From Freud To Jung
When I was young I certainly gravitated towards Freud rather than Jung. Freud seemed to me to be knottier, and when you had unravelled one knot, you discovered another. His ideas too had a more tragic bent to them; that is to say, that he recognised that people limitations did not come from outside, but themselves and there was in the end no overcoming them. You just had to fatalistically accept them. Furthermore, Freud’s ideas evolved from being those of a doctor who was more concerned with the therapeutic possibilities implicit in our encounter with the unconscious legacies of our own childhoods to a poet who developed a whole meta-psychology rooted very much in mythopoeic images such as the conflict between Eros and Thanatos, which I was well able to relate to. The ideas expressed in The Ego And The Id and Civilisation And Its Discontents definitely had poetic elements in them as well, or at least elements that were serviceable to poetry. On top of all this, his ideas helped spawn surrealism and also many highly divergent variations on Freudian themes – especially on the left. His influence on thinkers like Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, the Frankfurt School, Deleuze and Guattari, Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Zizek and many others is quite explicit. Whether these thinkers agreed with Freud or not, ‘Continental Philosophy’ would definitely not be what it is today had Freud never existed.
Jung was a different matter I thought. If you have a look at Jungians themselves, you will see that unlike Freudians with Freud, they don’t seem to treat Jung very much as a problem and there has certainly been little revisionism among them. They seem to see Jung as some kind of saviour or prophet and this fact seems to impose a uniformity on a lot of their shared ideas. It seems to me that Jung really has only one big idea, whereas Freud has many and these tend to lend themselves to various interpretations. Jungianism seems more monolithic, less fractured than Freudianism. Apart from this I inclined towards Freud because his ideas were more intrinsically hostile to religion, which Freud himself described as the “obsessional neurosis of mankind”. Jung on the other hand seemed to want to create a new religion on the fragments of old religions, a religion in which he almost seemed to see himself as some kind of saviour. Freud’s fundamentally tragic outlook on our possibilities tends to discourage talk of religious solutions which rely too much on positive answers to questions for which there can, in the nature of things, be none. For this reason I gravitated towards Freud, and, though I have moved somewhat in a Jungian direction, there are definitely aspects of Freud that I want to hold on to.
However, I am not blind towards Freud’s own limitations – especially his reductionism. Furthermore, I prefer Jung’s phylogenetic to Freud’s ontogenetic emphasis. Jung sees things more in terms of our species-being as opposed to our individual existences, where our complexes are seen to be rooted in repressed childhood dramas. Jung was onto something I believe with his ideas about the Collective Unconscious and its Archetypes. His ideas were more holistic than reductionist and that was reason enough to take him seriously, without altogether turning my back on Freud. If Jungianism and Freudianism don’t seem to be very compatible, I don’t see that as an excuse to choose between them. Just go with one as far as it takes you and go with the other as far as it takes you, without trying to reconcile the differences between them. For me, it’s not a question of choosing one or the other, but rather of recognising that they are, as Wittgenstein might have put it, playing different language-games. In other words, it’s like two different explorers exploring two different territories; you don’t expect someone who is exploring the Amazon to arrive at the same place as someone exploring Antarctica. And the fact that they both set off from Southampton doesn’t make any real difference to that.
In his attempts to deepen and enrich psychological enquiry after Freud, Jung explored such phenomena as Alchemy, Shamanism, Mythology, Ritual, Gnosticism, Anthropology, Ethnology, Esoteric Religion, (Kabbalah, Sufism, etc.), Mysticism and human culture in general. He has taken the plunge into areas which Freud stayed well clear of. If Freud touched upon any of these areas, it was in the reductionist manner of his ideas about the Primal Horde, which he wanted to adapt to his theories about the Oedipus Complex. Jung and the Jungians took these things much more seriously and approached them from a more empirical point of view to identify and draw out the features common to all human cultures which would allow him to draw certain conclusions about them. Whether he was right or wrong is not for me to say, but I think his efforts were certainly worthwhile. Unlike Freud, he did not try to force the facts to fit the theories. Rather, he took things as he found them and went on from there, moving from the empirical to what we might call the transcendental – in the Kantian sense of the word. That’s what Freud attempted to do as well, but, like Hegel, Freud cheated by starting off with the theory, which the facts then had to fit. Maybe Jung did a little bit of that too, but in nowhere near as blatant a fashion.
Jung’s ‘big idea’ was the Collective Unconscious and their Archetypes, which he extrapolated from the evidence as he found and interpreted it. In this way, he moved from the empirical facts – the myths, rituals, etc. – to what he believed was universal about them – the archetypes underlying them. These archetypes, he postulated, had become inscribed in our genetic make-up. He even spoke of the two million year old man – and I suppose woman - in all of us, an idea which clearly has something in common with those of sociobiologists like Edward O. Wilson, although I suspect it is rather less crudely reductionist. It is this aspect of Jungianism which has come to intrigue me – especially in regard to its application to such practices as poetry.
