WALTER BENJAMIN AND THE ART OF ANALYTICAL PSYCHOLOGY IN THE AGE OF ITS TECHNOLOGICAL REPRODUCTION
Craig E Stephenson
I’m inclined by temperament or personal equation to describe the practice of analytical psychology as more art than science. So I’ve turned to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay on what happens to “the work of art” in an age of technology, to see if Benjamin’s vocabulary might be useful. Can Benjamin’s argument help to formulate better questions about what is happening to the art of analytical psychology in this technological age?
In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Benjamin, 1955/1969, 217-252), Benjamin writes about the historical moment when works of art could be reproduced on a mass basis. The essay is divided into four sections: (1) Benjamin outlines how the beginning of 19th century, lithography and photography and the coming of film changed the impact of art on the public. (2) Benjamin tracks how the presence in time and space of the reproduced art object is linked to its “authenticity”, and how reproduction depreciates the quality of its presence, destroying the object’s authenticity and “authority”. But the destruction of this authority has also a positive social significance. (3) Benjamin argues that the change of perception associated with the mechanical reproduction of art corresponds to the decay of the art-object’s “aura”. The recipient no longer has to travel to the consecrated space of the museum, church, or concert hall, in order to pay homage to the framed image (for instance, of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre) as sanctified cultural tradition. Technological reproduction counters the distance inherent in the artistic frame: things feel “closer” and more “immediate” in time and space. As a result, the collective “sense of the universal equality of things” increases. (4) Reproduction emancipates art from its dependence on its cult function, and from definitions of “authenticity” and “uniqueness” really derived from its basis in a tradition of ritual.
Benjamin hypothesizes how a technologically induced change in perception reflects a change in collective consciousness. Specifically, Benjamin interprets how technological reproduction reshapes aesthetic experience. He argues that the value of Western art was embedded less in the art and more in the artwork’s position in a ritual and religious tradition. In his time, modern technological reproduction stripped these works of art of their projected aesthetic authority, their “aura”. A work of art has an aura when its status comes not from its inherent quality, value, or worth but from its distance from the viewer. Benjamin describes this as a strange tissue of psychological inapproachability, an air of authority generated not so much by a work but by its position within a tradition. (Marcel Duchamp drew attention to the same thing when he curated the urinal as object, placing it in a museum and calling it “fountain”; in this way he demonstrated how the aesthetic frame altered the viewer’s evaluation of the object).
Benjamin is interested in the moment when a new technology liberates art from its tradition, when it radicalizes art. He does not say, however, very much about how that anarchic element is later recuperated. The human imagination is inclined to narrate how one technology supersedes another as a destructive story: photography rendering or wishing to render painting obsolete; film rendering theatre obsolete; e-books rendering the printed book obsolete. Benjamin emphasizes in the last sentence of his essay that a technological change holds a political potentiality, a precarious opening for a change in individual and collective perception.
Benjamin describes technological reproduction stripping the “aura” from art objects, in a way that sounds compatible to the way analytical psychologists work reflectively with clients to withdraw projections from distant objects. And he regards “ritual” as reactionary practice. What Benjamin describes could be mapped as a transition from hieratic to demotic language, from a society in which a ruling elite (including aristocracies and priests) intervenes between gods and humans, to a society of reasoned reflecting individuals.
I remember in 1984 when I first contacted an analyst in Toronto, I was living and working in a relatively rural part of Canada, and the analyst advised that I would have to move to Toronto in order to work analytically. I took a one-year leave of absence from my job in order to do analysis. And later when I became interested in training, there was no training program in Canada at the time. I had to choose between relocating to Zurich or traveling once a month on weekends to the United States. I completely uprooted to Europe in order to complete a full-time immersion training in Zurich from 1993 to 1998.
On the one hand, just as they can hang a print copy of the Mona Lisa on their wall, analysands can now look at and even speak to analysts on screens in their offices or on their living room walls. Technology potentially democratizes analysis, and this is a radicalizing potentiality. Can we say, using Benjamin’s vocabulary, Skype strips the aura off analysis, rendering it more accessible, more flexible, less hierarchical, more egalitarian? So, does this destructive aspect of telecommunication produce an opening, both therapeutically and politically?
On the other hand, does Jungian theorizing value something that Benjamin’s materialism rejects: the ritual aspects of practice? When the religious function manifests in an analysis as a component of the experience of psychological healing, it can be experienced as an interconnectedness tinged with numinosity. Orthodox Freudian work would reduce the religiosity of such a moment to a defence mechanism and analyse it in order to reconcile the ego to the reality principle. Jungian work would theorize this differently: if the numinous is not acknowledged and interpreted with a religious vocabulary, then there is a risk that the numinous will psychically inflate the analysand as a mana phenomenon, or be projected onto the analyst. If the power in the “aura” is a manifestation of projection and if “withdrawing projections” within the therapeutic frame of the transference-countertransference relationship is our modus operandi, then what happens when technology strips analysis of its aura? Is something being left out of the analysis that ought not to be left out? Does the technology mislead the participants into the illusion that there is less distance and therefore fewer transferential projections, and fewer pulls toward reactionary dynamics?
The history of art shows how, if the older superseded technology survives long enough, it differentiates itself from the superseding technology and establishes its own vocabulary and function. For instance, audiences now go to the theatre with the understanding that they are seeking a kind of immediacy and complicity inherent in the presence of live actors, qualities that no film can produce. But theatre has had to struggle to survive long enough for audiences to re-value their experience of theatre and become conscious of what they miss when they go to the cinema and watch a projection on a screen rather than bodies moving in time and space. This is a process that feels precarious, possibly progressive but nevertheless fragile. That older technologies survive this process feels almost providential.
The problem: will theatre survive the disappearance of middle class audiences? Can independent bookstores survive long enough that readers will come to know when they want to flip through a hard copy of the book as opposed to scrolling down a screen image? Does Jungian analysis possess enough longevity to remain a vibrant therapeutic practice until clients know how to differentiate between when they need embodied analytic meetings in time and space versus telecommunicated encounters (we already expect them to manoeuvre in an informed way in the differences between psychiatric, psychoanalytic, psychotherapeutic and psychological interventions)?
Benjamin’s argument optimistically portrays technology as rendering citizens free from oppressive traditional viewpoints. But perhaps the greatest problem telecommunication presents to citizens, including analysands and analysts, is that it produces an illusion of confidentiality and privacy when we now know (thanks to Edward Snowden) that it has already been recuperated to survey our lives in the name of security, a totalitarian threat to personal freedom that contradicts its democratizing function. The art world has already addressed this (Graham, 2016; Poitras, 2014, 2016), but to date I’ve read no psychoanalytical articles that address how Snowden’s revelation of the NSA surveillance of electronic communications has altered analysands’ fantasies about what can be said or not said within a telecommunicated therapeutic frame.
Benjamin, Walter (1955/1969) “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. Originally published in Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, V, I, 1936. Illuminations (Harry Zohn, Trans., Hannah Arendt, Ed.) New York: Schocken Books, 217-252.
James Graham (2016) Privacy. New York: Public Theater, July 2-August 14 2016.
Laura Poitras (2014) Citizen Four, DVD WC62863. Radius/Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Laura Poitras (2016) Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living Under Total Surveillance. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, New Haven: Yale University Press.
JOHN CAGE: SOUND, SILENCE, SYNCHRONICITY
Craig E Stephenson
To Austin Clarkson, musicologist, Jungian thinker, explorer of creativity in depth, with thanks for the loan of the tuning fork.
The English poet, W. H. Auden, having taken up American citizenship in 1946, lived a good portion of the second half of his life in New York. In addition to writing poetry, Auden wrote hundreds of essays, reviews, introductions, and lectures. He also composed opera libretti. In an essay entitled “Some Reflections on Music and Opera”, published in the Partisan Review in January-February 1952, Auden asks:
What is music about? What, as Plato would say, does it ‘imitate’? Choice. A succession of two musical notes is an act of choice, the first causes the second not in the scientific sense of making it occur necessarily, but in the historical sense of provoking it, of providing it with a motive for occurring. A successful melody is a self-determined history; it is freely what it intends to be, yet is a meaningful whole, not an arbitrary succession of notes.
At the same time that Auden was writing these reflections, and not far from Auden’s flat in Greenwich Village, John Cage was composing Music of Changes. On January 1, 1952 at Judith Malina and Julian Beck’s Cherry Lane Theater, pianist David Tudor performed this new work for the first time.
If we group Auden and Cage together not only in time and space (New York City, 1952, although I can find no evidence that they ever met) but also in aesthetics (both working their post-war ways out of Romanticism and Modernism), and if we take up Auden’s hypothesis that music imitates choice, then we’ll see just how provocative it was for Cage to hand the choices to chance. Cage might rewrite Auden’s last sentence to read: ‘My composition, Music of Changes, is a chance-determined history; it is freely what it intends to be (rather than merely what I as composer intend it to be), yet it is a meaningful whole, not an arbitrary succession of notes.’
Whether or not a particular succession of notes becomes ‘successful’ depends very much on its listeners. Cage worked very hard to highlight the role of listeners. As much as he composed, he educated and provoked, preaching a radicalized receptivity to sound.
Historically, Jung’s psychology plays a small part in Cage’s oeuvre because Jung’s books and forewords to two books on Eastern religions influenced Cage’s artistic process. And so perhaps we can employ a Jungian perspective as one way to understand and evaluate Cage’s aesthetic stance, as one way to approach listening to what Auden would call the ‘meaningful whole’ of Cage’s work as he explores sound, silence and synchronicity.
PART 1: MUSIC OF CHANGES (1951)
John Cage was born in 1912 in Los Angeles. His father John Milton Cage, Senior was a scientific inventor. His mother Lucretia had worked as church pianist and journalist. Cage studied piano from the age of eight. One biographer describes Cage the child as smart, sensitive, and precociously inventive. As an adolescent, he excelled at oratory, at graduation he was class valedictorian, and although pious he was less interested in his preacher grandfather’s Methodist tradition and more fascinated by the neighborhood Catholic Church’s theatricality. After high school, Cage took a two-year stint in Europe to study music and architecture. He returned to the United States at the time of the Great Depression. He studied with the musical pioneer and pedagogue Henry Cowell and, on his recommendation, went to New York in 1934, where he survived on as little as twenty dollars a month, sleeping on a cot, and washing the walls of the Brooklyn YWCA so that he could study with the modernist composer Adolph Weiss.
From 1935-37, Cage returned to Los Angeles to study with Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian composer, famous for atonal music and his twelve-tone technique (and who had escaped the Nazis in 1933). Cage described his relationship with Schoenberg as creatively oppositional. Schoenberg goaded his students, saying “My purpose in teaching you is to make it impossible for you to write music”, and Cage responded creatively to this provocation: “When he said that, I revolted, not against him, but against what he said. I determined then and there, more than ever before, to write music”. And Cage also defined himself against Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system. With a fierce thinking logic, Schoenberg was arguing that in order to avoid privileging any one musical tone as dominant, all twelve tones in a row must be used before any could be repeated. Artists such as Kandinsky regarded the resulting dissonances as liberating music from neoclassicism, as releasing a spirituality inherent in art that had been trapped by conventional artistic schemas, thereby inspiring political and spiritual transformation in Western collective consciousness. But, as critic Kay Larson points out, as much as Schoenberg’s work was historically audacious and liberating, his twelve-tone row is itself a closed system. So Cage experienced Schoenberg both as a formidable instructor and an important opponent against whom he had to define his own values: “When Schoenberg asked me whether I would devote my life to music, I said, ‘Of course’. After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, ‘In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.’ I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, ‘In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.’’’
Cage composed and performed percussion music, while employed at the Cornish School in Seattle and Mills College in San Francisco. Most of his compositions during the 1940s, commissioned for dance performances, were lyrical and minimalist and written for the prepared piano. Cage inserted screws, bolts, and other materials between the strings, transforming the piano into a percussion ensemble instrument under the control of a single player. Already he was defining music as the organizing of sound.
In the early 1940s, Cage moved to New York City at the invitation of art collector Peggy Guggenheim and her husband, the Surrealist painter Max Ernst (another recent immigrant escaped from arrest by the Gestapo in France). Cage stayed with them for a few weeks and then ended up for two months at the Greenwich Village apartment of dancer Jean Erdman and her husband Joseph Campbell. Cage composed for Erdman’s dance performances, partly in exchange for his accommodation; for example, he describes Ophelia, 1946 as “a piece of dramatic character having a phraseology corresponding to that of the dance of Jean Erdman for which it was composed”. Campbell was publishing a book on Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake in 1944 (a book that Cage returned to with his Roaratorio in 1979) and would soon publish The Hero with a Thousand Faces (in 1949). Cage worked on an opera (on the myth of Andromeda) with a libretto by Campbell, but the project was never completed. Erdman and Merce Cunningham, both dancers in Martha Graham’s company, were working to free themselves from the narrative structures of her dance works. Graham was in Jungian analysis with Francis Wickes for many years and had grounded her art in Greek and American mythologies and framed her choreographic technique in a tension of opposites (physically, in the opposing movements of pelvic contracting and releasing). With Cunningham, Cage worked against psychoanalytic knowing and the privileging of meaning in the arts as much as against structural harmony.
In 1951, at age 38, rather than continuing to bang his head reactively in opposition to Schoenberg, Cage found a different approach. He was teaching Christian Wolff, a young musician and composer, who had come to America in 1941 at the age of 7. Christian’s parents had fled Nazi Germany; he had been born and raised in Nice, and the family escaped internment as enemy aliens during the Vichy regime. Cage, recalling his days as a penniless student and Schoenberg teaching him for free, took on Christian without pay. Christian’s parents, Kurt Wolff and Helen Mosel Wolff had been important publishers in Germany, and once settled in New York in 1942 they set up the publishing house, Pantheon Books, and eventually were invited to work on the Bollingen series. In 1951, having finished high school and preparing to leave on a reward trip to Europe, Christian, wishing to repay Cage, gave his teacher a copy of the newly published Bollingen edition of The I Ching or The Book of Changes, the Richard Wilhelm translation into German, the German rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes, with the foreword by Jung. Following Jung’s example, Cage began consulting the oracle for problems in his everyday life. But he also found the chart of the hexagrams in the appendices corresponded to his charts for composing, and so he methodically employed the oracle to generate numbers with which to determine pitch, duration, dynamics, and other aspects of composition, in order to create a music totally independent of his own tastes and preferences.
Cage began a new work, completed in four parts (May 16, August 2, October 18, December 13, 1951). He used the I Ching to determine the disposition of musical materials, to remove himself from the results and severe any connection between his personal tastes and his music. To select a sound, a duration, he would toss the coins, locate the number of its hexagram in the I Ching, then find the corresponding position on his charts. Every moment in his Music of Changes combined a chance-selected sound, including silences, time length, and loudness: “It is thus possible to make a musical composition the continuity of which is free from individual taste and memory (psychology) and also of the literature and ‘traditions’ of art”. Cage was looking for a way to exclude artistic intention and ego from his composing. He invited chance rather than taste and individual invention to make the choices, leading towards an acceptance of sounds in their individuality, without the intrusion of a constraining will. In other words, as Cage stated, the charts gave him a first indication of the possibility of saying nothing.
But these investigations were not nihilistic. For one thing, the scores are exquisitely designed, replete with invented notational images inked by hand. Neither were the performances improvisational. As pianist Herbert Henck explains, the demands on the pianist were extreme: “The category of chance only plays a part at the moment of composition, but not at the moment of interpretation during the performance. The performer has to adhere strictly to a text of almost unprecedented exactness of notation”. Fortunately for Cage, the exceptionally talented pianist David Tudor accompanied him through the process of composing of Music of Changes, learning to play it as Cage composed it.
PART TWO: 4’33” (1952)
Cage identified Aldous Huxley’s 1945 book The Perennial Philosophy, with its fifteenth chapter entitled ‘Silence’, as the source that first led him to Zen Buddhism. He also mentioned an earlier influence, a 1936 lecture by Nancy Wilson Ross on “Dada and Zen Buddhism” during his time in Seattle. In 1948, Cage read Jung’s The Integration of the Personality (edited and translated by Stanley Dell) and found Jung’s equivocal language useful for expressing an idea in a way that was valid both psychologically and spiritually. From Jung, Cage formulated the notion that music could bring together the conscious and the unconscious and promote psychological wholeness: “I began to read Jung on the integration of the personality. There are two principal parts of each personality: the conscious mind and the unconscious, and these are split and dispersed, in most of us, in countless ways and directions. The function of music, like that of any other healthy occupation, is to help to bring those separate parts back together again. Music does this by providing a moment when, awareness of time and space being lost, the multiplicity of elements which make up an individual become integrated and he is one. This only happens if, in the presence of music, one does not allow oneself to fall into laziness or distraction… Neuroses act to stop and block. To be able to compose signifies the overcoming of these obstacles”.
A year later, in 1949, in the newly reprinted edition of Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Cage would have read Jung’s foreword (it was originally published as a foreword to the 1939 German edition but appeared in 1949 in English for the first time), although I’ve found no biography or essay that specifically mentions him reading this. Then, in 1951 Cage read Jung’s foreword to the I Ching.
Around this time, Cage spoke of his intent “to compose a piece of uninterrupted silence and sell it to [the] Muzak Co. It will be 3 or 4 1/2 minutes long, those being the standard length of ‘canned’ music – and its title will be Silent Prayer. It will open with a single idea which I will attempt to make as seductive as the color and shape and fragrance of a flower. The ending will approach imperceptibility”.
Cage was attending the classes of D. T. Suzuki at Colombia University. Suzuki had arrived in New York in 1950, settling there for six years, and lectured at Columbia, probably in March 1951. He was not a Zen master but a philosophical scholar of Zen who lectured internationally and published over thirty volumes. Suzuki was a cultural bridge-builder, comparing the sayings of Zen masters to the sermons of Meister Eckhart (his Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist would be published in 1957) and the American transcendentalists. And in his Essays in Buddhism: Third Series, Suzuki translates a dialogue and uses the word Unconscious (capitalized) as a way to describe Zen-mind: “The Unconscious is not describable as either existent or non-existent”. Likewise, describing the Flower Garland Sutra, Suzuki writes: “The sutras… are direct expressions of spiritual experiences; they contain intuitions gained by digging deeply into the abyss of the Unconscious, and they make no pretension of presenting these intuitions through the mediumship of the intellect”.
Cage would have found Jung highlighting precisely this bridging aspect of Suzuki’s work, even if Jung’s foreword came from the other direction (Jung’s interest in Zen being most clearly expressed in his exchange of letters with Suzuki in 1933). Cage could read Jung drawing analogies between Meister Eckhart, Suzuki, and his own psychology:
Satori corresponds in the Christian sphere to an experience of religious transformation… the mystic experience, which differs from other types (of religious experience) in that its preliminary stages consist in ‘letting oneself go’, in ‘emptying oneself of images and ideas’, as opposed to those religious experiences which, like the exercises of Ignatius Loyola, are based on the practice of envisaging sacred images. In this latter class I would include transformation through faith and prayer and through collective experience in Protestantism, since a very definite expectation plays the decisive role here, and not by any means ‘emptiness’ or ‘freeness’. The characteristically Eckhartian assertion that ‘God is Nothingness’ may well be incompatible in principle with the contemplation of the Passion, with faith and collective expectations. Thus the correspondence between satori and Western experience is limited to those few Christian mystics whose paradoxical statements skirt the edge of heterodoxy or actually overstep it. As we know it was this that drew down on Meister Eckhart’s writings the condemnation of the Church. If Buddhism were a “Church” in our sense of the word, she would undoubtedly find Zen an insufferable nuisance. The reason for this is the extreme individualism of its methods, and also the iconoclastic attitude of many of the Masters.
