Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wisdom for Our times

The late and still lamented Joseph Campbell has written voluminously about myth, archetype, and the means by which it is possible to detect the DNA of a culture in its stories. Perhaps his most lavish gift to writers is his Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he tracked the orbits of heroes from numerous times and cultures, giving us a cross-cultural and cyclic pattern called The Hero's Journey. "Down these mean streets a man must go," mystery writer Raymond Chandler wrote of the private detective hero. In his own writing, Joseph Campbell has said, "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Campbell was a devoted fan of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, which reading may have helped Campbell formulate his articulate cycle of behavior, which appears in five stages:

A call to adventure
A road of trials
Achieving the goal or "boon"
A return to the ordinary world
Applying the boon.

The good Dr. Kubler-Ross had a five-step program of her own which, although not intended to help writers, is nevertheless of value. Hers are the five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

With these patterns in mind, it becomes easier to cast a set of characters forth on a voyage or venture that will cause many of us who read narrative tales of any sort to take them up, internalize them, make them a part of our own individual sense of diagnosing the cultural wars about us, allowing us to feel deeply about issues and conflicts at some remove from our own culture. We have, for instance, no real cultural connect with Antigone, who is all set to marry King Creon's son and be welcomed into the family, even though Creon had chosen a cultural payment of a serious sort against Antigone's brothers. Antigone's persisting in the burial of her brothers is the crux of the matter. The social and cultural forces behind Creon's wish to have the brothers remain unburied do not touch us on any but an intellectual level; Antigone's persistence in the growing threat of her own death make us care.

We of the early years of the twenty-first century live at a time, I argue, where another mythic observation holds great sway and is a ruling force in what a writer of these days writes about. To be sure, Joseph Campbell's observations are insightful, valid, exciting. To be sure, Raymond Chandler's template for the private detective, articulated in his essay, The Simple Art of Murder, is no less apt now than when written. Dr. Kubler-Ross' observations about the human acceptance of grief holds as a valid observation, dramatically satisfying in its own arc of logic.

But these are the times when and where yet another observation, a classification in its own right, holds sway, speaks to our time in plangent tones The Emperor has no clothes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shelly: Reading this has filled in some gaps for me. 1. 'The Emperor Has no Clothes" holds sway, but being Deconstruction it really only exists with there is a great Construction already in place... so it truly is only yet another facet of the great plots. Hmm. Deconstruction wasn't all that earth-shaking a notion after all. 2. Deconstruction may be the going thing in lit fiction, but it ain't very satisfying, and Hollywood knows it. 3. No wonder YA fiction is so popular at present - the 'genre' doesn't tolerate the Emperor plot, yet it is still nuanced.
thanks, Shelly