by Joseph Campbell
"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life's experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive..."
Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)
American writer on mythology and comparative religion who gained fame with such works as THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES (1948), an examination of the archetype of the hero, THE MASKS OF GOD (1959-1968), exploring the complex mythological heritage and its implications for modern humanity, and the multi-volume HISTORICAL ATLAS OF WORLD MYTHOLOGY (1989), of which only the sections on the early stages of human culture were completed. Campbell's theories were also made popular with Public Broadcasting System series of television interviews with Bill Moyers. The PBS interviews were also published as a book, which become a bestseller.
Joseph Campbell was born in New York City. He was a reader of American Indian folklore as a child and revived his interest in the subject while working on a master's degree. He travelled in Europe before attending Columbia University, where he received M.A. in English and comparative literature in 1927. He returned to Europe for postgraduate study in Arthurian romances at the Universities of Paris and Munich and discovered that many themes in Arthurian legend resembled the basic motifs in American Indian folklore. During this time Campbell began his unending study of authors Thomas Mann and James Joyce. He was also caught up in the theories of Jung.
Back in the United States Campbell retired for five years to Woodstock, New York, and Carmel, California, where he put together his guiding thesis that preceived myths as 'the pictorial vocabulary of communication from the source zones of our enegies to the rational consciousness'. In 1934 Campbell began teaching at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where he remained for thirty-eight years. In 1938 he married Jean Erdman who founded a dance company and school of her own. Campbell was Professor Emeritus until his death in 1987.
Campbell began his writing career as a literary critic, coauthoring A SKELETON KEY TO FINNEGANS WAKE (1944), a study of James Joyce's major novel. He then turned his attention to explicating the great myths of the world's religions in terms of Jungian concept of the collective unconscious. He also popularized the key discoveries and the psychology of Jung. Campbell argued that world's mythologies, ritual practices, folk traditions, and major religions share certain symbolic themes, motifs, and patterns of behavior. His theories influenced a wide range of writers, among them Finnish poet Pentti Saarikoski and his Tiarnia series.
In 1948 appeared The Hero with a Thousand Faces, where Campbell juxtaposed myths from Native Americans, ancient Greeks, Hindus, Buddhists, Mayans, Norse and Arthurian legends, and the Bible to elucidate the hero's path of adventure through rites of passage to final transfiguration. During the 1950s Campbell worked on his four-volume series, The Masks of God. In MYTHS TO LIVE BY (1972) he suggested that new myths would replace old ones, perhaps drawing symbols from modern technology.
As an editor Campbell compiled six volumes of ERANOS YEARBOOKS (1954-69), he assisted Swami Nikhilananda in producing a translation of THE GOSPEL OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA (1942), edited THE PORTABLE ARABIAN NIGHTS (1952) and provided folkloric commentaries for THE COMPLETE GRIMM FAIRY TALES (1944). From 1956 to 1973 he was visiting lecturer at the Foreign Service Institute. In 1985 he received the National Arts Club medal for honor for literature and was elected in 1987 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. However, Campbell reputation as a scholar was shadowed by his racist and anti-Semitic opinions.
The popular PBS television program The Power of Myth was made in 1985 and 1986 mostly at the ranch of Campbell's friend, filmmaker George Lucas. His concept of the Hero's Journey was one of the sources for Star Wars film trilogy by Lucas. .
Campbell died at age of eighty-three on October 31, 1987, at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii, after a brief illness.
FOR FURTHER READING: Myth, Rhetoric, and the Voice of Authority by M. Manganaro (1991); Fire in the Mind by S. Larsen and R.A. Larsen (1991); Joseph Campbell and the Study of Religion by D.C. Noel (1990); The Hero's Journey, ed. by P. Cousineau and S.L. Brown (1990); An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms ed. by John M. Maher and Dennis Briggs (1988); Joseph Campbell by Robert A. Segal (1987)