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Prologue: The Monomyth 
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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
DWill wrote:
Although I haven't taken up this book (springtime stuff to do, and less interesting reading needing to be done), I thought I'd mention the tie-in with Northrop Frye's The Anatomy of Criticism. When I was in grad school in the early 80s CE, the book was still considered by some to be the essential one to read about literary criticism. I'm sure it's not the case now. Frye classifies literary narratives by archetypal characteristics, just as Campbell does for world myths. I'm not sure who influenced whom. Maybe both were influenced by Jung.


Didn't know that about Frye. That sounds pretty interesting.

When I took a post-grad course on Shakespeare at the University of Florida, we studied various literary criticisms that interpret the Bard's works from different perspectives: Freudian, Marxist, and feminist. I believe Richard Tarnas in The Passion of the Western Mind briefly discusses the insight that feminist readings of western literature has given us, even going so far to suggest that the next paradigm shift will be feminist-based, or something like that.

Regarding Campbell's book, I just came across a couple of amazing passages in section II, and I am going to post my thoughts on them, but generally this is a difficult book to discuss. I'm not sure how many people are participating at this point. Are we all just reading to ourselves?


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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
Are we all just reading to ourselves?

Hmmmm, good question, Geo. But I think dwill brings up a good point about classification. And his comment on female heros is certainly a good one to begin with.


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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
Thanks to all for the interesting and thought provoking comments. I've been reading while enduring an extremely stressful move and you all have helped me to refocus on something more rewarding.
I, also, was questioning the female view and am going to take another look at the Prologue. Happy reading.



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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
Finally I became too curious about the book and pulled a copy from the library. Have only read the first part of this section, "Myth and Dream." It gives me an idea of why there isn't more discussion put up on the forum. I'm going to have to get used Campbell, listen to him for a while before judging. This is the best approach sometimes. I'm old enough to remember Campbell's conversations with Bill Moyers, back in the 70s, I think. I don't recall anything distinctly, but reading the first pages of Hero flashes me back to the rather passionate stance that Campbell had toward the value of myth in human life. He doesn't approach his subject with scholarly objectivity, though he is erudite beyond imagining, and that came as a surprise to me. He actually is preaching a good bit, which I don't mean in a negative sense. The passion he puts into the writing makes his prose incandescent at times, though I'm not always sure of what he means with this vocabulary of mysticism--at least that's how I see that language. He might be a challenge for a reader like me who is firmly materialist. I would call his concern in the book a religious one, in the William James sense of seeking to come nearer to the ground of all being. As a materialist, I'm in the habit of asking, well, but just what do all the words associated with that mystical goal mean?

I was a little worried about the reliance on psychoanalysis. Not because psychoanalysis is a relatively rare therapy these days, but because its central doctrine, the Oedipus Complex, has pretty much been pushed into the background with the rise of the neuroscientific view. The standard outline of human development doesn't mention an oedipal stage. Freud's contribution is probably seen now as a more general one of bringing the unconscious to light. Perhaps he even invented the idea of the unconscious. So, too, with Jungian archetypes. Campbell says that psychoanalysts such as Jung proved "irrefutably" in the clinic that all the elements that Jung would call archetypes of myth survive into modern times. Yet the extent to which these archetypes are believed to actually inhabit the mind is in dispute today. Does Campbell's certainty rest on concepts no longer generally accepted?

I have a sense that Campbell is positing a stage in history in which myth had the power to cement each individual into a social "one," so that individuality was subsumed in the greater scheme. In our de-mythologized present, we are sorely lacking in that sense of our place in a social order. Yet, the journey of the hero is one of self-discovery, so if Campbell means for each one of us to take that journey, there seems to be a contradiction. Perhaps the journey is only for extraordinary individuals, who then inspire others with what they have realized through their victorious journey.

I'm a little ashamed of the poor quality of my dreams compared to ones that Campbell cites. I have to work on having more archetypal ones I guess! Of course, the view of what dreams are really all about has transformed since the heyday of psychoanalysis. This is another area in which Campbell may be dated.

Just a word about the beginning of the next section, "Tragedy and Comedy." Does anyone know what Campbell means in the paragraph on p. 20, beginning "Modern literature is devoted, in great measure, to a courageous, open-eyed observation of the sickeningly broken figurations that abound before us, around us, and within." He also cites "the tragedy of democracy," another interesting aspect of his thought. Is it possible that Campbell is anti-democratic? After all, Plato was.


