January 13, 2022 at 12:02 am #74573Stephen GerringerKeymaster
Mythologist Norland Téllez, Ph.D., returns to Conversations of a Higher Order (COHO) to discuss “The Child of Symbolic Disguise,” his latest entry in JCF’s MythBlast essay series (click on title to read). MythBlasts this year are exploring the concept of the Hero – but not the traditional, straightforward narrative many have come to associate with this mythological motif so much as the myriad complexities and contradictions embedded in that image.
The theme for January has been “The Child” – whether the Child as Hero, the relationship of the child to heroism, or the childhood of myth. I’ll get the ball rolling, but this is not an interview. We both want to hear from you. Please engage Norland (and each other) with your own thoughts, observations, comments, and questions about his essay.
Norland – As usual, one post can’t contain everything I’d like to discuss. For example, you mention the following:
We should be clear that the ancient meaning undergoes a fundamental transformation in the process of interpretation, becoming a phenomenon of the understanding of the present moment. What becomes “apparent of itself” in contemporary life, is its distinctly modern significance. For the only way to recapture the ancient wisdom is to harvest it anew, not being afraid to dig it out of the dark mythic soil of our present historic moment.”
Here you equate “modern” with “contemporary” – i.e., the present moment – consonant with Campbell’s usage. But there is a secondary meaning to the word as well, in terms of art, literature, and culture. Though Joseph Campbell was influenced by the romanticism of his predecessors, he was firmly ensconced in the modernist era (evident in his embrace of the stream-of-consciousness novels of James Joyce, the abstract expressionism of Picasso, Matisse, and Klee, grand narratives of Western culture such as Spengler, and a rejection of realism).
Now, more than seventy years after the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, that era has come and gone.
Postmodernism then emerged after the Second World War as a response to modernism, and is much more skeptical and ironic in tone, with an emphasis on deconstruction, and stepping away from those grand narratives. Today, we appear to have moved beyond that to “post-postmodernism” – sometimes called metamodernism – which looks beyond the chaotic and fragmented nature of knowledge and society in the postmodern era toward “a more integrated pluralism that allows for positive, constructive work on what some have called a ‘post-postmodern grand meta-narrative’ ” (Gregg Henriques Ph.D., Psychology Today, April 17, 2020), though it’s a bit early to know for sure.
There does seem some relevance to that broad, cultural trajectory in terms of “our present historic moment” that might be worth exploring.
But I think I’d like to open with your suggestion that “the secret heroes of The Hero [with a Thousand Faces] are Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung,” in harmony with Campbell’s observation that
we must learn the grammar of the symbols, and as a key to this mystery I know of no better modern tool than psychoanalysis. Without regarding this as the last word on the subject, one can nevertheless permit it to serve as an approach.” (xii-xiii)
At the time this work was written, and, I would venture to guess even today, many if not most would equate “psychoanalysis” with talk therapy: visiting a psychiatrist or psychologist to shed light on difficult personal issues, perhaps by sharing one’s dreams and “free-associating” with the images, and related techniques.
Ironically, whether the psychoanalysis of Freud or the analytical psychology of Jung, Joseph Campbell never consulted a therapist, never experienced the ritual central to the field, that interview between analyst and analysand in a safe, sacred space.
I’m curious – do you find this a contradiction, that Campbell never experienced what’s involved in the actual practice of psychoanalysis?January 17, 2022 at 4:54 am #74588
I think that it is important to reflect on ways one can cultivate a living relationship with myths and symbols. The approach Joseph Campbell employed in his 1949 book Hero with a Thousand Faces was, in part, through hermeneutics. And this hermeneutic was largely grounded in the specific approach of depth psychology: Freud’s Psychoanalysis and Jung’s Analytical Psychology. Critical to this discussion is consideration of how one approaches the image.
One can certainly approach the image through the process of interpretation. And such interpretation can certainly hold the view that the surface form of an image is a “childish disguise that distorts and hides a latent truth beating within.” Crucially, these are not necessary approaches to the image. Beginning with the latter point, to see the manifest image as a childish disguise is to prevent the fullest experience of it. A far better approach, one which respects the image and how it has chosen to reveal itself, is that it is just so, complete in itself just as it appears. The image, then, requires nothing more. It is a single image whose meanings are infinite. This demonstrates a necessary humility on our part. To see the image from the contrast of manifest vs. latent is, in my opinion, highly problematic. Furthermore, it is critical we understand that interpretation by whatever means is not the only way of experiencing the image. There are numerous other ways, some which work to deepen the experience of the image by focusing on how it appears to us – carefully noticing subtleties in its manifestation. This sentiment is wonderfully expressed by Jung and very much embodies the approach of James Hillman in his school of depth psychology called Archetypal Psychology:
Image and meaning are identical; and as the first takes shape, the latter becomes clear. Actually, the pattern needs no interpretation: it portrays its own meaning.
Given that Campbell’s book is far more than just the interpretation of myth, one does question whether the heroes of it really are Freud and Jung. In my opinion, to make myth a distinctly modern experience is not through its interpretation, but by cultivating a living experience of the myth in modern times. This is why Campbell’s second step described in his Preface is absolutely critical: “The second step will be then to bring together a host of myths and folk tales from every corner of the world, and to let the symbols speak for themselves.” Thus, interpretation can be, but is not necessarily, a beginning of experiencing myth, one which is appropriate for some, but not for all individuals.
The hero, then, could be considered to be that person who, in great humility, encounters the image/myth as it has chosen to appear and first gives of themselves to deep and profound appreciation of the image and the deepening of its experience. One does this so that the image now lives in that person, a life which is further cultivated by sustained engagement with it rather than a relationship which is broken off once the individual thinks they understand the image.
One more thing. Campbell’s relationship with Jung’s work is quite complex. An excellent work of scholarship on this is Dr. Ritske Rensma’s book The Innateness of Myth: A New Interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s Reception of C.G. Jung (see enclosed link below) which explores Campbell’s reception of Jung’s work and proposes that this reception can be understood as consisting of three distinct phases – phase one (1943–1959) where there is a certain scholarly distance with Jung’s work and where Freud and Jung were of equal importance, phase two 1959–1968 where Campbell dismissed Jung, and phase three 1968–1988 where Jung’s work is emphatically embraced by Campbell.
Robert E. Juliano, Ph.D.January 17, 2022 at 12:56 pm #74587
Sorry I’m a little late to the party. It’s true, I was just getting through a bout with Omicron—another of the mythic beings that are quite real out there—but I am now feeling much better, with all severe symptoms gone, and able to integrate back into world. So I am quite happy to be able to join you, once again, in the mythic dimension of the week: the Child of Symbolic Disguise.
