Into The Wild - Jessica Mason McFadden Pt3          

Fairbanks Bus 142

McCandless and the Metamyth:
The Wild Collisions of an Isolation Myth Inverted

The questioning and criticizing of the myth from within the myth is educational. It educates readers on the nature of the myth, a lesson that has little to do with McCandless and much to do with the metaphorical staying power of the McCandless Myth. Strewn throughout the myth and inherent in both its reading and telling are interpersonal, multipersonal complications and conflicts in opinion. Across the myth, there is also an invitation to readers to engage with the nature of mythos: to question McCandless’ story is to question the nature of the myth itself. To question the nature of myth itself requires that an individual feel implicated in some way by it. Not only implicated, but extricated.

This brings to the surface the notion that themes of alienation and connection in Into the Wild are not only interpreted out of McCandless’ actions and person; they are themes that reflect the cultural values of its collective reader, themes that are displaced into the myth and read out of it, rearticulated and recirculated in the continuously present act of mythtelling. This happens throughout the entire book, and is revealed most poignantly in moments when Krakauer directly addresses ongoing interpretive conflicts that exist within the narrative construct. For instance, when he reports that “when McCandless turned up dead in Alaska and the perplexing circumstances of his demise were reported in the news media, many people concluded that the boy must have been mentally ill” (70), he places the reader within the myth’s interpretive web of conflict. Charged words of judgment, whether Krakauer dispels or reinforces them, have a way of urging us to become part of the mythical telling order to assist in rendering a decision. McCandless’ myth, in particular because the individual McCandless so purposefully and haphazardly placed himself in a position of conflict without building on or solidifying his own myth with detailed explanations, makes us, as readers, hyperaware of our role in its production. We, by virtue of its piecemeal retelling, are handed the proverbial microscope and encouraged to participate in mythtelling. Krakauer reveals the constructed, multidimensional or many-masked, nature of the myth by piecing together its parts and acknowledging their sources.

You might wonder: if all names and elements of the stories can be juxtaposed in the process of a collective interpretation, then how can we ever agree on one set, one-dimensional story of McCandless? The answer is that we cannot. Mythical one-dimensionality is not possible: not for McCandless and not for any other myth. If there is a focal point in Krakauer’s book, it is the focal point of mythical construction. The perpetual juxtaposition inherent in myth-making, the shared process and act of mythtelling, and the discord and harmony of complex information-sharing are the most concrete elements that come out of the myth of McCandless. As readers who, in reading, simultaneously participate in the telling, or construction, of our source of reading, we straddle the borders between inception and reception, serving and shaping the myth through our actively read translations. We are the interlocutors, standing with one foot inside of its pages and one foot outside. McCandless found himself relating to his own comprehensive myth this way, with blind belief in it, conscious and unconscious construction of it, and a general sense of distrust as he lived it out. We can look to its source in modern society, we can place the blame in the modern collective malady of the soul, or “deficiency of psychic representation [that] hinders sensory, sexual, and intellectual life,” as does psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva (9). Or, we can focus, alternately, on making something from it: a new myth about myths, perhaps.
We can engage in somewhat self-deceptive unilateral myth-making processes, like the kind that drove McCandless to go to Alaska and, to some extent, Krakauer to study McCandless. Whenever we encounter myths like McCandless’, we do this, but we, as humans, are multimythical. We participate in the construction of many myths at the same time, inhabiting our chosen myths and the myths we encounter through circumstances. Ideally, the more aware we are of our constructive processes, the less we will need to believe in or solve any given myth in order to find it useful or fascinating. Into the Wild, with the help of all of us – especially Krakauer, takes us one step closer to a less-literalist operational mode of self-reflection: what might hold for us a kind of freedom— the freedom of awareness and connection without attachment.

Works Cited
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Writing on the Body: A Gender and Culture Reader. New York: Columbia University Press. 1997. Web.
Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. New York: Anchor Books. 1996. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. New Maladies of The Soul. New York: Columbia University Press. 1995. Print.

Jessica McFadden Part 1

Jessica McFadden Part 2

Jessica McFadden Part 3



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