Sunday, June 03, 2018

Do you know what depression is?

'A favorite question [Joseph Campbell] would pose was: "Do you know what depression is?" And then responding to his question he would say: "it's when you have spent your life climbing the corporate or whatever kind of ladder and you finally reach the top and it's against the wrong wall"'
That is Joseph Campbell in the photo and the quote comes from a review of Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind: The Authorized Biography by Stephen and Robin Larsen. Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces is the definitive exposition of comparative mythology. In a volume of his The Masks of God he explores how the same myths appear in the works of the medieval poets Gottfried von Strasburg and Wolfram von Eschenbach and in those of Richard Wagner and James Joyce. Among those in Campbell's circle were members of the Grateful Dead and John Cage. The great mythologist stayed with Cage in the summer of 1942 and the composer famously dined with Campbell and his avant-garde choreographer wife Jean Erdman at a 1950 New Year's Eve dinner hosted by Buddhist maverick Alan Watts, a meeting captured in Cage's Indeterminacy.

Joseph Campbell famously advocated "follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be". Perhaps this advocacy combined with his analogy of climbing a ladder against the wrong wall explains why, despite miraculous technological advancements, depression is so prevalent in contemporary society. Could it be that in today's virtual world, filter bubbles and algorithms dictate the path that we take in our pursuit of bliss, and that those subliminal manipulations mean we only enter through doors that are very familiar to us? Could it be that having entered through those familiar and comfortable doors we then climb aspirational ladders propped against the wrong walls?

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