No one conjures ideas from thin air. All great theories begin somewhere and are influenced from thoughts elsewhere. Joseph Campbell is no different. We would be denying Campbell his intellectual depth if we did not begin this class by exploring the thinkers and ideas that started Campbell down his path with his multi-faced hero. This week, our readings come from the work of Robert Segal who, while not a philosopher of myth, is an honest and fair historian of the study of myth. In the first article, Segal looks at the influence the psychologist and mystic Carl Jung had on the study of myth. Jung’s ideas of dreams and symbols greatly influenced Campbell and his approach to myth. Consider that Campbell once said that dreams are “personal myths and myths are public dreams.” Once you subscribe to that perspective, you can begin to analyze any narrative as you would a dream. The importance of this perspective is that Jung’s influence on Campbell freed the mythographer from the restraints of literalism. You can no more read a myth literally than you could a dream. So, the fundamental question shifts from “Is this true?” to “What does it mean and How?” This is a very important perspective to grasp in the study of myth.
In the second article, Segal looks at the Grail Legend as well as the Myth and Ritual school. The Grail Legend is the prototypical quest narrative. Campbell’s journey begins with this classic story’s ideas and structures and then extend to the entirety of his theory. The Myth and Ritual school was a fascinating movement centered at Cambridge University in the years after World War One. The idea, in a nutshell, was to examine how narratives influenced social action and consciousness. Granted, this is an idea as old as Plato, but the Cambridge Ritualists delved deep into the role myth plays in society.
As you read these articles, keep in mind your paper from week one. How do the ideas expressed in these two articles add to your understanding of myth?
- Jung on Myth
- The Grail Legend as Frazerian Myth and Ritual
A microtheme will be due each week. These will be short (2-4 pages) summaries of and responses to the required readings from that week. Microthemes will address your questions about the readings as well as attempts to answer these questions as you work to make sense of the material. This is a good place for you to make connections between the work of the class and ideas regarding rhetoric and communication. This is a good opportunity for you to work at making sense of the reading and building awareness of your thinking process.