Joseph Campbell and the Theory of Art

Discussion of Joseph Campbell's work with an emphasis on the personal creative impulse as well as the sociological role of the artist in today's global community.

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noman
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Post by noman » Sun Jun 24, 2007 11:01 pm

Thanks Martin for the vote of confidence. I wasn’t the least bit offended by Jamyang’s re-stating of his interpretation of Joyce’s and Campbell’s theory of art. I understand Jamyang has a serious project to work on and is on the hunt, so to speak. And I recognize a true writer when I see one. Every sentence is clear and filled with substance. I wish all posts were as strong.
[Campbell] said that the functions of art is to create our myths and to keep the myths alive.
- Jamyang

Joseph Campbell said that the function of artist was to give elementary ideas form employing the vernacular of folk ideas – in other words to give us our myths - and to keep myths alive.
- Jamyang

It fits that one of Campbell's four functions of mythology is pedagogical and that since artists, according to Campbell, give us our mythologies, art should mirror all four functions.
- Jamyang

I hold that every work of [true or proper] art is a mythologization of its subject...
- Jamyang

* * * * * * *

An artwork is not a myth, and while Campbell saw the artist as the modern shaman who creates symbolic images that refer to the mystery of our existence, I doubt that he equated myth and art, or expected a proper artwork to appeal to all four functions of myth, like a proper mythology does.
- Martin Weyers

* * * * * * *

I never equated art and myth.
- Jamyang
Looks awfully close to an equal sign to me.
.
But in Martin’s and Jamyang’s view, the work of art is a window to myth, a presentation of myth, and not itself myth? Some people, myself included, would consider the New Testament, or the Koran, for example, a work of art, and a powerful myth as well. But one could say the scriptures only present the elementary ideas. Perhaps it is not worth debating. But we certainly agree that the shaman/modern artist is a mythmaker or mythshaper of sorts – as Stephen Dedalus would say, a person who ‘forges in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscious of his race’. I think of some works of art, true works of art, as myth.

But perhaps this is quibbling over semantics. I really don’t think we have much to disagree on here. In these forums I always like to focus on what little there is to disagree about. And then people think all I care about is arguing. But my objective here is learning.

I don’t see any discrepancy between our understandings of the Joycean terms ‘proper’, ‘improper’, ‘didactic’, or ‘pornographic’. But it would appear I have a serious problem reading plain English when is comes to the words ‘all novels’ and ‘last one hundred years’.

In one of his lectures Campbell said, ‘all novels since Zola have been the work of didactic-pornographers. A social message and something to get you through it.’ He used Emile Zola’s name, obviously because he was famous for novels that made a social impact. I’m well aware of what Campbell was preaching against – and what Robert Bly was so enthusiastic about.

But do you really believe, Jamyang, that Campbell would consider Finnegans Wake a work of didactic-pornography? Let me put it this way. Imagine we had Campbell here on the witness stand for cross-examination:
CROSSEXAMINER: Now then Professor Campbell, you have taught Joyce’s theory of art for at least three decades have you not?

CAMPBELL: Yes, that is true.

CROSSEXAMINER: And did you spent five years with Henry Morton Robinson analyzing Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake and subsequently publishing a book titled Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake?

CAMPBELL: Yes I did.

CROSSEXAMINER: How many times would you say you have read Joyce’s novel Ulysses?

CAMPBELL: Many, many, times. I can’t recall.

CROSSEXAMINER: Did you once say in your lecture Wings of Art that Ulysses is a book that you have enjoyed even after the fifty-eighth reading?

CAMPBELL: Perhaps I did say something like that.

CROSSEXAMINER: Professor Campbell, would you tell this court whether in your expert opinion, Joyce’s novels Ulysses and/or Finnegans Wake are proper art or improper art in the Joycean definition of the words proper and improper?

CAMPBELL: Well - no one can say for certain.

CROSSEXAMINER: But in your expert opinion?

[pause]

JUDGE: The witness will answer the question.

[pause]

CAMPBELL: I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that my answer may tend to incriminate me.
You can tell I have fun in these forums. But I would sooner believe in the tooth fairy before I believed that Campbell didn’t consider Finnegans Wake proper art in the Joycean sense. Are there any passages in Mythic Worlds; Modern Words, The Way of Art or Wings of Art where Campbell indicates that Joyce didn’t quite achieve the ‘proper’ form of art that he posited in Portrait of the Artist? That Finnegans Wake is a novel of didactic-pornography? And if this is one exception, mightn’t there be others?

Campbell had the discretion, in teaching Joyce’s theory, not to name specific examples of proper and improper art. He would mention, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso to get his ideas across. But he knew just how vague the theory was. He once said after explaining the Joycean definition of pornography that ‘the Supreme Court can’t define pornography – so that’s what we’re stuck with’. He was referring, of course, to a famous line by a US Supreme Court Justice who said of obscenity ‘I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.’

