THE MYTH OF ‘THE MYTH OF THE ETERNAL RETURN’
The last few decades have seen an explosion of scholarly interest in narrative, as a mode of discourse in fiction, historiography, law, medicine, and elsewhere, and of self-perception in psychoanalysis, autobiography, and experience in general. Narrative is a textual/cultural form, and a cognitive process. Part of this interest has focused on time, which is obviously and intimately involved in the special form of representation constituted by narrative. Unfortunately, when writing about time, calendars, and so forth, cross-culturally, few scholars seem able to avoid some version of the Myth of the Eternal Return. The most important premodern source of this is Augustine, who was quite happy, famously, to confess himself incapable of saying what time is – ‘What then is time? If no-one asks me, I know, if I want to explain it to someone who asks, I do not know’– and at the same time to berate ‘pagans’, notably Greeks, for having a mistaken cyclical view of it, a characterization of Greek thought shown now by many scholars clearly to be wrong, in historiography and in a wide range of philosophical, literary, scientific, and other fields. In the modern scholarly world, much though not all of the responsibility for the Myth of the Eternal Return must lie with Mircea Eliade, who, as in his influential book of that title, lumped together pagans, primitives, Archaic Man (sic, for both words), the civilizations of ‘the East’, notably Indian Brahmanical religion, and more besides, into the single category of ‘the traditional’, opposed to modern, that is Western, Historical Man.