Joseph Campbell

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Robert Walter:

"When Joe returned from Europe late in August 1929, he was at a crossroads, unable to decide what to do with his life. With the onset of the Great Depression, he found himself with no hope of obtaining a teaching job; and so he spent most of the next two years reconnecting with his family, reading, renewing old acquaintances, and writing copious entries in his journal. Then, late in 1931, after exploring and rejecting the possibility of a doctoral program or teaching job at Columbia, he decided, like countless young men before and since, to “hit the road,” to undertake a cross-country journey in which he hoped to experience “the soul of America” and, in the process, perhaps discover the purpose of his life. In January of 1932, when he was leaving Los Angeles, where he had been studying Russian in order to read War and Peace in the vernacular, he pondered his future in this journal entry:

I begin to think that I have a genius for working like an ox over totally irrelevant subjects. . . . I am filled with an excruciating sense of never having gotten anywhere—but when I sit down and try to discover where it is I want to get, I’m at a loss. . . . The thought of growing into a professor gives me the creeps. A lifetime to be spent trying to kid myself and my pupils into believing that the thing that we are looking for is in books! I don’t know where it is—but I feel just now pretty sure that it isn’t in books.—It isn’t in travel.—It isn’t in California.—It isn’t in New York. . . . Where is it? And what is it, after all?

Thus one real result of my Los Angeles stay was the elimination of Anthropology from the running. I suddenly realized that all of my primitive and American Indian excitement might easily be incorporated in a literary career.—I am convinced now that no field but that of English literature would have permitted me the almost unlimited roaming about from this to that which I have been enjoying. A science would buckle me down—and would probably yield no more important fruit than literature may yield me!—If I want to justify my existence, and continue to be obsessed with the notion that I’ve got to do something for humanity—well, teaching ought to quell that obsession—and if I can ever get around to an intelligent view of matters, intelligent criticism of contemporary values ought to be useful to the world. This gets back again to Krishna’s dictum: “The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.”

His travels next carried him north to San Francisco, then back south to Pacific Grove, where he spent the better part of a year in the company of Carol and John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts. During this time, he wrestled with his writing, discovered the poems of Robinson Jeffers, first read Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West, and wrote to some seventy colleges and universities in an unsuccessful attempt to secure employment. Finally, he was offered a teaching position at the Canterbury School. He returned to the East Coast, where he endured an unhappy year as a Canterbury housemaster, the one bright moment being when he sold his first short story (“Strictly Platonic”) to Liberty magazine. Then, in 1933, he moved to a cottage without running water on Maverick Road in Woodstock, New York, where he spent a year reading and writing. In 1934, he was offered and accepted a position in the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College, a post he would retain for thirty-eight years.

In 1938 he married one of his students, Jean Erdman, who would become a major presence in the emerging field of modern dance, first as a star dancer in Martha Graham’s fledgling troupe and later, as a dancer and choreographer of her own company.

Even as he continued his teaching career, Joe’s life continued to unfold serendipitously. In 1940, he was introduced to Swami Nikhilananda, who enlisted his help in producing a new translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (published in 1942). Subsequently, Nikhilananda introduced Joe to the Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, who introduced him to a member of the editorial board at the Bollingen Foundation. Bollingen, which had been founded by Paul and Mary Mellon to “develop scholarship and research in the liberal arts and sciences and other fields of cultural endeavor generally,” was embarking upon an ambitious publishing project, the Bollingen Series. Joe was invited to contribute an “Introduction and Commentary” to the first Bollingen publication, Where the Two Came to Their Father: A Navaho War Ceremonial, text and paintings recorded by Maud Oakes, given by Jeff King (Bollingen Series, I: 1943).

When Zimmer died unexpectedly in 1943 at the age of fifty-two, his widow, Christiana, and Mary Mellon asked Joe to oversee the publication of his unfinished works. Joe would eventually edit and complete four volumes from Zimmer’s posthumous papers: Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (Bollingen Series VI: 1946), The King and the Corpse (Bollingen Series XI: 1948), Philosophies of India (Bollingen Series XXVI: 1951), and a two-volume opus, The Art of Indian Asia (Bollingen Series XXXIX: 1955).

Joe, meanwhile, followed his initial Bollingen contribution with a “Folkloristic Commentary” to The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1944); he also coauthored (with Henry Morton Robinson) A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944), the first major study of James Joyce’s notoriously complex novel.

His first full-length solo authorial endeavor, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Bollingen Series XVII: 1949), was published to acclaim and brought him the first of numerous awards and honors—the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Contributions to Creative Literature. In this study of the myth of the hero, Campbell posits the existence of a Monomyth (a word he borrowed from James Joyce), a universal pattern that is the essence of, and common to, heroic tales in every culture. While outlining the basic stages of this mythic cycle, he also explores common variations in the hero’s journey, which, he argues, is an operative metaphor, not only for an individual, but for a culture as well. The Hero would prove to have a major influence on generations of creative artists—from the abstract expressionists in the 1950s to contemporary filmmakers today—and would, in time, come to be acclaimed as a classic.

