I came to Germany yesterday—I’m spending Christmas with my father’s family here—and let me tell you, having to leave most of my books behind precisely when I’m smack-dab in the middle of essay researching was sad.
I ended up coming across Questia—a site that brands itself as a “trusted online research” tool. Their catalogue, clearly geared towards your average Humanities uni student, is basic and not at all, from what I’ve seen so far. However, they do offer a few interesting books that I’ve been meaning to check out, and a free one-day trial I plan to make the most of.
- Somewhat decent catalogue of searchable and highlight-able books—most of them fairly recent—that one would not otherwise find online;
- Interesting and intuitive interface for managing “saved” books and articles, splitting them into different projects;
- The books are presented split into the correct pages of their physical editions, facilitating citations.
- 13€/month fee (75€/year) — though, of course, this covers a plethora of copyright-licensing fees;
- Searches within works only display the first 10 results (why);
- Crude interface for collecting and browsing highlighted excerpts. They’re displayed like “works” in the general project interface I mentioned above, which is not very practical.
I’ve been toying around in my head for a while now with the idea that purely fictional narratives can be seen as contemporary mythology. I’m not saying all narratives should be seen as myths, but there are some that really capture people’s imagination enough to make them interact with it on a personal level—that make them want to quote, dress up, write themselves into, write about and transform.
This is something that I’ve seen a lot of people do throwaway mentions to, but no one seems to want to really delve into it—and this makes sense, because it creates several conceptual problems. To name a few:
- The definition of “myth” is a very old can of worms; but really writing about this would require a reworking of pretty much every traditional definition we have. (For the purpose of this post, let’s broadly and not-at-all-technically consider myth a grey area between reality and fiction to which things are brought from either side via a group* of people’s personal involvement with the narrative, thus creating a sense of community. Moving on!)
- Is it really just purely fictional narratives that make up contemporary mythology? Powerful ideas like the “American dream” and the public personae of certain iconic figures like Gandhi and JFK have long since become far more than just “historical figures.” Aren’t they mythological, too?
- But then again, traditional historiography is chock-full of myths of its own. (One might argue that in the past centuries, it’s had little but.) Is the Caesar in the public imaginary any less a mythological figure than Hercules? Is Alexander to us any less mythological than Dionysus?
- But if everything is myth (forgive the hyperbole) then the category becomes too broad and mostly useless; we have nowhere to go from that apart from vague statements about society today and how all sorts of narratives give it meaning. Okay. Back to fandom, then!
- If we consider narratives that inspire fan culture contemporary myths, what is it that makes them cross that line between fiction and mythology? Is it simply fan involvement? If so, on what level?** Is it how many fans are involved, or how deeply fans are involved?
I don’t really have answers to any of these questions. Well, except for this: I think that the act of fan creation, whatever it is—reading or appreciating a story, a video, a costume, a drawing, a song—is what creates a myth out of the narrative. Not because it’s what makes it personal—the act of experiencing the original narrative itself does that—but because it’s what makes it collective, creating a sense of community around this identification with the narrative.
* I would consider individual level as well—it certainly can work on an individual level—but I think that that would make the category even more imprecise and unquantifiable.
** This kind of divide is, of course, extremely difficult to make (see: Yuletide).