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Last edited by DWill on Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:23 am, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
DWill wrote:
the view of what dreams are really all about has transformed since the heyday of psychoanalysis. This is another area in which Campbell may be dated.

Just a word about the beginning of the next section, "Tragedy and Comedy." Does anyone know what Campbell means in the paragraph on p. 20, beginning "Modern literature is devoted, in great measure, to a courageous, open-eyed observation of the sickeningly broken figurations that abound before us, around us, and within."


Psychoanalysis as a fashionable movement was largely a thing of the mid twentieth century. Freud's theories of the Oedipus Complex including his ideas of infantile sexuality are often viewed now as his quaint personal fantasies and without much scientific merit. Jung is the more complex and deep thinker, but he is attacked as something like a witch by Richard Dawkins, putting him outside the pale of polite conversation. Dawkins discusses Jung in The God Delusion in a way that shows utter incomprehension, with Dawkins imagining that he can expand his laboratory skills to explain all of theology and the nature of symbols.

The psychoanalytic idea of 'the talking cure' was a bridge between science and religion, that a doctor could function like a priest. This attitude has been largely rejected in modern medicine with the rise of powerful new drugs to treat mental illness, and the recognition that doctor's time is too valuable for speculative exploration of the symbolism of the psyche. However, the whole role of conversation, community and psychological therapy remains an area that is difficult in the treatment of mental illness. The epidemic of depression in the rich world seems to be caused by the delusory culture of isolated individualism promoted by capitalist advertising, and the inability of people to talk to each other about anything deep and meaningful. Religion has become a taboo subject, ignored as too frightening and irrational for serious conversation. This is why Campbell seems dated, that the modern matrix world thinks it has no need of shared meaning.

On the 'sickeningly broken figurations' of literature, this is precisely the main theme of The Brothers Karamazov. It is a prophecy of how Russia's collective cultural psychosis manifests in personality types.



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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
The Hero is a bit old school and dated to be honest about it. It's actually the most difficult read and the least easy to understand of all of his works in my opinion. But it sets the stage for everything else that followed at the same time and is considered a classic. Just look at the inspiration it gave for the making of Star Wars and The Matrix:



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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
DWill wrote:
Finally I became too curious about the book and pulled a copy from the library. Have only read the first part of this section, "Myth and Dream." It gives me an idea of why there isn't more discussion put up on the forum. I'm going to have to get used Campbell, listen to him for a while before judging. This is the best approach sometimes. I'm old enough to remember Campbell's conversations with Bill Moyers, back in the 70s, I think. I don't recall anything distinctly, but reading the first pages of Hero flashes me back to the rather passionate stance that Campbell had toward the value of myth in human life. He doesn't approach his subject with scholarly objectivity, though he is erudite beyond imagining, and that came as a surprise to me. He actually is preaching a good bit, which I don't mean in a negative sense. The passion he puts into the writing makes his prose incandescent at times, though I'm not always sure of what he means with this vocabulary of mysticism--at least that's how I see that language. He might be a challenge for a reader like me who is firmly materialist. I would call his concern in the book a religious one, in the William James sense of seeking to come nearer to the ground of all being. As a materialist, I'm in the habit of asking, well, but just what do all the words associated with that mystical goal mean?


Thanks for coming on board, DWill. I need help in making sense of this book. It's a fairly difficult read and I had almost given up trying to discuss it. I think where I find this book the most frustrating is Campbell's almost religious tone when discussing various religious ideas. Sometimes I wonder where he's coming from. For example, when he discusses "eternity" does he really believe in "eternity" or is he simply explaining the beliefs of other cultures? He seems to treat them as myths, but he also uses a lot of mystical language that tends to obfuscate the meaning for me. (Incandescent is a great word to describe his prose.) Again, I'm not exactly sure where he's coming from. If Campbell is connecting religious imagery to perinatal psychology, then he would be a materialist, wouldn't he? But in many places he doesn't sound like a materialist.

I don't know enough about psychology generally to say how well Campbell's theses have stood up over time. Then again, language is imperfect and even if some of the psychological concepts may be dated, I can still take Campbell at face value that certain motifs are repeated in our myths because humans share a basic psychological heritage, one that transcends temporal culture. The prenatal and perinatal stuff is intriguing, though I suspect our understanding of it is limited. If this book were written today, I would think it might analyze myths from more of an evolutionary psychology perspective, which is also speculative, but perhaps might resonate better with me.

