Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.

Understanding Campbell

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
  • Author
    Posts
  • #73193

    Hello all.

    Just wanted to open this can of worms and start a conversation about Campbell and understanding his philosophy of life. Feel free to ask your own questions but mostly I am looking for some objective answers on how Campbell understood these subjects and how we can come to a better understanding of them. And since I am the one whos initiating this conversation let me kick start it with a couple of questions.

    So question number one. Morality… Campbell said (and correct me if I am wrong) that morality is relative and that there isn’t really evil in this world , and when asked by Moyers “but that doesn’t lead  to a more passive attitude in the face of evil”, he answered “that whatever you do you participate in it.” Now I am not a fan on pointing fingers and identifying with the good or how good I am but at the same time there are some incomprehensible cruel things going on in this world, in war or in families or just random events and they are pretty horrid. So what was Campbell trying to achieve by saying this?

    Question number two. Meaning.. Again Campbell said “we are not looking for meaning we are looking for an experience of being alive.” I am also having a bit trouble understanding this because in my experience meaning is what gives life purpose. And I kinda get what Campbell is trying to do here, redefining purpose, and trying to get us to be honest about thinking that there is some kind of objective meaning underlying life but was that his intention or I am missing something?

    So yeah these are just a couple questions that have been bugging me over the years and I am not sure what to make of them so here they are.

    🙂

    #73205

    Hello Drewie,

    You don’t ask the easy questions, do you?  😉

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to start with the question of morality, and then tackle meaning in a subsequent post (so multiple ideas don’t get all tangled up and bogged down in a single post).

    In the Power of Myth Bill Moyers does ask Joseph Campbell about the conflict between good and evil, but in relation to mythology. Campbell observes that this concept only emerged in mythology around the fifth century BC, with Zoroastrianism; after the return from the Babylonian Exile, Judaism picked up several key elements that are eventually passed on to Christianity (prior to that, the God of Israel was the source of good and evil – Isaiah 45:7 – “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”)

    Campbell did not say there was no such thing as evil – plenty of it – but he makes a distinction between the perspective of the Levantine religions, and that of the other mythologies:

    “In the other mythologies, one puts oneself in accord with the world, with the mixture of good and evil. But in the religious system of the Near East, you identify with the good and fight against the evil. The biblical traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all speak with derogation of the so-called nature religions.”

    Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers

    The problem, as Campbell sees it, is with the focus on ABSOLUTE Good opposed to ABSOLUTE Evil. In real life, good and evil are relative: you might think a steak is a good thing, but I’m pretty sure the steer that produced it would have a different take. An act considered evil in Iran is idealized in the United States, and vice versa – and even in the U.S., there are serious disputes about what is Good and what is Evil, especially in religion or politics.

    Campbell expands on this theme (from a draft of a manuscript I’ve edited that’s currently being prepared for publication):

    Morality is the local and contemporary, and the metaphysical vision is transcendent of that—the ‘elementary idea,’ rather than the ‘folk idea.’ This is the basic problem in religion: relating the ethical notion of good and evil, which is local. There is no such thing as absolute good and absolute evil. This is locally transformed in time and space, and then these two, good and evil, come together in our life.

    We have to make decisions about good and evil in life, but in our metaphysical knowledge we must go past, to wisdom⁠.

    Now, Nietzsche says the idea of the good man is an inorganic idea.  What you have done has been to cut man in half. Every act has both good and evil results.⁠  What’s good for the tiger is bad for the antelope.

    This is a theme that Wolfram Von Eschenbach brings up in his Grail legend of Parzival. He starts out by saying every deed involves light and dark; all that can be done is to intend the light. But the dark will come out, and I think we have learned that: two world wars that were for one thing have yielded another, haven’t they? We’ve been working for virtue and have achieved something else⁠.

    The acts of God are like acts of nature, indifferent to good and evil. Heraclitus is the one who said, ‘For God all things are good and right and just; but for man some are right and some are evil.’

