and valleys which surround him, as well as the Issik-Kul lake, which from such a distance looks like a dreamworld. O n its surface he sees a white steamship coming and going every day. Its beauty and power fascinate the boy, leading him to imagine that his father works as a sailor on that ship: 80 BOT OH! C T p y 6 a M H B pa/i, ^JIHHHBIH, MOIUHBIH, KpacHBbiii. OH njitm, KaK no CTpyHe, POBHO H npaivio. [...] OnepTaHHa napoxo^a CTajin eme neTHe. Tenepb M05KHO 6bIJIO 3aMeTHTb, KaK nOKaHHBaeTCH OH Ha BOJIHaX, KaK 3a KOpMOH OCTaeTCH CBeTJibiii BcneHeHHbiH cnefl. He OTpbmaacb, MajibHHK c BocxHmemieM CMOTpeji Ha GenbiH napoxofl. Bbijia 6M Ha TO ero BOJIS, OH ynpocHji 6bi 6ejibiH napoxoA no^nnbiTb no6nnace, HTO6M MO>KHO 6MJIO B H ^ e T b jno^eii, KOTopbie Ha HeM nnbinn. Ho napoxoA He 3Han 0 6 3TOM. OH Me^jieHHO H BejinnecTBeHHO nien CBoefi floporoii, HeBe^ OMO OTKy^a H HeBe^ oMO Ky^a. (37) There it was! Long, powerful and beautiful, with its funnels all in a row. It traveled straight and smooth, as if on a string. [...] The ship's outlines became even clearer. Now you could see it rolling gently on the waves, and how its stern left a light trail of foam. Motionless, the lad watched the white steamship in rapture. Had it been in his power, he would have begged the white steamship to come closer, so that he could see the people on board. But the steamship knew nothing of this. It moved along its own course slowly and majestically, from an unknown origin to an unknown destination. (38-39) In the boy's vision, the steamship becomes a conscious living being and a part of myth. He then imagines that he could turn into a fish with a human face and swim down the river all the way to the Issik-Kul lake. His father would then take him out of water, he would become again his normal self, and they would go home together. The importance of the myth of the Horned Deer-Mother is underlined by its central position in the novel, occupying the fourth out of seven chapters. It tells about the origin of the Kyrgyz people and their coming to their present homeland. In ancient times, it is said, the Kyrgyz lived in Siberia, on the banks of the river Yenisei, which was then known as Enesai, i.e., in Kyrgyz, the "mother-river" (Poliakova 12). Different peoples in the region were in constant war against each other, and, as a result, the whole Kyrgyz tribe was at one 81 point slaughtered by their enemies. The only two survivors were a boy and a girl. Caught by the enemy tribe, they were about to be thrown into the river from a high cliff, when the Horned Deer-Mother appeared and saved them. Like Romulus and Remus, who were fed by a she-wolf, the children who became the ancestors of the Kyrgyz grew on the Horned Deer-Mother's milk. She protected them from wild animals and human hunters, and led them all the way from Siberia to the Issik-Kul region where their descendants have lived ever since. The Kyrgyz Adam and Eve married there and had seven sons and seven daughters. Whenever the girl was in labor, the Horned Deer-Mother would come to help, bringing a cradle on her horns. A l l Kyrgyz women in later ages prayed to the Horned Deer-Mother to grant them an easy delivery. Life under the protection of the totem animal lasted for many generations, until greed and pride gained the upper hand, leading the people to begin to kill marals (a species of deer which lives both in Kyrgyzstan and Siberia) for their horns. The animals were trying to hide from ever-growing number of hunters, but as even inaccessible cliffs could not give them shelter, they left the country and have not been seen there since. The last three chapters contain the dramatic action, the climax and the resolution of the plot. When three marals suddenly appear in the woods across the river from the village, both the boy and the grandfather believe that the Horned Deer-Mother has returned to her people and that life in harmony with nature will start anew. However, on that very day Momun arouses the anger of Orozkul, who then beats his wife again and dismisses the old man from his job. In order to appease Orozkul, the grandfather is forced into the position where he has to shoot and kill one of the marals. He does it in order to save his daughter 82 and grandson from further mistreatment, but instead he triggers the tragedy. Momun drinks himself senseless as a result, while the rest of them butcher the meat, roast it on a barbecue and have a party. When the boy, i l l and feverish, who has been sleeping during these events, finds out what has happened, he is totally paralyzed and unable to decide what to do. It seems to him that his nightmares and the actual events merge in a horrific way. The balance between reality and myth has been lost, so it becomes clear that it is not possible for him to continue to live in such a world. The only thing he can do is to try to save himself inside his own personal myth. So he jumps into the freezing river in a desperate attempt to escape the horror by turning into a fish and swimming to his father. Aitmatov's version of the myth of the Horned Deer-Mother is not simply taken over from traditional sources; it is, in fact, the product of his reworking of several folk myths which follow a similar storyline but differ in many details. In one of the versions, two brothers named Kara-Murza and Asan went into the mountains to hunt marals and found in the herd two children, a girl and a boy, with antlers on their heads. They killed the boy and brought the girl back to their chief, who married her to his grandson. She later gave proof of great wisdom, so people called her Muiuz-babiche ("horned mother"). She also cursed the hunters who killed her brother and, as a result, they were left childless. On the other hand, a servant-girl who drank the water Muiuz-babiche washed her head with got pregnant by that act and gave birth to a son named Dzhelden ("from the wind"), who became the forefather of one of the Kyrgyz clans. Other traditions tell that the two hunters did not kill a boy, but a white maral, then took home the girl with tiny antlers on her head and married her to a son of their third brother. After giving birth to a baby boy, she disappeared into the mountains 83 for a month, and when she came back she brought with her a young girl, a daughter of Kaiyp (or Kaiberen), the good ghost who protects wild animals. The girl, who was later called Oluiat-baibiche ("saint mother"), married the Muiuz-babiche's son, and the young couple became the ancestors of the Kyrgyz. In another version, which belongs to the so-called 'taboo folktale' type, the horned girl told her husband after the marriage ceremony that he has to warn her before entering their yurt by coughing or making some other noise. Her request puzzled him for years, until one day curiosity got the upper hand. He returned home, having decided to take a look at her through the hole on the back wall of their yurt. His surprise was great when he saw inside only a female maral. By the time he managed to get in, she had already disappeared and was never seen again (Abramzon 281-84). Other myths link Kyrgyz ancestry to wolves or wild dogs, rather than to deer and marals. One such story tells how a daughter of a khan went with her forty maids to gather wild fruit. On their return to the village they found everybody dead, killed by an enemy tribe. Not only humans, but also all the animals were massacred, with only one red dog remaining alive. As the only male left from the previous generation, he became the ancestor of the new Kyrgyz nation by impregnating the forty maids. The myth claims that the very name of the nation is derived from that event: in Kyrgyz kyrk means "forty," and kyz, "virgin" (Abramzon 288). Aitmatov shaped a single narrative combining the myth of the Horned Deer-Mother with stories about the migration of his people. Many Kyrgyz legends and epics recount how they moved from South Siberia to the region around the Issik-Kul lake and the Tianshan mountains which they inhabit today (Zhirmunskii 35, 49). Both archaeological evidence 84 and historical records b y Chinese and Persian authors confirm that the Kyrgyz used to live in the area between the Yenisei and the Irtish rivers, from where they migrated in several successive movements between the thirteenth and the eighteenth centuries (Poliakova 14-32). The reason for their leaving their original homeland was the incessant warfare in the region, which is suitably rendered in Aitmatov's imaginative account. Mythical overtones are present also in the main narrative line, although it is undoubtedly realistic, g iv ing the impression o f recording faithfully an actual way o f life. Thus, Issik-Kul (literally, "dark blue water" [Il'ev 68]) is not accidentally chosen to carry on its waves the highest avatar o f the boy's ideals: the white steamship. The lake, which lies in the center of the Kyrgyz promised land, has specific links to myth. As it is the only body of water in Kyrgyzstan that never freezes, it was called "warm" and was revered by the people (Poliakova 40). In Aitmatov's story "IljiaH nepejieTHoft nrHUbi [The Lament of a Migrating Bird]," the protagonists pray to the lake, addressed as "the eye of the earth" which "always -jr\ looks at the sky" (95), to convey their prayers to Tengri, the supreme God of the sky in the Kyrgyz pantheon. The countryside around Issik-Kul is described in W S as a pr imal , uninhabited paradise, untouched by human hands, when the Horned Deer-Mother arrived with the two children: K p y r o M CHeacHbie xpe6Tbi, a nocpeflH rop , nopocnmx 3eneHbiM necoM, HacKOJibico rna3 xBaTaeT Mope njiemeTca. XOAHT 6enbie BOJIHM no CHHCH BO^e, BeTpti TOHHT HX H3,zjaJiH, yroHHiOT BAanb. T^e Hanano HccbiK-Kyna, r^e KOHen — He y3HaTb. C oflHoro Kpaa cojiHue BOCXO^HT, a Ha ApyroM erne HOHB. CKOJibKO rop eroaT BOKpyr HccbiK-Kyjia — He cnecTb, a 3a TeMH ropaMH CKOJibKO erne Taioix ace cHeacHbix rop BbiCHTca — Toace He yra^aTb. (62) 30 " O HccwK-Kyjib, TH OKO 3eMjin, TM Bceraa CMOTpnnib B He6o." 85 Snowy crests towered everywhere around them and amidst the mountains covered with green forests as far as the eye could see, splashed and sparkled the great sea. White waves moved across the blue water; the wind whipped them from far behind and drove them far away. No one could tell where the Issik-Kul began and where it ended. The sun rose at one end while at the other it was still night. Mountains beyond count soared around the Issik-Kul, nor could one guess how many of the same snowy peaks stood beyond these mountains. (66-67) Even after the dispersal of the marals and the demise of the Horned Deer-Mother, her spirit is believed to have remained to hover above Issik-Kul and watch over her people (Levchenko 135-36). The position of the outpost in which the action takes place is also significant. It occupies the liminal space between the 'civilized' land and the wilderness, or, in other words, between villages and cities where ordinary reality rules, and mountains and forests in which totemic animals live. Thus, in symbolic terms, it is a space where common and mythic realities meet and communicate, opening many dimensions of insight. Characters like the boy and his grandfather, who are more interested in spiritual and aesthetic things, have their eyes turned to the mountains; whereas those who are primarily attracted by material goods, which means everybody else, look in the opposite direction. In W S Aitmatov makes the acceptance of myth in contemporary society psychologically believable by attributing mythic consciousness to those of his heroes who are either very young or very old, and so in both cases especially open to the 'work of myth.' In the first case, the reason is the child's non-differentiation between reality and imagination (Kolesnikoff, "Child" 103); in the second, it is the memories that form the greater part of the mental processes of the old man. They both live in a very close proximity to the mythic world, which is opposed to that of the adults, locked in its utilitarian 86 dimension. Whenever Momun talks to people in his old-fashioned way, for example when he greets the vendor of the mobile shop with: "AccanaM-ajieHKyM, 6ojn>moH Kynei i" 'Asalam aleikum, great trader' (19; 19), or when he says a prayer to the Horned Deer-Mother (77; 83), or when the boy tells someone about his grandfather's stories, they encounter lack of comprehension, incredulity, amazement, and even scorn. Thus, for example, when a truck driver came to the outpost, and heard some of the stories from the boy, he was quite astonished and qualified Momun as HHTepecHHH flefl. TOJIBKO 3a6nBaeT OH Te6e ronoBy BCAKOH nenyxoii. A TM seffb 6ojiLmerojioBtiH... H yum y Te6a TaKHe, KaK JioKaTopti y Hac Ha nojinroHe. He cjiymaH TH ero. K KOMMyHH3My H^eM, B KOCMOC neTaeM, a OH neiviy ynHT? K HaM 6M Ha nojiHT3aHHTHa ero, MM 6M ero MHTOM o6pa30BajiH. (107) A very interesting grandfather. Only he stuffs your head with all kinds of rubbish. You're a big-headed fellow, after all — and you've got ears on you like our radar on the firing range. Don't you listen to him. We're marching to communism, we're flying in space — and what's he teaching you? He ought to sit in our political instruction sessions, we'd wisen him up in a wink. (113) On another level, such distribution between 'mythic' and 'realistic' ways of thinking can be understood symbolically as the past characterized by the respect for myth and harmony with nature (Momun), the uncertain future of such an outlook (the boy), and the sterile, alienated and therefore very aggressive present (Orozkul, Koketai and Seidakhmat). Animistic, totemistic and shamanistic religious positions were, as we have seen, in the heart of the traditional Kyrgyz worldview, and they are all present in the novel. Animism sees animals, plants, natural phenomena, and even inanimate objects as living, feeling and thinking beings. The boy, who is growing up in the outpost with no other 87 children to play with, makes friends instead with rocks and plants (Mirza-Akhmedova 46). He gives them names, invents games for them, and pretends to have conversations with them. Thus there is a 'wolf rock, a 'tank,' and a 'lying camel'; among the plants, the stinging burdock is the enemy he often fights with, the bindweed has the smartest and happiest flowers of all, whereas the shiraljins are loyal friends among whom he takes cover when he feels hurt (WS 9-10; 10-11). During the harsh winter months he is worried about the trees in the forest who "get terribly frightened" (47)3 1 standing all alone in the night exposed to the hard frost. Totemism is first portrayed in Momun's insistence that all members of the bugu clan are descendants of the Horned Deer-Mother. In his view, they are all his brothers and sisters. He thinks that everybody should know both the origin of his or her clan, and the names of seven previous generations of ancestors. However, totemism is most powerfully expressed in the myth of the Horned Deer-Mother. The fact is that different species of deer, as well as of wolves, have been the totemic animals of different Turkish tribes since ancient times, as is witnessed by their first written documents dating from the seventh and eighth centuries. In some of those inscriptions ancient khans boast about not killing deer (Poliakova 34-35). Their views in that regard are similar to those expressed in Aitmatov's version of the myth. Totemic animals are bound to return the favor, as happens in the novel when Momun and Orozkul are miraculously saved from the huge log which slipped down a steep slope while they were trying to bring it to the village: Bee npoH3omno B OAHO MraoBeHne. Jlomaflt ynana, H ee Ha 6oKy noTaruHJio BHH3. na^aa, OHa cuinGna Op03Kyjia. O H Karanca, cyiiopoacHo iienjiaacb 31 ",HepeBbaM Be,m> 0Hem> CTpanmo HOHMO B necy" (45). 88 3a KycTbi. H B 3TOT MOMeHT KaKHe-To poraTbie acHBOTHbie HcnyraHHO mapaxHyjiHCb B rycToii JIHCTBC BMCOKO H CHJibHO no,n;npbirHBaa, OHH CKpbinHCb B 6 e p e 3 0 B O H name. "Mapajibi! Mapanbi!" BHe ce6a OT Hcnyra H paflocTH BCKpHHan flea MoMyH. H 3 a M O J i K , 6yATO He Bepa CBOHM rjia3aM. H B^pyr B ropax cTano THXO. TanKH pa30M yneTejiH. BpeBHO 3a,u,ep>Kajiocb Ha CKaTe, noflMHB no^ ce6a MonoAbie KpenKHe 6 e p e 3 K H . Jloinaflb, nyraacb B c6pye, caMa BCTana Ha Horn. (76-77) A l l this happened in an instant. The horse fell and was dragged down the slope on its side. In falling, the animal struck down Orozkul. He clutched convulsively at the bushes as he rolled. Just at that moment, some kind of horned animals started in fear within the thick foliage. Leaping high and powerfully, they took shelter in a grove of birch trees. "Marals, marals!" cried grandfather Momun, beside himself with fear and joy. A n d then fell silent, as if not believing his own eyes. Suddenly, everything grew hushed in the mountains. The jackdaws dispersed all at once. Having crushed strong young birch trees in its path, the log was caught by something on the slope. (82-83) On the other hand, the killing of the totemic animal symbolizes betrayal of the holy covenant, and is a deed equivalent to self-destruction. The horrible scene of Orozkul's chopping off the deer's horns stresses the brutality and sacrilege of such an act. It implies the destruction of all human ideals and the inauguration of a reign of brutal power. The Horned Deer-Mother came for the second time to help people, and again fell as a victim of human cruelty. Similar patterns, including the coming of a totemic protector, its expulsion from the world as a result of human arrogance and cruelty, the dark period, and finally the return of the protector, are used in Alfi'n Ari'y, another Central Asian epic (Marazzi vii-xii), 89 and it seems that Aitmatov was inspired by it. However, there is a difference: unlike the authors of the epic, Aitmatov does not explicitly mention any possible return of the totemic protector. The structure of WS can be understood as a failed initiation quest. It begins early in the novel when Momun realizes that his grandson has reached school age and buys him a briefcase. It is a very important event for the boy: he is now to embark on the exciting journey of learning about the world. However, all the adults to whom he shows his new briefcase in his enthusiasm (Orozkul, Seidakhmat, grandmother) just laugh at him and do not take him seriously. Even when he later proves to be a diligent student it only irritates his grandmother. His efforts are thus thwarted from the very beginning; the world of the adults is not accepting him. The tripartite sequence of an initiation rite is usually described as consisting of separation, initiation, and return (Tumanov 145). The separation, which began with his going to school, deepens through his loneliness and reaches its summit when he learns about the killing of the Horned Deer-Mother. He is now abandoned even by his grandfather. In the second sequence of the initiation rite the participants have to symbolically 'die' in order to be reborn again as adults. In various ways they descend into the 'underworld' where they have to overcome evil forces. The boy faces hell not underground, but in this world. The distorted faces of the revelers who gorge themselves on maral meat are more demon-like than human. So he turns to the water, symbolizing life-giving properties, in order to escape such death-in-life, but his attempt to be reborn in a better world is not successful, the evil forces are too strong, and he fails the third part of his initiation quest. 90 Some critics understood the boy's plight as a foiled shamanic journey. According to such interpretations, the fact that he is compared to lightning means that he is to be understood, in the context of traditional Kyrgyz religion, as a child of the God of the sky, Tengri. His close relation with clouds, to whom he talks, confiding his secret desire to be transformed into a fish, points in the same direction. 3 2 Shamans are believed to communicate with spirits and to be able to take different animal forms (Alekseev 79-97). The boy talks with marals in his feverish dreams, just as shamans do in their trances, and climbs the Guard Mountain to watch Issik-Kul, just as shamans on their journeys climb the Cosmic Mountain to see higher cosmic zones (Eliade, Shamanism 99, 104, 259-69). Grandfather Momun's claim that one out of every seven people is a prophet, and that a prophet does not know himself to be a prophet, may be applied to his grandson, as there are exactly seven people in the outpost, and nobody else can be understood in such a way. Thus the boy can be interpreted as an unrecognized shaman whose journey into another sphere of existence failed (Maryniak 100-3). The circular time of the novel is based on two different cycles: the yearly cycle of the four seasons and the historical cycle of the appearance and disappearance of the totemic animal. Aitmatov does not specify when the contemporary action of W S takes place, but several references to the Second World War indicate that it must be sometime in the fifties or in the sixties. It is appropriate for the mythic tone of the novel that the time is determined primarily by the boy's age and by the changing seasons. The author depicts two full cycles 32 A similar motif appears in Aitmatov's novella Eenoe o6jiaKO ^HHracxaHa [The White Cloud of Genghis Khan], in which a white cloud follows the world conqueror on his campaigns, symbolizing the support of the God of the sky (37-39). When the cloud finally disappears, Genghis Khan understands that his luck is over, cuts short his last expedition and returns to his home camp (100 -1). 