Myths tell certain stories, but those stories tell certain truths, the knowledge of a culture reduced to its most essential features. The significance of a myth is measured by its endurance and ability to reach through all the cracks and divisions of a society. Myths are democratic institutions, they belong to all and are shaped by all. But most importantly, myths are irreducible to one system, they resent rationalisation, because they are the fruit of human experience, and experience, though indivisible, cannot be explained by any single principles.
Myths are messy, and it is their messiness that has made them attractive to the masters of disorder, from psychoanalysts to surrealists.
But myths, at least those fitting this description, are dead. It shouldn’t shock anyone that the modern age hasn’t been able to give rise to the kind of myths that ancient civilisations had developed for themselves. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that ancient myths are still with us, haunting us and talking to us from beyond the grave.
The myths are where knowledge gets packaged for social consumption. They are usually complex, terribly disordered and fertile. They are foundational, the DNA of a culture’s identity. A culture’s myths resemble other culture’s myths, as individuals resemble each other. But they are unique, as individuals are unique. During mythological ages, knowledge has no master, truth no single parent, and everything under the sun has a potential claim to authority and relevance. Under this dispensation, there is no single truth, there are types of veridiction, as Bruno Latour would say, ways of defining truth depending on the order of things, political, social, religious, scientific, etc. It is only with the advent of modern science that veridiction becomes one, while myths lose all power of explanation in favour of scientific knowledge. New myths keep rising, but they are no longer vehicles of knowledge and truth. That has been taken over by the ministry of science, by the imperialism of scientific reductionism, which is not so much the scientific method per se than science’s overflow into areas of life that science in the pure sense cannot adjudicate on. The same areas of life that myths had presided over.