Archetypes are difficult phenomena to fully explain, because, like Kant’s unknowable thing-in-itself, they don’t have any definite shape. They simply lie behind their various manifestations as symbols, images, ideas and concepts, all of which have a definite form, unlike the archetypes themselves. Indeed, Jung saw these things in hierarchical terms, moving from the least explicit – archetypes – to the most explicit - concepts, depending on how conscious one has become of them. Concepts should not be equated with ideas, which are much more free-floating and difficult to pin down – like thoughts in general, which come and go almost at will. Concepts are fixed and have a definite place in the understanding. But they are, of course, also abstractions and don’t carry any of the unconscious charge which images and ideas might do. Archetypes begin to find expression through images and symbols and then work up through ideas to concepts. And according to Jung, if this process of articulation from unconscious archetypes to fully conscious concepts is thwarted dissociation occurs. In modern cultures, according to Jungians, this dissociation is apparently complete. We are still unconsciously influenced by archetypes but we have denied ourselves the means of making them conscious and therefore rendering them rather less toxic. The shamanistic practices of so called primitive peoples enabled them to stay more in contact with their own unconscious well-springs, while our overly rational cultures are highly fragmented and in desperate need of more integration. The process by which this integration occurs Jung called the Individuation Process.
The Jungian Individuation Process looks a bit paradoxical on the surface, but we shouldn’t let that deter us. According to my dictionary, to individuate is to individualise, to give individuality to. This doesn’t seem very compatible with the idea of getting in touch with something as collective as the Jungian unconscious. But for Jung and his followers, the individuation process does not involve becoming overwhelmed by the Collective Unconscious – although such regression is what often happens during Shamanic vision-quests and also in Jungian therapeutic practice – so much as approaching the unconscious from the point of view of the ego and consciousness and becoming aware of its contents so that they are less able to overcome one. It involves strengthening the ego through greater familiarity with these archetypal contents, as they arise from the deeper reaches of the psyche, so that they can be more effectively dealt with.
This doesn’t mean that you can become directly conscious of the archetypes which shape your behaviour. That would be a contradiction in terms, since, by definition, what is unconscious cannot at the same time be conscious. The archetypes themselves are simply kinds of energy-fields, rooted in instinct, which impinge on consciousness in various indirect ways through images, symbols and ideas which receive a charge from these energy-fields. It’s a bit like a magnet and iron filings which don’t take shape without there being a barrier (like a piece of paper) between them. That barrier here is consciousness itself, which is forever cut off from the unconscious and can only become conscious of the unconscious from its effects. That is to say, that you can only become conscious of it from the impact it has on the medium of conscious thought itself, first through images, then through those amalgams of images and ideas called symbols (which, unlike allegorical ‘symbols’ are not conceptual at all), then ideas themselves and finally concepts. As concepts tend to be fixed they lose their power to express anything outside of the intellect and so must be constantly renewed from deeper sources of the psyche. They may add to our rational understanding, but they cease to speak for the whole person. One can therefore never rest on one’s conceptual laurels as far as the ongoing process of individuation is concerned.
The process I have tried to sketch here – however inadequately, since it is, after all, a huge subject with many side-branches – has a great deal of relevance for poetry. Poets who rely almost exclusively on rational consciousness become sterile as their work becomes increasingly cut off from its unconscious source of inspiration. A lot of Coleridge’s work is like this, I suspect, as is Pope’s Essay On Man. The intellect cannot stand in for the whole visceral person sounding out the depths of his or her psyche when he or she is summoned to do so. Poetry loses an essential aspect of its dynamic when that happens. And it should be remembered that these unconscious elements are transpersonal, even trans-human, which perhaps explains a lot of the theriomorphic (animal) elements common to both shamanistic practices and to poetry. Animals live unconsciously, at the same kind of level – according to Jung. They have always had a special significance for us because of that. In a sense animals are where it’s at, because animals are where we are at – down in the depths of our species-being. And I do not mean this in a sentimental way. Animals – like the gods – tend to be pitiless; they are not human and we shouldn’t forget that. However, our ‘progress’ from animal to human has come at a cost and perhaps we shouldn’t forget that either. One of Nietzsche’s gripes about Euripides is the way he humanised such savage dramas as The Bacchai and bought a superficial ‘civilised’ element to something deeply primordial.
Another aspect of this concerns the Individuation Process itself. We seem to live in an age when what is prized and cultivated in poetry has little to do with the individuality at the heart of a poet’s work. What is prized is a kind of sameness or flatness, a landscape of conformity to certain poetic norms or conventions where each takes their measure from everyone else – or what Heidegger called “The They”, which squats on individuality like an enormous frog and attempts to suffocate it. In this atmosphere, as Heidegger puts it, everything primordial is dismissed as if it was something that has long been well-known. Perhaps this is the point at which Jung and Heidegger converge, since it is precisely the primordial which lies at the heart of the Collective Unconscious and precisely our encounter with it, which sets us on the road to individuation. Of course, in this process one risks regression to chaos and madness, but that is sometimes the price one must pay on the way to integration, according to Jung. It is this stress which has to be prized in Jung. It doesn’t matter if he developed something of a messianic persona. His own ideas could easily account for them and he was not perfect or free of his own daemons. Nor does it matter that a school emerged from his endeavours and that school was no less partisan, sectarian and dogmatic than the one Freud himself spawned. What matters for poets is the fact that the only way to deepen poetry and make it more universal is, ‘paradoxically’ by advancing the Individuation Process within it.