In Search of Cupid and Psyche: Myth and Legend in Children's Literature
In order to make use of A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, 3d. ed., edited by Wilfred L. Guerin, Earle Labor, Lee Morgan, Jeanne C. Reesman, John R. Willingham. New York. Oxford UP, 1992, I have typewritten a few relevant passages (typewritten) from various chapters, and scanned the larger portion of chapter 4, Mythological and Archetypal Approaches. (As an unintended effect of scanning a bound book, some of the portions of the scanned pages appear grey rather than black. These are parts of sentences closest to the gutter, and obviously aren't of less importance than the black.)
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French feminists who follow [Jacques] lacan, particularly Helene Cixous, often propose a
utopian place, a primeval female space free of symbolic order, sex roles, otherness, and the
Law of the Father in which the self is still linked with what Cixous calls the voice of the
Mother. This place, with its Voice, is the source of all feminine writing. Cixous contends: to
gain access to it is to find a source of immeasurable feminine power. Luce Iragary also
describes this utopian feminine space, but Julia Kristeva is most explicit about the
distinction between it and the "real" world. Kristeva calls this Mother--centered feminine
realm the semiotic as opposed to the symbolic.
Before we end this section, we must mention one other type of psychological feminism, myth criticism. Though myth criticsm has its own history and methodology (see chapter 4), several feminist writers have adopted its perspectives and transformed them for the purposes of feminist criticism. Notable among these is Annis Pratt, who, although she criticizes Jung for his lack of treatment of the female developing psyche, offers intriguing connections between feminism and Jungian archetypal criticism. Pratt attempts to construct archetypes of power that are useful to practicing women critics as a means of avoiding the patriarchal tradition. (Pratt, Archetypal Patterns in Women's Fiction [Brighton: Harvester, 1982], and "The New Feminist Criticisms: Exploring the History of the New Space," in Beyond Intellectual Sexism: A New Woman, A New Reality, ed. Joan I. Roberts [New York: David McKay, 1976]: 175-95). Feminist myth critics tend to center their discussions on the Great Mother and other early female images and goddesses, viewing these figures as the radical others that can offer hope and wholeness as against the patriarchal repression of women. Especially popular are figures of the Medusa, Cassandra, Arachne, and Isis.
In The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature (ed. Cathy M. Davidson and E.M. Broner [New York: Ungar, 1980]), prominent feminist myth critics, including Annis Pratt and Adrienne Rich, define myth as the key critical genre for women. Criticizing male myth critics of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Northrop Frye, for ignoring gender in their scientific classifications of myths and archetypes, these writers direct our attention to gender as well as to the actual practices of diverse ethnic groups. Since most myths are constructed and studied by men, there are some very difficult issues concerning women's representation in myths; thus the need is even greater for women's creation of their own myths. Many of these new feminist myth critics reject the Greco-Roman tradition as hegemonous and instead seek pre-Greek myths, such as those of Isis, and diverse, lesser known cultural myths in different parts of the world, such as those of Native American legend. Rich conforms to these general strategies, but focuses on the ways mothers are portrayed in mythology and literature. Although some early feminists seem to have felt that motherhood and feminism do not go comfortably together, Rich argues through myth that motherhood is the feminine status. She distinguishes between the fact of motherhood and the institution a patriarchal culture makes of it, finding that society's oppression of women comes precisely from its need to romanticize (and in a certain sense avoid facing) the terrible and wonderful powers of the mother.
Myth can teach women how to live, and it can help ethnic groups, especially oppressed
minorities, reorganize and reorient themselves within a dominant culture. Myth manages to bring
together private and public experiences in forms that can be as direct or as masked as the
situation demands. It especially appeals to women in their identification with nature, as in
the vegetation-goddess archetypes such as Ceres, and it can connect the individual woman with
the totality of the cosmos, as with a goddess such as the three-faced goddess of the crossways,
Diana-Selene-Hecate. Even the most destructive women in mythology, such as Medea, can be
analyzed to show their attraction for modern women; it is well-documented that in many cultures,
when matriarchal societies were replaced with patriarchal ones, the previously veneerated
goddesses are turned by the new culture into witches, seductresses, or fools. studying these
transformations reveals the powers of the goddess all over again, enriching the lives of men
as well as women. Yet myth criticism in general and feminist myth criticsim in particular have
been attacked as too homogenizing, promoting a false universality of identity . . ..
Levi-Strauss and his disciples determined that the adaptation of Saussure's lingistic model to
problems of human science was sound because Saussure had followed a rigorous, objective
scientific method, which identifies and defines constituent parts, studies relationships within
a system, and accepts mathematical analysis. Lanugage and culture are alike because they are
composed of "oppositions, correlations, and logical relations" (Claire Jackson, "Translator's
Preface," in Levi-Strauss, Structural Antropology, Vol. 1 [New York: Basic, 1963]:
xii). To Levi-Strauss, the structures of the human mind common to all people--that is, to the
way all human beings think (cf. our discussion in chapter 4 of the universality of myth). Myth
thus becomes a language--a universal narrative mode that transcends cultural or temporal
barriers and speaks to all people, in the process tapping deep reservoirs of feeling and
experience and often invested with divine origins. To Levi-Strauss, even though we have no
knowledge of any entire mythology, such myths as we do uncover reveal the existence within any
culture of a system of abstractions by which that culture structures its life. In his study of
the Oedipus myth, Levi-Strauss found a set of mythemes--units of myth analogous to
linguistic terms like morphemes, phonemes, or tagmemes, and like those linguistic counterparts
based in binary oppositions--whose structural patterns invest the myth with meaning.
For example, Oedipus kills his father (a sign of the undervaluation of kinship) and marries his
mother, Jocasta (an overvaluation of kinship). In either case, Oedipus has choices, although a
pitying reader may not think so: what he does plus what he does not do are significant binary
oppositions within the myth (as they are in Sophocles tragedy). Although Levi-Strauss was not
interested in the literariness of myths, some of his contemporaries saw his work
promising implications for purely literary studies, particularly studies of narratives.