>A Quick Look at (McKeon’s) Structuralism

>Walter Benjamin (in “The Storyteller”) laments the loss of reminiscence represented by Modernity. He relates this form of memory to the storyteller, who has his roots in oral tradition. These days, he argues, we are attracted by the verifiability of information, its capacity to give us a coherent story. This is reason at it’s best, Nietzsche’s Apolline, which claims that it can fit each piece into the puzzle. Thus, Benjamin argues, rememberence is “dedicated to one hero, one odyssey, one battle” (Theory of the Novel, Micheal McKeon ed., p. 86).

Modernity’s information-driven consciousness lends itself to a linear (i.e., ultimate) conception of historical understanding, which Levi-Strauss juxtaposes with the repetitive nature of myths (which, like Freud’s dream-content, employ layers of overdetermined meaning). He positions an initial break from myth-mindedness at the moment man adopted writing (“From Tristes Tropique”, in NATC, 2nd Edition, p. 1282). As a contrast to Modernity, Levi-Strauss points to all ancient civilization and a few contemporary societies (dwindling in number) which continue to live outside of history, relying instead on repeated cycles (e.g., seasons, lifetimes) to pattern an existence which resists the idea of permanent and irrevocable change (“The Savage Mind”, in Theory of the Novel, Micheal McKeon ed., p. 98-99).

Frye attempts to mark our descent into historical time onto the development of fiction. He sees modern literary development as a displacement away from myths–which like Freud’s dream-wish, represent “the imitation of actions near or at the conceivable limits of desire”–and toward the “verisimilitude” represented in realist and naturalist fiction (126). However, what Frye takes for realism, for the “plausibility” realized in modern fiction, is nothing more than that same ‘historical’ conception of our surroundings which Modernity has helped to develop in us. (Frye’s definition of “real” is precisely opposite to Nietzsche’s.) In an attempt to follow his analysis to its dialectical end, Frye usefully suggests that the most recent, ironic, mode of fiction might represent the beginning of a move backward along the axis.

Indeed, Marxist dialectic adopts the cyclical understanding of the myth-mind and applies it to swaths of time and space (i.e., to societal dream-content) which are possible only in their historical relationship to the linear, text- and information-driven history represented by Modernity. Marxism represents a post-historical, post-Enlightenment understanding which is also evident in post-modernism.


About Noah Brewer

I am an English teacher and Debate coach living in Carrollton, GA. I like gardening and critical theory. I like teaching and learning. I like language and technology.
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