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SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 11:14AM
While reading Machen and coming away with the idea that he's something of an anti-rationalist, a sort of linkage fell into place: what to make of Joseph Campbell, the America academic, and his ideas on mythology? In a sense, to me, a non-academic lightweight casual observer, Campbell, Crowley, and James Frazer, all seem to jumble up together as a group of throwbacks to earlier belief systems. A sort of last gasp before being overwhelmed by rationalism as it has evolved into the God-killer of the 20th C.

I'd like to solicit the group's opinions/observations/thoughts, but ever-ready to be the first into the breach--forlorn hope, and all that--I'll lead off with a very superficial anecdote.

Campbell seemed to be very much on TV--PBS, mostly--about 30-40 years ago or so. As a result, I saw him quite a bit, and I was much less skeptical then than now, so I allowed as how he might be onto something.

...and yet...

I had certain intuitive reservations. There was something about his projection of blithe, smug self-certainty, and this increasingly troubled me, because he was asking his listeners to take a lot simply on faith--we had to trust his authority in these matters. I've never been very good at that, even when little, I'm told.

Then it struck me in a flash when watching him one day, being interviewed by several well-educated, yet sycophantic, young women: he was R. Crumb's Mr. Natural, dressed in a tweed Norfork jacket.

Given this new insight, I found that almost everything he said made a whole lot more sense than prior to this new realization.

Your thoughts, fellow-EDers?

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 11:43AM
I have basically no firsthand experience of Campbell. I don't have a favorable impression. But I've been more attentive to problems with Jung, who seems to have been an influence on him. It's around 25 years since I read The Jung Cult and some other things that made an impression...

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 12:21PM
I need to get more familiar with Jung before I can comment on him.

I'm finding that unlike in my college days, when I was content to read *about* the ideas of someone of note, I want to try to at least read their important work in translation, to get a direct insight into what those ideas are.

E.g., there's a lot written *about* Marx's ideas of social organization and his concommitant ideas on how it might be improved, and based on that I had an impression of his relative importance. But later, when I had the time, I read some stuff in translation, and found that his analysis of class friction and dynamics of his era were remarkable, but his projections forward on how to improve the then-status quo were almost laughably naive and unworkable.

So he gets half credit... ;^)

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 12:43PM
Marx!

Don't get me started.

I'm reading Leopold Schwarzschild's The Red Prussian: The Life and Legend of Karl Marx. It could be considered a 400-page footnote to your comment "almost laughably naive and unworkable."

Except 100 million dead. See The Black Book of Communism by several French authors, released in translation by Harvard around 2000.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 12:56PM
I have had a negative impression of Joseph Campbell for quite some time. But I can't say my opinion is informed. Like Sawfish, I remember him mainly from interviews on PBS; but also from people spouting his ideas ever since, as if he had ever said anything worthwhile.

My main objection to Campbell is that he talks if all stories were the same; and that you can somehow understand them if you put them all in a blender and make grand generalizations about them. Suffice to say, that nobody who is actually able to write a story that other people actually enjoy thinks this way about stories.

But of course, what Campbell says is generally so vague that one would be hard-pressed to day one actually disagrees with any of it.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 01:35PM
Oh, Sawfish -- about your comment regarding Machen as an "anti-rationalist" -- I'll respond on the Machen thread.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 23 Sep 20 | 01:36PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 01:37PM
The Hero with a Thousand Faces is pretty unreadable, but Campbell was definitely onto something re myths sharing a common template. The monomyth is particularly pervasive in film - not just in relation to the first Starwars trilogy (which explicitly used it as a starting point) or in The Matrix: I've noticed it in films which have little or nothing to do with the fantastic. That isn't to say that it's the be-all and end-all (there are plenty of other types of stories) just that it's a good template, albeit overused.

