Joseph Campbell is awful
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Joseph Campbell is awful.
I understand that in school you have to read things you don't like, but Campbell is a new level. Not only is he infuriatingly pompous and self-indulgent, there are far too many occasions where he's quite simply an idiot. He's like Dawkins but somehow even less honest about the fact that he clearly has no idea what he's talking about. While Campbell is doubtlessly well-informed about myths themselves the man is absolutely unqualified in any significant way to hold forth as the authority on mythology qua mythology -- his terminal degree was in Medieval Lit ffs and as far as I can tell had no formal training in mythology or the study of religion -- and demonstrates this time and time again. When he's not hamfisted-ly destroying contextual, historical, or theological nuances for the sake of his pet monomyth narrative he's busy continuously harping back to the 'Noble Savage' theme; and not only inflicting this on the Native Americans, who he rarely bothers to identify as anything other than a homogeneous mass, but also treating Buddhism (and Hinduism to a lesser extent, as he's clearly a Advaita Vedanta fanboy) in the same bland, watered-down Zen-centric way as yoga studios across America. A less-angry summation that I find useful was written by the Rev'd Andre Solo, a polytheist priest and initiated Vodouisant:
[T]here are a variety of problems with [Campbell's] work on mythology. Most of these aren’t new; they’ve been covered by plenty of scholars. Let’s get them out of the way quickly:
All myths don’t tell a single story. There are motifs common to some (not all) hero myths, but that doesn’t mean they have the same lesson or meaning behind them. When you decide on a pattern that you’re sure is right it’s easy to ignore stories that don’t fit or reinterpret stories that just kinda-sorta fit. That’s exactly what Campbell did.If any of this seems too nitpicky or academic, let me put it this way:
The idea of a monomyth undermines what’s greatest about mythology. Myths carry a tremendous amount of cultural content. The entire worldview of a society, its values and highest aspirations, are encoded in myth. This value-content is unique to each culture’s mythology, and it’s what makes myth magical. Focusing on the things that are the same between all cultures means ignoring the heart of myth.
When you universalize myth, you don’t. Any attempt to define the universal story of myth will end up defining the author’s own personal bias. In Campbell’s case, he focused primarily on male mythic figures and stories that agreed with his own theosophical views. The monomyth he tells resonates strongly with Western audiences because it was written by a Westerner.
In the 1940s a white American man wrote about the sacred myths of other cultures. He decided he knew what they meant better than those cultures themselves did. The problem with this should be self-evident.
I recognise that much of my antipathy toward Campbell probably stems from the fact that my 'background' insofar as I have one is theology; and even an armchair theologian is all-too-familiar with the attempts of people like Campbell to discredit theology in favour of a sanitised, prepackaged set of archetypes. If you can throw Christ and Osiris into the same shoddy 'dying god' category then you can feel free to disregard the deeply complex and nuanced things Christianity has to say about the significance of Christ's resurrection. If Moses is simply a Hero (TM) like all other Heroes (TM) then Judaism's continuing engagement with the theophany at Sinai can be swept to the side. If all human myths can be reduced to a handful of morals, theodicy and moral theology goes out the window. Etc etc etc. And that's fine, because nobody is putting a gun to my head and telling me to like Campbell, even if I am indeed obligated to read his work.
People with different backgrounds may -- and judging from many Journal entries, presumably do -- find great meaning in his work and that's wonderful. But Campbell himself, and his work, is problematic. It's insanely generalist and reductionist and quite often, at least in the case of The Power of Myth, lapses into inconsistency at best and incoherence at worse. I don't want to step on any toes here because, as I believe I've said elsewhere, I'm fond of the TOTJO and it's wide diversity of beliefs and hope to find a home here; but at the same time I wanted to clear the air instead of posting increasingly passive-aggressive journal entries.
Founder of The Order
It is good you have a stand. Please don’t think the IP is for telling you directly
how we all believe and how we all see the world. That’s here - www.templeofthejediorder.org
What we believe. When we say we believe in the inherit worth of all - that’s not a Jedi ist thing, it’s kind of a whole world type of thing. Some where every one has some type of same beliefs . JC says the “human potential” in his other works. Every human has a song and potential to do- to accomplish. I appreciate a great effort. Don’t feel like you have to like anything. Don’t feel like you have to align with anything. That’s not the point friend. If you feel like this is a place and a group you can sit and share with them by all means sit and have some tea or cofffee ! Two creams and two pink sugars for me . We don’t bite and we don’t say “ you must “ anything . This is a open place to learn and share. If you like , feel free to pm me directly or even via Skype or whatsapp or anything like that. May the force be with you and may your time here be a benifit.
So, you're not alone.
