Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jung's "Supreme Meaning:" Sense and Nonsense

Jung’s reference to the “supreme meaning” in the Red Book, suggests that he is positing a primary philosophical or theological principle, perhaps akin to the principle of Brahman-Atman in Indian philosophy or the “Absolute” in Hegelian thought. Jung himself confirms such a view when he says “the supreme meaning is the path, the way and the bridge to what is to come. That is the God yet to come” (229). For Jung, the supreme meaning involves “the melting together of sense and nonsense” (229). Jung explains “The highest truth is one and the same with the absurd” (242) and “The image of God throws a shadow just as great as itself” (230). Further, just as “day requires night and night requires day, so meaning requires absurdity and absurdity requires meaning” (242) Finally, “meaning is a moment and a transition from absurdity to absurdity, and absurdity only a moment and a transition from meaning to meaning” (242).

What are we to make of these ideas? Perhaps we can gain a hint from Jung’s pronouncement that “reality is meaning and absurdity” (242). Jung expresses a similar idea in Psychological Types when he writes,

“The fact that there are two distinct and mutually contradictory views eagerly advocated on either side concerning the meaning and meaninglessness of things shows that processes obviously exist which express no particular meaning, being in fact mere consequences or symptoms; and that there are other processes which bear within them a hidden meaning, processes which are not merely derived from something but which seek to become something, and are therefore symbols” (Psychological Types, par. 822).

Jung’s comments here are set in the context of a discussion of the neurotic's view of his symptoms and thus alludes not only to Aristotle’s distinction between efficient and final causation, but also to Freud’s distinction between “actual neurosis” and “psychoneurosis,” the former being the causal consequence of (for example) damned up libido, the latter involving a binding of that libido in a symptom that symbolizes the individual’s conflict. Here, however, Jung uses the term “symptom” to refer to a purely causal process, and reserves the term “symbol” for any psychic event with meaning.

Interestingly Freud’s notion of a compromise formation that produces a symbolic but debilitating neurotic symptom, becomes in Jung a reconciling principle that enables one to transcend conflict (see the prior posts on the Coincidence of Opposites).

Here, however, the conflict, both on the psychological and philosophical level is the conflict between meaning and absurdity, and Jung proposes the “God yet to come” as a symbol that can "melt together" or reconcile this opposition. Certainly we can experiencve the world as both infinitely meaningful and infinitely contingent and absurd, and any conception of God or Self that does not encompass both of these poles would be woefully incomplete. On purely rational. e.g. Hegelian grounds, an “Absolute” must be infinite, and for such an Absolute to exclude something from itself (i.e. absurdity and meaningless) would be tantamount to surrendering its infinitude. Jung himself suggests that the supreme meaning is infinite when he writes: “The supreme meaning is great and small., it is as wide as the space of the starry Heaven, and narrow as the cell of the human body" (230). Just as one must include meaninglessness and meaning in the supreme meaning, one must also include evil with the good: “You will recognize the supreme meaning by the fact that he is laughter and worship, a bloody laughter and a bloody worship.”

We might suppose that one too obsessed with finding meaning in all things will be haunted by existential meaninglessness as a kind of “return of the repressed” in the same way that one obseessed with the good will be haunted by his own evil.

Jung tells us that absurdity is the background contrast against which meaning can be perceived, and that meaning is best observed in those transitions from nonsense, where a meaningful light is suddenly revealed against a curtain of meaningless darkness (242). The question arises as to whether meaning that emerges against a meaningless background is inherent in things, or as per the existentialists and postmodernists, something brought to a meaningless or neutral ground via human construction. I believe that this question is ultimately left ambiguous in Jungian psychology. In the Red Book Jung is quite adamant that meaning is something contributed to things by the human subject

“Event signify nothing. They signify only in us. We create the meaning of events. The meaning is and always was artificial. We make it” (239)

“The meanings that follow one another do not lie in things, but lie in you, who are subject to many changes, insofar as you take part in life. Things also change, but you do not notice this if you do not change. But if you change the countenance of the world alters.” (273)

In the “Seven Sermons,” we read, “you must not forget that the Pleroma has no qualities. We create these through thinking” (349).

These rather clear postmodernist/constructivist pronouncements do not, however, comport very well with Jungian psychology as a whole. This is because the “archetypes” are presumably trans-individual and even transcultural meanings that are brought to the world by a collective, objective psyche, as opposed to an individual or existential one. Further, for Jung, the meanings embodied in the archetypes, insofar as they are part of the objective psyche, are as real as anything in the so-called objective outer world. We might say that like the Kantian categories of space and time, Jungian meanings are iridescent concepts, that lie on the cusp between the subjective and the objective, or better, moments in the transition from both absurdity to meaning as well as from objective to subjective and vice versa.

