Founded in 2002 by undergraduate English majors, The Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism acts as an interdisciplinary forum centered around literature, culture and politics. The journal is published once a year and includes articles, reviews, interviews and original artwork. As an undergraduate publication, CJLC attempts to examine the world around us in a way that is informed by academia but not subsumed by it.
CJLC also hosts events, including panel discussions with academics and writers (past topics have included Taste, Geopolitics, Cosmopolitanism, and Occupy), and a seminar series where Columbia professors and graduate students talk about their research in a casual setting.
In this volume of CJLC, we turn to the pressing issue of how myth figures in contemporary politics. The term may invite images of antiquity, of fabled truths that have departed the realm of the factual, and wound up in an altogether different place. Yet as Joo Kyung Lee shows us with her analysis of Artemis in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (page 88), even a discussion of ancient myth invites contemporary questions. In this vein, our interviews with Ayesha Siddiqi (page 98) and Mark Lilla (page 58) turn to the mythologies latent in American culture and politics.
In Roland Barthes’ seminal work Mythologies, the semiologist outlines a theory of myth that revolves around language. In his account, myth is a mode of speech that distorts and reconfigures the relationship between signifier and signified. Appealing to our conceptions of nature, myths validate certain worldviews while suppressing others. In other words, myths distort. With this in mind, Kate Irwin’s article on the commodification of “edible minorities” shows us myths as they are inscribed on supermarket packaging. Devika Kapadia’s piece (page 42) examines how modern Hindutva mythology governs interpretations of sacred mythical texts. This phenomenon is also central to our interview with Sheldon Pollock (page 32), whose Sanskrit scholarship came under fire after he signed petitions in support of Indian students’ freedom of speech.
As our discussion with Clémence Boulouque demonstrates (page 80), today’s ostensibly novel myths have older genealogies and corollaries than we might assume: see Mariam’s discussion of nineteenth century discourse on Arab female sexuality as it plays out in Saudi Arabia’s digital counterculture (page 12). Meanwhile, Adil Habib’s review on page 20 draws connections between the East India Company’s painting business and today’s international art market. On page 68, Ian Trueger shows what hate crimes in today’s Europe have in common with Inquisition Spain (hint: sausages). And our interview with Reinhold Martin (page 118) brings to light the origins of the contemporary neoliberal university in eighteenth century corporate law.
This volume is not about mythbusting so much as charting the journeys of myths in all their ruptures and continuities. We hope to play with the distortions that they offer us.
As always, thanks are due to our faculty advisor Nicholas Dames. For most of the editors, this is our last issue of CJLC. We will miss it dearly, but are excited to see what it becomes in the able hands of Devika and Becca next year.