Sweeping statements about the decline of true art are fine. But to think that every artist or novelist today and for the last fifty years is hopelessly trapped in a state of didactic-pornography, and that every novel, every work of art, is 100% improper is taking it a bit too far. I recognize elements of the spiritual in modern art – even in some commercial, advertising art. In those works I consider proper art, such as Joyce’s Ulysses, I recognize elements of pornography. Recall that Ulysses was actually banned in the US for many years because it was considered pornographic.

On the other hand:
The controversy here rests on the idea of an elite art and the concept of elitism in art is antithetical to prevalent post-modern attitudes.

- Jamyang
This is what the scholar Allan Bloom spoke of in his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind. For a person like myself who came of age in the aftermath of the social turmoil of the 60s his book was a breath of fresh air. He explained that politics, deconstructionists, and ‘political correctness’ invaded the University and intellectual circles and the result was that the creative landscape was devastated. There’s plenty of undergrowth, but the large, majestic icons of the culture simply don’t exist. Where is our Joyce, Mann, or Tolstoy, our Picasso or Matisse, our Yeats or Eliot, our Nietzsche or James? It was something that, at the time, I was only vaguely beginning to understand; that we live in a culture with more art, more productivity, and less quality art, less creativity, than at any time in the past.

A book as popular as Bloom’s does not go unanswered. From what I can gather, the battle between the deconstructionists and the elitists if you will peaked in the early to mid-90s and has since steadily declined. Why the debate would decline I haven’t a clue. It isn’t as though either side declared victory. Perhaps it’s a tacit truce; a ‘cold war’ resignation.

At any rate, I do envy your project Jamyang. When I type Bruegel the Elder into the WorldCat Library search engine I get over fifty books on Bruegel. I like to ask you and Martin if there are there any books that stand out for you as providing the best study?

What about these?
Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Netherlandish proverbs and the practice of rhetoric
by Mark A Meadow; Pieter Bruegel
Language: English Type:
Publisher: Zwolle : Waanders Publishers, 2002.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder : two studies
by Walter S Gibson; Pieter Bruegel
Language: English Type:
Publisher: [Lawrence] : Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, 1991.

Paradox in perception : the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder
by Jeanne Elizabeth Nuechterlein
Language: English Type: Book : Thesis/dissertation/manuscript Archival Material
Publisher: 1995.

The typological method of Pieter Bruegel the elder
by Joseph F Gregory
Language: English Type: Book : Thesis/dissertation/manuscript Archival Material
Publisher: 1976.
- NoMan
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Mon Jun 25, 2007 8:55 am

The assumption that all novels since Zola's times have been didactic pornography is obviously an exaggeration. In his lectures, Campbell sometimes has something impish that does not come through in the transcriptions. Sometimes Campbell was a trickster, and we should be careful when it comes to comments such as this one.

BTW, I even enjoyed Zola's L'oeuvre about ten years ago, a ficititious story about the development of realist and impressionist painting. I enjoyed it not because of any implemented social criticism, rather because it allows you to experience the way artists used to live in Paris in the 19th century. Pretty much like watching a Hollywood movie!

As for elitism: Maybe 2% of the population are interested in the arts (attending art shows etc.). We don't want to be elitarian, but I'm afraid the vast majority of the population has neither the interest nor the education to enjoy the arts. We should try to educate and to reach as many people as we can, and not exclude anybody; However, most people do exclude themselves, and that's not the fault of the artists or educators. At the times of Botticelli or Brughel, few people had access to the arts; Today almost everybody has, but they don't care.
noman wrote:In those works I consider proper art, such as Joyce’s Ulysses, I recognize elements of pornography. Recall that Ulysses was actually banned in the US for many years because it was considered pornographic.
As Jamyang suggests we should be aware about the way we use a term such as "pornographic". I prefer saying kitsch rather than pornography, when it comes to advertizing art or any other surrogate art without explicit sexual content. Ulysses is neither kitsch nor pornography in any sense of the word. It's intention is neither to arouse sexual interest, nor it presents substitutes for anything. It's what it is, a work of art. Joyce simply tried to follow the pure stream of consciousness, which is the stream of life. (However, to some people life itself is pornographic, but that's their problem.)
noman wrote:There’s plenty of undergrowth, but the large, majestic icons of the culture simply don’t exist. Where is our Joyce, Mann, or Tolstoy, our Picasso or Matisse, our Yeats or Eliot, our Nietzsche or James? It was something that, at the time, I was only vaguely beginning to understand; that we live in a culture with more art, more productivity, and less quality art, less creativity, than at any time in the past.
It's true that the icons of our culture (Warhol & Co.) produce poor art. They are no visionaries at all. However, there is a lot of creativity in film, dance, visual arts etc., but it's hard to find the needles (or perles) in the haystack. In fact, I'm convinced that we're living in one of the most creative and prosperous periods of all times, only the media doesn't take account of the really important works of art. Why? Because proper art is considered as boring. No sex, no violence.

