Brett Williams's Reviews > The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell

The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell by Joseph Campbell
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it was amazing

After all the books by and about Campbell, including his own audio lectures, this is the finest exposure to his ideas I’ve encountered so far. Credit for that goes to the late Michael Toms. With broad understanding of his own, Toms was immersed in Campbell’s ideas. Given their close friendship, Campbell shines without reservation or need to bring Toms along. Toms is already there with just the right direction that let’s Campbell sparkle as only the best interviewers can.

What Campbell does here is offer an escape from modernity’s collapse of meaning through a potential to reframe us and our surroundings. (I’m reminded of the same message from The Great Course’s No Excuses Existentialism earlier reviewed.) Armed with history, philosophy, psychology, religion and myth, Campbell makes connections between seemingly unrelated things. Either they once had that connection all could grasp, now lost, or Campbell reveals for us what few if any have seen. Not infrequently we’re reminded of points he’s made elsewhere with Bill Moyers or in his own books and lectures, but there’s a thrill and enthusiasm here that can be a little dry elsewhere.

Campbell indicates that like Toynbee’s challenge / response of civilizations that sink or swim, this applies to individuals too. Prevail over modernity’s challenge and new life can take flight. The good news is we can make our own way, provide our own purpose. The bad news is, unlike the ancients who did all this for us without choice, we’re on our own. We still have the old ways in print, or as a terminal moraine of their retreat, but for many of us, they no longer sing but can only stutter or remain mute. Campbell claims that from 2000 BC to 1800 AD ours was an established agrarian world (though ag is about 10,000 years old), already removed and evolved from 30 millennia of hunter-gatherer lifeways. During those long periods the human social horizon was clear, problems and their solutions known. Industrial Age exploded all that, with Information Age ensuring no connection can remain established. “We try to understand the old systems,” says Campbell, “but we don’t feel them anymore.” The old ways mythologized every aspect and activity of life with direct relevance to the great mysteries of our own short existence. But that’s dead now, replaced by a materialistic “it” mentality, vs. the old “thou” perspective. These technological revolutions and their consequent shift in outlook have more than anything else eradicated our external reference in nature, where the goddesses and gods once resided. With extermination of the Great Plains buffalo, notes Campbell, Native Americans lost the reference their society was built on and with that loss began an inward turn, perhaps not unlike the calamities of Axial Age that gave us the Buddha, prophets, and reason of the Greeks. We’ve been without nature for so long we’re afraid of it. So citified we’re solidified. Politics and economics that now dominate civilization are killers of myth and mystery and thus that part of our human nature unmoored without it. Campbell provides the evolution of this simultaneous assent and decline, how things once were, and how they can be again in our personal sphere under constant pressure by modernity’s assault and advantage.
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Reading Progress

November 26, 2018 – Shelved
November 26, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
December 1, 2018 – Started Reading
December 26, 2018 – Finished Reading

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