It seems a shame that Joseph Campbell's lovely thought has lost its power, possibly thanks to the invention of the phrase "bliss-ninny" as an insulting term for New Age, empty-headed optimism.
Judging from various references he made to his own life, he intended it as a guideline about working on things that you love. If you succeed, fine, you also get rewards from society, but if not, at least you have enjoyed your time.
He contrasts that to setting out to 'succeed' - to make money, or achieve celebrity - which, if those rewards do not come to you, leave you with miserable memories of wasting your time on irrelevant things.
Quote from An Open Life
"But if a person has had the sense of the Call -- the feeling that there's an adventure for him -- and if he doesn't follow that, but remains in the society because it's safe and secure, then life dries up. And then he comes to that condition in late middle age: he's gotten to the top of the ladder, and found that it's against the wrong wall.
If you have the guts to follow the risk, however, life opens, opens, opens up all along the line. I'm not superstitious, but I do believe in spiritual magic, you might say. I feel that if one follows what I call one's "bliss" -- the thing that really gets you deep in your gut and that you feel is your life -- doors will open up. They do! They have in my life and they have in many lives that I know of."
[...]"...if you follow your bliss, you'll have your bliss, whether you have money or not. If you follow money, you may lose money, and then you don't have even that. The secure way is really the insecure way and the way in which the richness of the quest accumulates is the right way."
In addition to this strategy for life, he also refers to the curious sense of a story that one finds in what had seemed a chaotic life, when looking back. Here, in converation with Bill Moyers:
CAMPBELL: Schopenhauer, in his splendid essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist. Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot. So who composed that plot? Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you. And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others, The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were the features of the one great dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to life which is the universal will in nature.
It’s a magnificent idea – an idea that appears in India in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody for anything. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, or has lived the life that he quite intended.
All this came back to me, when reading some material of Campbell's on Joyce -
- and how his reading the first lines of Chapter 3 of Ulysses - Proteus (see previous post) - set him off on a different life path.
"INELUCTABLE MODALITY OF THE VISIBLE: AT LEAST THAT IF NO MORE, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read..."