The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Vol. 2

The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Vol. 2

The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Vol. 2

The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Vol. 2

Synopsis

An advanced reference resource featuring nearly 150 contributors and over 500,000 words, The Encyclopedia of the Novel provides authoritative accounts of the history, terminology, genre, and theory of the novel.

The entries in this encyclopedia are written by an international cast of scholars and overseen by an advisory board of 37 leading specialists in the field. Arranged in A-Z format across two fully indexed and meticulously cross-referenced volumes, the entries explore the history and tradition of the novel in different areas of the world; formal elements of the novel (such as narrative structure, plot, character, and narrative perspective); technical aspects of the genre (such as realism, dialogue, and style); subgenres, including the bildungsroman and the graphic novel; theoretical problems; book history; and the relationship of the novel to other arts and disciplines.

Excerpt

Mythology

WILLIAM BLAZER

In Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel White Noise, a sociologist explains the postmodern significance of television: “It’s like a myth being born right there in our living room, like something we know in a dreamlike and preconscious way. I’m very enthused, Jack” (51). The passage hints at several of the issues involved in considering the place of mythology in studies of the novel: whether or not it is possible to have a modern myth, how relevant oral storytelling (from which myths are born) is to literary fiction, and what role the preconscious or unconscious self has in either mythology or literature (see PSYCHOANALYTIC). Perhaps the fact that a contemporary novelist such as DeLillo can reconfigure the novel form through references to mythology and some of its key tenets suggests the enduring importance of myths to human perception and the writer’s imagination. Moreover, the novel, especially in the twentieth century, provides examples of the variety of functions served by mythology in the shaping of modern fiction. Depending on how the parameters of myth are defined and on how they are applied to literature, a case could also be made that myth is such a basic and vital aspect of human nature that it infuses the novel structurally, linguistically, and thematically.

Opposing views point to the incompatibility of myths and literature. Northrop Frye (1912–91), one of the main advocates of mythology’s crucial stake in the workings of literature and criticism, accepts that the ancient sources of myths appear in muted and degenerated form in literature and that the evolution of literary forms from Greek drama and epic poetry to Romantic poetry and realist fiction also marks the decline of mythology’s significance, although he sees a cyclical return to myth in the ironic mode of modernist texts (see MODERNISM). For the Victorian anthropologist Edward B. Tylor, myths concern the external world and have no symbolic, and therefore no immediate literary, value. The twentieth-century American critic Richard Chase (1914–62) considers myths to have been almost completely superseded by literature. Another case against the synthesis of mythology and literature is made by Walter Benjamin (1892–1940), who blames the evolution of the print industry for the loss of an oral storytelling tradition and the wholesome communities that it sustained. In particular, he explains, “The earliest symptom of a process whose end is the decline of storytelling is the rise of the novel at the beginning of modern times,” and claims, rather unjustly, that the novel “neither comes from . . .

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