91 involving the Homed Deer-Mother, which in W S embodies the principles of eternal life and eternal return. We cannot but be amazed at how the present tragically repeats the past and to what extent human beings seem to be incapable of avoiding making the same mistakes over and over again. Because of that, the novel is pervaded by an apocalyptic mood and its end is ambiguous: we are not sure if the boy's death means the end of all hopes, or if his voice, like that of a modern-day Chupalak, will be heard from inside the wolf of modernization and alienation. Numerical symbolism plays an important part in WS. The number seven is repeated on several levels: the boy is seven years old, there are seven people living in the village: three men, three women, and the boy, while the novel itself consists of seven chapters, the myth of the Horned Deer-Mother occupying the fourth. Kyrgyz Adam and Eve have seven sons and seven daughters, the importance of knowing the names of seven previous generations of one's ancestors is stressed, and, in Momun's saying, one out of every seven people is a prophet (Il'ev 68-69). The plot of W S is organized around several binary oppositions: past/present, mythic/real world, village/city life, nature/culture, earth/water. Aitmatov does not idealize the past; on the contrary, he is well aware that it also frequently witnessed human cruelty to other humans. However, through it he shows us that only i f we establish a balance between myth and reality, and between nature and culture, can we hope to achieve a just society (Kieffer 464). And this balance is precisely what the contemporary world with its ideologies of constant growth — whether communist or market-oriented — lacks. Visions from the past are necessary for contemporary writers not only to strengthen their artistic 92 images, but also to help them understand the present better (Novikov 44). In other words, only a dialogue between the past and the present can lead to a healthy approach to eternal human problems. On the other hand, just as actual material reality is not enough for human spiritual needs, living in myth alone and forgetting about the ordinary world is also very dangerous; when the horrible situation in which he lives forces the boy to hide completely inside his personal myth, he drowns in the freezing waters of the mountain river trying to escape into the world of fantasy. The city, where links between generations are broken and people live "icaic B TioptMe" 'like in jail' (38; 39) is an even stronger symbol of the alienation and materialism of modern society. People do not know each other there, family members see each other only during the weekend, and the whole urban complex looks like a vast penitentiary. The description of the mountains is diametrically opposite: "B 6opy 6MJIO HHCTO, icaic Bcer^a, H crporo, KaK B xpaivie" 'As always, it was chaste and severe in the forest, as in a temple' (68; 73). Nature does not need us, it is suggested, but we humans need nature, even if many of us are unaware of the fact. Water is often understood as the source of life and as a protector of the persecuted (Poliakova 60); in Central Asian traditions it is also a symbol of purity, participating in the divinity, since it both falls from the sky and reflects it (Roux 137-41). The boy also sees in it a possible source of comfort, as opposed to the cruel life on earth: first it is the Issik-Kul lake which lies in the center of his dreams about the white steamship and his larger-than-life father, and then the mountain river by which he would like to escape in the form of a fish. 93 Nature in Aitmatov's works is never just a background or a stage where the action takes place; it always has a much more important ethical, psychological and mythical role (Rumpler and Kleimenova 273). The Horned Deer-Mother is at the focus of his nature myth. In the traditional Kyrgyz mythology she was thought to be a daughter of Kaiyp (or Kaiberen), the patron of wild animals (Agranovich 153), and, by extension in the contemporary world, of the environment itself. The story about the Horned Deer-Mother is thus an ecological myth expressing a world-view of humanity as an integral part of nature. Throughout it Aitmatov insists that humankind needs to establish harmonious coexistence with nature without striving to set itself over and above it. Life on earth is a "harmonious cycle that humans can join but not change" (Olcott 225). By hurting nature we also hurt ourselves. Grandfather Momun understands that well and cares profoundly for the forest and the animals that live in it; the boy is also totally immersed in the natural world, making friends with rocks, grass and flowers. The actions and attitudes of Orozkul, Koketai and Seidakhmat demonstrate very clearly what happens when people do not live in harmony with nature. The strongest accusation of Orozkul in the boy's dream are Kulubek's imagined words of reproach: "Te6a H H K T O 3^ecb He JIK>6HT. Te6a He JIK>6HT nee, H H O A H O AepeBO, flaace H H oflHa TpaBHHKa Te6a He JHO6HT" 'Nobody likes you here. The forest doesn't like you, not a single tree does — not a single blade of grass" (154; 160). The Horned Deer-Mother as the totemic forebear and the protector of the Kyrgyz establishes an essential link between humans and the natural world, so her killing symbolizes the tragic and dangerous break between humanity and the environment. This motif comes from another Kyrgyz epic, Kozhozhash, in which a young man goes into the mountains to hunt 94 wild goats. He kills so many of them, that finally the Lame Gray She-Goat confronts the hunter entreating him to spare the Old Gray He-Goat, since there are no more wild goats left to ensure the survival of the species. Without any care for her words, the young man shoots her mate and then fires at her too, but misses. In an attempt to try one more time, he follows the Old Gray She-Goat high among the mountain peaks, where she leaves him on an inaccessible cliff from which he falls to his death (Novikov 179-80). On another level, the story about the Horned Deer-Mother is also a myth of national origins, telling their hearers how they came to occupy the land they now inhabit, and assuring them that this process, while arduous, was good, proper and just. Such myths enable members of a society — in this case the Kyrgyz — to recognize themselves, to confront the unknown and to identify their culture, culture being — in Herderian terms — a society organically unified by mythology. Once arrived in the Issik-Kul region, the Horned Deer-Mother said to the two children: " 3 T O H ecrb Bama HOBaa po^HHa. By^eTe >KHTI> 3^ecb, 3eMjiio naxaTb, pbi6y noBHTb, C K O T pa3BOflHTb. 5KHBHre 3Aecb c MnpoM TbicaHH jieT. ,ZIa npo^jiHTca Bam pofl H yMHoacHTca" 'This is your new homeland. Y o u will live here — will farm the earth, catch fish and rise cattle. Y o u will live here in peace for a thousand years. Your kin will endure and multiply' (62; 67). The raison d'etre of the nation and its homeland is thus established. This facet of the myth shows how much Aitmatov is worried by the contemporary tendencies of small ethnic groups to disappear and be absorbed into larger entities, either through 'building up of the Soviet communist nation' (Aitmatov and Ikeda 117) or as a consequence of free trade and globalization. His emphasis on the importance of memory and — by implication — of history, was noteworthy in the 95 ideological system where a national past was supposed to end shortly on the 'rubbish heap of history.' This aspect of the myth is also linked to the role of the Horned Deer-Mother in bringing forth future generations. She is the one who gives children to Kyrgyz families and helps women in labor. Those who betray her, as seen in several versions of the myth (see p. 82 above), are punished with sterility. Orozkul is thus childless in spite of all the efforts he and his wife make, and all the medical centers they visit. The ethical dimension of myth is perhaps the most important one for our author. In his works we rarely leave the arena where good and bad confront each other. Aitmatov fully accepts the moral canon of Kyrgyz epic poetry and transfers it to the contemporary world. The boy protagonist is heroic in his choice not to accept evil, and finds moral support in the myths that form his worldview. In the same sense, myths are also relevant for the contemporary world, as "the hero's virtues as a worker and citizen are rooted precisely in his knowledge of and respect for traditional religious practice" (Olcott 214). Thus WS can be understood as a call for the preservation of a spiritual heritage, symbolically represented by the Horned Deer-Mother, in an overly pragmatic and materialistic world. When Momun shoots her he destroys not only his own dream of goodness and justice, but also the boy's faith in everything sacred. Perhaps the most important binary opposition in WS is the one between two worlds, between a world imbued with mythic consciousness, and a world totally lacking it. Instead of opposing to the classical Kyrgyz mythic outlook some modern industrial-technological or class-conscious mythology, the author chose to present the contemporary world as totally mythless. The reason for that is probably the inadequacy of any such surrogates on 96 ontological, cosmological and ethical levels. Aitmatov remarked in one of his interviews that people living without legends and myths are condemned to spiritual poverty and are incapable of understanding the complexities of the modern world ( " M M n3MeHaeM [We Are Changing]" 327), an opinion which is clearly visible in his works. In WS, a society without myth is reduced to greed, tyranny and laziness. In the character of Orozkul Aitmatov portrays those who despise their culture, care only about money and material advantages, and are unable to understand the beauty and meaning of ancient stories: J\a epyH^a Bee 3TO, icaicaa TaM, K HepTy, ojieHnxa, Koiyja 3a KoneiiKy TOTOBLI ffpyr Apyry B ropjio Bnnrbca HJIH B TiopbMy 3aca,ziHTb! 3TO B npeacHne B p e M e H a JIIOAH BepnjiH B oneHHxy. J\o nero ace rnynbie H TeMHbie 6biJiH TorAauiHHe JIK>AH, CMeniHo! A Tenepb Bee KyjibTypHbie, Bee rpaMOTHbie! KoMy HyacHbi OHH, STH CKa3KH jjjia. Manbix AeTeii! (74) A l l that's pure bullshit — and what the hell does some deer count for when everybody's poised to grab for your jugular for a kopek, or clap you in jail? It was in prehistoric times when people believed in some kind of deer. There was no end to the stupidity and ignorance in those days — it was plain ridiculous. Now, on the other hand, everybody is civilized and literate. Who needs those babyish fairy-tales? (79-80) Orozkul's ideal is "the city" where "people know how to respect a man according to his job," and where "the bosses sit around on the back seats and are driven through the streets" in "black, smooth, sparkling cars" (76-77). 3 3 In his daydreams he is one o f the 'bosses,' people are afraid of him, and his children speak only Russian. Material interests alone are obviously not sufficient to make a society work. Unlike communist ideology, which tended 3 3 "Ho TO B ropofle... HanajibCTBO TaM Kaicoe e3AHT no yjinnaM. [. . .] MauiHHa 3-Ta, nepHaa, 6necTHmafl, njiaBHaa. [...] TaM yMeiOT yBaacaTb HenoBeica no AOJDKHOCTH" (71). 97 to represent mythology and religion as 'the opium of the people,' in the novel it is power, together with vodka, which intoxicates people and make them act as i f they 'don't know what they are doing.' Myths, on the contrary, make them sober and respectful of nature and other human beings. As a consequence, we can only hope that the contemporary world will find a place for mythopoeia in it, mythopoeia understood as "a rhapsodic affirmation of life" (Chase 35). The myth of the Golden Age is usually understood as describing an idyllic paradisiacal human situation which supposedly existed in primordial times, only to be ended by a notable transgression. It is present in WS in a specific version which combines its typical features with the new ones: Aitmatov postulates that such a paradisiacal situation did not exist only once, at a certain point in history, and that, once gone, it was irrecoverable, but rather that it occurred several times in the past, whenever peaceful coexistence between nations and between humans and nature was established. In other words, it exists as a possibility in any age, including the contemporary world, and its realization depends entirely on human ability to master greed, pride, and aggressiveness. Aitmatov thus stresses respect for nature as a sine qua non for establishing harmonious human society, and condemns human selfishness, cupidity and arrogance as the main culprits for the situation humankind finds itself in. Aitmatov's novels cannot themselves be qualified as myths; they are works of fiction employing traditional myths to accentuate philosophical and moral issues and to shed light on problems of human existence and the meaning of life. Both traditional narratives and his own versions of them act in his works as vehicles of contestation of the 98 contemporary world, and of communication of insights that cannot be expressed otherwise. His heroes move between Kyrgyz mountains and the boundless expanses of myth to cast from there a look at our ordinary reality (Levchenko 162-63). Embedded traditional stories juxtaposed to the realistic plot are set in a mirror game which must be ultimately activated by the reader-decoder. The contemporary reality, set against the Golden Age of mythic time, is treated with irony and hostility, while a modern tragedy is illuminated by an ancient myth. Aitmatov sees myth as essential but not necessarily transcendental, i.e., as a kind of narrative necessary for humans in their struggle for meaning, while not referring to any eternal transcendental reality. Like Harris' view that "man is both fossil and psyche, an inheritor of the dead past, but also the creator of his own kind of being" ("History" 23), Aitmatov believes that only a creative use of traditional myths can be beneficial for the contemporary world. In the domain of literature, he says, "BOBJieHeHne MndpoB B TBopnecTBO — 3TO ocTecTBeHHaa HejioBenecicaa noTnpeGHocTb CKOHfleHcnpOBaTt B ce6e Beet onbiT, 3HaHHa H CTpacru" 'to involve myth into creative writing is a natural human need to condense in ourselves the whole of experience, knowledge and passion' (qtd. in Levchenko 171). A n important characteristic of Aitmatov's mythopoeia is his preference for shamanistic, totemistic and animistic traditional stories, as opposed to those of revealed religions. Such inclination probably comes as a result of his view of humanity as an integral part of nature, but it may be surprising considering the fact that Islam is the majority religion in Kyrgyzstan. The reason for his indifference to traditional Islam is his dislike of 99 any form of ideological essentialism with totalitarian pretensions of possessing the final truth. It is precisely on those grounds that he strongly condemned Muslim fundamentalism (Aitmatov and Ikeda 181). On the other hand, he finds certain Christian traditions inspiring, and he used Christian motifs in several of his works, most notably in fljiaxa [The Place of the Skul l l . 3 4 It is obvious that Aitmatov likes mythic stories and enjoys retelling them. In that way he continues oral traditions in the medium of written literature. He conveys traditional myths in a very appropriate way, successfully imitating the style of oral story-telling and presenting, "in accordance with mythological tradition, [...] the fantastic as strictly truthful" (Kolesnikoff, Myth 44). Myths in his work are convincing, showing no sign of becoming "mythological zombies, the walking dead" (O'Flaherty 26), as happens so often when traditional myths are retold in books. Aitmatov creates his own versions of myths in a manner appropriate for contemporary fiction, while, at the same time, they are in perfect accord with the mythologies of the specific cultures described in his works (e.g., Kyrgyz in WS, Nivkh in "HernS nec SeryruHH KpaeM Mopa [Piebald Dog Running Along the Shore]"). The main problem in transposing traditional myths into written literature lies in the fact that they are always tied to the particular cultural framework in which they operate, so that, when cut away from it, they tend to lose a lot of their power and to change meaning 3 4 Some critics tried to find parallels between W S and certain Christian myths and symbols. For example, Igor' Zolotusskii pointed out that the fish is an ancient symbol of Christianity, representing faith, silence and submissiveness, and that water is a symbol of life (63). Thus, according to him, the boy's decision to jump into the river expecting to be changed into a fish means that the only refuge from the predicaments of this world can be found in the depths of religion. Georgii Gachev, on the other hand, saw in the plot of W S a reinterpretation of the passion-play, with the absent father standing for God, the Horned Deer-Mother for the Virgin, Momun for Judas, and the boy for Jesus (218). 100 significantly. Aitmatov successfully solves this problem by representing in the realistic part of his narratives the social environment that the myths operate in, by presenting several traditional narratives and their interaction at the same time, and by showing their psychological impact in the consciousness of his characters. In that way his approach is very similar to Ribeiro's, with the difference that the Brazilian author does not belong to the community whose myths he evokes, and that he tends to conflate traditions from several different, although culturally close, native Brazilian societies, rather than to represent only one of them. Both Ribeiro and Aitmatov stress the necessity of survival of 'small' cultures in a world already desperately unbalanced, and the importance of mythopoiea in modern fiction for preserving those traditions and for enabling them to face the future by uncovering new meanings in an imaginative way. 101 CHAPTER 3 DARCY RIBEIRO'S MAIRA: SEARCH FOR SPIRITUALITY IN A DESPIRITUALIZED WORLD Der Kannibale [...] hat seine Feinde zum Fressen lieb, und er frisst nur die, die er lieb hat. Sigmund Freud (67) Ne crains point, 6 civilise aux orteils recroquevilles, ton Sauvage est ton Sauveur, et ton sauvage n'est pas loin, il dort encore au fond de ta conscience. Roger Gilbert-Lecomte (qtd. in Maubon 111) Unlike other authors presented in this study, Brazilian Darcy Ribeiro (1922-1997) was primarily an anthropologist, as well as educator, academic, politician and outspoken social critic, before he turned, when he was in his fifties, to the surprise of all who knew him, to writing fiction (Garcia 17). For many years he had been immersed in anthropological, ethnological and folklorist research and devoted almost a decade, from the mid-forties to the mid-fifties, to fieldwork among the Indian nations of the Amazon and central Brazil, among them the Kaduveo, Terena, Kaywa, Ofaie-Xavante, Bororo, Karaja, Urubu-Kaapor, Kaingang, Xokleng and various Xingu groups (Meggers ix). During this period he also organized the Museu do Indio in Rio de Janeiro in 1952, and conducted a study on acculturation under the auspices of U N E S C O , showing that there is no genuine 'assimilation' transforming Amerindians into Brazilians, but that the natives are "simplesmente exterminados atraves de varias formas de coacao biotica, ecologica, economica e cultural" 'simply wiped out through biotic, ecological, economic and cultural forms of coercion' (Ribeiro, Confissoes 190-91). Ribeiro was later a professor at the Universidade do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro, as well as one of the founders of the Universidade de Brasilia, where he also taught. In the political arena he became famous as 102 an outspoken critic of Brazilian urban capitalistic civilization and a militant fighter for the physical and cultural survival of the Indians, exposing the reality of the Brazilian government's 'development' of large areas of Amazonia and the Mato Grosso, which brought about a steady decline of the remaining indigenous tribes, leading inexorably to their systematic extermination.35 Using Orlando Villas Boas' famous anthropophagous metaphor,3 6 Ribeiro stressed the fact that, in the contemporary world, the 'civilized' societies are devouring indigenous populations, since the only effect of 'assimilation' is that the Indians are becoming more marginalized and their different cultures are disappearing. In the early sixties Ribeiro entered political life as Brazil's Minister of Education and Culture, but in consequence of the establishment of a military dictatorship, he had to leave the country in 1964, as did many other intellectuals, artists and writers, and spend thirteen years in exile. Although invited by Claude Levy-Strauss to be a lecturer at the prestigious Ecole pratique des hautes etudes in Paris, Ribeiro preferred to stay in Latin America. He taught at universities in Uruguay, Guatemala and Mexico, helped the restructuring of national universities in Venezuela, Peru and Costa Rica, and acted as an advisor to Presidents Allende in Chile and Velasco in Peru (Ribeiro Coelhol6-17). In January 1971 he took part in drawing the Barbados Declaration on the ethnocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, a document which criticized religious missions for their complicity with colonialism and appealed to the churches to discontinue all missionary work in the future (Novaes 105). After his return to Brazil he continued both his academic 3 5 In 1979 Ribeiro noted that, in the first eight decades of the twentieth century, some eighty indigenous peoples in Brazil — out of 230 in all — have completely disappeared (Testemunho 13). 3 6 "Antigamente o indio nos comia. Agora, somos nos que estamos comendo o indio" 'In the old days, Indians ate us. Today, it is us who are eating the Indians' (qtd. in Ribeiro, Ensaios 157). 