Cage did not take up Zen as a practice but stated that he came to approach his composing with Zen in mind. Already in the 1940s, he was describing composition in Jungian terms as an activity of integrating opposites, the rational and the irrational. Cage told Suzuki that he would not practise zazen (i.e., sitting meditation), deciding “not to give up the writing of music and discipline my ego by sitting cross-legged but to find a means of writing music as strict with respect to my ego as sitting cross-legged”. Composing indeterminantly, sidestepping his composer ego’s intentions by using the I Ching, exercising the discipline of throwing the three coins hundreds of time each day and submitting his musical creativity to the oracle, were his deliberate first steps in this direction.
The next step is famous. On August 29 1952, eight months after the premiere of Music of Changes, the first performance of John Cage’s 4’33” took place at the Maverick Concert Hall, an open-air theatre near Woodstock, New York. David Tudor sat down at the piano on the slightly elevated stage, opened the score before him, turned the pages, and kept time strictly with a stopwatch, closing the keyboard lid over the keys three times as he began each of the three movements of a composition in sonata form and raising the lid again at the end of the movements, timed at 30 seconds, two minutes 23 seconds, and one minute 40 seconds respectively (as determined by the I Ching).
4’33” was the second last piece in a benefit concert program of avant-garde music by the New York School of composers, Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, and Cage, as well as the French composer Pierre Boulez and Cage’s first music teacher, Henry Cowell, all performed by David Tudor. For example, Henry Cowell’s The Banchee, the final work of the evening, consisted entirely of noises derived from scraping the piano strings. But historically, it was the performance of 4’33” that polarized the audience’s responses. It became a turning point in Cage’s life as well as in the history of twentieth-century music. As early as 1948, Cage had spoken of his intention to compose his “Silent Prayer”. What, then, were the elements that pushed that intuitive statement of intent towards its realization four years later?
One element was Erik Satie, the French musician associated with the Dada movement, who became extremely important to Cage. Dada was the anti-art art movement that originated in Zurich in 1916. Rejecting bourgeois European culture that had plunged the world into war, the Dada artists dove into a nihilistic world of nonsensical art and plunged their audiences into chaos, randomness and contradiction (Jung said Dada was too idiotic to be called schizophrenic). In Satie’s own time, Debussy and Ravel proclaimed him a Dadaesque precursor of modern music, and Cocteau praised him for finding in each new composition, a renunciation. (Satie also composed for prepared piano before Cage, pieces of paper slid between strings to produce a straw-like wispy sonority.) In July 1948, seeking to champion Satie’s music when it was still dismissed as lightweight and idiosyncratic, Cage organized a Satie festival at Black Mountain College. In his lectures, Cage argued that, whereas Beethoven defined the parts of a composition by harmony, Satie defined them by time length:
If you consider that sound is characterized by its pitch, its loudness, its timbre, and its duration, and that silence, which is the opposite and, therefore, the necessary partner of sound, is characterized only by its duration, you will be drawn to the conclusion that of the four characteristics of the material of music, duration, that is, time length, is the most fundamental. Silence cannot be heard in terms of pitch or harmony: it is heard in terms of time length. It took a Satie… to rediscover this musical truth, which, by means of musicology, we learn was evident to some musicians in our Middle Ages, and to all musicians at all times… in the Orient. There can be no right making of music that does not structure itself from the very roots of sound and silence – lengths of time.
The point being, that no composer can structure harmonically for silence, but Cage could see that Satie structured his music for silence by composing instead from time lengths. Sparking much controversy, Cage’s lectures were followed with a playful staging of Satie’s one-act Dada comedy The Ruse of Medusa (a copy of which Cage had stumbled upon in the New York Public Library), cast with Buckminster Fuller as Medusa and Merce Cunningham as a monkey.
At this time, Cage’s music itself was moving towards the theatrical, in that he was becoming interested as much in the relationship between performers and audiences as in composing. Anthropologist Victor Turner describes how attending a theatre performance or concert, like church-going, is for the most part a liminal experience: one emerges from the demarcated space and ritual time back into the profane with the collective cultural imaginaire re-affirmed. But Turner also identifies liminoid possibilities in theatrical performance, insofar as cultural standards may be religiously repeated and yet, at the same time, performatively subverted. Cage worked with Julian Beck and Judith Malina and the Living Theatre company in their experiments inspired by Antonin Artaud’s manifesto in The Theatre and Its Double. It’s not surprising, then, to find Cage experimenting with the roles of performer and audience, even reversing the roles in 4’33”, so that the performer takes up the silent role, and the audience ‘acts’ by listening differently, at the very least by becoming conscious, perhaps even critical, of its shared expectation that the performance should reaffirm a common belief.
How did the audience at the outdoor Maverick Concert Hall respond to the reversing of roles that night, as David Tudor closed and opened the keyboard lid three times? In the end, we know many members responded angrily, but it would be interesting to know what happened during the performance? It has been suggested, for instance, that 4’33” put an artistic frame around American environmental sounds, creating a moment — à la Marcel Duchamp — for the audience to listen to how the American environment sounded. This is not so far-fetched. Cage was very fond of Thoreau and could have aligned his Silent Prayer composition easily with the mandate of the American transcendentalists who argued that, in order to paint a native landscape that did not look like Europe, one had to start over, grounding oneself in a North American aesthetic. In order to compose or listen to music that did not sound like Europe, one had to begin again by listening to where one was. The audience in the outdoor hall that evening found itself in the midst of a New England soundscape:
And when one reads the Zen texts attentively, one cannot escape the impression that, however bizarre, satori is a natural occurrence, something so very simple, even, that one fails to see the wood for the trees, and in attempting to explain it invariably says the very thing that throws others into the greatest confusion…When the Master asks, ‘Do you hear the murmuring of the brook?’ he obviously means something quite different from ordinary ‘hearing’.
This isn’t Cage, it’s Jung writing about Suzuki who draws analogies between Zen and American transcendentalism.
But there are more possible layers of significance to 4’33”. A few months before the first performance, as a resident teacher at Black Mountain College, Cage produced a multi-media musical event entitled Theater Piece No. 1, grounded in Artaud’s aesthetic argument that all the elements of theatre can be viewed independently: sound, movement, music, lights, words may all operate equally, with no one element, such as text, dominant over the others. In Theater Piece No. 1, Cage had his performers playing in precise chance-determined lengths of time, within a mise-en-scène of all-white paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, suspended at various angles. It was a carefully timed and structured example of indeterminacy, a pre-sixties Happening: Cage reading Meister Eckhart from a ladder, Rauschenberg playing Edith Piaf records, Cunningham and his dancers moving through the four audience spaces, and Tudor playing the piano. Again, Theater Piece No. 1 was not improvisational, it was the simultaneous presentation of these independent elements in a space in such a way that the audience could synthesize them, could experience synchronistic moments emerging from the surface chaos, feel the sudden aligning of resonances and perhaps even of meaning. In “Lecture on Nothing”, Cage describes this kind of open-ended receptivity: “As we go along / (who knows) / an i-dea may occur in this / talk. I have no idea / whether one will / or not. / If one does / let it. Re /gard it as something / seen / momentarily, / as / though / from a window / while traveling”.
We know Theater Piece No. 1 was not merely a Dada performance (in Jung’s understanding of Dada as idiotic) because Cage was framing these compositions in Zen language. And in a letter, the young Rauschenberg described his 1951 white paintings employed in the mise-en-scène as numinous, using words steeped in a religious connotation: “They are large white (1 white as 1 God) canvases organized and selected with the experience of time and presented with the innocence of a virgin. Dealing with the suspense, excitement and body of an organic silence, the restriction and freedom of absence, the plastic fullness of nothing, the point a circle begins and ends. They are a natural response to the current pressures of the faithless and a promoter of intuitional optimism”. For Cage, these paintings were a revelation: he stated explicitly that they gave him the courage to compose 4’33’. He wrote: “To Whom It May Concern: The white paintings came first; my silent piece came later.”
So, the first performance of 4’33” evoked a space not only for the natural surround but also for its inherent numinosity. Around the same time as Theater Piece No. 1 (1951/1952), Cage visited one of two anechoic chambers at Harvard University. The room was insulated with acoustically absorptive material to eliminate echoes and outside noise. Once alone inside, he heard two sounds, one high and one low. He asked the sound engineer about these. The engineer, not at all surprised, identified the high sound as Cage’s nervous system operating, the low as his blood circulating. Cage reports his conclusion in his “Lecture on Something”: “No silence exists that is not pregnant with sound”. And from this conclusion, Cage’s mind began to leap forward, to consider the implications if silence was not the opposite of sound: “I had honestly and naively thought that some actual silence existed. So I had not really thought about the question of silence. I had not really put silence to the test. I had never looked into its impossibility. So when I went into that sound-proof room, I really expected to hear nothing. With no idea of what nothing could sound like. The instant I heard myself producing two sounds, my blood circulating and my nervous system in operation, I was stupefied.” After this experience, Cage stopped schematizing sound and silence as a pair of opposites. He would describe their relationship differently: silence is to sound as zen-mind or Unconscious or Jungian self is to ego. The one is the ground for the other; it subsumes and surpasses the other.
This accumulation of philosophical, artistic and personal forces moved Cage in one direction, the composition and performance of 4’33”. It was not an ironic prank, even though it may have been designed to be paradoxical, to subvert rationality – by composing silence. Musicologist and composer Kyle Gann, who has brilliantly catalogued all these vectors converging in Cage’s life and more, in his book, No Such Thing As Silence, wonders if Cage was attempting to trigger in the audience a right-brain experience with which he was familiar as a composer. But Gann’s idea overlooks the fact that David Tudor performed explicitly the marking of the passage of time with a stop-watch and the turning of pages. It would perhaps be more correct to say that Cage was attempting to trigger a whole-brain experience, or what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) calls ‘flow’, directing awareness in order to experience consciously the mind in optimal connectedness.
Of course, there also exists the possibility in Cage’s intention for something shadowy, in his case perhaps pious and preachy from his Methodist grandfather that may have secretly delighted in pushing his audience’s faces into the silence, into Nothingness. This could also account for some of the anger sparked that night in the Maverick Concert Hall.
But one final anecdote sheds light and lightness on this piece that Cage considered the most important of his oeuvre. It is a personal memory that Cage recalled at age 70 (and it’s my favourite story from this research on Cage at this moment in my life). In 1940, the music section of the Works Projects Administration (a make-work program first instituted by F.D. Roosevelt in 1935) would not admit Cage as a musician because he played percussion instruments; that is to say, some bureaucrat decided that a percussionist is not really a musician. Cage was eventually reclassified as a recreation leader and could only be employed by the WPA recreation department. His first assignment was to go to the hospital in San Francisco and entertain the children of the visitors, but he was not allowed to make any sounds doing this, for fear of disturbing the patients. So he organized games for the children that involved moving around rooms and counting, creating silent rhythms in time-space. This reminds us to keep in mind Cage’s playful inventiveness.
PART THREE: SILENCE (1961)
At age forty-nine, Cage’s life changed dramatically with the publication of a collection of his lectures and writings, entitled Silence. John Rockwell of the New York Times has described the book as “the most influential conduit of Oriental thought and religious ideas into the artistic vanguard – not just in music but in dance, art and poetry as well”.
PART FOUR: 0’00” (4’33” No. 2, 1962)
Cage’s composition 0’0” consists entirely of the following instructions: “Solo to be performed in any way by anyone. In a situation provided with maximum amplification (no feedback), perform a disciplined action. Four stipulations: The piece may be performed with any interruptions and will focus on ‘fulfilling in whole or part an obligation to others.’ No two performances may repeat the same action, nor may they create a ‘musical’ composition. And there should be no emphasis on ‘the situation (electronic, musical, theatrical).”
Cage composed 0’00” while touring Japan for the first time. He visited Suzuki and then wrote his composition to zero. Previously Cage had worked to free up composition, but the demands on the performer were extreme, 4’33” being indeterminate in its composition but determinate for the performer. Now 0’00” became indeterminate in both. Cage wrote: “Though no two performances of the Music of Changes will be identical…two performances will resemble one another closely… The function of the performer in the case of the Music of Changes is that of a contractor who, following an architect’s blueprint, constructs a building. That the Music of Changes was composed by means of chance operations identifies the composer with no matter what eventuality. But that its notation is in all respects determinate does not permit the performer any such identification: his work is specifically laid out before him. He is therefore not able to perform from his own center but must identify himself insofar as possible with the center of the work as written. The Music of Changes is an object more inhuman than human, since chance operations brought it into being. The fact that these things that constitute it, though only sounds, have come together to control a human being, the performer, gives the work its alarming aspect of a Frankenstein monster.”
Clearly, by 1962 the composer of Music of Changes had moved on. The problem was that performers needed to value the responsibilities begat from the freedom being offered by Cage as composer. The 1991 production of Europeras 1 & 2 at the Zurich Opera was a scandalous case in point. The performance led Cage to write an angry letter of protest, accusing the musicians of causing deliberately its failure. Musicologist and Jungian scholar Austin Clarkson evaluates that performance and its aftermath in his article, “The Intent of the Musical Moment: Cage and the Transpersonal”. He observes that experiential music was not in the Zurich musicians’ repertoire, and Cage had not understood the challenges he was placing on them. Clarkson argues that if the orchestra had consisted all of David Tudors, then the performance could have constellated in the moment a kind of collective satori for the musicians and audience together. Clarkson knew Tudor personally and attests: “Tudor’s phenomenal powers as an executant and his devotion in realizing and performing indeterminate scores are legendary. What marked Tudor’s approach, aside from his musical gifts, was his openness to the transpersonal.” And when Clarkson asked Tudor how he thought the Zurich performance could have been improved, Tudor replied: “It would have been better if they were more fully aware that they are all individuals.” Clarkson concludes that, for Cage, the individual musician is not egoistic, wilful and ethically uncommitted to the enterprise. The individual musician’s actions arise not only from the ego but also from the guiding center of the personality, the source of ethical impulses that link the individual to society. Cage put this more succinctly: “Everything I have composed since 1952 was written for David Tudor”.
Cage’s 0’00” defined a music of actions that do not have predictable outcomes. Clarkson emphasizes the challenge implicit in its directions: “If the musical content were reduced to a minimum and the outcome stripped of expectations, the performer would be open to the spontaneous flow of the imagination, and performing music would be a creative rather than a re-creative act”. Taking up this challenge, Clarkson worked with music students at Canada’s York University, helping them perform creatively rather than recreatively, presentationally rather than representationally. He notes that if the schema was too loose, the musician had too much freedom and the imagination was not sufficiently engaged. If the schema was too tightly controlled, the response was not spontaneous enough, and the musical imagination had too little scope. For Clarkson, the fear on the part of academics and performers that experimental music seeks the destruction of composed music can be assuaged when presentational and representational states are understood as complementary.
Cage wasn’t interested in improvisation if, like free association, it leads merely to the cathartic re-expression of habitual patterns. Neither was Cage’s creative pragmatism conceptualist. On performing Satie’s Vexations, a fifty-two beat motif to be repeated 840 times, Cage wrote: “In the middle of those eighteen hours of performance, our lives changed. We were dumbfounded, because something was happening which we had not considered and which we were a thousand miles away from being able to foresee. So, if I apply this observation to conceptual art, it seems to me that the difficulty with this type of art, if I understand it correctly, is that it obliges us to imagine that we know something BEFORE that something has happened. That is difficult, since the experience itself is always different from what you thought about it. And it seems to me that the experiences each person can have, that everyone is capable of appreciating, are precisely those experiences that contribute to changing us and, particularly, to changing our preconceptions.” Performed as conceptualist art, 4’33” would render silence merely banal. Performed as a presentational and liminoid work that deconcentrates attention in an attempt to change preconceptions, 4’33” is understandably Cage’s most important work and fundamental to his entire oeuvre. David Tudor argued that it can be one of the most intense listening experiences one can have.
Cage opens Silence with a provocation, a manifesto on music (written for Judith Malina and Julian Beck and the Living Theater): “Nothing is accomplished by writing a piece of music”. His Greenwich Village neighbour Auden wrote: “Poetry makes nothing happen”. In response to Schoenberg, Cage went looking for freedom from harmony, to sensitize listeners to the spirituality inherent in noise, to sound as the primary sensation.
Cage the provocateur of the avant-garde New York movement of the early fifties, in the context of that time, made a space for sounds to be heard which were not harmonious, not musical in the conventional sense, certainly not expected. In doing so, he pointed to the reality that sound is continuous but often unnoticed, under-appreciated. Reading Cage as he reads Jung, confirms what Clarkson so astutely identifies as the transpersonal context to his composing.
The neuroscientist and musician Seth Horowitz argues that in the evolution of vertebrates, there are no deaf animals. All animals with backbones hear (although there are plenty of blind animals or animals with a limited sense of smell or touch), and hearing is the most universal of all senses: “Vision is a relatively fast-acting sense that works slightly faster than our conscious recognition of what we see. Smell and taste are slowpokes, working over the course of seconds or more. Touch, a mechanosensory sense, can work quickly (as in light touch) or slowly (as in pain), but only over a restricted range. By contrast, animals and humans can detect and respond to changes in sounds that occur in less than a millionth of a second and to the content of complex sounds over the course of hours. Any detectable vibration represents information, to be used or ignored. And in that simple concept lies the entire realm of sound and mind.” Thinking back to Cage’s experience hearing his neural synapses and blood vessels operating in the Harvard anechoic chamber, I’m sure he would be intrigued to learn from Horowitz that at the top of spectrum of sound is the 9,192,631,770 cycles per second of an energized cesium-133 atom, and at the bottom of the spectrum is the sound of black holes, characterized not by silence but a B flat 57 octaves below middle C.
READING FRYE READING JUNG
Craig E Stephenson
How does reading change us? How does our reading change? Do we understand that we have been changed by a certain reading? I first read William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell when I was sixteen, and it turned my world upside down. In it, Blake acknowledges how one can read Milton’s Paradise Lost as a conventional Christian allegory of good and evil, but he demonstrates how to read it archetypally, so the reader can see the angels are actually promoting death; the devils are defending the life principle; and Milton, as poet, is of Satan’s party without knowing it (inasmuch as he intends to justify God’s ways to man, but privileges poetically all the energy and delight and fire banished to an infernal netherworld). With his archetypal reading, Blake tore the roof off my adolescence. It was one of my first experiences of the numinous evoked by a text, and it was liberating and terrifying at the same time. There was much to learn from reading how a great reader such as Blake reads Milton.