A few years ago I started a thread Mythic art of today - recommendations. Your comment about the state of the arts inspires me to post some new contributions to that thread! Let's post inspiring recommendations rather than bellyaching! 8)
Works of art are indeed always products of having been in danger, of having gone to the very end in an experience, to where man can go no further. -- Rainer Maria Rilke
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Post by bodhibliss » Tue Jul 03, 2007 2:47 am

My apologies to Noman!

As this week's UpDate was translated from Word into Dreamweaver, I'm afraid my tech support deleted the sentence identifying a quote from Noman in this thread - so his words, about the qualitative difference of the art in a mall vs. a museum appear to belong to Creekmary.

I'll blame the error on Mercury in retrograde, associated with difficulties communications and technology - just my way of mythologizing the mundane

... but one that seems particularly apt. Even though the UpDate came out yesterday, no one has joined this conversation - perhaps others have been having the same problem I have, with an annoying "critical error" screen popping up at times to effectively locking me off site ...

Please bear with us as we work this out.

namaste,
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Post by noman » Tue Jul 03, 2007 6:02 am

Not a problem Bodhi. Not the worst thing that's happen to me in my life.

* * * * * * *
I don’t see any discrepancy between our understandings of the Joycean terms ‘proper’, ‘improper’, ‘didactic’, or ‘pornographic’.
- NoMan

In those works I consider proper art, such as Joyce’s Ulysses, I recognize elements of pornography. Recall that Ulysses was actually banned in the US for many years because it was considered pornographic.
- NoMan

* * * * * * *

As Jamyang suggests we should be aware about the way we use a term such as "pornographic". I prefer saying kitsch rather than pornography, when it comes to advertising art or any other surrogate art without explicit sexual content. Ulysses is neither kitsch nor pornography in any sense of the word. It's intention is neither to arouse sexual interest, nor it presents substitutes for anything. It's what it is, a work of art. Joyce simply tried to follow the pure stream of consciousness, which is the stream of life. (However, to some people life itself is pornographic, but that's their problem.)
- Martin Weyers
I knew – I was going to get this answer. As I said, we all agree on the Joycean meaning of the word ‘pornographic’. I just don’t think that’s an issue. But that doesn’t mean we can all recognize it or define it when we see it. It will forever be a fuzzy concept in its application. That’s all I was pointing out when I said that Joyce’s novel was banned in the US. As a Supreme Court Justice put it, “It can’t be strictly defined, but I know it when I see it.” For me, and perhaps it is just my preference, but I just can’t deem a work of art as 100% proper or 100% improper. I think in terms of percentages

When I first considered Joyce’s theory, I thought of one of the most critically acclaimed films of our time: 2001 Space Odyssey. There are no beautiful half-naked women in this film I thought, no beautiful homes or cars or landscapes, no great banquets or festivals, no love scenes. It was a perfect example of proper art, I said to myself.

And yet, on further inspection, I did see some pornography in this film. You just have to be a nerd to appreciate it. It appeals to our love of technology. Seeing all those spaceships floating around to the music of Strauss. It’s pornography that appeals to the same desire that has recently created a buzz over the new Iphone. We get excited about new technology and interacting with it.

So that’s why I say, that Joyce’s art theory is very useful, very fuzzy and somewhat subjective.

- NoMan
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Tue Jul 03, 2007 8:43 am

Bodhi, it's good to know that even you are making mistakes (since I am the one to be blamed for changing a post in this thread).

NoMan, very useful, very fuzzy and somewhat subjective - we can agree upon that!

2001 - A Space Odyssee
is one of my favourite movies, and I can't find any pornography in it, not even according to Joyce's definition. It's sublime, beautiful, and allows you to experience aesthetic arrest (because the spaceships are moving so slowly, accompanied by waltzes rather than noise).

On the other hand I see what you mean. There is not only pornographic art, but also a pornographic view on the arts. If you are a speculator for example, every art work becomes investment; The art experience becomes pornographic, but not because the art work tends or intends pornography, rather because the pornography is already in your mind. Pornography in the eye of the beholder, who's just projecting on the art work. In that case we can't blame the artist!

It's easy to recognize raunchy pornography when you see it (as well as recognizing social realism, which is always raunchy). The more subtile, the more difficult to recognize, and Joyce's is the most subtile (and maybe least concise) definition. Weather an art work is pornographic or not: our opinion shouldn't be based on the experience of the obsessed.

