February 02, 2012

Some Notes on Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections

The “Travels” chapter in Memories, Dreams, Reflections has always frustrated me—particularly the part of me that wants to believe that Jung holds all the answers, or that at least his investigations open up possibilities for new answers, new ways in which to explore answers. But here the part of Jung that is very much a product of its time comes to the fore—the part that could not always rise above existing discourses casting Africa as a dark continent; non-Europeans as uncivilized, preadult, primitive; and non-Western or “Oriental” cultures as less advanced or static. Undoubtedly, Jung approached his travels as he approached all the other experiences in his life: from the depths of his being, yielding intuitions and insights about Western and world psychologies and religions but, while reading this part of MDR, I did not find it easy to separate the former from Jung’s prejudices stemming out of his historical emplacement.

I continue to be amazed by Jung’s willingness to be guided by dreams, and to give place in his life to, and honor, the so-called inexact, the approximate, the irrational, the metaphoric. The words he uses to describe the stone at Bollingen (inscribed with alchemical quotations, symbols, and - yes - received communiqué!) are strangely moving to me: “The stone stands outside the Tower, and is like an explanation of it” (228). The stone is not an explanation but is like an explanation. Nothing can, after all, explain the affect of the Tower upon Jung, what it evoked in him. Explanation is one mode of knowing, inadequate to what Jung wants to transmit to the visitor, the non-“occupant”: an approximation, a sensing, a meeting: a different epistemic quality. In it own way, then, the stone is as mysterious and as unforthcoming as the Tower itself, but then, equally transparent when one is open to the encounter, the receiving.

I am also intrigued by the Jung’s notion of archetypal transformation, which he sees within the context of alchemy. Of Goethe and his Faust, Jung writes, “…what was alive and active within him was a living substance, a suprapersonal process, the great dream of the mundus archetypus (archetypal world)” (206). It is amazing to think of transformation as a living substance! Then it has its own vital and complex imperatives, desires, and drives. Here seems to lie the nub for Jung’s concept of individuation, psyche’s process of self-healing. The psyche wants to heal, to become whole. Jung’s understanding of the unconscious as a process (209) seems to be an analog to this.

Finally, I found myself questioning what seemed to be a rather grandiose, anthropocentric assertion: “Buddha saw and grasped the cosmogonic dignity of human consciousness; for that reason he saw clearly that if a man succeeded in extinguishing this light, the world would sink into nothingness” (279). How is Jung using the words "dignity", "consciousness", "world" and "nothingness" here? Is he referring to an imagined--a psychological--"extinguishing" of the world, via an extinguished human consciousness? How can man [sic] succeed in the effecting the latter to begin with? We talk about the contents of the unconscious moving into consciousness through integrative processes, so this is the other way around? Further, it seems here as if Jung is creating a split between human consciousness and world consciousness—and a hierarchy—neither of which I believe exist, and, from what I've read (cf. anima mundi), there were times Jung did not either. Human consciousness is, at most but also at least, a co-creator of the universe, in the sense that our participation in the universe shapes it, as much as the universe shapes us. This is clearly something I need to think, dance, dream more about.