    Notice that Campbell emphasizes the difference between the decisions we make in life about good and evil and how we behave, and the deeper, metaphysical underpinnings of myth – which is not to say that Campbell believes there is no place for ethics in religion. Bill Moyers points out to Campbell in the small paperback edition of  The Power of Myth that “myths deal with metaphysics,” but religion “deals with ethics, good and evil, how I relate to you, and how I should behave toward you and toward my wife and toward my fellow man under God. What is the role of ethics in mythology?”

    Campbell’s response, on page 281:

    We spoke of the metaphysical experience in which you realize that you and the other are one. Ethics is a way of teaching you how to live as though you were one with the other. You don’t have to have the experience because the doctrine of religion gives you molds of actions that imply a compassionate relationship with the other. It offers an incentive for doing this by teaching you that simply acting in your own self-interest is sin. That is identification with your body.”

    This is the essence of the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – or, in Bill Moyers’ formulation, “Love thy neighbor as thyself, because thy neighbor is thyself”). Variations of the Golden Rule are found in all major religions, including those, like Hinduism, which don’t automatically assume Good = God = Good.

    The difference Campbell finds is that religion often codifies an absolute morality (e.g., the Ten Commandments; the Levitical code; Sharia law) at odds with the reality of nature.

    From the same yet-to-be-published draft cited above (drawn from obscure interviews and Q & A sessions):

     

    CAMPBELL: The great health-giving and spiritually supporting attitude is that of yielding to nature, even in its ferocity and its terror. We think the ferocity and terror is evil. It isn’t. It’s part of the operation of what is natural.⁠ But there’s a faith in nature that’s involved here which we do not have in our biblical tradition, a faith that all things manifesting themselves in their perfection coordinate to a perfect manifestation in the world⁠. There’s a saying: the processes of nature cannot be evil. That’s a dreadful thought, but realize what the processes of nature involve.

    I saw a picture several years ago in an issue of National Geographic of three cheetahs eating a gazelle. The gazelle was still alive. They were at his belly, and the gazelle’s head was lifted. And I said to myself, ‘Do we say yes to that?’ We do⁠.

    Q: THE WAY YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT ‘SAYING YEA’  TO IT ALL—DOESN’T THAT RISK CONDONING IMMORALITY?

    Sure. That’s what’s tough about it; it’s the essence of the problem. How long can you look at it? How deeply can you see? What can you take? Or are you going to play a little game: ‘Listen to the birds, aren’t they just sweet? Don’t look at the gazelle being eaten by three cheetahs.⁠’

    You make your choice. If you want to be a moralist, go ahead. If you want to go love life, do—but know that life is nasty⁠. And it will involve death. Sorrow is part of the world.

    SO WE PARTICIPATE IN LIFE’S VIOLENCE?

    No, you don’t participate in it, but you can’t condemn it; this is part of life⁠.

    It takes an awful lot of guts really to say yes all the way. Do you have the energy and strength to face life? Life can ask more of you than you’re willing to give. And then you say, ‘Life is something that should not have been. I’m not going to play the game. I’m going to meditate. I’m going to pull out.’

    Through life and lust one comes to know something. And then there are two ways of knowing it: one, simply in its sensational aspect, and the other in the way of the mystery that is speaking to you through these. It’s the same mystery, birth and death, and this is the way life works⁠.

    Then there are two ways of participating. One is compulsively. The other, after you’ve got something of the experience, is to gain control of your dealing with life and death. It’s a delicate walking on the edge. If you do too much to control life, you kill it. The other option is to let life move.

    Elsewhere, Campbell, in reference to Eschenbach’s sense that “every deed involves light and dark; all that can be done is to intend the light” coupled with the idea of “saying yea to it all,”  is asked what if you are threatened by a poisonous snake? Joe’s response was that you kill the snake: “That’s not saying No to snakes; that’s saying No to that situation.”

    The above may not resolve your question, but I hope it helps clarifies some of Campbell’s thoughts on the subject and maybe expands the conversation.

    #73204

    Drewie writes

    Question number two. Meaning.. Again Campbell said ‘we are not looking for meaning we are looking for an experience of being alive.’ I am also having a bit trouble understanding this because in my experience meaning is what gives life purpose. And I kinda get what Campbell is trying to do here, redefining purpose, and trying to get us to be honest about thinking that there is some kind of objective meaning underlying life but was that his intention or I am missing something?”