The question of the world’s ultimate meaning like the question of whether there is meaning in dreams might best be answered with Buddhist or dialetheistic logic: the answer is both and neither. Perhaps embracing this ambiguity is a path to wisdom and to the discovery of one’s soul.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Coincidence of Opposites in Jung's Psychological Types

In my previous post I discussed the notion of the coincidence of opposites as it appears in Jung’s Red Book. In this post, I propose to briefly examine this idea as it is treated Psychological Types, which is from the same period as The Red Book.

Psychological Types is an extremely wide ranging work that is loosely structured around Jung’s examination of the “type problem” in philosophy, literature, biography and psychology. By "type" Jung refers specifically to personality types that are characterized by the polarities of thinking/feeling and introversion/extraversion. Jung holds that a complete psychological understanding of the psyche can occur neither through thinking (science) nor feeling alone, but only via a higher third principle which unites them, creative fantasy (PT par. 86-6). Indeed. Jungian psychology cannot be fully grounded in either thought nor feeling; if grounded in the latter it loses its order and claim to validity, if in the latter it loses its connection with life.

Jung extends the notion of complementarity to his critique of Freudian and Adlerian psychology, each of which neglects the opposition proffered by the other (instinct by Freud and the aims of the ego by Adler). Each of these psychologies is complete on its own terms, but found to be incomplete when examined in light of the principle that grounds the other. Interpretations can always be made that accord with Freud’s “infantile wishes” and Adler’s aims of “security and differentiation of the ego” (PT par. 89), but these offer only partial truths that cannot claim total validity. While these two perspectives might complement one another, they are each incomplete because they reject the reconciling principle of the imagination (PT par. 93). Later in Psychological Types, Jung tells us that it is only the imagination, through its production of symbols, and in particular religious and spiritual symbols (see PT par. 824-5), that we are able to transcend and in effect reconcile the demands of instinct with the aims of the ego. Jung allows that the opposites can in certain respects be reconciled through art, but he is critical of Nietzsche and others who remain on the level of the aesthetic and fail to recognized the overaching importance of spiritual and religious symbols. He is certainly critical of any effort at an intellectual resolution to the problem. While he initiatlly suggests that “It remains an open question whether the opposition between the two standpoints can ever be satisfactorily resolved in intellectual terms” (PT par. 84), he is later quite emphatic: "opposites are not to be united rationally…that is precisely why they are called opposites” (PT par. 169). For Jung, “opposites can be united only in the form of a compromise, or irrationally…only…through living” (PT par. 169). The idea here is familiar to psychotherapists: a patient who finds himself on the horns of a conflict between his homosexuality and the demands of the Catholic church, for example, does not and cannot resolve this conflict in intellectual terms, but can come to lead a life in which the conflict is transcended.

Jung considers Friedrich Schiller’s idea that one can have a complete intuition of his humanity by “at once being conscious of his freedom…and sensible of existence as matter” (PT par. 169—quotations are from Jung’s quotation of Schiller). The idea here is that perhaps one could simultaneously experience both polarities of a Kantian antinomy—thinking of oneself as both a free willing subject and as a causally determined material entity. Jung sees this as a case of “thinking by sensing and sensing by thinking.” According to Jung such a reconciliation can only occur on the irrational level of the imagination, through the production of living symbols. However. neitherreason nor feeling can produce symbols (PT par. 179), which must arise unconsciously and spontaneously through the vehicle of the imagination, which “alone has the power to supply the will with a content of such a nature that it can unite the opposites” (PT par. 185). Jung terms the process by which the opposites are mediated through imagination and life. the transcendent function (PT par. 184, cf. par 828).

While Jung says that he rejects the idea of a rational reconciliation of the opposites, several of his remarks (including but by no means limited to those regarding Jung and Adler) suggest the need for a theoretical synthesis. For example he proposes that we “have the right on purely empirical grounds to treat the contents of the unconscious as just as real at the things of the outside world” (PT par. 279), and this proposal comes very close to the theoretical solution offered by Husserlian phenomenology. Jung’s remark that “theosophy and spiritualism are just as violent in their encroachments on other spheres as materialism” (PT par. 280) seems to invite a theoretical perspective that might be inclusive of each. In his discussion of William James Jung considers the conflict between intellectual and intuitive truths and accepts James’ pragmatic eclecticism as a necessary part of the solution to the problem of conflicting foundations in philosophy and psychology. However, Jung ultimately concludes that both conceptualism and pragmatism are inadequate to the task of integrating “logically irreconcilable” views as they inevitably lead to a loss of creativity. Only a “positive act of creation” can “assimilate[] the opposites as necessary points of co-ordination” (PT par. 341). With respect to the fragmentation in philosophy and psychology and the reconciliation of the two types of truth, one wonders if Jung’s “creative fantasy” promises more than it delivers. :Perhaps a "positive act of creation" can produce a reconcilliation that is acceptable on both a theoretical and inruitive (experiential) level.

