Mythology: From Ancient to Post-Modern

By Jürgen Kleist; Bruce A. Butterfield | Go to book overview

Edwin Hamblet


French-Canadian Messianism

As Quebec moves closer to political independence, traditional French-Canadian messianism remains the dominant myth that sustains her collective soul. In his book The Presence of Myth,1 Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski emphasizes the important role of mythology in determining ethnic identity and survival. His point of departure is the sharply drawn opposition of myth and science, and he describes science as the extension of civilization's technological core. Kolakowski believes that not only the body but also the soul needs a house. Mythologies are a function of consciousness that manifests itself in all cultural phenomena, whether they be religious, political, artistic, musical, or moral.

Kolakowski describes three versions of the need for myth: first, man needs myth to rescue whatever happens from fleeting, meaningless contingency by referring it to an unconditional reality, be it God, the philosopher's absolute or other forms; second, man needs myth because he cannot live with values believed to be ephemeral, (Even if one is cosmopolitan and highly appreciative of other cultures, one cannot accept the relativity of all values. It is believed one's own values transcend the passage of time, even if reason is unable to provide such faith with justification.); third, man needs to understand the world as continuous.

Common to all three of Kolakowski's descriptions is the attempt to escape the tyranny of physical time and the terror of a world that appears to be indifferent to man's needs and hopes. Myth is born of the human inability to accept that we and all we have created someday will be past, will have vanished without a trace, unremembered and unredeemed. To feel at home in the world, we have to be able to interpret whatever presents itself in such a way that it answers to our needs.2 The philosopher throughout the ages has attempted to provide an interpretation based on reason, but as Pascal has pointed out, the heart has its own reasons which reason doesn't know.

Individuals find their roots in the collective myths of their community or nation. Kolakowski states that universal godlessness is a utopia

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