    I do believe you’ve grasped Campbell’s intention. The problem is with the way that question is generally asked – “What is the meaning of life?”   – which implies there is one simple, all-purpose objective answer that applies across the board (Douglas Adams playfully makes the same essential point as Campbell in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when he writes that the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years, is 42 . . . unfortunately, no one remembers what the ultimate question is.)

    What is the meaning’ of a tree? of a butterfly? of the birth of a child? or of the universe? What is the ‘meaning’ of the song of a rushing stream? Such wonders simply are. They are antecedent to meaning, though “meaning” may be read into them.”

    Joseph Campbell, The Flight of the Wild Gander, p. xii

    “Meaning” is a construct of the human mind – a function of how our brain processes information. Meaning is subjective; we won’t find the answer in the back of the textbook.

     

    “CAMPBELL: I don’t believe life has a purpose. Life is a lot of protoplasm with an urge to reproduce and continue in being.

    MOYERS: Not true—not true.

    CAMPBELL: Wait a minute. Just sheer life cannot be said to have a purpose, because look at all the different purposes it has all over the place. But each incarnation, you might say, has a potentiality, and the mission of life is to live that potentiality.”

    Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers

    You can’t ask somebody to give The Reason, but you can find one for yourself; you decide what the meaning of your life is to be. People talk about the meaning of life; there is no meaning of life – there are lots of meanings of different lives, and you must decide what you want your own to be.

    An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms, p. 110

    You bring the meaning to your own life, which may well be different than the meaning of another person’s life – and dramatically different from the “meaning” of existence for an amoeba, starfish, turtle, eagle, or a virus.

    Joe comes close to answering the question of the “purpose of his life” when he avers that each living being “has a potentiality, and the mission of life is to live that potentiality.” But “what is the meaning of life” is a guru question. Joe hated being asked those – he was no guru with the ultimate answer. That may be why he is so appreciated: rather than “This is the Way – walk ye therefore in it,” his work leaves it up to each of us to find our own answer.

    Seems a point worth making.

    #73203

    Stephen thanks for taking the time to answer in such an informative way. Like you said its better to tackle these questions one at a time but its only after your answers I realize that maybe there is a link between these subjects.

    So about morality your answer does resolve a lot if not all of my questions about how Campbell understood these subjects.

    The distinction between metaphysics and ethics, religion and myth, the Eastern and Western way of thinking. These were the missing links I was looking for and even though I have read most of Campbells books and watched PoM a million times, I still had problem connecting the dots simply because the seer volume of Campbell’s material just makes it difficult, I guess.

    This is one of my favorite concepts in this subject.

    Q: THE WAY YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT ‘SAYING YEA’  TO IT ALL—DOESN’T THAT RISK CONDONING IMMORALITY?

    Sure. That’s what’s tough about it; it’s the essence of the problem. How long can you look at it? How deeply can you see? What can you take? Or are you going to play a little game: ‘Listen to the birds, aren’t they just sweet? Don’t look at the gazelle being eaten by three cheetahs.⁠’

    You make your choice. If you want to be a moralist, go ahead. If you want to go love life, do—but know that life is nasty⁠. And it will involve death. Sorrow is part of the world.

    I tell you man people often go crazy about this concept of “eat and being eaten” and this is surely like Campbell said a consequence of not having a proper mythology, things have become too soft for us and stuff. I remember when I came to the old forums I was a lot younger and I was really fragile, it required considerable effort to understand this concept. I remember at a certain point I couldn’t even look at “violent movies” you know action movies but gradually it dawn to me what life is.

    Now I dont know what I am about to say means but I will say it anyways. I also remember watching a documentary exactly about what Campbell is talking, the gazelle and the predator, and I tell you I havent seen a worst hand dealt in life than what was dealt in these animals. Everything is after them in the field. They cant even give birth or drink water in peace. It’s horrible. And the reason I am saying this, is that for some reason its linked with meaning because it seems to me the only meaning or purpose of their life of these animals is to become food. Now that’s nasty I know but seems true to me.

