March 4, 2002
I’d like to begin this issue of Phlit where I ended the last issue: with some remarks on a book called C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters.
The most famous interview in C.G. Jung Speaking is a 1959 interview with the BBC’s John Freeman. Jung was then 84; he died two years later, in 1961. Freeman asks him “do you now believe in God?” “Now? [Pause.] Difficult to answer. I know. I don’t need to believe. I know.”1 And what exactly was it that Jung thought he knew? He knew that God existed, that God existed as an archetype in the human mind. This implies that God would not exist if man did not exist. Thus, Jung’s standpoint is close to the standpoint of the typical mystic: God is within me, I am God, without me God doesn’t exist.
Elsewhere Jung says that the hero is a symbol of the Self, of the whole person (conscious and unconscious). Christ, too, is a symbol of the Self, an archetype of the Self. Where does that leave God the Father? Is he, too, an archetype of the Self, just like his son? Or is God the Father some sort of energy, permeating the universe? I’m surprised that when Jung made his famous remark — “I don’t believe, I know” — Freeman didn’t ask Jung to explain, to explain what he meant by “God.”
In 1954, a young Joyce scholar interviewed Jung. Jung was connected to Joyce in various ways: he wrote an essay on Ulysses and he also met with Joyce to discuss the psychological problems of Joyce’s daughter, Lucia. Jung also had a patient and disciple, Edith Rockefeller McCormick, who was a patron of various artists and writers, including Joyce. Jung advised Mrs. McCormick to cease her subsidies of a particular artist, and the artist was healthier and more productive after the subsidies had ceased.2 This raises the question, Is patronage always an unmixed good? Does patronage sometimes make the recipient less creative, less psychologically healthy, than he would otherwise be?
When Jung is asked about death, he says it isn’t certain whether death means complete extinction, it isn’t certain whether there’s life after death. The mind, says Jung, may be able “to function at the margin of the brain,” that is, to function after the brain has ceased functioning.3 “Once I was gravely ill, almost in a coma. Everybody thought that I was suffering terribly, but in fact, I was experiencing something extremely pleasant. I seemed to be floating over my body, far above it.”4 This sort of out-of-body experience is often encountered in the literature on psychic phenomena; it usually happens to people on the brink of death.
Jung says that, during wartime, he saw patients who had suffered severe brain wounds, yet were still able to dream.5 This leads him to suspect that the mind may be able to function independently of the brain, independently of the body. This, in turn, leads to the possibility of life after death, a possibility which gains strength from reports of visions of the dead, conversations with the dead, etc. Jung himself says that “after my father died, I saw him several times.”6 But Jung is a cautious scientist, so he adds, “that does not mean that he in fact appeared. His appearances may have been entirely subjective phenomena on my part.”
I believe it’s possible for mankind to eventually attain certainty on the subject of life after death. Meanwhile, it may be healthy for people to entertain the possibility of life after death; as Jung says, “it is better for an old person to live on, to look forward to the next day, as if he had to spend centuries, and then he lives properly.... When he doesn’t look forward, he looks back, he petrifies.”7
When Miguel Serrano visited Jung in 1961, Jung told him, “I once knew an old lady who was very aristocratic and noble, and who conducted her life according to the most exquisite ideas of refinement; but at night she would dream about drunkenness, and in those dreams she herself would become hopelessly intoxicated.”8 In other words, the woman’s unconscious attitude compensated for her exaggerated conscious attitude. This is one of Jung’s central ideas: the idea of compensation. Jung believed that any exaggeration, any one-sidedness in one’s conscious attitude would beget an unconscious reaction.
If we listen to our unconscious, it will help us to avoid exaggeration, it will help us to find our center, our true self. “One must be what one is,” said Jung, “one must discover one’s own individuality, that center of personality, which is equidistant between the conscious and the unconscious; we must aim for that ideal point towards which nature appears to be directing us.”9
Heraclitus believed that one of the fundamental laws of nature was the law of enantiodromia, running toward the opposite. According to the law of enantiodromia, things tend to move toward an extreme, then a reaction sets in, a counter-movement. Jung’s idea of compensation is related to Heraclitus’ idea of enantiodromia, and Jung often refers to Heraclitus.
Nicholas of Cusa (sometimes referred to as Nicolaus Cusanus), 1401-1464, also stressed the importance of opposites. “The Deity appears in Nicholas of Cusa’s writings as coincidentia oppositorum, the coincidence of opposites. In this higher unity, contradiction is overcome: in the infinite all different factors coincide.... Nicholas employs mathematical ideas to make this understandable: for example, a straight line and the circumference of a circle tend more and more to coincide as the radius of the circle is continually increased.”10 Jung was well aware of Cusanus’ philosophy; indeed, one of Jung’s favorite phrases is coincidentia oppositorum. Jung regarded the self as a coincidentia oppositorum, a blend of conscious and unconscious.
