Passages: Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Joseph Campbell

Prologue: Introducing Passages

I have begun sharing select literary passages on Facebook as of late, where, despite my small list of friends, I have received a substantial amount of positive feedback in the form of likes, shares, and comments. Prompted by this experiment, and spurred by my desire to champion good literature, I will be publishing a series of entries entitled Passages, where I will share my favorite prose and wisdom within a given book.

I’m excited about this. As a writer, I’ll get to transcribe the passages I enjoy most, endearing their texture and syntax evermore deeply to me; and as a reader, this practice will foster more thoughtful, perceptive reading – something I am duly more conscientious of, having just read Mortimer J. Adler’s and Charles Van Doren’s classic literacy manual: How to Read a Book.

As I embark on this journey of transcribing these beautiful bits of books, I offer a caveat and a disclaimer: Passages are not CliffsNotes, nor it is not my wish to contribute to the pseudo-intellectual culture promulgated by the internet and television; that which gives the viewer a false sense of knowing, without any background, context, or experience, the same stacking of facts that allows people to quote so-and-so without ever actually having read blah-blah-blah.

I am not one who espouses highbrow elitism; however, I believe the world would be a better place if people read more books, for few things have profited my soul as time spent between pages.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy these selected passages.

Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Joseph Campbell

Passages excepted from the 1988 Harper and Row Edition

The inner, transformational world of myth

“The seat of the soul is there, where the outer and inner worlds meet. That is the wonder-land (sic) of myth. 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.”

– p. 31


The borderless omnipresence of the holy land

“The holy land is no special place. It is every place that has ever been recognized and mythologized by any people as home.”

– p. 44


The transcendent, larger than life power of story

” …as noticed in the Chhāndogya Upanishad: “Just as those who do not know the spot might pass, time and time again, over a hidden treasure of gold without discovering it, so do all creatures of this world pass daily into that Brahmā world [in deep sleep], without discovering it, distracted as they are by false ideas.” The distinguishing first function of a properly read mythology is to release the mind from its naive fixation upon such false ideas, which are of material things as things-in-themselves [vs. metaphor]. Hence, the figurations of myth are metaphorical (as dreams normally are not) in two senses simultaneously, as bearing (1) psychological, but at the same time (2) metaphysical, connotations. By way of this dual focus the psychologically significant features of any social order, environment, or supposed history can be transformed through myth into transparencies revelatory of transcendence.”

– p. 56 | note: I find Campbell’s normally eloquent and succinct writing a bit obtuse here but if you can discern what he is saying – there is a lot to take away from this passage on happiness and the transcendent, larger than life power of story. To quote Gabriel Garcia Marquez from One Hundred Years of Solitude (a book I could not get into): “It’s not so much what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” In other words, the story we tell ourselves matters more than the plot of our lives, for the story shapes the plot.


The metaphorical, transcendent nature of G-d

“…the term and concept “God” is itself but a metaphor of the unknowing mind, connotative, not only beyond itself, but beyond thought.”

– p. 57


Cross-cultural archetypes in myth and identification with the sacred

“The first task of any systematic comparison of the myths and religions of mankind should therefore be (it seemed to me) to identify these universals (or, as C.G. Jung termed them, archetypes of the unconscious) and as far as possible to interpret them; and the second task then should be to recognize and interpret the various locally and historically conditioned transformations of the metaphorical images through which these universals have been rendered. Since the archetypes are not limited in their distributions by cultural or even linguistic boundaries, they cannot be defined as culturally determined. However, the local metaphors by which they have been everywhere connoted, the local ways of experiencing and applying their force, are indeed socially conditioned and defined. Bastian termed such local figurations ” ethnic ideas,” völkergedanken, and Mircea Eliade has termed them “heirophanies” (from hieros-, “powerful, supernatural, holy, sacred,” plus phainein, “to reveal, show, make known.”).

“The very dialectic of the sacred,” Eliade declares, “tends to repeat a series of archetypes, so that a heirophany realized at a certain historical moment is structurally equivalent to a heirophany a thousand years earlier or later.”

The Elementary idea is grounded in the psyche; the Ethnic Idea through which it is rendered, in local geography, history, and society. A heirophany occurs when through some detail, whether of a local landscape, artifact, social custom, historical memory, or individual biography, a psychological archetype or elementary idea is reflected. The object so informed becomes thereby sacralized, or mythologized. Correspondingly, a religious experience will be realized when there is felt an immediate sense of identification with the revelation. The sense of a mere relationship is not the same. In popular cult the experience of relationship is frequently all that is intended. Thereby a sense of social solidarity may be rendered. Through identification, however, a transformation of character is effected.”

– p. 100


Schopenhauer on the synchronicity that shapes a life

“Schopenhauer, in his bold and really magnificent “Transcendent Speculation upon an Apparent Intention in The Fate of the Individual” (1850), takes up the idea, remarking that in the later years of a lifetime, looking back over the course of one’s days and noticing how encounters and events that appeared at the time to be accidental became the crucial structuring features of an unintended lifestory through which the potentialities of one’s character were fostered to fulfillment, one may find it difficult to resist the notion of the course of one’s biography as compatible to that of a clearly constructed novel, wondering who the author of the surprising plot can have been; considering further, that as the shaping of one’s own life was largely an effect of personalities accidentally encountered, so, too, one must have oneself worked effects upon others.

