"Enduring Myth: The Survival of the Unfit"

Ellwood Wiggins, "Enduring Myth: The Survival of the Unfit in Sophocles, Heiner Müller, Ursula Krechel, and Hans Blumenberg," The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory, 95:2 (2020): 94-113.

Abstract: To endure and to survive appear as synonyms in dictionaries, but the fates of the two words in the popular imagination have taken opposite tracks. ‘Endurance’ has enjoyed literary cache and wide admiration since the Homeric epics. One of Odysseus’ most common epithets in the Odyssey is polutlās, “much-enduring.” Endurance points to a capacity to suffer hardship, and has been lauded as a heroic virtue in many cultures. This passive submission to suffering, however, has lost its luster in recent generations. Since Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in the eighteenth century, and since Darwin and Spencer in the late nineteenth, “survival” has slowly begun to supplant “endurance” as an admirable goal. In many biological and sociological works, as well as in popular culture, “to survive” implies an active, seeking will. I claim that the metaphor of survival has “re-occupied,” to speak with Hans Blumenberg, the older role of endurance in a variety of modern discourses. My essay explores this shift by reading three stranded island narratives: Sophocles’ Philoctetes (409 BCE), Heiner Müller’s Philoktet (1964), and Ursula Krechel’s Stimmen aus dem harten Kern (2005). The evidence of these texts allows me to interrogate Blumenberg’s metaphor of survival in his claims about the work of and on myth. The language of survival, so pervasive in today’s scientific, economic, and sociological discourses, was born out of the death and resurrection of earlier forms of passive perseverance.

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