Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jung's Red Book: On the Service of the Soul, pp. 234-5

Existential themes are prominent as Jung tells us that an approach to one’s own soul first sinks one into meaninglessness and disorder. Jung asserts that meaningless and chaos is the “other half of the world,” and no one can be complete or have a full understanding of the world without embracing its chaotic and meaningless elements. Order and meaning are lacking in that they are in a state of having already become, while chaos and meaninglessness are in a process of becoming. The divine child or supreme meaning, a meaning “beyond meaning and meaninglessness,” is the product of the wedding between order and chaos. When one becomes open to one’s soul, the “dark flood of chaos” merges with order and meaning.

Jung is here experimenting with ideas that will later prove to be at the core of his psychology: the divine wedding, the coincidence of opposites, and the need to embrace what is alien, dark, and chaotic in the world and self. He will later find that “chaos” is an important stage in the alchemical work, a work he will declare to be analogous to, if not identical with the psychological process of individuation. In line with his philosophy of coincidentia oppositorum Jung asserts that one must submit to what one fears and love what one is horrified by. One must even be willing to eschew virtue if one becomes enslaved to it. In general, one must reverse one’s position vis a vis the soul: if one believes he is master he must become its servant; if one believes that he is its servant one must become its master. Jung’s notions of compensation and the shadow are already implicit in these reflections. We might say that there is no single prescription for psychological growth; those who live on the side of order and meaning, must embrace their shadow side of chaos, and vice versa.

The doctrine of the coincidence of opposites has a long history in mysticism and philosophy. Jung later traces much of this history, especially in Psychological Types and Mysterium Conunctionis. Hegel was its greatest philosophiocal exponent, but Jung, had little patience for Hegel and was, at least at the time of The Red Book, was much more under the influence of Nietzsche's efforts to "transvalue values." I am certainly sympathetic to the notion of coincidentia oppositorum (see, for example, my "Coincidence of Opposites in Jewish Mysticism" http//:www.newkabbalah.com/CoincJewMyst.htm). However, the suspicion arises that at times a simple, perhaps too simple, route to "profundity and depth" is to hold that it is to be found in a region that is the opposite from where one would expect to find it: in chaos as opposed to order, meaninglessness as opposed to meaning, darkness as opposed to light and relativism or even evil as opposed to virtue.

Further, we might even ask if Jung’s readiness to embrace certain opposites, e.g. the chaotic as a source of creative energy, might not have its dangers. Wasn’t it just such an analysis that caused him to, at first, be ambivalent if not optimistic about the Nazi state?

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