mythistorian – There appears to be a significant amount of misunderstanding in your previous response to me, so let me take a bit of time to clarify some things here and begin with what informs my approach to the image.
Before I began my doctoral degree in depth psychology, I did a doctoral degree in theoretical computer science and mathematics where rigorous explication and proof were essentials in one’s scholarship and the approval of one’s results. Part of my work involved the rigorous evaluation of strengths and limitations of families of mathematical systems and models of computation. Such evaluation included issues of decidability (can a given problem expressed in a mathematical system be proven true or false), computability (can a given problem be computed in a finite number of steps in a given model of computation), and tractability (can a given problem be solved efficiently). Fundamental to my work, even in industry, were the limitations – undecidability (problems which can neither be proved true nor false in a given mathematical system), uncomputability (problems which cannot be computed in a finite number of steps in a given model of computation), intractability (problems which cannot be solved efficiently). Crucially, here, pushing these systems to the very edge, as far as they will go, eventually revealed their fundamental limitations, and this revelation applies to how I approach the image and, more generally, depth psychology.
A related issue in my approach to the image are the limitations to human capacity for perception and reasoning about phenomena (internal and external) explored in Madhyamaka philosophy, in particular the lineage of Madhyamaka (Nagarjuna in the 2nd century A.D.) – Prasangika (Chandrakiriti in the 7th century A.D.) – Gelugpa (Tsongkhapa in the 14th century A.D.). These works, in part, demonstrate that all are empty of inherent existence (absolute or conditionless existence) and are, instead, mutually dependent on their arising (dependent co-arising). And these works demonstrate the limits of human reason. I spent an entire year on a single work by Nagarjuna entitled Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way) which consists of 27 chapters, each one demonstrating a particular thing which is empty of inherent existence, which also includes the Buddha and the view of Buddhism. All is empty, even emptiness itself (i.e., the emptiness of emptiness). Thus, while reason can and, in certain cases must, be applied to the image, such an approach faces important limitations.
Another experience which informs my approach to the image is my practice of a Tantric tradition of Tibetan Buddhism called Nyingma. In this tradition, the Buddha is said to have three bodies – Dharmakaya (truth body), Sambhogakaya (enjoyment body), and Nirmanakaya (emanation body). It is the Sambhogakaya which is related to the realm of the subtle bodies and the image. Nyingma practice is almost entirely based on visualization and imagining, and I believe it gives proper homage to the image – seeing and embracing its particularities and, at the same time, being aware of its emptiness or lack of essence.
All of this serves as the background to my approach to the image. Being humble and giving proper homage to the image are essential. Seeing the image as just-so is an important way to give that homage. Deepening one’s experience with the image can be done in a number of ways. Since you mentioned Wolfgang Giegerich, let us focus on him.
I am well aware of Giegerich’s work. When I was studying for my doctoral written examination in depth psychology, I used his paper Liber Novus, that is, The New Bible: A First Analysis of C. G. Jung’s Red Book as a main source from which to develop a study strategy and subsequent set of questions which should be answered before taking the examination. It made for an excellent preparation device. More generally, his work with Hegelian dialectics and his reasoned approach to the image are critical to the survival of depth psychology. One of the things I have been working on is the problem of what to do when one cannot proceed in the same manner as that which led one to the current state. I call reaching this point the void or the abyss. As it relates to Giegerich’s work, I want to push it as far as it will go and see if, by doing so, it begins to reveal its own limitations as has been discussed above. And I am in entire agreement with the recommendation of Dr. Philip Kime, someone who has a deep and rigorous background in philosophy who also works deeply with Giegerich’s work, for far greater rigor in Analytical Psychology in particular and depth psychology more generally. One of the challenges depth psychology faces is that too often one gives up one’s reasoned approach to the image in favor of leaving responsibility for relating to it to the unconscious. In other words, the individual does not do the proper leg work (i.e., reasoning, analysis, amplification, etc.).
Given my background, I have come to see the notion of absolute truth as being entirely unsustainable. This was what the Madhymaka philosophers had attempted to prove rigorously. It is also what Jung tried to communicate in Psychological Types (CW 6) in a language amenable to the 20th century. And in Jung’s own confrontation with the unconscious, a deep and careful reading of his dialogues with his Soul and Philemon, it is clear that absolute truth is exceedingly problematic, for they stress the paradox of God as changeless and as one who changes. Through God’s eyes, He/She does not change. Through human eyes, God changes in infinite ways. Thus, absolute truth, even were that notion appropriate, could not be arrived at by human efforts.
The lack of absolute truth bears significantly on how we approach the image. To tie together truth and image (or even meaning and image) too tightly serves to severely weaken our living relationship with it. The image is just-so, and it embodies infinite meaning (or an infinity of meanings). Even if absolute truth did exist, as I mentioned above, such would lie beyond human capability – there is no finite way for a human to arrive at absolute truth (similar to the notions of undecidability, computability, intractability), and emptiness argues against this notion. But, at the same time, from a perspective based on pragmatism, finding meaning provisionally in an image can be of immense help. For example, in those situations where the image is of great power and threatens to overcome the individual, the use of interpretation as a temporary approach to the image can keep the individual safe for a time as it maintains the needed distance between the individual and the exceedingly powerful image.
Let me end this by talking about the highly problematic notion you used often in your initial response – that of “partiality.” To attempt to reduce a difference of opinion to claims of partiality is exceedingly insulting to your interlocutor. As I have shown above, my statements had little to do with “partiality” and your assessment of my views of Freud, Jung, Hillman, and Giegerich were deeply and profoundly misinformed. And you didn’t even address one of the most important points I made which was specific to Campbell and his book – his second step which is beyond interpretation whose goal was to let the symbols speak for themselves. This second step is what I think Campbell attempted to do in his later writings. Too much interpretation can ossify myths, but perhaps too little in the 21st century may make them unattainable. Instead, a balance between the two might be a reasonable approach, the goal of which would be for the myths themselves to have a living presence in people’s lives.
Robert E. Juliano, Ph.D.