103 and political careers, but, focusing more and more on literary activity, he produced several novels and a book of poetry. Ribeiro received a number of recognitions for his research work and was distinguished by honoris causa Ph.D. degrees from the universities of Uruguay (1968), Paris (1979), Copenhagen (1991) and Rome (1996 [Ribeiro Coelho 237]). His death in 1997 was caused by cancer, which he had fought during the last thirty-five years of his life. Ribeiro wrote a number of anthropological monographs, including such seminal ones as Religiao e mitologia Kadiweu [Kaduveo Religion and Mythology] and Diarios indios: Os Urubus-Kaapor [The Indian Diaries: The Urubu-Kaapor], a multi-volume work on Latin American and Brazilian civilizations, studies on 'civilizational process' and acculturation, works on education, and several books of essays, before trying his hand at fiction. His research on the indigenous cultures of both Amazonia and the Mato Grosso, as well as on regional variations of Brazilian society and their repercussions for urbanization, industrialization and public education, provided him with raw material for and profound understanding of the existing social problems he later used in his novels. In his essay "Etica para antropologos [Ethics for anthropologists]" Ribeiro insisted that it is impossible for anthropologists who study indigenous societies to maintain an 'indifferent' and neutral position without paying attention to their plight (Testemunho 42-44). Claiming that fiction offered him a better opportunity than scientific anthropological monographs to express all he had learned about indigenous cultures during the years of his fieldwork, he published in 1976 his first literary work, Maira, "um romance da dor e do gozo de ser indio" 'a novel about the sorrow and joy of being Indian' (Testemunho 206). With O mulo [The Mule] 104 (1981) and Utopia selvagem: Saudades da inocencia perdida: Uma fabula [Savage Utopia: Nostalgia for Lost Innocence: A Fable] (1982) it forms a trilogy focusing on the different facets of the life and survival of indigenous peoples in contemporary Brazil, and on the social situation in the interior of the country (DiAntonio 66). M R is not only Ribeiro's first, but also his most famous and probably best novel, claimed as one of the key works of contemporary Brazilian fiction (DiAntonio 67), one which will mark the second half of the twentieth century in Brazilian literature in the same way Mario de Andrade's Macunaima marked its first half (Castro 412). Written as a sophisticated intermingling of realism and modernism, at the same time telling a story and questioning it, it displays a polyphony of narrative voices and employs ambiguity as a structural element of the narrative process. Ribeiro uses his considerable anthropological experience to evoke the world of a still 'uncivilized' Indian tribe, showing theirs to be "a doomed world, threatened by all kinds of religious, economic, and cultural factors" (Gledson 205). The Mairum tribe in the novel is caught between two worlds and marginalized by both: the world of the old ways, become infeasible, and the world of the nation that surrounds them, where they have no place except through self-negation. The myths portrayed in the novel function both as a structural device organizing the narrative, and as comments on the realistic plot. Some of Ribeiro's other works, such as Utopia selvagem [Savage Utopia] or his later labyrinthine novel of apprenticeship M i go (Lucas 174), are also pervaded by mythopoeia. Ribeiro's novel belongs to two important literary traditions: to that of fictional representations of the native peoples of his country, and to Latin American mythopoeic literature. Narratives about the indigenous nations of Brazil, their contact with European 105 colonizers, the conquest of the interior of the country and the multiracial nature of Brazilian culture have always had an important place in Brazilian literature, and indeed in Spanish American as well, beginning in the sixteenth century with writers such as Pero Vaz de Caminha, Fray Bartolome de las Casas, E l Inca Garcilaso and Alonso de Ercilla. The beauty of the newly conquered country fascinated and inspired European writers, while the exoticism of the unknown interior contributed to "its translation into mythical territory" (Maligo 153). The Amerindians who inhabited it were variously seen as noble savages to be admired, pagans to be Christianized and befriended, cannibals to be suppressed, or dangerous enemies to be restrained in order that the interior of the country could be developed. The interior itself was understood in opposite ways: either as an equatorial paradise, i.e., a Garden of Eden, an image which European imagination was projecting onto recently 'discovered' parts of the world, especially tropical America (Arinos de Melo Franco 12), or as a green hell, essentially different from the 'civilized' coastal regions. Colonial Brazilian literature often celebrated the conquest and portrayed interactions between colonizers and Amerindians. Thus, for example, its two main works in the eighteenth century are two epics, Jose Basilio da Gama's O Uruguai IThe Uruguay! and Jose de Santa Rita Durao's Caramuru, which extol the virtues of Portuguese warriors and their noble Indian allies, vilify their savage enemies, and eulogize the beauty and richness of the country. A new stage of Brazilian literature began in the first half of the nineteenth century, after the declaration of independence in 1822. During the three previous centuries the 3 7 First contact and exploration of the unknown interior are key tropes in colonial literatures as a whole. 106 Portuguese crown had strictly prohibited the establishing of printing presses and libraries in its American colonies (Nunes 13), with the result that only a few works written in Brazil were published in Portugal, and the rest circulated in manuscript form among relatively few colonial readers (Haberly, "Colonial" 49). Now, for the first time, facilities for higher education were established, as well as a printing press, a public library, and scientific establishments. The new generation of Brazilian writers inherited from their predecessors the image of the 'archetypal' Indian and used it above all in order to appropriate some genuine American roots that would provide a sense of national authenticity. What they wanted most of all was to find a particularly Brazilian voice, and to "create a mythical childhood" (Brookshaw 45) for the country's history in a moment when it became sovereign. They thus turned inward towards their primeval forests, rivers, mountains, and indigenous people, in an attempt to define what Regina Zilberman called "the representation through art of a national identity" (143). TO Indianism in Brazilian literature flowered mostly in the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s. Goncalves Dias, the greatest poet of the period, himself one quarter Indian, sung about an entirely Amerindian lost Eden, while the novels of Jose de Alencar, especially O Guarani IThe Guarani Indian! (1857) and Iracema (1865) — the two most widely read Brazilian novels, each going into more than a hundred editions (Haberly, Three 33) — developed romantic Utopian ideals which grew to become Brazilian national myths. Unlike European romantic fiction depicting contacts between the 'civilized' and the 'savages,' the Brazilian author "does not treat exoticism as a foreign cultural element, but rather as an integral part 3 8 The 'Indian fever' which gripped Brazil during those years was such that the emperor Pedro I took Guatimozin, the name of the last Aztec ruler of Mexico, as his Masonic alias, whereas his heir Pedro II learned to speak Tupi (Haberly, Three 16). 107 of Brazilian national identity and culture" (Ventura 39). In O Guarani [The Guarani Indian] a Portuguese family and its native allies are surrounded by hostile Indians. As the situation gets desperate, the father of the family blows everybody up, both friends and enemies, with only his daughter and a young Indian hero surviving. The two of them are further threatened by a sudden flood, but they manage to uproot a palm tree and to sail down the river on it. To make the time pass, the young man retells the story about Tamandare, an Indian cultural hero, who with his mate repopulated the Earth after a previous Deluge. The end of the novel is left open, so the readers can decide for themselves whether the young couple will unite only in heaven, as seems to be the girl's wish, or whether they will emulate the Indian myth. In Iracema, the more famous of the two novels, a Portuguese colonizer meets, in the course of his expedition to conquer Ceara, a Tabajara Indians' priest's beautiful daughter Iracema, whose name is an anagram for America (Haberly, Three 48-49). They fall in love and she helps him in his mission. In the end, his campaign is a success, while she dies giving birth to their son Moacyr, who is then taken back to 'civilization' by his father, crowned with glory. Some writers in the nineteenth century used the 'archetypal' Indian figure in several other ways too: to create colorful images, to personify the natural environment, or as a symbol of freedom. More realistic depictions of the life in the interior appeared in the novels written in the last decades of the century by writers such as Ingles de Sousa and Euclides da Cunha. At the same time, the Indigenismo movement, flourishing from the 1880s and throughout the first half of the twentieth century in both Brazil and Spanish America (Merquior 372), brought about social protest advocating Indian rights against brutal exploitation. Writers who belonged to this 108 movement considered indigenous cultures and values equal to their European counterparts and wanted to legitimize and preserve their intrinsic features. However, their argument that the Indians "must step into modern society of their own accord with the help of those who feel the injustice of their situation" (Prieto 149), tended to foster assimilation of the native population into the mainstream of national life. Emerging during the period of territorial expansion, coffee and rubber exploitation, and a rising concern for national integration, the modernismo movement between the twenties and forties did not see the jungle any longer as a frontier which needed to be 'civilized.' Rather, it glorified the Brazilian 'melting pot' and consequently — in spite of its enthusiasm for all things primitive and exotic — tended to satirize traditional myths of colonization and to carnivalize conquest. The key novel of the period was Mario de Andrade's Macunaima, which the author called a "rhapsody" (Haberly, Three 146) and which is best described as a potpourri of subjects taken from national folklore (Braga 65). Its eponymous protagonist is an irreverent Indian anti-hero who, in an inversion of the frontier myth, attempts to conquer the concrete jungle of Sao Paulo. Andrade integrated Indian creation and trickster myths into the national folk culture, using as sources for his fiction both colonial historians, such as Capistrano de Abreu, and anthropological studies, such as Koch-Griinberg's Del Roraima al Orinoco containing myths and legends of the Taulipang and Arekuna of Northwest Brazil and Venezuela. "The novel concludes on a melancholy note, suggesting that nothing remains of the Brazilian Indians except for the memory that a parrot transmits to the narrator, who passes it on to the reader as the core of a possible cultural identity" (Ventura 42). Because of the assumption, common during the 109 modernismo years, that incorporation of indigenous populations into Brazilian society is a fait accompli, their very real problems have been pushed aside and neglected. Although Ribeiro, together with some other contemporary Brazilian writers such as Antonio Callado (Quarup), Jose Louzeiro (O verao dos perseguidos ["The summer of the persecuted]-), and Jose Mauro de Vasconcelos (Kuryala), continues to write within that tradition, he, like the others, brings in a very important innovative approach, managing to avoid not only those two main, "conflicting sentiments buried deep within the culture of the European colonizer from whom most Brazilian writers descend: that of guilt and that of self-righteousness" (Brookshaw 1), which characterized most of the portrayals of the Indian in Brazilian literature, but also the populist and nationalistic trends of the modernismo. Not wanting to typecast, vilify or idealize the Indians, his desire is to portray them realistically, in the context of their own cultural world, where the whites are only seen insofar as they interfere with tribal life. Accordingly, Ribeiro takes in M R "comme base de depart le point de vue indien" (Bernard Emery 71) which enables him to reverse the traditional myths of the frontier and to turn upside down the old romantic myth justifying the social and racial power structure of Brazil. His novel integrates mythological and indigenous configurations in order to oppose a homogenizing, univocal reality manufactured by technologically advanced society. Ribeiro abolishes the frontier between 'the civilized' and 'the savage,' refusing to see the Indians as "fossiles de l'espece humaine" (Raillard 31) and giving them "a new symbolic value within the dynamic of Brazilian history" (Brookshaw 9). Although he cannot claim to be 'the voice of the indigene,' his knowledge of their traditions and myths and his vocation give him considerable credibility. 110 Latin American mythopoeia was highly developed by the time Ribeiro came on the scene. A number of important writers, influenced both by modernist achievements and by mythic traditions and indigenous cultures in their own countries, made Latin American mythopoeic literature perhaps the most interesting one in the second half of the twentieth century. Thus, for example, the complexity and multiple narrative threads of Miguel Angel Asturias' Hombres de maiz (1949) can be understood only through the reference system of Maya mythology, which is the unifying principle of the novel and — in the author's version — a blend of ancient tales, as preserved in the classic texts like Popol Vuh, and contemporary Guatemalan Indian folklore. The plot of Alejo Carpentier's Los pasos perdidos (1953) is structured as a frustrated quest of the nameless protagonist-musician, sometimes understood as a Sisyphus freed from his toil (D. L . Shaw 54), who tries to put aside his inauthentic life in the alienated modern world and to renew his artistic creativity by looking for inspiration deep in the jungle, among the authentic people living in harmony with nature and its circular time, secure from historical change. In Jose Maria Arguedas' Los rios profundos (1957), characters act "in the halo of the mythic dimension, their lives reverberating beyond their historical situation" (Columbus 177).3 9 Although Brazilian writers who use myth in their fiction are not as well known as their Hispanic counterparts, they also produced a number of interesting works, such as Memorias de Lazaro [Memories of Lazarus] (1952) by Adonias Filho, A paixao segundo G . H . [The Passion According to Some other outstanding novels from South and Central America written in a similar vein are Jose Lezama Lima's Paradiso (1966), Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Cien afios de soledad (1967), Carlos Fuentes' Zona sagrada (1970), Augusto Roa Bastos' Hijo de hombre (1960), Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo (1955), Juan Jose Saer's El entenado (1983), Manuel Scorza's Redoble por Rancas (1970), and Mario Vargas Llosa's El hablador (1987). 111 G . H.] (1964) by Clarice Lispector, U m nome para matar [A Name to Kill] (1967) by Maria Alice Barroso, and Opera dos mortos ["The Voices of the Dead] (1967) by Autran Dourado. Ribeiro's novels belong to that stream of narrative fiction. He employs myths and symbols on different levels of narration. The mythic tales he uses stem both from European tradition (Greek myths, Biblical stories, the myths of the Noble Savage, of the garden of Eden, and of Eldorado) and from the native cultures he knew so well. While employing existing mythic narratives, Ribeiro also created, most notably in M R , his own mythology, in an attempt to present and integrate different levels of reality. He derived fundamental structures for the Mairum myths in the novel from the Urubu-Kaapor tribe of the Tupi-Guarani, among whom he did fieldwork (Diarios 143-46, 231-32, 352-58, 378-79, 411-17, 444-46), and from the Apapokuva-Guarani, whose traditional stories were collected by Curt Nimuendaju and first published in 1914. The very name 'Maira' is taken from Urubu-Kaapor myths, which relate how Old God the Father Maira-Monan, feeling alone, let out a breath and created his son Maira out of it. For a long time the Young God looked for a place to settle down, until he found a giant tree. He entered it and the feeling pleased him so much that he made the tree multiply, which is how the Amazonian jungle came into being. His presence in it renders the natural environment sacred. Maira later carved the first human beings out of wood (Ribeiro, Uira 20). As for the twins — or brothers — who have the same mother but different fathers, like Maira and Micura in the novel, such mythological figures are spread over vast areas of South America. Although the details tend to vary between cultures, their common characteristic is that one brother is a solar figure and immortal, whereas the other belongs to the lunar world and is a mortal (Clastres 1045). 112 M R has been described as an ethnographic novel in which the author successfully bridges "the differences between doing anthropology and writing fiction" (Columbus 165). Having spent "os dez melhores anos de sua vida dormindo em rede nas aldeias indigenas das Amazonia e do Brasil Central" 'the ten best years of his life sleeping in a hammock in Indian villages of the Amazonia and Central Brazil' (Ribeiro, Testemunho 11), Ribeiro's personal experience became as important for his creative writing as his anthropological knowledge. He himself thought that a novel could express his insights about the Indians better than any scientific work (Raillard 30). The fact is that the distance between anthropological texts and literature has never been big (Fleischmann 103), since the 'other' cannot be understood without being opposed to the T of the writer. 'Ethnopoeia' is thus a type of phenomenology which, while requiring profound anthropological knowledge, fully admits its artistic character and subjectivity. Abandoning the posture of scientific neutrality, its thinking and cognizing subject is aware that his uncertainty and personal feelings preclude his writing from being accepted as an impartial account (Heinrichs 272-77). However, precisely because of such lack of intentional objectivity, ethnographic fiction can be considered less biased and its view of the 'other' more comprehensive: While the monograph intends to be an authoritative appropriation of cultures as holistic, internally consistent, and transparently interpretable, the fragmentation and the refusal of totalization in Maira reflects the anthropologist's perception of an Other who is ultimately elusive, closed to the penetrating gaze of the scientist. (A. F. Emery 94) The organization of Mairum society, villages and rituals in the novel are to a large degree based on those of the Bororo people, as are the beliefs that the dead are constantly 113 present, flying in circles above the central hut of a settlement, and that after death people go to a counter-world, where it is night during our daytime (Testemunho 57). Some rites, such as ceremonial laceration and the tying of penises, are taken from the Urubu-Kaapor (Huxley 147, 153). The central character of A v a is based on one Bororo Indian who worked as an informant for both Ribeiro himself and Claude Levi-Strauss (Fernandes 84-115). His name was Tiago Marques Aipobureu, and he was — just like A v a — educated by the missionaries, first in Brazil, and then in Europe. On his return to his native village, he realized that he has lost his Bororo identity, or, as he himself has put it: "Assim tornou-se solitario, solitario entre os seus e estranho aos estranhos" 'Thus I became a solitary man, alone among my own people and a stranger among strangers' (Baldus 96). This means that the fictional tribe of Mairums can be seen as a paradigm "de la tribu indienne, ou plus exactement de la nation indienne" (Bernard Emery 59), as well as of their current situation (or rather their situation at the time of writing in the seventies). The action of M R takes place in the Northern Mato Grosso on the banks of the river Iparana, one of the tributaries of the Amazon, and focuses on the Indian world from within. It depicts the tribe of Mairums changing and adapting to the invader society while fighting for its own survival as a group. The appeal of their mystic, magical world stands in opposition to the materialistic culture of the twentieth century: "Por que voces se afligem tanto, trabalhando sem descanso, como se arvores fossem deixar de dar frutos?" 'Why are you forcing yourselves so much, working without a break, as if the trees had stopped giving fruit?' (Ensaios 27). Unfortunately, the tribe is hemmed in on all sides, destined to disappear fighting against practically insurmountable odds, like "um davizinho mairum [...] 114 lutando contra um supergolias civilizador" 'a little Mairum David [...] fighting a civilizing super-Goliath' (MR 174; 144). Although only a generation earlier there were many Mairum settlements, they are now left with only one village and two hundred people. The novel gives a realistic picture of the forces that surround them, of the land-grabbing politicians, the corruption of the F U N A I (Fundacao Nacional do Indio [The National Foundation for the Indian]), the lassitude of the Catholic missionaries, the self-righteous zeal of Protestant missionaries. The main theme is the problem of the tribe's acculturation and survival. Ribeiro expresses explicitly his consternation in face of the visible vanishing of the small native ethnic communities. His novel puts into question the idea of progress in face of such development and tries to devalue the old cliche about the 'savages' and the 'civilized.' According to him, the only "morally defensible position" for a Brazilian intellectual, in view of the plundering and exploitation of indigenous peoples, is to recognize his/her society as unjust, violent, and backward (Americas 165). However, Maira is not simply a novel of ideas and social protest; it is much more profound than that. It has a very complex structure artfully blending form with content. The novel consists of sixty-six relatively short chapters utilizing various narrative voices, focuses and tones. The voices include 'we' — the collective voice of the Mairum people, a distanced third-person narrator, the twin gods of creation, the first-person voices of the novel's main characters, and a third-person mythic voice. In several chapters, the twin gods, Maira and Micura, enter into the minds of characters in order to provoke them to express their thoughts and to narrate the events from their point of view. There are two main narrative threads, one following Ava's and Alma's separate decisions to return (in his 115 case)/to go (in hers) to the Mairum village, their joint trip and their stay there, and the other following the investigation conducted by an emissary of the military government into the causes of Alma's death. The first chapter of the book, depicting the discovery of her corpse on the banks of Iparana by a member of a Swiss entomological expedition, is, at the same time, the conclusion of the first narrative thread, and of the main action of the novel itself, and the beginning of the second. The third set of chapters follows events in the Mairum village from the death of their old chief Anaca, which leaves them leaderless, to the appointment of Jaguar as a new chief followed by the tying of penises ceremony. The fourth level of narration concentrates on the mythical substratum of the book and outlines, through an anonymous narrator, the main Mairum myths. Ribeiro uses such a modernist, fragmented form to counteract the documentary realism and scientific 'objectivism' of anthropological monographs. His approach is made clear in a short chapter at the mathematical center of the novel (the 33rd out of 66 chapters) entitled "Ego sum" — meaning "I am" — which stands as an affirmation of the implied author figure. Some critics understood it as a shortened form of the Cartesian maxim "Cogito, ergo sum," T think, therefore I am,' i.e., either as expression of awareness of the self-reflective narrator (Klengel 215; Ramos 164-70), or as the meta-narrator's dispute with the narrator (Ramos 163). The chapter mentions the sources Ribeiro used, recalls his experiences among the Bororo, the Kaduveo and the Urubu-Kaapor, and explains the raison d'etre of the novel. The purpose of his writing is to preserve the memory of the 'other' that would survive (cultural) death. However, this function is limited by a hopeless incapacity to convert oneself into the 'other,' or to understand him: "Quern sabe deles sou eu e eu nao sei 116 nada" 'He who knows about them is I, and I don't know anything' (209; 176). This means that the writer cannot assume any way of getting close to their proper being: "Mas nao aprendi" 'But I didn't learn' (212; 179). Writing cannot reproduce the reality; the text only fulfills the function of transmitting beauty and giving fame to its creator: "Tambem e principalmente quisera a gloria — como o oxim" 'Also and above all, I had wished for glory, like an oxim, a sorcerer' (213; 180). From the Mairum myths incorporated into the novel we learn how Mairahu, 4 0 known also as the Nameless One and the Old One, suddenly became aware of himself in the original darkness: "Nanderuvucu ou petei, pytu avytepy afiou ojicuaa" 'Nanderuvucu found himself alone, in the middle of the darkness he awoke alone.' 