Following his death, Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987) left behind a large body of work that contained his ground-breaking research into the world of universal myths and symbols.
In 1991 the Joseph Campbell Foundation was formed specifically to protect and preserve this work and over the years much of it has been edited and compiled for publication and been released to a new generation of students of mythology.
A French Connection
In 1927 Campbell, who at the time was a twenty-three-year-old postgraduate scholar living in Paris, discovered the works of Irish writer James Joyce and in particular his 1922 modernist novel <em<Ulysses.
Ulysses had first appeared in 1918 when it was serialised in several parts in the American journal The Little Review from March of that year through to December 1920. Following its success it was then published as a whole by Sylvia Beach in February 1922,
Ulysses, whilst being a contemporary piece of writing, also directly references the story of the hero Odyssey in Homer’s epic poem of the same name. The book initially attracted Campbell’s attention due to its mythological context and references and as a direct result he became deeply involved with all of the novelists works. Indeed throughout his lifetime Campbell lectured, wrote and cited Joyce on many occasions.
A Scholarly Analysis
Mythic Worlds, Modern Words features an edited compilation of both Campbell’s elementary material and his advanced analysis of Joyce. The book includes Campbell’s commentaries upon three of Joyce’s most popular works A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, UlyssesFinnegan’s Wake.
The book also reproduces an article that Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson wrote in December 1942 calling to the attention to the readership of The Saturday Review of Literature the similarity between the recent New York theater production of The Skin of Our Teeth and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
It closes with the transcript of an interview with Campbell in which he references various aspects of his work including his interest in Joyce.
Our Review of Mythic Worlds, Modern Words by Joseph Campbell
What emerges from reading Mythic Worlds, Modern Word is the degree to which Joyce influenced Campbell’s work – not so much in formulating his own path in exploring comparative mythology but in colouring his path whilst traversing it.
At the risk of drawing too much from the material in this book it also seems probable that Joyce writing style and method of discourse also seeped deeply into the consciousness of Campbell – a condition which he seems to have been aware of but yet was modest enough to credit to the great Irish writer.
Whilst one might thoroughly endorse the idea that all the notes and rough-form commentaries of our greatest great philosophers and analytical thinkers aught to preserved for posterity it is also equally important to present their less honed material in a way that honours their creator. The editors of Mythic Worlds, Modern Words have clearly attempted to abide by this convention (as they did in the excellent Romance of the Grail).
However, the results are not so polished that Mythic Worlds, Modern Words is an easy to digest read. I certainly criticise Campbell for his wandering commentary, lack of attention to offering a full explanation of his reasoning and assumption that readers were as well-versed as he is in any given subject.
Despite the fact that this book exposes these same failings in Campbell’s work it is, all the same, a fascinating exploration of Joyce’s more important works and a valuable insight into the minds of two of the greatest writers and thinkers of their age.