Jung makes parenthetic reference to Hegel’s efforts to reconcile the opposites, suggesting that although ”intuitive ideas” underlie Hegel’s system, they remained subordinated to intellect (PT par. 340).

Jung suggests that when one travels far down the path of a given perspective, its opposite emerges, stating, however, that only a few “reach the rim of the world, where its mirror-image begins” (PT par. 281).

Jung holds that various religions and thinkers have evoked different notions as their principles for uniting the opposites, for the Christians it is the worship of God, for the Buddhists the realization and development of the Self, and for Goethe it is “the worship of the soul, symbolized by the worship of women.” Jung takes a special interest in the Christian mystic and philosopher, Meister Eckhardt who sees a coincidence of opposites between God and man, and who seeks to unite the opposites by discovering God within his own soul, a task, by the way, which occupies Jung throughout much of the Red Book, and which I have explored in my post on the Tales of Izdubar, and will examine further in a later posting.

The Coincidence and Conflict of Opposites in Jung’s Red Book

The notion of coincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites plays a central, if not the central role, in Jung’s thought. In his earlier work, Jung held that a “non-rational” union of opposites enables the individual to transcend and ultimately overcome his or her conflicts. Indeed, Jung held that there is a non-rational instinctive human function, which he termed the “transcendent function,” that mediates and combines opposites through the production of fantasies and symbols, and which enables the individual to gain a new perspective and more encompassing and rewarding attitude toward what he formerly regarded to be an insoluble dilemma or conflict. Unlike Hegel, whose dialectic of opposing principles and ideas Jung regarded to be conscious and rational, Jung held that the transcendent function involves a combination of conscious and unconscious elements and goes far beyond and is indeed opaque to thought and reason. In his later work, Jung regarded the coincidence of opposites to be constitutive of both the God archetype and the Self. Throughout his career, Jung traced the appearance of the notion of coincidentia oppositorum in such varied arenas as Brahmanic thought, Christian mysticism, Alchemy and the Kabbalah.

The Red Book is replete with Jung’s not as yet fully formed on the coincidence of opposites, and we see him struggling to make sense of the personal experiences that apparently led him to this notion. In the processes he considers a variety of oppositions: meaning and nonsense, fullness and emptiness, love and hate (343), action and thought (293), madness and reason (317), pleasure and thinking (247), above and below (315), etc. Jung tells us, for example, “immense fullness and immense emptiness are one and the same” (273), thinking and feeling “are each other’s poison and healing” (248), and “If no outer adventure happens to you, then no inner adventure happens either” (263).

Jung says that one only achieves a “presentiment of the whole” (248) and can only “achieve balance” by nurturing one’s “opposite.” However, doing so is very difficult as nurturing the opposite of one’s own thoughts, feelings and attitudes “is hateful to you in your innermost core, because it is not heroic” (263). We will see that this idea is essential to Jung’s polemic against the heroic in the Red Book, which he sees as inimical to individuation as it grows out of the “appetite for imitation” (249). Jung confesses quite candidly, “It is difficult for me to unite love and hate” (343).

Jung informs us that the “new God” he speaks of in the Red Book, the one that has been reborn subsequent to his demise at the hands of Nietzsche on the one hand and the poison of science on the other, is a union of opposing principle, and “develops through the union of [such] principles in me” (254). Presumably, Jung holds that the new God develops through the reconciliation of opposites in the mind and souls of individual men and women. Jung is here developing the notion of the identity of the God and the Self archetypes, which figures so prominently in his later psychology, and which later served as part of the foundation for Altizer’s death of God theology, in which the divine is effectively reborn in the psyche of man.

If God is associated with the union of opposites within the human psyche, it is the “serpent” which keeps the opposites separate: “It is always the serpent that causes man to become enslaved now to one, now to the other principle, so that it becomes error” (247). Interestingly, Jung is here beginning to develop the view that one can surmount evil only by accepting that it is part of God and self, an idea that was to later become the major theme in his Answer to Job.

