Over at Intra-Being, the great Andre has continued the discussion of myth that took place over at this blog and at Knowledge Ecology and Footnotes2Plato. In his depiction, Andre presents the discussion as a debate over myth and ideology. For me myth is defined not by its content, but by its structure. For example, the fact that something contains reference to the supernatural does not necessarily entail that it is, as I understand the term, mythological. Likewise, the fact that something is secular through and through does not entail that it is non-mythological. When we speak of a structure we are not talking about the content of a thing, but of a set of relations that are shared among a variety of different things. Thus, for example, if we talk about a house, that house might have a brick or stone exterior, it might be painted in very different ways inside, it might have a carpeted interior or an interior composed of wood or tile floors, etc., but structurally houses can be identical despite these differences. That is, they can have one and the same floorplan despite all these differences in interior and exterior design. They share the same structure.
Likewise, in the case of myth, it is not whether or not something has a supernatural dimension, but rather whether or not something possesses a particular structure. I have argued that all myths, whether pertaining to religion or secular systems, share the same structure of positing one term as transcendent to all others. I use the term “transcendence” in a very specific way: the transcendent, as I use the term, does not mean “to go beyond”, but rather refers to the postulation of any entity that is unconditioned and that conditions other things without itself being conditioned by other things. Here are some examples of this sort of transcendence:
1) The concept of God as conceived by many variants of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and by philosophers such as Descartes, Augustine, Thomas, Jean-Luc Marion(?), Leibniz, etc.
2) The idea of an original being before the fall as depicted in the book of Genesis.
3) Roussea’s idea of “man” prior to being contaminated by culture (note that this isn’t a religious or supernatural idea).
4) The idea of a point that we can reach in history where we will fully coincide with ourselves and enjoy mastery over all of nature.
5) The idea that any community or group has a supreme, unchanging, and invariant essence as in the case of Nazi mythology when speaking of the Germans and Jews.
6) The Enlightenment idea of subjects standing apart from nature and mastering it and having the possibility of a view from nowhere.
7) “Laplace’s demon“.
8) The neoliberal idea of sovereign individuals that are self-made independent of their cultural and social circumstances.
9) Ontologies that conceive objects in terms of pure and complete presence.
10) Platonic forms.
11) The treatment of leaders, parties, and intellectuals as infallable and fully-self present rather than as divided or split ($).
I could go on and on with examples. Each one of these cases is premised on the idea of a transcendence that conditions other things, that is an “unmoved mover”, and that isn’t itself conditioned in turn. Each case denies the constitutively divided nature of beings, persons, communities, or things. Each one of these instances, secular or not, is what I refer to as a “religion” or a theology. Each one is also a necessarily patriarchal structure. What is it that authorizes me to call Stalinism, despite it’s supposed atheism and materialism, a religion no less than many variants of Christianity? The authorization arises from myth being defined by its structure, not its content. As we learn in topology, where two structures share the same relation they are the same structure. I outline this thesis in detail in the fifth chapter of The Democracy of Objects. Myth is not simply a narrative, but a specific type of narrative that has a very specific type of structure (the positing of the unconditioned, usually with an accompanying story of either an eschatology or a fall). With any luck I will also have an article coming out after January entitled “The Other Face of God” that points to the social, political, and ethical implications of this way of thinking. In my view, waging war against transcendence means waging war against the idea of an unconditioned in this sense, whatever form it might take. Not only do I think that ontologically belief in such an unconditioned is unsustainable (everything is characterized by finitude), but I also think that belief in the unconditioned, whatever form it might take, leads to very noxious social, ethical, and political formations.