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Reply To: Myth: The Grammar of Creativity,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.”


Allow me to hitchhike on Sunbug’s kudos and add my own appreciation for this “delightful” statement, Brad:

Mythopoesis is a uniquely human endeavor and delighting in it allows one to, if not exactly remake the world, at least remake our own reality here and now. For there is no fear in delight, no pain, no thought; delight is pure experience, and is in itself, transcendent.”

This observation mirrors the delight Campbell displays in his approach to the subject – a perspective first enunciated in “The Dilettante Among Symbols” (etymologically, a dilettante is “one who takes delight”), the opening chapter of Heinrich Zimmer’s The King and the Corpse – one of four posthumous Zimmer works, edited by Joseph Campbell and compiled from boxes full of typewritten lecture notes, partial outlines, “scraps of paper, scribbled in German, English, Sanskrit, and French,” and even notes found in the margins of books – a task that ate twelve years of Campbell’s life.

I think of Zimmer’s four posthumous volumes as “proto-Campbell”; Joe’s playful voice certainly comes through (which is evident when one compares these books, published in English, with the English translation of Kunstform und Yoga im indischen Kultbild (“Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India”), the 1926 work that brought Zimmer to Jung’s attention.

Here is an excerpt of Zimmer arriving at the same conclusion re delight in myth:

Delight . . . sets free in us the creative intuition, permits it to be stirred to life by contact with the fascinating script of the old symbolic tales and figures. Undaunted then by the criticism of the methodologists (whose censure is largely inspired by what amounts to a chronic agoraphobia: morbid dread before the virtual infinity that is continually opening out from the cryptic traits of the expressive picture writing which it is their profession to regard) we may permit ourselves to give vent to whatever series of creative reactions happens to be suggested to our imaginative understanding. We can never exhaust the depths – of that we may be certain; but then, neither can anyone else. And a cupped handful of the fresh waters of life is sweeter than a whole reservoir of dogma, piped and guaranteed.” (The King and the Corpse 5)

No wonder Campbell declares that Zimmer “gave me the courage to interpret myths out of what I knew of their common symbols.” Zimmer encouraged Campbell to follow his instincts, give free rein to his imagination and actually engage the mythic archetypes, rather than analyze, categorize, and systematize them to death. This experiential mythology, with its emphasis on the numinous image and the power of myth, is guaranteed to make many an academic specialist uncomfortable.

And, on a related note, nearly four decades later, in conversation with Bill Moyers, Campbell underscores that same resonance between myth and poetry that you highlight:

I think of mythology as the homeland of the muses, the inspirers of art, the inspirers of poetry. To see life as a poem and yourself participating in the poem is what the myth does for you. (Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth 55)

Apparently great minds really do think alike, Brad . . .