Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Red Book and Difference

With his 1968 paper "Différance," Jacques Derrida introduced a notion that was to have a variety of ramifications in philosophy, literature and political thought. Derrida produced a "difference" in the spelling of his term by substituting an "a" for an "e" in such a manner that this difference cannot be heard in French but only be discernible graphically. He introduced "différance" in order to make oblique reference to the spaces between letters, phonemes and words that allow them to be distinguished from one another, and hence produce language and meaning. Derrida goes on to suggest that différance is “older than being itself,” and he indicates that while différance itself can never be presented it makes possible the very gesture or presentation of being present. A basic idea here is that without differentiation there could be no experience, meaning or being whatsoever. One ramification of Derrida’s ideas on difference is that the search for a unitary philosophy, absolute truth, singular vision of self and the world becomes a chimera, as any unity, singularity or absolute must rest upon the foundation of that which is different from itself. This leads to a respect for differences in art, culture, thought, and religion, and the abandonment of any Hegelian-like effort to integrate all ideas and things. A further implication of this view is that things and ideas are integrally related to, and indeed dependent upon their polar opposites, and that the effort to exalt one pole of a binary opposition (good, being, presence, reality) and debase its opposite (evil, nothingness, absence, illusion) is a fruitless endeavor. With this highly truncated account of the role of difference (difference) in late 20th century thought, we are, I believe, in a position to appreciate Jung’s own thoughts on difference in the Red Book and Psychological Types, which as we have seen were authored during the same period. Over 50 years prior to Derrida’s seminal essay, Jung appreciated the significance of difference for all things human and otherwise:

“Differentiation is creation. It is differentiated. Differentiation is its essence, and therefore it differentiates. Therefore man differentiates since his essence is differentiation” (347).

Jung recognized that an important implication of difference is that we are unwise to think we can ally ourselves with one pole of a binary opposition:

“When we strive for the good or the beautiful, we forget our essence, which is differentiation. And we fall subject to the spell of the qualities of the Pleroma” (349).

Jung further seemed to grasp that another implication of differentiation,” is a call to allow the world to develop in all of its differences. In the Red Book, a white bird sits on Jung’s shoulder and says, “Let it rain, let the windblow, let the waters flow and the fire burn. Let each thing have its development, let becoming have its day” (310).

In the Red Book, Jung holds the view that a primal unity is torn asunder in the human subject, as “we are the victims of the pairs of opposites. The Pleroma is rent within us” (348).

While Jung is adamant that man’s “very nature is differentiation,” (347), he does not abandon the notion of transcending difference. According to Jung:

“…he who accepts what approaches him because it is also in him, quarrels and wrangles no more, but looks into himself and keeps silent. He sees the tree of life, whose roots reach into Hell and whose top touches Heaven. He also no longer knows differences” (301).

We might say that the possibility of (psychologically, philosophically and mystically) transcending difference lies in the fact that it too is a pole of a binary opposition with unity or non-differentiation. For Jung, differentiation is a function of our conscious mental life, in the unconscious the opposites remain indistinct (Psychological Types, par. 179). For Jung, the process of individuation involves the differentiation of psychic functions (e.g. sensation and intellect), ego from non-ego, positive from negative, good from evil, and then their re-integration in the formation of a Self. For Jung, such differentiation is necessary for direction and purpose (par. 705), and to prevent an arbitrary identification with one pole of an opposition, “together with a violent suppression of its opposite” (Par. 174). Here Jung describes on the psychological level what Derrida and others were to declare on a philosophical level fifty years hence: the importance of reintegrating the so-called “inferior” poles of various oppositions (e.g. evil, the imaginary, absence, the irrational) into the discourse of the self (Jung) or the times (Derrida).
It is not only differentiation, but ultimately a reintegration of the opposites that is necessary to prevent the ego from falling prey to one or the other poles of an opposition. Indeed, it is a fundamental principle of Jungian psychology that the opposites must each be given their due and ultimately united, for “when the individual consistently takes his stand on one side, the unconscious ranges itself on the other side and rebels” (par. 175). Indeed, this is the idea behind Jung’s concepts of the shadow and compensation and his interest in the venerable doctrine of coincidentia oppositorum (which I have explored in an earlier post).

