- continued, part 4 -


Back to the single myth?

Finally, what is most important in Oppitzユs book is its double ending. The conclusion to the chapter on myth, and that to the book. In brief:the latter is rather meagre - but absolutely sincere - because the former had already said everything to be said. In other words, T. Turner's ethnographically examined myth research represents the real conclusion to the book. It is the conclusive reference point of Oppitzユs "necessary relations". Remarkable is its subtitle:"The return to the individual myth."

Turner presents the studied Kayapo-myth on the origins of fire as a "social model". It is of the same type as the ones studied by L思i-Strauss. Oppitz gives an abstract of Turnerユs work, mainly from the perspective of social anthropology and clearly proves that things become meaningful within the ethnographical framework. "Without ethnography no interpretation of myths, the richer the ethnographical materials, the better the conditions for an objective interpretation." The story now shows quite plausibly a parallelism or analogy between two thresholds or transitional domains 'childhood'/'to become an adult', and 'nature'/'culture'. If one relates the term 'origins of the kitchen fire' to the settlement and its past, the story gains a concrete existential dimension. At last, the message is conveyed:to become an adult means to become a 'cultural' being responsible of one's own and the groupユs existence. The decision is expressed in a ritual act which - according to the binary concept of 'once' and 'now' - implies the entire 'cultural history' of an ethnic group or settlement.

Proceeding one step further, it could be said that Turner does not only provide social (and psychologically interpretable) data, but that we also obtain economic (hunting), spatial, and even topographical information. The settlement scheme, for instance:the menユs house situated in the centre, the womenユs houses in a peripheral circle. Furthermore we learn that men consider the area outside their village as their own domain. Very roughly, for the moment, and as a kind of working hypothesis, a spatial structural scheme can be reconstructed from these data. A largeミdimensioned vertical axis connects certain categories (above, warm, shining, objectミlike, round) with the sun. Below these categories are found in connection with fire, but now they are tangible and charged with cultural functions:roasting and cooking, 'objectミlike' and 'round' relates to the gleaming circle of the glowing fire. But the lower pole of the axis, the set of categories is split up according to a horizontal axis. It is articulated in a wild and cultural domain using polar oppositions.

The wild domain is characterized by all those categories which are antithetical to those that stand for the cultural domain:'empty' (in the human or cultural sense), isolated, not secured, not acculturated (this applies also to the 'wild' kitchen fire). In addition, it is characterized by wild/hunted animals, a challenge for men, enabling existence by bringing them (in an immobile state) to the cultural domain. Mutual interchanges are part of this system:the animals among themselves live in relations similar to humans, in hierarchically structured organisations. They have similar character traits, qualities, even feelings. On the other hand, humans, particularly men, legitimate their wild hunting behaviour. Using this categorially charged spatial grid, many elements of Turnerユs story can be interpreted in new ways. <19>

This is only a very vague attempt to examine Oppitzユs final example. It should demonstrate that the mythical story is imprinted with a topographical structure, which, though it enters the narrative only punctually, is nevertheless fundamental to the existence of a certain ethnic population.

A more precise example:the Ainu system of signs

The reconstruction of an ethnic groupユs spatial system of orientation demands a comprehensive knowledge of the phenomena related to a certain ethnic population:its factual topography, and how it is terminologically organized, its organization of labour, how various sections (young/ old, male/ female) use the topography in terms of time and space, and which objects (instruments, tools, signs, etc.) are used for work and cult. Further, how people dwell (everything including terminology) and how parts of their dwellings, how the whole of their smaller and larger environments, relate to their mental horizons. <20>

The result of such studies shows a locally comprehensive order, which is evidently not primarily related to fixed "principles of thought" in the human brain, but rather a basic system of orientation, considered to be an ageミold adjustment between spatial perception of the environment and structural tradition. This occurs within an intense oscillation between smallミscale environments and larger spaces, between dwelling and wilderness, between traditionally constructed Gestalt and perception of nature, in a temporal sense, between concrete conditions of settlement once and now. It is important then, to break out of this Eurocentric prison of logical rationalism and, instead of projecting values from outside, to be able to listen to the voice of the 'indigenous' population and develop a sensitivity to their emic value system.

The author has researched the Ainu for quite some time. This ethnic group shows us clearly, that they value their ageミold ritual traditions highly. It is there where we find their Platos, their Aristotles, their Heraclituses, in short, their gods. In the core of these rites we discover a very differentiated semantic system. It consists throughout of wooden sticks, which are carved and scraped in a specific manner and then set up as signs (inau) to mark certain spots in the environment which are of existential significance. Some are set up separately within a house or in groups as a kind of sacred fence behind the house. They can be understood in the sense mentioned above, as essential interfaces of the Ainuユs territorial and spatial system of orientation. At these interfaces, the Ainu celebrate their cults.

