« on: March 23, 2017, 03:00:05 am »
Disclaimer: wow, this turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would...
Finished The Hero with a Thousand Faces today. My first reaction is that I will have to give this another two or three reads before I catch most of it, because it's incredibly dense. Also, it's a few parsecs beyond my level of education in ancient cultures, myths, and psychology (even if it is outdated on the psychological front). That said, it's a decent introduction on its own to those concepts and for me anyway has been pretty enjoyable.
To my initial hesitation on the question of whether it was ridiculously male-centric, I am sure the case can be made that it is. The book is a deep dive into the history, purpose, and various forms of ancient mythology and how it relates to the human psyche and personal development. It is fixated on duality as the myths see it, the devolution from the divine One to the mundane 'everything else', so it treats gender as a fundamental pair of opposites for that reason. Although it goes to some length to insist on the necessary equality of the sexes, it still assumes there are fixed roles and attributes of each gender. To be honest, though, I'm not educated enough to know whether this stems from Campbell being some kind of chauvinist, or because the majority of mythologies around the world treat gender in that way. Do most mythologies and cosmologies assume such roles? (I'm not asking rhetorically -- I don't know).
I actually began reading the book because I read somewhere else that it has been a strong motivator for modern storytelling, especially in movies. Campbell's theory of "The Hero's Journey" is believed by some (now waning numbers of) people to describe a universal story formula that is followed by many of the most famous and influential stories from prehistory to the present. Allegedly, this has been boiled down to such a science by modern screenwriters that there are computer algorithms that can predict how successful a film will be based on how well its script adheres to this formula. So I was expecting a fairly straightforward description of that formula, with a bunch of examples for each station in the basic plot.
LUCKILY, the book's scope is much bigger than that. The Hero's Journey is certainly part of, and inseparable from, the soul of this book, but Campbell's aim isn't just to spill the beans on some formulaic method of writing stories. He is concerned with the genesis of myth itself and its effects on the human psyche through each stage of civilization's development. He follows a winding path through the stations of The Hero's Journey as a way of avoiding a long-winded treatise in historical order (I think). He ties many of the points to corresponding bits of psychology, which is where he gets into trouble with a few haphazard Freudisms.
The most succinct and useful part of the book (for me anyway) comes in the epilogue, after the end of all the tours through various creation myths. It was almost synchronicity for me because it hit the nail of my recent philosophical meandering right on the head as it described the loss of cosmic and mythological wonder through the maturation of organized religion and the rise of science and hard materialism to the top tier of modern thinking. The ultimate conclusion of the book is that the good purposes served by mythology and religion in the past -- to bind a people together in order to thrive in an often hostile world, first against nature, and then against competing tribes -- is no longer useful because we have now built a global community. Those old beliefs and superstitions now serve to divide us and keep us from recognizing the humanity in the Other. So what is needed, according to Campbell, is a new mythology and the plight of a new "Hero" that functions with respect to modern society, technology, and the self-centric way we now think of ourselves.