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Jung's very twentieth-century view of myth



Abstract:  It is commonly assumed that Jung's view of myth, like his view of everything else, is best understood vis-à-vis Freud’s. I argue that Jung in fact positions himself much more broadly, not merely against other psychologists of myth but more fundamentally against non-psychologists altogether. Undeniably, Jung pits his theory against Freud’s, but only after pitting both his theory and Freud's against those theories that assume the subject matter of myth to be the external world rather than the human mind and that assume the function of myth to be either the explanation or the description of the external world rather than the expression of the human mind. The theorists whom Jung challenges are called ‘nature mythologists’, for whom myth is either a literal explanation or a symbolic description of the natural world. Which element of the natural world myth is about varies from nature mythologist to nature mythologist. The two leading nature mythologists, both of whom Jung cites, were Edward Tylor and James Frazer. Their theories epitomize the nineteenth-century approach to myth. For them, myth is the ‘primitive’ counterpart to science, which is entirely modern. For them, myth and science are incompatible, science is true and myth false, and myth must therefore go when science comes. Jung's rejection of the external world as the referent of myth and of explanation or description of that world as the function of myth epitomizes the twentieth-century response to nineteenth-century theories. For not merely Jung and Freud but also twentieth-century theorists generally, myth is anything but the ‘primitive’ counterpart to modern science. Consequently, myth and science are not rivals, so that myth need not go when science comes.