Yes, you’re right: the concept of modernity has gone through several metastases in academic circles and we have more technical labels with which to describe the different unfolding moments of our modernity down to the present moment. Rather than the post-post, for my part, I prefer the term trans-modernity, which has been used in contemporary movements of decolonizing aesthetics or “Postcolonial Studies.” It describes a mode of consciousness traversing through the unfolding centuries of our industrial technological society.
As for the status of psychoanalysis today, yes, there is a popular association with psychotherapy, psychotherapists, slips of tongue, Oedipal complexes, libido, sexuality, etc… The films Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen were also influential in shaping the popular conception of psychoanalysis. And as you mention, it was all the rave when Campbell was writing.
If you look today at the status of psychoanalysis (ψΑ) in academic circles, on the other hand, you will find the opposite: ψΑ is discussed more in courses on philosophy and literature than in actual scientific psychology or psychotherapy, the latter being dominated by the import of the brain sciences.
So ψΑ has long given up the claim of being an objective science or scientific therapy and has happily become part of the history of philosophy, critical theory, and literature. We might remember that greatest award Freud won was the Goethe Prize in 1930 for his contribution to German literary culture. So it’s quite natural today to see psychoanalysis as being part of that school of critical thought that Paul Ricour called “The Hermeneutics of Suspicion” where Freud is joined to Nietzsche and Karl Marx.
The philosophical form of psychoanalysis became really evident with Lacan who did a kind of “re-visioning” of Freud’s work on its own structuralist and “post-structuralist” foundations quite apart from alleged claims to positive science. Lacan understood the contradiction of claiming that a method of dialectical negativity can be used as some kind of positive science. And psychotherapy has traditionally been built on the conception of ψΑ as a positive science. And yes, we still have special schools of psychotherapy that base themselves on Freudian and Jungian models, as we know. But I’m happy to report to you and our readers that psychoanalysis continues to thrive in departments of continental philosophy and critical theory in all the top universities.
So this is why I don’t think that the lack of experience with actual psychotherapy is in no way a contradiction. For just like Freud and Jung, Campbell recognized the far broader cultural and philosophical implications of depth-psychological perspectives on myth and human existence. We could even say that Campbell’s disinterest in the positivized psychotherapeutic reduction of psychoanalytic thought demonstrates Campbell’s greatness, his being truly ahead of his times.January 17, 2022 at 1:58 pm #74586
Thank you Robert, your contributions are always welcome, even if we don’t see eye to eye. This is another instance where your partiality for Jung and my partiality for Freud are bound to clash—even though I am literally a visual artist, so I know all about the cultivation of living experience in the creation of images. It’s probably no accident that Jung took up painting and created the Red Book, which apparently helped him save his mind, and he also encouraged his patients to do the same. Because the experience of constructing and creating images is a little different than a purely receptive stance.
Your partiality for Hillman is also to be expected here, just as you might detect my partiality for Wolfgang Giegerich, who actually comes closer to the authentic Freudian conception of psychoanalysis via Hegel. Whereas Jung and Hillman remain in the Kantian horizon of reflected experience, Giegerich, Freud and Lacan are moving along the horizons of Hegelian dialectics and what Giegerich comes to call “absolute negative interiorization,” as I will explain below.
But I also think that the aestheticizing consciousness of archetypal psychology and its relation to myth is highly problematical, as it tends to promote, indeed, a kind of childish attitude towards images, treating them as if they were mere playthings or “acting them out.” rather than soul, it amounts to a performance of ego. And this is not a relationship that a real artist has with her images, by the way; it is more the attitude of the consumer of images rather than that of their creators. For as an artist my relationship with images goes beyond aesthetic considerations; it has already become an existential concern.
What is problematic is that the archetypal method ultimately helps to promote unconsciousness rather than the conscious integration of the reflected image; it tends to alienate me in a purely aesthetic act devoid of an interest in truth; without the intervention of thinking, it does not help me face the painful truths that we find hard to accept. Thus the abandonment of the notion of truth in archetypal psychology is indeed highly problematic and is logically consistent with our current “post-truth” environment in which the dialectical soul of the image continues to be repressed. For as long as the latent thought is left in its imaginal form, i.e., projected in its manifest content, the soul remains estranged from itself. For the relation to the image remains in a state of unconscious projection; it is structurally “out there” and thus alienated from the self, as Jung also understood.
That is why I don’t think Jung would have been fully onboard with Hillman’s project of the aesthetization of analytic psychology; for Jung, as for Campbell, the interpretation remained a vital link for the integration of projected imaginal contents. This process of opening the internal notional life of the image, brings the alienated content home to the self, re-discovering it as my own way of thinking being. As Giegerich describes this process of integrative self re-flection:
In the exploration of outer space, docking on another spacecraft or landing on a new planet would mean having left this Earth. In the inverted world of the soul this is different. Catching up with what has been projected far out into space or into the future does not imply a journey to it at all. It implies conversely that the intuited reality affects you while you are staying right here; that it “dawns” on you, “comes home” to you, reconstitutes your own mind. My catching up with it means its imperceptibly catching up with me, but as if from behind or from within myself. It means my being contaminated with or infected by it. This is what is meant by “absolute-negative interiorization” being reached and moved by it (like by an object loved), in contrast to a being physically pushed or pulled or manipulated. It is like being overcome by an insight. There is absolutely no violence in this being moved or overwhelmed by what is catching up with consciousness, nor in the subject’s catching up with it: my intently, but passively looking and looking at the projected image is its coming home to me and surprising me one day from within as my own way of thinking. (The Soul’s Logical Life 147)January 17, 2022 at 4:19 pm #74585
On the point of misunderstanding what one sees where images and archetypes are concerned…
I love the idea of “the myth being the hero.” (As mentioned in this essay.)
Joseph Campbell was definitely a call of adventure to the mind and something deeper.
After I had read Campbell, the idea of myths or “hero” stories simply being about the good guy defeating the bad guy was a peculiar concept.
The word, myth now conjured much more than that.
Words, which came to mind were: Journey, experience, learning, transcendence, Awareness, Surprise, the Unexpected, shadow, trials, integration, healing, universal consciousness.
So it always baffles me when I read other interpretations today of myths that reduce the context to the good guy vs the bad guy.
For me I thought it was about The Journey and figures who represent the potential within all of us.
The goal of the myths in my mind was never about someone becoming a hero.
It was about the journey to me. And we all face journeys every day.