Interestingly, while Derrida eschews all philosophical and mystical efforts to think or experience unity, he too allows for the possibility of transcending difference. He writes: “The efficacy of the thematic of difference may very well, indeed must, one day be superseded, lending itself if not to its own replacement, at least to enmeshing itself in a chain that in truth it never will have governed” (Derrida, Différance, p. 7).

Jung frequently found himself on the cusp between unity and difference. While he took a keen interest in the myths, symbols, (and their differences) that he found in various cultures and traditions his notion of the archetypes of the collective unconscious he sought to ascertain a unity underlying these differences

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Existential Themes in the Red Book

The relationship between Jung and existential and humanistic thought has often been noted in passing, but seldom articulated in any detail. We have already seen (this blog: Jung on Death, December 1, 2009) the strong affinity between Jung’s Red Book views on “living towards death” and similar views put forth by Martin Heidegger in the 1920s. Here I will discuss Jung’s existential views on personal authenticity and freedom. Over a quarter of a century ago Walter A Shelburne (Journal of Religion and Health 22:1) noted the similarities between Jung’s conception of individuation and the ideal of “authenticity” as it appears in the writings of Jean Paul Sartre. Shelburne pointed out that in spite of significant differences both individuation and authenticity involve a call to the individual’s inner resources, creativity and freedom and the overcoming of self-deception in the service of achieving a meaningful existence.

In the Red Book, Jung is adamant that the individual should not follow a personal or spiritual model but should instead assumes personal responsibility for his or her own life:

“If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself? So live yourselves” (231).

“The image of the hero was set up…through the appetite for imitation. Therefore the hero was murdered, since we all have been aping him” (249).

While Jung’s views on personal responsibility will later be tempered by his concept of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, in the Red Book he suggests that the individual and not the collective archetypes is the source of life’s meaning: “The meaning of events comes from the possibility of life in this world that you create. It is a mastery of this world and the assertion of your soul in this world” (239).

“The time has come when each must do his own work of redemption. Mankind has grown older and a new month has begun” (356).

Interestingly, Jung suggests that the divine in instantiated in man precisely through a rejection of imitation and the assumption of individual freedom:

“The new God laughs at imitation and discipleship. He needs no imitators and no pupils. He forces men through himself. The God is his own follower in man. He imitates himself” (245).

The creation of personal meaning and the assumption of personal responsibility involves a descent into the shadow depths of one’s soul:

“you must become your own creator. If you want to create yourself , then you do not begin with the best and the highest, but with the worst and the deepest” (249-50).

“With fear and trembling, looking around yourselves with mistrust, go thus into the depths… (244).
The existential theme of authentically living all of one’s possibilities appears. Even death does not release one from this obligation

“You do not come to an end with your life, and the dead will besiege you terribly to live your unlived life” (308).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Red Book on Language

In the Red Book, we find Jung struggling with the question of whether words do or can have a definitive meaning, whether they point to specifiable ideas, kinds and things, or are rather always subject to an indefinite series of reinterpretations. This is a question that was paramount in the minds of many intellectuals during the period that Jung was writing the Red Book. It was, for example, during this same period that a young Ludwig Wittgenstein was writing in his Notebooks the ideas about language that were to eventuate in the “picture theory of meaning” in his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. In that work we find the idea (which Wittgenstein himself was later to repudiate) that the fundamental units ("Names") and statements ("Elementary Propositions") in language pictured unique states of affairs in the world (i.e. “atomic facts”), thereby saving language and thought from an indefinite series of interpretations of reality. Wittgenstein was later to trade in the picture theory of meaning for the notion of “meaning as use,” which opened up nearly infinite possibilities of linguistic use and interpretation. Jung, in the Red Book, seems to be torn between these two views, on the one hand he considers the idea that language and the world are indefinitely open to interpretation while on the other hand he is attracted to the notion that there are specifiable meanings (archetypes) that can be grasped and circumscribed by words. With regard to the first view, Jung’s “Anchorite” declares:

…”you must know one thing above all: a succession of words does not have only one meaning. But men strive to assign only a single meaning to the sequence of words, in order to have an unambiguous language….On the higher levels of insight into divine thoughts, you recognize that the sequence of words has more than one valid meaning. Only to the all-knowing is it given to know all the meanings of the sequence of words.” (268)

