Friday, December 18, 2009

Jung on Madness

Jung’s views on madness are in many ways commensurate with his Red Book perspective on chaos, science and reason. Early in Liber Primus he tells his readers: “It is unquestionable: if you enter into the world of the soul, you are like a madman, and a doctor would consider you to be sick.” (238)

Jung links himself to a tradition which regards certain forms of madness as a divine visitation:

“But know that there is a divine madness which is nothing other than the overpowering of the spirit of this time through the spirit of the depths” (238). Jung’s idea here is that it is only by challenging what the mentality of a certain era regards as reasonable, comprehensible and true that one gains access to one’s soul and an intuition of God. If we are to reach the divine the reality of the “ruling discourse” must be overpowered by a reality that initially appears to be fantastic, mad and non-sensical. As we have seen, in the Red Book, Jung equates this divine reality with chaos, the irrational, life, and the imagination. Jung himself finds these ideas difficult, at one point in the Red Book he states, “I don’t want to be divine but reasonable. The divine appears to me to be irrational craziness” (291).

Part of the difficulty with divine madness is that it contrasts markedly with the profound tranquility that is typically associated with an experience of God. Indeed Jung himself states:

“Every man has a quiet place in his soul, where everything is self-evident and easily explainable, a place where he likes to retire from the confusing possibilities of life, because there everything is simple and clear, with a manifest and limited purpose” (295).

One might suppose that it is this “quiet place” that is the goal of spiritual practice, the “truth” or “divine soul” that one encounters, for example, through meditation. Yet as we have seen for Jung such quietude is the opposite of the “chaos” that he sees as the vehicle to creative fantasy and the soul’s depths. Jung tells us that if the walls of a man’s quiet place are broken “the overwhelming stream of chaos will flood in (296), and… “If one opens up chaos, magic also arises” (314). For Jung, the divine madness that proceeds out of chaos is “a higher form of irrationality of the life streaming through us –at any rate a madness that cannot be integrated into present-day society…” (295). Jung’s views on madness are premonitory of the postmodern rejection of “reality” as it is defined by the discourse and practice.

One might say that in his conception of madness Jung has taken Freud’s “fundamental rule” of free-association and brought it beyond the analytic session into life itself In the Red Book, Jung’s soul tells him, “You wanted to accept everything. So accept madness too. Let the light of your madness shine and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead you should give it life” (298)

For Jung:

“Madness is a special form of the spirit and clings to all teachings and philosophies, but even more to daily life, since life itself is full of craziness and at bottom utterly illogical.” Man strives toward reason only so that he can make rules for himself. Life itself has no rules. That is its mystery and its unknown law. What you call knowledge is an attempt to impose something comprehensible on life.”

Yet Jung does not rest with a “madness” that remains unorganized and chaotic. At the close of the Red Book Jung writes that he was indeed struggling with madness during the period of its composition: “To the superficial observer, it will appear like madness. It would also have developed into one, had I not been able to absorb the overpowering force of the original experience. With the help of alchemy, I could finally arrange them into a whole” (360).

Thus for Jung, at least after his encounter with alchemy, madness and chaos become one pole of a process that is complemented by wholeness and comprehension. In alchemical terms solve is complemented by coagulum. In Kabbalistic terms, the Shevirah, the “breaking of the vessels” in which the order of self and God is broken apart and the original chaos of creation makes a (re)appearance, is followed by Tikkun, the restorative process, in which self and world are reorganized into a (divine) whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.