How Joseph Campbell Spent His Days During The Great Depression

For those that don’t know Joseph Campbell, he was the world’s authority on mythology and ancient religion. He wrote the book The Hero With a Thousand Faces and was even an inspiration to George Lucas for the original Star Wars. He also coined the phrase “Follow Your Bliss”.

About a year ago, I was watching a documentary about his life and the part that struck me as the most interesting was what he did during the Great Depression. When opportunities were drying up for most Americans, he went to upstate New York and devoted himself to study.

Campbell decided to not pursue a doctorate degree. What did he do instead? From Return to the United States and The Great Depression (Wikipedia):

A few weeks later, the Great Depression began. Campbell would spend the next five years (1929-1934) trying to figure out what to do with his life (Larsen and Larsen, 2002:160) and he engaged in a period of intensive and rigorous independent study. Campbell discussed this period in The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (1990, first edition:52-3). Campbell states that he “would divide the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four hour periods, and free one of them…I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight.”

That is so cool. He had the resources to go away for five years and live a simple life dedicated to research. It wasn’t research assigned to him by a university or a requirement for some degree or certification. He picked a topic that he was interested in and pursued it.

If you could go away for a few years and live a simple life dedicated to research, what topics would you pursue? And where would you go?


Add yours

  1. Glad to hear you’re learning about Campbell. The man was amazing. Bill Moyers did a great special on him I watched. Very wise man.

    By the way, do you know more fortunes are made during depressions than any other time?


  2. Makes sense. My guess is many people have their head down during bad times and miss out on opportunities.

  3. It seems I didn’t complete my thought from above.

    Because so many people have their head down missing opportunities, those that don’t have less competition and can proceed further in less time.

    I hope I get some comments to my question. Where would you go and what would you research?

  4. I think I might study sociology or psychology. Or I might go back and get a masters in education and teach high-school. Maybe. I love the idea in theory but am not sure I’d have the patience to be a teacher. Playing that role with your own kids isn’t the same as doing it with others.

    I’m resisting the temptation to point out that this entire post is a self-affirmation and/or rationalization. But, of course, what’s the point of having a blog if you cannot indulge yourself in such a way?

  5. Topic: Cosmology
    Place: Anywhere very very quiet in nature, but not too cold and not too far from civilization that I couldn’t get to the nearest medium sized town within a 3 hour drive. Silence would be absolutely necessary.

  6. Hmmm… two potential topics come to mind.

    1) Quantifying market psychology. My education is in Quantitative Economics and my recent study of technical analysis as an indicator of market psychology and resulting movement has fascinated me.

    2) Four Dimensional Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the idea that society is most moral that provides the greatest good to the most people. Most models are rather 2 dimensional though …they tend to focus mostly on basic needs in the near term. I am more interested in what will produce the most combined individual power (as defined politically, intellectually and economically) over time (time = 4th dimension). The nations which followed this model (if true) would become the most powerful over time.

    My favorite books are still Asimov’s “Foundation Series” …sense the influence of “psycho-history” in these study ideas? 🙂

  7. Someone else told me about the Asimov Foundation Series. I tend to shy away from SciFi, since the books are often way too long. However, it appears this series is a reasonable length. I’m adding it my massive books to read queue. 🙂

  8. In my humble opinion, not reading the Foundation Trilogy is to SciFi kind of like never listening to a Beatles album is to pop/rock music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.