Myths are the stories by which we orient ourselves in the world, and we can no more live without stories than we can live without drawing breath. Facts too are a kind of story – an authorized story – and just as fictions often told become embellished into legends, so facts often stated become the basis for their own mythic tales. These stories, however, have the added burden of authority: those that invest their belief in authorized stories can seldom see the narrative they have written for themselves.
The story that animated post-modernism was that all myths had been laid bare. Swept clean of legendary tales, we are supposed to find ourselves in a mythic void. Like the vacuum of space, however, this void is never truly empty. Beyond the traces of matter and energy, space or space-time itself is always present wherever one might look. So too the mythic void is not empty of stories but is itself a story – one that causes us to look at other stories in a different light, perhaps, but not one capable of moving us to a place beyond mythology.
The mythic void is not an end point, a final state, or an ultimate consequence at all – it is a stage, a perspective, a waiting room on the path to… well, who can say? Those who will not enter the void remain wedded to their mythology – whether ancient or modern. Those who enter the void may find themselves stuck there, casting off all other myths and accepting only the legend of the void itself. But those of us who pass through the void, and return to mythology, we bring back from this place-that-is-no-place a subtle change of mind. It is not so much illumination, more delumination.
Those who abandon mythology for facts are doomed to let their facts become their mythology. Those who escape mythology for the void are doomed to let the void become their mythology. What of those who return from the void – what will we benighted travellers take to be our strange and wonderful mythologies?
The opening image is a NASA Chandra X-ray photograph showing Cassiopeia A, the youngest supernova remnant in our galaxy.