In Hegel’s philosophy, opposites played an important role. Hegel used the term “dialectic,” which originally meant discussion, argument, reasoning, the clash of opposing views. In Hegel’s view, thesis evokes antithesis, and the conflict is resolved in a synthesis. Hegel found this pattern not only in the process of reasoning, but also in the history of philosophy. For example, Parmenides set forth the thesis that Being is static and unchanging, then Heraclitus set forth the antithesis that everything is continually changing (“you can’t step into the same river twice”), then Democritus resolved this conflict in a higher synthesis: the basic elements, which he called “atoms,” are unchanging, but their various combinations produce constant change.
Hegel’s dialectic is not only a law of reasoning and thinking, but also a general law of nature: “General experience,” said Hegel, “shows us the extreme of one state or action suddenly shifting into its opposite.... Everyone knows how the extremes of pain and pleasure pass into each other: the heart overflowing with joy seeks relief in tears, and the deepest melancholy will at times betray its presence by a smile.”11
Marx was influenced by Hegel, and formulated a so-called “dialectical materialism.” Marx argued that capitalism would be carried to an extreme by its own inner logic, would destroy itself, and would be replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In Freud’s thought, opposites played an important role. Freud believed that all life was a contest between the life-instinct and the death-instinct. When one instinct reached an extreme, a reaction set in. “It is as though the life of the organism moved with a vacillating rhythm,” Freud wrote. “One group of instincts rushes forward so as to reach the final aim of life as swiftly as possible; but when a particular stage in the advance has been reached, the other group jerks back to a certain point to make a fresh start and so prolong the journey.”12
According to my own theory of history, a renaissance age is an age in which the life-instinct is predominant, and a decadent age is an age in which the death-instinct is predominant. When decadence (the death-instinct) reaches an extreme, it turns into its opposite, renaissance (the life-instinct). Thus, in my theory of history, Heraclitus’ old idea of enantiodromia (running toward the opposite) is alive and well.
“If enantiodromia is a basic law of nature, why is it only found in Western philosophy?” In fact, the Chinese were familiar with enantiodromia; according to Jung, the Chinese believed that “yang at its highest point changes into yin, and positive into negative.”13
One often encounters enantiodromia in the field of aesthetics — in the study of literature, visual art, etc. Romantics like Wordsworth opposed neo-classics like Pope, Symbolists like Mallarmé opposed realists like Zola, etc. Artistic taste, critical taste, oscillates back and forth. “The critics of each generation,” said Proust, “confine themselves to maintaining the direct opposite of the truths admitted by their predecessors.”14
“A big bird spreads its wings, and begins to fly” — a famous image in Chinese literature. “A frog jumps into an old pond — splash!” — a famous image in Japanese literature. Both these images are images of a moment in time, The Moment, The Eternal Now. And both these images are images of action, spontaneous action, unreflecting action. This is how Nature acts. Shouldn’t man act this way, too? Shouldn’t man act spontaneously, freely? Isn’t this “the way of Zen”? Action for the sake of action, doing something for its own sake, life for the sake of living.
Our book discussion group is now reading Three Essays on Style, by the famed art historian Erwin Panofsky. Panofsky is a deep thinker, and I find his work highly stimulating. Though his field is art history, he reminds me of historians of ideas like Lovejoy and Kuhn. Panofsky regards himself as a humanist, and he takes a broad, inter-disciplinary approach.
Three Essays on Style concludes with a sketch of Panofsky’s life by his disciple, William Heckscher. Like Panofsky, Heckscher writes in a scholarly manner. Heckscher sprinkles his biographical sketch with German quotations, which he doesn’t deign to translate. Clearly, Heckscher isn’t writing for the general reader.
Can someone help me to translate these German quotations? Here’s an example (I include the English that surrounds the German): “Natural phenomena left him unmoved.... His proud motto was, ‘Es gibt mehr Dinge in unserer Schulweisheit als Erde und Himmel sich träumen lassen.’” When Panofsky’s friend said, “Looking at the stars, I feel my own futility,” Panofsky replied, “All I feel is the futility of the stars.” If someone is kind enough to translate this German for me, I’ll include it in the next issue of Phlit (in case someone is curious as I am, and ignorant of German as I am).
|1.|| C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, Princeton University Press, 1977, p. 428 back|
|2.|| ibid p. 240 back|
|3.|| ibid p. 466 back|
|4.|| ibid back|
|5.|| ibid back|
|6.|| ibid back|
|7.|| ibid p. 438 back|
|8.|| ibid p. 463 back|
|9.|| ibid back|
|10.|| Julián Marías, History of Philosophy, “The Beginning of Modern Philosophy”, 1 back|
|11.|| Hegel, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences: Logic, 81. I’m not sure if this quote is from section 81 of the introduction, or from section 81 of the main body of the work. back|
|12.|| Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, ch. 5 back|
|13.|| see Jung’s essay, “Richard Wilhelm: In Memoriam” (Collected Works, vol. 15, ¶94) back|
|14.||The Guermantes Way, Part II, 1 back|