The Hero With a Thousand Faces


"The gods as icons are not ends in themselves. Their entertaining myths transport the mind and spirit, not up to, but past them, into the yonder void; from which perspective the more heavily freighted theological dogmas then appear to have been only pedagogical lures: their function, to cart the unadroit intellect away from its concrete clutter of facts and events to a comparatively rarefied zone where, as a final boon, all existence -- whether heavenly, earthly or infernal -- may at last been seen transmuted  into the semblance of a lightly passing, recurrent, mere childhood dream of bliss and flight." 

Considering how much of his exegesis celebrates the heteronormative male's dominion over female elements, it is perplexing to witness Campbell prescribe mythic thinking as a solution to our supposed crisis of meaning. Neither the imitation of the hero nor the metaphysical interpretation of his journey as a testament to the eternity of the Self constitute a clear guide for everyday living. Were Campbell correct in assuming the decline of the myths' influence, we would still be hard-pressed to find ethical grounds for their restoration to an honorable place in pluralistic societies.

According to Campbell's monomyth, the hero (typically: a man) is part of a diad with his God, (usually: a paternal figure) who confronts the former with the shattering revelation of the hero's own truth. The hero's journey is itself a metaphor for that truth, which is ultimately the realization of some great universal unity. The hero's trophies (i.e. his rescued princess!) are purported to symbolize the elevation of consciousness to that unitarian vision.

Campbell's contention is that all of myth has but one message, audible on that high frequency of mystery, the exalted level at which ordinary signification breaks down. The message is a metaphysic of the constancy of undifferentiated Being, in which we are supposed to discover a justification for all of our suffering and travails (amor fati).

A sober-minded intellectual might instead entertain the possibility that mystery is a reference without a clear referent; the semantic dance of mythic narratives may not conform to a unified theory positing anything more than categories to use for legitimate comparison. One might even suggest that mystery is not media but the point where meaning ends -- for good or ill, the frontier of arbitrariness.

And so: Campbell's genius lies not so much in finding coherence but in articulating schema on the basis of which to comment on similarities and differences. In that respect, his monomyth is immensely valuable. Despite his excessive eagerness to promote his own brand of stoicism as the origin and essence of all myths, his denunciation of literalism and theological parochialism is certainly much to his credit:

"Mistaking a vehicle for its tenor may lead to the spilling not only of valueless ink, but of valuable blood."

The Mystery Play

The Mystery Play is difficult to summarize. Part religious allegory, part mystery novel, it is a well-executed experiment in rural noir, lending itself to many interpretations (and in all honesty: a bit hard to read).

Parallels could be drawn with Arkham Asylum in that madness is a fairly central theme. Muth's hyperrealistic art (which is reminiscent of Dave McKean's) has a kind of oneiric quality, and adequately conveys the protagonist's confusion.

Vimanarama!

Called back to Earth after 6000 years away in outer space, the gods find the human race much diminished, largely unfit to defend itself against the antediluvian demon-robots who are destroying London. Caught in the middle of it all, Ali picks the worst possible moment to have an existential crisis, hoping his arranged marriage will prove the benevolence of God.

In other words: Best. Thing. Ever.

The human cast is immediately endearing. Far from diminishing the supernatural characters' mystique, the deliberate distortion of religious tropes demonstrates the shortcomings of ordinary rationality when it comes to apprehending the numinous.

Grant Morrison is in top shape. Philip Bond's art seamlessly mixes the caricatural and the iconic, to great effect. Vimanarama is both esoteric and fun -- a rare combination -- and accomplishes all it sets out to do in only three issues.

DC Comics Presents: The Demon Driven Out

This one will likely please fans of grunge-era ultra-violence.

I picked up this release not realizing it was the collected edition of a ten-year-old limited series. The best thing about it is probably its fantastic cover. The magazine format may be a cheaper alternative to the regular TPB, but the lower price-tag doesn't quite make up for the disorganized plot, the uneven tone and the heavy-handed references to yakuza culture. The artist attempts some fairly cinematic angles and the break downs are extremely dynamic, but I was left feeling as though he didn't quite know what to do with a script that alternates between earnest noir and farcical grand guignol.

Diary: A Novel

This one is delectably erudite and rife with half-truths. It seems that taking liberties with History is rather the point and the art of it. We must reclaim our freedom from History, from the "collective unconscious" and other forms of maieutics, as these are not emancipatory forces. Theirs is an ancient and insidious kind of domination, like the karmic cycle which we must escape.

Fight Club

It must be added to the "list of novels I did not like," not because it is poorly written or uninteresting (quite the contrary) but because I feel strongly that ...

1. ... there are many acceptable ways to be a person, and/or a man, and/or fatherless
2. ... there are at least as many legitimate ways to be free.

One can choose to be completely determined by history or not -- a cynical corporate whore or not -- a raving, Chaos-worshipping urban savage or not. One is free to do what one can with oneself, to love others and oneself. Maximum smashism is not the only -- nor necessarily the most exalted -- mode of being.

Angry folk will inevitably read some kind of hypermasculinist gospel into Fight Club even though the book does not make any unequivocal claim to that effect, and so: I can't completely like Fight Club, because there are still angry folk who read books, and I wouldn't want to endorse their interpretation.