Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Carl Jung in the Critical Tradition

Readings in the The Critical Tradition by Carl Jung are On the Relation of Analytic  Psychology  to Poetry(1922) and The Principle Archetypes from Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of  the Self. (1951)

Jung inferred the existence of a ‘deep’ unconscious as a vital component of the self, different from the unconscious as he thought Freud conceived it. Freud’s unconscious was in a sense shallow, a haggling partner with the ego focused primarily on immediate, personal affairs: the everyday negotiations and typical attitudes about work, family ; the  sometimes narrow and often  turbulent streams of normal awareness [Psyche]. Freud’s unconscious may itself be in the dark about its own unconsciousness which is comprised of powerful urges embodied in primordial images and emotions forming into autonomous complexes that represent a splitting  of a portion of the psyche which then lives  outside the hierarchy of consciousness.

In Jung’s book  we can only speak of these vital forces (which he confusingly calls archetypes) symbolically, they are beyond the capacity of the intellect  to fully comprehend – one can only speak of their essential or absolute nature in hypothetical  sense. The motive powers of the streams of autonomous and semi autonomous complexes of the self are, in any ultimate sense, mysterious.

The triad ego/id/ super-ego, however, as  at least potentially an autonomous complex, does provide some clues as to how the vital forces comprising  the self, sometimes compromising the psyche, work. In psychoanalysis persistent patterns of symbolic representations occur and these are what Jung charted as archetypes. In  these readings the attention is on what Jung calls the animus (male) and the anima (female), which are analogous to the soul but only a part of it. Typically the animus is represented as Logosanima as Eros. It it is something to be said for Jung that  these female and male animating spirits were not gender exclusive.  Any individual, all individuals possess both. On the other hand, it seems obvious that whatever prescription Jung might have given to patients concerning both their inner and outer adjustments to the real world, they followed the conventions of his time and class, and are probably not unhelpful in the majority of cases today. At any rate, ‘the battle of the sexes’ is not anything new.

 Years ago I read his essay on marriage and it cleared up a lot of misapprehensions I was having  at the time though when a re-read it later- in calmer times- there was perhaps more that I put into the book than I took away.

 In Jung’s view  the artist has a special place  in the symbolic world of self. He can become a conduit for the primordial, archetypal forces of the collective spirits to find their revelatory and even evolutionary expression. This happens when the artist is completely taken over by the force and power of species impulses, almost as if it were out of his/her hands or being danced like a puppet on a string. But besides this mad rush of inward spirit- at whose service artists often destroy themselves- the primordial  powers of symbolic expression can infiltrate the work of an artist who has developed  powers of discernment and technique to a sufficient degree to embody them in his/her texts. The artist may not even be aware that the expression has been made, he may have not intended  what was said at all, it might be invisible at the time of  execution but then later, in the light of all that has come after, develop an astonishing significance. This idea is analogous if not empirically the same notion as what later came to be called, ‘the autonomy of the text.’ Works of art are not within themselves complete but always await a reader, a viewer and a listener to develop their full significance and power.

In some critical schools the autonomy of the text is carried to the point in its examination that the actual author of the text is more irrelevant than less even to the point of a near perfect nullity. To some extent Jung endorsed this position. For instance, though he did concede that psychopathology- biographical scandals, bizarre family histories, neurotic symptoms- could help explain the artist and his/her work-  but only as much as could discovered and said of any number of  professions- and everybody else- who are not artists- so it ends up as just so much warm titillation without explaining the art or the artist, and mostly just sending smoking screens across  on-coming messages from the beyond, degrading aesthetics.

It some sense Jung could be viewed as an early proponent of ‘new age religion’. Aspects of Jungian psychology tend to breed a kind of  cultish  following. Some of his notions of collective archetypes may have found favor among the National Socialists of his time, or at least, randomly perhaps, influence thinking here and there much like Nietzsche’s did. If I remember correctly Jung was among the group in psychoanalytic circles who tried to accommodate the Nazis so they could go on with their work, when Freud refused. This is not the place to make a judgment about that.  Jung lived, he wrote, take from his texts what we can.

No comments:

Post a Comment