Also, I think Alan Watts is the worst between the two XD. And almost 2 1/2 hours of a drive from Clarksville, TN to a Jedi Gathering in Hocking, OH was nothing more than me and my friend Andy complaining about Alan Watts. XD
PaschalVehicle wrote: It's insanely generalist and reductionist and quite often, at least in the case of The Power of Myth, lapses into inconsistency at best and incoherence at worse.
I am also not a fan of joseph Campbell, I elude to as much in my own journal. Plenty of things that I did not like about it and quite honestly find pointless in a introduction-ary training program. Its dull, dry, boring as all heck and just over rides the soul of it's pointed use.
I think perhaps if one is to step back and look at it beyond just the written word. It could be easy to see why it is the way it is. The interview for example is just that....and if you think about how interview's work....its not really meant to be consistant and enlightening...it's just one guy asking questions an the other guy going "Oh umm..humm...I guess its kind of like...."
I have been writing short stories since 2002-ish.... I think I have gotten rather good at story telling. But if you were to judge me based on casual conversation and discussion topics you might think I am absolutely horrible at communication (everyone else sure says so - I say as much too....i suck XD)
So it's easy to take that experience and jump into the shoes of Joseph Campbells works. He had one super, great, fantastic, inspirational idea when he created the Monomyth's Hero's Journey. It really was quite brilliant and you can find it in practice in nearly every book and movie you pick up. The rest is just word vomit....you know? A ton of ideas incoherently trying to find solid ground to explain the soul of the monomyth. And to be honest I think everyone is like that. Look at all the actors and famous speakers....They all have one solid great thing....and everything else is just an attempt to draw out the simplicity.
In my story writing circles we call that "Flower Writing" its where you fill in empty space with a bunch of flowery words and ideas to make a small plot appear bigger.
Thats how I generally view Joseph Campbells works...and really even Alan Watts and the other philosophers....They all have one or two solid ideas that they "Flower Up"
Just my thoughts on the matter.
My advice is to just determine YOUR Priorities. Why do you want to get from Point A to Point B as you described it? Why is that important to you? If your answer is satisfactory then you can deal with some flowers on the way Coz I while I have my opinions, I know this temple wont remove it.
- Topic Author
Br. John: I don't wish to give off the impression that I feel obligated to like or agree with Campbell simply by virtue of taking the IP. I don't feel such an obligation, and never has it been suggested to me that I should. What I am wary of, however, is bursting in here and giving off the impression of Johnny Latecomer trying to fix things according to my whim. That having been said I still felt/feel that discussing Campbell and implicitly his role in the IP process may be a useful process.
Carlos.Martinez3: Very insightful, thank you.
Alethea Thompson: Glad to see I'm not the only one. I don't necessarily think that all of Campbell is useless or devoid of value -- I am, after all, continuing the IP and will be working to mine those gems from his material -- but I am sceptical of his overall utility... to say the least...
Trisskar: I don't disagree. The Power of Myth as a book is, indeed, just a transcript of an interview; and interviews are frequently not consistent, coherent, or enlightening by their very nature. It is frustrating however to have *required reading* for a program be, as I said and continue to emphasise, inconsistent at best and incoherent at worst. Perhaps I'm just reliving my own personal hell of Catcher in the Rye in high school. As for my priorities, Point A is the IP and Point B is admission into the Seminary, for a variety of reasons that have a great deal to do with my own personal idiosyncrasies, and that is certainly a goal for which I will tolerate fields and valleys of flowers. So dislike Campbell or not I'll still keep reading him and journaling.
steamboat28: Deep personal distaste for Campbell aside, I don't actually think he's awful; but a little poetic clickbai- I mean, hyperbole is a wonderful thing.
Rosalyn J: I hope you don't see this as a criticism of the IP itself, or those who established and/or regulate the IP, it's almost exclusively meant to be a rant about Campbell.
Secondly: I want to agree, and argue, with you (if that's possible! ). In particular I'll focus on this bit you quoted from,
"All myths don’t tell a single story. There are motifs common to some (not all) hero myths, but that doesn’t mean they have the same lesson or meaning behind them."
What if all myths tell part (or different parts) of a single story? That's what I took from Campbell I think- the idea that myths go through a similar process, perhaps summed up as "Here to There to Back Here" (again... except somehow it's different to than before) but that not all myths have to go through the entire process and may focus on a small fragment of the whole...
So can you give some clear examples where a myth or story doesn't fit Campbell's idea of the Hero's Journey? I'm very interested in testing if it is possible to use the theory on any myth or whether I have to accord only a specific fragment of the model to the myth you give...
Anyway, what you said is great so thanks for sharing! I look forward to digging deeper into this and finding out where the model of the Hero's journey doesn't work,