The same is true for the argument of didactic art: The fact that you can learn from Brughel's painting doesn't make it didactic. The pornographic eye sees pornography everywhere; The didactic eye sees well-meant advice everywhere, the psychologist believes the arts are all about psychology, the sociologist ..., ... . What counts is the way the eye of the serious beholder is treated, rather than the eye of the pornographer or sociologist.

A painting like The Carrying of the Cross may be experienced in different ways. If it frightens us, it's not necessarily didactic art, because pain and moralization may be in the view of the beholder; If it makes us wish we had lived in the Netherlands of Brughel's times, pornography is in our eyes.

To make a judgement about the didactic qualities of Brueghel's painting actually affords the serious research of the art historian. I'm pretty sure, that Brueghel's Proverbs, Tower of Babel, Landscape with Icarus and The Fight Between Carnival and Lent have significant didactic qualities. What Yamjang refers to as the pedagogical function, in some cases may just be the prevalence of the sociological function: Didacticism with the intention to tie the individual up to its tribe. I've nothing against Brughel, but he's a product of his time and culture, in the same way the modern artist is bound to our times and cultural background.

It's possible though, that the references of The Carrying of the Cross are more subtile. The painting style (as well in his other works) is beautiful and not too naturalist. While naturalism in the arts tends to a low score on the properness scale, Brueghel gets 90 points for his peinture.

The general score on the properness scale depends on the content as well though. If Yamjang's interpretation is valid, and Brueghel points to the centre of the wheel, it's no didactic art. If it points to the rim, to a specific religious idea, for example to the perception of the world as a vale of tears, it's as didactic as social realism: Art in service of an obscure utopian theory. In that case, the lack of iconographic information actually would benefit our experience of the painting -- beauty in the eye of the beholder, that overweights the beauty in the art work.
Works of art are indeed always products of having been in danger, of having gone to the very end in an experience, to where man can go no further. -- Rainer Maria Rilke
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Post by noman » Tue Jul 03, 2007 5:14 pm

Campbell explains the difference between academic writing and popular writing in A Hero’s Journey. He had decided to work on A Skeleton Key with his friend Henry Morton Robinson. So at their first meeting he hands Robinson a big pile of research and analysis he had written on the first page of Joyce’s novel. From Hero’s Journey:
P115 [Henry Morton Robinson] said, “Joe, this is a funny thing to say but everything is upside down. You say at the end of your paper what should have been said at the beginning and this goes for every paragraph and practically for every sentence.
I went home that night and thought about that and I thought, This is why: I have been brought up as a scholar, writing for scholars, or wishing to write for scholars. The scholars always tell you what the other fellow had said about this thing and then they kick him off in one sentence, then they tell you what somebody else said and they kick him off with another sentence, then they tell you all the difficulties that they have had in finding their thing. Then they come out with this little “mouse” that comes out the mouth!
And so that’s one way of writing.
My friend Robinson said, “Listen, when you are writing for civilized people you are the authority. Tell them in the beginning what you are thinking. Then what you will say will be illustrative of that. They will get the idea first, then they will know why you are writing all the rest of it.
Well, that was illuminating. But it has deprived me of a good deal of, what can I say, academic prestige. That makes you a “popular” writer, you see, instead of the other kind.

- The Hero’s Journey, Stuart L. Brown, 1990
The reason I bring this up, is that I’m strictly a ‘street scholar’ – a ‘library rat’ so to speak. And a ‘street aestheticitian’. (‘street aestheticitian’ – try saying that three times)

So I can’t help but look at all art with a wide-angle lens. In my mind, there’s a personal, a social, and a universal (spiritual) influence in all great works of art. And it’s the play between these three influences that makes the analysis interesting and adds to my appreciation of the work.

But – I understand what Jamyang’s project is all about. Assess the earlier critics and offer something new.

I just want to point out that academics get frustrated with Campbell sometimes because of that appeal to the public – and because of certain ‘exaggerations’ as Martin put it – or ‘contradictions’, as I would put it, that I illustrated with Campbell’s insistence that ‘all novels since Zola are the works of didactic-pornographers.’

- NoMan
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Post by Jamyang » Thu Aug 09, 2007 7:29 pm

Moyers asked Campbell what illumination was. Campbell answered, “Illumination is the recognition of the radiance of one eternity through all things, whether in the vision of time these things are judged as good or as evil. To come to this, you must release yourself completely from desiring the goods of this world and fearing their loss.” Moyers then asked if this was really just for saints and monks. Campbell said, “No, I think it’s also for artists. The real artist is the one who has learned to recognize and to render what Joyce has called the “radiance” of all things, as an epiphany of showing forth of their truth.” Campbell went on to say that although art and religion are the two recommended ways just living with one’s heart open to others in compassion is a way wide open to all.

