Monday, 9 April 2018

Languages And Myths

It is sometimes impossible to turn the page in a work by Poul Anderson without finding a new and different kind of issue to discuss.

Elfavy lists what she calls different "languages":

speech
mathematics
music
painting
choreography
myth

I call these "media," not "languages," but this point is partly terminological. However, when we consider spoken and written language as such, then we need to be more precise. English and French or, in the Technic History, Anglic and Fransai are languages in a way that a dance is not.

The Admissions Tutor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology told a group of Careers Advisers that he wanted to know, of any prospective student, "Does he speak the language that we speak? That is the language of mathematics. Does he obey the laws that we obey? Those are the laws of physics."

A Philosophy Tutor teaching Aesthetics asked what it means when people hearing instrumental music exclaim, "How true!" My response was that, if they didn't say it, then we wouldn't have to ask what they meant by it.

Elfvay's people, the Gwydiona, trained in semantics and knowing that each "language" describes just one aspect of reality, deliberately and systematically developed myth as an additional language while at the same time, and unlike primitives, they did not confuse this new language with either science or common sense. Thus, scientifically, they understand astrophysics but, mythologically, they say that Anren made the stars. Is this either helpful or even possible? We will learn that it is one part of the Gwydiona response to a major problem.

Olaf Stapledon wrote that his future history was meant to be:

"...neither mere history, nor mere fiction, but myth. A true myth is one which, within the universe of a certain culture (living or dead), expresses richly, and often perhaps tragically, the highest admirations possible within that culture. A false myth is one which either violently transgresses the limits of credibility set by its own cultural matrix, or expresses admirations less developed than those of its culture's best vision. This book can no more claim to be true myth than true prophecy. But it is an essay in myth creation."
-Olaf Stapledon, Last And First Men/Last Men In London (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1972), Preface, pp. 11-12.

Poul Anderson created many true myths.                 

1 comment:

S.M. Stirling said...

Humans tell stories; it's how they apprehend their existence -- not "know", precisely, but "experience".