I just added the PBS Campbell/Moyer series to my Netflix account, but I'm not sure how motivated I will be to watch it.


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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
DWill wrote:
I'm a little ashamed of the poor quality of my dreams compared to ones that Campbell cites. I have to work on having more archetypal ones I guess! Of course, the view of what dreams are really all about has transformed since the heyday of psychoanalysis. This is another area in which Campbell may be dated.


(Laughing) I was feeling my dreams were rather inadequate as well. I did have a dream not long ago that I was holding a bag of writhing snakes and that I was clutching the top of the bag but the damned things were slipping out of the top anyway. I tend to have a lot of dreams about snakes and alligators. I'm always in the water with the alligators. Why am I always swimming in my dreams? Maybe I should get myself to an analyst.

It could be that certain people who have been going to therapy for some years have a keen awareness of their dreams and can remember them better?


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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
Guys, Campbell's religious tone comes from his Catholic upbringing. If you watch the Moyer interviews or even "The Heros Journey" DVD about the life of Campbell, it's easier to understand what he means. While studying biology Campbell had a major parting of ways with religion because what you get in the book of Genesis differs so much with the reality of the situation. He eventually came to the notion that mythology stems from biology because the body works in terms of conflicting biological energies within you, which, when come out as our basic conflicts between light and darkness and dualistic issues of mythology.

His metaphysics takes some effort to completely understand. When I speak of the mystery of existence in terms of simply referring to the great unknown, that's it, that's Campbell's metaphysics basically. It can be confusing because when you're used to people using terms like transcendent in reference to a supernatual being or entity or mind that transcends our understanding - the way most people use the term - that isn't what Campbell is saying at all. He's coming from the perspective of the Advaita Vedanta view where the mystery of being and non-being is the ultimate reference of the myths. This goes beyond thinking terms of some mind that created everything. Mind is a concept no matter what level of mind one is contemplating. He's pitching it beyond even that. Because unless you pitch it past even the category of an eternal mind or whatever you're dealing in terms of a metaphorical symbol (eternal mind) that can only symbolize the actual great unknown which is the ultimate reference and goes beyond any concept whatsoever.

Level 1) Personified Gods
Level 2) Energy, Force, or Eternal Mind of New Age type thinking
Level 3) The mystery of mere existence itself

One has to face the mystery of the very existence of any energies, or forces, or any mind on any level. These can serve as a stumbling block in the way of understanding the ultimate reference if they are mistaken as the final reference. And this was a difficult lesson to understand at first but when I finally got it then I understood the key to unlocking the whole of Campbell's scholarship in reference to understanding the metaphysics and the transcendent doctrines of the east.


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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
I believe tat when he says that "Hero" is Campbell's least accessible book. It's a dense package of meaning that I have to go slowly through and often read twice. But it's worth the effort. I was getting an understanding of what JC is saying in the section "Tragedy and Comedy." I was misled at first by the phrase "tragedy of democracy," but I think what JC means is that whereas the ancient Greek tragedies were about nobles coming to their violent ends while attaining understanding of the final horror of life, in our democracy everyone can live a life affording them such an "opportunity." Modern literature is about how the tragic plot plays itself out in ordinary lives. Anna Karenina is his example. JC also says that we moderns have no true antidote to tragic reality, nothing that can lift us to some higher plane of reality, because we don't have recourse to myth as people once did. It is myth that provides the comedy that enables us to see how our accidental individuality is transcended by a process so much larger than we are, one that we can identify with nevertheless. JC is using "comedy" not in the usual sense, but in the sense that Dante used in the title of his poem, as a story of redemption and thus with a happy ending. Humor plays no large part in such comedy, but there is a happy ending. JC therefore places comedy above tragedy, and he believes that myth gets us back the redemptive wholeness that we lost through tragedy. I'm not saying this with a tenth of the skill of JC, and maybe not even accurately.

The question might occur: why then is the Christian solution of individual life after death not such a triumph of comedy over tragedy? Well, Christians would probably say it is, and perhaps Dante would have said so, too. JC doesn't say directly here, but I think that he believes that the tragedy must really be experienced and faced, not papered over with a paradisical ending for us all. He seems to say we can't have it both ways, achieve tragic understanding that represents the height of our humanity yet keep our temporary states after death. A big part of the tragedy is, after all, that we have to give up our consciousness.


