I’ve written on this subject before.
Or at least, another form of it. Legend and Myth aren’t the same. History and reality aren’t the same. There’s some similar structures though. And I’m curious as to what I’ll write in a less formal situation.
Myth and legend strike me as similar to modelling. In the sciences, you simplify something just enough to make your meaning clear. In doing so, you lose the detail, but you gain communicability. Communication is power. Clear communication is convincing.
But when you remove something from reality, in order to think about it, you also make it more malleable. Interpretation breeds bias. Our worlds are shaped by our own perceptions and biases, and if we try and explain history or reality, we do it only through our own mythology and legend. We are ideological beings, and our thought shapes our reality. Oddly enough XKCD is on the same subject as I’m writing this.
When you talk about something, you simplify it into a symbolic system. These symbols can be made powerful, but they are naught but a projection of yourself. The map is never the territory. Your understanding is not the truth of the outside world.
This frustration leads to the notion that there isn’t one at all; a reality. Perhaps that in turn leaves us room to paint our own legends and build our own models. As long as we communicate, that’s what matters.
It might actually be true. There is no reality, only a shared agreement based on the stories we choose to show each other. Myth is born from history which is nothing but myth. Reality is uncertain, so we may as well just grow our lives in a mulch of legend. There’s nothing behind the curtain, so let’s just paint the curtain.
But then every brick of myth we build is just a way of walling ourselves in. Self containment, a retreat into lonely self obsessed madness. In the essay I linked at the beginning, I propose that Angela Carter was using a brick of myth to smash in a window. Myth against myth, you can tear it all apart and leave yourself a blankness to start writing from.
It’s a circular argument. Creating a new world with a creation myth. Mentally, it may be valid, but is it something you communicate?
If it is too complicated to communicate, then why do we bother?
Legend may be simpler, but does that make it necessary. Surely the beauty of the universe (if it’s there) is worth an attempt at proper explication. We shouldn’t make the warping effect of our umwelt take priority. We shouldn’t give precedence to the things we know can’t be accurate. A myth is a helpful tool, a weapon sometimes, but it shouldn’t ever become more than it is.
It is not bricks, it is mist.
If there’s a world we share, then we should tell each other about it. Aware of our weaknesses. We seek rare truth.
Illustration by Helen