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Linda Hilton

Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic

Currently reading

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
Nancy MacLean
Progress: 134/574 pages
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
Christopher L. Hayes
Progress: 17/304 pages
Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
Northrop Frye
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Arlie Russell Hochschild
Progress: 96/454 pages
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Ibram X. Kendi
Progress: 22/750 pages
All the President's Men
Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward
Progress: 73/383 pages
Women's Gothic and Romantic Fiction: A Reference Guide (American Popular Culture)
Kay Mussell
Progress: 17/157 pages
The Looking-Glass Portrait
Linda Hilton
Really Neat Rocks: A casual introduction to the rocks & gems of Arizona and the lapidary arts
Linda Hilton
Progress: 61/61 pages
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer

Reading progress update: I've read 29%.

The Power of Myth - Joseph Campbell, Bill Moyers

If I were reading this on my own, I'd have thrown it against the wall a long time ago.  I'm not reading it just for the jollies, so I'm stuck with it.


There's almost nothing in the section I'm reading now --  "The Journey Inward" -- that sits comfortably with me.  I like Bill Moyers, and maybe I'm trying to like Campbell more because of that philosophical affection for Moyers.  But when it comes right down to it, I don't like hardly anything Campbell is saying.


Reading on my basic Kindle means it's difficult to make notes, but I've made them anyway because I'm so outraged.


Here's just one example:


CAMPBELL: . . . The cathedral was the center of the sacrament, and the castle was the center protecting the cathedral. There you have the two forms of government—the government of the spirit and the government of the physical life, both in accord with the one source, namely the grace of the crucifixion.


MOYERS: But within those two spheres ordinary people told little tales of leprechauns and witches.


CAMPBELL: There are three centers of what might be called mythological and folkloristic creativity in the Middle Ages. One is the cathedral and all that is associated with monasteries and hermitages. A second is the castle. The third is the cottage, where the people are. The cathedral, the castle, and the cottage—you go to any of the areas of high civilization, and you will see the same—the temple, the palace, and the town. They are different generating centers, but in so far as this is one civilization, they are all operating in the same symbolic field.


MOYERS: Same symbolic field?


CAMPBELL: The symbolic field is based on the experiences of people in a particular community, at that particular time and place. Myths are so intimately bound to the culture, time, and place that unless the symbols, the metaphors, are kept alive by constant recreation through the arts, the life just slips away from them.


MOYERS: Who speaks in metaphors today?


CAMPBELL: All poets. Poetry is a metaphorical language.


MOYERS: A metaphor suggests potential.


CAMPBELL: Yes, but it also suggests the actuality that hides behind the visible aspect. The metaphor is the mask of God through which eternity is to be experienced.


MOYERS: You speak of the poets and artists. What about the clergy?


CAMPBELL: I think our clergy is really not doing its proper work. It does not speak about the connotations of the metaphors but is stuck with the ethics of good and evil.


MOYERS: Why haven’t the priests become the shamans of American society?


CAMPBELL: The difference between a priest and a shaman is that the priest is a functionary and the shaman is someone who has had an experience. In our tradition it is the monk who seeks the experience, while the priest is the one who has studied to serve the community.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth (pp. 72-73). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

No matter what he does, Campbell keeps coming back to prioritizing orthodox christianity, Roman Catholicism in particular, which is how he was raised.  Though he mentions other faith traditions and even praises Buddhism, there's no sense of his rising above his own philosophical provincialism.  If there is indeed so much power in myth, what is the universality of these experiences?


Is the cathedral/castle/community a universal construct?  How does it function in other communities, in other myths?  In other mythic traditions, is there a sharp distinction between shaman and priest, or do they sometimes blend to be one and the same?


There's another section almost immediately following the above that drove me up the wall:


MOYERS: The person who has the experience has to project it in the best way he can with images. It seems to me that we have lost the art in our society of thinking in images.


CAMPBELL: Oh, we definitely have. Our thinking is largely discursive, verbal, linear. There is more reality in an image than in a word.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth (pp. 73-74). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


But myths are not images.  Until recently, the people had to go to the images, whether they were painted on cave walls or hung in cathedrals and castles.  Stories, whether the myths of the high caste religion or the folk-tales of the common people, were oral.  How could there be images in oral stories unless they were created by the words?  And how can he say that when he was just talking about poets and artists?


More and more, I'm going past disappointment and full on into anger.


I'll catch up on the links to previous updates later.  I'm too frustrated right now.