In late January 2012 I asked a few questions of Dr. Martin Shaw regarding Daniel Deardorff’s approach, Associative Mythology. His gracious response resulted in the following insights to this fresh approach to myth:
What is Associative Mythology from your understanding?
Put as simply as possible – I view associative mythology as a departure from exclusively comparing one myth to another, and expanding into a much wider framework – poetry, biology, theatre, animal-lore, anecdote, the arts, ritual. It has a greater sense of the holistic, and the swiftness of its moves brings a kind of linguistic or oral wildness into the frame. From the point of view of a working storyteller, this is something that arises naturally when working with a group of students on their own reactions to a story. They all enter [at] different points with a collision of angles but are all held within the muscle of the wider story. Associative mythology in this sense allows polyphony as well as harmony. That is very important. It is a container for paradox.
Associative mythology for me is move away from the mono, even the mono-myth. I imagine it as an eco-system. Within the valley of story exist clusters of oak trees, thin but lively streams, brightly splashed jungle birds. It is a mythography – meaning that the story cannot be apprehended entirely from one angle—if you only speak of the oak, then what about those birds? Associative mythology could be experienced in a dance, or mountain vigil, or an essay completed in the small hours. It is tricky because it is not a discipline of assurance or platitudes, it places story as primary, as being, rather than relegated entirely to allegory or illustration. It trails rather than traps.
And here is a bit more from the end of my new Parzival book…. I am laying out five foundational stones to mythtelling….
From the Comparative to the Associative
“For the story to enter the room, wildness enters too. The old woman inside the teller holds the bones and the study and the structure together, whilst some raggedy girl waltzes onto the tongue and floods that skeleton with the vital organs it needs, so that the story can get up and dance. There may be a linguistic wobble here and there, it certainly won’t always be a slick delivery, but that’s not to worry. The story is only partially for the human community anyway, we should keep our heads turned in both directions – to edify the thick fingered woods and the gush-blood in a lion’s veins. Words from a teller’s mouth can be like the first wandering steps of a fluffy chick or the confident swoops of a bald eagle’s wing – both have their charm to the living world.
This way of telling opens the associative road for everyone present. It stops the story being too hobbled by historical reference and it becomes far more luminous. We are not peering into some other culture at some other time, but letting the story do its work with us here today. If a story is obviously deeply ingrained in a very different culture’s references then it may be wise to leave it alone. Feed it, honour it, learn from it, but don’t try to tell it yet. I am not encouraging a ransacking of sacred stories.
Many anthropological studies focus on the repetitive value of storytelling in oral cultures – this is a hangover from Frazer’s The Golden Bough and agricultural based renditions of stories aligned to seasonal ritual and stability. However, it doesn’t take long in the company of hunter gatherer tellers (and yes, there are still a few around) to see how a story can bend, stretch, condense and leap, depending on the mood of story, teller and environment. There is far greater unpredictability.
These roads take us from the comparative to the associative – by that I mean we have stepped out of just a dualistic comparison of images in myths to a varied eruption of information that arises from the condition of our souls, the arching history of art, the crafty intelligence of the wren. Myth no longer lives in academic translations but abides in a multiplicity of association. To make the move from harmony to polyphony.”
How do you Associative Mythology working in the world today?
We live, whether we like it or not, in an environment of overstimulation and odd amalgamations of influences coming together. This IS the era of the Bricoleur. However, much of what we experience has little nourishment in it, little soul. Associative mythology honours these times – not a Zeus time, a Goddess time, but a Trickster moment, by also making rapid openings between discipline[s]. In this it also relates to the ghazal form in Islamic poetry, but it returns the sacred to the spirit of this era. Much of what I just described is a kind of hysteria, but underneath all rapid, brilliant associations [lays] Hermes. So, we see the mood of the time we are in, and we seek to re-instigate a sacrality to that mood.
In what way is your work influenced by your understanding of Associative Mythology?
It’s utterly influenced by it, its what I work out of everyday. Anything else would be a falsehood. It is not a pure, or entirely academic tradition, or a recreation of a white robed Bardic thing. It’s funkier than that. Some Honorable prophets of it for me are: William Blake, Marie Louise Von-Franz, Ted Hughes, Patti Smith, [and] John Coltrane.
Thank you Martin, this is a brilliant peek into a juicy new world. We look forward to your new Parzival Book.
© 2012, Ben. All rights reserved.