Desacralized Myths: Crisis of narrative and narrative of crisis

Giovanni Cucci, SJ

 Giovanni Cucci, SJ / Church Thought / 7 January 2021

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The discomfort of fragmentation

A peculiar characteristic of today’s so-called “Postmodern” era is the absence of global narratives. This is the basic hypothesis of the famous book by Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, published in 1979. Lyotard pointed out that, from a cultural point of view, the so-called “Modern” era, characterized by comprehensive narratives and great utopian projects (the last ones were Rationalism, the Enlightenment, Marxism), capable of providing unity and historical identity to a variety of  social groups, has come to an end.[1]

Next came the era of liquidity, well noted by Zygmunt Bauman: “The era inaugurated with the construction of the Great Wall of China or Hadrian’s Wall that ended with the Berlin Wall is over forever. In this global planetary space it is no longer possible to draw a border to feel truly and totally safe behind it. This is true forever: for today and for all the future days we can imagine.”[2]

Narratives, however, have not disappeared: they have become desacralized (after all, Marxism was also a form of historical messianism), they have lost the aura of absolute truth, capable of an all-embracing explanation of the course of events valid for all time. In their place are the so-called “low-intensity myths,” to take up the title of a recent book on the subject.

There is a sacred dimension to high-intensity myths, which are separated from ordinary events. Their purpose is to clarify the main problems of life. They take place in a mythical time other than the mundane, have as protagonists higher beings, presented with positive or negative characteristics, to imitate or be wary of, such as heroes, gods, angels or demons, and they can be recognized thanks to a precise code of values.

Low-intensity myths no longer deal with the sacred and the eternal: they are set in ordinary life; they do not present particular values, but merely describe events, and their characters are no different from humans.[3] The reason they are also called “myths” is because they deal with the fundamental issues of life: the universe and its civilizations (science fiction), the magical dimension (fantasy), death without the sacred aspect (the many narratives of zombies and vampires), violence (TV series on serial killers), and disaster (epidemics and environmental catastrophes).

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