ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P24)

Accommodating the primordial: the function of myth in a globalising world

Location CSSS Committee Room No.013, Ground Floor, SSS-II
Date and Start Time 06 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenor

Leon Burnett (University of Essex) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The efficacy of myth in engaging with global concerns depends upon our recognition of the vitality and continuing presence - or timelessness - of the primordial. This panel will explore how and why we 'accommodate the primordial' in our aesthetic appreciation of myth.

Long Abstract

Myth informs and invigorates the arts. It provides a basis for an aesthetic appreciation of the world by engaging in a unique way with many of the most pressing global concerns. The operation of myth is best understood in its function as techne, that is to say there is always a practical aspect to the creation and transmission of myth, which grounds it in the cultural realia of the present moment, while it endeavours at the same time to reach back to an imagined original source to recover an awareness and an understanding of life that is archaic, sacred and ultimately irretrievable. Nevertheless, the attempt of myth to accommodate the primordial appeals directly to - and draws upon the will of - the community. The panel will explore specific instances from across the arts of what 'accommodating the primordial' means. It will be concerned, at a theoretical level, with the question of what myth communicates - and how it renews itself - in order to underpin its interpretation of myth as fundamentally the property of the people.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

'Aimer et mourir/ Au pays qui te ressemble': Representations of Love and Death in Poetry and Myth

Author: Leon Burnett (University of Essex)  email

Short Abstract

Nothing is more central to the meaning of human existence than love and death, but just as fundamental is the urge to give artistic expression to these two primordial preoccupations. This paper considers how love and death have been represented across the ages as inter-related topoi.

Long Abstract

'Aimer et mourir/ Au pays qui te ressemble' ('to love and to die/ in the country that is like you'): what, following Baudelaire, is referred to in this paper as 'love and death' has been codified as 'Eros and Thanatos' by a Viennese doctor and popularised as 'sex and violence' by a succession of Hollywood directors. Even though the terms of reference change and the perspectives vary, a perception of the complex and indissoluble link between the creative and the destructive in human life, sustained in all cultures through artistic representation and a sense of the aesthetic, has remained constant. This paper addresses representations and interpretations drawn from a variety of eastern and western sources, citing contrastive examples that rely heavily upon the mythic, in order to assess the significance of motifs which accommodate the primordial abstractions of love and death. Taking its cue from the emphasis on order and beauty in 'L'Invitation au voyage', but moving beyond the referential frame of Baudelaire's poem, the paper reviews aspects of the relationship between the cosmos and its human inhabitants made manifest in the myths of the cultures in which they are situated and in which they remain potent to this day as symbolic of the need for the sacred in a globalising world.

Deconstructing the Rama Consciousness: Appropriation of the Ramayana and its variations across India

Author: Rohit Dutta Roy (Jadavpur University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper sees Rama consciousness and multiplicity of versions as inseparable, critiques political attempts at homogenization; analyzes changes in story and structure. It traces Buddhist and Jain versions, eulogizing Ravana, Rama's journey from Purushottama to divinity, Sita's characterizations.

Long Abstract

The original Ramayana existed in different oral versions before scribes put it down in writing; this paper posits the later recensions as socio-cultural constructs of divergent worldviews having their own legitimacy, questioning authoritative values and offers a critique of political attempts at homogenization of Ramakatha. It will pose the question of later Ramayanas being derivatives and analyze the changes in characterization, story and structure in various versions. The Dasaratha Jataka presents Rama and Sita as brother and sister while Vimala Suri's Paumacariya attempts to rid the story of exaggerations and divine elements, elevates the characters of Ravana, Kaikeyi and others, and propogates the Jain doctrine of Ahimsa. Hemachandra's version, adopted from the Paumacariya, has elaborate descriptions of the dynasties of the Raksasas and the Vanaras, the story of Rama is rather short and eulogizes Ravana's high character, leading one to infer that Ravana was the real hero of the Dravidian legend. Ennobling qualities of the hero and its delineation is evident as the Purushottama in Valmiki's Ramayana,the Parabramha in Adhyatma Ramayana, the avatar in Kambaramayanam, equated with Krshna in Bhusundi Ramayana, a symbol of Divinity in the form of a Personal God in Ramacharitmanasa and with a hint of cowardice in Krittivasa's Ramayana and Meghnadbadh Kabya. Sita's character has also been variously explored like the imitations of the Devimahatmya in the Adbhut Ramayana wherein Sita takes weapons in her hand after Rama faints and kills the thousand-faced Ravana, or in folklore where Sita is impregnated by a drop of Hanumat's sweat, can lift the bow with her left hand.

Accommodation of the primordial in Ra.One

Author: Kopal Gautam (University of Essex)  email

Short Abstract

The repetition of the primordial theme of the defeat of evil by good in Hindi cinema indicates that mythical themes have the ability to hark back to the past to redefine the present. This paper will analyse the significance of the retrieval and representation of the myth of the defeat of Ravana by Rama in the film Ra.One.

Long Abstract

The victory of good over evil has been one of the primordial themes in Hindu Mythology. Ancient texts such as the Vedas and the Puranas abound with the narratives of conflicts between the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons) and the eventual victory of the Devas. This theme also became the subject of the first great Indian epic: The Ramayana. The figure of Ravana in this epic can be seen as the first iconic antagonist who posed a serious threat to the Devas. The killing of Ravana by Rama was an epochal moment that has been ritualised and ever since repeated in the festival of Dussehra celebrated every year. In Indian popular culture, especially in Hindi films, the theme of overcoming of evil by good has also been a dominant one. Though this theme has been the subject of various twentieth-century films, the emerging genre of Indian science-fiction films is especially making use of this theme. In the latest film of this category, Ra.One, the retrieval of the mythical figure of Ravana and his characterisation as a Video Game antagonist who is ultimately defeated by the 'good' protagonist G. One show the necessity of the repetition of an ancient myth in the current age where science and technology are threatening to become more significant than religion in Indian society. This paper will explore the significance of accommodating the primordial in twenty-first century Indian science-fiction films, with particular reference to Ra.One.

Creating a new 'real-topia' from the teachings of the ancient Maya: Mayanism and the reappropriation of myth

Author: Suzanne Nolan  email

Short Abstract

This paper will explore how the myths of the Maya, of the creation of the world and the Gods, have been manipulated by the Mayanism community in order to react both against and with the modern, globalising world.

Long Abstract

Conceptual artist Jenny Holzer has said that "myths make realities more intelligible." But to what extent can this be the case in the modern, globalising world? Today, the myths of the Greeks, Amerindians, Egyptians, and others, are seen as products of superstition and misunderstanding of the world around them. However, these old world myths can be used to inform and develop modern 'realities'. Mayanism - new age beliefs influenced by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican, particularly Maya, mythology and religion - has adopted ancient myths to make today's realities more intelligible to its followers. Many of the ancient myths which have been adopted undergo alterations to fit the perceived shifting realities of modern culture, which many of those who follow Mayanism feel they have become disillusioned by. David Nye, in his work on the development of utopia's to "real-topia's", argues for the concept of "nos-topia" (a place of nostalgia). Using this framework, it can be argued that Mayanism seeks to create a new, better 'real-topia' based on the 'nos-topian' ideals of the ancient Maya. This paper will explore how followers of Mayanism attempt to 'decode' the supposed primordial messages of a higher human consciousness that they believed the Maya encoded within their art and architecture. It will demonstrate how the myths of the Maya, of the creation of the world and the Gods, have been manipulated by this new age community in order to react both against and with the modern, globalising world.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.