The Inner Reaches of Outer Space

campbell_1986_1

The Inner Reaches of Outer Space:
Metaphor as Myth and Religion

by Joseph Campbell (1986, 2002)

The essays comprising The Inner Reaches of Outer Space were among the last of Campbell’s writings before his death in 1987. Here we learn of the final ruminations of one of the most profound scholars of the 20th Century and, while maybe not as awe-inspiring as his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, we do get a glimpse into the connections Campbell found between science and his own field of study: mythology/comparative religion. For instance, in Chapter I, “Cosmology and the Mythic Imagination,” Campbell begins one logical chain with “Albert Einstein’s founding statement of the modern theory of relativity: ‘It is impossible by any experiment whatsoever to determine absolute rest.’ Any place you like may be chosen for your hypothetical still point” (3-4). He then flies across cultures to find Einstein’s theory in the vision of a Native American prophet, “For, as Black Elk remarked to [John G.] Neihardt when telling of [his] vision beheld from Harney Peak, South Dakota, as center of the world: ‘But anywhere is the center of the world'” (8). Finally, Campbell connects us to the most important event of his time, man’s reaching out to the stars and landing on the moon:

The idea, it seems to me, is in a most appropriate way illustrated in that stunning photograph taken from the moon, and now frequently reproduced, of an earthrise, the earth rising as a radiant celestial orb, strewing light over a lunar landscape. Is the center the earth? Is the center the moon? The center is anywhere you like. Moreover, in that photograph from its own satellite, the rising earth shows none of those divisive territorial lines that on our maps are so conspicuous and important. The chosen center may be anywhere. The Holy Land is no special place. It is every place that has ever been recognized and mythologized by any people as home. (18)

And with that three-link chain of mental leaps, Campbell demonstrates the transcendental homelessness that humankind found when we sailed from the shores of Ithaca to fight over the offspring of Zeus. We desperately need a new mythology, one that informs this new perspective on life, the cosmos, and our place in that cosmos. Campbell is wise enough not to take that bait, however:

One cannot predict the next mythology any more than one can predict tonight’s dream; for a mythology is not an ideology. […] Indeed, the first and most essential service of a mythology is this one, of opening the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being. (xix-xx)

And it was Joseph Campbell who opened our eyes to the utter wonder of all mythology. Wait ’til you see what he does with Kant, Christ, and Indra’s Net of Gems in Chapter II. 148 pages.

Parts of the book:

ABOUT THE COLLECTED WORKS OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL

FOREWORD

INTRODUCTION: MYTH AND THE BODY

CHAPTER I: COSMOLOGY AND THE MYTHIC IMAGINATION

CHAPTER II: METAPHOR AS MYTH AND AS RELIGION

The Problem

Metaphor As Fact and Fact As Metaphor

Metaphors of Psychological Transformation

Threshold Figures

The Metaphorical Journey

Metaphorical Identification

The Net of Gems

CHAPTER III: THE WAY OF ART

CHAPTER NOTES

A JOSEPH CAMPBELL BIBLIOGRAPHY

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

INDEX

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ABOUT THE JOSEPH CAMPBELL FOUNDATION

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