In his essay “Creativity” published in The Mythic Dimension Campbell, speaking directly to the way of artists, said, “This is the way it is with the rules in art. You have to learn to know them, and if it is a proper, up-to-date local art, the rules will have soething to do with the life of people here and now, not a big smoochy general thing about life, but how it is here and now, what our problems and our mysteries are, here and now. You have to know your own day. You have to know your own relation to your own day, and then forget it! Let the thing build into you . . . and then each of you can sing.” But today’s artists have a big problem. “One of the big problems for your artists today . . . is that they are all terribly frustrated in the bringing forth of their art, primarily because they have studied sociology. They always think there is a moral to be pointed out, something to be communicated.”

A point came to me about this issue of proper and improper art in relation to a saying of Zimmer’s and Campbell did make the point in this essay. Zimmer said, “The best things cannot be told; the second best are misunderstood.” The second best, poetry, myth, and art, is misunderstood because they talk about what cannot be told. The third category, the relational things tied to the fields of sociology, politics, economics, is what our literal language is geared to handle. When art points to the “best things that cannot be told,” what Joyce styles those things that are grave and constant, then it is a function proper to its purpose. When it is employed in the service of the third category then that employment is improper to it. The issues of sociology, politics, and economics can be grave but are not (and Campbell says, “Thank God!”) constant.

In his essay “Mythological Themes in Creative Literature and Art” published in Myths, Dreams, and Religion (1970) and republished in The Mythic Dimension (1997) aesthetic arrest is what Campbell calls the miracle of art. For Campbell if art is employed to sociology, politics, and economics has abandoned the possibility to affect aesthetic arrest by its kinetic function of promoting either desire for or loathing of the object depicted. Campbell says, “What I am saying here is that the first function of art is exactly that which I have already named as the first function of mythology: to transport the mind in experience past the guardians – desire and fear – of the paradisal gate to the tree within of illuminated life. He goes on, “But the cleansing of the doors [of perception], the wiping away of the guardians, those cherubim with their flaming sword, is the first effect of art, where the second, simultaneously, is the rapture of recognizing in a single hair “a thousand golden lions.”” So for Campbell the first function of art is the mystical or metaphysical function of mythology.

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Post by Jamyang » Wed Aug 22, 2007 9:14 pm

A curious wrinkle. I found a contradiction in Joyce, which Campbell affirms, and another in Campbell concerning proper and improper art. In his novel Ulysses Joyce recounts how Bloom has an aesthetic experience while staring at the label on a Bass beer bottle. Lenehan is about to interrupt Bloom when Mulligan stops him saying, ". . .perserve a druid silence. His soul is far away. It is as painful perhaps to be awakened from a vision as to be born. Any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods."

Campbell in Mythic Worlds, Modern Words concurs by saying, "Any object can open back to the mystery of the universe. You can take any object whatoever - a stick or sone, a dog or child - draw a ring around it so that it is seen as separate from everything else, and thus contemplate it in its mystery aspect - the aspect of the mystery of its being, which is the mystery of all being - and it will have there and then become a proper object of worshipful regard."

Now, Campbell relates the artist with the mystic. The artist gives us our myths and keeps those myths alive. Myths have four functions - mystical or metaphysical, cosmological, sociological, and pedagogic. Cambell, however, is inconsistent if he confines proper art to the mystical or fouth function of myth. Myths function on all four functions simultaneously and if art and myth equate then art can and must function on all four levels at the same time. Art only becomes improper when it is merely sociological - or dedactic - or pornographic. But according to both Joyce and Campbell if an object is properly regarded - even an object of pornographic art - then it can reveal its mystery as to all being.

This inconsistency puts into doubt the whole question of proper and improper art without at all putting at risk Joyce's aesthetic theory as he adopted it from Aquinas.

Jamyang
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Post by Robert G. » Thu Aug 23, 2007 9:02 am

Thanks everyone for this topic, this is the most interesting discussion I've seen here for quite some time :D I'm going to have to reread it a few times to really take it in, and I might not have anything to contribute, but I had to say how it really grabbed my attention!