Northrop Frye, an important literary critic and cultural commentator, was one of the penultimate readers of Blake in the twentieth century. With the recent publication of his diaries and notebooks, we now have the opportunity to track his personal reading responses as he read Blake and as he read Carl Gustav Jung. In his notebooks, Frye tested the utility of Jung’s concepts for his own theorizing, and in his diaries, he recorded more subjective responses, even interpreting his dreams and feelings during the time he read Jung. Together, these documents establish that in the 1940s and 1950s Frye was carefully familiarizing himself with Jung’s work. By 1949, he had read Psychology of the Unconscious, Psychological Types, and The Integration of the Personality, as well as Jung’s commentaries on Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the Chinese alchemical text, The Secret of the Golden Flower and on the Walter Evans-Wentz edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. And, in 1954, he reviewed Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (in its revised form as a Bollingen Foundation publication) and Psychology and Alchemy for an important academic journal, The Hudson Review. But then he stopped reading Jung. What can we learn by following a great reader like Frye as he makes his way through Jung’s works, sometimes enthralled by a text, other times vowing angrily never again to open the volume?
FRYE READING JUNG
In 1949, as Frye read Jung’s Psychological Types, he records in his diary his enthusiastic engagement with Jung’s argument about dreams, identifying himself as “progressing” according to Jung’s psychological concept of individuation. Almost paraphrasing Jung, Frye distinguishes between Freudian sex-dreams or Adlerian power-dreams, which indicate unconscious regressive tendencies, and other dreams that work differently, centering the personality with images of self:
Tuesday, January 4, 1949: Everyone admits that the dream comments on the previous day, & everyone knows that the problems of that day are sometimes solved by sleep alone. Does not this imply that the dreaming consciousness rearranges material from waking consciousness in a wish-fulfilment form, & that this material, now dramatized, is assimilated to the archetypes below it, from whence it reemerges to consciousness? This would explain how dreams hook themselves onto the key experiences of childhood, as I’m convinced that impressions taken in the first few years of life recreate for the individual all the primary archetypes. Thus the dream assimilates the haphazard and involuntary experiences of waking life, the becoming world, into the archetypal world of being where everything is a wish-fulfilment comedy. Each dream is a personal episode of a universal comedy of the human collective unconscious, a drama broken off from the one great epic. If the individual is not progressing, then his dreams will be Freudian sex-dreams or Adlerian power-dreams, concerned only with an antithesis between reality and desire. These fall into the childhood archetypes & reemerge autonomously in life: the whole process is involuntary, sterile, & regressive – or rather, it follows the organic curve of life, & becomes regressive from 35 on, in the dismal poverty of ideas one sees in age. If he is progressing, his individuality, Jung’s self, takes form at the centre of the wheel, instead of being one of the foci of an ellipse, the other being a point in the dark.
It sounds here as if Frye were aligning Jung’s concept of a collective unconscious with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s notion of “that great poem, which all poets, like the co-operating thoughts of one great mind, have built up since the beginning of the world.” But it is important to note that Frye’s notion of mythology as shared imaginative vision stems neither from Shelley nor from Jung but from his reading of William Blake.
Frye had recently published Fearful Symmetry (1947), in which he rendered accessible and intelligible to the common reader the visionary writings of Blake. It was his first book, the product of over a decade of working his way in and out of the labyrinths of Blake’s texts, and his argument countered the still widespread critical dismissal of Blake’s writings as a private mythology, subjectively idiosyncratic, and incomprehensible:
Friday, January 21, 1949: It occurs to me that what I did in writing Fearful Symmetry was perform the act described in much the same way by Freud and Jung. This is the act of swallowing the father, integrating oneself with the old wise man. Presumably I shall never find another father, not even in Shakespeare, and should realize I am essentially on my own. I’ve really reached an individuated stage of thinking, if not of personal life. There’s more to it than that – Blake is right in a way no one else is – but that’s the psychological aspect of the book…. Perhaps too, if every poem is necessarily a perfect unity, every thinker is necessarily perfectly right. That is doubtless just another way of saying that one seeks understanding rather than a judgement of value.
Here Frye acknowledges that, if Freud and Jung were right (psychologically) about fathers and sons, then writing Fearful Symmetry was Frye’s act of consciously ingesting the father imago, ruminating on his memories of a conventionally pietistic Methodist upbringing, particularly at the hands of his oppressive reactionary preacher-grandfather, the Reverend Eratus Seth Howard, and taking up an adult stance that he associates with the archetypal images of Blake’s nonconformist revolutionary wisdom. In this passage, Frye also redefines his professional task as cultural critic: not so much to assign value to a particular work or identify which works have merit, but more to understand where and how any work fits within the collective cultural imagination. In this regard, Frye would defend Jung’s interest in the archetypal structures laid bare by crude “hack” writers such as Rider Haggard, arguing that “value-judgements are worn as blinders by conventional critics to prevent themselves from seeing the real facts of literature.”
Around the same time that Frye records in his diaries his psychological responses to Jung, in his notebooks, he positions Jung in the planning for his second major book, Anatomy of Criticism (1957). For instance:
#131: The work of art is literally a product of its author, & should be examined in terms of the mental archetypes of that author as provided by Freud & Jung. Note carefully that the author is not man but poet, & the archetypes are not psychoanalytic & therapeutic but objectively to be seen in the work of art as a microcosm of human or individual experience. As an allegory, the work of art is a symbol of its age, & should be examined in the historical archetypes provided by Spengler… As moral, the work of art is a myth, the articulation of a ritual… As anogogy, the work of art is an entity or microcosm of the Word of God, a cyclic panorama of universal existence… They are the four real forms of criticism: the author’s mind, the age, the genre & the unity of the work of art itself as a mirror of universal reality.
#245: Now let’s see what, in summary, stands out. Chapter 1 makes four major points. One, criticism is autonomous; two, it relates to other descriptive verbal disciplines, but controls its own relations; three, it’s a comprehensive systematic progressive scientific study; four, it’s based on the conception of an order of words. These four points are expanded in Chapter 2 to a conception of four levels of criticism. First, rhetorical, divided into biographical & topical, depending on whether the work of art is in time or not (is taken that way, I mean). Second, dialectic, divided into historical & ethical, Spenglerian & Marxist, wheel of history & classless society, image of the wheel & spiral that comes later. Third, structural & archetypal, Frazer & Jung, the poetic level proper…
In the notebooks, Frye drew up schematic plans, not only for Anatomy of Criticism but also for writing his magnum opus, his “ogdoad project,” eight great books. But perhaps because he wrote as a scholar in academic prose rather than in the mythopoeic language he so privileged in his arguments about the imagination, he never felt that he could cross one of the great eight books off his list as completed. As a result, in his diaries, Frye fantasized continually about writing fiction:
Saturday, July 8, 1950: I’m just at the “change of life” period in Jung’s psychology, I suppose. They now take the form of wishing I’d spent my youth practising writing fiction; it’s silly, of course, but it’s part of a general recognition of the damage I did my future life in my earlier years. A certain amount of daydreaming is normal, I suppose, but I daydreamed to excess, and hesitated to start any real work on fulfilling my ambitions because I was so afraid my first efforts wouldn’t show true genius. I worried a lot about genius. I think too that my present excess of embarrassment over various failures to achieve perfect life rhythm in social behaviour is largely due to an exaggerated picture of myself built up in reverie during adolescence. I suppose that repentance… consists first of all in determining the conditions under which your life must henceforth operate.
In this entry, Frye describes how, with regard to writing fiction, worrying so much about genius prevented him from ever getting down to work in the here and now. On the one hand, the current publication of his Collected Works in 29 volumes counters the remorse expressed by the thirty-seven-year-old Frye. On the other hand, the unpublished fiction now gathered in Volume 25 of his Collected Works is notably lifeless and awkward.
Frye’s recorded dreams suggest he may have had a better chance to free himself up (in a compensatory way from the creative academic thinking in his essays and notebooks) through his piano playing. He had sometimes fantasized about music as an alternative career. As an adult, however, he experienced that part of himself as negative and inferior and somehow shallow, not informed enough to allow itself to be seen, but embarrassingly, impulsively performative (as Frye scholar Robert Denham points out in his introduction to the diaries). For instance, Frye notes in a dream recorded on 3 January 1949:
I was playing the Schumann Papillons, which I seemed to remember fairly well, except that I substituted one of the Novelettes for the last long one. At first I seemed to be playing opposite Marie Bond on another piano (the name may be significant as well as a recent meeting with her) on my right, then Connie Blewett got mixed up with it, & finally was laying on her back on top of the piano with a mysterious dark girl standing behind me. All these things are I think dramatizations of Jungian ideas I’ve recently been reading about. It’s curious how dreams seem to point silently to certain things, like the ghost of Christmas Future.
The dream begins with Papillons (butterflies), a classic image of hope for psychic transformation, but the dream protagonist has slipped in a Novelette instead of meeting the challenge of that last long Papillon. Frye finds himself playing a four-handed, two-piano duet with a woman to his right named Marie Bond (her presence provides a nice wordplay on Eros as connection). There is some mixing and heating of elements, with a personal feminine colleague eventually on top of the piano like a vamp. A third darker feminine figure emerges from behind – perhaps mysterious, unknown, certainly not someone from his personal circle of friends. In his commentary, Frye takes Jung’s prospective interpretation of dream-narratives seriously, noting that this dream of two pianos points to where things could go, like Dicken’s Ghost of Christmas Future pointing to Scrooge’s tombstone. Three months later, the symbolic doubling of the piano is repeated even more emphatically:
Friday, April 22, 1949: Last night I dreamed I said to a Dr. Gopal of India (there was such a person, but I never met him) that I wanted a piano, & he took me too literally and sent one up to 205 Fulton Ave, where I found my mother-in-law, metamorphosed to Kay Morris, warding off its delivery. There was quite a fuss: Ken McLean was most prominent among my sympathizers, but I was aware simultaneously that our piano was there & I couldn’t have another one in, & that our piano wasn’t there but had been moved to our own place. The prototype, & part of the name Gopal, was Goggio who so kindly lent me an Ariosto instead of telling me where I could get one for myself. I’d have to buy this piano, though, evidently, & thought I was lucky to get off with cartage charges of $16.64, plus a $3 tip given to one of the movers… I record this dream because it puzzles me, & because I remember so very few dreams these days. Well, I went to the Reference Library, & in spite of it (the dream) read Jung’s Secret of the Golden Flower and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Then came home and went to bed early – I don’t know why I feel tired & listless these days, beyond a fairly mild dose of hay fever. I’m not thinking much either, though I’m thinking of beginning to think about the social and anthropological side of Jungian symbolism.
In this dream, a doctor, with a certain quality of Otherness about him (not unlike Frye’s colleague Emilio Goggio in the department of Italian Literature, a generous man who did not tell Frye where he could get a copy of Ariosto but lent him his own copy), gives Frye what he asks for by sending him a second piano. It is phrased like the arrival of a new possibility – a birth, a delivery. At first, a negative feminine figure, part mother-in-law, opposes the change, and so there’s complication, a conflict. The dream ego is aware that the situation is not a logical one in the here and now: either a piano exists or it does not; either it is there or it is in the other place – how can it be both? But sympathizers now introduced into the equation (including another masculine figure who is also a familiar colleague, Ken McLean) root for the change to take place. The dream ends emphatically with the fact that the protagonist must pay: pay for the piano and pay for the delivery and even tip one of the movers. In other words, the dream ego must disidentify from a habitual prudence, from a certain small-mindedness. He must be a little extravagant, even a little reckless with the budget. (In real life, Frye may have had trouble doing this; for example, the diaries record a particularly miserly response to his wife Helen Kemp-Frye’s sudden hospitalization for a uterine problem.) The dream demands a little more generosity with the psychological economy and maybe twice as much “play” as usual. The value of playing the piano gets doubled. As much as the notebooks summarize Frye’s critical responses to reading Jung, the diaries record his attempts to understand himself better, and even to heal himself, by reading Jung.
In 1954, Frye wrote a very long review entitled “Forming Fours,” in which he declares the importance of Jung’s work. He emphasizes Jung’s concept of individuation as shifting psychotherapeutic treatment out of a medical analogy of diagnosis, treatment, and cure, into something more akin to creating a therapeutic alliance with the biological and teleological forces of the personality, forces that push the personality toward its own peculiar maturity. That is to say, he affirms the way in which, as he understands it, Jung practices psychotherapy. He highlights, in particular, how Jung’s notion of individuation includes a collective component: “the dreams and fantasies of the individual should not be interpreted solely in relation to his personal life; they are also individual manifestations of a mythopoeic activity found in everyone.” Frye has taken this notion of the mythopoeic from Blake, but he finds that Jung affirms the same principle without having ever carefully studied Blake’s texts.
Frye praises Jung for supplementing the purely analytical interpretation of dreams with a hermeneutic study of the analogies of people’s dreams to myth and romance, as argued in Psychology of the Unconscious (later revised as Symbols of Transformation). At the same time, Frye confronts what he refers to as “a complex in Jung’s mind”:
His collective unconscious is actually the total mythopoeic power of humanity, and has nothing to do with ancestor cults of “racial differentiation” or groping around the windy bowels of Teutonic exclusivism. We simply have to step over such passages as the footnote in the Two Essays in which he says he’s not anti-Semitic but….
For the moment, Frye chooses to disregard these passages. He suspects that most psychologists would consider Jung’s work of collecting images of a single dream type meaningless, but Frye wants to situate such work squarely within the orbit of literary criticism:
Jung seems to be leading Freud’s great discoveries in the direction of a first hand study of literature, whereas Freudian criticism itself, even Freud’s brilliant essay on Leonardo, tends to take us away from the works of art into the biography of the artist.
Essentially, he sees Jung demonstrating how archetypal criticism can function as a social science, as a potentially scientific discipline.
Only now in his review does Frye come to Jung’s book, Psychology and Alchemy. He criticizes Jung for exaggerating the extent to which, historically, alchemy was heretical or carried shadowy projections of “bad taste” for Christian orthodoxy. More important, Frye says most readers may want to hold the book up to a mirror, that is to say, reverse the orientation of the text, in which Jung works outward from his practice as a doctor, turning every mythopoetic structure into a vast allegory of his own technique of psychotherapy. Frye also argues that what Jung charts in alchemy and maps out in the romantic argument of the individuation process, he could just as easily have found in biblical typology. The problem, according to Frye, is that Jung has been too influenced and mislead by the idiosyncrasies of Goethe who, in his treatment of symbolism, is “brilliant, varied and ingenious,” whereas Dante, Spenser, and Blake are “scholarly.” (Frye’s use of the term “scholarly” here is intriguing, as in many ways, it is Goethe who is precisely that: learned, but ultimately unbelieving.) It’s important to remember that Frye had only just demonstrated to what extent the Prophetic Works of Blake were not eccentric or particular but mapped a precise cosmology shared with The Divine Comedy and The Fairie Queen, whereas (as Frye points out) the realms explored in Goethe’s Faust, Part II, are peculiarly the writer’s own. So Frye esteems Dante, Spenser, and Blake for working within the frame and common code of a collective cultural imagination and perhaps devalues Jung by suggesting he has been contaminated by Goethe’s individualism. Still, he drops all prevaricating and closes the review with this enthusiastic statement:
We can see that Jung’s book is not a mere specious paralleling of a defunct science and one of several Viennese schools of psychology, but a grammar of literary symbolism which for all serious students of literature is as important as it is endlessly fascinating.
FRYE READING BLAKE AND VICO (AND NOT READING JUNG)
But now Frye arrives at a curious turning point in his reading of Jung. In 1957, after the publication of his next major work, Anatomy of Criticism, Frye begins to distance himself from Jung. He turns away from Jung and toward Giambattista Vico. Why does he take up this early eighteenth-century philosopher and rhetorician rather than Jung to guide him through two decades of work toward the publication of his next important book, The Great Code?
It is as if the objections articulated in the 1954 review increase in importance for him. First, he is no longer willing to step over the anti-Semitic footnote in Two Essays to get to the passages that excite him (his colleague Thomas Willard has described how, much later on, he tried to correct Frye in this regard, and Frye said warily, “Then I have no problem with Jung”). Second, he sees the need to differentiate his notion of archetypal criticism from Jungian literary criticism, and his notion of archetype from Jung’s psychological definition of archetype. He derogates critical theorizing that employs an external framework, be it Freudian, Jungian, Marxist, or feminist, if it merely takes up a work of art in order to place it in service of that framework to justify its own tenets. Already in the 1954 review Frye notes how one needs to read Psychology and Alchemy with a mirror to avoid interpreting only in service of Jung’s psychological theory of individuation. He progressively takes a stronger stance. In 1956, he sets up a theoretical opposition between two views of literature: “These two views are the Aristotelian and the Longinian, the aesthetic and the psychological, the view of literature as product and the view of literature as process.” But by 1957, he reformulates this opposition for Anatomy of Criticism, carefully replacing the word “psychological” with the word “creative,” in order to keep Longinus’s notion of the sublime and to avoid the reductive psychologizing of literature. Another way to put this might be: Frye was looking for a way to write critical theory in academic prose that would intensify the reader’s experience of reading, epistemologically privileging the creative imagination and process over reason and product, and he considered much of Jung’s psychological prose often too self-consciously and reductively scientific for his purposes.
Most important, Frye conducts a graduate seminar and begins a paper on the mythopoeic in Blake and Jung. It is his attempt to present Blake as a guide for the first half of his life and Jung as potential guide for the second half. But the seminars disappoint, and Frye never writes his paper. In his diaries, he describes how combining the elements of Blake and Jung even provoked eruptions, to which he responded with anger and perplexity:
I think there’s a jinx on my Blake and Jung paper, also on the damn course. Benton Misener is a man I should never have let into the course – an emotional lame brain who got converted to God knows what by my Milton lectures and took the Blake course for inspiration. He has been talking about his paper for weeks, but didn’t turn up to do it… I’m getting fed up with being the cynosure [that is to say, a center of attraction, a guiding star] of mental spastics. Of course the paper was too much for him, but why didn’t he duck out of it in time? The last time I assigned a Blake and Jung paper was to [John] Thorburn, who not only didn’t turn up, but had a complete nervous breakdown and became a violent homosexual. However, I’m ungrateful to destiny. I wanted to expound Jung in order to get a detached view of a possible paper on the subject. I expounded Jung beautifully, but I didn’t get him related to Blake much. In the first place, Jung’s later thought loses its grip on the original libido book, where he’s closest to Blake, & in the second place all that stuff about types, introversion & extroversion, person and soul-image, isn’t particularly Blakean.
In two recent books, the Romantic scholar and Jungian thinker Ross Woodman recalls this very seminar on Blake and Jung at the University of Toronto, in which he participated as a graduate student. For his part, Woodman considers Frye’s approach to Blake at the time dangerously one-sided, as rendering Blake’s “Pulsation of the Artery” disembodied and falsely sane: “Coming to grips with Blake’s dreamwork as the figuration of desire rather than the logocentric rationalization of it became the issue that informed my reading of Frye’s Blake.” Woodman worried that, like Freud’s materialist sanity, Frye’s logocentric sanity would convert Blake’s apocalypse not into art, but into an “anatomy” of apocalypse. While Frye was worrying whether Jung’s discourse would reduce the evidence of the collective imagination to fit a theory of a psychological process (i.e., individuation), Woodman, ironically, was wrestling with a shadowy potential in Frye’s critical anatomizing that would betray Blake’s corpus. I find this potential, carefully delineated by Woodman, correlative to those passages in the diaries, already mentioned, where Frye can’t cross out as completed any of the eight books of his creative “ogdoad project.”
