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Reply To: Ego, Irony, and the Goddess,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.”

Bradley Olson

    Hi, Stephen

    Thanks for the opportunity to interact with the COHO community. I first became aware of Campbell in the very early 1990’s through the repeated showings of The Power of Myth on PBS. I was captivated by Campbell’s charismatic command of mythology, it’s stories, and the way he extracted meaning from them.

    At the time I was working in a large private practice in Scottsdale, AZ, and was feeling dissatisfied with what I believed to be a lack of imagination, creativity, and poetry in the field of psychology and psychotherapy in general. In watching Campbell’s interview with Bill Moyers, I was immediately struck by the therapeutic value of Campbell’s understanding of mythology, and that reading myth was an intensely personal act of reconnecting to one’s self as well as the world; that the deep self freed of ego distortion was a gift to be shared with the world.

    I was already psychoanalytically inclined, having done my own therapy with a psychoanalyst and pursuing psychoanalytic training while in a Ph.D. program in psychology, but Campbell was really the first person I encountered who made Freud and Jung seem like a synthesized whole, two halves of the same coin. This led to me receiving my Ph.D. in mythological studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute where I was profoundly influenced by both Christine Downing and David Miller who continued to help me find ways to unify Freud and Jung intellectually, practically, emotionally and theoretically.

    I tend to approach mythology from a literary perspective, which is probably no surprise to those of you who are familiar with my MythBlasts. The reason being is that literature (of which mythology is an inescapable foundation) gives a reader the opportunity to see themselves in a less subjective, less self-critical, less self-judgmental way because myth forces one to regard the world and human nature as it is, rather than as we want it to be. The idea of developing mythic thinking is more useful to me than mythic narratives by themselves. But of course, one can’t develop mythic thinking without reading and understanding the mythic narratives themselves. We learn to see mythically, which then encourages the ironic double vision which allows one to see into and through manifest appearances the world throws up to us and begin to apperceive a more metaphysical, transcendent reality which can’t, I believe, be fully understood, known, nor predicted.

    Another thing that draws me to Campbell and his work is that he was a beautiful and highly skilled writer. No one else in the field of mythological studies writes as well as wrote. James Hillman, of course, comes close as a writer, but Hillman was more of a romantic while Campbell was a modernist to the core, and this made Campbell more experimental, more personal, more subtly experimental in his writing that is as not all that different from James Joyce’s erudition, or Wallace Stevens fascination with the sublime. In fact, Stevens once wrote that a poem should resist the intelligence “almost successfully.” This is exactly the manner in which Campbell works with myth, and this is the reason psychotherapy done with this in mind is so…therapeutic.

    Thanks to all of you who support and enjoy the Joseph Campbell Foundation in general, and the MythBlast Series in particular. I look forward to the ongoing discussion.