To me the becoming a hero was a “side effect” of the journeys. People could do heroic deeds or find their courage but even small deeds can be heroic.
And maybe I wonder if the whole integration process of the myths was more about becoming fully human and universally aware than just waiting to be titled a “hero?”
Yes, I like the idea of myth as the hero very much.January 17, 2022 at 7:43 pm #74584
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.January 18, 2022 at 12:15 am #74583
Thank you sunbug,
Yes, I do think it was James Hillman who first suggested to me this dialectical reading of Campbell’s work, turning around the concept the hero’s myth into myth as hero. It is an old dialectical trick but it does yield, sometimes, profound shifts of reading.
The idea of “good vs bad guys” is of course an ideological stereotype of the split of the archetypal image which is already deployed for propagandistic purposes. “Good vs bad guys” is a piece of propaganda and the opposite of true mythology.
This is why the word myth, in its deepest sense, has much to do with truth—or as it is put in the Popol Vuh, Its Root Ancient Truth. This is where its true archetypal power lies. We should never attempt to dissociate myth from its existential ground of truth. This existential ground, which is the ground of our self-becoming in time, is the mythic image of The Journey as the potential you write:
“For me I thought it was about The Journey and figures who represent the potential within all of us. The goal of the myths in my mind was never about someone becoming a hero. It was about the journey to me. And we all face journeys every day. To me the becoming a hero was a “side effect” of the journeys. People could do heroic deeds or find their courage but even small deeds can be heroic.”
Yes, I do think I can spend more time developing this sole concept the idea of myth as hero, and I think that understanding the central role psychoanalysis plays in this re-visioning of myth is part of this journey of understanding.
And maybe I wonder if the whole integration process of the myths was more about becoming fully human and universally aware than just waiting to be titled a “hero?”
Yes, the integration process is a key part of it and it is precisely the piece that requires that delicate dialectical process of what a Jungian analyst Wolfgang Giegerich has described as “absolute negative interiorization”, which he describes as follows:
In the exploration of outer space, docking on another spacecraft or landing on a new planet would mean having left this Earth. In the inverted world of the soul this is different. Catching up with what has been projected far out into space or into the future does not imply a journey to it at all. It implies conversely that the intuited reality affects you while you are staying right here; that it “dawns” on you, “comes home” to you, reconstitutes your own mind. My catching up with it means its imperceptibly catching up with me, but as if from behind or from within myself. It means my being contaminated with or infected by it. This is what is meant by “absolute-negative interiorization” being reached and moved by it (like by an object loved), in contrast to a being physically pushed or pulled or manipulated. It is like being overcome by an insight. There is absolutely no violence in this being moved or overwhelmed by what is catching up with consciousness, nor in the subject’s catching up with it: my intently, but passively looking and looking at the projected image is its coming home to me and surprising me one day from within as my own way of thinking. (The Soul’s Logical Life 147)January 18, 2022 at 3:21 am #74582
Norland, something “dawns” on me in that long quote you provided.
This was exactly the sense I had in the Parzival myth with the Grail king. Not going to stray too far.
Something was “dawning” on Parzival on his quest but the first time round he ignored it and “refused the call.” Then after given a 2nd chance, the “dawning” finally “came home,” to Parzival. And the rest was myth-history…the land was healed.
You point out in the long quote you gave, that this does not come by manipulation, push, pull or violence.
But instead, one is overwhelmed and moved by consciousness.
To me, this seems a return to Campbell’s emphasis of the experience of myth… something that lit a spark in so many readers.
Maybe it pulls one to the edge (or an abyss) The trick is to find one’s balance but sometimes one might fall first in order to learn balance (for the appreciators of Jean Erdman and of dance—-grin) or martial arts for those who appreciate that.
And then there is the integration…
Even a sunset can be overwhelming…when one is fully aware of it…
I was reading Thicht Nahn Hahn and was fascinated by a word he had coined “inter being.”
It seemed like a metaphor for a connection of everything. He used a page of one of his books for example and said that everything was in it from sun to the rain…that helped the tree to grow… and the logger was in it and the wheat he ate…
And that both he (Thicht Nahn Hahn) and the reader were in it, because of the words on the page being shared.
It made me pause when I read it…
Even though things and people are far apart, there is still connection and it cannot be helped…it just is. That’s what it seemed to say to me.
And that’s why the “dawning” and “coming home,” and being “overwhelmed by consciousness,” are such wonderful thoughts!
In the Parzival grail myth, I always had the impression of “spontaneity,” the 2nd time around. And that is exactly what those words of “dawning and coming home” conjure in my mind.
I know that story isn’t the only example of that past or present and maybe not even the strongest example. But there is something really beautiful about “spontaneous compassion.”
After I read your quote on “Being,” Thicht Hahn’s word “inter-being” came to mind.
Here is your quote below:
For Being means being with and for one another, not a being in the atomized individuality of a self-centered conscious
So I was curious what you thought of that coined term: “inter-being?”
In the midst of working out those conflicts and tensions, might “inter-being” provide an awareness of a different perspective? A perspective, which “brings home” an awareness of that connection and “Being” we all share? Something which might inspire us both spontaneously and compassionately?
And speaking of being “struck,” something else struck me. The creation myth of the Popul Vuh. The creation by “lightning,” instead of “light.”
And now we have that metaphor of being “struck by something.”
Well lightning definitely “comes home,” too. And maybe the sense of being struck could also relate to being overwhelmed by consciousness.
It’s almost like the lightning metaphor is the current for being awake to being.
Went off track again but the Popul Vuh is very cool.January 18, 2022 at 10:48 am #74581
Let me begin by clarifying some misconceptions about what I wrote above; I apologize for not being clear enough. It was rather late, so I couldn’t work on a much longer answer which would have softened some of my points and corners so as to better prevent misunderstanding. Although what I wrote at 4 in the morning may have been more like a stream of consciousness, the basic points that I made continue to be of relevance to our discussion.
I did write in my mythblast:
One of the things I love about Campbell is that rather than getting caught in partisan squabbles, he proceeds with an implicit reconciliation of Freud and Jung in his work. The conflict between psychoanalysis and analytical psychology, which is indeed a real ideological battle, seems to dissipate for Campbell in the transcendence of creative mythology. Working out of this zone of creativity, it is not so much a question of Jungian vs Freudian assumptions concerning the hero. In Campbell’s view, the point is not about a hero’s myth but about the experience of myth being the hero.