Batchelor, a missionary, who lived among the Ainu for about 40 years and whom ethnologists consider an authority on Ainu culture, interpreted these signs rather contradictorily as sacrifices, fetishes, and idols. On the other hand, he translated terms related to them into his own macrocosm. One of these cultic signs which is called cise koro kamui in the Ainu language, literally meaning 'owner of the house' and intended to protect the interior of the Ainu house, was translated by him as 'world-creator'. If these signs are carefully studied in the context of the whole Ainu culture, they come very close to being what L思i-Strauss means by the concept 'model'. They are 'models' of the Ainu 'structure of thought' (see Egenter 1991, 1992f. vol 7).

Let us return to Oppitz. We have mentioned his final chapter, where he presents Turnerユs ethnographic view of myth, and how his study arrives at a particularist or monographic dead end. However, with our outlined hypothesis we could find fresh hope, assuming that the model of ideological structures - which a Eurocentric L思i-Strauss searches on a level of logic - could be discovered within the ethnic group itself.To put it more generally:the models of ethnic ideologies would have to be searched in the material signs and symbols, which scholastically prejudiced theology, history, and ethnology of religion, have for centuries declared a blind spot in our scientific view of the world.

The myths of the Ainu, once recited for hours and hours during festive nights, can only be understood with a knowledge of these signs and their corresponding rites. The signs are the objective representations of their spatial and temporal systems of orientation and are therefore considered to be of highest value. <21> The system of signs has a systematic character, relating to existential domains, their territories, ascending from the lowest unit such as the house and its immediate environment, hunting and fishing grounds, mountains and individual valleys up to large river and valley systems. All these domains and territories are interlocked by their 'binary oppositions'. A huge system of magnetic needles in varying sizes, all settling down harmoniously according to the polar categories of their environment. In fact, the landscape design of the Ainu possesses a very clear order composed of polar harmonious units:it is the expression of a very rigid, age-old autonomy (Egenter 1991).

Finally:these insights suggest to place this tightly interwoven complex of myths, cyclic rites, and factual topography of the concrete existential environment with its semantic (and philosophical) system in a position, of which neither L思i-Strauss, nor Oppitz, ever dreamt. The term ヤmythユ can be removed from religion and placed in the domain of legal history, or, more precisely, near the history of territorial constitutions. Here we will content ourselves with this rather provocative statement <22>. Evidently, this potentially important aspect, which might connect myth to legal history, completely escapes the linguistically based structuralist method. Which proves that it lacks infrastructure. Even after its being ethnographically complemented with Marxism by Oppitz .

Conclusion:approaching a 'structuralist ergological anthropology'

Thus structuralism can be 'materialized' in ways quite different from Oppitzユs resorting to Marx. Namely, by setting off from ethnically immanent material aspects, by connecting ideological structures to that which the considered ethnic population contributes as objective facts to the ethnological or ethnographical field of observation. It is definitely of a nonverbal kind, its metalanguage coming close to what we understand as an aesthetic approach, a program of formal and categorial relations, which are organized in polar harmonious ways.

This objective content of rites and cults necessarily leads us to the domain of building (or architecture) meaning that we are clear about the problem of the 41 synonyms of the term ヤstructureユ. In the sense of Bastide, we have to postulate the primacy of the etymological component, the remaining 40 synonyms can then be considered as close or far derivates. We certainly would gain a terminologically 'clean' structuralism.

Consequently, the term ヤstructureユ probably owes its success to the circumstance that it indiscernibly hit on something quite factual. If the hypothesis is maintained that 'ethnic' thought, or the structure of ethnic thought, corresponding myths, or corresponding social, spatial and ritual organization preserved an ancient fabric character, then we are not far from another hypothesis, namely, that even in our own modern thought this fabric character is still virulent. Our knowledge still is sensitive to frameworks, to the skeletons of plants and animals, to the structure of organisms and cells. In the social sphere the term structure is widely used. <23> In numerous other situations too, it is equally quick at hand, evidently because it corresponds to a fact:the framework in our head. The Indo-European linguistic history clearly supports this hypothesis - if one knows about the anthropology of building. <24>

In other words, we can construct a parallel hypothesis regarding 'savage' and 'civilized' thought, which moves the savage close to our own:from framework to structure. This fabric character, was it ミ in a structural sense ミ an essential model for both sides, a model humans used over long periods of time to orientate themselves in their environment? Structuralism of this type could - in this modified form - really become anthropology.