The funny thing is that in the book - what I can remember of it - he tends to cite poor examples to support his thesis - e.g. The Frog Prince for 'crossing the threshold'.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 23 Sep 20 | 01:38PM by Cathbad.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 01:42PM
The other big Hollywood template is 'The Buddy Movie': two guys are the best of friends until something drives them apart. Usually they kiss and make up - e.g. Madagascar - but sometimes not (Schindler's List).



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 23 Sep 20 | 01:43PM by Cathbad.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 02:07PM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The Hero with a Thousand Faces is pretty
> unreadable, but Campbell was definitely onto
> something re myths sharing a common template.

The problem is not that Campbell is necessarily wrong, but rather that Campbell is useless. If Campbell's ideas were useful, then formula film-making would always be successful film-making. Turns out, the devil is in the details, and good storytellers are better than bad storytellers after all. And this remains as true today as it was 3000 years ago.

Tolkien, like Campbell, was an academic who studied myths and loved myths. But Tolkien did not think or talk about myths like Campbell does. And Tolkien could tell a story; whereas Campbell could not. Who do you think understands myths better? My guess is, Tolkien does.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 02:21PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Cathbad Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > The Hero with a Thousand Faces is pretty
> > unreadable, but Campbell was definitely onto
> > something re myths sharing a common template.
>
> The problem is not that Campbell is necessarily
> wrong, but rather that Campbell is useless.

!!!

:^)

> If
> Campbell's ideas were useful, then formula
> film-making would always be successful
> film-making. Turns out, the devil is in the
> details, and good storytellers are better than bad
> storytellers after all. And this remains as true
> today as it was 3000 years ago.
>
> Tolkien, like Campbell, was an academic who
> studied myths and loved myths. But Tolkien did
> not think or talk about myths like Campbell does.
> And Tolkien could tell a story; whereas Campbell
> could not. Who do you think understands myths
> better? My guess is, Tolkien does.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 03:03PM
Funnily enough, I associate the monomyth almost entirely with film, and its most successful iterations with science fiction. I'm sure you're familiar with it, but just to recap, you have -

(1) The hero in his community. There's some sort of exterior threat.
(2) The call.
(3) Rejection of the call.
(4) The threshold.
(5) The threshold guardian.
(6) Crossing the threshold (leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar).
(7) The belly of the whale (Ie, the section in which the hero is forced to fall back entirely on his own resources)
(8) Woman as temptress.
(9) Woman as mother.
(10) Confrontation with father (basically any older male authority figure).
(11) Over the abyss (ie, the moment of ultimate jeopardy)
(12) The prize - that is the pay-off; the secret of fire, tempering metal, whatever.
(13) Master of both worlds - in which the hero returns to his community armed with new technology etc, older and wiser, respected within his own community but also cognisant of the greater world which lies beyond.

I'm doing this from memory mind, but the reason I've outlined it is to demonstrate that The Matrix is nothing without the monomyth as a template. They just had a premise - that we live in a virtual reality orchestrated by computers. On one level, you could see the whole film as a colossal sideways wink at their fellow scriptwriters, given the ubiquity of the monomyth in Hollywood (the fact that Neo literally gets a phonecall, which he rejects, for example).

For what it's worth, I reckon you're right about Tolkien. I'm not sure that Campbell had any real feeling for his material, either (the Frog Prince example I cited being a case in point) but sometimes somebody can work in a particular area and stumble across something of significance by accident.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 23 Sep 20 | 03:24PM by Cathbad.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Ancient History (IP Logged)
Date: 23 September, 2020 09:54PM
Joseph Campbell is so full of shit. I absolutely hate how much people have just absorbed his monomythic bullshit without examining it. If you actually read The Hero With A Thousand Faces - Campbell is making shit up as he goes along. He isn't finding similarities between diverse myth cycles, he's watering down myths from a dozen different cultures and trying to cram them into his model, stripping them of all the original cultural context. It's all mystical bullshit, and it's not even good mystical bullshit.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 24 September, 2020 03:33AM
I never read this Campbell. Never even heard of him. Or if I did, which I probably did, I did not file him in my memory.

