Sunday, February 26, 2012

Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers: returning to "The Power of Myth" ... by gimleteye

While I was in India, a friend reminded me of the conversations between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell in 1985 and 1986 at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch and later at the Museum of Natural History in New York. In the face of so much disquiet in the world, including the most bizarre GOP presidential primary in modern history, it is well worth returning to the forms of wisdom expressed through those historic and important conversations. Here is an excerpt:

CAMPBELL: ... people ask me, "Do you have optimism about the world?" And I say, "Yes, it's great just the way it is. And you are not going to fix it up. Nobody has ever made it any better. It is never going to be any better. This is it, so take it or leave it. You are not going to correct or improve it."

MOYERS: Doesn't that lead to a rather passive attitude in the face of evil?

CAMPBELL: You yourself are participating in the evil, or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil for somebody. This is one of the ironies of the whole creation.

MOYERS: What about this idea of good and evil in mythology, of life as a conflict between the forces of darkness and the forces of light?

CAMPBELL: That is a Zoroastrian idea, which has come over into Judaism and Christianity. In other traditions, good and evil are relative to the position in which you are standing. What is good for one is evil for the other. And you play your part, not withdrawing from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but seeing that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder: a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. "All life is sorrowful" is the first Buddhist saying, and so it is. It wouldn't be life if there were not temporality involved, which is sorrow -- loss, loss, loss. You've got to say yes to life and see it as magnificent this way; for this is surely the way God intended it.

MOYERS: Do you really believe that?

CAMPBELL: It is joyful just as it is. I don't believe there was anybody who intended it, but this is the way it is. James Joyce has a memorable line: "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." And the way to awake from it is not to be afraid, and to recognize that all of this, as it is, is a manifestation of the horrendous power that is of all creation. The ends of things are always painful. But pain is part of there being a world at all.

MOYERS: But if you accepted that as an ultimate conclusion, you wouldn't try to form any laws or fight any battles or --

CAMPBELL: I didn't say that.

MOYERS: Isn't that the logical conclusion to draw from accepting everything as it is?

CAMPBELL: That is not the necessary conclusion to draw. You could say, "I will participate in this life, I will join the army, I will go to war," and so forth.

MOYERS: "I will do the best I can."

CAMPBELL: "I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera -- except that it hurts."


Jenny Novak said...

Joseph Campbell was so wise. Thank you for sharing this excerpt from his wonderful interviews!

Sparrow said...

Moyers asked all the right questions! Remarkable interviewer, amazing subject. As someone who tries to be a champion for what I believe in, pro-conservation causes, Campbell inspires me to keep participating in the game, the "wonderful opera." And at the same time also to accept that others might see my beliefs as wrong, even evil: a sorrow, but viewing it as a magnificent, relative manifestation of creation makes the pain of this, and things like Fox news, much more bearable.