This week it's story time on The Endless Knot YouTube channel:
This video marks the final part of the "Ways of Knowing" series of videos, which were the starting point to this video project, so you can now watch the whole set of four videos together on this playlist. These four videos together describe the foundations on which many of my videos will be based. From now on, the videos will mostly follow the pattern of starting off with a word and its etymology, and then from that jumping off point explore the web of history and culture that follows from the word. These webs draw on all three of these cognitive tools our brains use to make sense of the world, the stories we construct to manage the information, the metaphors we use to understand the unfamiliar, and the interconnective associations that tie it all together. And our use of language is at the heart of all of this. Furthermore, I try to use these three elements to make the information in the videos more memorable, by telling stories, pointing out metaphors, and making connections.
Unlike the other "ways of knowing" videos, this one wasn't adapted from an old blog post, but once I had started putting together the others I realised that narrative was the missing piece. The ideas here grew out of my teaching actually, first an English course in narrative (which was also the origin of "Paddle Your Own Canoe" which I've talked about before), and then later a course I developed on theories of mythology, which looked at both classical and world myths from a variety of different theoretical perspectives. What sparked the idea in particular is the etymology of the word "narrative" itself, since it's related to the word "know", a fact that I always point out to my students when beginning any discussion of narrative. I can't remember where I first ran across Walter Fisher and the narrative paradigm idea, but it was probably in some discussion of narratology. In any case, this idea dovetails nicely with my etymological observation, and also fits well into my broader interests in cognition, and the way language fits into this. Joseph Campbell, of course, comes out of the focus on myth -- and as well there are numerous other theoretical approaches to myth, such as those of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Otto Rank, Carl Jung, Vladimir Propp, Lord Raglan, Sir James Frazer, and many others, which all have a bearing on this topic. Robert A. Segal's Myth: A Very Short Introduction is an excellent brief rundown of the many theoretical approaches to myth (see the shownotes page for this and other useful sources). Of course I've mentioned Campbell, Raglan, and Frazer in a video already, "A Detective Story".
By the way, the story of Persephone has been in the news recently since a beautiful mosaic depicting her abduction by Hades has been uncovered in a tomb at Amphipolis. The tomb is particularly famous because it's thought to be connected to Alexander the Great (having perhaps been built for one of his family members). The presence of this story in a tomb makes sense given the association between Hades, Persephone, and death, and it raises the interesting question of how much the element of resurrection is implied by its inclusion in a tomb. A further point to note is that this tomb was probably created for Macedonian royalty, showing the spreading influence of Greek myth outside of its original area. For a more detailed rundown of the discovery see here. This discovery came too late for me to use the images in the video, so I've included them here.
The urban legend stuff about the alligators in the sewers also came out of teaching narrative and myth. The Snopes website is a useful repository for urban legends. In addition to the alligators, other urban legends which can be understood in terms of our contemporary cultural preoccupations include stories about vermin found in fast food and the babysitter receiving threatening phone calls which turn out to be from within the house. It's an interesting exercise to think about these sorts of stories and what they tell us about ourselves and the world we live in. I'd love to receive comments on any "modern myths" or stories that you think can tell us a lot about our culture and ourselves.