Synopses & Reviews
In 1937, Joseph Campbell, a young professor at Sarah Lawrence University in New York, met his future wife, Jean Erdman, a new student from Hawaii, when she asked to do an independent study with him on aesthetics. This began a lifelong partnership between Erdman, who went on to become a leading figure in modern dance as a principal dancer in Martha Graham's dance company who collaborated with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, and Campbell, whose work as a mythologist was deeply influenced by the world of modern dance that Erdman lived in. Decades later, after Campbell retired from teaching, he and Erdman would found the Theater of the Open Eye, where she was the artistic director and Campbell lectured.
The Ecstasy of Being collects seven articles and lectures that Campbell gave on dance and the relationship between art and myth, along with the book he was writing when he died in 1987, called Mythology and Form, which explores the rise of modern art and dance during the twentieth century and its relationship to world mythology. He delves into the work of Isadora Duncan, the creator of modern dance, and relates her philosophy to that of other modern artists and philosophies. He explores the idea of Total Theatre, a form that incorporates music, dance, story, and cross-cultural influence, which he and Erdman practiced at the Open Eye. The collection is both characteristic of Campbell's extraordinary scholarly reach and a revelation for longtime Campbell fans for who may never have read his work on dance.
In 2016 Erdman celebrated her one-hundredth birthday in Hawaii, where she and Campbell lived when not in New York City. In many way, The Ecstasy of Being is Campbell's posthumous love letter to the work and life of his wife, as well as a typically wide-reaching intellectual celebration of art and dance.
Many know Joseph Campbell as the charming, erudite, best-professor-you-ever-had figure chatting with Bill Moyers in the The Power of Myth series. But Campbell's posthumously published Collected Works (500,000 copies sold) reveal a perhaps unsuspected range of interests and knowledge. The Ecstasy of Being is a prime example. Modern dance was the profession of Campbell's wife, Jean Erdman, and the project the pair collaborated on when Campbell retired from teaching and the couple formed their Theater of the Open Eye. In these writings Campbell explores the rise of modern art and dance in the 20th century; delves into the work and philosophy of Isadora Duncan; and, as ever, probes the idea of art "as the funnel through which spirit is poured into life."