Joseph Campbell Again

6 February 2010


Joseph Campbell - 26 March 1904 to 30 October 1987.

I keep coming back to the short list of thinkers who have had a real impact on me. Twice recently (in Civilizations of Predication and Identity and in Joseph Campbell and Kenneth Clark, and before these in other posts as well) I’ve written about Joseph Campbell’s recorded lectures, and a week doesn’t go by that I don’t mention Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. There is a sense in which we choose our influences, but there is also a sense in which they choose us. We cannot choose that to which we naturally respond: either one responds or one doesn’t.

Walter Kaufmann - 01 July 1921 to 04 September 1980.

While I haven’t written much about Walter Kaufmann, he is another influence that I often find myself drawn back to. Unlike Campbell, whom I know primarily through the spoken word of the recorded lecture, and Clark, whom I know primarily through the on-screen presence of his television series, Kaufmann I know through his books. I have copies of most of his books, and have read most of them through.

As it happens, last night I was reading Kaufmann’s Discovery of the Mind, Volume Three, Freud versus Adler and Jung in order to improve an old post to this forum (specifically, Indefinable Experiences; I frequently return to old posts to correct errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and even entirely wrong words that interpolate themselves into the text when I type rapidly), and I skimmed Kaufmann’s discussion of Jung’s Answer to Job.

Freud on the lower left and Jung on the lower right.

Kaufmann was honest to a fault and never pulled any punches. he didn’t pull any punches with Jung either. At the end of his discussion of Jung he wrote, “I wanted to give a balanced account and, if possible, end on a positive note. But I have come to the conclusion that there are no great contributions. Jung obstructed the discovery of the mind but, in effect, contributed a fascinating case history.” (Section 77) To put it bluntly, Kaufmann says that Jung had no great contributions to intellectual history.

I suspect Campbell would have disagreed as bluntly with that judgment. It would have been quite a sight, had it been possible, to get the two into a room together to review their differences over Jung. Some lectures of Campbell that I have listened to have made Jung’s work sound absolutely fascinating. But Jung is one of those authors that can be made to sound fascinating by others, but when I try to read him myself I just can’t make any progress. Jung’s writings don’t speak to me, although Campbell’s exposition of Jung was of great interest. I have had a similar experience with D. H. Lawrence: the more I learn about Lawrence the more interesting he sounds, but when I try to actually read Lawrence myself I find the experience too boring to continue. A few years ago I wrote about this to a friend:

Concerning Lawrence—he is a more difficult case for me. Everything I read about Lawrence increases my admiration for him as a writer, and I feel that I ought to enjoy reading him. However, when I actually attempt to read Lawrence I find him rather tedious. Of course, that’s not the end of it. I will try, and try again. Perhaps I will have a taste for it in the future, when I have better educated my taste. Or maybe he will remain opaque for me.

So much for Lawrence.

While Kaufmann and Campbell probably never had it out personally over Jung, it was interesting to come across this in Kaufmann’s book regarding Jung’s Answer to Job: “…the book is not only available in paperback but also included in its entirety in The Portable Jung because the editor, like many of Jung’s admirers, considers it especially beautiful.” (section 71) And again later, “…I want to ask why Answer to Job seems ‘beautiful’ to the editor of The Portable Jung and many others.” (section 73)

As it turns out, the editor of The Portable Jung was none other than Joseph Campbell, though by the way Kaufmann has phrased his above quotes it sounds like they never met. Earlier in the book (section 70) Kaufmann mentioned Campbell by name in his discussion of Jung’s attitude to India: “Other Western apostles of the East have used India in much the same way to revenge themselves upon their hated Christian upbringing, although they really detested India. Joseph Campbell, the editor of The Portable Jung, is an outstanding example.”

Although Kaufmann was an incredibly fair-minded philosopher, this does not strike me as an adequate comment on Campbell’s life. From the earlier quotes, Kaufmann doesn’t seem to have known Campbell, and, of course, Campbell’s journals of his time in India were only published long after both men were dead. But I assume that Kaufmann must have read something by or about Campbell, other than the editorial apparatus of the The Portable Jung. It would be an interesting project to try to find out exactly what these two knew about each other.

Kaufmann, as a lifelong translator and interpreter of Nietzsche, was especially wary of the ways in which ressentiment distorts a person’s view of the world, and he found this ressentiment in Jung and especially in Jung’s Answer to Job. It does not surprise me, then, that Kaufmann would have wondered how anyone could find a work he found to be filled with ressentiment to be beautiful, since he would have seen any such work as the definition of intellectual ugliness.

For all of Campbell’s catholic interests (note that this is “catholic” with a small “c” although Campbell was in fact from a Catholic background), I have not heard him often mention Nietzsche in his lectures. Campbell was no doubt aware of Nietzsche, but he was not the central figure for Campbell that he was for Kaufmann. Presumably, Campbell was not especially intellectually offended by ressentiment, and it is unlikely that he would have found it in Jung’s Answer to Job. Campbell does not discuss the essay itself of his reasons for including it in The Portable Jung other than to call it “wonderful.” (p. xxxii)

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