It is intriguing, then, to follow Frye’s notebooks around this time, when he stops reading Jung and takes up instead Vico, the critic of the Enlightenment who developed a theory of knowledge that sees the natural sciences and the humanities as contradictory domains. Differentiating between observing the external world and understanding human experience led Vico to oppose the Cartesian bias of his time. Vico considered it fallacious to apply the rules and the language of the natural sciences to the domain of volition and feeling. Today, Vico is regarded as the first thinker to recognize the continuing underlying role of mythological motifs in Western cultures, even as these cultures have grown increasingly secularized and scientifically rationalized: Vico was the first to argue that these cultures need deliberately to privilege and rehabilitate mythopoeic language.
In the 1971 essay entitled The Critical Path (2009), Frye describes the affinities he discovered between Blake and Vico:
About twenty-five years ago, I lost my way in the dark wood of Blake’s Prophecies, and looked around for some path that would get me out of there. There were many paths, some well trodden and equipped with signposts, but all pointing in what for me were the wrong directions. They directed me to the social conditions of Blake’s time, to the history of the occult tradition, to psychological factors in Blake’s mind, and other subjects quite valid in themselves… The critical path I wanted was a theory of criticism which would, first, account for the major phenomena of literary experience, and, second, would lead to some view of the place of literature in civilization as a whole… The conventions, genres, and archetypes of literature do not simply appear: they must develop historically from origins, or perhaps from a common origin. In pursuing this line of thought, I have turned repeatedly to Vico, one of the very few thinkers to understand anything of the historical role of the poetic impulse in civilization as a whole. Vico describes how a society, in its earliest phase, sets up a framework of mythology, out of which all its verbal culture grows, including its literature. Vico’s main interest is in the history of law, but it is not difficult to apply his principles to other disciplines.
At the core of Vico’s New Science (1725) is his principle of verum factum: truth is made, not perceived. This principle leads to his perception of the difference between certum, knowledge from outside (such as the physical sciences), and verum, knowledge from inside (such as history and pure mathematics). According to Vico’s epistemology, verum and knowledge acquired through the faculty of the imagination, through fantasia, are the foundation of the human sciences. Vico argues that image and narrative, rather than concept, are the primary source of philosophizing. Vico acknowledges the distinction between the two traditional categories of knowledge: The deductive, which includes logic and grammar, yields truth independently of what one makes. The perceptual, derived from empirical observation, concerns matters that one perceives as natural events or external facts. However, he places particular emphasis on self-knowledge attained through the faculty of the imagination, allowing for the possibility of establishing a truth based on an inner fact. In this way, he argues, the human sciences can also posit truths, even though such truths do not rely on Cartesian-style pure and fixed ideas. Vico admits that this imaginative faculty renders humans prone to the error of anthropomorphosis, of mistakenly projecting knowledge onto the natural world and then misreading that world in human terms. But he accused Descartes of having committed the opposite error, of renouncing the epistemological function of the imagination and of assimilating the human sciences into the non-human realm of nature. For Frye, Vico’s defense of what we today would call self-knowledge renders him a crucial precursor of Blake and his impassioned faith in the imagination.
Vico contextualizes the arguments of his philosophical contemporaries by locating rationalism in a three-stage historical cycle. Civilizations move through a mythical age of gods, a heroic age of aristocracy, and a demotic age of the people, followed by a precarious leap back to the mythical. Seeing his own times as “third-stage” allows him to acknowledge the relative merits of the Enlightenment, while, at the same time, seeing rationalism as part of an intellectual climate. Vico articulates what its viewpoint is good for, asks what is missing from its perspective, and speculates about the logical end to which it directs itself. This teleological concern leads to his mapping of corsi e ricorsi: advancing through time, according to Vico, a civilization either spirals progressively or merely repeats itself, depending on the quality of that leap from the third stage to the first. Paradoxically, at its very best, this leap is simultaneously a jumping forward and a jumping backward; he names it “Providentia,” as if he were acknowledging that “only by the grace by God” does a civilization spiral forward into another “first stage” rather than merely regressively start over again. Leaving aside the historicism in Vico’s theory of cycles, Frye admires Vico’s portrayal of human culture as an intelligible, constantly changing reality that must be intuited, just as nature must be observed empirically.
Even more pertinent to Frye’s purpose, Vico suggests that each age within a civilization produces its own kind of language. Thus, each culture has recourse to three kinds of verbal expression, which he calls the poetic, the heroic, and the vulgar or vernacular. In opposition to Plato and the Neo-Platonists, Vico insists that poetry, not philosophical prose, underlies humanity: a culture develops out of a primary framework of mythological motifs or “imaginative universals” rather than out of reasoned principles, and there are no concepts without images. Vico privileges the poetic, not only because, according to his historical mapping, images and narrative precede concepts just as poetry precedes prose, but also because, in order to appreciate and deftly handle concepts, one must track the genus of an image etymologically, philologically, and imaginatively, back to its original image. What interests Vico are not the imaginative universals per se but the evolution of human thought and the unique style of each culture as it reveals itself in language, myth, and ritual.
The divination of “poetic logic,” Vico says, forms the base upon which a first-stage culture, lacking the capacity for abstraction, constructs its more abstract “rational logic.” Neither “poetic logic” nor “reasoned reflection” necessarily redeems Vico’s cultures from barbarism. First-stage humans are vigorously and cruelly ignorant and third-stage humans live “like wild beasts in a deep solitude of spirit and will, scarcely any two able to agree since each follows his own pleasure or caprice.” Certainly Vico’s map implies that rational reflection can function as a progressive force, but ricorsi means that a civilization inevitably – providentially, he argues – must return to the brutality of first-stage poetic logic over and over again, that its vitality somehow resides there.
For a reader such as Frye, Vico demonstrates the inherent complementarity of poetic and rational logic, and he shows how a one-sided rationalist language endangers the human sciences by objectifying its subjects and severing self-knowledge from its cumulative phenomenological potential. Guided by Blake and Vico, in his most popular publication, The Educated Imagination (first given as the Massey Lectures in 1963), and in an essay entitled “The Double Vision,” Frye challenges academic and cultural convention by identifying literary criticism and critical theory as a social science and, at the same time, by defending myth and metaphor as crucial to the vibrancy of any society. On the one hand, clearly Vico’s third-stage language marks a cultural advancement for its speakers, but, on the other hand, it also impoverishes them, rendering them increasingly subordinate (that is, subject to) or under the control of, the objective world. Frye picks up on this affinity between Vico and Blake when he describes a society that privileges exclusively Vico’s third-stage language as subjecting itself to the tyranny of what Blake called the false gods of Bacon, Newton, and Locke. In his Notebook 19, Frye writes, “It is almost impossible not to believe that Blake had read Vico, but of course he hadn’t.”
FRYE REREADING JUNG
It is also almost impossible not to believe that Jung had read Vico, but no evidence exists to suggest that he had (even though, for instance, Jung’s literary contemporaries, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, made good use of Vico). James Hillman (1975) tracks Neo-Platonic elements from Plotinus through Ficino to Vico in his archetypal psychology; Donald Verene describes affinities between Jung’s acausal principle of synchronicity and Vico’s metaphysics of the self that encounters itself in repetitions of history; and Leslie Gardner compares their rhetorical privileging of poetic logic. I have argued elsewhere that, for Vico and Jung, the mythopoeic and the metaphorical are the raw stuff from which civilizations must distance themselves and with which they must then find ways to reconnect. As a psychotherapist, Jung translated this collective dilemma into the basis for his method of treating individual sufferers: he recognized that transformative possibilities reside in moments when individuals rediscover mythopoeic imagery and metaphorical language, when they repair the broken narrative links between their creativity and their self-knowledge. In my own clinical work, particularly when it feels crucial to seal the hermetic vessel in the service of wholeness, I have learned to employ consciously Vico’s three kinds of language: to look for separate moments to speak metaphorically, allegorically, and objectively about the client’s experience.
How disingenuous was it of Frye to have disavowed Jung while identifying his theorizing on archetypal criticism with his readings of Blake and Vico? In case this question sounds as if it originates in my subjectivity as a reader (which could be misattributed to a kind of Jungian fundamentalism), permit me to quote a letter from Robert Denham, who edited the diaries (and many other volumes of Frye’s collected works): “Like you, I’ve been fascinated by the Frye-Jung connections for some time. Frye always wanted to distance himself from Jung, I think, but he was much more influenced by Jung than he let on.” Also Michael Dolzani argues in his introduction to Frye’s Romance Notebooks:
Possibly the most significant figure in this area is C. G. Jung, whose influence on Frye was greater than he was willing to admit. Frye objected to Jung’s deification of the void, and to his reduction of all symbolism to an allegory of the psychological process of individuation. But he also speaks of “the articulation of symbolism in modern thought, which begins in Jung.”
And Thomas Willard writes: “It seems likely that Frye’s legacy as an archetypal critic will remain linked with Jung’s. If anything, they will probably get linked more closely.”
In one of his late notebooks, Frye mentions in passing that he has taken up reading Jung again. About the autobiographical book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he admits:
During the war, I had racist prejudices against Germans, feeling that there was nothing so dumb as a dumb Kraut. When Jung started talking about Jewish consciousness and the dangers of entering Oriental attitudes, the farts of a dumb Kraut polluted the air: I think he outgrew that, at least in that autobiography but (as with Spengler) I distrusted the dumb Kraut for a long time.
Around the same time, Frye mordantly relinquishes hope of understanding why an apparently sane man would write such a book as Mysterium Coniunctionis: “I hope I don’t have to crack that infernal book again,” although a little later, he records that he’s reading Marie Louise von Franz on alchemy, in an attempt to find an entry point back into Mysterium. I can’t help but identify with Frye’s exasperated reading response to Mysterium Coniunctionis. Curiously, he never lost his temper with Vico’s New Science, which is equally encyclopedic in its range and counter-rational in its style, messy, and plodding, but, nevertheless, marked by genius.
More important, in a little-known essay entitled “Expanding Eyes,” Frye emphatically positions Jung as vitally important, as fundamental to his theorizing. Frye begins his argument by observing that social scientists do not (yet) understand that their subject areas, besides being sciences, are also applied humanities. Just as mathematics inform the physical sciences, so do myths and metaphors inform the social sciences. The myths and metaphors of literature inform what is specifically verbal in them, as distinct from what is quantifiable or dependent on tests for reliability and validity in experiments. Frye’s diagnostic insight in this regard was verified, for instance, when G. Lakoff and M. Johnson’s book, Metaphors We Live By was suddenly rediscovered and found a niche as a textbook for cognitive scientists.
Frye insists that literary criticism should not purport to assign value to specific works and designate a literary canon, and yet, in what may seem a contradiction, he portrays any individual reader as creating a personal canon that is neither democratic nor all-inclusive. Frye writes that criticism is a form of autobiography: readers become really engaged in the study of literature when they share common elements in lifestyle with specific authors, when they find their interest is not exhausted by scholarly investigation. In this regard, Frye offers for consideration his primary enthusiasm for Blake. He explains how he became obsessed with Blake in this way very early, partly because he had been brought up in much the same evangelical subculture from which Blake had developed, and because Blake made imaginative sense out of such an oppressively narrow and reactionary subculture by reading it archetypally. Frye employs paradox to describe an element of certain creators, how their words and works expand, rather than restrict, the individuality of readers. (Elsewhere, Frye has stated that a great work of art possesses a circumference that always surpasses the sum of its readings.) Structuralism, hermeneutics, phenomenalism, sociolinguistics, cultural anthropology, the philosophy of language can all contribute to the understanding of literature, but according to Frye, these interpretative approaches still seem only incidental to literature itself, to what literature does and can do to people.
Adding to this autobiographical account of himself as reader, Frye mentions his readings of Spengler and Frazer as a student. Frye notes that he recognized very early just how extraordinarily limited and unaware of the world they both were, but by acknowledging and staying with his continued fascination with their texts, he came to understand that he was reading both of them as cultural critics who wrote, without realizing it, not history and anthropology, respectively, but literary works about the structures of the imagination. By contrast, Frye records how, as a mature reader, he discovered Vico, and again, as with Blake, found himself in a text that was intrinsically expansive. He read Vico’s New Science as a work of revolutionary wisdom like Blake’s illuminated writings: Vico, having lived at a time when there had been no permanently successful example of a democracy, concluded from his study of Roman history and law that the people cannot recover the authority they project successively onto the gods, onto heroes, and then onto others, and, hence, the third age of the people is followed inevitably by a ricorso that starts the cycle all over again.
Finally, in this essay, which becomes a summative reflection about the stages of his own reading life, Frye comes to Jung. At first, cautiously, he groups his reading of Jung with Spengler and Frazer. He wonders if again, without belittling Jung’s achievements in psychology, it could be said that Jung’s greatest significance is inadvertently as a critical and cultural theorist. But he quietly shifts and expands this argument to emphasize at the center of Jung’s vision of life a notion of progress from the “ego,” from the ordinary life with its haphazard and involuntary perceptions of time and space, to the “individual” who works with more expansive modes of perception:
I am continually asked also about my relation to Jung, and especially about the relation of my use of the word “archetype” to his. So far I have tended to resist the association, because in my experience whenever anyone mentions it his next sentence is almost certain to be nonsense. But this may actually be a reason for welcoming it… It seems strange to overlook the possibility that the arts, including literature, might just conceivably be what they have always been taken to be, possible techniques of meditation, in the strictest sense of the word, ways of cultivating, focusing, and ordering one’s mental processes, on a basis of symbol rather than concept. Certainly that is what Blake thought they were: his own art was a product of his power of meditation, and he addresses his readers in terms which indicate that he was presenting his illuminated works to them also, not as icons, but as mandalas…
Frye works very hard here to prevent his argument from tumbling into the slough of the merely psychological (that is to say, into third-stage psychological discourse in which “gods” are nothing but “complexes”). For instance, he describes one student regarding poems as coming out of certain mental processes and so conceptualizing psychologically the foundations that underlie the study of literature, whereas another student sees the poems as a product of specific historical and social conditions. Frye writes that nothing has been more difficult in his career as a teacher than to advise students at such moments: “Throw that metaphor away; it’s the wrong metaphor.” He describes how he eventually employs the metaphor of “interpenetration” to describe how, as a critic, he reconciles himself to working comparatively with conceptual systems external to literature itself. At the same time, both in these anecdotes and within the structure of his essay, Frye alters subtly his association of Jung with Spengler and Frazer to acknowledge, instead, Jung as one of his guides to the expansive and the transformative, together with Blake and Vico.
In this context, Frye confesses that he still considers Psychology and Alchemy to be Jung’s best book, I suspect, because in it (more than in the early Psychology of the Unconscious and perhaps more lucidly than in a late work like Mysterium), Jung found a way, argumentatively and stylistically, to honor mythopoeic language and the potential for self-transformation inherent in alchemical images – the process of bringing an immortal body (the stone) to birth within the ordinary one (the materia prima). Of course, we now know (since the publication of Jung’s The Red Book: Liber Novus) that Psychology and Alchemy was Jung’s first attempt, after emerging from his then unpublished experiments with visionary writing in The Red Book, to write human science differently.
Frye presents the mythopoeic as it manifests in the arts and social sciences as politically charged. In any third-stage discourse, the poetic logic of myth and metaphor reads as archaic, obscure, and arcane, as requiring translation into the contemporary and the conceptual. Frye enlists Jung’s distinction between ego and self to assess the potential for transformation and expansion that remains inherent in the contemporary experience of the mythopoeic, even if it is presently misunderstood and devalued:
It is at this point that the question of the social function of the arts becomes so important. Some people find it a shock to discover, say, the commandant of a Nazi death camp can also be someone with a highly developed taste in music. If he had a thorough knowledge of organic chemistry, there would be no shock; but well, the arts are supposed to have or be based on values, aren’t they? They are secondary, something to turn to when the real standards of living have been met. On that basis they become subject to evaluation, like jewels; they are enjoyed and possessed by what Jung calls the “ego,” and something even analogous to price develops. The arts approached in that way can add pleasure and refinement and cultivation and even some serenity to life, but they have no power to transform it… It would be better to think of the arts as, like physical exercise, a primary human need that has been smothered under false priorities.
By the end of his essay, Frye has lined up, one beside the other, his trinity of Blake, Vico, and Jung, and offers the reader the resulting resonances of three thinkers who privilege the imagination as a key component of healing. In a lecture entitled “Literature as Therapy,” given to doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Frye outlines the psychotherapeutic potential of what is now called bibliotherapy – of employing images and narratives to facilitate and augment the healing process, based not a little on musing about how his own mother healed herself by reading through Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels. If Frye positions Freud as one of the century’s greatest writers of descent – of the metamorphic fall of the gods into humankind, of humanity into the reality principle, of life into dead matter, of tragedy and Thanatos – he also credits Jung with articulating, in addition, the possibility of ascent, directed toward the romantic goal of creating a genuinely human community:
On the ascending side there is a reversal, a disenchanting journey back to our original identity that ends when the human creator recovers his creations from his Muses and lives again, like Job, with the daughters of his memory transformed into a renewed presence.
Frye positions Jung as having mapped and, in particular, described possibilities that Vico named and propitiated as Providentia and that Blake remythologized – possibilities for expansive vision and transformative healing.
Reading Frye’s diaries and notebooks and this late essay makes clear that he read, disavowed, and then reread Jung’s words, and grudgingly came to re-acknowledge Jung’s work of stitching together with metaphor and myth the rift in Western collective consciousness, reclaiming for us imaginatively our lost humanity.
- N. Frye, The Diaries of Northrop Frye, 1942-1955, in R. Denham, (ed.), The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, vol. 8, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2001, p. 61.
- P. B. Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, in David Richter (ed.), The Critical Tradition, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1821/1989, p. 347.
- N. Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake, in N. Halmi (ed.), The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, vol. 14, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1947/2004.
- Frye, The Diaries, p. 94.
- N. Frye, Northrop Frye’s Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism, in R. Denham (ed.), The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, vol. 23, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2007, p. 267.
- Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, in R. D. Denham (ed.), The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, vol., 22, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2006.
- Ibid., p. 56.
- Ibid., p. 99.
- Frye, The Diaries, p. 401.
A CREE WOMAN READS JUNG
Craig E Stephenson
Jung had originally trained as a psychiatrist, so the image of psychiatry straddling a gulf between medicine and psychoanalysis in service of a patient was personal as well as paradigmatic. Jung regarded neither his medical training nor his studies in psychology as sufficient background for the methods he eventually devised as a psychotherapist. Whereas medicine in his day limited its borrowings to the natural sciences, Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s analytical psychology turned for insight to the human sciences – anthropology, sociology, politics, comparative religion – as well as to literature, art and philosophy. So, at the same time that Jung defended the practice of psychotherapy to an audience of doctors, he also challenged them to reconsider the parameters of the medical field:
It is extremely important, in his own interests, that the psychotherapist should not in any circumstances lose the position he originally held in medicine, and this precisely because the peculiar nature of his experience forces upon him a certain mode of thought, and certain interests, which no longer have – or perhaps I should say, do not yet have – a rightful domicile in the medicine of today. (italics mine) (Jung, 1945)
Half a century later, medical psychiatry remains preoccupied with the physiology of mental disease, and contemporary psychiatrists still find themselves forced to wrestle with both sides of Jung’s equation. Nowhere is this struggle more evident than in the fields of transcultural and comparative psychiatry and ethnopsychiatry. In order to under- stand and treat the sick in a multicultural society and in societies for which psychiatry is a foreign practice, psychiatrists are confronting the gulf and considering issues which they formerly dismissed as ‘meta- psychological.’
