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Author Topic: Problem with the Joe Campbell Monomyth?  (Read 27181 times)
Widsith
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« Topic Start: October 02, 2007, 08:51:34 am »

Hi, everybody--

  I've been scratching my head over some observations I've read here regarding problems with the J.Campbell "monomyth" theory.  This idea has entered popular culture (especially where people are concerned with mythology) but it seems to have some major flaws.

  My question is--what is wrong with the monomyth theory? (Not contesting here, just seeking information.)

  Catja9 in particular had some very intriguing things to say regarding this and I'd like to hear more; of course anyone else who knows more about it is welcome to help lighten my ignorance around the subject.

  Any additional reading regarding this you could direct me to would also be welcome.

  Thanks

  Widsith
« Last Edit: October 02, 2007, 09:10:07 am by RandallS, Reason: Subject Changed Slightly » Logged

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« Reply #1: October 02, 2007, 09:17:44 am »

Just wanted to add minor correction--That's Catja6, not 9. Apologies.

Thanks for the edit, Randall.

Widsith




Hi, everybody--

  I've been scratching my head over some observations I've read here regarding problems with the J.Campbell "monomyth" theory.  This idea has entered popular culture (especially where people are concerned with mythology) but it seems to have some major flaws.

  My question is--what is wrong with the monomyth theory? (Not contesting here, just seeking information.)

  Catja9 in particular had some very intriguing things to say regarding this and I'd like to hear more; of course anyone else who knows more about it is welcome to help lighten my ignorance around the subject.

  Any additional reading regarding this you could direct me to would also be welcome.

  Thanks

  Widsith
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« Reply #2: October 02, 2007, 09:29:37 am »

Hi, everybody--

  I've been scratching my head over some observations I've read here regarding problems with the J.Campbell "monomyth" theory.  This idea has entered popular culture (especially where people are concerned with mythology) but it seems to have some major flaws.

  My question is--what is wrong with the monomyth theory? (Not contesting here, just seeking information.)

Widsth,

For those of us who are hard polytheists, some of Campbell's conclusions just don't work. If you have a framework where deities are viewed in the Jungian archetypical manner it works better.
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« Reply #3: October 02, 2007, 10:44:03 am »

My question is--what is wrong with the monomyth theory? (Not contesting here, just seeking information.)
The main problem - other that the issue Lyric mentions - is idea of a European telling the rest of the world that they're basically following the European myth cycle.  And getting it wrong.

No one wants to be told what they "really" believe.

Plus there is a great diversity in world mythology that Campbell (who I have a huge amount of affection for, btw) basically ignores when it doesn't fit his theory.

You mentioned Catja - she has studied folklore at the post graduate level and might be a good source for further reading recommendations if she's available.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2007, 10:46:04 am by Thorn, Reason: Hit post too soon » Logged
sashapablo
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« Reply #4: October 02, 2007, 11:42:22 am »

Hi, everybody--

  I've been scratching my head over some observations I've read here regarding problems with the J.Campbell "monomyth" theory.  This idea has entered popular culture (especially where people are concerned with mythology) but it seems to have some major flaws.

  My question is--what is wrong with the monomyth theory? (Not contesting here, just seeking information.)

Here's a brief paper that summarizes his problems:
http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notebooks/joseph-campbell.html

Here's a book I haven't read yet, but is on my list: Manganaro: Myth, Rhetoric, and the Voice of Authority: A Critique of Frazer, Frye, and Campbell, 1992, Yale University Press

Although the monomyth has greatly influenced Western popular culture, especially cinema (e.g., Star Wars), Campbell's interpretations and methodologies were extremely flawed. Part of the problem is that myths (and legends and fairytales) usually don't have just one form. All of the variations are equally as important, and constructing a metanarrative from them automatically invalidates any attempt to retain the context from which they were taken.

Campbell was very married to his vision of the monomyth, so he disregarded variations that contradicted it and twisted others to fit it.

Catja can speak much better about the disciplines of literature and folklore, but I can say that the discipline of history has moved well beyond the metanarrative way of explaining things.

Sasha
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« Reply #5: October 02, 2007, 12:24:10 pm »

Reply to all--

Thanks very much--this is what I want to know more about! Seeing as JC's bundle 'o' memes has entered the popular culture and replicated via movie plots (Star Wars, Matrix, etc.) and has had some influence on religion, it's important to understand the limits of its usefulness.

