Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Campbell on Society's "Outsiders"

The following excerpt is included here because of its deep relevance for myself and the overall theme and purpose of this web-site. It is Joseph Campbell [1904-1987] in The Power of Myth, in conversation with journalist Bill Moyers:


Moyers: Why is a myth different from a dream?

Campbell: Oh, because a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society's dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.

Moyers: So if my private dreams are in accord with the public mythology, I'm more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my private dreams are out of step with the public--

Campbell: --you'll be in trouble. If you're forced to live in that system, you'll be a neurotic.

Moyers: But aren't many visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to the edge of neuroticism?

Campbell: Yes, they are.

Moyers: How do you explain that?

Campbell: They've moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you've got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can't. You don't have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience--that is the hero's deed. ...

[pages 40-41]


Editorial commentary by T.J. White:

What Campbell was referring to here (the visionary human being who, being forced to live in a society which either does not accept him or his radically-different view of the world, or vastly undervalues or discounts the same, is thus forced to become neurotic in the expression of his central, core being) was already discussed by both Nietzsche and Fromm--in excerpts already included in this very web-site. For reference, these originals can be found at "Twilight of the Idols", 45, [for the Nietzsche; also, less directly, at "Beyond Good and Evil", 212, and "The Antichrist", preface, "Revaluation of All Values"], and "Escape From Freedom" [for the Fromm].

Suffice it for me to say that I know very well, from personal experience, exactly what Campbell, Nietzsche, and Fromm were referring to. I am just such a person as the type they were discussing (for better or worse).