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The Modern Construction of Myth. By Andrew Von Hendy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. xvii + 386 pp.
Where does myth come from? What is it for? Why should we care? Before the middle of the eighteenth century, acceptable answers might run, respectively: from writers; for coating otherwise difficult truths; and, grown-ups don't. Turn on your local public broadcasting station during a fund drive and you may find reruns of Joseph Campbell convincing Bill Moyers that the "power of myth" comes from the depths of the psyche and the dawn of humankind, is for our very survival, and matters because it fulfills the self. Nor was the late guru alone in thinking such lofty thoughts. That myth is somehow vitally important few authors and intellectuals of the twentieth century disputed--it was a far fetch from the simple moralizing fables of the Enlightenment. What happened in the interval?
Von Hendy would sum up with one word the transformation in Western thought that led to the spectacular elevation of myth: Romanticism. Put thus baldly, the thesis sounds familiar to students of Blake, Holderlin, and company. But the argument here is far more sophisticated than the usual schematic about emerging nationalism, retreat from industrialization, discovery of folk traditions, and their impact on nineteenth-century verse. Von Hendy ambitiously makes the claim that not only high art but virtually every form of modern critical discourse--philosophy, theology, the history of religion, literary study, and the protoforms of anthropology, sociology, and psychology--took shape in the struggle to define and evaluate the mythic. The effects outlasted the Romantic period and lingered well into the 1980s. To demonstrate this, Von Hendy traces with vigor and erudition, through thirteen dense …