PRELUDE: MYTH AND THE PLANETARY
I
Does the mythic today express that which circulates below the threshold of
official expression? Do we tend to treat myth as a wild dream when things are
going well and as a portent when official stories lose the aura of credibility?
Perhaps such a switch in status is under way today, as some old myths now
feel revelatory and several official narratives lurch closer to nightmares. The
turn to myth is a turn toward an insurrection of voices straining to be heard
beneath the clamor of dominant stories.
To test these suggestions, let us turn briefly to the Book of Job. Some schol-
ars suggest that it was once a pagan story, crossing into Judaism and later into
Chris tianity, crossings fueled by the singular power of its poetry. I consult a
translation by Stephen Mitchell, in part because of its poetic power, in part
because it resists being encapsulated too quickly or completely into any of the
three traditions it traversed, in part because students respond to it intensely
when I teach it every now and then at Hopkins.1
Job, apparently, is a noble gentile in a land in which he belongs to a mi-
nority. He is respected as decent. But he then suffers im mensely: he loses
his sheep, his sons and daughters are killed, and boils sprout all over his body.
Some friends arrive to comfort him, but this comforting also involves judging
him according to the system of judgment in play. Suffering, consolation, judg-
ment: Job is neither the first nor the last to encounter that fraught combination.
Job had shared the cosmic view of the friends. Now he contests it, to make
them see and feel its effects upon him. He says he is innocent and does not
deserve what has happened to him. God is supposed to punish only those
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