This essay explores ways in which cultures at different levels and in different historical circumstances employ different modes of discourse to deal with conflict and with ways to resolve it. The study is based on ethnographic observations of the Tsimshian myth of Asdiwal, collected by Boas and made famous by Lévi-Strauss; the story of Sakuntala, from a Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata; and Remarque's war novel of 1929, All Quiet on the Western Front. In the first case, no resolution of the conflicts comprising the narrative is required, because in mythical thinking adversaries are united in the strife that divides them. In the second example, the conflict is between the contested realities, colliding ideologies, and divergent social practices of the priestly and warrior castes; the discourse of the epic illuminates the differences in explicit detail in order to permit negotiation. The final instance is of a modern European narrative in which the specific causes and consequences of the Great War are obscure to the soldiers fighting in it. It is random chance, rather than the negotiation or transcendence of difference, that is thought, in this mode, to determine who lives and dies. The essay concludes with speculation about why this third and present mode has been less successful than the other two in dealing with conflict and its resolution.

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