BTW--I found an interesting article on the influence of Freud, Jung, and Campbell on the analysis of folklore and mythology which discusses this issue (among others).

(I tried to post the url, but I need to figure out what I'm doing wrong Embarrassed I'll post it when I've figured it out Smiley It's on a blog called foamycustard by Bob Trubshaw.

I'll respond at greater length (and hopefully more coherently) later after I've had more chance to gnaw through more data.

Widsith

Here's a brief paper that summarizes his problems:
http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/notebooks/joseph-campbell.html

Here's a book I haven't read yet, but is on my list: Manganaro: Myth, Rhetoric, and the Voice of Authority: A Critique of Frazer, Frye, and Campbell, 1992, Yale University Press

Although the monomyth has greatly influenced Western popular culture, especially cinema (e.g., Star Wars), Campbell's interpretations and methodologies were extremely flawed. Part of the problem is that myths (and legends and fairytales) usually don't have just one form. All of the variations are equally as important, and constructing a metanarrative from them automatically invalidates any attempt to retain the context from which they were taken.

Campbell was very married to his vision of the monomyth, so he disregarded variations that contradicted it and twisted others to fit it.

Catja can speak much better about the disciplines of literature and folklore, but I can say that the discipline of history has moved well beyond the metanarrative way of explaining things.

Sasha
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« Reply #6: October 02, 2007, 02:12:19 pm »

Hi, everybody--

  I've been scratching my head over some observations I've read here regarding problems with the J.Campbell "monomyth" theory.  This idea has entered popular culture (especially where people are concerned with mythology) but it seems to have some major flaws.

  My question is--what is wrong with the monomyth theory? (Not contesting here, just seeking information.)

  Catja9 in particular had some very intriguing things to say regarding this and I'd like to hear more; of course anyone else who knows more about it is welcome to help lighten my ignorance around the subject.

  Any additional reading regarding this you could direct me to would also be welcome.

  Thanks

  Widsith

Sasha summed it up very well.  For some more information, I suggest you check out the Foamy Custard page, one of the best and most readable (in terms of writing, not color scheme -- the orange background is painful) myth/folklore sites on the web:

http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/foamycustard/index.htm

The article "On Overview of Mythological Theory," at FC, quotes Manganaro (the book recommended by Sasha) on Campbell:

[Campbell is] guilty of freeze-dried reductionism, logocentric oneness, arbitrary interpretation of facts chopped from context, evolutionary ritualism, and ethnocentric valorizing of Western power. His appeal is caused by his "comparativist rhetorical authority, in the genealogy traced from Frazer, that organised the myriad voices of comparative cultures into the one authorial chord". "Mythic occurrences... are detached from historical processes and become elementary semiotic entities, symbols to be read". "Campbell's 'synthetic' master-myth ignores cultural holism in the colossal authorial effort of fitting together a piecework universalism" – precisely part of the modernist "finding an answer to everything" project, but it deconstructs as "an ethnocentric valorization of Western power mechanisms."

Basically, Campbell is playing One True Story, and shoving a bunch of disparate stories into a Procrustean bed, a bed shaped by Christian narrative with some assists from the Greeks.  He rips stories out of their cultural context, and interprets them through a very Western, very Christian lens, and insists he's got the True Reading.  He claims that his "monomyth" is universal, despite the fact that it's both anthropomorphic and male centered, which many, many myths are not.  His scholarly approach is so problematic as to be worse then useless.

Campbell is popular because he tells Westerners raised in a Christian-dominant society that all myths are essentially thwe same, and moreover, they all look like Christian stories -- which is very reassuring.  Campbellites get to pat themselves on the back for their tolerance, but the tolerance is based upon a huge misapprehension of other cultures' myths -- and, since the Campbell narrative reasserts the primacy of the Christian narrative, it isn't real tolerance at all.