Jung’s interest in the coincidence of opposites leads him to what logicians would describe as a violation of the law of non-contradiction. According to Jung. “The magical is good and evil and neither good nor evil.” Such multi-valued or dialetheistic logic was assumed by Buddhist logicians, but has rarely been advocated in the west, which, with the exception of the several decades when Hegelian logic rose to prominence, has been largely dominated by Aristotelian, either/or, linear thinking.

Jung is not of one mind regarding the unity of opposites. While it is absolutely necessary to unite the opposites in one’s quest for one’s soul, their complete unity is not wholly desirable, since:

"after the opposites had been united, quite unexpectedly and incomprehensibly nothing further happened. Everything remained in place, peacefully and yet completely motionless, and life turned into a complete standstill" (319).

While Satan derogates the union of opposites (“Reconciliation of the opposites! Equal rights for all! Follies!”, 326), we must give the devil his do and recognize that it may indeed be the case that “the conflict of opposites belong(s) to the inescapable conditions of life..(and that one) who recognizes and lives the unity of opposites stand(s) still…” Jung’s own soul asks him if he could even live “without divisiveness and disunity.” This is because one needs to “get worked up about something, represent a party, overcome opposites, if you want to live” (319). Life itself is the overcoming of opposites; when they have been completely overcome one, like the Buddha in his final reincarnation, has no further reason to live on earth.

The editors of the Red Book point out that later on Jung held that the concept of the coincidence of opposites itself must be complemented by its own opposite, radical difference if God (or the Self) is not to cancel itself out. Indeed, “The principle of the coincidence of opposites must therefore be completed by its opposite in order to attain full paradoxicality and hence psychological validity” (The spirit Mercurius 1942, CW 13, par, 256).

We can gain considerable insight into the theme of the coincidence of opposites as it appears in the Red Book, by examining this same themes as it is treated, more systematically, in Psychological Types, which, as we have seen, was written by Jung during a hiatus in the Red Book’s composition. This will be the subject of my next post.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Jung's Red Book: A List of Major Themes

I have now completed my initial study of the Red Book and am in the process of organizing my observations under a series of themes. Over the next weeks and months, in addition to commenting on specific sections of Liber Novus I will be commenting on the following Red Book themes:

Sense and Nonsense
The Coincidence of Opposites
The Conflict of Opposites
Fantasy and the Objective Psyche
Belief and Knowledge
The Nature of Symbols
The Critique of Science
The Critique of Reason
The Supreme Meaning
Self and God
On Individuation
Existential Themes
This Life
The Dead
Postmodern Ideas
The Critique of Values and Morality
The Critique of Giving
The Shadow
Renewal and Rebirth
The Sickness, Death, Healing and Rebirth of God
Cognitive Psychology
Jung’s Self-Criticism
Thoughts on Anti-Semitism
The Devil
“I and Thou”
On Language
On Religion
Magic and the Unknown
The Collective Unconscious
Mind and Brain
Gnostic Themes

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Magician, pp. 312-330

In this long section of Liber Secundus we are introduced to Philemon, the “magician” who later introduces Jung to the Gnostic mysteries via the Seven Sermons to the Dead. Jung tells us that Philemon’s “magical rod lies in a cupboard together with the sixth and seventh books of Moses and the wisdom of Hermes Trismegitsus.” Interestingly, Jung himself kept The Red Book in his kitchen cupboard at Kusnacht, where it remained even for years after his death. Of further note, the Sixth and Seventh books of Moses is a book of Kabbalistic magical spells that was published in 1849 by Johann Schiebel, who claimed, without warrant, that the spells were derived from ancient Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources.

The introduction of “magic” provides Jung with the opportunity to discuss the role of reason and unreason in the search for one’s soul. Jung says, “Whenever I want to learn and understand something I leave my so-called reason at home and give whatever it is that I am trying to understand the benefit of the doubt. I have learned this gradually, because nowadays the world of science is full of scary examples of the opposite” (313).

With regard to the nature of magic Philemon tells Jung, “there is nothing to understand…Magic happens to be everything that eludes comprehension.” The difficulty with magic is precisely the difficulty of existing without reason. However, since reason declines with old age, most magicians are advanced in years.

Jung makes a number of other interesting observations about magic. We learn that “It is an error to believe that there are magical practices that one can learn. One cannot understand magic. One can only understand what accords with reason. Magic accords with unreason, which one cannot understand. The world accords not only with reason but with unreason” (314). Further, “Magical understanding is what one calls noncomprehension…One calls incomprehensible workings magical.”

