Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Audiobook Recommendation #3: "The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell"

It's been awhile, but I started a series of posts about the best audiobooks I've found over the last few years. Number 3 is a hard to find audiobook of conversations between Joseph Campbell and Michael Toms of New Dimensions radio called The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell.

The four cd set reminds me of Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, the book that introduced millions (including me) to Campbell's work, but I actually like it much better than the Moyers series. While Moyers is one of my heroes and has had a great impact on my life, Moyers is a journalist/generalist while Toms is much more of an expert on mythology. Thus, while Moyers questions probe Campbell to describe his life's work in detail, Toms' questions propel Campbell into lively descriptions of the joys of growing old when you've found and followed your bliss.

At one point, Toms stops Campbell, asking him to go back and restate a point he's just made and Campbell can't, exclaiming that "that's so hard, you talk out of an excitement..." In other words, while Toms tries to get Campbell to slow down for Toms' audience, the great conversation between them has prompted Campbell to talk so excitedly that he goes beyond his prepared material and into a zone of spontaniety that's wonderful to witness. In fact, at one point, upon signing off, Campbell tells Toms that he "feels like he's talking to a brother" in what must have been one of the high compliments of Toms' life.

At another point, Toms reads Campbell a selection from Campbell's early work The Hero With a Thousand Faces. I forget the passage, but Campbell responds that when he wrote the selection he was writing out of what he had read at that time. He goes on to describe how moved he was by his own writing, thinking "I wrote that?," before going on to say that now that he listens to it in old age (Campbell is in his 70's or 80's when the conversations took place) he has now lived through what he described in this book and has witnessed it to be true. When Toms comments that his conversations with Campbell make him not fear growing old, Campbell responds with a quote "grow old with me, the best is yet to be." It's a nice message about myth, in other words, and a rare example of a conversation between two people with an in depth knowledge of mythology.

At one point, Campbell describes Christianity in a rare, but true, way. He says:

"One of the obsessions, I think, in Christianity is the Devil. When I turn from reading Oriental and tribal mythologies to any orthodox Christian work, suddenly the Devil is there. I think he's more important than God. He's the reason for all the wars against other people. He justifies the massacre of primitive tribes. They are all "Devil worshippers." Anyone who has an experience of the divine that's not of some particular clergy, is worshipping the Devil. And "Devil" is the word that's actually used for other people's gods."

At another point he responds to a call-in question about whether primitive people lacked a spiritual life. Campbell disagrees respectfully but strongly, describing that despite their tough lives, primitive peoples' belief systems were often more advanced than our own. In fact, he points out the depth of visions like the one described in Black Elk Speaks in which Black Elk not only had a vision that Harney Peak in South Dakota was the center/ still point of his Sioux tribe but that this vision continued and deepened as Black Elk saw a series of interlocking hoops across the world and went on to describe the center of the world as "everywhere." Campbell describes this as "a tribe that thought it was It is now in a multiple heteregeneous world."

Campbell describes this vision as "good stuff for today." I agree and highly recommend this audiobook or the abridged printed version called "An Open Life."

1 comment:

seattle criminal lawyer said...

I will have to pick up a copy of that audio book. Really sounds like a good one.