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« Reply #7: October 02, 2007, 02:42:02 pm »



You might also want to check out these threads on the old board:

Starting at this post or so, several of us had a great discussion of Campbell:
http://www.ecauldron.net/mb/messages.php?webtag=TCMAIN&msg=1876.21

And here's a HUGE post I made about the problems with psychoanalytic approaches to myth/folklore in general:
http://www.ecauldron.net/mb/index.php?webtag=TCMAIN&msg=122.436



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« Reply #8: October 02, 2007, 04:10:34 pm »

Basically, Campbell is playing One True Story, and shoving a bunch of disparate stories into a Procrustean bed, a bed shaped by Christian narrative with some assists from the Greeks.  He rips stories out of their cultural context, and interprets them through a very Western, very Christian lens, and insists he's got the True Reading.  He claims that his "monomyth" is universal, despite the fact that it's both anthropomorphic and male centered, which many, many myths are not.  His scholarly approach is so problematic as to be worse then useless.

I think that whole One True Theory That Explains Everything is very appealing to a lot of people, too. Gives the universe purpose and all that jazz Smiley

One of my history profs relayed an interesting tidbit about Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. Basically Diamond was complaining that historians hadn't answered the question of why history unfolded the way it did, so he was setting out to understand the grand patterns of history. Historians realize that the answers are a lot more complicated and that metanarratives are fundamentally flawed. But Diamond still is a best-selling author Smiley

When asking the grand questions, the reductionist answers make nice, tidy theories that are easily digestable. But thinking there are simple answers to questions like that is a folly. The postmodernist would say that there is no answer, no truth with a capital "T." But there are more correct answers than others, and that's why I don't care for Campbell and the rest of the metanarrative bunch.

Sasha
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« Reply #9: October 02, 2007, 05:27:26 pm »

Historians realize that the answers are a lot more complicated and that metanarratives are fundamentally flawed. But Diamond still is a best-selling author Smiley

Yeah, him and Cahill drive me nuts.
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« Reply #10: October 02, 2007, 07:02:23 pm »

One of my history profs relayed an interesting tidbit about Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel.

I found the themes in that book entertaining, but his writing style irritates me. He sounds like a high school student taking a standardized test. I have never found another author where each chapter so perfectly mimicked the Proper Form of Essays as taught for the HSPTs and so forth.

-- Joshua
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« Reply #11: October 02, 2007, 07:54:58 pm »

Hi, Katja,

Thanks, exactly what I was lookin for.  Matter of fact, I'd just found that foamycustard page before my last post, but for some reason (my computer-fu is weak Embarrassed) I couldn't get the link to work for me, but lo and behold, you have!

I agree, the ORANGE background is eye-searing, but the information is quite good. I expect to spend a lot of time reading there.

I'll read your threads, too.

Widsith



Sasha summed it up very well.  For some more information, I suggest you check out the Foamy Custard page, one of the best and most readable (in terms of writing, not color scheme -- the orange background is painful) myth/folklore sites on the web:

http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/foamycustard/index.htm

The article "On Overview of Mythological Theory," at FC, quotes Manganaro (the book recommended by Sasha) on Campbell:

[Campbell is] guilty of freeze-dried reductionism, logocentric oneness, arbitrary interpretation of facts chopped from context, evolutionary ritualism, and ethnocentric valorizing of Western power. His appeal is caused by his "comparativist rhetorical authority, in the genealogy traced from Frazer, that organised the myriad voices of comparative cultures into the one authorial chord". "Mythic occurrences... are detached from historical processes and become elementary semiotic entities, symbols to be read". "Campbell's 'synthetic' master-myth ignores cultural holism in the colossal authorial effort of fitting together a piecework universalism" – precisely part of the modernist "finding an answer to everything" project, but it deconstructs as "an ethnocentric valorization of Western power mechanisms."

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« Reply #12: October 02, 2007, 07:58:36 pm »

Widsth,

For those of us who are hard polytheists,

Hi, LyricFox--

Please forgive my ignorance, but what's a "hard polytheist"?

Widsith
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« Reply #13: October 02, 2007, 08:04:37 pm »

Hi, LyricFox--

Please forgive my ignorance, but what's a "hard polytheist"?

Widsith

i'm not Lyric but... those who believe that each god is a separate entity with their own personality and agenda as opposed to an archetype and/or a facet/aspect of one god/goddess.

so the greek gods are separate and different from the roman ones or the celtic ones and they are not 'the same set of gods by other names'.
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« Reply #14: October 02, 2007, 08:05:57 pm »

Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel.


Hi, Sasha, what author(s) would you recommend as an alternative to JD?

Widsith
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