The one thing I did notice (and it may be off topic) was this
Joseph Campbell gives a methodology on how to read symbols that one encounters for the first time and doesn't understand. That methodology works on the reading of the metaphors in art as well. That methodology works on the reading of the metaphors in art as well. I'm using two well known interpretations ...
What caught me here was, do you think Campbell thought he was giving "a" methodology or "the" true description of the way art (or myth) "really" is? I'm not sure what Campbell would say to the idea of his being one perspective among many, each potentially valuable or valid in different cases and to different degrees. One of the criticisms that one can make of Campbell is that he seems to be very much in the tradition of Muller, Frazer etc. in presenting a big, acontextual picture of what myth is (these are the 4 functions of myth (or this is what art is) and it has these functions in all times and places, this is how it works on the psyche of each individual of all societies throughout history, etc). My perspective :roll: is that his theory of myth suffers because of this, but what do you think about his theory of art?
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Post by Jamyang » Thu Aug 23, 2007 9:42 pm

I'm going to have a section at the beginning of my thesis discussing what a theory is. I found that the popular misconception (as myth is popularly misconceived) of the idea of a theory is that it is fact or proposes to be so. Oxford defines theory as "a supposition or system of ideas explaining something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the particular things to be explained." A theory is not a truth statement or a hypothesis. It is an attempt to explain something in general terms based on principles. Another definition included in Oxford is "the principles on which a subject of study is based." So in Campbell's theory of mythology he is not studying something acontextually but the principles governing the phenomena in general. His four functions are models devised to explain how and on what levels mythologies function.

Theories don't need to be right, either. In the opening chapter of The Inner Reaches of Outer Space Campbell describes his experience of watching the moon landing of the Apollo mission. Houston control asked who was navigating and Armstrong answered, "Newton." Now, Newton's mechanical view of the universe dominated pjhysics until it was retired by the Theory of Relativity and quantam mechanics. The problem with quantam theory is that you can't build a spaceship with it. Although Newtonian physics is techincally wrong, it is correct enough, given the gross field of matter as we experience it (that quantum theory says doesn't really exist) that its principles can be pragmatically applied.

Campbell's theory about mythology is grounded in human physiology and genetic inheritance and he is primarily concerned with those elements revealed by it described by Adolf Bastian as universal ideas and by Jung as archetypes - elements common to all mythologies. But he was also interested in "the differing manners of their representation, interpretation, and application in the arts and customs, mythologies, and theologies, of the peoples of this single planet.

Mistaken mythology - mythology taken literally - Campbell defined as religion. Many would take exception to this for religion itself is taken literally and not metaphorically by its believers. This becomes a circular argument. When he was eighty years old directing a retreat at Esalen the last piece in terms of his art theory fell into place. He saw literalism is the veil that conceals the meaning and creates confusion - in Sanskrit: maya. It is the delusion of this world taken at face value as reality. This is an issue that has plagued art discourse since the Renaissance but began with Plato. Is art immitation? Is it not the real thing? The words and images in written and painted art fool us with their realism but are metaphoric of the realities - what Campbell called our spiritual potentials - of our existence. I find now that all art is the mythologisation of its subject matter - that all art is metaphor. Taken literally art informs us how it is being said but not what is being said.

I find Campbell's theories on mythology and art (and he was right to relate them) completely functional. But I don't take them literally. For one thing, the four functions - pedagogical, sociological, cosmological, and mystical - have nothing to do with the world out there but how one is supposed to live given any circumstances, relate to others, recognize one's place in the universe (and not the physical universe but the one described to you that makes a place for you), and direct you to the ulitmate mysteries of one's own existence and how to open these mysteries up within one. If anyone can suggest a better working description that explains the phenomenon of mythology I would be all ears.

Jamyang
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Post by Robert G. » Fri Aug 24, 2007 4:53 am

Jimyang, putting that type of discussion of your terms in your paper is a great idea, the distinctions you are making should not be surprising to anyone reading a Master's thesis but it is always nice to make it explicit what terms are being used for what. Of couse, the definitions you quote have a whole host of underlying assumptions, most notably in Campbell's case the assumption that there are general principles independent of the particular myths. That said, it might be interesting to address the question of whether or not Campbell made use of those distinctions in his work. My interpretation, for reasons I've discussed elsewhere and at length in these threads, is that in the area of myth he did not. He is committed to the actuality of the archetypes and the "underlying" "metaphysical" dimension to experience, and seems to be attempting something much more akin to science than literary criticism when he is analysing myth-in-general. I think it is his committment to the scientific that leads to such oxmorons as "mistaken mythology." He thinks there are not just more or less useful ways of reading a myth, but a correct way that is more true than others, not just in a specific instance but in general.

I certainly don't want to hijack this thread to rehash these tired old issues :roll: I really am interested in looking at his approach to art and how it may differ from what I take to be his approach to myth. The distinction between proper and improper art does give me pause, though. It seems awfully familiar to the issues I have with his approach to myth. Hmm... I must think more about this - thanks!!! :lol:
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Wed Aug 29, 2007 6:30 pm

As Yamjang suggests, theories and myths don't have to be factually true, they have to "work"; However, they should be as true as possible: approximately true, that means in accordance with our knowledge about man and cosmos. (The cosmological function covers also what you might call the neurological function, because our myths have to be in accordance not only with our knowledge of the universe, but as well with our knowledge of our body.)

