Campbell Corner Language Exchange

Introductory Remarks to Sarah Lawrence Faculty Panel on Joseph Campbell,
December 6, 1989

by Elfie S. Raymond

Welcome! Much to my surprise and pleasure I was asked to do the honors here today and introduce you to an afternoon dedicated to the triple theme of Joseph Campbell, Myth, and the Sarah Lawrence Tradition. I am surprised because my acquaintance with Joe Campbell, though of over twenty years standing and punctuated by ceremoniously courteous conversations, was only slight. Nor am I here because of my expertise on myth. My interest and expertise belong almost entirely to classical philosophy. Philosophy uses myth in highly selective fashion as a clarifying tool in its persistent efforts to render the world and ourselves more intelligible by the grace and force of reason. The writings in my discipline belong to the Tree of Knowledge, while myth, it seems to me, belongs with roots and fruits to the Tree of Life. This leaves only the Sarah Lawrence Tradition and the largely undeserved esteem of my betters to account for my role as your greeter.

The Sarah Lawrence Tradition which brings us here together has many attributes, some of them quite contradictory. But what to me, and not just to me, is its distinguishing characteristic, its true mark of distinction, is the encouragement that this tradition offers to the spirit of free inquiry. Little does it matter if this inquiry is pursued in dance, or music, in fresh poems, or in fieldwork, in projects concerned with human rights and justice, in psychological studies of children's story-telling, or what have you. What matters is that at Sarah Lawrence this spirit of free inquiry is consistently re-energized and propelled onward toward self-renewal, so that even a most skeptical onlooker may come to see that "time is but a child playing with counters in an eternal game" (Heraclitus). Joe Campbell often spoke, and spoke with gratitude, of this extraordinary feature of the college, and how it had fostered his development.

One day Joe Campbell and I were walking up Mead Way. At the steepest turn we stopped and, once I had regained my breath, I started to ask him questions. Questions that had been much on my mind, and still are. "Joe, what do you really think about your impact on the public? A great many people are reading your books, are listening to you, and some even invest you with the authority of a guru. Will your labors on behalf of the one and only universal spirit hiding under many masks and myths lead to a further increase in narcissism and an even more singleminded search for private bliss? Will your labors open doors of trans-cultural dialogue as Kosuke Koyama attempts in his work? Or will they incite the demonic forces that are ravaging our century? Will your words help us learn to carry one another's burden, fulfill the Spirit's law of laws, and live by what Bruno Bettelheim has called the in-formed heart?" Joe Campbell replied with a near quote from Plato's Cratylus where Plato sends his words defenseless into the world, telling them that they must learn to fend for themselves....Then we were interrupted.

But the conversation continues, and we here today can answer a more pleasant question, a question the NEW YORKER has been running for years: What becomes a legend most? The answer is not a Blackglama mink coat but Joe Campbell, a Sarah Lawrence teacher!

Let me now introduce the panel on Joe Campbell and Myth: Roy Finch, long-time friend and illustrious co-worker in the philosopher's tool-shed; Al Sadler, much admired civilizer; and John Grim who adds to the rigors of scholarship a touch of the ecstatic.