August 22, 2013

Symbolism, not history?

As I mentioned yesterday, I decided to read Joseph Campbell's famous book on myths, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I am not a Campbellite and have some political and other issues with him and his ideas, but he makes some interesting points.

One of his intellectual habits that probably shocks people who associate their religion with actual historical events is that for him the story is all, not what really happened.  At one point, after quoting the story of Jesus' Transfiguration, he writes,

We may doubt whether such a scene ever actually took place. But that would not help us any; for we are concerned, at present, with the problems of symbolism, not of historicity. We do not particularly care whether Rip van Winkle, Kamar al-Zaman, or Jesus Christ ever actually lived. Their stories are what concerns us: and these stories are so widely distributed over the world--attached to various heroes in various lands--that the question of whether this or that local carrier of the universal theme may or may not have been a historical, living man can be of only secondary moment. The stressing of this historical element will lead to confusion; it will simply obfuscate the picture message.
It is true that insisting on literal facts can kill the point of the story, but I think at some points what actually happened does matter, to the extent it can be known.

My main problem with Campbell is summed up in the phrase "local carrier of the universal theme." I think a respectful study of myths and folklore doesn't reveal a universal theme; it reveals all kinds of themes. He believed in a mono-myth. I prefer multi-myths.

SO HERE WE ARE IN BISMARCK. Well, I guess I can scratch "visiting North Dakota" off my bucket list. I tagged along when a delegation of WV legislators visited the state to learn about its Legacy Fund. We've been pushing for something similar here for a few years now. Here's coverage from the Bismarck Tribune. The hospitality has been great, as have the accents (a little like Minnesota). I think all of us who came have learned a lot--I just hope we seal the deal in the legislature.

GOOD NEWS FOR WV FAMILIES. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced today that he is requesting that federal health regulators allow the children of public employees to sign up for CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program.This move will save families and the state a lot of money. This is something my friends at the WV Center on Budget and Policy advocated in a recent report.

I would blog more, but this is a good local beer town. Don't wait up.

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