The most obvious danger of applying notions of psychological healing from one culture to suffering in another lies in the very meaning of these terms, since ‘suffering’ and ‘healing’ are culturally entrenched. As early as 1929, Jung acknowledged this dilemma in terms of a dichotomy between the psychologies of ‘West’ and ‘East.’ He wrote, ‘Western consciousness is by no means consciousness in general. It is rather a historically conditioned and geographically confined dimension, which represents only a part of mankind’ (Jung, 1929). This awareness led him to cautiously qualify and contextualize his psychological commentaries on texts from India, China, Tibet and Japan. For instance, ‘I will remain silent on the subject of what yoga means for India, because I cannot presume to judge something I do not know from personal experience. I can, however, say something about what it means for the West.’ (Jung, 1936).
In a 1932 seminar and in an essay published in 1937, Jung presented case material concerning a 25-year-old patient born in the Dutch East Indies of European parents and raised by an Indonesian nurse with whom she spoke Malay (Jung, 1996). Jung described his work with this woman as ‘a saga of blunders, hesitations, doubts, gropings in the dark, and false clues which in the end took a favourable turn.’ And yet he turned his predicament as a Swiss analyst working with fantasies and dreams steeped in Indonesian motifs to his advantage: ‘In this case the analyst’s lack of knowledge of Oriental psychology drew him further and further into the analytical process and forced him to participate as actively as possible. Far from being a technical blunder, this is a fate-sent necessity in such a situation.’
In the case of this woman born in Java, Jung noted potentially meaningful correlations between the progressive localization of her symptoms and his readings in 1919 about the chakra system of Kundalini Yoga. Jung was convinced that a little shared information about the Tantric map eventually helped his patient to integrate an Indonesian- based aspect of herself which she first experienced as a child with her Malay nurse and which conflicted with her adult European consciousness. In this sense, the introduction of a third language – the images of the chakras – provided a bridge and facilitated a reconciliation between two opposing elements of her personality. On a theoretical level, Jung hypothesized that a discipline such as Kundalini yoga initiated inner processes which change the personality and which might be universal and archetypal, even though the map of the psyche offered by that discipline was culturally specific. He wondered to what extent the experiences of psycho- analytic psychotherapy had sparked a similar psychological process in his client. Although Jung’s theory of archetypes can be misread as proffering a naive patriarchal universalism, the notes of his 1932 seminar on Kundalini yoga demonstrate, according to Shamdasani (1996), that his aim was to develop ‘a cross-cultural comparative psychology of inner experience.’
Theoretical considerations notwithstanding, Jung’s very pragmatic conclusion about this case remains relevant for any reader of transcultural psychiatry today: ‘No psychotherapist should lack that natural reserve which prevents people from riding roughshod over mysteries they do not understand and trampling them flat. This reserve will enable him to pull back in good time when he encounters the mystery of the patient’s difference from himself, and to avoid the danger – unfortunately only too real – of committing psychic murder in the name of therapy.’ (Jung, 1937).
In counterpoint to this brief sampling of Jung’s recorded approaches to other cultures, I would like to present in some detail an account of the usefulness of Jung’s psychology from ‘inside’ another culture. My source is Yvonne Johnson’s 1998 book, Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman (co- authored with the Canadian novelist Rudy Wiebe).
IN A PRISON CELL; JOHNSON ON TEMENOS AND ABREACTION
Yvonne Johnson is a Native Canadian woman serving life imprisonment for first-degree murder. In September 1989, along with her husband Dwayne Wenger, her cousin Shirley Anne Cooke and a certain Ernie Jensen, Johnson was arrested for the murder of Leonard Charles Skwarok. Johnson spent the first four years of her life sentence in Kingston Penitentiary for Women, ‘a dysfunctional labyrinth of claustrophobic and inadequate spaces’ according to one Canadian judge (Arbour, 1996), until it was closed down. In the prison library, Johnson discovered Wiebe’s historical novel The Temptations of Big Bear. Since Johnson was Big Bear’s great-great-granddaughter, she wrote to Wiebe, asking for help:
As you may be aware, in 1885 my family and band were spread all over this continent after the imprisonment of Big Bear . . . I’ve had a hard life and it keeps getting harder. I think it’s a deep sense of true justice and under- standing and of true knowledge I search for that keeps me going . . . I just wish my life would change for the better at some point. I don’t want to die this way, with nothing settled or overcome. I need to fight. I need to know where I come from and why our race suffers so . . . (p. 4)1
Johnson discovered her prison cell to be both a place of constraint and of concentration. She wrote to Wiebe, ‘You see, I’ve spent the last thirty years running from reality, but due to imprisonment I was forced to stop running, and that’s so hard’ (p. 5). Later, she wrote, ‘The cops and the law just covered me, locked me down tight with a lid’ (p. 333). On the one hand, this sealed forensic container forced her into states of intense intro- version, ‘I didn’t remember what happened when I was two and a half . . . till I stayed sober for a while and I was sitting in Kingston Prison that the memories came back’ (p. 360). On the other hand, the cell was a secular and unsanctified space in which she felt dangerously alone and over- whelmed by a flood of memories and affects.
During this time, Johnson also discovered Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Inspired by Jung’s memoirs, she wrote in a black journal her own memories and fantasies. Wiebe describes the effect of this decision to read Jung and to express her psychological suffering in words on paper, Yvonne is near physical collapse from pain and infection problems related to her last natural, now decaying teeth: Kingston is not giving her the proper dental care. But beyond that, she is remembering so much of her past, and it is disturbing her more and more. Writing it down seems to bring more memories to the surface, but the effect is contradictory: even as writing helps her to utter the past out of herself, it overwhelms and depresses her. There are times when she addresses me directly in the journals: ‘Rudy I don’t know what to do. . . .’
As a Cree woman in a Canadian prison, Johnson often expressed her hopes for the future, not so much in terms of release or rehabilitation, but rather as a religious desire for endogenous healing. The need to tell her story while confined could have reinforced only her feelings of depression and isolation, but Johnson was using her reading of Jung to move towards what psychoanalysis would call an effective ‘abreaction’; that is to say, towards expressing and consequently releasing memories and affects which one feels gripped by but cannot consciously access. Her isolation and fears were contradicted by a strong sense of connectedness, both to Jung and to herself. For example, in her journal entry for 19 December 1994, she notes:
He writes, back then, what is me right now. I become aware of affinity, I could establish ties with something, some one. As most of my life has been to let myself be carried along by currents without a notion of where it took me, or even consequence. My dear Jung as you are to me now, I now will sleep with this to ponder, though I feel I know it already. His new chapter begins, The Work, on page 200, and the clock tells me it’s 1:19 am. Time to lay it to rest. (pp. 425–426)
Reading, writing and remembering in her cell, Johnson conducted three simultaneous dialogues. When Johnson read, Jung as narrator was present in his book, and her act of reading became a dialogue, ‘Jung has the White words, but to me he thinks like an Indian . . . He writes this which is me. I wish I could speak to him.’ When Johnson wrote in her journal, her dialogue was often with Wiebe as her elected reader. When memories flooded her, Johnson understood that she was conducting an inner dialogue with herself. She describes the process, ‘I will remember within myself, and then I will say it. I have to, because as Jung writes, I must within myself “forge an ego that endures the truth” ’ (p. 388).
When Kingston Penitentiary was closed down, Johnson was moved to a matriarchal-based prison in Saskatchewan, Okimaw Ohci, created by the Elders of Nekaneet for Native women. Only in Okimaw Ohci, a very different kind of forensic container, did Johnson finally gather the courage to dredge up and recall her part in the crime for which she was sentenced. And the Nekaneet tradition informed her that it must be not only remem- bered but spoken to another. After a ritual sweat ceremony led by her adopted father Elder Gordon Oaks of Nekaneet and in consultation with Elder Pauline Shirt of Toronto, for the first time Johnson spoke out, in a connected sequence, what she remembered. She framed her statement with an appeal for understanding and closure: ‘I do this in a ceremonial way, and it is covered under the medicine, and I believe the spirits are here to help me. My sole purpose in doing this is to give it to the Creator, to give it to the spirits in the hope for some sort of understanding, to put some sort of closure on it all . . .’ (p. 395).
Jung would have used two metaphors to describe what Johnson and the elders of Nekaneet were shaping. He borrowed the Greek word temenos, meaning ‘a sacred precinct in which a god’s presence can be felt,’ to describe the psychological container constructed during an analysis. Confidentiality and trust between analyst and patient go into the construction of this therapeutic frame. In addition, they both orient themselves in a respectful attitude specifically towards the unconscious in their search for healing. A sacred connotation may characterize their shared space and language; that is to say, in their receptivity to the autonomous unconscious, the ego-consciousness of both therapist and patient may feel potentially overwhelmed. If the temenos is strong enough, they can endure this. Without temenos, Jung argued in an article about psychotherapy for traumatized soldiers, ‘abreaction is not only useless but actually harmful’ (Jung, 1921).
Jung also spoke metaphorically of the psychological container as the ‘hermetically sealed vessel,’ a term from alchemy which he used to suggest how conflicts between ego consciousness and the unconscious may eventually re-solve and transform if the analytic container remains sealed as the process affectively ‘heats up.’ Still, Jung would have said that, even with expert analytic containment, if the psychotherapeutic experiment succeeds and a change experienced as healing comes, it does so inexplicably: Deo Concedent, as the alchemists would say, ‘with God’s consent’ (Samuels, Shorter, & Plaut, 1986).
Just as Jung borrowed from the Greeks and from alchemy, so Johnson borrows a metaphor from Jung to make sense of her own journey as a Cree woman, both in the transition from her Kingston cell to the setting at Okimaw Ohci, and in her progress through a ritualized abreaction to reconnecting with her repressed memories and feelings. She writes, ‘I have read and made notes on Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. In it he talks about the “natural mind.” He says such a mind sees and speaks absol- utely straight and ruthless things “like a priestess in a bear’s cave.” He is speaking about me. I recognize my mind in what he writes. I’m of Cree/Norwegian ancestry, born and raised on Western mountains and plains, and my mind – as Jung describes it – is like a natural spring welling out of the earth, “and brings with it the peculiar wisdom of nature.” This “archaic” kind of gift sees and remembers so much . . .’ (p. 77). Johnson remained (and remains to this day) incarcerated, but she used Jung’s words in order to re-imagine her situation in terms not unlike temenos: solitary but safe and sacred, human but foreign (i.e. both natural and spiritual), a cell wherein she might feel confined but also potentially connected to collective theriomorphic wisdom, ‘like a priestess in a bear’s cave.’
JOHNSON ON SPLITTING AND THE TUSE OF THERIOMORPHIC GUIDES
Johnson’s sense of ‘affinity’ and ‘establishing ties’ with Jung must have felt significant because it counters the predominant imagery of alienation in Stolen Life. In her personal narrative, Johnson traced a split inner and family landscape, each divided both by race and by national borders. Johnson is as much White as Native: her mother is Cree, her father an ex- U.S. Marine of Norwegian ancestry. The exhausting tracking of her family’s movements back and forth across these racial and national divides, mapping the transgenerational landscape, became an essential exercise for Johnson.
Johnson associated the American side of the border with her father, a blue-eyed, blond-haired Vietnam War veteran who settled in Butte, Montana. On the Canadian side, Johnson traced her connection through her mother to her great-grandmother who was apparently Big Bear’s youngest daughter and lived on the Red Pheasant Reserve. Her positive memories of this great-grandmother created a kind of psychic ballast that Johnson used to strengthen herself as she wrote down her difficult memories of Butte.
Johnson has described her predicament as a child attempting to manoeuvre within this split landscape, crystallized in the moment when, in a lawyer’s office, her parents officially separated, and she, as well as her five brothers and sisters, was asked by the judge to choose where she wanted to reside, Butte Montana or the Red Pheasant Reserve. Johnson’s ambivalence was acute. Her link to her positive Native Canadian ancestors was through her mother whom she experienced as a negative figure. Therefore, the child chose to live on the White American side with her father. Even though her father, her grandfather and her second brother would abuse her, the image of Father consistently carried something positive for her – so much so that in the midst of the confusion following the murder for which she was convicted, Johnson drove away from her house to a phone booth and called her father for advice.
Johnson formulated an ironic observation about her psychic map. White great-grandfather Louie Johnson recalled working for a rancher whose land south of Havre was in 1916 turned over to the refugee Cree from Canada’s 1881 war and became the present-day Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation. The leader of the Cree from Canada who finally got that land for his people after 30 years of negotiation was Little Bear, better known in history as Imasees, the oldest living son of the Cree Chief Big Bear. Johnson points to this legacy when she writes:
A hundred years ago Big Bear’s son Little Bear escaped from the Canadian prairies to hide in the mountains of Montana; I was born and raised all over those mountains; now I was running back to hide north of the border. My mother, my sisters, me – running, looking over our shoulders, hiding – Big Bear’s descendants, we had become nomads again; we were again hunters hunting whatever we could find to stay ahead of hunger and homelessness. Still running from Whites. (p. 152)
Johnson interprets her family’s movements back and forth across this map as parodying her Cree ancestors’ nomadic movements from before the American–Canadian border division. What was once a collective migra- tion directed by a symbiotic relationship with the buffalo, was re-enacted by her family in a ‘diabolical’ form: that is to say, splitting away, ‘fleeing from’ rather than ‘moving towards’ (Kalsched, 1996).2 Intrapsychically, Johnson’s map offered her an image of both pathological splitting – borders, reservations, isolation – and a sound pre-morbid instinctive basis of self – her ancestors moving with the buffalo (Jung, 1961a).
When North American Native peoples say they dislike Western psychiatry, it is often because it locates pathology only intrapsychically, i.e. within the suffering individual. Johnson also mapped her family in a manner not unlike an anamnestic analysis, tracking the pathology back through generations to its possible origin: in the betrayal of the Cree Chief Big Bear’s people by the Canadian government. Jung often alluded to the Greek myth of the cursed house of Atreus in order to describe how, generation after generation, parents unconsciously infect children with their unresolved psychological wounds (Jung, 1924). Johnson’s historical and geographical map begged the same question: to what extent was her personal predicament informed by an unconscious legacy of collective betrayal spanning four generations?
Another image of inherited splitting concerns what Johnson calls her ‘Bear Lip.’ It is a genetic problem that she traced back through the women in her mother’s family. Johnson describes a photo of her Grand- mother Flora who had to live with an open single cleft palate until she died. For Johnson, who was born with a double cleft palate, circumstances were kinder since, as an adolescent, she received the needed plastic surgery. But there is a paradox about the significance of this wound which Johnson discovered only as she began to learn more about Cree religion. Her wound was considered not merely a liability but also a sign of specialness, ‘The old man explained carefully that in the old days, if a child came with a hare- shorn lip, it wasn’t a terrible thing or a hurtful thing; it meant the child’s soul was still in touch with the Spirit World. . . . A bear always has a fold in her upper lip. My grandma, I, my eldest child, Chantal, have the gift and the legacy of the bear so strong, we have the Bear’s Lip’ (pp. 423, 436).
Jung (1951) described theriomorphism as ‘a visualization of the unconscious self manifesting itself through “animal” impulses.’ When an unconscious wound is touched, the ego feels impinged upon by waves of memory and affect, and the individual may act instinctively – like a fierce unpredictable and powerful animal – with either the greatest destructiveness or the greatest compassion. Johnson has written from experience about both outcomes, about her part in a killing and about creating a conscious affinity with the bear in service of others (her spiritual name became Medicine Bear Woman).
But the bear was not the only theriomorphic image with which Johnson contended. Johnson and Wiebe have offered an excellent example of how a series of theriomorphic images functions meaningfully, and from their example we might surmise why many cultures attribute to theriomorphic figures the role of guide.
In Stolen Life, Johnson tells a childhood story of her brothers Earl and Leon and a young golden eagle with a broken wing with which she identified. Golden eagles are one of the world’s most ferocious birds. Earl, her ‘good’ brother, rescued the bird from a barbed wire fence, splinted the broken wing and confined it to a large linen closet. Leon, the more trouble- some ‘shadowy’ brother, locked little Yvonne in the room with the bird. She writes,
Leon banged on the wall to excite the bird into clawing me. At first I was afraid; the eagle raised her massive wings and screeched. The sound was overwhelming in the small room. She blinked her eye at me, turning and tilting her head to follow my movements, but I did not cry out. When she spread her wings, they touched the walls of the room. I slid to the floor, with her eye following me, and I asked her pardon, I didn’t want to bug her, but it wasn’t my fault. Her long thin tongue stretched out of her beak as she shrieked again, and she blinked her fierce eye at me . . . It seemed to me we could speak to each other, her one eye looking at me and then the other. She was quiet, watching, and waiting to heal.
In her telling of this childhood incident, Johnson identified positively with the golden eagle that Good Brother Earl had rescued from the barbed wire. Dark Brother Leon forced her into a direct confrontation with it, and, eventually, she alone witnessed its return to the wild and suffered the blame for its escape.
For weeks after her arrest in September 1989, Johnson refused to speak to anyone. She made no statement to the RCMP. Verbally she shut down. But she began to draw a few sketches. Two months later, in November, Johnson drew a bird-shape emerging out of a surround of words. The image was accompanied with the words of a Christian minister who had visited the remand center and who must have read from Luke 12:6: ‘Do not fret! Aren’t we told His eye is on the sparrow – that small fluttery brownness? Imagine – a sparrow – sold two for a farthing. Almost two for nothing. Yet not one shall fall to the ground without His notice.’ But, as Wiebe observed years later, the bird Yvonne draws to encircle these words looks nothing like a sparrow. It seems to be swirling up from a seething cosmos, its head feathers swept back from its fierce black-masked eye, its strong beak open like any eagle’s. Ahead and over this bird floats the tiny split ovum of the universe, and the bird is driving itself straight at the long tail that trails down from that egg.
A second drawing from December 1989 humanized the eagle figure: ‘Two immensely feathered wings hold aloft between them the body of an angel whose single foot emerging from folded robes seems to stand on air. The angel’s slender hands are folded over its breast, and one eye is open, looking straight at the viewer. But the other eye, the left eye on the side of the heart, is closed tight, blind to the outward world.’ The movement from a theriomorphic to an anthropomorphic image in these drawings seems potentially positive, progressive in the sense that an instinctively driven bird of prey retains its connotations of spirit and power but gains human qualities, including the capacity to look outwardly and reflect inwardly. The theriomorphic eagle functioned as guide, at the very least, in the sense that it manifested indirectly through imagery a process which conscious- ness registered but could not know directly.
Nine months later, still at the remand center where she had been commended by the center’s senior psychologist for ‘facilitating the adjustment and coping of mentally low functioning female offenders in her unit,’ Johnson wrote a document headed, ‘Yvonne Johnson/Sep 6 1990/ Edmonton Alberta Canada,’ fourteen typewritten single-spaced pages loaded with words from edge to edge. She began to write her life story.
The obvious dignity in Johnson’s narrative, Stolen Life, derives from the fiercely intelligent use of both her Cree ancestry and her reading of Jung – regardless of the gaps between the two – in order ‘to forge an ego that endures the truth.’ This, irrefutably, was her goal: not to split off from intensely difficult memories and feelings. In the transcript of Johnson’s statement to the Elders concerning her part in the murder, she said the following: ‘It was like I was shifted into another person, but I knew I didn’t, I didn’t have multipersonalities’ (p. 402). In other words, rather than speaking from a fragmented ego, Johnson spoke from a place of ego intact- ness and ego integrity.
