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Reply To: Why I Disagree with Joe Campbell



Yes – if Campbell’s ideas are to be taken seriously, criticism is essential, as opposed to hagiography and hero worship.

Of course, in popular usage the word “criticism” carries a negative connotation, given its relationship to the verb “criticize,” which suggests complaint and negative judgement (“How dare you criticize my choice/beliefs/appearance!”) . . .  but that’s not how Campbell and his colleagues in the academic and literary worlds read the word: for them, criticism takes the form of a critique – an analysis, overview, or evaluation of a work that includes good points and bad, and places the work within a larger picture.

In an earlier version of this website, we included a Joseph Campbell Amazon aStore, with over a thousand titles: we included a section of works by authors and thinkers who influenced Campbell’s development, another section for works Campbell referenced in his writings, and so on – and we made sure we had a separate category for Campbell Criticism – which included Robert Segal’s and Robert Ellwood’s books, among others. Far from bashing Campbell, most of these authors highlight more than just disagreements – they also log positive contributions from Campbell, and note areas where they wish he had been more clear.

Some critiques resonate more than others with me, but even those where I feel the author misses the mark (much of Robert Segal’s analysis, which may be because there wasn’t that much of Campbell’s work available at the time, so he missed much that is explained or amplified in posthumous publications), I find them generally worth the read.

Can’t say the same though for Brendan Gil’s accusations of anti-Semitism, which proved petty and personal. The link you provide to “Bashing Joseph Campbell” does a good job of illustrating how thin Gil’s charges are (especially the absence of evidence or examples, not to mention how Gil, for someone who claimed to know Campbell well, demonstrates ignorance of what “follow your bliss” means and other key elements of Joseph’s mythological perspective), and how that alleged anti-Semitic streak isn’t borne out in Campbell’s work (quite the opposite: respected Cormac McCarthy scholar Rick Wallach, who began his career assisting Joseph Campbell back in the 1960s, and also happens to be Jewish, noted in a personal communication that Campbell wrote the four volumes of The Masks of God as his response to the horror of the Holocaust). Gil’s tantrum is not criticism (not in the academic or literary sense), but simply a personal attack designed to hurt Campbell’s reputation.