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April 1991


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Benjamin Alpers <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 9 Apr 91 15:05:19 EDT
text/plain (68 lines)
I was hoping this would blow over, I thought that smilies were supposed to
prevent this sort of thing, but here it is . . . a clarification on what
I thought I was doing with my throwaway line on Joseph Campbell.
Let me start by saying that my comment on Campbell was intended as a throw-
away (hence the smilie).  I seem to have really struck a lot of nerves so
let me clarify.
First, it is pretty clearly documented that Campbell himself was an antisemite.
References?  I was going to look in the _Readers Guide_ and get some for all
who need them, but, frankly, if its that important to you, you can look them
up yourself.  I think there are pieces in both _The New York Review of Books_
and _The Nation_ from the last couple years.  Fiona O. asks whether it matters
if Campbell was antisemitic or not?  I actually think this is an open question,
and one that is being debated much elsewhere regarding the work of everyone
from Ezra Pound to Paul de Man.  To be honest, I'm not really sure whether
being an antisemite or any other form of racist should disqualify you from
serious consideration (I am unsure, I might add, despite being Jewish).  It
does, however, seem sort of irrelevant to me that he is dead.  If being a
racist _is_ to be considered a form of intellectual disqualification, death
should not absolve you.
Secondly, "pseudo-Jungian mythobabble" . . . well, well, well.  I seem to
remember that there was a serious point behind this particular charge, and
I will try to reconstruct it, although in future I would ask for somewhat less
charged and careful readings of sentences that are followed by smilies.  What
I was trying to get at, and what another person on the list has since posted
(I'm sorry, I don't remember who) is that I am _highly_ suspicious of the
universal claims of Campbell's arguments about man and his myths (and I intend
the gendering there, I think it is rife in what I know of Campbell).  Is this
Jung?  Of course not, hence the pseudo.  Do I know either Jung or Campbell's
work well?  No.  I have read but a little Jung (this was in no way supposed to
be a comment on him . . . I apologize for getting him involved in the first
place).  I have only seen the Moyer's interviews with Campbell.  To be honest,
Campbell's intellectual style in those interviews so turned me off, that I had
little desire to read any of his writings.  My mind set, and frankly my
experience, makes me very wary of universal mythic patterns.  No, Fiona, I
don't think you're "uncool"; I just don't agree with you.
As for the charge of "icon envy" . . . please give me a little more credit than
that.  I don't expect anyone out there to have heard of me.  I am a graduate
student in American History who has published nothing.  However, just because
someone is a famous figure, does not mean that his or her work deserves
respect.  I suspect that most people have heard of Otto Spengler, but that
fact does not demand that we take him seriously.  In fact, much of intellectual
work consists of criticizing those more famous than you.  It would be very
difficult to contribute to any intellectual debate if anyone whose name was
better known or who had a wider reputation was seen as off-limits to
criticism.  I am not a big fan of Joseph Campbell.  I have not read enough of
his work to launch a serious, intellectual criticism, so I mentioned my
dislike parenthetically.  I do not think his fame has anything to do with
any of this, except that (tautologically) we wouldn't be talking about him
if we hadn't all heard of him.
Finally, on the popularizing connotation of "mythobabble."  These connotations
I intended.  Campbell's recent fame seems largely built on the popular atten-
tion given the Moyer's series as well as sales of his books since then.  Was
Campbell a popularizer?  Absolutely not, this all happened posthumously.  Is
his reputation built on a popular audience?  Largely, yes.
-- Ben Alpers
   Dept. of History
   Princeton University
P.S. Thanks for all of the replies to the more substantive portion of my note
on crowds.  They are a big help.  Keep those cards and letters coming!