Meaning and Being in Myth

Meaning and Being in Myth

Meaning and Being in Myth

Meaning and Being in Myth


Norman Austin has organized his analysis of classical Greek myths around Lacan's dichotomy between (ineffable) Being and the meanings imposed upon Being by culturally determined signifiers. The primary signifiers in myth (the gods), as projections of contradictory meanings, impel human consciousness in contradictory directions: toward heroic self-realization, on the one hand, and into the fear, guilt, and despair resulting from failure, on the other. The gods both reveal and occlude that which they signify—the signified; ultimately, Being itself.

Austin includes one chapter on the father's ghost in Shakespeare's Hamlet, and another on Albert Camus's The Stranger, as examples of the power of mythical archetypes to reveal and occlude Being, even when the apparatus of gods has been excluded.

Despite their pessimism, ancient myths also affirm that the paradoxes are not insoluble. Austin concludes by outlining the profile of the Universal Self intimated in myth, religion, and philosophy as the joint venture of the world realized in consciousness, consciousness realized in consciousness, and consciousness realized in the world.


In 1974, with my study ofHomer Odyssey in the hands of the editors at the University of California Press, I took a sabbatical leave, intending to write another book on Homer, having, as I thought, sufficient material left over from my research on the Odyssey to fill another volume. But my research in that sabbatical year followed its own wayward course. I trust that John S. Guggenheim, whose generous provisions funded my leave of absence, will not take it amiss, should reports of our world reach his, that the projected book on Homer has shrunk down to a few slim pages in this present study.

In addition to the Guggenheim Foundation, I would like to thank my colleagues at the University of California at Los Angeles, and at the University of Arizona, for sabbatical leaves, which forwarded this project immeasurably, and the American Council of Learned Societies for a grant-in-aid, which enabled me to read more extensively the literature on modern psychoanalytic theory.

A project so long in gestation owes a debt to many besides those whose names find their way into the Notes. I am grateful to many colleagues whose conversations and published papers have made important, if subliminal, contributions to the thinking from which this study has grown. I am grateful also to Jane Brown, with whom I studied dance during my sabbatical year in 1974. At a time when I was nearly inundated by the welter of signifiers issuing from our modern academies, Jane Brown's studio in Oakland was a haven where I learned, through movement, a deeper integration of thought and being. To William Mullen I owe special thanks, a colleague and friend who has fol-

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