Reflections on the Art of Living

Ever since Bill Moyers brought Joseph Campbell into our living rooms in the acclaimed TV series JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH, scholars and converts have taken their turns bashing and idolizing the man. While Osbon does indulge in an adulatory tone—she clearly falls into the disciple camp—this collection shows once again the great breadth and vitality of Campbell’s life work in mythology.

The first section, “In the Field,” is a meditation made up of Campbell’s aphorisms, favorite expressions he used repeatedly in his teaching. The remaining sections address three stages or levels of consciousness. “Living in the World” tells stories about the life cycle—our basic earthly existence. It begins with Adam and Eve and ends with life after death, meandering along the way through erotic relationships, marriage, money, schooling, and ritual. “Coming Into Awareness,” the second stage, finds Campbell mustering James Joyce, the Goddess, Dante, the Buddha, Job, the seven chakras, a crop of just-born sea turtles, and Neanderthal man—to name just a few—to suggest the difficulty and beauty of the spiritual journey. The final stage is “Living in the Sacred,” when the seeker breaks through illusion to live in full, immediate participation. Campbell’s examples here are all of artists, because, as he asserts, “I think that art . . . can be the modern Western way to illumination.”

There are a surprising number of typos in the otherwise handsome volume. The book works as a good introduction to Campbell, enticing the newcomer on into Campbell’s own more coherent works. It also stands alone as a challenging, inspirational collection, to keep on the nightstand, perhaps, and take in slowly, tale by marvelous tale.