“A hero is someone who has given their life to something bigger than oneself."
On March 26, 1904, Joseph Campbell was born in White Plains, New York, and passed away on October 30, 1987, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He discusses his life and works with Stuart L. Brown, and the result is the illuminating work, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell’s Life and Work. Brown was the documentary producer detailing Joseph Campbell’s life under a slightly different name: The Hero’s Journey: The World of Joseph Campbell.
Before transferring to Columbia, Campbell studied science and math at Dartmouth to pursue the humanities. He earned his Bachelor’s in English and his Master’s in medieval literature. Throughout his reading, writing, and travel, he hoped to help others see that “myth is a reflection of the one sublime adventure of life and then to breathe new life into it.”
After spending time abroad for two years, Campbell returned to Columbia and sought faculty support for his growing interests in Sanskrit, modern art, and medieval literature. The faculty at the time preferred Campbell to stay in his lane and continue his projected course of study instead of pursuing Sanskrit. Knowing he could not do that, he opted out of pursuing his Ph.D.
He later acknowledges his method of independent scholarship helped him develop and hone his sense of artistic observation. This independent scholarship includes an unending curiosity and a life of voracious reading.
Two weeks after he returned home from traveling abroad, the stock market crashed and launched the country into a devastating economic depression. Despite having very little money and no job, Joseph Campbell entered one of the wealthiest times of his life. His wealth came in the form of an abundant feast of reading:
So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. I divided the day into four four hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them.
By getting up at eight o’clock in the morning, by nine I could sit down to read. That meant I used the first hour to prepare my own breakfast and take care of the house and put things together in whatever shack I happened to be living in at the time. Then three hours of that first four-hour period went to reading.
Then came an hour break for lunch and another three-hour unit. And then comes the optional next section. It should normally be three hours of reading and then an hour for dinner and then three hours free and an hour getting to bed so I’m in bed by twelve.
On the other hand, if I were invited out for cocktails or something like that, then I would put the work hour in the evening and the play hour in the afternoon.
It worked very well. I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight. You get a lot done in that time. When the job at Sarah Lawrence came, until I started writing, I continued that schedule over the weekends, when I was at home.
Reading what you want, and having one book lead to the next, is the way I found my discipline. I’ve suggested this to many of my students: When you find a writer who really is saying something to you, read everything that writer has written and you will get more education and depth of understanding out of that than reading a scrap here and a scrap there and elsewhere. Then go to people who influenced that writer, or those who were related to him, and your world builds together in an organic way that is really marvelous. Whereas the way these things are taught normally in college and school is a sampler of what this one wrote and that one wrote and you’re asked to be more interested in the date of the publication of Keat’s sonnets than in what in them.”
Joseph Campbell's independent Study Schedule
|8:00 - 9:00||Breakfast|
|9:00 - 12:00||Reading|
|12:00 - 1:00||Lunch|
|4:00 - 5:00||Dinner|
|5:00 - 8:00||Reading|
|8:00 - 11:00||Free|
|11:00 - 12:00||Bed|
“The outer world is what you get in scholarship, the inner world is your response to it. And it is there where these come together that we have the myths. The outer world changes with historical time, the inner world is the world of anthropos. The mythological systems are a constant, and what you are recognizing is your own inward life, and at the same time the inflection to history. The problem of making the inner meet the outer today is, of course, the function of the artist.”
“From the outer world the senses carry images to the mind, which do not become myth, however, until there transformed by fusion with accordant insights, awakened as imagination from the inner world of the body.”
Joseph Campbell earned the favor of artists, filmmakers, scholars, and a world of readers. He believed the spiritual realm was not only timeless but universal, and the insight hidden was entirely discoverable by anyone willing to work for it – and by work, he means read.