Friday, October 23, 2009

Jung's Red Book: The Desert, pp. 235-6

Jung discusses the poles of retreating from and engaging with his fellow men as pathways to the soul. At first, his soul leads him into the “desert” of his self. Jung tells us that by turning himself away from men and things he becomes wholly identified with his thoughts, but then he also found that he needed to detach himself from his thoughts. In the process his soul became a virtual desert. However, by turning one’s creative force towards this desert soul he foundthat it would green and bear “wonderful fruit.” Presumably this is a reference to the process of “active imagination,” that Jung is developing in The Red Book. According to Jung, one will be tempted to, but must forbear from, making an early return to the world of things, men, and thoughts. Only after one has discovered one’s soul can one live in harmony with men, thoughts and things, and no longer be their slave or fool. The ancients who retreated into solitude found a world of symbols, an “abundance of visions.” It was easier for them to “live their symbols” as the world “had not yet become real for them.”

Jung makes a comment suggesting a constructive theory of language: “When you say that the place of the soul is not than it is not. But if you that that it is then it is” (236). He notes that the ancients considered the word as a creative act. The contemporary reader will note that this is not only an ancient idea, but a postmodern one as well. Jung will again consider the constructive theory of langauge later in The Red Book, but he will be more equivocal in his assessment of it.

Jung then tells us that the oldest and truest words are those “that oscillate between nonsense and supreme meaning” (236) I would add that this is also the case with regard the newest words as well. We might say that the margins of “sense” move in each generation, so each must produce literature, metaphors and theories that straddle the margins between sense and nonsense and thus place language up against the boundary of what Jung here calls the true and Jacques Lacan referred to as the “real.” The escape from the “ruling discourse” of a particular era can be experienced outside of language, for example, in experiences of the numinous, the erotic, and the traumatic, but it can only be pointed to within language, through language that borders on the non-sensical and thus escapes from the tentacles of accepted meaning. I think that in The Red Book, Jung is struggling to do just this—to speak nonsense that leads us to a new sense, one that is both ancient (pointing backwards to the Gnostics) and contemporary (pointing forwards towards postmodernism).

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