4 1 After creating light first, he brought the world into being, with highlands and lowlands, rivers and lagoons. Then he made the first creatures: juruparis, half fish, half men, who inhabited the waters of the rivers, and curupiras, the tribe of incomplete and deformed soul-eaters who inhabited the forests. He also created the animals, who at that time lived in villages and spoke their own languages like human beings, and finally the forebears of humans — the Mairum Ambir, who were neither male nor female. After that he decided that he wanted to feel his creatures, and belched out a son, Maira, who descended into the trees in order to enjoy the feeling of being a tree, and into the body of Mosaingar, whom he, Maira, then turned into a woman in order to give birth to him. Realizing that he/she was the finest creature of the Father God, but that he/she still needed improvement, Maira, feeling lonely, took a brother, the little opossum Micura, who entered Moisangar's belly, and the twins were duly born 4 0 The suffix 'hu' in Tupi means "father of," hence 'Mairahu' is "Father of Maira" (Ramos 161). 4 1 The first sentence of the myth, quoted in the novel in Tupi, was written down and translated into Spanish by Nimeundaju: "Nanderuvucu llego solo, en medio de la oscuridad se desvelo solo" (155). 117 among the Mairums, where they were at first not accepted, but soon enough became teachers and reformers. Before long, Maira realized that "o mundo de Mairahu [...] e feio e triste" 'the world of [...] Mairahu is ugly and sad' (167; 138), so, acting as a trickster against the will of his father, he decided to change it into a world that would be truly a joy to live in. First, he stole the fire from the double-headed King Vulture, then brought into the world good food and tobacco, and finally made the division between male and female and introduced the joys of sexual life. Although Mairahu was not happy with those changes, he was unable to prevent them, as Maira castrated him. The war between them [...] esgotou todo o tempo da antiguidade em lutas sem fim e continua ate hoje, sem tregua. Cada dia, cada noite e um batalha. Uma dura batalha em que Maira enfrenta Mairahu para que o mundo fique como e. (185). [...] wasted all of ancient times with ceaseless struggles and continues even today without respite. It is a hard battle in which Maira confronts Mairahu so that the world may remain as it is. (153) Ultimately, Maira became Maira-Coraci, the Sun, and Micura Micura-Iaci, the Moon, and the world ceased to live in darkness. Later on, the two brothers used to come down on earth to play like people, but principally to experience the world through the Mairum body and spirit. The world of Mairum myths is further made tangible by descriptions of their enactments in important rituals and ceremonies. We see the whole tribe gathered in the Great House of Men at the summoning of the chief Anaca for his announcement that he is going to die that very night, the rituals that precede and follow his interment, the secondary burial of his bones after the flesh has decomposed, name-giving and initiation ceremonies, 118 wrestling and javelin-throwing games, the ritual hunt of anaconda, ritual dances, the presentation of the nubile girls after their first menstruation, Jaguar in jaguar hide celebrating a successful hunt, the oxim's sorceries involving bloodletting, rattles, cigar smoke and dried fish, purification of hunted game, couvade, and the tying up of penises in the new warriors' ceremony. In strongly poetic terms Ribeiro depicts the Mairums' everyday activities, their respect for the natural environment and their spontaneous and sensual living. The self-contained and spiritually rich Indian world is opposed to white civilization which is both materialistic and destructive. The wish for profit at any cost seems to be the main characteristic of Western society, as expressed in Juca's monologues and Nonato's reports, whereas for the Mairums enjoying everyday activities is the principal preoccupation: "Les Indiens ont l'art de jouir de tous les sens" (Raillard 30). Ava and Alma, "um indio-santo e [...] uma jovem e ardente pecadora" 'an Indian-saint and [...] a young and ardent [female] sinner' (Ribeiro, Testemunho 18), can be considered the central characters in the book. Both of them, like the nameless protagonist of Los pasos perdidos and his dissolute girlfriend, embark on a journey to an indigenous community in the jungle which they hope will solve their existential malaise. Ava, a Mairum hereditary chief, has been taken from the tribe as a young boy by the Catholic missionaries, who gave him the name of Isaias, educated him and sent him to Rome to be ordained as a priest. In spite of his inner struggle to adapt, which goes so far that he even tries to eradicate the tribal signs from his face, at the end he decides he does not feel a vocation and prefers to return to his tribe in search of his roots: Afinal, tudo esta claro. Na verdade apenas representei e ainda represento aqui um papel, segundo aprendi. Nao sou, nunca fui nem serei jamais Isaias. A unica palavra 119 de Deus que saira de mim, queimando a minha boca, e que eu sou Ava, o tuxauara, e que so me devo a minha gente Jaguar da minha nacao Mairum. (34) At last, everything is clear. In truth I was only acting, am still acting a script that I have learned. I am not, I never was, never will be Isaias. The only word of God that can come from me, burning my mouth, is that I am Ava, heir to the chieftain, and that I am beholden only to the Jaguar people of my Mairum nation. (17) In this way he disappoints his mentors at the missionary station, while at the same time being unable to overcome the schizophrenic division of his personality symbolized by his double name Ava-Isaias. Ravaged with self-doubt and trapped between two cultures and two mythologies, Ava does not belong fully to either of them: "Cada um que saia da aldeia vai ser como eu, ou seja, coisa nenhuma. Os que ficarem la, so herdarao a amargura de serem indios" 'Everyone who leaves the village will become someone like me; that is, nothing. Those who remain there will only inherit the bitterness of being Indian' (31; 14). A v a longs to live the everyday life of his people and to cleanse himself of the "oleo de civilizacao e cristandade que me impregnou ate o fundo" 'oil of civilization and Christianity that has permeated me' (172; 142). However, his spirit and soul seem to have been stolen by European "pajes-sacacas" 'false sorcerers' (270; 232), so he fails to readapt to tribal life and to fulfill his function as a successor to his uncle as a warrior chief. The dialectic of the principal conflict in the novel — that between two distinct worlds, between the Indians and mainstream Brazilian culture — is reciprocated inside his consciousness. Ava's is a split personality, composed of two mutually exclusive cultures: Indian/white, pagan/Christian, Mairum/Brazilian, and as such, he embodies at the level of the individual the drama of his people. Ironically, Ribeiro describes his going back to the 120 Mairum village in Campbell's terms of the return of the savior-hero (193-243) who is to rebuild his dwindling tribe and redeem it from destruction. The discrepancy between such expectations and his ultimate failure is reflected in the unsuitability of his Christian name. In the Old Testament, the book of Isaiah contains admonishment before the imminent disaster of Assyrian invasion. Isaiah the prophet preached the doctrine of Messianism and predicted the coming of a savior-king who would bring about a reign of peace and prosperity: "And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning" (Isa. 1.26). Ava-Isaiah, however, fails to do anything that might help his people survive. He lacks aggressiveness, initiative and confidence to fulfill such a mission, and proves himself incapable of either assuming the leadership of the tribe or taking young Inima for a wife and thus confirming his place within the tribal order. A chapter recounting his inability even to catch fish is ironically juxtaposed to that about Maira's mythic deeds. Ava's long stay in Europe has distanced him from the culture of his ancestors. Thus, for example, his plan to introduce his people into an economy based on production and profit betrays his falling away from the paradisiacal economy of spending and excess, characteristic for tribal societies. He complains that the Mairums waste too much energy on useless activities, instead of working hard, and deplores the informal way with which they treat sacred lore. When the oxim, the sorcerer, wishes to prepare him for his ritualistic transfiguration, A v a is unable to give himself over, because he can neither free himself nor fully believe in the oxim's vision. He has been alienated from the spiritual life of his people for too long and the return is not possible, so he becomes marginalized, lonely and 121 unhappy. At the same time, he is in love with Alma, but does not dare to tell her, being thus one of the very few people in the village who does not sleep with her. Ava's incompetence in tribal affairs, sexual impotence, and lack of self-confidence are contrasted with the abilities of his nephew Jaguar who is at peace with himself, the life force of nature and the ancient mythologies of his people. Brave, assertive, confident and full of life, he hunts jaguars and anacondas, excels in sporting competitions, leads other young men on their trips into the jungle, and sleeps with many women of the tribe. Although, after the announcement of his inevitable succession by the guide of souls, Jaguar at first refuses the position of chief and asserts Ava's precedence, in the end he becomes the new chief and marries Inima instead of his uncle. Depicted as an ideal Mairum, Jaguar is one of the most interesting representations of the Noble Savage in recent literature: Jaguar: isto sim e um corpo mairum como deve ser. O mundo para ele e esplendido, maravilhoso. Assim ele o ve, magnifico, debaixo da minha luz: tecnicolor, cintilante, luminoso. [...] O corpo todo esta aceso, pronto, de alcateia. A cabeca erguida, ameacante, vigilante, sobre a torre do pescoco. O tronco gira livre sobre as pernas, os bracos se abrem com gosto. [...] 6 meu jovem Jaguar, assim e bom viver. (297) Jaguar: his is certainly a Mairum body as it should be. For him, the world is splendid, marvelous. That is how he sees it, magnificent under my light: technicolor, sparkling, luminous. [...] The body is all aglow, well prepared, ready to attack. The head erect, intimidating, watchful on a towerlike neck. The torso swings freely on the legs, the arms open with pleasure. [...] Oh, my young Jaguar, this is the way to live. (258-59) Alma ("soul" in Portuguese) is a dissolute woman from Rio de Janeiro who, tired of the materialism of civilization and unable to find any solace in modern life, education, free 122 love, drugs, or psychoanalysis, hopes to join a mission in the jungle and rebuild herself in the new environment. When Father Ludgero refuses to accept her, she goes to the Mairum village with Ava, whom she met on the trip to the mission, and stays there. Representing the 'lost soul' of the contemporary consumer society in need of redemption, Alma is looking for a new beginning and for a refuge from the unbearable loneliness of modern existence. Her instinctual life, desperate need of others, and hunger to be contained by a natural world of which she is an inseparable part, find comfort not in the ways of the church or contemporary institutions, but in the timeless rituals of a tribal people. The first scene of the novel, in which her body is found on the bank of Iparana, is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," where a dead leopard is found high on the mountain slope, far from its natural habitat. Alma too ventured far from the big city in which she grew up in her search for a meaningful identity. Tribal society has become her Utopia, in spite of its own crises and dramas which are anything but idyllic. Alma believes that she has found lost innocence and religious vocation in becoming a tribal whore; however, as both her status and her behavior are very ambiguous, she is only living her own truth, not that of her hosts, so she remains incapable of integrating into the community. Although the Mairums have the institution of mirixord, "a priestess of love," who, since she belongs sexually to no one, belongs to everybody, it is not possible for Alma to take over that role both because she does not belong to the tribal genealogy, and because she lacks sufficient understanding of their traditions. On the mythical level, the nickname Canindejub, the "yellow macaw," given to Alma by the Mairums is very significant; had she perused Levi-Strauss' From Honey to Ashes before venturing into the forest, she would 123 have known that those birds are inevitably eaten by jaguars (36). Like the nameless protagonist of D . H . Lawrence's "The Woman Who Rode Away," who was sacrificed in the wilderness of Sierra Madre to a phallic divinity, Alma happily accepts her marginal position in the village, unaware of its ambiguity, but at the end pays for her delusion with her life. Her death on giving birth to the twins whose father is Jaguar, her favorite lover, can be interpreted in different ways: on the mythic level, the reader may suppose that mother and children had to perish because there was no man from the tribe to stand in couvade for them; on the anthropological level, their death seems to stress the impossibility of any union between two diverse societies; on the practical level, the police may conclude that Alma herself lost confidence in the tribe and sought Western medicine when the delivery began. The second narrative thread, which follows the investigation into the circumstances of Alma's death, reveals the threats facing the stability of Mairum society from without. Nonato, the emissary of the military government, dismisses from his post Elias Pantaleao, the F U N A I official in charge of the Mairums, because of the latter's refusal to try to integrate Indians into the work force: Pelo que vejo a coisa esta muito bem urdida e justificada para que os indios fiquem na aldeia como indios e os agentes nos Postos como seus remotos tutores. O resultado e que eles jamais se integrarao nos usos e costumes da civilizacao. Mas e tambem que os funcionarios da F U N A I nao perderao seus empregos de burocratas-afazendados a custa da fazenda nacional. (93) From what I can see, the thing is well contrived and justified purely so that the Indians remain in the village as Indians and the agents in the posts as their remote tutors. The result is that the Indians will never assimilate or appropriate the uses and 124 the customs of civilization. But also that the officials of F U N A I will not lose their employment as bureaucratic-landholders milking the national treasury. (69) Nonato's report is highly ironic, since both Pantaleao's salary and the funding for Indians are extremely low. Pantaleao's dismissal closes a period of relatively peaceful coexistence between two cultures. It is understood that the new appointee will be someone less sensitive to the tribal peoples and more amenable to the economic interests of the military government and rich landowners. At the same time, an agricultural conglomerate, " A Companhia Colonizadora do Iparana" Tparana Colonization Company,' headed by the Senator Andorinha who never appears in the novel in person, has managed to circumvent the laws protecting Indian lands and is already mapping out the area for 'development.' Several other chapters of this fragmented novel, constantly shifting back and forth in chronological time, present a multiplicity of events, both past and present, providing a background for the main narrative threads. They introduce other characters representing social and economic forces at play, such as Juca the renegade, Xisto the preacher, and the missionaries. Juca, son of a Mairum mother and a white father, is a bush trader, completely alienated from his indigenous roots, who, in his desire to make a place for himself in mainstream society, becomes the worst racist and the most unscrupulous exploiter both of remaining native communities and of caboclos, "acculturated Indians of pure blood," living in villages and small cities outside of Indian land. Dreaming of becoming rich and important, of going to Sao Paulo and spending "um dia naqueles hoteis paid'egua, cheios de putas bonitas" 'a day in one of those fancy hotels full of beautiful whores' (148; 119), he is enraged by Mairum lack of appreciation for the worthless goods he is trying to trick them 125 into buying, and by their unwillingness to work for profit; he complains that "esses idiotas tern o costume de enterrar com o morto tudo o que era dele" 'these idiots have the custom of burying with the dead everything that belongs to them' (146; 117). He tries to force the Indians into debt by giving them 'gifts,' and hopes to obtain an important land holding once the whole region is open to 'development,' "com ajuda de Deus e do senador Andorinha" 'with the help of God and Senator Andorinha' (38; 20). Juca embodies the myth of Eldorado in its most barbarous form, but is himself only a pawn in the game of more powerful individuals. When he gets killed by a tribe of hostile Indians, he is immediately replaced by his former servant Manelao, who inherits not only Juca's job and the plot of land, but his wife as well. Xisto, a fanatical black Protestant minister, preaches in the small, backward and poor town of Corrutela not far from the Mairum settlement. Obsessed by the ideas of sin, the Devil and the apocalypse, he raves about the coming of the Son of God, which he believes is drawing near, bringing in its wake a lasting peace, land and cattle redistribution, and plenty for all. In his zeal he managed to rid the town of prostitutes and alcohol vendors, and to entice almost all the inhabitants to abandon Catholicism and become "believers." If he had his way, no one would work at all, but only pray and sing Gospel songs. Xisto is sponsored by North American evangelist Bob and his wife Gertrude, the Protestant missionaries, who live in a ridiculous, totally self-sufficient house built on an isolated spot in the jungle, which looks like a fortress in the shape of a flying-saucer. They believe that the Day of Judgment is imminent and that the New Messiah might come from one of the Indian nations of Brazil. The Catholic fathers at the Mission continue to follow their 126 established routine, which long ago grew into a dreary monotony, in spite of their admittance to themselves that their mission is a failure. A further and a very important division of the novel is its quadripartite structure: M R has the form of a requiem mass in four parts, entitled "Antifona [Antiphony]," "Homilia [Homily]," "Canon [Gospel]," and "Corpus [Corpus]" respectively. It is a requiem for a vanishing way of life. Both Ava's adversities and the misfortunes of the tribe as a collective threatened by its practically inevitable disappearance are dramatized by their story being projected into the sacral space of a Christian service. On the one hand, such structure runs parallel to the exposition of Mairum mythology, while, on the other, the four parts of a requiem are given new meaning according to the narrated events (Silverman 234). The first part — "Antifona [Antiphony]" — covers the beginning of the story, generating all the while a clearly hostile atmosphere; the alternating voices do not sound harmoniously — as they should in the context of a Catholic mass — but rather strident and ominous, announcing the confrontation between mainstream Brazilian and indigenous ideologies. The interaction between different voices sounds like "um dialogo babelico" 'a Babylonian dialogue' (Graca 94) in which speakers do not understand each other; the first sentence of the text sets the tone: "Ninguem entende este gringo" 'Nobody understands that gringo' (19; 3). In the "Antifona [Antiphony]" we learn about the discovery of Alma's death, the organization of the investigation mission, and the decisions made separately by A v a and Alma to embark on a search for his/her lost identity in the wilderness. More importantly, it also describes the events in the Mairum village from the (physical) death of Anaca and his primary burial, to his secondary burial in the Lagoon of the Death which announces his 127 rebirth in the spiritual world. This leaves the tribe in limbo, as it also needs to embark upon a new cycle in order to be reborn. However, as Anaca's successor is not there and as the young warriors have not yet been promoted to adulthood, the Mairums are not allowed to perform the key rituals — such as the Coraci-Iaci dance — which would ensure the smooth transition to the next cycle of life. The second part — "Homilia [Homily]" — offers, contrary to the meaning of the word ("sermon"), an unfruitful exchange between discordant voices. Only the exposition of Mairum myths about the creation of the world and the Mairum people corresponds to the meaning of the word. Ribeiro consciously makes an analogy between the Mairum Genesis and the Biblical one, putting forward the independence and richness of indigenous mythical thought. In the "Homily" we follow the events in the Catholic Mission, Juca's actions, Xisto's preaching, and the journey of the two protagonists by plane and by boat from Sao Paulo to Mairum Village. Ava's return is described through chapter titles ("O Beico [The Lips]," "A Boca [The Mouth]," "A Lingua [The Tongue]," "A Goela [The Gullet]," "O Goto [The Throat]," "O Bucho [The Stomach]," and "O Vomito [The Vomit]") as a passage of aliments through the human body and the throwing up of what is indigestible. Instead of the expected reintegration into the native world, the forest and thus, by implication, the indigenous culture, refuse to accept his new ideas and indeed vomit them out. In the context of the Christian church, 'Gospel' signifies the exaltation by redemption and the remembrance of the sacramental sacrifice. On the contrary, "Canon [Gospel]" as the third part of MR evokes "con sus rupturas e irregularidades ya la vision del exodo inminente" 'with its ruptures and irregularities a vision of an imminent exodus' 128 (Klengel 209). The serenity and beauty of native life is more and more endangered. The action takes place mainly in the Mairum settlement. We follow everyday life in