I certainly don’t mean to get caught on a partisan squabble, but the choice between Freud and Jung is crucial to any possible synthesis of the two. Because there is no possibility of synthesis from a neutral “centrist” position, somewhere in the middle between Aψ and ψA. Although Campbell had a strong Freudian strain in his approach, even stronger than Hillman’s, he ultimately sides with Jung, as does Hillman. And we know that our alma matter is a bastion for the propagation of Jungian–Hillmanian and Campbellian ideas.
So am I wrong in supposing that you are coming from this tradition over against Freud and Lacan?
As we can see, this is a real ideological battle, and it concerns the recognition of where the fundamental breakthrough lies: with Freud or Jung. Historically speaking, Freud and Lacan have been far more influential on the highest circles of philosophy and critical theory. So it is generally acknowledged in academic circles that it was with Freud that the breakthrough of a new form of thinking takes place. While Jung is seen as a kind of reactionary construction, a regressive restoration of religious ideology in the face of the true traumatic ground-breaking truth opened by ψA — with its emphasis on sexuality, not as a stupid biological instinct, but as the metaphysical drive of psychic energy (libido) that governs an individual’s life.
It really is unfortunate that we seem to have started on the wrong foot, because now that I’ve learned of your appreciation of Giegerich, that you have actually engaged his work deeply and recognized its great importance for depth psychology, I would have felt much more like I’m addressing a brother at arms. My sharp reaction to Hillmanianism, I must admit, also comes from having experienced in the flesh the intense anti-Giegerich sentiment that pervades at PGI. I wonder if that has changed?
But even Giegerich in my view falls short of opening the door to ψA proper; I find it amazing when I hear these highly cultivated analysts repeat Jung’s outdated and misguided criticisms of Freud and actually believe them, all without grasping what Freud actually did (even more than what he said). In the same way Giegerich falls short of engaging Lacan who would have wholehearted agreed with WG’s critique of Jungianism in general and Hillmanianism in particular, having the resources to deliver the final blows to the pristine standing of Jungian ideology. Even WG’s vaunted Hegelianism lacks the rigor and critical engagement with Hegel’s work and its critical legacy for contemporary philosophy, critical theory, and of course ψA.
As to the nature of absolute truth, the Hegelian approach is quite different than anything you’ll find in the East. This is what Giegerich was getting at in his critique of archetypalism; there are no such things as half-truths; if something is true, it is absolutely true. Thus the absoluteness of truth is a rather banal fact and not a pinnacle of wisdom. This was also Hegel’s stance, which he formulated in the maxim that “Spirit is a bone.” Absolute truth is not difficult to find, what is difficult is to find the dialectical fluid of its Notion; for truth is not the same as ideology. Remember Giegerich wrote that truth is the ultimate repressed? And this is where archetypal psychology falls short as Giegerich writes in the Soul’s Logical Life:
“Dodging the question of truth can be seen as a defense, as an attempt to remain at a distance to the soul, to stay out of it as ruthless wilderness, and instead to restrict oneself to mere imagining things and envisioning the whole range of the pandemonium of images. To be sure, this kind of envisioning must be evaluated as a kind of peeping into the realm of “pre-existence” but only from the safe side of ego country. Psychology then joins the mainstream of our civilization heading for Cyberspace and the world of multimedia (222).
This is where I meant by the imaginal approach blending quite well into our current “post-truth” environment where image is everything and truth and thought are nothing. The notion of “absolute truth” remains a positivistic fantasy unless we submit it to the dialectical negativity of the unconscious process as absolute-negative interiorization. As WG further explains:
What would have been needed instead of a positive elimination of truth as such (i.e., its simple, undialectical negation) is the (of course much more difficult and subtle) alchemical corruption (i.e., the negative negation) of its old notion, which is characterized by its positivity, and ipso facto the development of a non-positive, negative notion of truth. The problem is not that truth figures in psychology. The problem is the mindless positivistic idea we ordinarily have about truth (“scientific truth,” “dogma,” [“absolute truth”] etc.). (220)January 18, 2022 at 8:04 pm #74580
mythistorian – Some comments on your response.
We really need to put this notion of ‘partiality’ under a microscope here. It certainly goes without saying that one’s views are informed and sometimes shaped by certain individuals whose words reach deeply inside them. Perfectly perspectiveless objectivity is achieved only in extreme cases (e.g., perfect enlightenment). Having said that, one can also be deeply aware of that which informs their view, so much so that such views are held as provisional – the best they have at a given moment – instead of as absolute. But, and this is critical, one can have experiences in one’s own life that they see as supporting or even confirming a given position. In this latter case, they have earned possession of a given idea for themselves. Then there is the issue of a given idea being adopted by an individual because it is the product of multidisciplinary scholarship – that the idea is supported by multiple disciplines, multiple paradigms, multiple life experiences in different cultures. In general, there is immense complexity relating a person’s view and what grounds that view for that person. Crucially, the claim of “partiality” completely collapses that wonderful and vibrant complexity into a particular cause or explanation (e.g., partiality to person A or theory B) which is both comparatively mundane and unidimensional. This greatly insults certain interlocutors such as myself whose views have not at all been easy to achieve and cannot so easily be collapsed. I really don’t understand why the lens of partiality and seeing things as theorist A vs. theorist B holds such sway with you. For at least 30 years, my approach to any given topic or idea has been multi-paradigmatic – to see a given notion from the perspectives of multiple paradigms and, in doing so, become aware of where they agree and where they disagree, and truly appreciate their similarities and differences. And, to be clear, I do not always advocate synthesis. Sometimes synthesis is helpful, sometimes synthesis is exceedingly destructive.
Now, with respect to Joseph Campbell’s relationship with Jung’s work, such a relationship is very complex. The book I recommended, Dr. Ritske Rensma’s The Innateness of Myth: A New Interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s Reception of C.G. Jung captures this quite well, and he does so by outlining three phases of the relationship. Campbell’s 1949 work was written and published during phase one where Freud and Jung had equal standing in Campbell’s eyes. But, based on my reading of Campbell, my experience in carefully exploring the Joseph Campbell Library numerous times even before attending PGI, and my having read his work over the last 30+ years and listened to the available audio of his lectures and presentations, my sense is that in 1949, Campbell was exhibiting scholarly restraint to all of the scholars he referenced in his book. Just look at footnote 18 where Campbell discusses archetypal images. Jung’s perspective is certainly represented, but his is but one of many which also includes that of Freud, Bastian, Boas, and Frazier. Campbell furthermore makes sure to explain that the word ‘archetype’ was not Jung’s creation, but goes back to classical times. Thus, Campbell is being the proper disciplined responsible scholar here and avoids making a number of choices, some which he would make only after many years had passed.
