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

Abstract

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 "Белый пароход" [The 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.

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