Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wyn Wachhorst's Thomas Alva Edison: An American Myth

Click here to go to the Amazon page for this book.

Wachhorst is an historian and this 1981 book was well received. When I wrote my papers on entrepreneurs as heroes in 1992, I had not heard of it. But I discovered it years later (2007) doing a google search. Wachhorst uses Joseph Campbell's book The Hero With a Thousand Faces to analyze part of Edison's early life, although Wachhorst suggests that Edison might have been more trickster than hero. This is covered in a thirteen page section called "Edison's Night Journey." Very fascinating to read.

Here are some of the concepts that come up, many of which I used in comparing entrepreneurs to heroes:

Psychic symbolism
Archetypal dreams
The separation-initiation-return pattern of the adventure
The hero returning with a book for society
Shades of supernatural origins
The call to adventure
A protective figure (an old crone-mentor is not mentioned)
Threshold guardian
Belly of the whale
Road of trials (although Wachhorst says that these, for Edison, were minor or over dramatized)
Awakening from the night journey
Reentry to the everyday world
He gets compared to the tricksters Hermes and Prometheus (using electricity like stealing fire-Prometheus gets mentioned many times in the book)
Edison was the "apotheosis of barnyard tinkering"

Wachhorst quotes David McClelland from The Achieving Society with:

"Interestingly, David McClelland found that Hermes, the trickster of the Greek pantheon, is the mythological type which best reflects the "achievement personality.""

In one of my papers I also mention tricksters.

The word entrepreneur does not appear in the index of the Edison book. So I don't think Wachhorst looked at any research on entrepreneurs in general. Schumpeter and creative destruction don't get mentioned. Schumpeter said creative destruction is the essential nature of capitalism.

Campbell has  a  section  called "The Cosmogonic Cycle" which "unrolls the great  vision  of  the  creation  and  destruction of   the   world   which   is   vouchsafed   as revelation  to  the  successful  hero"

That is why I called one of my papers "The Creative-Destroyers."Wachhorst does call Edison "father of the electrical age." One could possibly assume that Edison created this new age and therefore destroyed the previous age. In my papers I talk about how Henry Ford created the automobile age and destroyed the horse and buggy age.

Wachhorst does not mention the radio interview when Campbell said entrepreneurs were heroes.

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