    What always get me though is that even though I realize what life is, it still seems horrible, that nature works in such ways. That’s the difficulty of the problem, right? At one point we need to say yes to it all and see life as metaphysical manifestation and at the same time we need to keep our ability to empathize which makes us emotionally involved and kinda cancels the first experience. I dont know why but I always thought of these experiences as opposite to each other. Complicated paradoxical stuff… At least for our rational mind.

    Anyways.. as far as where Campbell is coming from you got me covered Stephen but there are more questions on the subject (would be weird if they weren’t) but I will leave it at that now and come back later and see if I can think of  anything else.

    Edit: By the way I know I said in my first post that I am interested in some objective answers on how Campbell understands these subjects but I like to hear personal opinions too on the subjects so if anyone wants to contribute to this conversation please do so.

    #73202
    Participant

    Hello,

    It seems to me that nature , long in tooth red in claw , eat or be eaten , motifs “feed” directly into the neurolinguistic programming and contemplation of the Eucharist ritual … We do tend to cannibalize our past intellectual property. Use it to built a better future and evolve the body of humanity.  “Welcome to the jungle” !!! All hail the alimentary canal of the Serpent the Worm the Ouroboros !!! The Ensō !!! Human abstractions rituals and symbolism are great food for thought …

    Our institutions are Moloch they require that we feed them our children as sacrificial offerings. All we can do is “Howl for Carl Solomon” !!! As we comply … Tis the nature of the beast !!! To Munch !!!

    Of course this tact takes a Judeo-Christian bias. We could throw it all in the cauldron of the fates and sea what cooks up …

    #73201

    Hello R3,

    Interesting stuff never made the link with the Eucharist ritual. I do believe understanding sacrifice is an important aspect of life and it has some serious implications with what we are talking about (morality and ethics) and how also the concept of sacrifice shapes our approach to life. The realization that we are all are sacrifices for the betterment of the human race, our children, the people we love, etc leads to a more meaningful existence? I think it does.

    Actually this is more interesting than I thought and how these concepts are linked.. Meaning, morality and sacrifice.

    Andreas

    #73200
    jeb13
    Participant

    I read in Campbell’s Romance of the Grail book that one of the characters, maybe Lancelot?  (The knight of the cart), that because one cannot predict whether one’s acts may harm or benefit others, the best, and the most, that any of us can do is to be resolute.

    #73199

    Happy Day, Drewie,

    Back in the middle of January you wrote

    … as far as where Campbell is coming from you got me covered Stephen but there are more questions on the subject (would be weird if they weren’t) but I will leave it at that now and come back later and see if I can think of  anything else.

    I’m curious if anything else has come to mind? As you note, the sheer volume of Campbell’s work can make it difficult to connect the dots. In some instances, his material becomes a Rorschach inkblot of sorts – many people see different things, depending on what they have been exposed to, which can lead to confusion and misunderstanding (such as critics who think “follow your bliss” is a license for hedonism, or New Age adherents who take is as a form of wishcraft). Hence a thread entitled “Understanding Campbell” remains a great idea.

    I am curious – how did your first encounter Joe’s work?

    #73198

    Oh I delete it here so i can post it at the end of the page. I am not used to how the new forum works.

     

     

    #73197

    Stephen Gerringer wrote:
    Happy Day, Drewie, Back in the middle of January you wrote

    … as far as where Campbell is coming from you got me covered Stephen but there are more questions on the subject (would be weird if they weren’t) but I will leave it at that now and come back later and see if I can think of anything else.

    I’m curious if anything else has come to mind? As you note, the sheer volume of Campbell’s work can make it difficult to connect the dots. In some instances, his material becomes a Rorschach inkblot of sorts – many people see different things, depending on what they have been exposed to, which can lead to confusion and misunderstanding (such as critics who think “follow your bliss” is a license for hedonism, or New Age adherents who take is as a form of wishcraft). Hence a thread entitled “Understanding Campbell” remains a great idea. I am curious – how did your first encounter Joe’s work?