With respect to the views of Freud and Jung, synthesis is far from being a goal for me. Much more important is clearly recognizing where they agree and where they disagree. But, careful reading of the Freud-Jung letters makes it clear to me that much of their disagreement remains misunderstood, that there is great depth and richness in their disagreements, and there is much yet to learn. One area of disagreement is the issue of a theory of child development. Dr. Michael Fordham who had worked with children for over half a century disagreed with Jung about whether children were undergoing individuation. Whereas Jung did not see a need to develop a theory of child development, Fordham did and his theory is heavily informed by Freud’s Psychoanalysis.
I think it is critical to recognize that there were those who preceded both Jung and Freud whose work was absolutely essential to depth psychology. For example, Dr. Pierre Janet who was working with the unconscious long before Freud and Jung and whose breakthroughs were subsequently incorporated into both Freud’s and Jung’s depth psychology, sometimes without attribution, needs to be remembered in his own right, not solely through the depth psychology traditions of Psychoanalysis and Analytical Psychology. Dr. Henri Ellenberger has an excellent chapter on Dr. Janet in his excellent work of scholarship The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. Freud and Jung certainly deserve immense credit and recognition, but in reading a fuller history which, in Dr. Ellenberger’s book, goes back to the 18th century, the work which came before Freud-Jung provides a much-needed balance to our perspective of the contributions made by these two men. Thus, for example, we see Charcot and Janet as being equally important pioneers on whose shoulders Freud and Jung stood.
One of the great contributions the recent publication of the Black Books makes is that they show, without any theoretical or conceptual reflection and without the terminology of depth psychology, one person’s sustained experience of the unconscious (1913-1932) and, especially, sustained dialogues with at least three critical figures there – the Emissary (Jung’s Soul), Philemon, and Ka. These books consist of the recording of raw, unprocessed experiences with no editing and exceedingly few corrections. Crucially, these books can be employed by the individual to develop alternative depth psychologies which can, through the lens of their own life experiences and background, result in different interpretations than the ones Jung made. There would be, then, no need to choose one view or the other because one would have walked their own path and made their own discoveries. This is really one of the essential messages of the Black Books, the kind of message which would have resonated deeply with Joseph Campbell (and Heinrich Zimmer) – that of the individual path (quest).
In my previous response, I mentioned Dr. Philip Kime who is an advocate of Giegerich’s work and whose careful and rigorous scholarship we can all learn from, made an exceptionally important statement in one of his recent interviews. He stressed the interdependence of form and content and noted that mathematics makes the complexity of this interdependence clear. As one who has a background in formal mathematics and in complexity science, I completely agree with this statement. Unless one has undergone such detailed study, it is very hard to appreciate the details involved in the way changes in form affects content and vice-versa. Such recognition of this interdependence is necessary in a responsible approach to the image. The image is just-so – its form embodies its content – change the form of the image, the content changes, and content is not independent of its form. Thus, there is immense justification for the extreme rigor Giegerich applies to the image. As I said earlier, I would like to see this pushed to its very limit in order to understand how far we can get. Now, Giegerich has recently published a book entitled Coniunctio: Reflexions on a key concept of C.G. Jungʼs psychology. Over the last several years, I have delved into medieval and early modern Latin alchemy and have some reasonable understanding of Jung’s perspective. Based on the works of scholars of the history of science, I think Jung greatly underestimates the usefulness of alchemy. But, his hermeneutic is important and having read through works that point to the development of his hermeneutic (Black Books, Red Book, The Art of C. G. Jung, description of his alchemical notebooks, etc.), I can see how his hermeneutic was formed organically from his life experiences. Thus, it will be an important study to contrast Giegerich’s approach to the immensely complex image of the coniunctio with Jung’s, his latest views on which were greatly informed by the 16th century alchemist Gerhard Dorn.
I agree that there are strong reactions to Giegerich’s work at PGI because I have seen evidence of that myself when I was there, both in the students and by faculty. One notable faculty member who engages most seriously with Giegerich’s work is Dr. Susan Rowland who assigns his papers in her classes with great regularity. But, I think that emotional reactions about Giegerich indicate something much deeper about one’s own relationship with the material of depth psychology. For me, I was initially ambivalent – the rational/mathematical side of me was intrigued whereas the feeling side felt a bit bruised and defensive. It was, therefore, critical that I used that to analyze my own relationship with the material. That was precisely what made it such an excellent context to study for written comprehensive examinations and precisely why I did so.
My concern about the notion of absolute truth is informed by a number of different perspectives – my experience in working with limitations (in mathematics, computer science, and quantum physics), Madhyamaka philosophy, Jung’s Psychological Types (CW 6), and the figures of the unconscious described in the Black Books which point to the lack of absolute truth or at least its attainability through human eyes. Add to that my experience in working with the 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor and his levels of infinity where he discovered that while mathematics could reach certain levels of infinity, there were levels of infinity beyond which mathematics could not reach – where its results ended in contradiction. But, I think it is wrong to consider the Madhymaka philosophers’ approach to be just of the East. I think it is also applicable to the West. In debate, the Madhymaka philosopher would never make an assertion – this they left to their opponent. Then, through their opponent’s assertion, definitions, and system of reasoning, through debate, the Madhymaka philosopher would lead their opponent to contradict their own original assertion. We see elements of this in deconstructionist philosophy and even in the proof of limitations of mathematics/computibility I mentioned in my previous response.
But, something which does come from the East which I greatly appreciate is a pragmatic way of viewing that which we hold to be truths. In Buddhism, there is the notion of the two truths – the relative truths of everyday life and the ultimate truth of emptiness. Crucially, the masters tell us that it is only through the relative truths that one can achieve the ultimate truth. This seems to me to be quite a pragmatic way of relating to truths. Truths are so until they are not or until they are no longer useful. They get one where they need to go. In the process, this sometimes requires the individual to adopt certain other truths which are more conducive to their new condition. I developed this notion for myself years ago when considering a multi-paradigm approach. Dr. Thomas Kuhn’s work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions inspired me to look at paradigms pragmatically – to see that they are useful until they are not, and that it is exceedingly dangerous to identify oneself with a given paradigm. As a person who is very much interested in the history of science as it pertains to the development of quantum physics, I was strongly affected when I read that there were physicists who committed suicide because they felt the floor disappear from under them as they tried to navigate through the startling implications of the emerging paradigm of quantum physics. I find all of those who suffered yet persevered through the mystery of quantum physics to have been very courageous and inspirational!January 19, 2022 at 2:32 am #74579
I agree Sunbug, and you do pick up a certain metaphor which is also a key concept of of the Popol Vuh, that of “dawning,” which in alchemy is also developed under the notion of the Aurora Consurgens as well as the solificatio, something which can only be congenial to a sun bug In the context of the Popol Vuh, as Davíd Carrasco explains, the concept of “dawning” is deeply embedded in an agricultural metaphor of creation as a kind of “sowing,” planting and harvesting, some kind of process of organic growth, where the Gods used their “cutting edge” as if they were using a sickle or hoe.
