Myth of the Descent to the Underworld in Postmodern Literature

Author: Smith, Evans Lansing
Year:2003
Pages:380
ISBN:0-7734-6700-9
978-0-7734-6700-2
Price:239.95
This book presents the most comprehensive study currently available of the myth of the descent to the underworld in postmodern literature. It develops a theory of necrotypes – archetypal images consistently evoked by the myth of the nekyia – and applies it to close readings of selected works by major authors of the period, from Alejo Carpentier and Octavo Paz to Thomas Pynchon and Ken Kesey. In addition, the study shows how these works exemplify the postmodern practice of ludic syncretism, the playful fusion of materials from a wide variety of multicultural sources, including Classical, Biblical, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Native American, Nordic, Celtic, and Hermetic mythologies. Finally, it shows how ludic syncretism evolved from High Classical Modernism, in a manner analogous to the evolution of Hellenistic from Classical art, or of Baroque from that of the High Renaissance.

Reviews

“Breathtaking in its scope and erudition, Professor Smith’s book is an exemplary work of what Jungians call ‘amplification,’ serving not only to explicate but to enrich the material it treats. A major contribution to the understanding of postmodern literature, it is also a wonderfully – indeed compulsively – readable work of scholarship. An altogether formidable achievement.” – Harold Schechter, Queens College, CUNY

“…Smith’s wide-ranging exploration covers a large number of ‘necrotypes’ (as he designates them), recurrent images in a long chain of archetypes that characterize the theme of descent into the lower realms. Drawing on ancient motifs and their symbols, this study applies these archetypes to a large number of postmodern works of fiction, ranging from Alejo Carpentier to Thomas Pynchon, with their often dazzling array of imagery. The reader interested in the connections between Antiquity and the contemporary world will find much to contemplate and much to admire.” – Walter A. Strauss, Treuhaft Professor (emeritus) of the Humanities, Case Western Reserve University

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Preface; Introduction
1. A Brief Genealogy of the Necrotypes: Geometrical; Birds, Bees, and Animals; Sacred Vessels; Forests, Mountains, and the Night-Sea Journey; Mirror Mazes; Eyes, Doorways, and Divestiture
2. Alejo Carpentier’s Lost Steps
3. Calvino’s Cartoons
4. Octavio Paz: Sunstone and The Monkey Grammarian
5. Christa Wolf’s Cassandra and Medea
6. A. S. Byatt’s Possession
7. Angela Carter’s Short Fiction
8. Robert Coover’s Briar Rose and Pinocchio
9. John Hawkes: An Irish Eye
10. Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon
11. Sylvie Germaine’s Book of Nights
12. Sailor Song: Kesey’s Comic Apocalypse
Conclusion: Necrotypes and Narrative
Bibliography; Index