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maj01Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Note: This post originally published at jungianintimations.wordpress.com, and introduces our serial investigation of the works of Carl Jung.

I

Toward the end of his life on earth, Carl Jung worked with Aniela Jaffe on a semi-autobiography titled, in English, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (MDR).  While the exact nature of the origins of the text continues to be a matter of controversy (Shamdasani, 22-38), this work is, by any standard, one of the most remarkable works of self-reflection on record.  As Jung’s work has seduced me, once more, into an extended contemplation of telos as a universal governing principle, and forced me to ask hitherto avoided questions about the nature and possibility of free will, it is only appropriate that we begin with the end, namely the second to last page of MDR, written when Jung was in his mid-80’s.

Looking back over the course of his life, Jung writes/ dictates as follows:
“A creative person has little power over his own life.  He is not free.  He is captive and driven by his own daimon.  ‘Shamefully, a power wrests away the heart from us,/ For the Heavenly Ones each demand sacrifice;/ But if it should be withheld/ Never has that led to good,’ says Holderlin.  This lack of freedom has been a great sorrow to me.  Often I felt as if I were on a battlefield, saying, ‘Now you have fallen, my good comrade, but I must go on.’  For ‘shamefully a power wrests the heart from us.’  I am fond of you, indeed I love you, but I cannot stay.  There is something heart-rending about that.  And I myself am the victim; I cannot stay.  But the daimon manages things so that one comes through, and blessed inconsistency sees to it that in flagrant contrast to my ‘disloyalty’ I can keep faith in unsuspected measure” (MDR, 357).

Here, Jung’s daimon is also his muse, a fickle yet demanding goddess, possessed of little mercy.  Here too we see Jung playing with telos, and also recognizing that creative work never comes without a price.  And yet, Jung is not railing against his fate–while apparent disloyalty, inconstancy, faithlessness, restlessness, and driven arrogance may have plagued his personal relationships, Jung hove true to his inner compass in a manner and to a degree which would have permanently flung most mortals far the other side of sanity, fellowship, and comprehensibility.  When Jung writes that “I can keep faith in unsuspected measure” he is referencing the overarching centrality of intuition as a guide to his life’s work, and building on forty years of reflection on the central orienting elements of personality.  The relentlessness and courage of his six decades of work, even as he came increasingly to fear for the reception of his ideas (pace Answer to Job), attests to his faith, and to his  larger constancy, even as from a smaller bore perspective his alleged lack of intellectual coherence and questionable allegiance to science as commonly understood has led lesser minds to accuse Jung of prophecy, shamanism, and outright oddness (cf Shamdasani, 83).  In order to counteract such limited understandings of Jung, understandings based almost certainly on shallow or incomplete readings of the Collected Works, it behooves us to take an extended look at the textual evidence.  This textual evidence, as we shall see, while voluminous, circular, and even repetitive, signifies in the final judgment nothing short of the most remarkable, daring, and far-reaching bodies of work to issue forth from a single human intelligence since Augustine.  It is our pleasure to place ourselves in the service of this intelligence, to reflect, if even in the smallest way, a sliver of the numinous with which Jung wrestled throughout his life, as Job wrestled with his angel.

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II

One who has no god, as he walks along the street/ Headache envelops him like a garment.

(Cuneiform tablet, late 2nd millennium B.C.  Cited in Jaynes, 225)

An idea is something you have.  An ideology is something that has you.

Morris Breman

It is well known that older people tend toward one of two poles in their attitude toward certainty, and that the degree of apparent confidence with which those in the second half of life hold forth on subjects to which they claim authority or expertise is directly related to the degree to which they suffer from an inflated, runaway, usurping ego.  On the one hand the dogmatists, those in whom opinion has ossified into ideology, whose “conversation” is always monologue ascendant.  On the other hand, those at least somewhat mellowed by time, those who have come face to face with their own limitations, whose ego has been able to absorb the blows apportioned by father time, and to grin in the face of impotence (cf Slater, 115).

There are certain professions, however, where egocentricity in the form of professed certainty is positively rewarded, where the fawning of acolytes, the plaudits of the mass media, and the material rewards issued forth from committees and councils depend in large part on stating and holding a single position, and defending such position against all comers.  The expert industry is ever at work, animated by the simple fact that very few people actually have any real idea of what they should be doing, of what the “truth” is in a given situation, or, least of all, on what basis to make a decision. Read the rest of this entry »

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