The Plagiarized Hero: The Hero with a Thousand Borrowed Faces


Language and storytelling arose as a means of creating and maintaining social ties. Tribes then spread across the planet, trading materials, goods, technology, information and stories, so it should not come as a surprise that our narratives are similar worldwide. As humans, we make up stories habitually in order to understand the universe, ourselves and others, but we can only do so within established narrative language (as we have seen) and (this is the new part) preexisting forms and genres.

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Narrative Madness: Humans are the Stories They Tell about Themselves

What distinguishes humans from the animals are statements like “What distinguishes humans from the animals . . . .” In other words, the only thing that separates us from animals is an ongoing narrative that says we are not animals. The human is the animal that pretends that it is not. Most of our social rules are designed to hide our animal natures from ourselves: shaving our beards, using deodorant, wearing clothes, buying prepackaged meat, using silverware, not fighting over food, not farting or fucking in public.

Edwin Landseer, Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream Continue reading “Narrative Madness: Humans are the Stories They Tell about Themselves”

The Myth of Myths: The Development of Human Culture through Mythmaking

“We know the scene.” The strange one begins to tell a story by the fire, mumbling, miming, chanting, swaying, and no one pays attention, but she keeps going and there is something about the quiet insistence of her song as it grows louder that makes the old woman, grinding ocher, look up. The men, scraping hides, one by one let the flint fall and find stones to sit on. Others notice the group and gather.

They were not like this before; the story has brought them together. In the warmth of the fire, they lean toward the storyteller, who is one of them, yet an outsider: she has gone away for a long time, she is crippled, or she is crazy. Perhaps she is a man.16 She tells them of the beginning of the world, the birth of the first people, the coming together of a culture, the origin of language and storytelling – a tale they all know, but only she has “the gift, the right, or the duty to tell” it (43), writes French philosopher and literary critic Jean-Luc Nancy in “Myth Interrupted” (1991).

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Extending the Linguistic “Concept” to Include “Narrative Function”

At the beginning of the last century, Ferdinand de Saussure severed language from reality. In his Course in General Linguistics, he explained that a sign is made up of two parts: the signifier and the signified. The signifier is a word, a set of sounds, sometimes represented by letters. The signified is what the signifier arbitrarily refers to. Unfortunately for those who want language to be a transparent window on the world, the signified is not an external object, but a subjective concept.

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How Language Speaks You

Recently, researchers have been looking again into the ways different languages affect how we think. Benjamin Lee Whorf proposed the idea 1956 in M.I.T.’s Technology Review and the theory became quite trendy, until closer examination revealed that he had little research to back up his claims and some of his generalizations were just too broad to accept. For example, he said that if we were missing a word in our language, then we couldn’t grasp the concept. Although we don’t have the word Schadenfreude in English, we can easily understand the idea: delighting in others’ misfortunes. We get it, but perhaps we think less of this perverse delight, than Germans.

In “Does Language Shape How You Think?” an article in the New York Times Magazine, Guy Deutscher argues, “When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world” (Deutscher 45).

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