    I first learned about Campbell after I had watched Star Wars  of course. I think I was 13-14 years old. It had such a huge impact on me that I had to learn why. One thing lead to another and then POM came up. I was hooked.  I didn’t start reading Campbell at that age, that came later like when I was 25. Campbell lead to myths and Jung and other philosophers. So yeah long story made short I guess. 🙂

    But its not only that, I think the ideas Campbell talks about have to do a lot with experience and altering your point of view. His philosophy is very artistic you either get it or you don’t until you do. Some of the stuff he talks about I am just beginning to understand and I have been reading him and studying myths for 15 years. I remember reading, I think in pathways to bliss, about a conversation he had with a “cocky” student of his trying to explain that we shouldn’t live our life too soon by listening to gurus too much and that wisdom has to come gradually. When you are young you don’t get it. Its only after you fall a few times you start getting it.

    Some extra thoughts on the affirmation of life.

    JOSEPH CAMPBELL: That’s it. And when people say to me, you know, do you have optimism about the world, you know, how terrible it is, I said, yes, just say, “It’s great!” Just the way it is.

    You know sometimes now that I am a bit older, I kinda get it. I see it in my life. I wouldn’t be the man I am today if I didn’t struggle, if I didn’t fail or made mistakes. That’s the reality, that’s the affirmation. Reminds me something Kurt Vonnegut said.

    “The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news and what the bad news is.”

    Stephen I am pretty sure I’ll find some more stuff to ask but right now as I was writing I noticed I repeated myself from the old replies so I need to read the thread again and see what stuff we haven’t talked about.

    PS. Jeb you make a nice point. I was actually thinking of making a whole thread devoted to the Grail myth and quest and try to get a better understanding of it. Maybe sometime later this week.

    #73196

    Hi Drewie – I figured I’d reply here, to the post you deleted, to give you a heads up on changes in the structure of threads (as opposed to a reply your more substantial response).

    Previously, when a user would “Reply” directly to a comment, the individual they are replying to would be notified (assuming they selected “Notify me of follow-up replies via email box”), but the reply itself would appear at the very end of all messages in the thread, which was no different than what happens when someone posts a new comment that isn’t a direct reply.

    However, there are only so many posts per page (25, I believe), and once we’d hit that, further comments would appear on a new page in the thread. Some of our discussions in the MythBlast forum stretched on for three, four, or five pages, and many couldn’t find posts they wanted to reply to, not knowing they were looking at the bottom of page 3 and the earlier comment they were looking for was on page 1 – and folks new to a thread weren’t clear just what post out of dozens of comments a reply was referencing.

    So we switched to nested threads. When you click “Reply” on someone’s post, your response will appear immediately after and slightly inset from the original post; the the same happens when the person you are replying to or anyone else responds directly to your reply. The advantage to this that one can follow a complete exchange at once, rather than reading a comment and then finding a reply to that comment some ten or twelve posts later in the thread.

    If posting a general comment where you don’t click a “Reply” button, that remark will appear at the end of scroll. (If referencing comments from more than one individual in your post, I’d suggest including the index number of the each post in the body of your text so readers can find the earlier comments).

    It’s still not perfect – not everyone, whether now or the earlier format, clicks the Reply button on a post they are responding to, and not everyone enables email notifications in their post, but it seems a step in the right direction.

    #73195

    Hey Stephen,

    Yeah I get it now, its much better this way, more coherent I guess. There is one thing that was good in the old forums and not available in this one. That is the preview button. It was always nice to see how the reply looked before you submit it and it was easier to reread and check for mistakes. I only say this because I edited my last reply like 5 times. A mistake on my part ofcourse not the forums design but still preview was good to have, just saying.

    Cheers

     

    #73194

    I haven’t found a preview button an option in the forum platform we are using, though I will look into that. I spend a lot of time editing my replies before AND after I post. In the old forums, I often found it easier to compose my posts in a Word doc, then cut-and-paste to the forum and add formatting. (I tended to write incredibly lengthy messages, and often lost everything I was writing when I’d “time out”).

    The other change is the CAPTCHA we added (unfortunately made necessary when a sleeper bot that joined months before starting spamming threads with porn links . . . )

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.