Let me offer you another extended quote from Carrasco in his Religions of Mesoamerica as he quotes the Popol Vuh and links dawning with the symbolism of the World Tree with another quote from Mircea Eliade. Bear in mind that with this quote I am also saying that, from the point of view of Mesoamerican religious symbolism, “dawning” can be said to be another metaphor for “inter-being” itself because planting and sowing are operations of dissemination and development depending entirely upon the web of life in its pluridimensional interconnectivity. This is indeed a “different perspective” only when we’re speaking in a context of a culture that has been nurtured on an ideology of hyperindividualism, what I called the atomized individuality of a self-centered ego. So the perspectives (because we are speaking about plurality vs monocentrism) of “interbeing” are actually the natural point of view, whereas libertarian individualism with which we bred is the “different” perspective, highly artificial and ideological.
On that note, let’s get back to the Popol Vuh:
“In the great myth of creation, recorded in the Quiche Maya book Popul Vuh or Book of Council, the cosmos is created in an agricultural style. At the beginning of time the gods created an abundant world of vegetation after they asked about the sky-earth (world):
How should it be sown, how should it dawn? . . . Let it be this way, think about it: this water should be removed, emptied out for the formation of the earth’s own place and platform, then comes the dawning of the-sky-earth…
‘And then the earth arose because of them, it was simply their word that brought it forth. For the forming of the earth they said “Earth.” It arose suddenly just like a cloud, like a mist, now forming, unfolding. Then the mountains were separated from the water, all at once the great mountains came forth. By their genius alone, by their cutting edge alone they carried out the conception of the mountain-plain, whose face grew instant groves of cypress and pine.’
This cosmic sowing and dawning provides the model for all subsequent creations, innovations, and changes. In Maya mythology seeds are sown in the earth to dawn as plants; celestial bodies are sown beneath the earth to dawn in their rising; humans are sown in mothers’ wombs to dawn into life; and the dead are sown in the underworld to dawn as sparks of light in the darkness. The world’s first dawn, brought forth through the sun’s rays, emerges with the appearance of the planet Venus:
‘And here is the dawning and sowing of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, and Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Mahucutah, and True Jaguar were overjoyed when they saw the daybringer. It came up first. It looked brilliant when it came up since it was ahead of the sun.’
In the Maya theory of creation, reflected in this pattern of the first and therefore subsequent sunrises, the world is in a continual process of sowing, and dawning (sprouting). The Maya conceived of this process as “a long performance,” which hopefully would never end.
It is important to remark that this pattern of birth, death, and rebirth reflects a worldwide pattern of religious symbolism in which the cosmos is likened to a cosmic tree or some form of vegetation. The cosmic tree symbol, which is found in China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Africa, and other Native American cultures, represents in Mircea Eliade’s words the “world as a living totality, periodically regeneraring itself and, because of this regeneration, continually, fruitful, rich arid inexhaustible.” (Davíd Carrasco, Religions of MesoAmerica 99- 100)January 19, 2022 at 8:05 am #74578
Yes, Robert, I agree with the need to look through a microscope at the problem of discriminating partiality. And I think we should also use a telescope and look at the large-scale structure of the ideological universe of this problem. For it is the fundamental problem of ideology in mythology or the “myth of meaning.”
Of course, you are absolutely correct about the positivistic Kantian understanding of “absolute truth” not being attainable by a human being. It would be equivalent of a cognition of the thing-in-itself. Thus Kant established the phenomenal or perspectival nature of human cognition and its inability to reach the transcendent thing-in-itself. But this is not Hegel’s understanding of absolute consciousness or absolute negativity or the absolute negative dialectic of truth on the ground of the soul’s possible existence—or Existenz. The conversation between Kant and Hegel is extremely important here, since a lot of the vaunted anti-Hegelianism—from Marx, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, through Shopenhauer and Jung, is built upon a failure to understand Hegel’s Kantian critique of Kant and the inevitability of Hegel’s own conclusion, his beginning in and with dialectical negativity. This is what is uniquely traumatic about Hegel, who caused an initial reaction because he gave the impression, and rightly so, that he had gone too far. Where Kant can be shown to retreat from his own discovery, Hegel demonstrably takes it all the way home. Perhaps this background in modern Western philosophy is indispensable for understanding Giegerich and his deployment of negative dialectics in connection to the question of truth.
A subsequent Hegelian discovery is the impossibility of a truly ideologically neutral standpoint. This is included in the absolute-negative understanding of truth as a dialectical process. Absolute truth, rather than being some divine impartiality or “enlightened” transcendent insight, begins with the prima materia of our partiality, our historicity, our embeddedness in ideology and positivistic prejudices and beliefs, in other words, the sum total of everything we think we know. So in the Hegelian perspective, absolute truth is embedded in the prima materia of our prejudices and misunderstandings. This is why Giegerich believed that Hegel, not Jung, was the ultimate redeemer of alchemy. But due to Jung’s partiality for Kant and his disdain of Hegel, Jung could not see the problem of alchemy in terms of logical form or logical status—which is something entirely different from the simple dichotomy of form and content you brought up.
The “rehabilitation of prejudice” is also nicely developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his Philosophical Hermeneutics, for example, where it appears as a vital link in the chain of development that leads to true understanding. This is in fact an alchemico-Hegelian perspective which indicates a “determination to acknowledge the unsuspendable finitude and historicity of understanding and to exhibit the positive role [prejudices] actually play in the transmission of meaning” (xv). Again, even though this brand of existential hermeneutics passes as “anti-Hegelian”, one can show, based on a Lacanian reading of Hegel, that it is a further application of Hegelian insights into the absolute historicity of consciousness as absolute truth. This is the sentiment echoed in Hegel’s motto that the Owl of Minerva (philosophical understanding) only takes flight in the twilight of the end of an era, only after the fact.
