A Classic Case of Cultural Misappropriation Misrepresented as Scholarship

I am taking a mythology class. First mistake: it’s an English/Literature class, not an Anthropology class. I should have known better.

The textbook, about which you will be hearing a great deal, is Myth and Knowing: An Introduction to World Mythology, by Scott Leonard and Michael McLure. There’s a lot of broad, systematic problems with the book from feminist, pagan, and various other angles (scholastic and otherwise), but here’s a nice and easy one.

The French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar wrote a short story entitled “Kali Beheaded”. It’s not a bad story (not great either … though I can’t say for sure since I can’t read the original French), but it’s just a story. Jyoti Panjawani has written an essay on the three Hindu stories that appear to have inspired “Kali Beheaded”.

Myth and Knowing misrepresents Yourcenar’s fiction as an actual Hindu myth of the divine femininea “modern adaptation of traditional materials (Leonard 157)”, as though all she’d done was adjust the formatting from lyric to prose and tweak the language for modern comprehention. No. That’s not what she did. It’s an utter fabrication, published elsewhere (rightly) not as anthropology but as her own goddamn original fiction.

This is officially the first in what will become a long series of posts about the epic fail that is this textbook.