the village, rituals and ceremonies, Alma's misunderstandings and her delight with becoming a mirixord, as well as Ava's inability to live like an Indian, his slow fall into disgrace and mounting loneliness. Both the ominous comments in Nonato's final report and Juca's exaltation at the prospect of obtaining a significant land property foreshadow an inevitable "development" organized by rich landowners which threatens to swallow the remains of the tribe. "Corpus," the final part, does not impart spiritual grace and the promise of salvation as it is expected to, but, on the contrary, invokes the spirit of the apocalypse. Death and imminent disaster are lurking on all levels; the hope for a new beginning is lost. To the frustration of his sponsors, Xisto commits the ritual murder of a young girl who is, in his view, possessed by the Devil, after first pulling out her tongue to save her from demonic attacks. Unable to find any motivation to go forward, Ava disappoints the oxim by his indecisiveness and prays to God in vain for Alma's love. He finally agrees to render the Bible into the Mairum language for the protestant missionaries, but his work is constantly encumbered by Gertrude, who insists that the translation must be literal, in spite of Ava's repeated explanation that in that manner it will be incomprehensible to the members of the tribe. The Catholic priests admit to each other that their mission is a failure, since it is not possible to convert Indians and thus make them a part of the 'white' world. The oxim unsuccessfully tries to save a child bitten by a poisonous snake, and, as a result, is torn to pieces because his magic does not work any longer. Alma and the twins die, and even 129 Maira doubts his own immortality and the perpetuation of his people. "Indez [Coda]" is the concluding chapter in which various scenes are rapidly juxtaposed, creating a panoramic sense of immediacy. Without any formal division we hear the voices of practically all the main characters speaking at the same time and cutting into each other. What remains in the end is the threat of economic penetration into the Indian territory and a dark perspective for the future. The only positive signs expressing a hope for survival are, on the one hand, Jaguar's love affair with Inima, and, on the other, his appointment as the chief of the tribe followed by the performance of the new warriors' ceremony, which renews the cycle of Mairum life cut short by Anaca's death. In spite of the realistic depiction of Mairum problems, tensions, hardships and tragedies, there is little doubt that their life is portrayed as a stylized earthly paradise. It is obvious that for Ribeiro the Garden of Eden is still there, only modern humans choose to neglect it. Indians represent its last remnants, living in harmony with the environment and their own nature, in a society where there are no masters, no slaves, and no division between the elite and the masses: "Descubro que me encantava nos indios, primacialmente, sua dignidade inalcancavel para nos, de gente que nao passou pela mo de estratificacao social" T realized that what enchanted me most about Indians is their dignity which is beyond our reach, the dignity of a people that did not pass through the grind of social stratification' (Ribeiro, Confissoes 157-58). The Mairum village is thus a mythic enclave, a living Utopia (Lidmilova 323), whose collective spirit and lack of envy, hypocrisy, profiteerism or sexual inhibitions is highly praised by Alma: Pra mim esses mairuns ja fizeram a revolucao-em-liberdade. Nao ha ricos, nem pobres; quando a natureza esta sovina, todos emagrecem; quando esta dadivosa, 130 todos engordam. Ninguem explora ninguem. Ninguem manda em ninguem. Nao tern preco essa liberdade de trabalhar ou folgar ao gosto de cada um. Depois, a vida e variada, ninguem e burro, nem metido a besta. Pra mim a Terra sem Males esta aqui mesmo, agora. (267-68) As far as I am concerned the Mairums have already made a revolution achieving liberty. Among them no one is rich or poor; when nature is unkind, everyone gets thin; when it's generous, everyone gets fat. No one exploits anyone. No one orders anyone about. Their liberty to work or play as the spirit moves them is priceless. And what's more, life is varied; no one is a drudge, a beast of burden. For me, the Land without Evi l is here and now. (231) This image of the Garden of Eden is further enhanced by the joy of living typical of Indians. Catholic priests, who want to replace it with ascetic living and the unceasing service of God, are unable to understand that the Mairums not only prefer this world to heaven, 4 2 but, even more so, that Indian mythology teaches them how to enjoy life: E bom viver como ensinou Maira. As vezes pensamos que ele gosta mais dos caraibas, mas a culpa bem pode ser nossa. Como nos so queremos rede e bubuia, ele deu a outros a obrigacao de trabalhar duro, sem sossego, fazendo coisas. Nos nao fomos feitos para isso. Somos bons e para namorar carinhoso e sururucar demorado. Tambem somos bons para a companheirada, porque nos vexa muito guardar as coisas com sovinice: gostamos de dar. E nao nos afobamos. Mulher esta ai mesmo para a gente namorar quando quiser. Amigos tambem ha muitos para conversar, para jogar, para lutar. Comida, que e bom, nunca ha de faltar. As rocas todo ano dao bastante mandioca e o peixe e a caca nao hao de acabar. O melhor das criacoes de Maira e que sempre nascem criancas para a gente com elas brincar, rir e criar com amor e paciencia. E bom demais tambem pintar o 4 2 Catholic missionaries in Canada had a similar problem; for exa mple, in the nineteenth century father Blanchet complained that his native subjects "were surprised and provoked when I explained to them the blessedness of heaven; they appeared to like better the sojourn on this earth than to go away to enjoy celestial bliss" (Landerholm 166). 131 corpo bonito de cores, passear, nadar, dancar, beber cauim, cantar e dar risada. E assim que gostamos de viver. E assim que Maira gosta de nos ver. Ate trabalhar moles devagarinho, nao e ruim, sobretudo se nao for na hora do sol quente. (216) It is good to live the way Maira taught. At times, we think that he likes the Europeans best, but the blame may well be ours. As we prefer to lounge in a hammock or drift with the current, he obligated the others to work hard, without repose, and make things. We were not created for that purpose. We are best at gentle loving and slow fucking. Also we are good for companionship in general as we are not driven by avarice, not given to hanging on to property. We like to give. And we don't overtax ourselves. Women are there for a man to make love to if he wants to. Friends are there to converse, play, and wrestle with. Good food is never missing. Every year the fields yield enough manioc, and there is no end of fish and game. The best of Maira's invention is that children are always being bora for people to play with, laugh with, and bring up with love and patience. It is also very good to paint the body with beautiful colors, to stroll about, swim, dance, drink cassava beer, sing, and make people laugh. This is how we like to live. This is how Maira likes to see us. As for work, it's not too bad provided it is slow and easy and the sun is not too hot. (182-83) The natural environment, sacred to Indians, as expressed in their mythology (see p. 111 above), is an indivisible part of such an earthly paradise. Ribeiro's nature myth glorifies its spectacular beauty teeming with life as the last refuge from the onslaught of globalization, albeit already imperiled by plans for deforestation and spread of cattle-breeding farms. In M R , the jungle is compared — like the mountain forests in Aitmatov's novel — to a temple in which natural cycles of life have the function of divine service: A minha mata e um mundo de troncos altos, esguios, brotando do chao limpo, subindo e subindo para so se esfolharem la em cima, no alto. [...] O natural dela e uma penumbra verde, sombria, como uma catedral romana. Tambem ali so duas 132 vezes ao dia ha bulicio: ao amanhecer e ao anoitecer. Entao as capelas de macacos guaribas saltam nos galhos e urram desenireados e todo bicho de pena canta ou arrulha esvoacante com medo da noite que evem ou com a alegria da antemanha. Estas sao as duas missas cantadas da floresta virgem: a da manna e a da tarde. (63) M y forest is a world of tall slender tree trunks, growing out of the clear ground, rising and rising to create foliage only up there at the summit. [...] Its natural light is a green penumbra, as somber as in a Roman cathedral. Only twice a day is there noise: at sunrise and at sunset. Then the chorus of howling monkeys leaps from branch to branch, making an unreserved uproar, and all the feathered creatures sing or coo and flap their wings either from fear of the night to come or from early morning joyfulness. These are the two masses sung in the virgin forest: that of the morning and that of the evening. (43) The journeys of the two protagonists of the novel represent a new version of the quest-myth. For both Ava and Alma, the little Mairum village lost in the wilderness in the immensity of Brazilian interior becomes the goal of the pilgrimage they embark upon, expecting to renew their lives and to forget defeats, anxieties and alienation. The trip is for each of them a rite of passage lived as a quest. He abandons his religion in the hope of recovering his roots, while she is looking for the first time for a comprehensive set of values. Their personalities are diametrically opposite: she is open-minded, extrovert and practical, whereas he is introspective, withdrawn and philosophical. However, restoring the lost paradise fails in both cases and their pilgrimages turn out to be futile: at the end, they are just as marginalized as they were in the beginning. Alma dies, after deluding herself about her social position and acceptance, while Ava loses all the respect and status he once had, without being able to win her love. Caught in no man's land between two incompatible worlds, they are unable to find a place for themselves in either. 133 Several binary oppositions lie in the base of the novel's structure: village/jungle, mythic/real world, life/death, Indians/the Western world, Mairum mythology/Christianity. Furthermore, both Mairum beliefs and their social system are also organized around sets of opposites: while in their mythology, this world and the counter-world of the dead contrast with each other, as do the worlds of Mairahu and of Maira (see p. 117 above), the Mairum village itself is divided into two halves, the band of the Setting Sun and the band of the Rising Sun, in such a manner that each clan in one band corresponds to one in the opposite band. A l l members of one clan are considered to be brothers and sisters, and are expected to marry a person from the opposite clan. The village as a whole is contrasted to the surrounding jungle, inhabited not only by animals, but also by curupiras, the soul-eaters, and other demonic beings, which is why Indians stay overnight in the bush only when necessary. Mairum myths underline their everyday life to a large degree, but they are never elevated to the status of dogma, as is the case in Christianity. On the contrary, Indians are able to keep a ludic distance from their myths, laughing at and playing with them, while at the same time recognizing their meaningfulness. The dead ancestors are present in the lives of the living members of the tribe; they visit the village regularly, swarming around the Great House of Men in its center during important events, but only the guide of souls is able to see them and to communicate with them. The opposition between whites and Indians is seen as an unbridgeable split. The self-sufficient world of the Mairums is contrasted to the Western one, which can only exist by means of ceaseless 'growth' and expansion. Europeans are thus characterized as "um formigueiro incabavel, que ocupam a terra toda, que enxameiam o mundo inteiro" 'an 134 inexhaustible anthill, occupying the entire earth, insatiably swarming all over the globe' (187; 154). This opposition is reflected in the world of myth as well: unlike the living mythology of the Indians, modern humans have "to fill their voids by crude, extemporized, fragmentary myths" (Wellek and Warren 181). Mairum mythology is a happy one; it encourages people to look for beautiful things in life, and they enjoy retelling it. Christian beliefs, on the contrary, promote a way of life which is boring and sad: Secas vidas de cinzas, sem doce nem sal. Vidas duras, de carinhos segadas, de desejos podadas. Sofrido povo de Deus, proibido de si. Enlutados, poque nao morrem. (165) Dry ashes of lives, without honey or salt. Hard lives, with blind affections and clipped desires. Suffering servants of God, forbidden to be themselves, dressed in mourning because they cannot die. (135) The Indian mythology of joy-in-life is thus contrasted to a mythology of death-in-life. When the old Mairum women at the Catholic Mission, wailing and lamenting, complain to Ava that the young Indian girls educated there will wither away without access to men and normal sexual life, Alma concludes that: "As velhas tern toda razao. [...] Doentes somos nos. Doentes de indecencia, de repressao ao humano, de repulsa ao que e natural" 'The old women are right. [...] We are the sick ones, sick from indecency, from our repression of our humanity, from our rejection of what is natural' (241; 206). 4 3 A v a himself is a victim of such an upbringing, which alienated him from his own people and made him impotent. Furthermore, most persons associated with Christianity in the novel, such as Xisto, the Catholic fathers, or Bob and Gertrude, are either corrupt or morally blind. 4 3 Similarly, in Vargas Llosa's La casa verde [The Green House 1, "young Indian girls are rounded up to be educated by nuns, becoming despoiled of their own tradition and fit only to be maids or prostitutes" (Pope 237). 135 The contact between Western civilization and the Amerindian world is thus seen as totally destructive. Unlike Alencar's and Andrade's views, hybridity between two mutually exclusive cultures is, according to Ribeiro, unlikely to work. A v a explains that the Indians know "que o que [...] todos os brancos nos podem dar de melhor e nao se meterem na nossa vida. E nos deixar em paz" 'that the best thing that [...] all the whites can do for us is to stay out of our lives. To leave us in peace" (173; 143-44), because they have understood "que nao ha lugar para nos no mundo caraiba, senao lugares que nem bichos suportariam" 'that there is no place for us in the European world, except places where not even animals could subsist" (188; 155). Accordingly, Alma dies with her twins, whose father is one of the Indians, most probably Jaguar; her fate symbolizes both the impossibility of any union between two diverse societies — "el mestizaje significa la muerte" 'miscegenation means death' (Fleischmann 104) — and the impenetrability of the frontier between history and Utopia. Ribeiro turns upside down and challenges many concepts which characterized fictional accounts of Brazilian interior and indigenous populations. The jungle in his work is no longer represented as an area of barbarism, but rather as a center of a very interesting culture, by no means primitive or unsophisticated, but simply different (Morino 155). Instead of a male hero who penetrates into the wilderness and seduces an Indian princess, as happens in Caramuru or Iracema, in M R it is a heroine who travels into the forest and seduces most of the men of the tribe. However, she does not succeed in becoming an important person there, since her status remains ambiguous till the very end. Her encounter with natives is not nearly as pure as that of the white maiden in O Guarani [The Guarani 136 Indian]; in fact, the chastity of the only chaste person, Ava, is portrayed not as a virtue, but as a failure which came as a result of his mental castration in the Catholic seminary. Instead of well-wishing white 'civilizers' coming to educate the natives, most Westerners we meet in M R are detrimental for the Mairums: not only people like Juca, Xisto, or Nonato, portrayed as the real barbarians, but also the missionaries. The noble Indian hero, Jaguar in this case, does not support the colonizers' cause, as his counterpart does in O Uruguai [The Uruguay], but works exclusively for the benefit of his tribe. Unlike Western texts which are full of descriptions of the 'pacification' of the 'savages,' Mairum stories extol the deeds of their hero Arua who managed "amansar os brancos" 'to tame the whites' (186; 154). Finally, the end of the novel with the deaths of Alma and her twins contrasts with the optimistic closure of Iracema. The plot of M R focuses on the transition period between two cycles of both Mairum culture and human civilization in general. A whole cycle of native life is partly sketched through flashbacks and through descriptions of life in the village, which is organized around different Mairum rituals and measured by their sequence. This does not mean that Ribeiro is freezing the Indian culture in an essentialist time warp, but rather that their cyclical concept of time enables the Mairums to operate in a world of certainties and simple human pleasures. Their cyclical time is disrupted by several sequences of linear time-histories: those of the investigation, of missionary activity, and of modern industrial and agricultural development. This other time, being historical and unilinear, Ribeiro seems to suggest, leads inevitably towards an apocalyptic end, whereas the Indian notion of time, cyclical and based on myths, guarantees continuity. The action of the novel begins with two 137 deaths, Anaca's and Alma's, which create a gap, leaving us wondering when and if the next cycle will begin. The myth of the divine twins prefigures the birth of the new twins by Alma. However, in contrast to ritualistic re-enactments of the original events which, in Eliade's terms (Myth and Reality 6-8), ensure the opening of a new life cycle, the twins are here stillborn, implying the death of Maira and Micura and the termination of Mairum culture. Nonetheless, the end of the novel is left open: while, on the one hand, the death of Alma and her twins seems to indicate that the rebirth will not take place, on the other, it is possible to think that the life of the Mairums might go back to normal, as Jaguar becomes the new chief and marries Inima, upon which all the Mairum women menstruate, enacting a ritual which symbolizes the renewal of life. Although the Indians are determined to continue to live within their own culture for as long as they are left in peace, the fact that, at the same time, Manelao ominously opens a new cycle of exploitation and oppression, does not leave much space for optimism. M R is a novel which employs myth, on the one hand, to depict the mental structures that typify Indian thought and to reveal the mythic dimensions of their culture, while, on the other, its role is to stress the contrast between the indigenous world and the one which encircles them. Like Mayan traditions in Hombres de maiz, Mairum mythology provides essential clues and the basic reference system for understanding the novel's multiple layers. The dynamism of myths in it functions as the modus operandi which creates a density of symbolic meaning and permits reading on more than one level. Mythic and realistic modes of narration are intermingled, contrasted and put into an intratextual dialogue. The author combines the serious with the ludic, and native traditions with European and Brazilian 138 myths, to create a rich and rewarding novel whose polyhedral structure opens new vistas on many important questions. Ribeiro clearly expresses his conviction that myth is as important in the modern world as it was in previous historical periods, and that imaginative experience cannot be replaced by religious dogma or any practical or scientific worldview. His work seems to imply that to replace or destroy the myths of a people is a form of spiritual genocide, and that the cultural survival of the indigenous people is directly dependent on the preservation of their mythopoeic sensibilities. The Indians who leave their communities and forget their traditions become caboclos, the poorest and the most exploited social group in Brazilian society. Having replaced their communal spirit and rich mythology by a spirit of individualism and mutual distrust, they are an easy prey for Xistos and Jucas. Ribeiro contrasts the Mairums as a people who have kept their ancestral traditions with the "abominavel homens no vos" 'abominable new men,' who are "produtos de uma sequencia milenar de vicissitudes que os comformaram, especialisaram" 'a product of millennial vicissitudes which made them conformist and overspecialized' (Teoria 26). At the same time, he finds in myth "i germi dell'opposizione al potere e della lotta di liberazione" 'germs of opposition to power and of struggle for liberation' (Benso 105). Such an attitude is very similar to those expressed by Aitmatov, Kateb and Harris, who all see in creative use of traditional myths a useful tool for dealing with the vicissitudes of the contemporary world. However, unlike Soyinka, who believes that the mythical traditions of marginalized peoples can be renewed and successfully employed in an attempt to restore their cultural 139 identity, Ribeiro is much more pessimistic, maintaining that the disappearance of many indigenous communities and their cultures is inevitable, in spite of all efforts to reverse the process. Although the end of IN is just as ambiguous as that of MR, and although somber and ominous tones equally color the final parts of both novels, any positive outcome seems to be much less likely in the Brazilian author's construct. Whereas the Nigerian writer combines Yoruba and Christian mythologies and accepts their cross-fertilization as being constructive, Ribeiro believes that Indian mythology can survive only i f left alone by the expansion of cultural globalization. While both novels concentrate on the transition from one cycle of life to the next, in Ribeiro's case gods are about to die and are aware of it, whereas in Soyinka's they appear to be regaining strength. 140 CHAPTER 4 WOLE SOYINKA'S THE INTERPRETERS: MYTHICAL ESSENCES AND THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD Je dis des choses connues, si anciennes que I'humanite les a oubliees depuis longtemps. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (116) There is no such thing as 'only literature.' Every line commits you. Edward Baugh (107) I shall turn the great river at its source. Manas (107) Nigerian author Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka (1934- ) is one the most famous Sub-Saharan writers and the only Black African to date to receive the Nobel Prize for literature (1986). A tireless experimenter with new forms and modes of writing, Soyinka has never been afraid to explore more popular media, such as radio, television, sound recordings and film, in order to reach a wider audience (Macebub 28). Although his preferred genre is drama, which accounts for both the greater part of his literary production and the most highly praised one, Soyinka's reputation is equally that of a poet and fiction-writer. To these achievements might be added his other activities — those of an essayist, literary critic, biographer, translator, editor, political activist, recording artist, and actor and director on stage and in film (Maduakor, "Soyinka" 266). His contribution to fiction consists of a number of short stories, two novels: The Interpreters and Season of Anomy. a book of prison notes: The Man Died, a fictionalized autobiography: Ake: The Years of Childhood, and a fictionalized biography of his father: Isara: A Voyage around "Essay." Apart from his literary pursuits, this "most eclectic and syncretic of writers" (Wright 5), who refused to ignore "any source of knowledge: Oriental, European, African, 141 Polynesian, or whatever" (Soyinka, Six xv), also taught at different universities both in Nigeria and abroad, and organized and led several theatrical companies, occasionally even improvising performances in marketplaces and truck parks (Wright 3). Those activities went hand in hand with his political involvement. As a result of his participation in human rights organizations, his fight for social justice and individual freedom, and his denunciations of widespread corruption, 4 4 election frauds, and a series of coups — military and otherwise — he was receiving threats at times, was harassed by the SSS (State Security Service of Nigeria [Bandele-Thomas 142]), was arrested on a few occasions, and was twice forced into exile (1970-75 and 1994-present). During performances of some of his satirical plays, such as The (New) Republican and Before the Blackout, the actors were forced to guard stage doors against thugs hired by local politicians (Gibbs, Introduction 10). In 1965 Soyinka was detained for holding up the radio station in Ibadan, in protest against rigged elections, and transmitting his own tape parodying the intended victory speech of Chief Akintola (Gibbs, "Wole" 463). When the civil war in Nigeria broke out in 1967, he tried to stop the supply of arms to both sides through his international contacts, but his efforts were futile, and he was imprisoned from August 1967 to October 1969 (Zell and Silver 192). In May 1989 he publicly expressed support for Salman Rushdie and, as a result, received death threats from Muslim fundamentalists (Lurdos 14). The military government which ruled the country from 1983 to 1999 and which ordered the execution of another famous writer and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, in 1995, sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia in Transparency International rated Nigeria in its annual report for 2002 as the second most corrupt country in the world, after Bangladesh. 142 1997 (Msiska xii). Luckily, he had left the country earlier and moved to the U.S., where he currently lives and teaches (Crace 12). Like many other modern African authors who write in the languages of their former colonizers, Soyinka uses English as medium of expression, rather than Yoruba, which is his mother tongue. In contrast to writers such as Aitmatov or Kateb, who compose their works in both their own language and the dominant one in the region — or translate them from one to the other — Soyinka writes exclusively in English, although he, too, is perfectly bilingual.45 This is even more notable in view of the fact that Yorubas,46 famous for their traditional urban life, arts and music, are one of the largest ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa (Bascom, Yoruba l). 4 7 Using a foreign idiom means that Soyinka has to express the totality of Yoruba experience in a language with a completely different cultural background, and to translate "the thoughts and expressions of people," amongst whom many "never learned or spoke English, into standard or, at least, broken/pidgin English" (Abodunrin 156). In spite of this fact, his language — when compared to that of most other West African authors, e.g., to Chinua Achebe's, which is articulated through development of stylistic innovations reflecting "the rhetorical genius of his people" and "their native Several of Soyinka's works have been rendered into Yoruba by Akinwunmi Isola, himself an important writer (Omotoso 165). 4 6 Yorubas occupy most of southwestern Nigeria, where their population in the early nineties was estimated at twenty million, as well as parts of the two countries which lie to the west of it, Benin and Togo (Barnes 391). 4 7 Such a situation is all the more remarkable i f we bear in mind that more than two thirds of European nations use languages which have fewer speakers than Yoruba does, and yet no one in any of them would even think of creating a national literature in a foreign idiom. 143 Igbo civilization" (Echeruo 152) — is remarkably non-specific and can be described most appropriately as "world standard English" (Adejare 188), since it is not significantly determined either by its Nigerian variants or by his mother tongue (Appiah 11-12). Although Soyinka included in some of his dramas, for example in Kongi's Harvest, songs in Yoruba and variations on Yoruba verse forms (Gibbs, Introduction 4), and inserted into several of his works a number of Yoruba words, expressions and proverbs, 4 9 the structure of his English is not influenced by that of Yoruba in any important way. 5 0 Soyinka's literary works are best described as "artistic hybrids of mixed Yoruba and European parentage" (Wright 5). Although in his younger years, as a result of his education at the local Mission School in the city of Abeokuta, "Christianity was a primary and Yoruba religion a secondary influence," Soyinka's interests in the culture and literature of his people were very early aroused. He "gave up Christianity at the first opportunity" (Gulledge 511), and undertook a firsthand study both of indigenous ritual, religious, and dramatic forms, and of their oral traditions. During his later studies at the Universities of Ibadan, Nigeria, and Leeds, U . K . , he became acquainted with modern world literatures, whose different techniques and styles had a major impact on his writing. This means that Many other African authors also consciously change European languages, adapting them for their purposes, as, for example, Gabriel Okara (Nigeria) does with English, and Ahmadou Kourouma (Ivory Coast) with French (Zabus 181). 4 9 Soyinka employs a number of proverbs in IN; for example, chief Winsala uses one of them to veil the indecency of his demand for a bribe: "Se wa s'omo fun wa?" 'Will you act as a dutiful son should?' (84), and several others in an attempt to find a way out when caught red -handed: "Agba n't'ara... it is no matter for rejoicing when a child sees his father naked. [...] The wise eunuch keeps from women; the hungry clerk dons coat over his narrow belt and who will say his belly is flat?" (91). 5 0 On the other hand, dialogues of Soyinka's personages display a whole gamut of different social dialects and subvarieties of Nigerian English, often betraying Yoruba interference (Adejare 187 -92). In such a manner, language in his works "becomes a major signal of character" (Ogunba 11). 144 Soyinka's roots are primarily Yoruba, not only through his being born and brought up within their culture, but also through his research into his people's history and traditions, both of which provided him with a "base of ideas from which his works flow" (Jones 4), but that, at the same time, his art cannot be characterized as "pure Yoruba," but rather as "Yoruba-based eclecticism" (Wright 6), since influences of western literatures were decisive in his formation as a writer. Like Aitmatov, Soyinka is bent on preserving and promulgating the culture of his people, 5 1 endangered by swift changes in the twentieth century, but, unlike the Kyrgyz author, he is almost exclusively focused on the present. Since, until comparatively recently, Sub-Saharan literatures were almost without exception oral, it is hardly surprising that throughout the twentieth century various traditions of folk poetics and storytelling have played a significant role in the growth and development of modern African literatures (Sackey 389). Soyinka, although a self-consciously literary and allusive author, faced the same problem as many other African writers, namely how to establish a connection between a rich heritage of traditional culture and the contemporary world. Claiming that "two principal enemies of [African peoples'] authentic traditions and their will to cultural identity" are "European imperialism" and "Arab-Islamic penetration and domination" (Art 179), he insists that contemporary writing can bear the mark of African experience only if it integrates the African cultural substratum. According to him, it is totally unacceptable to renounce in the name of contemporary ideologies any part of the metaphysical, ritual, and — above all — mythical conceptions which serve to structure an African vision of the world; a writer must reject 5 1 For example, during the late seventies and early eighties Soyinka was at the head of the movement at the University of Ife to build a place of communion with Yoruba deities (Omotoso 52). 145 any apriorism and confront simultaneously past metaphysical conceptions and today's social problems. At the same time, he refuses obsession with history: "The African writer needs an urgent release from the fascination of the past" (Art 19), and criticizes those who idealize African societies before the onslaught of colonialism, deeming such an attitude to be harmful for solving actual problems. Accordingly, Soyinka uses African, mainly Yoruba oral traditions "as a solid base for the action of his novels and demonstrates his constant dependence on the collective memory of his people as the background to the creation of meaning in his works" (Aminigo 51-2), while, at the same time, employing "conceptual structures drawn from [Yoruba] tradition" principally to "integrate the cultural life of the past with the post-independence, Westernized reality" (Boehmer 202). However, Soyinka was not influenced only by folklore, but also by Yoruba written literature, above all by works of D. O. Fagunwa (1903-1963), the most important author in the language. Fagunwa was both a pioneer of Yoruba letters and its greatest classic, who converted oral traditions into written literature, expanded folk tale into full-fledged novel form, and established a school of Yoruba fiction-writing. His main medium was the "mythic novel" (Irele, "Tradition" 7), whose principal narrative pattern consists of the quest of a wandering hero (generally a hunter) who encounters a number of adventures in a forest full of supernatural beings and happenings (Bamgbose 5). Soyinka highly praised Fagunwa's imagination, sense of drama, and exploration of Yoruba idiom (Translator's 3-4), and rendered his best known novel, The Forest of a Thousand Daemons, into English, the first translation of any of his works into a European language. Soyinka's works share some of the qualities Fagunwa is famous for, such as his blend of humor and seriousness, 146 his fusion of actual and mythic realms into a comprehensive whole, and his virtuosity with language (Irele, "Tradition" 18-19). Another important Yoruba fiction-writer is Amos Tutuola, who wrote in his own version of English shaped on the mould of Yoruba, and whose works, such as The Palm-Wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, consist of reworking of Yoruba folk tales into "thronged, grisly" stories famous for their "lunatic imagination," "improbable exaggerations" and "discontinuous narrative" (Nkosi 56). Soyinka admitted Tutuola's influence and praised him as a "storyteller in the best Yoruba tradition, pushing the bounds of credibility higher and higher and sustaining it by sheer adroitness, by a juxtaposition of analogous experience from the familiar" (Soyinka, "From" 391). As for contemporary Yoruba literature, which appeared in the fifties and the sixties, breaking away from the Fagunwa school, i.e., at the same time as modern Nigerian literature in English, it is among the most developed ones in native African languages (Ogunsina 165-69). Modern Yoruba novels display many similarities with Soyinka's: they are also influenced by both their oral tradition and Western literary attitudes, frequently use flashbacks, and show a preference for dramatized novelistic technique, i.e., for showing and dialogues rather than description and telling (Ogunsina 110-63). Soyinka's oeuvre belongs to the rich and varied contemporary African mythopoeic writing. Many Sub-Saharan authors compose their works in that manner. Some of them want to preserve important traditional stories by retelling them in context or by describing ancestral ways of life, while others prefer to use elements, motifs and subjects drawn from oral narratives for mythic substructures and symbolic frameworks of their novels with contemporary plots. Thus, for example, in Paul Lomami-Tshibamba's (DR Congo) novel 147 Ngando (le crocodile) (1948), whose imagery is based on Tshiluba mythology, the link between two worlds, the ordinary one and the mythic, which lies at the bottom of the river Congo, is lost because of the neglect of traditional knowledge brought about by mounting influence of Western technology; consequently, all protagonists, including the crocodile, find a tragic end. Amadou Hampate Ba (Mali) offers in Kai'dara (1968) a personal version of a Fulani initiation tale, open to several levels of interpretation, in which two of the three protagonists-searchers die in the process, and only one attains the goal. Amamu, the hero of Kofi Awoonor's This Earth, M y Brother (1972), disgusted by alienation and materialism in latter-day Ghana, tries to find a solution by rediscovering the ancient myths of his people and achieves epiphany through mystic communion with Mammy Water, a sea deity, on the beach close by the tree at whose foot his umbilical cord was buried. Although, as a result, he is forced into a mental hospital where he commits suicide, his ordeal is represented as an ascent to spiritual life and his role as that of a traditional scapegoat sacrificed on the altar of modern greed and aggressiveness. In such a way, he is in the end, paradoxically, both redeemed and a redeemer. Myths and traditional beliefs are present on almost every page of many basically realistic novels such as Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria), The River Between (1965) by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Kenya), or Les Soleils des independances (1968) by Ahmadou Kourouma (Ivory Coast), whose plots are deeply rooted in traditional worlds of, respectively, Igbo, Gikuyu, and Malinke peoples. Historical narratives like Two Thousand Seasons (1973) by A y i Kwei Armah from Ghana, or 148 Emperor Shaka the Great (1979) by the Zulu writer Mazisi Kunene from South Africa, also employ myth as their main structural device. 5 2 "The importance of Yoruba myths to Soyinka is so great that it is hardly possible to overestimate it" (Larsen 8). However, unlike Aitmatov and Ribeiro, he does not explicitly retell traditional stories: "rather, they are cumulatively elaborated in hieratic action, emblematic mime, an epiphanic image, passages of incantatory speech or prose description" (Jeyifo, Introduction xii). In such a way, he "has made a deeper use of African mythology than any other African writer" (Ogungbesan 175). Soyinka argued that, just as European culture is deeply immersed in Greco-Latin mythology, so African writers should turn their attention to the mythological world of their own people, and bring out those elements that are likely to generate a new vision of things and beings. His approach to and understanding of myth closely parallels its importance in traditional African cultures, which are characterized — just as is Mairum society in Ribeiro's novel — by a close link between the mythic and the actual. In Yoruba mythology there are, according to different sources, 400, 401, 600, or 601 drisas, "gods" or "deities," who are believed to have lived on earth in the distant past, but, instead of dying, became divinities (Bascom, Yoruba 77). The only exception is the supreme god Olorun (or Olodumare), the omnipotent and unchanging creator of everything, including the drisas (Idowu 37), who lives in Heaven as the supreme manifestation of ashe, "the vital force" (Verger, "Yoruba" 2181). Being unapproachable and not listening to 5 2 Many other mythopoeic works in African literatures are worthy of attention, for example The Great Ponds (1969) by Elechi Amadi (Nigeria), Le Fits du fetiche (1971) by David Ananou (Togo), LTnitie (1979) by Olympe Bhely-Quenum (Benin), L'Assemblee des djinns (1985) by Massa Makan Diabate (Mali), Orphee-Dafric (1981) by Werewere Liking (Cameroon), and The Strange Bride (1989) by Grace Ogot (Kenya). 149 prayers, he has no cult and little importance in religious life. In primordial times, however, when Heaven and Earth were connected by a chain, it was possible to climb up, so holy men used to visit him (Idowu 21-22). The link was later broken because of some human transgression, while Olorun withdrew beyond reach (Hallgren 85-86). On the other hand, the drisds, stationed between the supreme god and humans, are actively involved in the affairs of this world. Their different cults constitute the core of Yoruba religion. As there is no generally accepted pantheon, their mythology is not homogeneous, but rather expressed through varying and contradictory systems in different Yoruba groups (Hallgren 25). Such pluralism is accompanied by "un parfait esprit de tolerance" (Verger, "Yoruba" 2181-82), in which myths change and migrate, while drisds evolve or are deposed as stories about them are altered to rationalize or even influence historical processes. The power of drisds depends on humans (Maupoil 96), as is expressed in the proverb: "Bi s'enia, imale o si" T f humanity were not, the gods would not be' (Soyinka, Myth 10); without worship and sacrifices even the name of an drisd would be forgotten. This means that Soyinka was acting in the spirit of his people's beliefs when he made a new version of the pantheon, giving his own interpretation of several deities. At the same time, his approach to contemporary difficulties is also similar to the traditional one, as "le message religieux Yoruba ne part ni d'une angoisse ni de la 'peur des dieux'; il est plutot une tentative de reponse aux problemes de l'homme a partir de son environnement physique et social" (Verger, "Yoruba" 2181). The Interpreters, "the first modernist novel published [...] by a West African writer" (Maduakor, Wole 81), is an intricate work with multiple facets, each of them significant in 150 its own right, but also subtly interconnected with other aspects of the narrative through a complex criss-cross of correspondences and echoes. Its formal characteristics such as "the manipulation of chronology, the seeming absence of plot, the variation of style, the co-presence of very different kinds of imagination, the unequal development of characters, and the sudden concentration on new characters in Part Two" (Kinkead-Weekes, "Interpreters" 219), puzzled some readers and critics, who described it as "an undisciplined and overcrowded canvas, containing enough material for four or five novels" (Wright 122), or as a "loose string of impressions and episodes" characterized by "tedious formlessness" (Palmer, Introduction xiv). The narrative flow of IN focuses on the preoccupations of the main characters, follows their experiences and reactions, and consists of numerous "independent episodes [...] which are thematically and symbolically rather than causally and logically linked together" (Palmer, Growth 244). The richness of the novel lies as much in its texture as in its structure, since the complexity of its syntax and imagery, impressionistic, richly evocative language, numerous elliptic and hermetic expressions, cryptic and convoluted style, all contribute to its extraordinary density and betray the hand of an accomplished poet. It is no surprise that Soyinka's writing has been compared to "a juggling act" in which he is able to "keep any number of plates — and valuable plates, at that — spinning in the air all at the same time" (Laurence 11). Soyinka's novelistic technique was undoubtedly formed under the influence of modernist writers like James Joyce and William Faulkner, as is shown by such procedures as experiments with time, nonlinear narrative development, frequent interruptions of the story line, representation of events as seen from inside the characters' consciousnesses, and 151 the employment of symbols "as centering nodes upon which meaning could condense" (Friedman 414-15). In IN Soyinka makes a very effective use of 'spatial form' (see pp. 56-57 above), which Donald Ackley explains as follows: Spatial form is in many ways more suited to Soyinka's view of contemporary African life than is the traditional narrative form which traces events sequentially and naturalistically, implying an order and system which Soyinka does not believe to exist. Similarly, the use of a core of characters participating in a wide and seemingly unrelated series of events is more suited to the theme which Soyinka wishes to develop than is the traditional focus on a single central character and single plot line. [...] Only in the totality of the many characters' experiences can Soyinka reflect [...] a world that lacks direction and common purpose, a world that can be absurdly funny or pathetically sad, a world that can be cruel and frightening, a world, in short, that is chaotic. (52) influences of existentialist writings are also present in the novel. The position of the main characters facing the meaningless and absurd world which surrounds them, their bitter disillusionment and frustration are not unsimilar to those of the protagonists of such existential novels as Jean-Paul Sartre's L a Nausee, or of such theatre of the absurd plays as Samuel Beckett's E n attendant Godot (Msiska 35). On the other hand, many stylistic characteristics of IN are directly copied from traditional African narratives. For example, jarring modal switches in this novel, notably from satiric vignette to evocation of myth, and from lyric memories to dramatic conflict, follow the style of several Yoruba oral genres, which employ similar changes in tone. A case in point are the oriki, Yoruba praise-poems, which address a person, living or dead, a lineage, a township, a deity, or even an object, animal, plant, or a natural phenomenon. 