Well there you have my cards on the table, this is the schooling I am coming from, where we basically make it a habit to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and to lay on the table our prejudices and partialities without shame or wantonness. This is also why I initially began by trying to lay our cards on the table on that score. Although I also have a nuanced understanding of the relations between Freud and Jung, etc. I have no qualms “fessing up” my partiality for Freud. Even though when I started at PGI, I started with a partiality for Jung—like everyone else that goes there—I did end up recognizing that the real breakthrough on Freud’s side. At some point, if you really understand what is at stake, there is an unavoidable fork in the road where a decision—existentially not theoretically speaking—has to be made.
The same true, for instance, in the study of the history of philosophy. There is no philosophically neutral standpoint from which to take up the subject. For the grasping of the whole can only be done from a partial historic perspective.
We also have the same phenomenon of decidability in the realm of politics, where the game of the “centrist” already falls on the wrong—that is, on the “right” side of things. To be at the center pretty much means you’re endorsing the status quo. Or to quote Negan, a lead character from The Walking Dead, “not to make a decision is a BIG decision!” sometimes.January 19, 2022 at 7:12 pm #74577
mythistorian, some points:
To communicate one’s partiality is certainly important. For example, when publishing research (especially qualitative research), one makes explicit what I call the axioms of research: epistemology, methodology, ontology. One could look at this as a sort of apologetics for one’s partiality. And when doing a doctoral dissertation at PGI, the first section gives even deeper insight into one’s partiality which is essential for evaluating the scholarship of what is contained in the subsequent chapters. I have seen criticism of the inclusion of this section from members of other, more traditional, institutions, but I find this section to be absolutely invaluable. It is critical, however, to note that one can also work to transcend one’s partiality. This is a major practice in certain traditions of Buddhism and of the approach of Advaita Vedanta. One spends a lifetime cultivating such transcendence, even to the point of transcending one’s own Buddhist or Hindu partiality. This is what is implied in Nagarjuna’s final chapter of his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā – “Examination of Views.”
Now, let us apply this to the current dialogue. While looking at the full spectrum of partiality is certainly good, the issue I raised about not reducing your interlocutor’s position to statements of partiality requires that we look at one end of that spectrum, and thus the microscope is an appropriate metaphor. Crucially, it is far more respectful to your interlocutor to ask *why* they have a given view instead of making an assumption about their partiality and insulting them by reducing the complexity of their life experience through which they arrived at that position to unidimensional explanations of partiality. You do great disservice when you do this. It is one thing to communicate one’s understanding of their own partiality, but completely bad form to make assumptions about the partiality of others.
A quick word about ‘meaning’. ‘Meaning’ is not nor should be considered a universal goal or a goal which is desired universally. In my experience in the Eastern traditions, meaning is, at best, held provisionally, and there are other relationships which are more effective in achieving their goals. One extreme which comes to mind is utter dismemberment. One is “destroyed” in an encounter with an image, and this is a necessary experience. Somehow, though, one is put back together – a deep mystery. This is also experienced in shamanic initiations. The specific shamanic tradition I am thinking about was described by Dr. Malidoma Somé in his initiation into the Dagara community in Burkina Faso, West Africa. This initiation is exceedingly dangerous and there have been deaths as a result of it. The challenge Dr. Somé faced was that he was taken from his people at a very young age and forced to have a Western education for ~15 years. Thus, he was far older when he took initiation than normal, and his Western education could severely interfere with the sort of dismemberment endured during initiation. I had the honor and pleasure of having an audience with him in 2014. His aura was very powerful and wonderful, something I have felt only with some highly realized Tibetan Rinpoches. Unfortunately, Dr. Somé passed away very recently.
To be clear, I was not talking about the Kantian understanding of “absolute truth.” I discussed the notion of absolute truth more informally as my exposure to the notion is more variegated and includes multiple traditions. Central to many of them is the notion of absolute truth as conditionless, a notion which does not hold up to rational scrutiny. But, in the formal portion of my statements, I stressed the character of the necessity for a finite number of steps in a given proof in order to contrast this with a dialectic of unending and infinite scale, and this was another reason I brought up Cantor’s levels of infinity beyond which leads to contradiction. Outside of the various traditions of which we are familiar, I just have seen nothing in human experience which, when subject to careful reflection, supports a hypothesis of anything like absolute truth.
The notion of “redeemer of alchemy” is exceedingly problematic to me. Alchemy requires no redemption! What needs redemption is the modern attitude toward the past. The pattern of thinking that holds that later knowledge corrects earlier knowledge is very unhealthy and is, in many ways, utterly destructive. One of the themes I have worked on in the past is contrasting various traditions with respect to the prevailing worldview (or at least the view of Western culture) of improvement (e.g., my note on Affirmation of Decline). Many traditions, even parts of the West, see our current state as one of decline or even in the final stage before the new arises. Thus, the pattern of thinking about current knowledge correcting previous knowledge hardly augers well. I wrote a critique of James Hillman’s paper The Measure of Events: Proclus’ Proposition 117 in the View of an Archetypal Psychology which was about making scientific measure less narrow. Because of the position he took in that paper which seems quite reasonable from an Archetypal Psychology perspective, I felt compelled to go through 2500 years of mathematics and science history. And based on this experience, I cultivated the position that scientific measure is a product of a culture during a particular time of its history. Such a measure embodies a set of beliefs which may not be applicable to other cultures at other times. And when these beliefs are no longer held or if they are misunderstood, the entire judgement on their form of scientific measure which embodies those beliefs can be problematic. Such is the case with medieval and early modern Latin alchemy. It embodies beliefs and perspectives which are no longer held or even understood. Take, for example, the Hermetic notion of the correspondentia. The view of the correspondence between inner and outer, above and below, etc., a view absolutely essential to alchemy, was in the process of being abandoned during the 17th century A.D. Without a proper understanding and appreciation of such views, alchemy looks absolutely ridiculous to our modern eyes. This is why cultivation of an understanding of the views prevalent during the medieval and early modern period is necessary for a reasonable understanding of Latin alchemy. And when this is done, I believe it is clear that alchemy requires no redemption.
When I discussed form and content, I don’t think I described it as a dichotomy. I certainly don’t consider them to express a dichotomy. Instead, I was emphasizing that the realization of their interdependence was very much non-trivial and that mathematics was one of the disciplines which demonstrates this complexity. And form/content was not intended to only be applicable to alchemy, but more generally to the image as a whole. Our relationship with the image is greatly hindered by our lack of understanding and appreciation of the interdependence of form and content which, ideally, could be thought as being one thing. Thus, we sometimes try to extract content from an image without careful attention to its form or by ignoring certain details about its form because it does not serve our purposes. Obviously, the image in general and alchemy in particular constitute a far broader spectrum than form/content, but I intended the simple version of form and content to provide a way of thinking of something relevant yet tractable, something to which we could employ the traditions of logic and mathematics which could lead to a more modern understanding of an ancient mystery. And it was this unity of form and content that lends plausibility recognized by disciplines other than depth psychology to Jung’s statement “Image and meaning are identical; and as the first takes shape, the latter becomes clear.”
