UnknownThe debate about Thomas Mann’s novels and his place as liberal or socialist still occupied members of the Partisan Review coterie, and in this follow-up essay by William Troy, also in Vol.6,No 1, he returns to his original topic of Mann & Myth {see this blog,October 14, 2017, & November 4, 2017, for related discussions}. You can cut and paste the link below into your browser to read the entire essay.


In this argument about myth, however, he redirects his analysis, looks at the functions and alterations of myth within literature, and by the end of the piece, derives lessons for the contemporary world from within what will seem to be an abstract language.  I find it to be a great improvement on his original discussion of Mann as mythmaker because it clarifies ‘myth’ as a imaginative structure that is, first, not available to what his generation thought of as the scientificity and hence objectivity of Marxism. And he is also able to see what the dreadful possibilities of myth can be in the age of Fascism.

James Burnham’s criticism of Troy’s earlier essay on Mann took as its object Troy’s disparagement of science: “Chucked overboard is all centuries-assembled baggage of laboratory and telescope, of carefully elaborated and ever-revised hypotheses, of plans rationally analysed and predictions precisely made and verified, of theories called ever to account, publicly before the eyes of all who wish to see, by the marshalled evidence. From this Troy beckons us once more to  re-baptizing it as Myth — the dark religion of the blood.”

Troy’s response is to open the ‘scientific’  Marxist method to its own process: “The procedure of the scientific analysis of literature is as follows: the isolation of one or another aspect of the object, the reference of this aspect to an already completed scientific or quasi-scientific structure of logic (philosophical, psychological, or political), and the evaluation of the whole in terms of the latter. The apparent  effort is to replace the original concrete aesthetic structure by an altogether abstract structure of thought.   But, as a matter of fact, the aesthetic  structure has not been affected at all. It retains its original imponderable structure”. The idea that literature can be understood scientifically presupposes, as Burnham does, that “what we call works of literature are material objects produced by the conscious will of man” (Burnham). But, asks Troy, ” Is literature an object like a sewing machine, and of what is it the product? But what that means is that a literary work can be known, just like a piece of paper. 

What Troy offers in place of science is myth, because the production of imaginative literature requires a different mode of cognition: mythic. That is, he writes, myth is found in all the literatures of the world; myth is a method and a body of ordered experience. And, perhaps most importantly, myth is the foundational structure of imaginative literature over time. And through the movement of time, myths are changed and reinterpreted to offer new meanings and are altered from new sources.

Now the reason that some people respond even to the sound of the word myth with horror and trepidation is that they confuse the notion of myth as the particular equilibriums of the past with the notion of myth as a process. They fail to recognise that  for society, as for the individual, the materials of experience undergo an unbroken process of modification and change. If an individual does not achieve a fresh reordering of these materials, as Freud has explained, he will relapse into a former state of equilibrium, which is indistinguishable from the state of death.” 

“In brief, it must be understood that while every myth corresponds only to a temporary resolution of a conflict, the conflict itself itself is ever alive, ever becoming involved in new terms of experience, and ever seeking a resolution. In every epoch there are the old myths of the past, haunting the present like a fixation of childhood, and the new myths struggling to be born. And it is a mistake not to be able to tell them apart”.

SO Troy not only rescues an analytically persuasive argument for the importance of myth as a literary form, but also weaves into it a warning and a perspective on the fascist myths and their danger as well as their advance into a ‘state of death,’  I think this piece as an addendum to the earlier piece by Troy on Mann and Myth makes a good case for why understanding the structure of myth in literature can indeed be a crucial tool in making sense of one’s own time’s myths– the dead and the living.