*This post was inspired by my recent reading of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which overlapped with my college mentor Rabbi Neil Gillman’s death and memorial.
These are three different types of structure (or lack thereof) of the connection between person and world.
In myth, person fits into world as character in narrative, with a beginning provided and end assured.
In motif, person is of a kind within the world-- many narratives are available but no master-narrative. The person is simultaneously unique and connected, insofar as they are a (shifting) bundle of attributes shared (in part) by others in existence. The person’s origin and destiny are lost among the play of motifs; no long-term survival of self or stable context of meaning is assured.
In meaninglessness, person exists in world for a time. “Sound and fury,” etc. That’s about it.
My current self/world-view is motif. I see individual/collective life as the playing out of various existential-biological themes, such that each situation is simultaneously unique and yet resonates in the general play of life.
Myth and meaningless make claims as to the ultimate structure of meaning, while motif makes no such claim. The thing with motif, however, is that it could exist within the context of either myth or meaninglessness. Here’s what that looks like:
- Motif within myth - there is a master-narrative that’s hidden, but if you pay close enough attention to patterns, it can be discovered. Gillman compares the ability to find myth to the ability to discern a basketball team’s “passing game.” The motifs find ultimate meaning by being placed within the larger myth.
- Motif within meaninglessness - yes, there are lots of echoes in the world, lots of themes, great. Cool. But, ultimately, there’s no order to it, no point, it all adds up to nothing. The motifs fail to achieve ultimate meaning because there just isn’t any.
I don’t feel assured enough to make a claim that myth or meaninglessness are the actual state of things. Is that ok? Is it ok to just focus on the motifs, despite their relativity to some ultimate yet undetermined state of things? Can relative meaning be enough to get by, enough to avoid the despair of meaninglessness as well as the *problematic structures of myth?
*I recognize that this last phrase, critiquing of myth, needs elaboration.