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Reply To: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.”

Bradley Olson

Sunbug, it’s nice to hear from you. First, let me express my appreciation of your nice comments on the essay. Second, there’s a lot in what you’ve written to unpack. Let’s see if I can do it justice.

You’re right to say that myth is timeless and ageless; in fact, one of the fundamental aspects of myth is its ability to blur boundaries of time and space. I also agree that nature–which is, I think another word for the élan vital, the life principle, or as Campbell sometimes referred to it, “the dynamism of being”–is life itself. Somewhere along the line, we got tired of being “playthings of clouds and wind,” as Goethe put it in one of his poems, and decided to take matters (matter) into our own hands and separate ourselves from the natural world, an ultimately doomed project, I think. As you point out nature encroaches on our “civilized” boundaries all the time. But here’s the thing: I think nature is both the wilderness, the rivers, the seas, etc. and at the same time it is the city, the farm, the clearing made for the cottage. Human beings are products of nature, and it follows that the productions of human beings are also natural. The mistake we humans make is in the forgetting of that actuality.

So once again we find ourselves, as you note in your next comment, in the position of irony and its double vision, and paradox. Whenever we encounter paradox we can be sure the archetypal is at work. It is my position that myth is often paradoxical, and always ironic, and the way to deal with it is not so much a dismantling or a relegation to the dustbin of human imagination, but instead to see it through the eyes of wonder, to see it through the lens of play, to be amused at the irony and awed by the paradox.

Thanks for playing along!