THE LANGUAGES OF MEDICINE AND HEALING
Johnson’s book offers, in its direct and yet ambiguous language, several points of reflection for the transcultural psychiatrist.
As a Cree woman, Johnson certainly seems to have found herself able to move and find meaning within Jung’s framework. Jung is often unacknowledged or dismissed by orthodox psychologists and psychiatrists, and relegated to New Age status by booksellers and readers, because, in order to find a vocabulary suited to experiences such as Johnson’s, he went beyond the lexicon of psychopathology to investigate also the languages of alchemy, mysticism and comparative religion. In these elusive realms, he was looking for what he called an ‘equivocal language’ which would do justice to ‘the dual nature’ of psychological experience. But by writing about possible meanings which reside in ‘psychic facts,’ that is to say, in psychological reality rather than in scientific proofs or religious beliefs, Jung risked his professional reputation as psychiatrist; he admitted, ‘Whoever talks of such matters inevitably runs the risk of being torn to pieces by the two parties who are in mortal conflict about those very things.’ Jung struggled to locate his ideas within a discourse which, though precise in terms of Western psychiatric knowledge, would be, at the same time, open enough to allow for what is not directly knowable in the experience of suffering and healing.
Psychiatrists and psychologists might profitably consider how Johnson made use of Jung’s vocabulary and insights to help her endure and render meaningful her ‘journey’ as a Cree woman. Today, in Canada, mental health teams (for instance, at Akwesasne) are attempting to combine mainstream psychiatry with sacred Native healing ceremonies. Psychiatrists may find Jung’s ideas and words helpful as effective bridges between Western medical practice and cultures in which the noun ‘medicine’ carries an essential religious connotation.
Following Johnson, Native mental health workers may find that Jung’s analytical psychology corroborates their experiences of the need for a return to traditional healing practices. They would also find that Jung was well aware of the apprehension and protectiveness that many elders feel about sharing their secret traditional healing knowledge. Indeed, Jung suggested that the survival of these communities depended upon their ability to protect such secrets from desecration. For instance, Jung wrote:
The Pueblo Indians are unusually closemouthed and in matters of their religion absolutely inaccessible. They make it a policy to keep their religious practices a secret, and this secret is so strictly guarded that I abandoned as hopeless any attempt at direct questioning. Never before had I run into such an atmosphere of secrecy; the religions of civilized nations today are all accessible; their sacraments have long ago ceased to be mysteries. Here however the air was filled with a secret known to all communicants, but to which whites could gain no access. This strange situation gave me an inkling of Eleusis, whose secret was known to one nation and yet never betrayed. I understood what Pausanias or Herodotus felt when he wrote: ‘I am not permitted to name the name of that god.’ This was not I felt mystification but a vital mystery whose betrayal might bring about the downfall of the community as well as of the individual. Preservation of the secret gives the Pueblo Indian pride and the power to resist the dominant whites. It gives him cohesion and unity. And I feel sure that the Pueblos as an individual community will continue to exist as long as their mysteries are not dese- crated. (Jung, 1961b)3
Finally, Jung’s 1958 challenge to psychiatry still holds. The physiology and the psychogenesis of mental disease continue to go their separate ways. The trans- cultural psychiatrist who is forced, by the task of understanding and healing the sick, to consider both sides can find in Johnson and in her uses of Jung something else of value: a lived example of how to create meaning and healing out of the tension between two seemingly irreconcilable opposites.
- All quotations are taken from: Johnson, Y., & Wiebe, R. (1998). Stolen life: The journey of a Cree woman. Toronto: Knopf.
- Kalsched (1996) explained ‘diabolical’ versus ‘symbolic’: ‘One hint of a possible understanding comes from the derivation of the word “diabolical” from the Greek dia (across) and ballein (to throw) (OED), hence, “to throw across or apart.” From this derives the common meaning of “diabolos,” as the Devil, i.e., he who crosses, thwarts, or disintegrates (dissociation). The antonym of diabolic is “symbolic” from sym-ballein, meaning “to throw together.” We know that both processes – throwing apart and throwing together – are essential to psychological life and that in their apparently antagonistic activities we have a pair of opposites which, when optimally balanced, characterize the homeostatic processes of the psyche’s self- regulation. Without “throwing apart,” we would have no differentiation, and without “throwing together” there would be no synthetic integration into larger wholes. These regulatory processes are especially active at the transi- tional interface between the psyche and outer reality – precisely the threshold at which defense is necessary. We might imagine this self-regulatory activity, then, as the psyche’s self-care system, analogous to the body’s immune system’ (p. 16).
3. In the Vision Seminars, Jung (1997) also explains: ‘When I was with the Pueblo Indians, I told the chief of the ceremonies that he should admonish his people never, for anything in the world, to betray their religious secrets, because that would be their undoing . . . for if they should betray their mysteries, they would really be finished, their light would fail’ (p. 249).
Arbour, L. (1996). Commission of inquiry into certain events at the prison for women in Kingston (Commissioner, the Honourable Louise Arbour). Ottawa: Canada Communication Group.
Johnson, Y., & Wiebe, R. (1998). Stolen life: The journey of a Cree woman. Toronto, ON: Knopf.
Jung, C. G. (1921). The therapeutic value of abreaction. Collected works Vol. 16, Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1924). Analytical psychology and education. Collected works Vol. 17. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1929). Commentary of The secret of the golden flower. Collected works Vol. 13. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1936). Yoga and the West. Collected works Vol. 11. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1937). The realities of practical psychotherapy. Collected works Vol. 16. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1945). Medicine and psychotherapy. Collected works Vol. 16. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1951). Aion: Researches into the phenomenology of the self. Collected works Vol. 9ii. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1958). Schizophrenia. Collected works Vol. 3. Bollingen series.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1961a). Healing the split, in symbols and the interpretation of dreams. Collected works Vol. 18. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung. C. G. (1961b). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Vintage.
Jung, C. G. (1996). The psychology of Kundalini Yoga: Notes of the seminar given in 1932. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1997). Visions: Notes of the seminar given in 1930–1934. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kalsched, D. (1996). The inner world of trauma: Archetypal defenses of the personal spirit. New York: Routledge.
Samuels, A., Shorter, B., & Plaut, F. (1986). A critical dictionary of Jungian analysis. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Shamdasani, S. (1996). Introduction: Jung’s journey to the East. The psychology of Kundalini Yoga: Notes of the seminar given in 1932. Bollingen series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
FLUTTERING IN THE NET-WORK OF MY FATHER’S WILL: FATHER AS RULING PRINCIPLE OR A PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION IN EDMUND GOSSE’S FATHER AND SON
Craig E Stephenson
In his essay on ‘The Father in the Destiny of the Individual’, C. G. Jung wrote: ‘Behind the father stands the archetype of the father, and in this pre-existent archetype lies the secret of the father’s power, just as the power which forces the bird to migrate is not produced by the bird itself but derives from its ancestors’ (Jung, 1949, par.739). He describes the parental influence on a child as ‘invisible threads’ that ‘direct the apparently individual workings of the maturing mind’. And he warns: ‘The more a father identifies with the archetype, the more unconscious and irresponsible, indeed psychotic, both he and his child will be… [even to the point of a] ‘folie à deux’ (Jung, 1949, par.729).
In Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments, Edmund Gosse describes himself in just such terms: as a child ensnared in the invisible threads of a powerful parental constellation, as ‘a bird fluttering in the net-work of my Father’s will’ (p.232). Father and Son charts Gosse’s attempt to render these threads visible and to wrestle, as a mature man, with the ambivalences of the father imago. Then, it is as if Gosse takes the consequences of that confrontation and offers them in the shape of words to the world.
1. PREFATORY NOTES
In the early 1890’s, the British writer and critic George Moore read a conventional biography that Edmund Gosse had written about his father, the famous marine biologist Philip Henry Gosse. Moore urged his friend to rewrite the story, this time emphasizing the conflict between father and son and adopting the first person singular: ‘I admire your book for itself’, Moore wrote to Gosse, ‘still more for the book it has revealed to me… a great psychological work waits to be written – your father’s influence on you and your influence on him and as a background you will have the Plymouth Brethren.’ The new book was first published anonymously in 1907; only after the fourth edition did the author attach his name to the work. Ironically, of the thirty-odd books written by Gosse, it is the only one to have remained popular after his death in 1928.
In his preface, Gosse makes clear his intentions to the reader. He presents his book as more formal than intimate and shifts the emphasis originally suggested by Moore from the personal to the documentary. Father and Son is first and foremost a ‘document’ diagnosing the dying Puritanism of the 1880’s (of which his father is representative) and only ‘in a subsidiary sense’ a ‘study’ of a child’s intellectual and moral development from infancy. By his own admission Gosse’s style is influenced by the nineteenth-century French critic Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve who argued that the critic and writer should work as a good naturalist in the domain of the human spirit so as to classify –as if by psychological typology– the different orders of the human mind. With Sainte-Beuve as guide, Gosse considered his study of two ‘innately antagonistic’ temperaments to be informed by a common-sense inductive approach.
At the same time, Gosse cannot refrain from signalling in the last sentence of his preface that a feeling tone informs his supposedly impersonal narrative: ‘There was an extraordinary mixture of comedy and tragedy in the situation which is here described, and those who are affected by the pathos of it will not need to have it explained to them that the comedy was superficial and the tragedy essential’ (p.34). Perhaps, considered in the light of this comment, Gosse’s inductive method has an unstated psychological function; it provides him with a distancing from the full emotional explosiveness of his own story. It is as if he creates a frame around the essential tragedy of his conflict with his father by appealing to a Victorian sense of decorum and tact –hence, the anonymous publication– and by emphasizing a Victorian belief in the power of objective fact. According to Phyllis Grosskurth (1979), the surface of Victorian autobiographical texts with their scientifically described aims often functions as a linguistic screen. Using the terminology of D.W. Winnicott (1958), one might describe Gosse’s narrative voice as a disinterested ‘false self’ behind which hides the writer’s vulnerable ‘true self’. Peter Abbs (1983) has underlined just how much Gosse’s text claims for itself such a dispassionate surface.
The subtext of Father and Son, the undertone Gosse acknowledges, is one of ‘pathos’, ie. of suffering. Behind Gosse’s Victorian proscenium arch and his neutral narrative scrim, an essentially tragic psychodrama is being enacted, with archetypal forces fuelling both the young boy’s dramatic steps into life and the desire of the now mature man to tell his story.
2. BIRTH STORIES
Gosse narrates the story of his arrival into the world in 1849 in sober tones:
In this strange household the advent of a child was not welcomed, but was borne with resignation. The event was thus recorded in my Father’s diary: ‘E delivered of a son. Received green swallow from Jamaica.’ (p.38)
The father’s note to himself lacks any feeling response or valuing of the birth. Gosse appeals to his typology of temperaments in order to account for this absence: ‘What the wording exemplifies is my Father’s extreme punctilio. The green swallow arrived later in the day than the son’. But the underlying feeling question remains unaddressed: how will the newly born son come to experience himself as ‘fathered’ if images of a personal father such as this preside in his psyche?
Gosse’s mother’s diary reveals a different form of resignation. As Gosse discovers, her ambivalence about the birth is expressed there in religious musings rather than in scrupulousness:
Left to my Mother’s sole care, I became the centre of her solicitude. But there mingled with those happy animal instincts which sustain strength and patience of every human mother and were fully present with her – there mingled with these certain spiritual determinations which can be but rare. (p.39)
In her post-partum state, she records fantasies of further separation through the death of her child:
We have given him to the Lord: and we trust that he will really manifest him to be His own, if he grow up; and if the Lord take him early, we will not doubt that he is taken to Himself. Only, if it please the Lord to take him, I do trust we may be spared seeing him suffering in lingering illness and much pain. But in this as in all things His will is better than what we can choose. Whether his life be prolonged or not, it has already been a blessing to us, and to the saints, in leading us to much prayer, and bringing us into varied need and some trial. (p.40)
Emily’s morbid musings can perhaps be understood in light of the fact that it had been a difficult, even an ‘alarming’ birth. According to her account, the child had seemed quite dead and uttered no cry: ‘the medical attendants expected he would go off in convulsions: his chest and head and face were much out of place’ (p.38). After the delivery, her husband and the attendants focused their care exclusively on Emily, having given up on the child. Gosse’s life was saved only because of the persistence of an anonymous old woman who eventually awoke in him a spark of vitality. Not surprisingly, he always longed to know (but could never learn from his parents) the name of his deliverer. In his own telling of his birth story, she becomes the one responsible for giving him life, for bringing him into the world: ‘For all the raptures of life, for all its turmoils, its anxious desires, its manifold pleasures, and even for its sorrows and suffering, I bless and praise that anonymous old lady from the bottom of my heart’ (p.39).
There is an obvious absence of Eros, of connectedness, in the birth stories recorded in both parents’ diaries. That absence could not help but inform their son’s upbringing. Gosse describes the familial setting as ‘perfect purity, perfect intrepidity, perfect abnegation; yet there was also narrowness, isolation, an absence of perspective, let it be boldly admitted, an absence of humanity’ (p.43). So, for example, of his tenth year the son writes of his outer life: ‘I was allowed at last to associate with [ie., read ‘experience’ as opposed to ‘watch from a window’] a child of my own age’. In light of this passing reference to enforced solitude, it is doubly disturbing to read the account of the young Gosse acting out fantasies of self-injury: ‘I formed the belief that it was necessary, for the success of my practical magic, that I should hurt myself, and when, as a matter of fact, I began, in extreme secrecy, to run pins into my flesh and bang my joints with books, no one will be surprised to hear than my Mother’s attention was drawn to the fact that I was looking “delicate”‘ (p.61).
Searching back through the family narratives for the moment when his infant ‘verbal self’ emerges, Gosse notes that his first uttered baby-word was neither ‘Mamma’ nor ‘Daddy’ but ‘book’.
3. LEGACIES OF REPRESSION AND DESIRE
Jung often wrote about the ways in which repressed suffering in adults ‘radiates out into the environment and, if there are children, infects them too. In this way neurotic states are often passed on from generation to generation, like the curse of Atreus’ (Jung, 1924, par.154).
Gosse gives an account of the terrible political and religious blunder his father made in an effort to reconcile opposing camps of a controversy over evolution. Specifically, Philip Henry Gosse challenged the findings of Darwin and in 1875 published a tract attempting to resolve the conflict between creationists and evolutionists, arguing that, according to the Law of Prochronism, ‘God hid the fossils in the rocks in order to tempt geologists into infidelity’ (p.104). Of course, neither side was served by this attempt at a resolution. Stung by the dismissive reactions of associates both in science and religion, Gosse’s father ‘drew back in an agony and accepted the servitude of error’ (p.102), isolating himself in ‘depression’ (p.106) and maintaining his convictions at the expense of his own scientific oeuvre and his relationship with the world at large. Both he and his family suffered tremendously as a result.
Having turned his back on the outer world, Gosse’s father lived an increasingly insular life, defended by religious prohibitions built on a foundation of fears. Gosse describes his father’s religion as: ‘not informed by mysticism – [it] went rather to the opposite extreme, to the cultivation of a rigid and iconoclastic literalness’, from which ‘sympathetic imagination was singularly absent’ (p.78). And it was this world perspective and these religious precepts which he longed to see engendered in his son. In letter after letter far into adult life, Gosse would wrestle to free himself from this legacy, protesting even as a middle-aged man: ‘I think you are the most difficult Father to satisfy in all the world.’
And what of the mother? Emily’s continued presentiments of separation from her son –‘always vaguely present in my Mother’s dreams’ (p.68)– may have been unconscious anticipation of her own death. She succumbed to breast cancer when her only child was eight years old. But the adult son was convinced that she had always been the stronger of the two parents and that ‘she exercised without suspecting it a magnetic power over the will and nature of my Father’, even long after she died.
The young Gosse often mused about a white flower high up on the wallpaper, which his mother marked out for him and to which she referred as ‘the star beyond his reach’. Through reading her diaries, he later acquired some awareness of her own white flower and how she had denied its power in her life:
She had a remarkable, I confess, to me still somewhat unaccountable impression that to ‘tell a story’, that is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, was a sin. As a child, she had possessed a passion for making up stories, and so considerable a skill in it that she was constantly being begged to indulge others with its exercise. Her secret diary reveals the history of [what became her] singular aversion to the fictitious…. This is surely a very painful instance of the repression of an instinct. There seems to have been, in this case, a vocation such as is rarely heard, and still less often wilfully disregarded and silenced. Was my Mother intended by nature to be a novelist? I have often thought so, and her talents and vigour of purpose, directed along the line which was ready to form ‘the chief pleasure of her life’ could hardly have failed to conduct her to great success. (p.42)
Was it by virtue of this vigorous imagination that the wife held sway over the marriage, or was it with the will by which she repressed it in deference to the religious strictures which both she and her husband consciously honoured above all else? Gosse describes her personality as most informed by a ‘rigour of spirit which took the form of constant self-denial’: “For it to dawn upon her consciousness that she wished for something, was definitely to renounce that wish, or, more exactly, to subject it in everything to what she conceived to be the will of God’ (p.42). Keeping in mind the image of the untouchable white wallpaper flower, it is interesting to note that Gosse started to write verse in 1857, the year his mother died.
Gosse speaks of his early confirmation as ‘the central event of my whole childhood’ (p.157). Convinced that his son was an âme d’élite (p.136) and precociously advanced in his knowledge of God, Philip Henry Gosse led him at the age of twelve into full adult communion with the Marychurch brethren for whom he himself functioned as spiritual leader. The young boy wrapped himself in his father’s religious legacy and emerged from the baptismal pool revelling in a positive identification with his father’s power as lay-preacher. It was a rite of passage from which he emerged ‘puffed out with a sense of my own holiness’ (p.160) and a pinnacle moment in his relationship to his father: ‘Everything since the earliest dawn of consciousness seemed to have been leading up to it. Everything, afterwards, seemed to be leading down and away from it’ (p.156).