But after all this bashing, I can at least say that he was a very good lecturer, a lucent talker: Campbell talks about Jung. Sounds very sensible to me.

I only read the other Campbell, the John W., with favorable impression.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 24 September, 2020 04:14AM
Ancient History Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Joseph Campbell is so full of shit. I absolutely
> hate how much people have just absorbed his
> monomythic bullshit without examining it. If you
> actually read The Hero With A Thousand Faces -
> Campbell is making shit up as he goes along. He
> isn't finding similarities between diverse myth
> cycles, he's watering down myths from a dozen
> different cultures and trying to cram them into
> his model, stripping them of all the original
> cultural context. It's all mystical bullshit, and
> it's not even good mystical bullshit.


Well, I'm not sure how seriously you could take Campbell as an anthropologist! He was a professor of literature, and I'd see The Hero with a Thousand Faces as essentially the work of an enthusiastic amateur. Nor would I regard the monomyth as a template for all myths. I think Campbell noticed some commonalities and then assembled them into a template, which means the end result has little or no academic credibility (it found its natural niche in cinema).



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 24 Sep 20 | 04:33AM by Cathbad.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 24 September, 2020 09:55AM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Ancient History Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > Joseph Campbell is so full of shit. I
> absolutely
> > hate how much people have just absorbed his
> > monomythic bullshit without examining it. If
> you
> > actually read The Hero With A Thousand Faces -
> > Campbell is making shit up as he goes along. He
> > isn't finding similarities between diverse myth
> > cycles, he's watering down myths from a dozen
> > different cultures and trying to cram them into
> > his model, stripping them of all the original
> > cultural context. It's all mystical bullshit,
> and
> > it's not even good mystical bullshit.
>
>
> Well, I'm not sure how seriously you could take
> Campbell as an anthropologist! He was a professor
> of literature, and I'd see The Hero with a
> Thousand Faces as essentially the work of an
> enthusiastic amateur. Nor would I regard the
> monomyth as a template for all myths. I think
> Campbell noticed some commonalities and then
> assembled them into a template,

Ignoring all other contrary examples, apparently...

> which means the
> end result has little or no academic credibility
> (it found its natural niche in cinema).

That's a very good observation! His ideas really best apply to the popular concept of myth--which in a sense all myth was, at one time--and when we consider the Oedipus myth, and consider it as "popular" at one time, it really shows how much the common man has changed, huh?

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 24 September, 2020 10:31AM
That would be my reading of it anyhow - I think he was onto something, but whereas a lot of myths (ie, myths about heroes) would share one or more features of his list, I doubt if they ever had all the features he describes. So it's anthropological value is nil. But I actually think these are pretty effective narrative devices - e.g. how often (in a western, say) does the hero refuse to get involved, only to reluctantly take his holster down off the wall?



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 24 Sep 20 | 10:34AM by Cathbad.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 24 September, 2020 11:21AM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> That would be my reading of it anyhow - I think he
> was onto something, but whereas a lot of myths
> (ie, myths about heroes) would share one or more
> features of his list, I doubt if they ever had all
> the features he describes. So it's anthropological
> value is nil. But I actually think these are
> pretty effective narrative devices - e.g. how
> often (in a western, say) does the hero refuse to
> get involved, only to reluctantly take his holster
> down off the wall?

But even if accurate, who cares?

To me, when I first heard him enunciate his ideas, I had a moment of of confusion: didn't that man just tell me something that pretty much everyone already knows? That popular myths fall into identifiable patterns, and seem to follow a sort of template or templates?

To sit there and tells us that on TV, and await applause for it, apparently, seemed so filled with chutzpah that for a while I thought that there *must* be more to it than that.