It is one great dream dream dreamed by a single being, but in such a way that all the characters dream too. Hence, everything links and accords with everything else.

– pp. 110-111


The restrictive, mechanistic, religious view of the sacred

“From the standpoint of an exclusively mechanistic view of human experience and action, any such attribution to nature of, “a presence… far more deeply interfused” as that of Wordsworth’s poetic lines of meditation written above Tintern Abbey, or of Schopenhauer’s “Will in Nature,” must be qualified in the derogatory sense as feelings; the so called pathetic fallacy: a sentimental projection of the imagination like Don Quixote’s morbid fantasy of a magician’s work in a windmill. Anthropologists, in the same vein, describe as “animism” the attribution in tribal mythologies, not only of consciousness, but also of a discreet indwelling spirit, to every material form of reality, whether it be animal, plant, stone, star, moon, sun, or cyclone. While in the vocabulary of Judeo-Christian theology, diabolism is the word for such beliefs.

For already in the Old Testament, as in post-Gallilean sciences, there is in nature itself no divinity. There is no god in all of earth but in Israel (II Kings 5:15), and the gods of the gentiles are devils. The texts of Christian missionaries to this same point in justification of their labors are legion, Satan himself being there recognized as even literally present in the idols, sacraments, sorceries, and miracles of every worship but the mission’s own.”

– p. 114


The priest vs. the artist and the artist as innovator

“Carl Jung somewhere has written that the function of religion is to protect us from an experience of God.

The priest’s practical maxims and metaphorical rites moderate transcendent light to secular conditions, intending harmony and enrichment, not disquietude and dissolution. In contrast, the mystic deliberately offers himself to the blast and may go to pieces.

Like the priest, the artist is a master of metaphorical language. The priest, however, is vocationally committed to a vocabulary already coined, of which he is the representative. He is a performing artist executing scripts already perfectly wrought, and his art is in the execution. Creative artists, in contrast, are creative only in so far as they are innovative. And of their innovations, two degrees are readily distinguished. One, the more immediately obvious, has to do with technical innovations; the other with innovative insights.”

– p. 121


The pornographic nature of art intended to foster desire

“Art that excites desire Joyce calls pornographic. All advertising art is in this sense pornographic, since it is intended that the viewer should desire to possess in some manner the object represented.”

– p. 123


The “proper” artist as revolutionary prophet, and mirror for the social mask

“For nature, as we know, is at once without and within us. Art is the mirror at the interface. So too is ritual; so also myth. These, too, ” bring out the grand lines of nature,” and in doing so, reestablish us in our own deep truth, which is at one with that of all being.

So that the artist, functioning in this “proper” way, is the true seer and prophet of his century, the justifier of life and as such, of course, a revolutionary far more fundamental in his penetration of the social mask of the day than any idealist fanatic spilling blood over the pavement in the name simply of another unnatural mask.”

– p. 132


The sublime nature of art that cleanses

“The word ” catharsis” (Greek katharsis; from kathairein, “to cleanse”) which in Aristotle’s usage denotes the effect of tragedy as “effecting through pity and terror a katharsis of these emotions,” was a term which referred in the Greek religious vocabulary to a spiritual transformation brought about by participation in a rite. The mind, “cleansed” of attachments may merely secular aims, desires, and fears, is released to a spiritual rapture. Plato writes of katharsis, for example, as a “defeat of the sensation of pleasure.” The ultimate effect, that is to say, is not to be of beauty (which when seen pleases), but of the sublime (outreaching human comprehension).”

– p. 134


The degradation of art, myth, and religion, and the artist as deliverer

“The question finally at issue, however, is not of individual psychology, alienation, and resentment, but of the irreducible conflict of metaphysics vis-à-vis morals within the jurisdiction, not only of art, but of myth, religion, and social action as well. For during the course of the nineteenth century, the separation of those two opposed orders of human experience, concern, and fulfillment became in the west exaggerated to such a degree by the radical materialism of the increasingly industrialized megalopolitan centers of mass intelligence and democratization, that anything like the functional grounding of a social order in a mythology (so that individuals of whatever social class, participating in the metaphorical festivals, should become joined with all in a profoundly shared experience of the ground and sense of their lives) simple disappeared into irrelevance. And with that, the proper artist lost his function. Today’s pitiful contracts to invent monuments commemorating local-historical events and personages are hardly compatible to the earlier challenges of art, to break through the walls of a culture to eternity. Thus, the only true service of a proper artist today will have to be to individuals: returning them to forgotten archetypes, les grandes lignes de la nature, which have been lost to view behind a cloud contending Jeremy Benthamoid philosophies of the greatest [economic] good to the greatest number.

– p. 144

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