“Where reason abides, no one needs magic. Hence our time no longer needs magic. Only those without reason needed it to replace their lack of reason.” But it is thoroughly unreasonable to bring together what suits reason with magic since they have nothing to do with one another.”

“But it is another thing for whoever has opened the chaos in himself…We recognized that the world comprises reason and unreason; and we also understood that our way needs only reason but also unreason.”

“But one can be certain that the greater part of the world eludes our understanding…a part of the incomprehensible, however, is only presently incomprehensible and might already concur with reason tomorrow.”

“The practice of magic consists in making what is not understood understandable in an incomprehensible manner.”

“If one opens up chaos, magic also arises.”

“One can teach the way that leads to chaos, , but one cannot teach magic. One can only remain silent about this, which seems to be the best apprenticeship.”

How can we understand this series of pronouncements that link magic, with “unreason,” “noncomprehension,” and inner chaos? We can begin by turning to Jung's Psychological Types, which as we know was written during the same period that Jung was composing TheRed Book. There (p. 454, par. 773) Jung says that he uses the term “irrational” “not as denoting something contrary to reason, but something beyond reason, something, therefore, not grounded on reason.” This, he informs us, includes “elementary facts,” for example, “That the earth has a moon, that chlorine is an element, that water reaches its greatest density at for degrees centigrade.” Chance, and the accidental features of objects and events also included under the heading of the irrational.

While we might question some of Jung’s examples, it is clear that for him, “unreason” is that which is at least currently beyond reason and comprehension. While certain things that today exist in the “forest” of incomprehension and unreason may some day enter the “clearing” of knowledge and reason, for Jung, there is also an essential irrational, an essential incomprehensible, an essential unknown. (An example of this might be the non-answer to Heidegger's famous question, "Why is there anything at all?"). It is the belief in the existence and significance of an essential unknown that is one of the features that distinguishes Jungian thought from much of contemporary psychology. Indeed, Jung’s respect for the essentially unknowable places him in close proximity to the mystics. For example, according to the Jewish mystics, the infinite God, Ein-sof (literally, “Without End”):

cannot be an object of thought, let alone of speech, even though there is an indication of it in everything, for there is nothing beyond it. Consequently, there is no letter, no name, no writing, and no word that can comprise it (I. Tishby. The Wisdom of the Zohar, p. 234.)

The locus classicus of the Kabbalah, the Zohar describes Ein-sof as:

the limit of inquiry. For Wisdom was completed from ayin (nothing), which is no subject of inquiry, since it is too deeply hidden and recondite to be comprehended. From the point at which its light begins to extend it is the subject of inquiry, although it is still more recondite than anything beneath, and it is called the interrogative pronoun, “Who?” Hence “Who (Mi) created these”, and also, “From the womb of Whom (Mi) came forth the ice”; as much as to say, that about which we can inquire but find no answer (Zohar 1:30a. The Zohar, Sperling and Simon Vol. 1, p. 114.

Jung equated the infinite God with the unconscious, as the two were for him, psychologically indistinguishable, and he regarded the unconscious as containing an element of the essential unknown. In his “Relations of The Ego to the Unconscious,” (1928) Jung later wrote, “There is little hope of our being able to reach even an approximate consciousness of the self, since however much we make conscious there will always exist an indeterminate and undeterminable amount of unconscious material which belongs to the totality of the self.”

In contrast to those of a positivist or naturalistic viewpoint who hold that the entire cosmos, including the human mind, is a rationally ordered system that will be progressively subject to the conquest of human theory and knowledge, Jung held that the deepest, most interesting layers of the soul, present themselves as insuperable mysteries that are essentially impenetrable to human reason, and further that it is only through a confrontation with such mysteries and the psychological chaos that results from this confrontation that one can fully encounter one’s soul and become individuated as a Self. This, for Jung, is the “magic” of Philemon, and indeed of a true depth psychology. In a letter to Hans Schmid, dated Nov 6, 1915 (See Red Book, p. 237 n. 337) Jung writes: “the core of the individual is a mystery of life, which dies when it is grasped…That is why, in the later stages of analysis, we must help the other to come to those hidden and un-openable symbols, in which the seed of life lies securely hidden like the tender seed in the hard shell.”

Six months after Jung's letter to Schmid, a young philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who would soon become the the darling of logical positivism, wrote in his notebooks, "The I, the I is what is deeply mysterious," (L. Wittgenstein, Notebooks, Trans. G.E. M. Anscombe, p. 80e) and less than three yaers later: "We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched." According to Wittgenstein, "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical." (Tractatus Logico Philosophicus 6.52, 6.522, Trans. Pears and McGuiness, Routledge & Kegan Paul).