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Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Last edited by DWill on Wed Mar 23, 2011 8:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
DWill wrote:
I believe tat when he says that "Hero" is Campbell's least accessible book. It's a dense package of meaning that I have to go slowly through and often read twice. But it's worth the effort. I was getting an understanding of what JC is saying in the section "Tragedy and Comedy." I was misled at first by the phrase "tragedy of democracy," but I think what JC means is that whereas the ancient Greek tragedies were about nobles coming to their violent ends while attaining understanding of the final horror of life, in our democracy everyone can live a life affording them such an "opportunity." Modern literature is about how the tragic plot plays itself out in ordinary lives. Anna Karenina is his example. JC also says that we moderns have no true antidote to tragic reality, nothing that can lift us to some higher plane of reality, because we don't have recourse to myth as people once did. It is myth that provides the comedy that enables us to see how our accidental individuality is transcended by a process so much larger than we are, one that we can identify with nevertheless. JC is using "comedy" not in the usual sense, but in the sense that Dante used in the title of his poem, as a story of redemption and thus with a happy ending. Humor plays no large part in such comedy, but there is a happy ending. JC therefore places comedy above tragedy, and he believes that myth gets us back the redemptive wholeness that we lost through tragedy. I'm not saying this with a tenth of the skill of JC, and maybe not even accurately.

The question might occur: why then is the Christian solution of individual life after death not such a triumph of comedy over tragedy? Well, Christians would probably say it is, and perhaps Dante would have said so, too. JC doesn't say directly here, but I think that he believes that the tragedy must really be experienced and faced, not papered over with a paradisical ending for us all. He seems to say we can't have it both ways, achieve tragic understanding that represents the height of our humanity yet keep our temporary states after death. A big part of the tragedy is, after all, that we have to give up our consciousness.


I appreciate your synopsis, DWill. I read that particular chapter two or three times and still did not get what Campbell was saying about comedy. Part of the problem is that I'm not nearly as well-read as Campbell. (The Divine Comedy is on my list of books to read.) What I hear Campbell saying, and I'm paraphrasing, is that through various disciplines and through the power of myth, we can eventually come to a place where we cast off our ego-centric (and infantile) ways. I think he's saying that we have to accept death as a part of life, but he frequently veers off in mystical tangents that are really hard for me to follow. I saw the first episode of the PBS show last night and, at times, Campbell seems just as obscure.


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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
Oh, and also the bit about Campbell's preaching tone in the book is better understood when one knows that the Hero was basically put together from a lecture to his college students (around 43:00). Everyone should see this video on the life of Campbell which explains what led into the writing of the Hero and also what came of it all after it was published:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid ... 089642558#

Very interesting life he led...


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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
I just joined BookTalk, in part because I never seem to finish a book and I thought the "group" effect
would help keep me on task in this regard. My copy of "Hero" was bought in the 1980's, I can't remember
how far I reached in it the first time. Anyway, the Jungian/Freudian ideas tend to make my eyes cross,
but these sentences really caught my attention:
"The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a
contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man. The objective world remains what
it was, but, because of a shift of emphasis within the subject, is beheld as though transformed." Now, I should
give the disclaimer that I am a self-proclaimed old fuddy-duddy with a proclivity for clinging to "The Old Wooden
Cross", but this section seemed to shed some light on my own faith, and give me an appreciation for how this
is mirrored across the great religions and in our own personal journeys.
Looking forward to reading more.
WS



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Post Re: Prologue: The Monomyth
Robert Tulip wrote:
There is often a strong androgynity in heroism. Jesus, John and Hermes have some feminine qualities. This can be part of their heroism, that they defy a patriarchal world.

I can't think of many female heroes other than Joan of Arc, and in her case her reputation rests on her acting like a man. Mary Magdalene tends to get written out of the story and ignored. Modern women like Eleanor Roosevelt are sometimes seen as heroes, but this slightly jars against the strong association between heroism and the male gender. Symbolically, a sperm has to actively struggle and compete to reproduce, while an egg just waits passively.


Prosaicly speaking women act heroically when they single-handedly take care of multiple children.

In traditional sense hero is a male archetype, and it evolved on demand from the female sex.



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