It would seem, at least on the view of the Anchorite, that language is completely fluid and subject to reinterpretation. Interestingly, Jung suggests (quite correctly) that this an essentially Jewish hermeneutical view. Jung responds to the Anchorite, “If I understand your correctly, you think that the holy writings of the New Testament also have a doubleness, an exoteric and an esoteric meaning, as a few Jewish scholars contend concerning their holy books.” For some reason, however, the Anchorite rejects this view, stating, “This bad superstition is far from me,” adding that the Jewish philosopher Philo Judaeus “was a clever head, but fantastically abstract, as the Jews are wont to be when they devise systems: moreover he was a slave of his own words…words should not become Gods” (270).

In another place, Jung attributes the reinterpretability theory to the Gnostics, commenting “that the sequence of words have many meanings…does not sound properly Christian.” Jung says it sounds Gnostic, adding that “they were really the worst of all the idolators of words…” Indeed, Jung bemoans the fact that in our scientific age, words have replaced the Gods. The sick god Izdubar asks Jung "Have you no Gods anymore?," to which Jung responds, "No, words are all we have...Science has taken from us the capacity for belief" (279).

Jung, proffers another seemingly more positive view of language, one that would seem to be diametrically opposed to the “fluid language” theory originally posed by the anchorite. According to Jung,

“The writing lies before you and always says the same, if you believe in words. But if you believe in things in whose places only words stand, you never come to an end. And yet you must go on an endless road, since life flows not only down a finite path but also an infinite one” (270).


“The word becomes your God, since it protects you from the countless possibilities of interpretation. The word is protective magic against the daimons of the unending, which tear at your soul and want to scatter you to the winds. You are saved if you can say at last that is that and only that. You speak the magic word, and the limitless is finally banished. Because of that men seek and make words” (270)

On this view, far from opening up an abyss of limitless interpretation, language actually fixes meaning—“protects you from the countless possibilities of interpretation.” It is the world itself, and not the words we use to describe it, which on Jung’s view here, is infinitely variable. Jung’s point is a valuable one and serves as a counterpoint to the one made by the “Anchorite.” When I say anything; for example, if I say, “I love you,” or “the brain is the organ of consciousness,” I am in fact closing off possibilities and constraining reality. Reality is far more complex than either of these phrases, or, for that matter, any phrase I can use to describe it, and there is indeed a strong sense that with language “the limitless is finally banished.” However, it is not banished for long, for a soon as one asks, “What does one mean by…love, consciousness, etc?” our words become subject to reinterpretation and the “finite path” again becomes “infinite.” It is perhaps for this reason that Jung reflects:

“In words, the emptiness and the fullness flow together. Hence the word is an image of God. The word is the greatest and the smallest that man created, just as what is created through man is the greatest and the smallest…So if I fall prey to the web of words, I fall prey to the greatest and the smallest” (298).

The debate regarding “fixity of meaning” vs. “openness to interpretation” is not really a debate about the nature of language, but is rather a comment upon two aspects of language and its relationship to the world.

Jung is wary of the aspect of language that leaves itself open to indefinite interpretation. Indeed, while in other places in the Red Book he is open to and even welcomes chaos, he appears to be of the view that one needs a language, needs some narrative or myth that grasps at least a potion of life and to prevent one from falling into an infinite abyss.

“But no one should shatter the old words, unless he finds the new word that is a firm rampart against the limitless and grasps more life in it than the old word” (270).

There is in the Red Book, and in Jung’s later writings as well, a tension between existential and mythological views of life and the world. In the former one discovers the depths of one’s soul through a courageous encounter with chaos, madness and the infinite possibilities of sense and nonsense. In the latter, one develops one’s soul through the assimilation of a personal/collective myth, which occurs via an encounter with the enduring meanings of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. This tension between the existential and the mythological is reflected, if somewhat dimly, in the double view of language in the Red Book.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Red Book and the Idea of the "Shadow"

For Jung the “shadow” archetype embodies those aspects of the self that the ego rejects as evil, damaging or reprehensible. According to Jung, the ego acts as if the “persona,” the “acceptable” aspects of one’s personality that one presents to the world, as coextensive with the self, with the result that one’s shadow aspects emerge without warning and wreak havoc upon self and others. Jung arrived at the view that the process of individuation involved the acceptance and incorporation of one’s shadow into one’s personality and the forging of a self that is far wider and deeper than one’s ego or persona.