I don't think that the quality or relevance of art can be measured using Campbell's four functions of myth, though I agree that in the case of religious or mythic art this approach may offer some new perspectives. The problem with analyzing myths or artworks by use of the four functions of myth however is, that the myth falls apart as soon you start dissecting it. In proper science, theory helps not only building machines, as Yamjang suggests, but also molding a world view proper for our times. If we take the theory too serious (including Campbell's theory of myth) the theory starts superposing the symbolic function, which in my judgment is the function everything boils down to both in art and myth.

My own idea of the arts is strongly related to the idea of the symbol, as understood by Jung and Campbell: the symbol without meaning. What is suggested is, that a symbol does not contain absolute truths, it rather inspires us, as long as it is related in a proper way to our psyche and our knowledge. If it starts interfering with our knowledge, we won't be free to focus on the symbolic function. That's the whole story of the four functions of myth: We have to bring our mind, body and environment in balance to be open for the symbolic experience.
Works of art are indeed always products of having been in danger, of having gone to the very end in an experience, to where man can go no further. -- Rainer Maria Rilke
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Post by Jamyang » Wed Aug 29, 2007 11:54 pm

Hi Martin,

The name is spelled Jamyang, by the way.

Campbell has given us the four functions of myth but he also says that myth has ceased to function. Science has retired the traditional mythologies and he makes the point to Bill Moyers that the sociological function has taken over the world but is out of date. In his essay Mythological Themes in Creative Literature and Art Campbell makes that point that, "an archetypal mythological image is not to be thrown away along with the archaic definitions of its meaning. On the contrary such images - which, in a magical way, immediately touch and awaken within us of life - are to be retained, washed clean of "meanings," to be reexperienced (and not reinterpreted) as art."

As an art historian I like the term 'image' over 'symbol,' particularly as it is to be "washed clean of 'meanings'" in order to be experienced. Campbell gave us th four fucntions of myth as myths function in traditional societies. The problem is they no longer function in the traditional manner for us.

As both Brueghel and Joyce invoked Dante I will, too. In his letter to his patron Can Grande della Scala on his Divine Comedy he said, "For me to be able to present what I am going to say, you must know that the sense of this work is not simple, rather it may be called polysemantic, that is, of many senses; the first sense is that which comes from the letter, the second is that of that which is signified by the letter. And the first is called the literal, the second allegorical or moral or anagogical." As myths cannot be taken literally they have to be read allegorically, morally, and anagogically. But this is the same for all art. Campbell has tied the function of art to the fourth function of mythology, which is the only surviving function, given his statemet above, of mythology. In his introduction, Moyers said, "He (Campbell) was, of course, criticised for dwelling on th psychological inerpretation of myth, for seeming to confine the contemporary role of myth to either an ideological or a therapeutic function." The cosmological function is the "science" of mythology and defines the universe for us and our place in it according to that particular mythology. It is the metaphysical funtion (which in Western philosophy contains ontology) to corresponds to your neurological function. But a reductionist would claim everything is psychlogical.

Given that the function of art, and here we must state [/i]proper art, is confined to the fourth, that is, the metaphysical, function of mythology and given that in order to be proper art it cannot be pornographic - inciting desire - or didactic - inciting fear or loathing then the image, if combined with a happy combination of its formal elemens, has been intentionally fashoned to initiate aesthetic arrest, to magically awaken and touch our life, to be "transparent to tanscendence."

Now, I said in an earlier posting that both Joyce and Campbell contadicted themselves on this point but the more I thought about it the more I think I'm wrong. Since all of the productions of space and time have eternity as their source everything is symbolic of that source. Joyce and Campbell are right that any object, properly contemplated, can be a gateway to eternity. The question about proper and improper art confines itself to intention - whether or not the artwork was intended to be an aesthetic object. Joyce and Campbell maintain if the intention is either pornographic or didactic (according to how they define these terms and not their common connotations) then they have surrendered their status as aesthetic objects. Given Campbell's metaphysics there has been no controdiction between his two statements.

