Inner Authority

When Jung asks people to whom they think such a voice belongs, one answer they sometimes give him is that it is the voice of the dreaming individual himself. But he objects that would be like being giving money as a present and then saying to the person giving it, "Thank you for my money." "Since psychic contents are conscious and perceivable only when they are associated with an ego," Jung concludes, "the phenomenon of the voice, having a strongly personal character, may also issue from a center—but a center which is not identical with the conscious ego. Such reasoning is permissible," he proposes, "if we conceive of the ego as being subordinated to, or contained in, a supraordinate self as a center of the total, illimitable, and indefinable psychic personality," It is important to recognize that such phenomena exist and that Jung's understanding of them is cogent. But it is also important to exercise caution in imagining that they provide a model of relations between ego and self.

In one work of Erich Neumann, what he calls "the Voice," clearly related to the dream voice of which Jung is speaking, serves as a special term for the revelation to a great individual of a new ethical imperative then to be adopted by his group: the Voice speaks to him as though from another center. And in another work Neumann conveys something of the same idea with the term "the ego-self axis." This means in part that the ego and the self are always in some sort of very real relation. More problematically, the several meanings of the word "axis" all indicate that it is a straight line: the ego somehow directly reaches the self, or the self somehow directly acts upon the ego, as the Voice speaks directly to the great individual.

How limited this way of conceiving matters is should become clear, however, if we make two reflections. First, the dream voice of which Jung is speaking is rare, and many other kinds of dreams lacking anything like such a voice may be understood as picturing relations between the ego and the self. And second, if the "supraordinate self" is, as Jung maintains, the "center of the total, illimitable, and indefinable psychic personality," it is hard to imagine what definite meaning the word "center" in this statement might have. If someone who has read Jung has a dream about something he or she planned to do and says, "My dream told me not to do it," one may well be justified in doubting whether the dreamer has understood the dream, since it is rare that the self as one entity composing a dream speaks so simply to the ego of the dreamer as another. If the self in Jung's sense is inward, the deepest and most comprehensive level of our inner life—if it is subject—we also experience it—it is object, there, somewhere, to be encountered. Still, "the wind bloweth where it listeth": as object the self is wherever we happen to experience it. There is no way to harness the wind of spirit to generate electricity to run a factory. Likewise, contrary to the implications of Neumann's "ego-self axis," there is no ascertainable straight line between ego and self.

The phrase "the ego-self axis" may encourage another misconception worth mentioning in closing. This misconception is that the ego-self axis and what Jung called individuation should spare the ego work and make the ego less important as the field of reference of such unconscious products as dreams.

6. The Ego-Reference of Symbols

Two vignettes may clarify my reservations about the misconception that now concerns me.

In the 1920's the Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote a strange book called A Vision based at first on automatic writing done by his bride Georgie and then on things she said in her sleep. These utterances were presented as those of spirits communicating arcane knowledge to him. The procedure had one rule, which Yeats expressed as follows: "Except at the start of a new topic, when they would speak or write a dozen sentences unquestioned, I had always to question, and every question to rise out of a previous answer and to deal with their chosen topic. My questions must be accurately worded, . . [and] I was constantly reproved for vague or confused questions....." On top of other difficulties he met in his work, it was disturbed by the activity of spirits called Frustrators. "Who these frustrators were, or why they acted so was never adequately explained," Yeats comments. "The automatic script would deteriorate, grow sentimental or confused, and when I pointed this out the communicator would say, 'From such and such an hour, on such and such a day, all is frustration.' I would spread out the script and he would cross all out back to the answer that began it, but had I not divined frustration he would have said nothing." In Yeats's interaction with the spirits, who are like the figures in anyone's dreams, they hardly could be said to do the work of his ego for him.

A man consulted an accomplished Tarot-card reader and drew a card showing a burning tower with a man and woman falling from it. The card lady explained that the falling man and woman represented illusion. When the man consulting her wanted to know what the card meant as a whole and in general, as though the card were a voice expressing its own non-ego point of view, the card lady insisted that she could not say what the card meant apart from the person who drew it. "If the person drawing it is full of illusion, it is a card of great suffering," she remarked. "If, on the other hand, the person drawing it is without illusion, the card is the card of genius."

The person drawing the card is thus left with the question, "Who am I?" And this question requires answering both on the level of the self or larger personality and on that of the ego with its mundane particularities.

7. Conclusion

Inwardness is an irreducible dimension of psychic life and has its own irreducible authority. Persona, projection and repression play important roles in the actual workings of authority. But the self is its ultimate source. Though inward, the self is fulfilled in mutuality And though the self may speak directly, its nature and its workings are mostly known in mundane particularities. Thus, however remote and mysterious such symbols as those of dreams may seem, they must be explored in the fullness of their reference to the life of the ego here and now.


  1. Hogenson, George B. Jung's Struggle With Freud. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.
  2. Jung, C.G. Psychologial Types, Collected Works, Vol. 6. (On fantasy as creative, reconciling opposites.)
  3. ——. "Psychology and Religion," in Collected Works, Vol. 11. (On the authoritative voice in dreams.)
  4. Kerr, John. A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. New York: Knopf, 1993. (Treating issues raised by Hogenson.)
  5. Neumann, Erich. The Child: Structure and Dvnamics of the Nascent Personality. London: Karnac, 1973. (On the ego-self axis.)
  6. ——. Depth Psychology and a New Ethic. New York: Putnam, 1969. (On "the Voice" as source of revelation to a great individual.)
  7. Polanyi, Michael. "The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory," in Marjorie Grene, Ed., Knowing and Being: Essays by Michael Polanyi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969. (On mutual authority in science.)
  8. Rieff, Philip. The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. (On inner authority and Jungian therapy.)
  9. Willeford, William. Feeling, Imagination, and the Self: Transformations of the Mother-Infant Relationship. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1987. (On Rousseau, Chrysostom. and the self that knows what is good for itself.)
  10. Yeats, William Butler. A Vision. New York: Macmillan, 1961. (First section on Frustrators, etc.)