Gosse’s tone shifts when he describes a different ‘great event’, a few years earlier, when he was literally plucked from the church pew during his father’s sermon by a madwoman named Miss Mary Flaw and hurried out of the chapel under her arm, momentarily kidnapped from his father’s omniscience:
She nodded, I nodded; and the amazing deed was done, I hardly know how. Miss Flaw, with incredible swiftness, flew along the line, plucked me by the coat-collar from between my paralysed protectresses, darted with me down the chapel and out into the dark… My Father gazed from the pulpit and the stream of exhortation withered on his lip. No one in the body of the audience stirred; no one but himself had clearly seen what had happened. Vague rows of “saints” with gaping countenances stared up at him, while he shouted, “Will nobody stop them?” as we whisked out through the doorway. (p.132)
The tone of this passage suggests that Gosse’s recollections of the flight from the chapel in the arms of the inferior-minded but utterly humane Miss Flaw were entirely pleasurable. And something immense was constellated by the event. The young Gosse found himself plagued by a recurring nightmare already familiar from his early childhood. Here is Gosse the adult’s telling of the dream:
Some force, which had tight hold of me, so that I felt myself an atom in its grasp, was hurrying me on, over an endless slender bridge, under which on either side a loud torrent rushed at a vertiginous depth below. At first our helpless flight, –for I was bound hand and foot like Mazeppa,– proceeded in a straight line, but presently it began to curve, and we raced and roared along, in what gradually became a monstrous vortex, reverberant with noises, loud with light, while, as we proceeded, enormous concentric circles engulfed us, and wheeled above and about us. It seemed as if we, –I, that is, and the undefined force which carried me,– were pushing feverishly on towards a goal which our whole concentrated energies were bent on reaching, but which a frenzied despair in my heart told me we never could reach, yet the attainment of which alone could save us from destruction. Far away, in the pulsation of the great luminous whorls, I could just see that goal, a ruby-coloured point waxing and waning, and it bore, or to be exact, it consisted of, the letters of the word CARMINE. (p.133)
Despite his conscious declarations of allegiance to his father’s religious convictions, the young Gosse felt himself gripped in these dreams by unconscious forces which were carrying him into a dangerous unknown realm of whirling vortexes. Like the hero in Byron’s poem, the Polish nobleman Mazeppa bound hand and foot to a wild horse, the dream ego feels itself powerlessly propelled through chaos. As a boy, Gosse was never frightened by Miss Flaw, even when she had carried him out into the lampless village dark, but he recalls feeling ‘distressed’ by the force of the archetypal energy which, night after night, flings his child’s ego along the dream gradient, in the absence of helpful parental imagos, towards seven letters which spell a word charged with personal significance:
The fact that the word “Carmine” appeared as the goal of my visionary pursuits is not so inexplicable as it may seem. My Father was at this time producing numerous water-colour drawings of minute and even of microscopic forms of life…. By far the most costly of his pigments was the intense crimson which is manufactured out of the very spirit and essence of cochineal. I had lately become a fervent imitator of his works of art, and I was allowed to use all of his colours, except one; I was strictly forbidden to let a hair of my paint-brush touch the little broken mass of carmine which was all that he possessed…. “Carmine”, therefore, became my shibboleth of self-indulgence; it was a symbol of all that taste and art and wealth could combine to produce…. I knew of no object in the world of luxury more desirable than this, and its obsession in my waking hours is quite enough, I think, to account for “carmine” having been the torment of my dreams. (p.136)
The dark crimson pigment produced from the crushed bodies of the insect cochineal carries in these dreams a psychic charge equivalent to that invested in a collective image such as the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Desire has been constellated by the patriarchal father who declares, ‘Of this you may not partake. It is m-i-n-e.’ This desire is perhaps combined with the missing mother’s unlived legacy of imaginative intuition to form a potent mixture. What is intriguing is that, in young Gosse’s dream, the object of desire is not an image but seven letters which form a numinous and forbidden word ‘which alone can save us from destruction’.
The conscious legacy of his parents denied what Gosse often called the ‘humane’. In his recurring dream, it is as if the spelling of the word CARMINE functions in lieu of a parental imago, as intermediary between a frightening archetypal realm and the fragile ego of the child, between that which his hungry soul desires and that which he is not yet strong enough to claim as his birthright. It is as if he were about to glimpse a ruby-coloured god or goddess, only the word ‘humanely’ intervenes.
If he had studied Latin by this time, he would also have known that ‘carmine’ means ‘verse’. This is the dream of a young man who will search for Eros and soul in a professional life devoted to poetry and belles-lettres.
4. A TRAGIC PARADIGM: KILLING THE SON OR KILLING THE FATHER
In his seminal paper about the father-son complex, Jungian analyst C.T. Frey-Wehrlin describes in the history of analytical psychology a series of tragic breaks between father figures and crown princes, and he concludes by hoping for a future in which more fathers find from within the psychic strength to allow themselves to be metaphorically killed by sons. Father and Son documents a quest for individuation in which Gosse’s search for the Self (he was writing the book past midpoint in his career, at the age of fifty-eight) is informed by his need to account for his tragic break with his personal father and to understand his continual struggle with the father complex.
Of what did the innate antagonism of temperament between father and son consist? It played itself out in a curse of one-sidedness in which the father consciously identified himself with one pole of experience and confined his son by psychic necessity to carry the opposite. Certainly Gosse’s father was introverted and perhaps predominantly oriented towards sensation and thinking in his conscious functioning:
As a collector of facts and marshaller of observations, he had not a rival in that age; his very absence of imagination aided him in his work. But… this obstinate persuasion that he alone knew the mind of God, that he alone could interpret the designs of the Creator, what did it result from if not a congenital lack of that highest modesty which replies “I do not know” even to the questions which Faith, with menacing finger, insists on having most positively answered? (p.113)
… for my Father nothing was symbolic, nothing allegorical or allusive in any part of Scripture. (p.77)
Gosse imagined himself as innately opposed to this orientation. So, for example, the more reclusive and inward the father became, the more the son came to loathe being on his own, to such an extent that, in his own dotage, Gosse was often dismissed as a social lackey and a sycophant. More to the point, comparing himself in childhood to Princess Blanchefleur imprisoned by a negative patriarch in her marble fortress, Gosse describes the instinctive life coming to him like a lover in a basket of roses.
What came, as early as his sixth year, was an intuition of another self, an “Other” both as a dynamic force and as a companion, and with these experiences feelings of both shock and rapture. They began with a very early positive response of his maternal uncle E. and to the smell of tobacco, but they were mainly triggered by witnessing the limits of his father’s knowledge and power:
My Mother always deferred to my Father, and in his absence spoke of him to me, as if he were all-wise. I confused him in some sense with God; at all events I believed that my Father knew everything and saw everything. One morning in my sixth year, my Mother and I were alone in the morning-room, when my Father came in and announced some fact to us. I was standing on the rug, gazing at him, and when he made this statement, I remember turning quickly, in embarrassment, and looking into the fire. The shock to me was as that of a thunderbolt, for what my Father had said ‘was not true’. My Mother and I, who had been present at the trifling incident, were aware that it had not happened exactly as it had been reported to him…. Here was the appalling discovery, never suspected before, that father was not as God…. (p.56)
Later, the rebellious son actively tests the validity of his father’s religious precepts:
I cross-examined my Father very closely as to the nature of [the sin of idolatry] and pinned him down to the categorical statement that idolatry consisted in praying to anyone or anything but God himself…. I prepared for the great act of heresy. I was in the morning-room on the ground-floor, where, with much labour, I hoisted a small chair onto the table close to the window. My heart was now beating as if it would leap out of my side, but I pursued my experiment. I knelt down on the carpet in front of the table and looking up I said my daily prayer in a loud voice, only substituting the address ‘O Chair!’ for the habitual one…. The result of this ridiculous act was not to make me question the existence and power of God; those were forces which I did not dream of ignoring. But what it did was to lessen still further my confidence in my Father’s knowledge of the Divine mind. (p.66)
In conjunction with these painful shocks incurred when he witnesses his father’s fallibility, when he kills him and takes back from him the projection of the archetypal Father-figure of God (whose existence he never questions), something positive is constellated: the rapturous first experience of Gosse’s own true self.
In the first place the theory that my Father was omniscient or infallible was now dead and buried…. My Father, as a deity, as a natural force of immense prestige, fell in my eyes to a human level…. But of all the thoughts which rushed upon my savage and undeveloped little brain at this crisis, the most curious was that I had found a companion and a confidant in myself. There was a secret in this world and it belonged to me and to a somebody who lived in the same body with me. There were two of us, and we could talk with one another. It is difficult to define impressions so rudimentary, but it is certain that it was in this dual form that the sense of my individuality now suddenly descended upon me, and it is equally certain that it was a great solace to me to find a sympathizer in my own breast. (p.58)
Passages such as these in Father and Son remind one very much of Jung’s descriptions of his personality No. 2 in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Gosse narrates a series of events of filial disobedience or separation from the father behind which one can intuit the experiencing of this “Other”: private moments such as discovering the torn excerpts of a sensational novel stuck to the sides of a trunk in the attic, fantasizing how he can walk on the sea at Devon, responding to the sensuality of pagan statues in the book, but also more public moments such as meeting the wise old actor-poet James Sheridan Knowles and thereby beginning a study of Shakespeare, who as an author of fiction was forbidden in the Gosses’ household.
What is clearly evoked in Gosse’s narrative is how his one self imitates, placates, defers to the father, so much so that the child seeks out the spectacle of public baptism and confirmation into his father’s church at the unprecedented age of twelve, while the other self resists:
Through thick and thin I clung to a hard nut of individuality, deep down in my childish nature. To the pressure from without I resigned everything else, my thoughts, my words, my anticipations, my assurances, but there was something which I never resigned, my innate and persistent self. Meek as I seemed, and gently respondent, I was always conscious of that innermost quality which I had learned to recognize in my earlier days in Islington, that existence of two in the depths who could speak to one another in inviolable secrecy. (p.168)
Sometimes, these two selves even merge; for example, in the simple act of the child mimicking –‘like father, like son’– the professional work of the father as marine biologist. Gosse describes preparing little monographs on seaside creatures ‘which were arranged, tabulated and divided as exactly as possible on the pattern of those which my Father was composing for his Actinologicia Britannica.’ But this act, being imaginative, can also be read as parodic:
I invented new species, with sapphire spots and crimson tentacles and amber bands, which were close enough to his real species to be disconcerting. He came from conscientiously shepherding the flocks of oceans, and I do not wonder that my ring-straked, speckled and spotted varieties put him out of countenance. If I had not been so innocent and solemn, he might have fancied I was mocking him. (p.147)
In this way, Father and Son portrays the struggle of the son’s developing ego to adapt to outer demands and yet not betray itself.
5. DEPOTENTIATING THE COMPLEX AND REDEEMING THE MASCULINE
Nonetheless, what the fifty-eight-year-old Gosse still appears intent on doing in his epilogue is betraying himself. He begins: ‘This narrative… must not be allowed to close with the Son in the foreground of the piece. If it has a value, that value consists in what light it may contrive to throw upon the unique and noble figure of the Father’ (p.236). So, even in these last pages, the false self re-erects its Victorian screen of filial devotion and renders Gosse ‘still but a bird fluttering in the net-work of my Father’s will, and incapable of the smallest independent action’ (p.232).
Only in the very last sentence of the book does the second self explicitly, even boldly, articulate the opposite:
It was a case of “Everything or Nothing”; and thus desperately challenged, the young man’s conscience threw off once for all the yoke of his “dedication”, and as respectfully as he could, without parade or remonstrance, he took a human being’s privilege to fashion his inner life for himself. (p.251)
How was it that Gosse the writer failed to notice the shocking contradiction between the first and last paragraphs of his epilogue? His narrative ends with the image of the son’s courageous stepping outside the tyranny of his personal father and of the negative father complex in order to claim his privilege as a ‘human being’ rather than as a ‘son’. But clearly it was not so simple for Gosse to disidentify from the father-son complex or to actualize the psychic freedom he was claiming for himself in this closing sentence. As the contradictions inherent within the text of Father and Son make clear, the son may have claimed his independence from the outer man who was his father when he was twenty-one, but in terms of individuation, his psychic struggles with the Father were far from finished.
So, for instance, Gosse experienced a different kind of fathering when his first poems were positively received and promoted by A.C. Swinburne, a writer his father had once reviled as ‘the libidinous laureate of a pack of satyrs’. On the other hand, Gosse was known on occasion to react with his father’s characteristic intolerance and puritanical censure: Anne Thwaite(1984) relates how, as a literary critic, Gosse loathed Tolstoy for disturbing the status quo and raged against E. M. Forster when he found in Howard’s End ‘a high-born maiden who has had a baby’.
A chance to transform the complex and to access a positive masculine spiritual energy residing behind it in the shadow may have come to Gosse in his thirtieth year. It came not so much through his already very secure marriage to Ellen Epps and his fathering of three children (two girls and a boy) as through the most profound and intensely passionate relationship of his life: he fell in love with the British sculptor William Hamo Thornycroft. It was a relationship between men not played out on a vertical power-axis but explored on a horizontal axis of reciprocity. The connection to Thornycroft was both an erotic crush and a singular spiritual epiphany. Gosse described it in a letter to Thornycroft as ‘the summer of my life, which I have spent in a sort of morning glory walking by your side’.
What, then, did the father complex as a psychological function bring to Gosse? Most certainly, a wound, but, possibly, through that woundedness, both consciousness and a point of entry into a life lived in devotion both to words and to Eros. Gosse wrote a formal biography of his father at forty-one years of age and felt moved to try again seventeen years later. It would seem that the second attempt was more in service to his own soul rather than to outwardly honour Philip Henry. Initiated at the suggestion of his friend George Moore, Gosse’s writing of Father and Son soon became a task imposed from within, as if to call to accounts (long after his personal father’s death) the negative father, perhaps also to celebrate his own psychic survival. It would seem that an inner shifting did take place between the writing of the two very different books. To some extent, Gosse did depotentiate the negative father as a ruling principle in his psyche. But Father and Son also bears evidence that fifty-eight-year-old Gosse could still feel himself inwardly tyrannized and could just as easily speak as if from his father’s world-view as from his own, at great cost to his soul. That he married, fathered children, knew profound love, and penned thirty-odd books including one masterpiece, speaks to the resilience of both CARMINE and the ‘Other’ in his life.
i. All textual quotations from: Gosse, Edmund. Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments. Edited by Peter Abbs (1983). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
ii. The Plymouth Brethren were a sect of evangelical Christians originating in Ireland and England around 1828 who established a congregation at Plymouth, Devon in 1831.
George Moore quoted in Thwaite, Anne. (1984) Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849-1926. London: Secker and Warburg. p.320.
iii. In fact, in the last chapter, in spite of the obvious autobiographical nature of the work, he will flatly deny that he has written an ‘autobiography’ (p.217). Gosse, Edmund. Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments. Edited by Peter Abbs (1983). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
iv. Grosskurth, Phyllis (1979) in Approaches to Victorian Autobiography, as quoted by Abbs, Peter (1983). ‘Introduction’. Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
v. ‘Many of the phenomena thought by psychoanalytic theory to play a crucial role in very early development such as delusions of merger or fusion, splitting, defensive or paranoid fantasies, are not applicable to infancy… are conceivable only after the capacity for symbolization as evidenced by language is emerging.’ Stern, Daniel. (1985). The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalytic and Developmental Psychology. New York: Basic Books.
vi. ‘How did he reconcile his religious with his scientific views?…The word “reconcile” is scarcely the right one, because the idea of reconciliation was hardly entertained by my father. He had no notion of striking a happy mean between his impressions of nature and his convictions of religion. If the former offered any opposition they were swept away…. It was certainly not through vagueness of mind or lack of a logical habit that he took up this strange position…. since his intelligence, if narrow, was as clear as crystal, and his mind eminently logical. It was because a ‘spiritual awe’ overshadowed his conscience, and he could not venture to take the first step in a downward course of scepticism. He was not one who could accept halftruths or see in the twilight. It must be high noon or else utter midnight with a character so positive as his.’
Gosse, Edmund, as quoted in Charteris, Evan (1931). Life and Letters of Edmund Gosse. London: William Heinemann. pp.222-3.
vii. Thwaite, Anne. Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849-1926. p.132.
viii. Thwaite, Anne. Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849-1926. p.140.
ix. Frey-Wehrlin, C.T. (1992). “Oedipus in Gethsemane”. Journal of Analytical Psychology. vol. 37. pp.173-185.
x. ‘At such times I knew I was worthy of myself, that I was my true self. As soon as I was alone, I could pass over into that state. I therefore sought the peace and solitude of this “Other”, personality No. 2. Jung, C.G. (1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Edited by A. Jaffé. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p.55.
JANE JACOBS, PATRON SAINT OF CITIES
Craig E Stephenson
The tradition of hagiography has fallen into disrepute. It is practised these days most often only in an idealizing parody of its origins, by biographers of celebrity princesses and ghost-writers of memoirs of self-serving politicians, so much so that the word has acquired a derogatory connotation. But I’d like to take back the conventions of this tradition, and place them in the service of a more worthy subject: in praise of Jane Jacobs, patron saint of cities.
Jane Isabel Butzner was born on May 4, 1916 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the third child of the physician John Butzner and Bess Robison, a teacher and nurse. They made their home at 1712 Monroe Street, Protestants in a predominantly Catholic town, freethinkers who encouraged their four children to resist conformity, to value experimentation and initiative. Two anecdotes about their daughter’s early school experiences demonstrate this. In the first, a teacher invited her students to raise their hands in a promise to brush their teeth every day for their rest of their lives, and having discussed the nature of promises with her father, Jane refused and found herself evicted from the class, walking alone midmorning through the town (Was this a seed moment, when she first observed a street scene with fresh insight, finding herself suddenly ‘outside’ the collective time and space of the school?) In the second, a geography teacher declared that cities grow around waterfalls, and Jane disagreed, pointing out that the economy of Scranton was driven by the coal mines, not by proximity to its waterfall. I retell these anecdotes here, because they have been read as significant indications of where Jacobs was heading, that is to say, that she was a voracious reader and observer and thinker, and she was also ‘cheeky’ and ‘unschooled’, in the better sense of both words.
When, in 1934, the mines began to close and the economy of Scranton collapsed (waterfall or no waterfall) during the Depression, Jacobs went looking for work to New York City. She followed her parents’ advice to pursue dreams but also to have a practical skill. She worked as a stenographer and freelance writer, living with her older sister Betty in Brooklyn. During her frequent explorations of New York City, she discovered Greenwich Village and, sensing something there that evoked for her a sense of ‘home’, she moved there with her sister just as soon as they were able. In Greenwich Village she met Robert Hyde Jacobs, an architect, whom she married in 1944 and with whom she had three children. They bought a dilapidated building at 555 Hudson Street on which they began to work. And it was from Hudson Street that she performed three small but important miracles for the citizens of New York City.
In 1955, Robert Moses, the most prolific master builder of New York’s public works (including the Henry Hudson Bridge, the Cross Bronx Expressway, Lincoln Center, Shea Stadium and the United Nations) announced, in his capacity as Parks Commissioner, his intention to extend Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park. It was part of his plan of ‘urban renewal’ for Greenwich Village which he had already designated as a ‘slum’ so that, under the Slum Clearance Act, it could be demolished and replaced with Le Corbusier-inspired superblock tower ‘projects’ containing four thousand apartments. The four-lane roadway through Washington Square Park would function as the gateway to Washington Square Village, the first phase of the Greenwich development projects as well as the continuation of his federally-funded work to replace New York’s original settlement streets with expressways to accommodate the new age of the automobile.
On June 1, 1955 Jacobs joined the citizens’ movement and refocused it against the apparent fait accompli of rendering Washington Square Park a derelict space beside a highway. Jane Jacobs strategically reorganized the Greenwich Village Association, the Washington Square Association, and the Fifth Avenue Association, under the banner of “Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square to Traffic”, a committee that she named to make explicit a common goal and a specific action, so that people of different ideologies could back it without compromising their diversity. Recognizing that it was impossible to stop the developers of Washington Square Village, who had the official sanction of the Slum Clearance Act and enough municipal and federal funding to proceed, Jacobs focused for the moment only on the little fight for Washington Square Park; with regard to this specific mandate, she would entertain no negotiations. She engaged in a wily and creative fashion with politicians as well as with the former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and she employed the media mercilessly. After a three-year struggle, on June 25, 1958, the city agreed to close temporarily the park to traffic. And despite further attempts to reverse this decision, the park was miraculously saved, remained closed to traffic and is now run by a privately funded conservancy (like Central Park). The defeat, a first for Moses, was as baffling as it was galling: “There is nobody against this…” he complained angrily at the site to journalists, “but a bunch of mothers” (Flint, 2009, p. 87).