While in the Red Book Jung does not make explicit reference to the shadow archetype, his struggle with his own shadow as well as the ideas behind the shadow archetype are evident throughout this work:

“I have to recognize that I must submit to what I fear; yes, even more, that I must even love what horrifies me” (233).

“You are entirely unable to live without evil” (287).

Jung’s thinking here is partly covered by the rabbinic dictum that “were it not for the yetzer hara (the “evil impulse”) people would not build houses, take wives, have children, or engage in business.” The idea here is that while one may reject and at times be horrified by one’s baser or animal instincts and desires (and indeed if such desires go completely unchecked they can be destructive and evil) without them one would not have the drive for life at all.
Jung sees other values in the darker aspects of human personality as well. He advises, “He who comprehends the darkness in himself. To him the light is near” (272). Much, of course, can and has been said regarding the insight afforded by an encounter with one’s shadow. Awareness of one’s own aggressive and thanatic impulses provides one not only with a wider awareness of one’s own possibilities, but provides an important basis for empathy with others. Goethe, who Jung revered and apparently believed to be his ancestor, once said that he had never heard of a crime that he could not imagine himself committing. In my work as a forensic psychologist I have held “Goethe’s principle” as essential for coming to terms with the behavior of those I am asked to examine and work with. (In this light it is interesting to note that Goethe’s Faust, despairing of his capacity to achieve perfect knowledge through book-learning and science, makes a pact with Mephistopheles who promises to show him things he has never seen; it seems that one can learn things from one’s [inner] devil).

In the Red Book, Jung suggests that a confrontation with one’s dark side is necessary for psychological transformation: “You will need evil to dissolve your formation, and to free yourself from the power of what has been, to the same extent which this image fetters your strength” (287). The idea here is that an incursion from one’s shadow self can break apart the limiting structures of one’s persona or ego ideal and open one to creativity and change. Indeed, in spite of and even because they are rejected by the ego, there are many positive aspects of the shadow self.

Only by accepting the evil within us can we prevent it from harming and controlling us. Jung writes:

“Thus we probably have to accept our evil without love or hate, recognizing that it exists and must have its share in life. In doing so we deprive it of the power it has to overwhelm us” (288).

One should not work to suppress or eliminate the shadow aspects of one’s self. This is because, “the more the one half of [one’s] being strives toward the good, the more the other half journeys to Hell” (314). Jung adds, “Because we know that too far into the good means the same as too far into evil, we keep them both together” (315). Jung is here developing is notion that the psyche tends to compensate unconsciously for a one-sided diet of ideas, feelings and actions.

Jung’s comments on the “shadow,” also apply to the “personality” of God which, as we have seen, Jung came to believe to be an archetype that is equivalent to the self:

“the God I experienced is more than love; he is also hate, he is more than beauty, he is also the abomination, he is more than wisdom, he is also meaninglessness, he is more than power, he is also powerlessness…” (339).

Indeed, God’s completeness and the fact that the divine is the template for the human personality necessitate the existence of the divine shadow:

“If the God is absolute beauty and goodness, how should he encompass the fullness of life, which is beautiful and hateful. Good and evil, laughable and serious, human and inhuman? How can man live in the womb of the God if the Godhead himself attends only to one half of him” (243).

According to Jung, God himself “suffers when man does not accept his darkness” (287). It is for this reason that “men have a suffering God” (287). Presumably God’s suffering would end once mankind accepted the evil within itself! This seems to me to be the meaning of Jung’s statements in the Red Book, “I also want evil for the sake of my God” (289), and “Because I wanted to give birth to my God, I also wanted evil” (289). As we have seen, in the Red Book, Jung sees a close correspondence between God and self, and, as such, the God who suffers because of the individual’s failure to accept his own darkness, is the inner God of the self. One might translate this in psychological terms as follows: the failure of the ego to integrate the shadow results in a deeper suffering on the level of the self. While in Psychological Types Jung seems to suggest an equivalence of the individual’s shadow and the unconscious (Par. 268), Jung’s more considered view appears to be that it is possible, even imperative for an individual to attain consciousness of his shadow self.