152 Constructed as collections of discrete and disparate epithets belonging to or attributed to their subject (Barber 16), and expressed in a brief, condensed and cryptic style full of extended metaphors and allusions (Tonkin 63), the oriki are fluid and in a sense endless. They contain fragments from different periods, composed by different people, which can be augmented in the course of time. A performance of the oriki — involving sentences which are "tour a tour respectueux, plaisant, ironique, poetique, gaillard, hero'ique ou sentencieux" (Verger, "Oriki" 239) — "is a rapid passage from one allusion to another; each allusion is to a different narrative hinterland, sometimes quite extensive and detailed" (Tonkin 92). In such a manner the oriki represent not only a mixture of styles like IN, but also a way in which the past can be reintegrated into the present (Barber 14), which is one of Soyinka's main goals. 5 3 Trickster narratives, very important in most African oral literatures, are still alive today, reformulated in a new disguise as contemporary urban legends, in which, instead of Tortoise, the traditional trickster-protagonist of Yoruba tales, "the characters are full-blooded human beings who are fiilly involved in an easily identifiable social reality" (Sekoni 94-96). In JN Soyinka takes from those narratives "the hegemonic view of the trickster as a psychopath and transforms it into a new image of the trickster as a well connected and favored exploiter," who uses his influence and position in society to profit "at the expense of other characters," thus becoming "a source of social or moral satire" (107-8). Personages like Sir Derinola and Chief Winsala are portrayed in the novel in that manner. However, in modern urban legends, apart from 'negative' tricksters, there is also 5 3 The oriki are mentioned in the novel itself, as many of Simi's admirers pay professional singers to perform praise-songs for her (51). 153 another, 'positive' variety of trickster figure; the schemes of the former are often thwarted by the latter. Unfortunately, those 'good' tricksters are often "so deformed or incapacitated that they rarely constitute effective counter-tricksters and thus symbolic emancipators" (116). The futility of the actions and attitudes of some of the main characters in Soyinka's novel, above all those of Sagoe, can be understood in precisely such a way. Another type of oral narrative which had an impact on the structure of IN are traditional African dilemma tales. This popular folk genre consists of a story which puts its characters in a certain relationship, and then ends abruptly, without either an explanation or a conclusion (Bascom, African 15). Sometimes it provides an explicit question as an epilogue, sometimes not, but it always generates considerable debate. Like some of Soyinka's plays, which have a purpose "to set a riddle, not to tell a story" (Adedeji 105), his novel, too, ends leaving many questions unanswered. However, unlike riddles, neither dilemma tales, nor Soyinka's works can have a simple explanation. According to the author, IN "was an attempt to capture a particular moment in the life of a generation which was trying to find its feet after independence" (Six xiv). The protagonists are a group of young intellectuals, close friends who went to school together in Nigeria. After studying overseas, they are now back home, so they regularly meet again. Clever and socially privileged, they represent "the new generation of interpreters" (IN 178) in the sense that they try to understand and explain, from their different angles, both the society and themselves in their new and altered circumstances. They hope to be able to connect the old with the new, the real with the potential, and to make some positive change. Since some of them live in Lagos, and others in Ibadan, the action takes place alternatively 154 in each city. There are five of them: Egbo, a civil servant at the Foreign Office, Sagoe, a journalist, Sekoni, an engineer, Kola, a painter, and Bandele, a university lecturer. The sixth member of their group, Lasunwon, a lawyer, plays only a small role in the novel. Among female characters, which are less developed, the most important are Dehinwa, Sagoe's girlfriend and future wife who works as a secretary; Simi, Egbo's lover, a "notorious, international courtesan" famous for her beauty (247); a young unnamed undergraduate student at Ibadan who has an affair with Egbo; and Monica Faseyi, an English woman who by the end of the novel drifts away from her husband and begins a relationship with Kola. Three important characters who do not belong to the circle of the interpreters but play major roles later in the novel are Joe Golder, Barabbas-Noah and Lazarus. Although the five interpreters dislike the situation in their country and are seemingly well placed to transform and improve it, it turns out in practice that they are excluded from all positions of power, so all they can do in their disillusionment and frustration is to criticize both the sterile social conditions and the "crass materialism which is eroding traditional values" (Moore 71). The representatives of the newly established elite of black "oyinbos" ("whites"; IN 21) stand as antithesis to the principles represented by the protagonists of the novel. Thus Dr. Lumoye performs abortions only for patients who grant him sexual favors and publicly denounces those who refuse to comply, revealing their confidential medical information at evening parties without any regard for professional ethics. Ayo Faseyi, although intelligent and talented, displays, on account of his "lack of a cohesive cultural base," "an uneasy mixture of mimicry and self-contempt" (Maja-Pearce 52). As a consequence, he is pathologically anxious to establish himself as a member of the 155 elite, seeing his university post as "just a stepping stone" to "politics, corporations," or, even better, to a lucrative job in one of multinational companies which are "always looking for Nigerian directors" (202-3). He is proud to have managed to marry an Englishwoman, emphasizing that she is not "a bush girl from some London slum," but an "educated" person who "has moved in society" (43). Pseudo-intellectual Professor Oguazor, described by Sagoe as a "bell-boy in tuxedo" (140), goes to great lengths to ape an already obsolete, supposedly upper-class English way of life. His snobbery and grotesque mannerisms expose the decadence and sterility of the ruling elite in post-independence Nigeria. Oguazor's affected quasi-Oxonian accent creates strange effects, as when he invites his wife to join the other women at a party: "Ceroline der, the ledies herv been wetting for you" (142). He scolds the "meral terpitude" of the younger generation while hiding abroad his own illegitimate five-year-old daughter he had "by the housemaid" (148-49). Sir Derinola, a respected judge and a chairman of several companies, seemingly incorruptible and a paragon of morality, is actually involved in bribe-taking. Greedy and lustful Chief Winsala, "a noted lecher and a genial rogue who is always drunk" (Palmer, Growth 260), is much less circumspect in his advances, sending all secretaries and maids ducking for cover and openly asking for graft. As the plot unfolds, the friends are more and more conscious that the society to which they have returned is rotten to the core; any hope of standing above it is not only unrealistic, but quite dangerous, so they show a growing tendency to retire into private preoccupations. Kola devotes himself wholly to his art, Sagoe seeks refuge in his drunkenness and quasi-philosophy of "voidancy," Egbo retreats into esoteric religious mysticism in his private riverside sanctuary, while Sekoni suffers a mental collapse. Only 156 Bandele, with his strength of character, is able to face not only the shortcomings of the society, but also those of his friends. Two dominant modes are interwoven in the fabric of IN: the satiric and the tragic. The novel consists of two parts; the first is more overtly satiric, giving a pessimistic picture of the early years of national independence, and targeting both the social ineffectuality of the old traditions and the evils of modern ways of life. At the outset of Part One the friends are in a nightclub, during one of their regular meetings, while a storm and rain outside signal the beginning of the rainy season which will follow the story line to its end. After the initial scene, the plot immediately shifts to a flashback in which Egbo remembers visiting his home town. Part One is thus constructed of two types of dynamically juxtaposed narratives: on the one hand, there are flashbacks — and flashbacks within flashbacks — in which the plot unfolds within the consciousness of characters, and, on the other, the development of the narrative present, showing external events which are expressed chiefly through dialogues. In such a manner, the passages which cut back and forth across the lives of the protagonists are contrasted to and "linked by passages offered by Soyinka from a certain narrative distance" (Attwell 62). The interpreters forage in their past to find the roots of present events and use their present knowledge to try to understand their past. However, the flashbacks are reserved mainly for Egbo, Sagoe and Sekoni; Kola is given only a couple of them, and Bandele none at all. Soyinka's "technique of broken chronology particularly enhances this deepening and widening of the scope of the novel as the author dives below the tip of the iceberg and goes under and around it" (Jones 155). It also accentuates the friends' feeling of alienation by establishing a contrast between the boring 157 and repulsive present, and the "violent undertows" and "dark vitality" (JN 12) of the potentially meaningful past. The last chapter of Part One, which amounts to its comic climax, consists of the description of Professor Oguazor's party. As in a final act of a theater play, all the main characters are present. The party itself is the ultimate show of pretentiousness and spiritual emptiness of the contemporary Nigerian society, as is made manifest not only by ridiculous behavior and the ludicrous conversations of many guests — activities in which the professor's wife, who manages to leave even Sagoe speechless, excels — but also by the absurd way their house is decorated: From the ceiling hung citrous clusters on invisible wires. A glaze for the warmth of life and succulence told the story, they were the same as the artificial apples. There were fancy beach-hat flowerpots on the wall, ivy clung from these along a picture rail. A l l plastic, and the ceiling was covered in plastic lichen. Sagoe has passed, he now noticed, under a special exhibition group of one orange, two pears, and a fan of bananas straight from European wax-works. (140) The beginning of Part Two marks the end of the interplay between the past and the present, as the story now moves consistently forward with only two short flashbacks. The tone is more somber and tragic, while the interpreters are depicted through a pattern of references to Yoruba mythology. As in Part One, the first scene takes place in a nightclub, but now the friends have lost much of their vigor and vivacity; they are listless, weary and dejected. The rainy season is almost at its peak, when suddenly a tragedy strikes their circle: Sekoni is killed in a road accident. The mode of narration acquires a ritual dimension: 158 The rains of May become in July slit arteries of the sacrificial bull, a million bleeding punctures of the sky-bull hidden in convulsive cloud humps, black, overfed for this one event, nourished on horizon tops of endless choice grazing, distant beyond giraffe reach. Some competition there is below, as bridges yield right of way to lorries packed to the running-board, and the wet tar spins mirages of unspeed-limits to heroic cars and their cargoes find a haven below the precipice. The blood of earth-dwellers mingles with blanched streams of the mocking bull, and flows into currents eternally below earth. The Dome cracked above Sekoni's short-sighted head one messy night. Too late he saw the insanity of a lorry parked right in his path, a swerve turned into a skid and cruel arabesques of tyres. A futile heap of metal, and Sekoni's body lay surprised across the open door, showers of laminated glass around him, his beard one fastness of blood and wet earth. (155) The remainder of the novel is structured around the interpreters' reaction to his death. They meet several times with Lazarus and listen to his stories, as some of them are under the impression that he is somehow Sekoni's reincarnation. In order to honor the memory of their friend, they organize a musical evening and an exhibition at the University of Ibadan, where both Sekoni's sculpture and Kola's painting are displayed. The last scene, as in Part One, takes place at the reception after the recital where all the important characters assemble and where the interpreters again confront their opponents, only this time the atmosphere is tragic rather than farcical, ending with Bandele's curse upon this debased and unfeeling society as a whole: "I hope you all live to bury your daughters" (251). It is obvious that the characters (and their development) are the key to the novel. They constantly define one another and comment by words and deeds on the main themes, while their conflicts channel the unfolding of the plot (Bestman 39). Soyinka's novelistic art thus evolves from his skill as a playwright, as is revealed by witty and lucid dialogues, 159 the vividness of the episodes, and the different levels of language ascribed to different personalities. Although all the main characters are well developed and rounded, they can also be seen both as embodying various aspects of the author himself (Houbein 101),5 4 and symbolically as "masks or voices in an adventure of ideation" (Heywood 130). Their correspondence with Yoruba deities is a technique the author has already used in his dramas, for example in the play A Dance of the Forest. Each of the friends represents one of the drisds, both in his inner meaning in the novel, and in Kola's painting entitled "The Pantheon." The painting itself is a mise en abyme reflecting all the relations and connections of the story, whereas Kola is the writer's double put into the stream of the narrative. In such a manner, "The Pantheon" serves as a structural device which binds the interpreters and their story into a single whole, and which facilitates the transposition of traditional Yoruba myths into a contemporary plot, thus not only "subverting the accepted or ordinary way of looking at reality" (Priebe 79), but also creating a bridge between traditional beliefs and modern conditions. Egbo, whose parents drowned when he was still a child, was brought up by a pious aunt, whose efforts to raise him as a Christian were unsuccessful, since he "was always drawn to his pagan past, especially the [sacred] grove of Oshun where he would often go and lie by the bank of the river" Ogun 5 5 (Priebe 84). He found later an even better place for communion with gods further downstream beneath the railway bridge connecting Ibadan and Lagos, where the waters flow over a rocky bed between the boulders which he construed as the toes of Olumo, the spirit of rock associated with durability and fertility 5 4 According to that interpretation, Sagoe stands for the writer, Egbo for the im pulsive liver, and Kola for the introvert artist. 5 5 The names of the river Ogun and of the god Ogun' are two different words in Yoruba. 160 (Awolalu 48). After his first sexual experience with Simi, Egbo went to that place, which afterwards became his personal center of pilgrimage, and had a mystical experience patterned as an initiation rite. "For the first time since his childhood" he ascended "into the gods' domain" (IN 126), took off his clothes, bathed in the dark, and laid on the rock, feeling as if he was being broken apart and then rebuilt. After a sleep - a symbolic death -he woke up as a new man looking "around him, bathing and wondering at life, for it seemed to him that he was born again" (127). He set off from the sanctuary with a definitive sense of being richer with new and important insights: He left with a gift that he could not define upon his body, for what traveller beards the gods in their den and departs without a divine boon. Knowledge he called it, a power for beauty often, an awareness that led him dangerously towards a rocksalt psyche, a predator on Nature. (127) However, both his renewal and his newly acquired understanding take place and have value only inwardly, on a purely personal level, as neither brings about any change in his conduct in practical life. Egbo is in a longstanding relationship with Simi, an excessively beautiful, almost legendary courtesan, so dangerous for men that those who got involved with her "lost hope of salvation," "bluster emptied, pocket drained, manhood disgraced" (50-51). Not surprisingly, she is compared to a "Queen Bee," who destroys the drones attracted to her (51), and to "Mammy Watta," a class of water-spirits of the Niger Delta and the adjoining coast. Yoruba mythtellers relate that the latter live in magnificent submerged cities and that some brave men "have gone under water for a number of days" and "lived among the water-creatures" before returning home (Awolalu 47). Accordingly, Egbo's first encounter 161 with her is described as a meeting between "the creek man" and "his Mammy Watta" (52). Associated with water, Simi symbolizes "the deep waters of the past" (Larsen 153) which attract Egbo so much. On the other hand, she represents for him another possibility — apart from his riverside meditations — to achieve fulfillment, reach for the absolute and obtain total mastery of life. Although Simi too sits for Kola, we are never told which drisd will appear in her image in the painting; we only know that it is a beautiful goddess. Most likely, she is portrayed either as Oya, the goddess of hurricane and the river Niger, who is — like Simi — both attractive and destructive (Larsen 156), or as Oshun, the Yoruba Venus, promiscuous and beautiful, who married the god Ogun (Bascom, Yoruba 88). Egbo's other girlfriend is an undergraduate student with whom he spends one casual evening in his secret riverside shrine. He learns about her pregnancy, which came as a result of their intimacy, only when it becomes the talk of the campus. In her message to him she insists that he is under no obligation and that she wants him to look for her only after having made a clear decision what he wants to do. Although the girl is not represented in "The Pantheon," she has an important place in the structure of the novel, where she stands in opposition to Simi. Independent, honest, modern and educated, the girl symbolizes a potential future, imperiled by forces of corruption and falsity. Another dilemma Egbo is caught in regards his career options. Being the heir to the throne of the small chiefdom of Osa, he was sent overseas by his community to study in the hope that when he graduates they would have an educated leader. After his return, however, he accepts a position in the Foreign Office instead, notwithstanding the tedious routine of the paper-pushing job he is assigned there. In spite of the facts that the throne seems to 162 provide him with an escape to a simpler and more wholesome existence, and that he is fond of traditional culture and disgusted with modern life, Egbo cannot bring himself to go back to live in his native village in the Niger delta, ruled by his old grandfather and described in the Eliotic terms of the Waste Land scenario. It appears that in his view the evolution of mankind is a purely linear movement from the old towards the new, that the past and the present are completely separated, and that to accept one of them necessarily means to reject the other. In the first flashback of the novel he takes his friends by boat to Osa, but stops the paddlers right at the place where ocean tides and river flow meet. While he hesitates and meditates, watching the magic scenery of his childhood, the flow is replaced by the ebb-tide and it is no longer safe to continue their journey. Consequently, when one of his friends asks whether he has made up his mind which way he — and all of them — are to go with their boat, he replies simply: "With the tide" (14), which both sums up much of the life of all the interpreters and anticipates the actions of the novel, specifically those pertinent to his own indecisiveness. On Kola's painting, Egbo is ironically portrayed as Ogun; ironically, because he lacks the "mythical omniscience" (IN 12) that would enable him to lead the Osa chiefdom from its old traditional ways across the chasm that separates it from the modern society. Ogun is the drisa of war and iron, and the guardian divinity of hunters, butchers, barbers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, wood-carvers, engineers, mechanics, and all workers in iron and steel (Parrinder 34). "He came into the world from a volcano as it was erupting and brought with him the ability to forge weapons and tools" (Turner and Coulter 360). In primeval times, after the earth was created and drisas first descended to inhabit it, they encountered 163 on their way a thicket no one could penetrate except Ogun, who cut a path through with his machete. He refused the crown of the holy city of Ife offered to him in appreciation, preferring the free life of a hunter. It happened that he once met a group of people at an Ajo Oriki ceremony where it is forbidden to greet anyone. Surprised and angry that no one noticed him and that all the kegs of palm-wine were empty, Ogun in his fury beheaded many of those present before realizing what he was doing. In the aftermath he sank into the depths of the earth and decided to stay there, as he does to this day (Awolalu 31-32). Both a builder and a destroyer, Ogun is also associated with lawfulness and is called on to witness covenants (Scheub 199). Although capricious and dangerous, he demands justice, fair play and rectitude (Idowu 89), while, as the 'path-opener,' he assists humans in clearing the way to wealth, health and prosperity. Egbo's personality, at the same time "astonishingly daring, and surprisingly weak and uncertain" (Gurnah 75), reflects the ambivalence of Ogun's nature. Like his god, he prefers to remain alone and free, to withdraw into his own domain, rather than accept any personal commitment. Kola's painting emphasizes the god's destructive aspect, as Egbo himself notes: "Look at that thing he has made of me for instance, a damned bloodthirsty maniac from some maximum security zoo. Is that supposed to be me? Or even Ogun, which I presume it represents?" (233). In fact, Egbo's identification with Ogun implies that he has within him both the drisd's aggressiveness and the power to transform his society and conduct it into the new cycle. However, his creative energy comes to the fore only in the loneliness of his sanctuary; at other times it is blocked, since he is not able to make up his 164 mind, but merely vacillates between different possibilities of leadership, and between the present and the