A.M.'s Myth and Folklore Blog

Myth and Folklore ML-3043-996

Category: Week 4

Week 4 StoryLab: Advice to Writers

Jon Winokur’s “Advice to Writers” blog has a wealth of fun, insightful, and very useful tips, tricks, and reflections about writing, and in browsing it I found many things I had thought about writing before staring back up at me from the page, so to speak.

Two quotes in particular stood out to me. The first, from Emmanuel Carrère, says that “everything is worth writing” and attacks the self-censorship and shame that so often accompanies the prospect of making a half-formed idea “official” by putting it to paper. As has so often been said, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” and I think that nowhere does this apply so much as writing.

It’s true that writing is, from one angle, a process of communication and transfer of ideas, but from another perspective, it is really an exercise in the development, crystallization, and structuring of ideas. Communication is just an accidental side effect. Ever since I learned to be less afraid of putting pen to paper, I have been able to develop my ideas with so much more ease, even if those notes are never seen, never read, and never referred to again.

The second quote that struck me was from Elizabeth Gilbert writing in opposition to the “German, romantic idea that if you’re not in pain, and if you’re not causing pain by making your art, then you’re not really doing it right.” This Germanic concept and its centrality to current notions of intellectualism have always bothered me deeply. The notion that pain and distress are necessary or sufficient to make art, I believe, is nonsense. Suffering in the making or the experiencing does not make something art, though it can be an important part of making and experiencing some — but not all! — art.

The Bohemian. The term is these days often celebrated by people who tend to share in the idea that art is pain, and vice versa. (Painting by Renoir, image from Wikipedia — incidentally the painting is currently in Germany.)

This is a great blog full of great quotes, and I’m bookmarking it to keep coming back!

Week 4 Reading Notes: Cupid and Psyche, Part B

Bibliography: Cupid and Psyche by Apuleius, translated into English by Tony Kline. Text from the course UnTextbook.

  • For this part’s reading notes, I chose the “Task Accomplished” and “The Jar of Beauty” segments.
  • The Task Accomplished:
    • Psyche, having been sent to fetch water from the otherworldly river Styx, descends to its banks.
    • The place exudes menace, and even the river itself seems to be telling Psyche to flee before its immense powers overwhelm and kill her.
    • But chance intervenes, and Jupiter’s royal eagle sees Psyche so endangered and comes to her aid.
    • He chides her for thinking to bring about her own demise by taking a drop from the Stygian waters, and instead does so himself, giving Psyche the filled vial.
Psyche in the Underworld, by Hillemacher. (Image from the course UnTextbook.)
  • The Jar of Beauty:
    • Venus, finding Psyche’s success in her labors noting but unnatural and insulting, gives Psyche another task: she is to go to the underworld and request of Persephone some of her beauty in a vial for Venus, who, she is to say, is worn ragged by caring for Cupid, her injured son.
    • Psyche, despairing, climbs to the top of a high tower in preparation to commit suicide, but, at the last moment, the tower itself begins to speak.
    • The tower tells Psyche that there is nothing to be gained by killing herself since it too will send her straight to Tartarus, but without any chance of return.
    • Instead, the tower offers a long and complicated set of directions and instructions for how Psyche is to reach the underworld. He warns Psyche of what she must and must not do to pass all the guardians of the underworld. Above all, he warns Psyche not to look at the essence of divine beauty she collects from Persephone.
    • Psyche follows these instructions and reaches the palace of Persephone in the underworld, where Venus’ request is promptly fulfilled.
    • Psyche comes back to the overworld, but, overcome with curiosity, decides to look in the vial and take a drop from it for herself.

Storybook Topic Research: Celestial Objects Stories

I’m choosing to focus my storybook research on my “observatory” concept from the topic brainstorming assignment.

An entrance to the Arecibo Observatory. (Image from their site, at the link.)

My vision for this involves a frame story where a young, new, fresh-from-university scientist arrives at the Arecibo Observatory. Their dogmatic and assertive personality, combined with their excessive confidence in scientific orthodoxy, rubs the old hands the wrong way. Frustrated by the new member’s narrow-mindedness, one of the long time senior scientists decides to irritate them — and, as it becomes clear, teach an important lesson — by telling ancient mythological stories about the natures and origins of all the celestial objects they observe.

Possible stories:

  • “The Moon in the Well”: in this source story a group of monkeys are looking at the moon when it is covered up by clouds. Panicking, the monkeys search wildly for the missing moon. Then, one of them sees a reflection of the moon in the water at the bottom of a well. The monkeys then hurry to save the moon from where they think it has fallen, chaining together and hanging from a tree limb. But the tree breaks, and the monkeys fall and are trapped in the well.

    Some object will disappear from observations; there is debate about whether it’s a real result or an artifact of technological issues. This story gets told during the argument.
  • “Why the Sun is Brighter than the Moon” — essentially, two sisters, one kindhearted and one jealous and petty, are chosen for divine gifts, but upon seeing the second sister’s personality, the gift of a diamond that can light the whole universe is given to the first sister but nothing is given to the second. The second is jealous and goes to heaven to steel a jewel, but her crime makes her jewel burn dimly by comparison. Eventually their jewels are both thrown into the sky where the brighter becomes the sun and the duller the moon.

    A debate about stellar composition prompts a lighthearted recollection of a folk story around the coffee machine.
  • ‘The Origin of the Pleiades” — in this story a young man falls in love with one of seven beautiful sisters who live in the sky. To marry her, he must go there with them. He does, marries her, and that explains why one of the seven sisters is fainter in the night sky: she is staying back with her husband instead of joining fully in their celestial dance.

    A simplified chemical model predicts that a certain variance in emission spectra between two stars can be attributed to a certain difference in composition; another scientist disputes the validity of the model and, as a counterexample, tells this story.

Week 4 Reading Notes: Cupid and Psyche, Part A

Bibliography: Cupid and Psyche by Apuleius, translated into English by Tony Kline. Text from the course UnTextbook.

  • I choose the segment “The Magical Palace.”
  • Psyche finds herself transported into a beautiful grove, her anxiety and fear miraculously calmed. Awakening from her slumber, she looks around and finds herself in a celestial garden.
  • In the middle of the garden, she finds a great palace too beautiful and too ornate to be the product of human ingenuity.
  • Psyche, enthralled, enters the palace, and finds its interior equal in grandeur to the facade.
  • Exploring further, she finds storerooms of treasure and casually piled gold and jewels.
  • Exiting a treasure room, Psyche is surprised by a disembodied voice that, addressing her respectfully, explains that all she finds is hers and that the voices she will hear in the palace are those of the servants who await her command and serve her comfort.
  • Psyche, surprised by her luck, bathes, rests, and then comes to a table. When she sits down, the invisible servants set a lavish feast, and, though she cannot see them, she hears their whispers as they prepare and serve the dishes.
  • Finally, the invisible servants perform a song and serenade Psyche.
Psyche and the “Invisible” Servants (wouldn’t be very interesting as a painting if they were actually invisible, I guess). A painting by Giordano. From the class blog.