Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Joseph Campbell

I've been on what I would affectionately call a "Joseph Campbell" kick much of the past year, feeling pulled to read and reflect on his writings and on the content of his interviews with others (most famously those with Bill Moyers conducted in 1988.) Currently, I'm reading "A Fire in the Mind: the life of Joseph Campbell" and am learning about his transformative time in Paris during the years 1927-28.

It feels like a hint of synchronicity because I just returned from Paris and felt pulled to many of the same places once frequented by Campbell, like Paris's famous English bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. I first discovered the store in 1996 and now make it a point to revisit it whenever I'm in Paris. In 1927, Campbell had the good fortune to meet its first proprietor, Miss Sylvia Beach, who ran the little store, hosted literary salons there, and even managed to get James Joyce's Ulysses published in Paris -- no small feat given that in 1922 the book was banned and even burned in both America and Great Britain.


Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Paris, June 2009.

Campbell later wrote that reading Joyce helped him "to translate knowledge and information into experience: that seems to me the function of literature and art. And it was with that I made the step not to becoming an artist but to try to find what the experience would be in the material I was dealing with (A Fire in the Mind, p. 84).

Also while in Paris, he encountered Angela Gregory, a young American sculptor who was studying under the master sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, and later introduced him to her teacher. Bourdelle, a former student of Rodin, took a liking to Campbell and invited him into his inner circle, even permitting him to watch him at work.

Bourdelle taught Campbell that one's totality was the fuel on which the spirit fire of the creative process fed (A Fire in the Mind, p. 91). The master sculptor also offered this quote which perfectly articulates all that I feel right now:

"Let us be ashamed of our superficial life, it is full of lies. There are only two possibilities: the one is that we are not able to see truth, the other that, when we have once seen it glimmering before us, the path that is leading to it, we are devoured by the eternal thirst to follow it to the end. He who is filled with this love for truth goes out into life like a hero without weapons, but under the spread-out wings of an archangel."

I find myself dutifully following a type of rabbit hole that first presented itself to me in my dreams last summer. The course has been interesting but there's a theme and it's connected; Campbell is just one guide along the way. What I've also noticed as of late is that my inner voice has much more to say than my outer voice, and I'm craving deep and meaningful conversations with others on matters of spirituality, comparative religion, Jungian psychology, and comparative mythology. This is the type of work with which I want to spend my days and what I hope to transition into sometime soon.

4 comments:

Mike Yoder said...

Very cool. I finished reading 'Man and his Symbols' a while ago and I'm now into 'Psychology and Alchemy'. I'm also partway into 'Myths to Live By' by Campbell.

Kelly McGannon said...

Hello, Mike! Thanks for stopping by and letting me know what you're reading. I also read 'Man and his Symbols'. Currently, I'm working through 'The Upanishads', Thomas Merton's 'Asian Journals' and have Jung's 'Mysterium Coniunctionis' waiting for me.

Have you read Jung's autobiography 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections'?

Mike Yoder said...

I read parts of it but didnt commit myself to reading the whole thing through.

Kelly McGannon said...

I found his autobiography very validating. I think that's what I like about people like Campbell and Jung. They search and search and then share their findings and musings with others.