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

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  • #72808

    What shall I say about Joseph Campbell? I consider him my spiritual guru. He was the one who gave a proper direction to my creative side, my right-brain, when it was wandering lost in the forest. His outlook on myth and the human psyche has informed my viewpoints ever since I discovered him in my early twenties.

    But 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.

    Then came the pandemic and the lockdown, and all of us were left with a chance to reassess our life – and I suddenly found myself writing again. In the terms of Campbell’s Hero Journey, I had finally “heeded the call to adventure”. I was “following my bliss”.

    Then, a fortnight back, I was diagnosed with hernia and needed a surgery. This made my withdrawal even more acute. In a world going to hell on a handcart, I needed some spiritual solace, and I came back to Joe. From across the gulf of years, my guru told me:

    “When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree. The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We’re not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.”

    No, he is not advocating callous indifference – he is just telling us the only way to set the world right is to take that journey inward and find our own still centre, the place of Nirvana, where the Buddhahood awaits each and every one of us.

    This book is a collection of his essential thoughts from across many books and lectures. For anyone not familiar with the person, it is good introduction. For a Campbell aficionado, it something to be dipped into at leisure, reading a bit here, a bit there.

    And the biggest takeaway was – though I now disagreed with a lot of what he said, the creative flame lit in my mind was still by him. He was still my guru, because it is not the function of the teacher to pour things into the student, but draw his essence out.

    “From the darkness of ignorance,
    With the lodestone of truth,
    He who has opened my eyes:
    To him, my guru, I bow.”

    Joe says – “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”

    Yes. I suddenly realised that over the years, I had lost the joy. Now to bring it back!

    #72812

    Thank you Nandu. I watched Power of Myth and like listening to Joseph Campbell but don’t do much nonfiction. That’s why this is my favorite Campbell book. I love the little stories from his life. They really help me understand better.

    #72811

    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!

    #72810

    I’m interested in learning what Campbell’s change of mind was about the Arthurian Grail material. I assume I am familiar with his revised concepts but would be interested in a synopsis of his earlier ideas to compare, and edify.

    Thank You!

    Peace,
    matthew kesner

     

    #72809

    Hi Nandu,

    I am happy for you that you are getting your joy back! I hope by now you are healed from your hernia too and that your writing is going well!

    I agree with what you discuss here. Even if the world is a perfect mess, we can each try to handle our own mess and if we do that then we each help make the world a little less messy!

    Best Wishes,

    Marianne

     

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