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Reply To: ‘A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living’ – Review

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Nandu,

A wonderful review!

I tend to think of Joseph Campbell’s books as either “written Campbell” (books like The Hero with a Thousand Faces or the four volumes of the Masks of God tetralogy), or “spoken Campbell” (The Power of Myth, and many of his posthumous works drawn from lectures, like Pathways to Bliss or Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine). There is a different rhythm to the conversational works, which seem more accessible to a broader audience of readers.

A Joseph Campbell Companion is definitely “spoken Campbell” – easy to read and, as you point out, a good introduction.

But what stands out for me in your review is the following:

. . . of late, I have been disturbed – because I found myself more and more in disagreement with Joe, and I didn’t like it at all! But deep down, I felt that this disagreement was somehow essential to our relationship.”

This is indeed essential, Nandu, and I thank you for raising it. Indeed, I believe Joseph Campbell would appreciate your honest disagreement. The following excerpt, from a presentation by Campbell’s friend and colleague, David Miller, Ph.D., titled “The Fire Is In the Mind,” should affirm that point:

In fact, my experience of him [Joseph Campbell] with other scholars in the 60’s, when he was being scholarly, for example, at the meetings of the Society of the Arts, Religion and Culture three times a year in New York City, is that he delighted in catching these leaks and drips.  He changed his view of the source of myths in spontaneous parallel development in relation to historical diffusion.  He corrected his mistakes about neolithic dating in the 1969 edition of Primitive Mythology.  And one day, while he was working on Creative Mythology, he seemed to take delight in telling me that he had been wrong about the Arthurian Grail material.  With this insight he was able to go forward and finish the book.

It is odd to say, but to the extent a scholar is bold enough to be wrong, to that degree other scholars love (and, of course, also hate) their colleague, and this happens in the very moment they are showing him or her to have faulty plumbing.  If others claim that a scholar’s work is “right” or “true,” it simply means that those others, though no less intellectual, are not scholars.  If a scholar claims “truth” for his or her idea, it just means that that person is not for the moment being scholarly.  Academic, perhaps; but not scholarly.

Our intention at JCF, and here in Conversations of a Higher Order, is not to foster a “cult of Campbell,” but to provide a platform for discussing his mythological perspective. Authentic discussion includes raising honest disagreements and criticism, rather than just echoing hero worship (pun intended).

I would love to hear more about where you disagree with Joe – not to persuade you otherwise, but to add depth and dimension to the conversations here (and, I hope, encourage others to do the same). When you have the time and the inclination, feel free to  start a topic on either specific areas where you find Campbell in error (or where you have moved beyond his viewpoint), or on Campbell criticism in general. You could do that in The Conversation with a Thousand Faces forum , or, if focused on a specific work of his, right here in this forum.

In the meantime, glad to hear you have rediscovered the joy of Joseph Campbell.

Namaste!