The Mythology of Transgression

The Mythology of Transgression : Homosexuality as Metaphor

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Jamake Highwater is a master storyteller and one of our most visionary writers, hailed as "an eloquent bard, whose words are fire and glory" (Studs Terkel) and "a writer of exceptional vision and power" (Anais Nin). Author of more than thirty volumes of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, Highwater--considered by many to be the intellectual heir of Joseph Campbell--has long been intrigued by how our mythological legacies have served as a foundation of modern civilization. Now, in The Mythology of Transgression, he uses his remarkable narrative powers to offer a personal and extraordinarily far-ranging examination of how people who stand outside of society--by dint of their sexual orientation, physical appearance, ideas, artistic inclinations, or ethnic heritage--often achieve lasting, even profound influence upon the culture at large. Drawing from a stunningly rich variety of sources ranging from the arts and literature to biology, physics, psychology, and anthropology, Highwater looks at his own outsider status--as a gay man, an artist, and an orphaned Native American--in an attempt to explore how mythologies from ancient times to the present have shaped the ways we think about social "abnormality" and alienation. Throughout, he points to a paradox at the center of Western values--the competing notions that the outsider is at once sinful and wise, that in everyday life the transgressor is ostracized, while in our most durable folklore and religious legends, heroes must break the rules to achieve greatness. Focusing in particular on homosexuality as a modern metaphor of transgression, Highwater brilliantly mixes personal anecdotes with wide ranging research, leading us on a tour through the history of social conformity and rejection, citing examples that span from Judeo-Christian-Islamic doctrines of good and evil, to the Navajo Nation's ambivalence toward the nature of sexuality, to Carson McCullers's treatment of physical deformity in the novella Member of the Wedding, to Descartes's theories of dualism. He also pays special attention to the debates currently raging in science regarding the biology of homosexuality and provides an engaging discussion of why we are motivated to seek a genetic basis of sexual orientation in the first place. Jamake Highwater has long been celebrated as a writer uniquely suited to give voice to the social outsider. Often provocative, always fascinating, The Mythology of Transgression is a tour de force of eloquent scholarship, a book that will prompt discussion and debate on the subject for years to come."show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 268 pages
  • 162.56 x 231.14 x 30.48mm | 612.35g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • 0195101804
  • 9780195101805

Review Text

The prolific Highwater (The Language of Vision, 1994; Myth and Sexuality, 1990; etc.) once again explores the foundations of mythological structures, this time with the purpose of determining why homosexuality has been singled out as culturally deviant in contemporary Western society. The result is a rambling but occasionally insightful discussion of the intersections of homosexuality with religion, science, and culture, which unfortunately loses its spirit halfway through. Highwater's argument rests on a redefinition of "transgression," which society has traditionally rendered as sinful or inherently dangerous behavior. What we have missed, he claims, is the notion of transgression as a courageous testing of boundaries, a creative and "rebellious act that breaks conceptual barriers." Homosexuality, he says, can be seen as a metaphor for such boundary intrusion. Highwater offers some (but not enough) examples of the hero's role in myths of adventure to demonstrate that boundary testing can be celebrated, not demonized, for heroes always trespass the perimeters of their culture and do the forbidden thing. Highwater has obviously read widely, which contributes to the depth of his argument but might confuse readers who are unaccustomed to hearing from Erich Fromm in one paragraph and Alice in Wonderland in the next. Highwater draws freely from the work of cultural anthropologists, such as Mary Douglas, whose work she quite adroitly uses to elucidate the cultural taboos of the margins. However, Highwater can't decide if he is directing the book at a popular or an academic audience; it begins in a very personal way (he is himself gay, as well as Native American) and becomes progressively more scholarly and detached. But when he relies more heavily on the work of others, the lack of citations becomes quite irritating. And toward the end Highwater loses the focus, falling into inchoate discussions of the more questionable "mythologies" of sensibility and culture. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Jamake Highwater

About the Author: Jamake Highwater is the author of 34 books, including the bestseller The Primal Mind, Myth and Sexuality, The Language of Vision, and Dance: Rituals of more

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19 ratings
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