As I mentioned in one of my earlier responses, alchemy can and should be approached by multiple disciplines. For example, there are two historians of science who have published excellent work on alchemy – Dr. Lawrence Principe and Dr. William Newman, and they very much disagree with Jung’s hermeneutic. Furthermore, Dr. Principe is a chemist and has provided hard evidence that some of what the alchemists wrote (e.g., certain alchemical recipes) were practical and useful. Specifically, he has reconstructed the intended results on the basis of following the instructions contained in some of the alchemical recipes. Other traditions which have been invaluable to the modern multidisciplinary study of alchemy include history of religion, medieval literature, philology/linguistics and classical languages, chemistry, and of course depth psychology. And it is good to appreciate the immense complexities in those areas where experts in each of these disciplines agree and disagree.
Now, it is very much worth reading a history of how Jung came to commit in the early 1930s to the deep study of alchemy. It was far from being an easy process for Jung, and he was very reluctant to commit to alchemy for many years. But, a combination of inner and outer forces compelled him to this path. An important outer force was that his patients and colleagues were having powerful dreams with alchemical imagery and, in order to help them, Jung had to understand that imagery. A careful reading of Jung’s history, the Black Books, the Red Book, Jung’s work with the traditions of the Gnostics, and his dreams will lend a certain insight into the organic nature his study of and approach to alchemy took. I very much would like to read Jung’s alchemical notebooks because they would provide additional invaluable insights into Jung’s process. But, I mention this because Jung’s work on alchemy must be evaluated relative to that which was driving him and whether he was successful in accomplishing the goals which were set to him. Note that the Black Books unfortunately end in 1932, about 2 years before he began his deep study of alchemy. Thus, unfortunately, we don’t know what the unconscious thinks about his progress. But, one relevant question is whether Jung was able to help his patients with their alchemical dreams because of his work. If so, would this not constitute some support by the unconscious that Jung was on the right track?
You claimed that “Jung could not see the problem of alchemy in terms of logical form or logical status.” I would like to see hard evidence for this. Do you have any? Again. I think it is critical that we evaluate Jung’s approach in relation to what was driving him and what he was tasked to do instead of prematurely collapsing the complexities of what surrounded his work into judgements of incapability.
On a related note, one interesting work by a scholar who earned her doctoral degree in philosophy was entitled Nietzsche and Jung: The Whole Self in the Union of Opposites by Dr. Lucy Huskinson. It is interesting because it contrasts their respective approaches to where the union of opposites comes from. For Jung, it is new (i.e., not part of the opposites) and emerges, deo concedente, from the unconscious. For Nietzsche, it already exists in the opposites – that it is inherent in them. Thus, as Dr. Huskinson argues in her book, for Jung, the Self is discovered; for Nietzsche, the Self is created. The issues she tackles in her book are relevant, I believe, to the contrast between Giegerich’s approach to the coniunctio and Jung’s.
Finally, the work to use our “prejudices” to arrive at higher or deeper truths, of course, is hardly new and goes back much farther than the philosophers being discussed here. It goes back to at least the 2nd century A.D., both in the traditions of the West and those in the East. For the West, this would include the approaches by the ancient Gnostics; in the East, this would be embodied, in part, by the Two Truths which were articulated by the Madhymaka philosophers, but has a long history which precedes them, possibly going back to the time of the Buddha.January 22, 2022 at 6:09 pm #74576
Norland, I agree too that the Mesoamerican Religious Symbolism of “dawning” is a wonderful example of “inter-being.” Especially through the farming. If ones hands are in the soil planting seeds, it becomes a sacred ritual and there is an awareness of “inter connectivity” as you say. Love that. I have more thoughts perhaps for later, but wanted to share this passage from Thicht Nahn Hahn’s book “Peace is Every Step” since heard of his passing.
The chapter on “inter-being”
From Peace is Every Step
Thicht Nahn Hahn:
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-“ with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine are inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. When we look this way, we see that without all these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here time, space, earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists within this sheet of paper…….
As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.” -Thicht Nahn HahnJanuary 23, 2022 at 2:25 am #74575
That is so beautiful, sunbug, and really encapsulates the notion of interbeing. I know of his sad passing—but sad only for us, as he seems to have been in complete peace with the finitude of our mortal existence, our passing state of consciousness in time. RIP Oh most gentle Master of Wisdom—a true philosopher in his own right.
Maya dawning as a concept of interbeing emphasizes the organic force or elan vital of life, its desire to maintain and reproduce itself, to escape the prison of being in itself, the dormant state of “inanimate” matter. Thus the notion of libido is also a strong concept of interbeing as a broad “sexual” energy for the desire of being, to be a being-for-itself, the desire to create and re-create itself in time, through an evolutionary process of self-creation.
We also know that the metaphor of farming, even better than the birds and the bees, explains the whole process of organic sexual reproduction, without which there would be no trees, no animals, and no mind to make the piece of paper the Master holds in his hand. That is why libido is a concept of universal soul which is closer to the antique sense, as in Aristotle’s de Anima, and why its passage through the human race grants us access to a truly transcendent force, the very source of the experience of the transcendent.
Since my Mythblast this week tried to emphasize the Freudian strain of the Hero with a Thousand Faces we might as well elaborate a Freudian concept of interbeing which is, in fact, much closer to the notion of Maya dawning. Sexuality in this broad sense of “dawning”, of organic production and reproduction across all forms of life, is a quintessentially “Freudian” conception of interbeing. That is to say, libido is so close to the inter nature of soul that it is virtually indistinguishable from sexuality. That was Freud’s great discovery, not that sexuality was some kind of “lower” purely biological instinct that governs the mind, but that it is the most metaphysical of all forces as the speculative identity of libido and death-drive.
Although sometimes the Buddhist elaboration of the concept of interbeing may sound more cloud-like, more poetic, as thin as a piece of paper, it is no less genuine in its existential depth. This comes out nicely in Thicht Nahn Hahn’s notion of engaged buddhism as well—not to mention everything that comes under the heading of his political activism or engagement with the world. For there are profound political implications of a philosophy of interbeing, as politics is the realm of the polis—including the police!— in which we figure out how we humans can get along with each other, how are we to co-exist fairly and equatibly, employing the mediation of the state or government, and institutions like the judicial system and the carceral state.
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