Joe would eventually author dozens of articles and numerous other books, including The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology (Vol. 1: 1959), Oriental Mythology (Vol. 2: 1962), Occidental Mythology (Vol. 3: 1964), and Creative Mythology (Vol. 4: 1968); The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension (1969); Myths to Live By (1972); The Mythic Image (1974); The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion (1986); and five books in his unfinished four-volume, multipart Historical Atlas of World Mythology (1983–87).

He was also a prolific editor. Over the years, he edited The Portable Arabian Nights (1952) and was general editor of the series Man and Myth (1953–54), which included major works by Maya Deren (Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, 1953), Carl Kerenyi (The Gods of the Greeks, 1954), and Alan Watts (Myth and Ritual in Christianity, 1954). He also edited The Portable Jung (1972), as well as six volumes of Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks (Bollingen Series XXX): Spirit and Nature (1954), The Mysteries (1955), Man and Time (1957), Spiritual Disciplines (1960), Man and Transformation (1964), and The Mystic Vision (1969).

But his many publications notwithstanding, it was arguably as a public speaker that Joe had his greatest popular impact. From the time of his first public lecture in 1940—a talk at the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center entitled “Sri Ramakrishna’s Message to the West”—it was apparent that he was an erudite but accessible lecturer, a gifted storyteller, and a witty raconteur. In the ensuing years, he was asked more and more often to speak at different venues on various topics. In 1956, he was invited to speak at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute; working without notes, he delivered two straight days of lectures. His talks were so well received, he was invited back annually for the next seventeen years. In the mid-1950s, he also undertook a series of public lectures at the Cooper Union in New York City; these talks drew an ever-larger, increasingly diverse audience, and soon became a regular event.

Joe first lectured at Esalen Institute in California in 1965. Each year thereafter, he returned to Big Sur to share his latest thoughts, insights, and stories. And as the years passed, he came to look forward more and more to his annual sojourns to the place he called “paradise on the Pacific Coast.” Although he retired from teaching at Sarah Lawrence in 1972 to devote himself to his writing, he continued to undertake two monthlong lecture tours each year.

In 1985, Joe was awarded the National Arts Club Gold Medal of Honor in Literature. At the award ceremony, James Hillman remarked, “No one in our century—not Freud, not Thomas Mann, not Lévi-Strauss—has so brought the mythical sense of the world and its eternal figures back into our everyday consciousness.”

Joseph Campbell died unexpectedly in 1987 after a brief struggle with cancer. In 1988, millions were introduced to his ideas by the broadcast on PBS of Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, six hours of an electrifying conversation that the two men had videotaped over the course of several years. When he died, Newsweek magazine noted that “Campbell has become one of the rarest of intellectuals in American life: a serious thinker who has been embraced by the popular culture.”

In his later years, Joe was fond of recalling how Schopenhauer, in his essay “On the Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual,” wrote of the curious feeling one can have, of there being an author somewhere writing the novel of our lives, in such a way that through events that seem to us to be chance happenings there is actually a plot unfolding of which we have no knowledge."



Campbell vs Jung on Myth

From the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

"Although regularly labeled a Jungian, Campbell differed from the Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst in many ways. He analyzed the personality in largely Jungian terms but rejected the balance Jung saw between the conscious and unconscious mind. Jung regarded myth as a useful part of therapy because it was a way for the conscious mind to uncover unconscious meaning and apply it to everyday life. For Campbell, myth provides sufficient access to the unconscious, and to have a myth is to need no therapy. Campbell advocated myth as a panacea for not only psychological woes but also social woes, and he attributed almost all human problems to the absence of myth. Campbell also saw himself as both a psychologist and a philosopher, whereas Jung saw himself as a psychologist alone. Rather than confine his subject matter to myth and the human mind, Campbell found in myth the key to the cosmos as a whole."




From the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

"In his four-volume survey of world mythology, The Masks of God (1959–68), Campbell revealed a wide range of influences in addition to Jung and Freud, including the ethologists Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz. Concerned with demonstrating the similarities between myths—the hero with a thousand faces, the god with many masks—he attributed the similarities sometimes to independent invention by each culture and sometimes to diffusion from a single culture. Thus his theory of myth fluctuated through the survey. Sometimes he favoured the East over the West, primitives over moderns, and planters over hunters. However, in the final volume, which he devoted to Western mythology from the mid-12th century to the present, he scorned primitives, planters, and the East and celebrated a self-reliant, heroic individualism that he believed was epitomized by the United States. He no longer asserted the mystical oneness of all persons and peoples but instead advocated the triumph of individuals—and their triumph in the human, not the divine, world. To some critics, Campbell, whose politics were unabashedly conservative, sounded like a Cold Warrior. He was a staunch supporter of the U.S. role in the Vietnam War and, ironically, an equally staunch opponent of the counterculture movement, which took his Hero as its inspiration.

In his other major work, the unfinished Historical Atlas of World Mythology (1983–87), Campbell discussed diffusion and independent invention as sources of similarities between myths and elaborately traced the routes by which diffusion took place. In the best-selling The Power of Myth (1988), the book form of his interview with Moyers, Campbell summed up his lifelong advocacy of myth as decisive for a happy life. Returning to the theme of the unity of myths originally enunciated in Hero, he claimed to find that unity not merely in the similarities between the traditional myths of the world but also in the newest source of myths: space travel. Seen from outer space, the Earth seems one."


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