past. Sagoe, the journalist, is an unconventional and irreverent character, whose presence in the novel "provides the much-desired relief from the sustained tension" (Melamu 32). Cynical and humorous — although at times depressed and even hysterical — he is a Dionysian figure of "the irrepressible and often drunk reveler" (Morrison 212). Sagoe's first disillusionment comes immediately upon his return to Nigeria when he applies for a job in the ironically entitled newspaper Independent Viewpoint and discovers that the only way to get it is to bribe the members of the Board of Interview. He soon finds out that his new position offers very little space for self-expression and real journalism. When he tries to write an article about how the corrupted authorities treated his friend Sekoni (see pp. 166-67 below), Sir Derinola, the chairman of the newspaper board, forbids its printing, using the material Sagoe collected to blackmail a political opponent. As the editor-in-chief explains, such conduct is routine in the newspaper business, so any indignation is both useless and unreasonable. In "The Pantheon," Sagoe lends his features to the divine trickster and messenger Esu (or Eshu). When Obatala (see p. 169 below) came down to earth to create humans, Esu tricked him by tempting him with a keg of palm-wine. Obatala got drunk, fell asleep, and his equipment was stolen by Oduduwa, another drisd. As a result, Obatala became so angry that he withdrew from the earth and moved to heaven. Henceforth Esu became the messenger between heaven and earth charged with bringing to Obatala regular reports from this world, but also with carrying messages between other drisas. Not always as trustworthy 165 as we might expect, Esu continued to play his tricks from time to time, so that once he "got the sun and moon so mad at each other that they quit their assigned orbits" (Hyde 126). Esu is capable of changing form at will, and is said to have two hundred names, which indicates that he is a many-sided, diverse personality (Scheub 48). He likes to disturb people, provoke them, and test their true character (Turner and Coulter 172). He is irascible, crafty, witty, sometimes vulgar (Verger, "Yoruba" 2194), associated with disorder, delighted in flouting taboos, and a master of words and verbal power (Hallgren 32); all of these traits characterize Sagoe too. As a typical trickster figure, Sagoe enjoys playing practical jokes. Thus, for example, he steals a wreath from Sir Derinola's mile-long funeral procession to give it to the cortege of a poor man who has only eleven mourners. Upon discovering that he has forgotten his wallet, he tricks a taxi driver by pretending to be a police officer and thus avoids paying the fare. On another occasion, he leads Chief Koyomi into making a fool of himself by proposing in the parliament that human excrement in the South of the country should be collected and sent by special trains to the North to be traded for donkeys and used for fertilizing less productive land. At Professor Oguazor's party, disgusted by the hosts' absurd mimicry of European etiquette, Sagoe, under the influence of drink, protests by plucking the plastic apples and throwing them through the window. The most extraordinary example of his cynicism is his "Book of Enlightenment," containing the scatological philosophy of "voidancy" which elevates the physical act of emptying the bowels to the rank of metaphysics. As an expression of his discontent, his treatise describes the current state of affairs in the following terms: "Next to death [...] shit is the most vernacular 166 atmosphere of our beloved country" (108). Sagoe is thus an unsuccessful countertrickster (see pp. 152-53 above), who is able only to ridicule the selfishness, vulgarity, hypocrisy and unscrupulousness of the ruling elite, but not to reform the society. As a consequence, by the close of IN he withdraws into private life, deciding to marry Dehinwa and promising her to burn his "Book of Enlightenment" before the wedding. Sekoni, an idealist and the most serious of the interpreters, is a talented civil engineer who hopes to bring prosperity to his nation by employing new scientific and technological methods. He was disowned by his Muslim family on account of his marriage to a Christian girl. His father was so enraged by that "sin, so heinous, so unfilial and blasphemous," that he "stood at the door of the Marriage Registry and implored the wrath of hurricanoes on the treachery of his blood," and then made a vow: "I will never, never open my mouth to speak to you. May Allah in his might strike me dead if I speak another word to you!" (98). Sekoni's isolation, excepting his circle of friends, is also a consequence of his terrible stutter, which seriously impedes him in social intercourse. His dreams about being useful to his fellow-countrymen are soon thwarted, because — instead of doing the work he is employed for — he spends days in his office signing vouchers and bicycle advances. When he complains to his board of directors, they send him to a remote village of Ijioha, where he builds a small experimental power station His superiors then hire an expatriate 'expert' to condemn the plant as hazardous. "It is clear that they are doing it to spite Sekoni for daring to be different from the other employees" (Msiska 34). More importantly, the write-off power station is more profitable than a working one, as the directors can claim a large amount of money for compensation from the government. The 167 people in the village are also led to believe that the plant is harmful, so they call the police when Sekoni tries to resurrect his project. He suffers a nervous breakdown as a result and is sent to a mental hospital. After being discharged he takes to wood-carving and creates, just before the tragic road accident, "The Wrestler," a sculpture symbolizing struggle and indomitable stubbornness. In the painting, Sekoni represents Sango (or Shango), the god of thunder and lightning, who was originally a king of the city of Oyo and the discoverer of magical procedures which enabled him to call forth violent thunderstorms. Once when he used his charm, the lightning — instead of pulverizing the enemy — destroyed his own palace and killed most of his wives and children, which grieved him so much that he hanged himself. However, his devotees claim that he did not die, but ascended to heaven on the wings of a storm and became a god. Sango supports justice and fairness, and punishes liars, thieves, troublemakers and those who use bad medicine to harm others (Bascom, Yoruba 84). Sekoni's plans, too ambitious for the current situation in which liars and thieves have the upper hand, backfire — just like Sango's — harming both himself and his family. He is a somewhat ironic Promethean figure, since he is punished even though his efforts came to naught. Sekoni also represents a scapegoat, the 'carrier' figure in Yoruba sacrificial rites, as indicated by Sagoe's words, "people like Sekoni end up on the pyre anyway" (98). His death during the cleansing period of flood rains is described as a sacrificial offering, through language full of ritual resonances and fertility symbols. Kola is an Apollonian figure, a dedicated creative artist constantly tormented by self-criticism and by awareness of limitations — his own and those of his art. Although at 168 times as cynical as Sagoe, for example when he draws a caricature of the huge female dancer in the club, he is in fact constantly engaged in a search for faces and figures which might help him to integrate his vision, find correspondences between mythic figures and their present-day manifestations, and finish "The Pantheon." As a consequence, he is mostly interested in people who can model for him, which leaves the impression that his conduct in everyday life is selfish, inconsistent with his ideals (Emejulu 137). However, realizing that continuity is essential and that, in that sense, the past is indispensable for the present, Kola feels the need to bridge "the transitional g u l f (Soyinka, Myth 150) and yearns to overcome his "intense fear of fulfillment" (IN 218). Accordingly, he tries to attain a state of detachment in which he could be totally devoted to his art: If only we were, if only we were and we felt nothing of the enslaving cords, to drop from impersonal holes in the void and owe neither dead nor living nothing of our selves, and we should grow towards this, neither acknowledging nor weakening our will by understanding, so that when the present breaks over our heads we quickly find a new law for living. (244-45) For fifteen months he immerses himself in the creation of the enormous painting, which for him is both a means for seeking truth and a kind of escapism. In his loneliness as an artist, Kola discovers a kindred spirit in Monica Faseyi, who reassures him in his moments of doubt. As a result, he not only finishes the canvas, but also learns that there are other important things in life such as love. His pursuit of self-fulfillment thus unfolds in two parallel movements: on the one hand, he produces a work of unquestionable creative insight, while, on the other, his relationship with Monica develops rapidly. 169 Although we learn less about Bandele than about the other interpreters, he is nonetheless the central character of the novel (Maugham-Brown 56), carrying, more than anyone else, its thematic weight (Priebe 93). Although quiet and reserved, he is quick to act when faced with an emergency, as he does during the fight in the Mayomi club when he effectively ties up the thug Okonje. Bandele's main quality is his readiness to offer a positive contribution to the world around him and to help others: Egbo's pregnant girlfriend, Simi when it seems that Egbo is about to leave her, Joe Golder after he accidentally causes Noah's death. He tries to protect people like Ayo Faseyi from their own follies, rather than encouraging them to make even greater fools of themselves, as Kola and Sagoe tend to do. His response to Sekoni's death is essentially different from that of his friends: while Egbo hides in his private shrine, Sagoe locks himself "in beer and vomit for a week," and Kola paints maniacally "in spasms of grief and unbelieving" (155-56), only Bandele has the courage to face his friend's father. In "The Pantheon" Bandele stands for the creator god Obatala, the deputy of Olorun on earth (Idowu 71) and "the most intelligent and even-tempered of the drisds" (Karade 24). In the beginning, Obatala, sent by Olorun, created the earth and then set out to make humans too, when, tricked by Esu, he got drunk and could not finish his task. He retired from the earth in anger and continued to make human bodies out of clay in the hereafter, while Olorun breathed life into them. When Obatala got drunk one more time, he made albinos, hunchbacks, the blind and all kinds of cripples, all of whom are dedicated to him (Verger, "Yoruba" 2183). Characterized by ritual and ethical purity, "wise passiveness and access to the secret springs of knowledge" (Moore 84), Obatala is charged with the 170 avenging of wrongs and the curing of illnesses (Karade 25). His ambiguity and inscrutability, as well as his calm, wisdom, impartiality and "patience brought to bear against darkness and hate" (Robert Farris Thompson, qtd. in Priebe 92), are all reflected in Bandele's personality. Just as Obatala watches over human beings, Bandele, the most tolerant and the most compassionate among the interpreters, serves his friends "as a prod for their consciences" (Jones 159). His importance is made clear in the final part of the novel where he is described as "the staff of Ogboni, 5 6 rigid in single casting," and compared to "a timeless image brooding over lesser beings" (244). When he pronounces the curse on the Oguazor clique, he is seen as being as "old and immutable as the royal mothers of Benin throne, old and cruel as the ogboni in conclave pronouncing the Word" (250-51). Bandele "epitomizes Yoruba morality" which is "concerned more with the preservation of communal harmony than with categorical good and evil" (Priebe 94). His presence is a key one for any attempt to reestablish lost wholeness, as he creates links between different people and disparate states of existence, while being perfectly aware of our shortcomings as human beings and of the fact that the world cannot be changed overnight. Lasunwon the lawyer, who belongs to the elite to whom only money and physical comfort matter, "seems to exist mainly for the purpose of making extremely fatuous utterances which throw into bold relief the more urgent search of the 'interpreters'" (Melamu 30). It is not quite clear if he is represented in the painting or not; there are some indications that he sits for the drisa of smallpox Sopona (Moore 79). Joe Golder, American singer and lecturer in history at the University of Ibadan, is homosexual and "one quarter A conclave of elders. 171 black" (101). He tortures himself in the tropical sun trying to darken his light complexion, since he feels that he really is an African, while, at the same time, suffering from internal torment in an unpermissive society in which homosexuality is either discouraged or openly condemned. He is thus a liminal character squeezed between established categories, alienated and not truly belonging anywhere. In Kola's "Pantheon" he is represented as Erinle, a bisexual animal spirit, who is male six months of the year, when he lives in the jungle and sustains himself by hunting, and female the other six months, when he lives in a river and eats fish. Barabbas is a rootless and future less street youth driven to crime by poverty. When a lynching crowd chases him through the streets of Lagos for shop-lifting he supposedly committed, 5 7 he is saved by Lazarus, who takes him to his church, rebaptizes him Noah, assigns him to the position of an apostle in his sect, and tries to transform him into an offering to God, "because we fear that Lord may have forgotten his covenant with earth" (173). The boy's personality is described as empty, "neutral" and "vaporous" (227, 178), so that other characters interpret him in different ways. Kola first wants to paint him as Christ, though "not on the Cross or any such waste of time," but — in transposition into Yoruba mythology — as Esumare the rainbow, the "Ambiguous Covenant" between gods and humans (178), because Noah's vacuity symbolizes the apparent unsubstantiality of the feeble link which connects the world with the divine, rendered even more insignificant by the failure of all the interpreters' attempts to renew it. Kola later perceives that such an 5 7 The predicament of Barabbas pursued by a rapidly growing mob is described in a similar way as that of the hunter Kako in Fagunwa's famous novel: "Like sand -elves in Ogboju Ode [The Forest of a Thousand Daemons j . the mob materialized with every step and every sting of a stone or the passing breath of a near miss made him begin to wish for a merciful release" (FN 115). 172 "overdose of cynicism" (227) limits his vision, since it disclaims the dynamic relationship between different spheres of existence which is so important in Yoruba religion. He then paints Lazarus as Esumare, whereas Noah sits for Atunda, Obatala's treacherous servant. According to Yoruba myths, when Obatala came down to earth on Olorun's orders, he bought a slave named Atunda and gave him a piece of land on a mountain slope. Atunda rolled a large boulder down on his unsuspecting master and smashed him to pieces. Half of the fragments were put together to create Orisha-nla ("the chief drisd"), the new Obatala, while from the remaining hundreds of them other drisas originated (Beier 6-7). As a result, many of our concepts, such as those of self and time, have been fragmented ever since. Most other characters of the novel, except for Bandele, exploit Noah, each for his own ends: the painting (Kola), news feature (Sagoe), or religious obsession (Lazarus). When Egbo leaves him in Kola's apartment alone with Joe Golder, he is accidentally killed as he falls from a balcony, frightened by the latter's homosexual advances. His death is represented as yet another sacrifice carrying a promise of regeneration. Lazarus, the albino, claims — in tune with his Biblical name — that he had died and then returned to life just as his fellow villagers were lowering his coffin into the grave, and that during the time he was dead his skin changed from black to albino. He then organizes his own syncretic sect which combines elements of Christianity with traditional Yoruba religion. The interpreters, who come in contact with him shortly after Sekoni's death, are involuntarily attracted to him. On the one hand, he is similar to their dead friend in that he also finds meaning in life through continuous endeavors to help the community, while, on the other, the story of his physical resurrection serves as a very effective parallel to the idea 173 of the regeneration of a dead society that the interpreters would like to bring about. Soyinka uses "the idea of regeneration and renewal [...] overtly and daringly in the Lazarus story, around which the second part of novel is built" (David 653). In "The Pantheon," Lazarus is represented as Esumare, the drisa of the rainbow, spanning the gulf between heaven and earth. It is no surprise that an albino is given the function of standing at the liminal threshold of the transitional abyss, since the motif of the albino as a transitional figure able to overcome contradictions and to act as an agent of transformation is well known in Yoruba folklore. As an ambiguous personage, Lazarus provokes conflicting views: while some critics see him as a "bogus prophet" (Rajeshwar 48), others believe that his sincerity cannot be questioned (Fioupou 195). Soyinka undoubtedly portrays Lazarus and his church with irony, as, for example, when he shows us his preaching about how Christ won a victory over death: He [Christ] wrestled with death and he knocked him down. Death said, let us try gidigbo58 and Christ held him by the neck, he squeezed that neck until Death bleated for mercy. But Death never learns his lesson, he went and brought boxing gloves. When Christ gave him an uppercut like Dick Tiger 5 9 all his teeth were scattered from Kaduna to Aiyetoro. (165) The inevitable irony of Lazarus' situation — in which his aspirations to overcome the limitations of a mortal man and to accomplish the potential for transformation that links the human self to the conception of divinity are impossible to realize — reflects some of the key issues of the novel itself. Gidigbo is a Nigerian form of wrestling. Dick Tiger was a Nigerian boxer, once the middleweight champion of the world (Owusu 192). 174 "The completion of Kola's 'Pantheon' forms the climax of the novel" (Gakwandi 84). It is interesting to note that Kola does not appear on his canvas at all. However, his name, which sounds like the kola nuts that serve as offerings to the gods and in divination rituals (Beier 59), tells us that his painting — and, perhaps, Soyinka's novel as well — can be understood as an offering, with the purpose of recreating the lost wholeness. In that respect, the cultural evening where "The Pantheon" is displayed for the first time is more important than a simple exhibition. Early in the evening, Egbo slaughters a spotless black ram, which, together with the availability of palm-wine, indispensable at all festive occasions in Yorubaland, provides the event with a special resonance, suggestive of traditional festivals and sacrificial rites. The painting itself recreates a Yoruba pantheon combining the Yoruba myth of creation and the Biblical myth of repeopling of the earth after the Deluge. Kola only manages to finish it during the last night before the exhibition, when he finally realizes that the link between the world of God and that of man is necessary for the picture. He paints that link as Esumare with Lazarus' features, because in the albino he sees most clearly the eternal need and eternal frustration of human beings, their desire to bridge the gulf and the inevitable comedy which results from their attempts. Although the theme of regeneration seemingly closes the novel, as emphasized both by the final version of "The Pantheon" and by the organization of the cultural evening, its end remains very ambiguous, with no clearly positive sign in sight. Even the group of friends appears to be falling apart, as Kola notices during the reception: "it is a night of severance, every man is going his way" (245). Seeing their efforts thwarted by so much corruption and dishonesty, the interpreters have mostly lost the will to act, falling into 175 "existential apathy" (Msiska 35) and retreating from public involvement. Unable to decide what to do, Egbo continues to fluctuate between two women and two career prospects. Kola realizes that art cannot be a cure to every problem and finds a haven in his love affair with Monica. Sagoe also sees the only possibility for happiness in founding a family with Dehinwa. Only Bandele remains preoccupied by social and ethical issues. He seems to be drifting away from his friends, whose aimlessness, self-centeredness and cynicism he cannot accept, but even his curse of the entire society in the final scene sounds hollow and impotent. Soyinka's mythopoeia is characterized by hybridity and eclecticism, as he combines in his works Yoruba myths with those from other sources, such as other African cultures, Christianity, Greek mythology, and Hinduism. 6 0 Although today a great majority of Nigerian Yorubas — about eighty percent — profess affiliation with Christianity, and a small minority that of Islam (Courlander 3), ancient beliefs and traditions are still much more important than the tenets of the revealed religions. Soyinka has on several occasions expressed the view that both Christianity and Islam are alien to African cultures because of their "dogmatic finality" (Myth 54). In IN, Islam is represented in exactly that way, as Sekoni becomes an outcast from his family because he married a Christian woman. Conversely, Biblical myths are numerous in the novel, functioning on different levels of narration. Some of them are used metaphorically, enriching the fabric of the text: a traffic policeman turning a blind eye is thus called "Pontius Pilate" continuing "to wash his hands in the stream of traffic" (114; Matt. 27.24); Joe Golder, dissatisfied with his light 6 0 For example, motifs from Hindu mythology are employed in Season of Anomy (David 654), while Ancient Greek tales are incorporated in several of Soyinka's works, e.g., in The Bacchae (Radhamani Gopalakrishnan 116-20). 176 complexion, feels "like Esau cheated of his birthright" (102; Gen. 27.36); Dehinwa is likened to Jael when she deliberately makes noise to aggravate Sagoe's already splitting headache (67; Judg. 4.21), and to Delilah when she makes him promise to burn his "Book of Enlightenment" after they spend a night together (240; Judg. 16.4-20). Personages of Barabbas-Noah and Lazarus, as well a