It is clear that this type of reasoning postulates to definitely research the content of the term ヤbuildingユ (or architecture) more thoroughly than this has been done before, not only with regard to ethnographical fieldwork, but also more generally, in an anthropological sense. <25> A closer look at primatology clearly legitimates this approach, as our study on the pongid nest in this book will show. The infrastructure is literally found in its full anthropological depth. However, not in the Marxist sense, with a largely meshed net, but factually concrete, which, in addition, is meticulously describable, right into the smallest detail.

With regard to the semantic-symbolic level of myths, it is evident, that the ideological counterpart to infrastructure is not to be searched in those recently related "bedtime stories for children" (Oppitz!) told by natives of some place, as this was frequently done by L思i-Strauss but rather in those types of myths which we mentioned as 'constitutive' above. That is to say, myths of smaller or larger dimensions, which define the geographical domains of a certain ethnic population and their cultural assets. This also implies that myth research focuses primarily on those cultural spaces that still show vital traditions close to urban historical domains, allowing to support historically, strictly speaking, the diachronic depth of such traditions and their institutional and constitutional context. Unquestionably, it will be proven that the origin of myths is neither to be found in the structure of the brain and its mechanical laws of perception, nor in religious zeal. Rather, they are about traditional legal documents with clearly territorial implications, initially on a settlement level. Only that these ritual 'constitutions' of villages, districts, counties and states were 'written' differently, with the help of spatial signs. And they were not preserved in archives or museums, but ritually, within cults. It is only the arrival of script that results in de-scription. This, we then call myths. <26>

To put it in another way, the structuralist method could thus open up its horizons, become sensitive to infralinguistic or aesthetic conditions and relate this to the information gained by historical lines of myth research. Particularly the notion that myth and rite reveal a close relation should be examined afresh. Crucial to this endeavour is a post-scholastic approach which does not ignore the material conditions at the centre of what is traditionally called religion. Quite the contrary, a method that develops a curiosity for exactly this combination.

As in the case of Turner, this programme pays off in meticulous monographs (Egenter 1982). But it does not stop there. It expands its finds through parallel studies which generalize the results on higher levels, ascending from individual settlements to larger regions, larger units, a state, a culture. If this has proved fruitful, it continues on an intercultural comparative level, tries to include historical and prehistorical sources, and, if this programme can be maintained through many cultures, develops into a kind of cultural history, including prehistory. In short, a new type of cultural anthropology. The method somehow remains loyal to structuralism, needing its model concept as a mediator between super- and infrastructure. However, the foundation differs. As structural 'ergology', this method focuses on the object culture found in the myths and rites of ethnic groups. In this sense, we term the method 'structural ergological anthropology'.

For those 'rules of thought', which structuralism essentially strove to uncover, there is a new answer too. It has a far more plausible foundation and substance than L思i-Strauss' notion of the 'you and I' or the 'I and the other'. On a categorial level, perception of the environment in dualistic oppositions might already be postulated for subhuman conditions of life. But, on a human level, it would have required a 'model' in the L思i-Straussian sense, a mediator to bring these oppositions into a cognitive concept. A model which brought the perception of dualistic categorial relations into polarly harmonious relations and thus allowed analogies to these relations. Constructions of the type which we referred to as 'semantic architecture', might have been such models bringing this differentiation focused on a manミmade object into the human world. These 'models' reveal the same polar relations, which we find in social, ritual, and spatial structures. 'Isomorphism' within the same ethnic group. A very powerful argument, compared to L思i-Strauss. And only if we take such a constructive model into consideration, the message of binary oppositions becomes evident:harmony. Similarly, it allows us to understand the systemユs interlocking character. The constructive model clearly shows how polarly organized categories form constitutive units. The constructive form reveals that the same material is constitutive for both categorial domains. In the end, there is the rule of analogy. If the harmonious relation forms the primary motive in this type of thought, then, functionally, very different things can be identical, because of the harmonious condition. As mentioned above:the structure of buildings allows us to discover the 'basic structure' of metaphorical thought.

With the help of Oppitzユs critical pleading, our theoretical excursion into the domain of L思i-Straussユs structuralist anthropology has yielded some results:an awareness of both the linguistic feebleness of the structuralist construct and of its strength after the introduction of new architectural and spatialミanthropological supports. In the following we shall state more precisely the details of this method and try to demonstrate what it can produce in terms of new insights.


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