We Must Be Willing To Get Rid of the Life We’ve Planned, So As To Have the Life That Is Waiting for Us

Joseph Campbell? E. M. Forster? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Life often presents us with unexpected obstacles and challenges that require us to rethink our assumptions. The following pertinent statement has been attributed to the expert in mythology Joseph Campbell and popular English novelist E. M. Forster:

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

I have not been able to find a solid citation for either. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Joseph Campbell died in 1987, and In 1991 Diane K. Osbon published “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion” which consisted of material she selected and edited. The following text appeared in a section titled “In the Field”, and Osbon stated that she had collected the words directly from Campbell. The section contained “favorite expressions of his, recorded in my journals over the years in his company”. The layout of the phrases below mirrors the formatting in the book. 1

We must be willing to get rid of
the life we’ve planned, so as to have
the life that is waiting for us.

The old skin has to be shed
before the new one can come.

The text provided a close match to the sentence under examination although the precise phrasing differed. The final sentence employed a metaphor based on the shedding of skin, e.g., snakeskin.

QI has been unable to find substantive evidence supporting the ascription to E. M. Forster who died in 1970. He received credit for a version of the saying in 2002.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading We Must Be Willing To Get Rid of the Life We’ve Planned, So As To Have the Life That Is Waiting for Us

Notes:

  1. 1991, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, Quote Page 8 and 18, HarperCollins, New York, New York.

The Cave You Fear to Enter Holds the Treasure You Seek

Joseph Campbell? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Joseph Campbell was renowned for teaching about the mythologies of many cultures. The following statement is often ascribed to him:

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

I have looked through several of his books and have not located this quote. Did he say or write this?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have searched for this exact quotation and not found it in the oeuvre of Joseph Campbell. However, there is a strong thematic match to a short passage in the 1991 work “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion” which consisted of material selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon. The following text appeared in a section titled “In the Field” and Osbon stated that she had collected the words directly from Campbell. The section contained “favorite expressions of his, recorded in my journals over the years in his company”: 1

It is by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.

Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.

The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.

You find the jewel,
and it draws you off.

In loving the spiritual,
you cannot despise the earthly.

The layout of the phrases above mirrors the formatting in the book. There are two natural hypotheses: The pithy quotation may have evolved from statements above via a process of streamlining and compression. Alternatively, Campbell may have returned to this theme several times over the years, and on one occasion he may have spoken the concise expression.

This article ends with two citations and a concluding comment.

Continue reading The Cave You Fear to Enter Holds the Treasure You Seek

Notes:

  1. 1991, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, Quote Page 8 and 24, HarperCollins, New York, New York.

Not a Shred of Evidence Exists in Favor of the Argument That Life Is Serious

Joseph Campbell? Ogden Nash? Brendan Gill? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here is a quick question. Which of the following quotations is accurate?

There is not one shred of evidence that life is serious. —Joseph Campbell

There is not a shred of evidence that life is serious —Ogden Nash

Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious. —Brendan Gill

Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious. —Anonymous

If each of these four quotes is inaccurate can you determine the original quotation and coiner? My friend has some magnets that credit the poet and humorist Ogden Nash.

Quote Investigator: Brendan Gill wrote for The New Yorker magazine for six decades. In 1975, near the four decade mark, he published a memoir titled “Here at The New Yorker” that included the following passage: 1

In fact, not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the argument that life is serious, though it is often hard and even terrible. And saying that, I am prompted to add what follows out of it: that since everything ends badly for us, in the inescapable catastrophe of death, it seems obvious that the first rule of life is to have a good time; and that the second rule of life is to hurt as few people as possible in the course of doing so. There is no third rule.

Gill’s actual statement is very similar to the one given by the questioner but not identical. The word “argument” is used instead of “idea”. This altered version has become more popular over time. In 1979 the compilation “1,001 Logical Laws” gathered by John Peers included the following instance with the word “idea”: 2

Gill’s Law:
Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Not a Shred of Evidence Exists in Favor of the Argument That Life Is Serious

Notes:

  1. 1975, Here at The New Yorker by Brendan Gill, Chapter: 6, Quote Page 49, Random House, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1979, 1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Compiled by John Peers, Edited by Gordon Bennett, Quote Page 120, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)