Then, on February 21, 1961, The New York Times announced that fourteen blocks of Greenwich Village had been chosen for ‘urban renewal’. It included the scene outside her own window onto Hudson Street, the very area that Jacobs had just finished describing as ‘unslumming’ in the manuscript of a book she had submitted to Random House a month before; that is to say, she envisioned how the neighbourhood was moving potentially, with the proper stewardship, towards improving itself while maintaining its diversity and affordability. Now, the city mayor Robert Wagner Jr. was allotting a budget of $300,000 to determine officially and designate it as ‘blighted’. Jacobs had written at length about the consequences of such designations: the area would be subject to a self-fulfilling prophecy of refused bank-loans and mortgages and a lack of municipal investment; the buildings would then deteriorate further so that the city could picture itself stepping in heroically to raze and renew, forcing all the businesses and occupants to relocate. And Jacobs had completed enough research across America for her book to confirm the extent to which these planned urban projects were producing not so much renewal as ‘black holes’. Jacobs focused on defeating the blight study plan itself, as well as introducing the notion of the enforced conservation of old buildings. Intuitively she pushed her committee to demand the resignation of the mayor’s appointees, for unethical conduct: for pushing through plans for redevelopment in the interest of builders and failing to take into account the wishes of the neighborhood, the very citizens for whom they worked as municipal employees. At the same time, Jacobs hired a forensic expert to investigate the City Planning Commission and uncovered that the developers had taken over themselves the process of determining and designating the area as ‘blighted’, conducting in person a door-to-door campaign to convince residents to sign a petition supporting redevelopment. On October 23, 1961, in response to these revelations of unethical practice, the Housing and Redevelopment Board announced that it was dropping the West Village blight study plan.
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed his National Interstate and Defense Highways Act promising America road networks for the military to transport defense systems in the event of a Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union, and for fathers to transport kids to school before commuting from the suburbs to work in the cities. The Act provided Robert Moses with 90 percent of the budget necessary to complete his New York City plan to construct two major crosstown expressways. For Lower Manhattan, Moses designed an elevated, ten-lane, 350-foot-wide corridor of concrete that would necessitate the demolition of Broome Street and the relocations of 2,200 families, 365 retails stores and 480 other businesses. Father Gerard La Mountain, of the Church of the Most Holy Crucifix, approached Jacobs for help with the campaign to save the neighborhood. After attending a community meeting in the church auditorium, she surveyed the working-class area and found a vibrant diverse community and distinctive historical buildings, many with cast-iron facades. In 1962, she committed herself to a long and complex struggle on their behalf, accepting a chairperson’s position for the “Joint Committee to Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway”.
In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacob defined the problem that she was again politically tackling as a private citizen: “It is understandable that men who were young in the 1920’s were captivated by the vision of the freeway Radiant City, with the specious promise that it would be appropriate to an automobile age. At least it was then a new idea; to men of the generation of New York’s Robert Moses, for example, it was radical and exciting in the days when their minds were growing and their ideas forming. Some men tend to cling to old intellectual excitements, just as some belles, when they are old ladies, still cling to the fashions and coiffures of their exciting youth. But it is harder to understand why this form of arrested mental development should be passed on intact to succeeding generations of planners and designers. It is disturbing to think that men who are young today, men who are being trained now for their careers, should accept on the grounds that they must be ‘modern’ in their thinking, conceptions of cities and traffic which are not only unworkable, but also to which nothing new of any significance has been added since their fathers were children” (Jacobs, 1961, p. 484).
The fight culminated on April 10, 1968, in a hearing for the Lower Manhattan Expressway hurriedly set up at a high school. Under new rules, The New York Department of Transportation was obliged to collect public comments on the project in order to measure its impact on the affected areas. But the officials were only required to record the comments and file a report, not to discuss openly the feasibility or effects of the project. It was Jacobs who rose to the microphone on the floor midway through the meeting and drew to the citizens’ attention that it was positioned so that “we’ve been talking to ourselves all evening” and not to the officials seated at a table on the stage, while a stenotypist merely recorded their comments for the obligatory report. Jacobs announced that, in silent protest she would walk up the steps to the stage, march past the officials and down the other side. Her committee members joined her. And while the chairman of the meeting, the top official from the transportation agency, instructed the police to arrest Jacobs for disorderly conduct, the Broome Street residents tore up the stenotype paper. Jacobs announced that the obligatory meeting had been subverted, “There is no record. There is no hearing!” And then she was arrested. It was an audacious tricksterish act performed in the best spirit of American civil disobedience as defined by Thoreau. On July 16, 1969, in response to her arrest and the light this shed on the jaundiced bureaucracy and power brokering associated with the Lower Manhattan Expressway, the mayor declared the project dead.
Jacobs left her beloved New York to protect her two sons from the draft at the time of the Vietnam War. She became a Canadian citizen in 1974 and made a new home with her family at 69 Albany Avenue in a distinctively mixed neighborhood of Toronto. Jacobs was hoping to settle into a life of writing but once again found herself actively engaged in struggles against urban renewal and urban freeways. She helped stop the Toronto Spadina Expressway, promoted the ‘unslumming’ regeneration of the St. Lawrence Market and its neighborhood, and actively opposed the 1997 amalgamation of the cities of Metro Toronto to form a megacity in which individual neighbourhoods and districts were rendered increasingly powerless. In Toronto, she raised her family and wrote six more books. She died on 25 April 2006, 89 years old.
It was Jungian analyst Jean Kirsch who identified Jacobs’ work as Themis-inspired (personal correspondence, 10 January, 2010). During the 2009 conference “Ancient Greece, Modern Psyche” at Santorini, in response to a paper about Themis presented by Thomas Singer, Kirsch described Jacobs as a modern-day Themis. In her most well-known classical Greek form (as described by Jane Ellen Harrison, 1912/62), Themis signified a divine and natural energy of ‘right order’ which applied equally to gods and humans. As a Titan, Themis was a hidden goddess of a race older than the twelve Olympians, the first or second wife of Zeus and one of the original Delphic oracles. Singer emphasizes that Themis, goddess of social order, is mother of Dike, goddess of natural order, a genealogical detail rife with implications (Singer, 2009). Likewise, Pamela Donleavy and Ann Shearer argue that “[h]er very name means an ancient, divine law, a right order established by nature itself for the living together of gods and humans” (Donleavy and Shearer, 2008, p. 1). Hence, as a mediator between the spiritual and the physical, the individual and the social, the earthly and the divine, Themis can be conceptualized as a particularly feminine incarnation of Jung’s notion of the Self (distinctive from the masculine versions most often described in Jungian studies). The energies associated with Themis point to a feminine-based, ‘powerful and inherent psychological capacity to bring together and contain disparate energies in a work of healing or making more whole’ (Donleavy and Shearer, 2008, p. 2).
In describing Jacobs as a contemporary Themis, Kirsch was perhaps recalling the strong and rooted authority with which Jacobs spoke. Architects and urban planners were baffled and angered by the way this housewife and mother wrote disciplined arguments grounded in the real and the particular. Also by what she defended: for instance, in the case of Washington Square Park, the value of unplanned and organic city spaces. That is to say, according to Jacobs, problems of city planning were most often problems of hubris against the organic nature of city spaces as well as against Time: “Consider the history of the no-yield space that has recently been rehabilitated by the Arts in Louisville Association as a theater, music room, art gallery, library, bar and restaurant. It started life as a fashionable athletic club, outlived that and became a school, then the stable of a dairy company, then a riding school, then a finishing and dancing school, another athletic club, an artist’s studio, a school again, a blacksmith’s, a factory, a warehouse, and it is now a flourishing center of the arts. Who could anticipate or provide for such a succession of hopes and schemes? Only an unimaginative man would think he could; only an arrogant man would want to” (Jacobs, 1961, p. 254). It may be difficult for us now to appreciate just how radically subversive Jacobs’s position was in 1961 (she was contradicting even her most powerful supporters, such as Lewis Mumford whose masterwork, The City in History, had just won the National Book Award), but her words still strike at our hubristic collective one-sidedness when, for instance, she emphasizes that, not architects but Time endows the economic value of buildings and how “the economic requisite for diversity is a requisite that vital city neighbourhoods can only inherit, and then sustain over the years” (Jacobs, 1961, p. 260).
If Kirsch is right, then perhaps we can regard Jacobs’ miracles as Themis-inspired and appreciate even more her celebration and defense of cities in that light. In other words, a Jungian perspective would suggest that something useful may emerge from lining up Jacobs’s life and work with analogous narratives and images of Themis. In this way, (following Singer’s lead) we can ask if Jacobs helps us to conceptualize better and ‘dream onward’ the archetype of Themis, making a more conscious place for her in the here and now. At the same time, if we reread the writings of Jacobs which define and value the natural order of cities in a Themis-light, not only as political and social texts but as ‘religious’, then her texts may inspire us, like pilgrims, to revisit and immerse ourselves in the bright ‘healing’ particulars of vibrant cities.
Jacobs’ first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961, reissued in a Modern Library Edition) is a contemporary classic. It is utterly grounded in the reality principle. Definitions are operational and concrete as much as they are conceptual. For instance, “An effective district has to be large enough to count as a force in the life of the city as a whole. The ‘ideal’ neighborhood of planning theory is useless for such a role. A district has to be big and powerful enough to fight city hall. Nothing less is to any purpose. To be sure, fighting city hall is not a district’s only function, or necessarily the most important. Nevertheless, this is a good definition of size, in functional terms, because sometimes a district has to do exactly this, and also because a district lacking the power and will to fight city hall — and to win– when its people feel deeply threatened, is unlikely to possess the power and will to contend with other serious problems” (Jacobs, 1961, pp. 159-60). Jacobs understands that such definitions are problematic, but the more serious problem is to identify clearly whom the act of defining serves: “Neighborhood planning units that are significantly defined only by their fabric and the life and intricate cross-use they generate, rather than by formalistic boundaries, are of course at odds with orthodox planning conceptions. The difference is the difference between dealing with living, complex organisms, capable of shaping their own destinies, and dealing with fixed and inert settlements, capable merely of custodial care (if that) of what has been bestowed upon them” (Jacobs, 1961, p.173). In other words, one can define a neighborhood by mapping the ‘fire’ it generates (to note another metaphor used by Jacobs), rather than by mapping its circumference (which is how a municipality usually imposes a definition upon it in order to subjugate it).
It was the visionary poet/painter William Blake whose mythopoeic imagination depicted how a fiery rebel named Orc must engage over and over in ‘mental fight’ against the petrifying compass-defined orderings of a gray-headed Urizen in order to build the New Jerusalem. To those readers who can track the political argument but find no trace of a religious tone in Jacobs’s sentences, consider for a moment, then, how utterly Blakean these metaphors of ‘fire’ and ‘circumference’ sound.
In the stories of Jacob’s miracles, neighbourhoods that wanted to survive when their municipal governments fell into betraying and devouring them, had to become more conscious of their ‘fire’, that is to say, of the creative tension between their diversity and their interdependence: With regard to her home on Hudson Street and the threatened Greenwich Village, she writes: “We [residents] possess more convenience, liveliness, variety and choice than we “deserve” in our own right. The people who work in the neighborhood also possess, on account of us residents, more variety than they “deserve” in their own right. We support these things together by unconsciously cooperating economically” (p. 199). Rereading Jacobs’s arguments from a Jungian perspective, we could say that these living neighbourhoods learned to wrestle consciously with their experiences of difference and Otherness and, paradoxically at the same time, came to value the Eros that unified them, with an emerging sense of a vital group or collective self. In recounting these experiences, Jacobs emphasizes to young readers that they will need to right the wrongs committed by generations of architects and planners who mistook urban design for a physical science, when in fact it is a life science.
Jacobs argues that ‘urban renewal projects’ failed miserably because of another paradox which the planners did not appreciate in their conceptualizing of cities as unified, ordered spaces: “If the sameness of use is shown candidly for what it is — sameness– it looks monotonous. Superficially, this monotony might be thought of as a sort of order, however dull. But esthetically, it unfortunately also carries with it a deep disorder: the disorder of conveying no direction. In places stamped with monotony and repetition of sameness you move, but in moving you seem to have gotten nowhere… Scenes of thoroughgoing sameness lack these natural announcements of direction and movement, or are scantily furnished with them, and so they are deeply confusing. This is a kind of chaos” (Jacobs, 1961, pp. 291-2). These city planners created chaos by overvaluing one kind of order. At the same time, they devalued and undermined the genuine ordering principle behind the regeneration of cities, a principle with its social foundations defined by what early Greek political thinking would have identified as a natural Themis-like dynamic: “Unslumming and its accompanying self-diversification — possibly the greatest regenerative forces inherent in emergetic American metropolitan economies– thus appear, in the murky light of conventional planning and rebuilding wisdom, to represent mere social untidiness and economic confusion, and they are so treated” (Jacobs, 1961, p. 369).
In her subsequent books, Jacobs worked to describe, revive and revalue this dynamic for collective consciousness as it manifests in economics. In The Economy of Cities, Jacobs argues, from a historical perspective, that cities preceded innovations in agriculture, in the sense that geographically dense cities led to the need for entrepreneurial discoveries and for improvements in the division of labor. In Cities and the Wealth of Nations, she argues that cities, not nation-states, define macroeconomics. In Systems of Survival, she compares and contrasts two ethical systems that sustain social and economic life. Written in the convention of a Platonic dialogue, her argument differentiates between a commercial moral syndrome (of what constitutes good business practice) and a guardian moral syndrome (of how we protect territories and organize courts, legislatures, and religious practices). Jacobs points to the necessity of both systems but demonstrates how conflicts undermine good governance when these two syndromes become undifferentiated or mixed: for example, when policing agencies apply commercial values to their work by setting quotas and rewarding output, or when (in Marxist states or in Mafia-controlled neighbourhoods, for instance) guardianship takes responsibility for commerce and production.
Concerning the evolution of her work, Jacobs writes: “At some point along the trail I realized I was engaged in studying the ecology of cities…By city ecology I mean something different from, yet similar to, natural ecology as students of wilderness address the subject. A natural ecosystem is defined as ‘composed of physical-chemical-biological processes active within a space-time unit of any magnitude’. A city ecosystem is composed of physical-economic-ethical processes active at a given time within a city and its close dependencies. I’ve made up this definition, by analogy…. Both types of ecosystems — assuring they are not barren– require much diversity to sustain themselves” (Jacobs, 1961, p. xvi). In her following book, The Nature of Economics, she again employs the conventions of a Platonic dialogue to discuss the organic nature of ecosystems and economies. Over a series of meals, her characters discuss how economies are governed by the same rules as nature: “Thinking about development has made me realize how similar economics and ecosystems are. That’s to say, principles at work in the two are identical…. I’m convinced that universal natural principles limit what we can do economically and how we can do it. Trying to evade overriding principles of development is economically futile. But those principles are solid foundations for economies. My personal biomimicry project is to learn economics from nature”(Jacobs, 2000, p. 8). Grounding her discussions of economic abstractions about development, growth and stability in earthly realities, Jacobs demonstrates that humans didn’t invent and cannot transcend the natural processes that govern economic life.
In 2004, Jacobs published her last book, Dark Age Ahead. If we retain Singer’s notion of Themis as a social and natural ordering principle and Kirsch’s intuition that Jacobs was Themis-inspired, then, in this book, setting aside the conventions of the Platonic dialogue, Jacobs goes deeper, to a singular voice and an emphatic prophecy which is more qualitatively Titanesque. She identifies five pillars on which a vibrant culture depends but which our North American and European societies have seriously eroded almost to the point of irrelevance: community and family, higher education, science and technology, governmental representation, and the self-regulation of learned professionals. For instance, concerning families, she predicts: “If the predicaments of North American families continue mounting and climb further up the income ladder, I have no idea what kinds of households will emerge to deal with needs that families are at a loss to fill. My intuition tells me they will probably be coercive. This is already true of the most swiftly multiplying and rapidly expanding type of American households at the turn of the millennium — prisons” (Jacobs, 2004, p. 43). With regard to the replacing of ‘educating’ with ‘credentialing’, she writes; “My impression is that university-educated parents or grandparents of students presently in university do not realize how much the experience has changed since their own student days, nor do the students themselves, since they have not experienced anything else. Only faculty who have lived through the loss realize what has been lost” (Jacobs, 2004, p. 63). Nor do we realize the extent to which scientific and technological research and innovation are now tied to one-sided ideologies. She decries the weakening of governmental representation in newly formed megacities such as Toronto which undermines the vitality and particularity of neighbourhoods. About the fifth pillar, “corporate and professional accountability”, we need need only recall the case of Bernard Madoff or the bonuses which financiers continue to receive, while millions of householders lose their mortgaged homes to the international banks which their taxes saved from collapse. Jacobs asks the question, “If you allow these pillars to erode further, then who will rebuild them for you?”
We are only now catching up to her. Jacobs mapped the road that many others are now describing in stories of bankrupted cannibalistic patriarchal societies, Chronos-like, devouring their own citizens. But Jacobs’s own dark Themis vision also contains an antidote to this paranoid legacy of ‘every man for himself’ and of demonic cities ‘at the end of things’. For humankind, hope resides, not in fleeing out into nature or isolationism, but in the natural creativity and ingenuity of citizens, in community and social diversity, in the Eros and the Otherness engendered by cities.
I’m not alone in designating Jacobs a saint. In Margaret Atwood’s feminine dystopian novel The Year of the Flood (2009), the awkward participants in a cultish green-movement commune sing preachy ecological ditties composed to hymn-tunes from the United Church of Canada and mark their calendar with the names of their saints: one of them is Jane Jacobs. When almost all humankind is destroyed by a virus and many of the remaining survivors prove even more virulent than the disease, the protagonist repeats the names of the saints such as Jacobs (and David Suzuki; not all the saints are women) like touchstones, invoking memories from what now seems a long distant past, of those who wrestled with devils and survived.
Likewise, on Jane Jacobs’s Day, which the Toronto City Council first designated on May 4th 2007 (and for up-to-date information from the Centre for City Ecology on annual events, visit: www.janeswalk.net), small groups of citizens, betrayed by their megacities but nevertheless emulating their brave saint on her day, go out walking, for the express purpose of reinvesting their city streets with vision, by looking to see.
Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2009.
Donleavy, Pam and Shearer, Ann. From Ancient Myth to Modern Healing: Themis: Goddess of Heart-Soul, Justice and Reconciliation. London: Routledge, 2008.
Flint, Anthony. Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City. New York: Random House, 2009.
Harrison, Jane Ellen. Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, and Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. New Hyde Park, New York: University Books, 1962.
Jacobs, Jane. Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life. Toronto: Viking, 1984.99
Jacobs, Jane. Dark Age Ahead. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2004.
Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Modern Library, 1961/93.
Jacobs, Jane. The Nature of Economies. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2000.
Jacobs, Jane. Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. New York: Random House, 1992.
Mumford, Lewis. The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations and Its Prospects. New York: Harcourt, 1961/89.
Singer, Thomas. “Themis”, paper delivered at the “Ancient Greece/Modern Psyche” Conference, Nomikos Centre, Santorini, August 2009; publication forthcoming in Ancient Greece/Modern Psyche, New Orleans: Spring Journal Books.