Tuesday, June 04, 2019

REVIEW: Correspondence by Joseph Campbell

 Correspondence, 1927-1987 by Joseph Campbell, edited by Evans Lansing Smith and Dennis Patrick Slattery,  New World Library, 2019, 419 pages.  
 This is the latest book in a series of collected works being published by New World Library in cooperation with the Joseph Campbell Foundation. At this writing, there are about 22 books listed in this collection. “Medusa Coils” has reviewed tw0 of these books previously: Goddesses and The Mythic Dimension. Correspondence, as the name implies, focuses not exclusively on Campbell’s other books, but rather on his correspondence with other people—some well known, others lesser known— about his and their work and sometimes about their personal lives, so it, in a way, becomes both  autobiography and biography. It provides an unusually personal view into the community of intelligentsia, both in and out of the university, particularly those who have a great interest in mythology. So I feel it will be of greatest interest to people today with similar interests rather than specifically those interested in Goddess—although like The Mythic Dimension, it includes this subject also.
The b&w pictures throughout the book are mostly of Campbell or Campbell and his correspondents. Most of the book’s chapters form a chronology of the development of Campbell’s approaches to mythology. The chapters, along with some of the people with whom Campbell corresponds in each chapter, are:

Chapter 1: “Wanderings— Paris to Pacific Grove, 1927-1939,” Angela Gregory (sculptor), John Steinbeck (novelist), Ed Ricketts (biologist).
Chapter 2: “Decade Mirabilis, The 1940s,” Roger Sherman Loomis (Celtic mythology scholar), Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (museum curator), Henry Morton Robinson (novelist and, with Campbell, author of A Skeleton Key To Finnegan’s Wake), Maud Oakes (artist, ethnologist, and writer specializing in Native American tribes).
Chapter 3: “The Banquet Years, The 1950s,” Margaret Mead (cultural anthropologist and author); Henry Corbin (philosopher, theologian, professor of Islamic Studies); Carl Jung, (founder of analytical psychology and explorer of archetypes); Stanley Edgar Hyman (literary critic and husband of author, Shirley Jackson).
Chapter 4: “The Masks of God, 1959-1968,” Alan Watts (author, philosopher, theologian and for 5 years, an Episcopal priest, who developed an interest in Buddhism, especially Zen, as well as other religions— in addition to their correspondence, Campbell’s 1974 introduction to Watts’ (d. 1973) TV series appears in this chapter.); Mircia Eliade (author and lecturer, especially on spiritual topics); John D. Rockefeller 3rd (exhibitor at The Asia Society in New York City); Ted R. Spivey (English professor and author with interest in archetypes, dreams and psychic development); Signe Gartrell , aka Lynn Gartrell Levins, (author with interest in dreams and psychic development); Barbara Morgan (photographer and artist best known for her pictures and portrayals of famous dancers); Henry A. Murray, M.D. (psychologist and professor at Harvard University, where he was also director of the university’s, Psychological Clinic) Swami Nikhilananda, speaker originally from India, and founder of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York); Lewis Gannett (author); Larry Glen (reporter with interest in mythology); Joseph Chaiken (theater director, founder of The Open Theater in. New York; Herman Goetz (art historian who writes to Campbell of Hartmut Schmoke’s interpretation of the Song of Songs, “as an Ashtharot ritual dissected and disarranged because it had been too popular to be suppressed by the priests of Jehovah…”[Note: Ashtharot is transliterated elsewhere as Ashtoreth, Ashteret, Asherah and other spellings].
Chapter 5: “Political Matters – Thomas Mann to the Vietnam War, 1939-1970,” differs from other chapters in that it is devoted to a specific topic in multiple years, while the other chapters are devoted to enumerating individuals with whom Campbell corresponded in shorter time periods with specific years and contain multiple topics. The chapter starts with a full-page picture of Campbell from his 1954 passport photo. Among the people corresponding with Campbell discussed in Chapter 5 are (as you might guess from the title) Thomas Mann (novelist) who disagreed with Campbell’s political views although he previously had expressed admiration for Campbell’s work. Among other correspondents in this chapter are Arthur Miller (playwright), and Gary Snyder (environmental activist who combined Buddhist spirituality and nature in his poetry, essays, and lectures).
Chapter 6: “The Mythic Image, The 1970s,” opens with a description of the difference between Campbell’s approach to mythology, and those of other people famous for their approaches to mythology. It also notes in the material from several of Campbell’s correspondents – including that of the Herbert S. Bailey of Princeton University Press, which was, at that time the publisher of the book – Campbell’s receipt in 1977 of an honorary doctorate from Pratt Institute, and includes Campbell’s address to the Pratt Institute graduating class the day he received the award. It also includes 20 of the endorsements from writers and scholars, etc., encouraging Pratt to give Campbell the award. A number of the other notes and letters to and from Campbell and his correspondence relate to the editing and publishing of this book.
Chapter 7: “The Last Decade, The 1980s” includes a discussion that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog: the material published after Campbell’s death in the book, In All Her Names: Explorations of the Feminine in Divinity (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), which Campbell edited along with Charles Musès, and in which Campbell discusses “the Mystery Number of the Goddess," and refers to Marija Gimbutas’ work. It includes correspondence from Einar Pálsson, a mythologist known mostly for his work related to Iceland. In letters to Campbell, Einar connects the mythology of “Fryr/Freyja” to that of “Osiris/Isis” as well as the relationship of elements (such as fire and water) to shapes and numbers. Also included in this chapter is correspondence between Campbell and Jamake Highwater (journalist and author of more than 30 books of fiction including some for children, art, poetry, and history), and Phil Cousineau (author, lecturer, filmmaker, whose work includes mythology).

The chapters of the book end with a “Coda,” of “Testimonials and Condolences” mostly to Campbell’s wife, Jean, after Joseph’s death from cancer in 1987.

Other information and comments by Campbell and other people about Jean appear throughout the book.
The front matter includes: The poem, “Correspondences” by Charles Baudelaire; “About the Collective Works of Joseph Campbell” by the editors; Foreword by Dennis Patrick Slattery, PhD; Introduction by Evans Lansing Smith PhD; Notes on the Text; Overture by Robert Walter.

The back matter includes: An appendix: “The Works of Joseph Campbell, (a list with pictures of 31 books and their relationship to the chapters in this book); “Notes,” (about the front matter and chapters); “Works Cited (alphabetically by author);” “Permission Acknowlegments,” with related page numbers; Index, including indication of subjects that are illustrated; and “About the Joseph Campbell Foundation.”

Yes, this is quite a thorough book and is likely to be especially valuable to students, scholars, and others with interest in Campbell and related subjects

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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.