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Post by Robert G. » Fri Aug 31, 2007 6:33 am

I'm going to have a section at the beginning of my thesis discussing what a theory is. I found that the popular misconception (as myth is popularly misconceived) of the idea of a theory is that it is fact or proposes to be so. Oxford defines theory as "a supposition or system of ideas explaining something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the particular things to be explained." A theory is not a truth statement or a hypothesis. It is an attempt to explain something in general terms based on principles.
Thanks for this, it has helped me clarify something in Campbell's work for myself. Oxford gives the follwing definitions that I found helpful
supposition: an assumption or hypothesis.
hypothesis: 1 a supposition made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. 2 (Philosophy) a proposition made as a basis for reasoning.
assumption: a thing that is assumed to be true.
So there is clearly a sense in which a theory is a hypothesis and something which is proposed to be true. But I get the other sense of explanation in terms of principles as well. Campbell is, I think, doing both.
explain: 1 make clear by giving a detailed description. 2 give a reason or justification for.
I think he is offering both a theory in the sense of a detailed description of the way he thinks myth works, and a theory in the sense of a proposition of fact as to why it works that way. And so the four functions of myth (theory as description) and the elementary ideas/archetypes (theory as fact). I find this very helpful. Campbell does not seem to distinguish between these senses, perhaps because he sees his theory of how it works as arising from or gaining support from his theory of why it works that way. Campbell is also giving us a third sense in his theory of myth, that of a hermeneutics (sorry, I hate that word too) or methodology of how to interpret myth (and art as well I think), which also is not clearly distinguished from the other two aspects of his theory. The link with his theory of art seems to me to be most clear in these interpretive aspects, perhaps because they most clearly reflect his metaphysical assumptions, which are asserted as true to the extent that that word can apply in a system that proposes that reality is in some sense unknowable. So "aesthetic arrest" can be equivalent to "experience of the transcendent."

Thanks again! :D It's a bit off topic but very helpful for me in thinking this through.
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Post by noman » Sun Sep 30, 2007 7:21 pm

Great discussion, Robert, Martin, and Jamyang. I finally found the time to read it through. It’s not a thread one can read lightly.
The question about proper and improper art confines itself to intention…

- Jamyang
I think you’ve hit on the keynote, here, in understanding Joyce’s theory. To the Bodhisattva everything they see is radiant, every object transparent to transcendence. So the distinction between proper and improper art would have no value. We mere mortals need help to see the radiance. And it isn’t fair to subjectively pass judgment on a work simply on the basis of what we get out of it - but rather what the artist intended.
I find Campbell's theories on mythology and art (and he was right to relate them) completely functional. But I don't take them literally. For one thing, the four functions - pedagogical, sociological, cosmological, and mystical - have nothing to do with the world out there but how one is supposed to live given any circumstances, relate to others, recognize one's place in the universe (and not the physical universe but the one described to you that makes a place for you), and direct you to the ulitmate mysteries of one's own existence and how to open these mysteries up within one. If anyone can suggest a better working description that explains the phenomenon of mythology I would be all ears.

- Jamyang

Campbell’s four functions of myth:

1.) mystical
2.) cosmological
3.) sociological
4.) pedagogical

I can’t add anything to your description of the phenomenon of mythology Jamyang. But you’ve confused me a bit by referring to the mystical (1) as the fourth function of mythology. I think you mean the first - unless Campbell lists them somewhere in reverse order.

The interesting thing about these categories, for me, is that the 1st and 4th are universal. The 2’d and 3’d are culture specific. Cosmologies (2) change, and so do social systems (3). But the pedagogical (4) refers to that aspect of myth that helps to move people through different stages of life. And these basic transformations of mind and body, according to Campbell, are unchanged through time and across different cultures.

Campbell witnessed the loss of mythology in the 20th century. I think he believed that proper art could address all four functions of a mythology. But he understood that a mythology has to be built from the ground up; that is, starting with the first function. Hence, Campbell emphasized the mystical in the modern artist/shaman’s work: to awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of existence.

The problem he saw, I think, is artists, typically novelists, addressing the sociological without regard for the other three functions. It’s not that he saw anything wrong with addressing the sociological but that it has to be incorporated into something deeper, something that taps into those universals - the 1st and 4th functions – those elementargadanken – or the effect will be fleeting. This is why Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Johnson, wrote in the introduction of the first publication of Shakespeare’s plays:
Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughty Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!

- Ben Johnson
I’ve read a little bit about Bruegel the Elder. We really know very little about the man. Just as with Shakespeare, we know him through his art, and through his environment. What is most striking for me is that Bruegel was a ‘serious comic’. You look at his paintings and at first laugh at the joy and playfulness. But it doesn’t take much to realize that his works were very carefully designed to reveal deeper, more serious meanings. And he did it with such attention to detail. Some art books show enlarged details where you can see the brushstrokes. Some of these close-ups look like 19th century impressionist’s paintings. I’ve found it’s nice to have a magnifying glass handy when looking at a reproduction of a Bruegel painting.

I can see why he is being compared to Dante. It seems Bruegel played with both the Christian and Greek myths in a way that was uncommonly appropriate in his time, as well as being so very appropriate, (or proper) - for all time.

Great stuff Jamyang.

- NoMan
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