But in my opinion, there really isn't. The very best construct that I could come up with that supported his implication that this observation was in any way important was that if one chose to view these commonalities as a consequence of a common shared origin, it then further implies an Atlantis-like super culture that was mother of all current civilization. But since there are no independent material artifacts that support this, we have only his simple observation that myths tend to address the same themes, and his tacit implication that this somehow supports a vast and monolithic cultural unity.

That's the *best* I could do.

But to me, one might also view the observation that myths from around the world are similar in theme as an indication that the themes dealt with--survival, procreation, ascent to dominance--are simply behaviorial traits common to the species, and of roughly the same urgency.

I'm saying that if apes had myths--and who knows but that they don't?--they'd also fit Campbell's templates.

In short, Campbell's view, as I see it, is that commonality of mythic themes/structures is linear evolution, while the alternative that I described is a case of parallel evolution.

I guess bluntly stated, Campbell seems to me like a guy who, on seeing a dolphin, a shark, and an artist's rendering of an ichthyosaur, concludes that they all descended from a single common aquatic ancestor.

But it's *Campbell* here we're talking about, so he doesn't just simply draw that conclusion, but smugly announces it to the world...

Maybe I have this wrong: who knows?

BTW, Cathbad, I originally made reference to Mr. Natural, comparing Campbell to him; it was so dead-center that I couldn't resist making the comparison, as a sort of all-inclusive shorthand. Later it dawned on me that maybe many might not be familiar with Mr. Natural, a cynical, manipulative cartoon guru of the 60s.

[en.wikipedia.org]

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 24 September, 2020 11:57AM
I wasn't familiar with Mr Natural! (I meant to check up the reference). I guess I know now, huh?

It sounds like a lot of people on this site saw and heard Campbell and found him kind of annoying and this may be a factor in their dislike of him. I never did, which is maybe why I don't see him as a complete charlatan - although I do think the importance of the monomyth has been exagerrated.

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 24 September, 2020 12:41PM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I wasn't familiar with Mr Natural! (I meant to
> check up the reference). I guess I know now, huh?
>
>
> It sounds like a lot of people on this site saw
> and heard Campbell and found him kind of annoying
> and this may be a factor in their dislike of him.
> I never did, which is maybe why I don't see him as
> a complete charlatan - although I do think the
> importance of the monomyth has been exagerrated.


All my stuff is purely my opinion, and I have no claim to any objective truth here.
So I could be entirely wrong.

You are correct, too, in your observation that I nearly instantly disliked, or at least mistrusted, him and it indeed must affect my opinions.

And yet all that stuff about claiming credit for what amounts to commonly perceived tendencies that are themselves of little independent significance without added evidence, and also misperceiving (or mischaracterizing) the likely cause (widespread similarities are a result of common and widely experienced situations, and not a dispersed remnant of a single unifying culture) seems independently demonstrable.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: SUPER THREAD: ED opinions of Joseph Campbell
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 30 September, 2020 12:49PM
Very late to the discussion, so I have little else to add, but I'd like to mention that Campbell is not only responsible for simplifying the nature of myths and legends, but also the essays of C. G. Jung. Now keep in mind that I'm no follower of Jung; I think he also simplifies mythology, and transforms psychology into a bunch of hoodoo, but I find him more creative and complex by comparison, and in an eccentric way more sincere to himself. I'd even call him a first-rate pioneer of weird ideas. I guess I can appreciate Jung in a similar way that I appreciate Blavatsky, as creators of fantastic systems that can stir the imagination without exactly enlightening it, except perhaps indirectly. With that said, Campbell used to impress me when I was in high school, and set me on the road to my artistic endeavors, but my own studies and explorations have expanded my understanding beyond the commercialized monomyth. It surprises me how many films and books are not only influenced by it but dedicated to it! Now you'll see hundreds of people parroting Campbell (or rather brief third-party summaries of Campbell), a dilution of a dilution of a dilution of Jung!



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 30 Sep 20 | 12:54PM by Hespire.



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