Desire, Fascination and the Other: Some Thoughts on Jung's Interest in Rider Haggard's 'She' and on the Nature of Archetypes.
by Dr. Sue Austin
Note: This paper was first published in Harvest: International Journal for Jungian Studies, 2004, Vol.50, No.2 and is reproduced here with the permission of that journal. Sections of the paper were also used in Sues 2005 Brunner-Routledge book, Womens Aggressive Fantasies: A Post-Jungian Exploration of Self-Hatred, Love and Agency, and their permission has also been given for their use here.
In my 20s, many years prior to training with the Australian and New Zealand Society of Jungian Analysts, I read my way through the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. As I did so, I repeatedly encountered images of women - mythical, 'archetypal' women - and I became aware that while I was fascinated by these images, I was also profoundly uncomfortable with something about them.
This fascination went back to early adolescence when I had seen (on TV) the 1970s Hammer House of Horror version of H. Rider Haggard's classic She. I was hooked. The final scene was what had really stayed with me. In order to encourage her mortal lover to step into the fires of immortality (as she had, thousands of years ago), Ayesha - 'She Who Must Be Obeyed', played by Ursula Andress - walks into the flames which gave her eternal youth a second time. What she does not know is that stepping back into the flames reverses the process of immortalisation, and she ages thousands of years in front of the camera.
As she dies, Ayesha collapses forward and turns to dust, a process signified by the wedding-type veil she was wearing to greet her lover's new-found immortality fluttering flat to the ground as her body crumbles. Something about this tale of an all-powerful, immortal and ruthless woman, finally brought low, fascinated me and subsequently I tracked down Rider Haggard's book and read it.
I would now say that as an adolescent watching the film I was looking for images which might help me work out some sort of relationship between being gendered female and questions about love, power, sex, punishment and death. When I started to read Jung a decade or so later, I discovered that he too was a fan of Rider Haggard's work, there being over forty references to Rider Haggard, She, and Ayesha: The Return of She, as well as Wisdom's Daughter in the index of Jung's Collected Works, compared to only one for Conan Doyle (who was Rider Haggard's contemporary almost to the year, and another significant figure in the popular imagination at the time Jung was writing).
I read everything Jung had written about gender, then I read the studies on Jung's work on gender, especially Anima as Fate by Cornelia Brunner (republished in 1986), a text devoted in large part to a Jungian exposition of She. Jung wrote the preface to Brunners work in April 1959 and in it he comments that:
[f]or Rider Haggard the significant motif of the Anima unfolds in the purest and most naive fashion ... If Rider Haggard makes use of the modest literary form of the 'yarn,' this does not curtail the content of his statements. He who looks for entertaining literature or artful use of language can easily find something superior. He, however, who seeks understanding and insight will find rich fare in She, just because of the simplicity and naivete of the views which lack deliberate psychological implications (Brunner, 1986, p.xii).
What comes through was that Jung and the first generation of his followers took works like She as raw examples of the recurrent and universal nature of certain male fantasies about womanhood. In the preface to Brunner's work Jung also cites Rider Haggard's struggle with the 'anima problem' as being in the same tradition as Goethe's Faust and Wagner's work.
I would now say that part of my unease with this position can be summarised by applying a Foucaultian line of questioning - if anima images such as Ayesha (Rider Haggard's 'She Who Must Be Obeyed') are read as pointing to some kind of foundational and eternal experience of femininity, whom does this ascription of foundational and eternal status serve? In other words, who benefits - and how - if we take the attributed authority of these images at face value? Furthermore, how has this authority been arrived at? What social practices maintain it?
At the same time, my sense was, and still is, that there is something important embedded in Jung's use of these images - his discussions of gender do point beyond themselves to some kind of contextualised experience of the mystery of Otherness, and through that to potential processes of growth and change. In a similar vein, Susan Rowland (2002) has written persuasively from an academic perspective about dimensions of Jungian and post-Jungian thought which are relevant to feminism. In particular, Rowland focuses on postmodern moves in Jung's work, tracing out how Jung's view of the unconscious is deconstructive, and aligns with post-modern sensibilities. Rowland's approach is appropriate to her task and brings out important readings of Jung, but as it does so, it necessarily moves the focus away from certain aspects of Jungs work which are more readily available to clinicians. It is these aspects that I concentrate on in this essay, and in order to create the context for that, some historical background to Jung's ideas needs to be worked through.
Throughout his writings on the nature of archetypes, Jung made occasional comments to the effect that archetypal, primordial images may alter over time and with context. Mostly, however, his writings point to the concept of archetype as structured around 'eternal-historical' and 'universal-collective' axes (Carrette, 1994, pp.173176). Archetypal images, on the other hand, are seen as the context-dependent expressions of the ahistorical archetypes of the collective unconscious.
In contrast to this distinction I take up Marina Warner's argument that myths and fairy stories are political entities. Warner comments (via Roland Barthes Mythologies) that:
... myths are not eternal verities, but historical compounds, which successfully conceal their own contingency, changes and transitoriness so that the story they tell looks as if it cannot be told otherwise, that things always were like that and always shall be. Barthess study almost amounts to an exposé of myth, as he reveals how it works to conceal political motives and secretly circulate ideology through society (Warner, 1994, xiii).
I would suggest that the concept of archetype, like the myths and fairy stories that it is derived from and speaks through, is also political and that all symbols, no matter how powerful, or how apparently universal, operate as political devices which are loaded up with meaning by the process of their own culturally-based origination. In order to illustrate this, I will take up an imaginal encounter between Jung and a figure he calls Salome. This encounter took place in one of Jung's experiments with active imagination, and Jung described it in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1977, first published in 1963). As we shall see, Salome turns out to be a close relative to Ayesha in the cultural imagination, and exploring how images of these women were constituted at the time Jung was writing has helped me to understand my discomfort with Jungian discussions of 'archetypal femininity'.
I caught sight of two figures, an old man with a white beard and a beautiful young girl ... The old man explained to me that he was Elijah, and that gave me a shock. But the girl staggered me even more, for she called herself Salome! She was blind ... They had a black serpent living with them who displayed an unmistakable fondness for me. I stuck close to Elijah because he seemed the more reasonable of the three, and to have a clear intelligence. Of Salome I was distinctly suspicious ... Soon after this fantasy another figure rose out of the unconscious. He developed out of the Elijah figure. I called him Philemon (Jung, 1977, pp.205-206).
Jungs own response to his Salome image is given in two paragraphs (Philemon merits eleven paragraphs). She is seen as a parallel to various dancing girls and a young woman who Simon Magus '... picked up in a brothel', and as an '... anima figure [who] is blind because she does not see the meaning of things, Elijah is the figure of the wise old prophet and represents the factor of intelligence and knowledge; Salome the erotic element. One might say that the two figures are personifications of Logos and Eros' (Jung, 1977, p.206).
In order to put Jung's Salome and serpent into their cultural context it is necessary to examine the art of the last two decades of the nineteenth century which shows an extraordinary number of images of women and snakes, the most common mythical contexts being Salammbô, Lilith, Ishtar and Medusa.1
Gabriel Ferrier (1847-1914), Salammbô (ca. 1881), (Dijkstra, 1986, p.308).
Of particular interest is the period's imagery of women and serpents. A plethora of images were produced including Snake Queen(s), The Scene of The Serpent, Egyptian Fantasy, and Serpentine Dancers. At a more generic level, images of Sensuality, Sin, Vice, Lust and so on were popular, frequently featuring women moving snakily, caressing or being caressed (usually ecstatically) by snakes, or with snakes forming part of their anatomy: commonly legs, thighs and loins, or hair.
Franz Von Stuck (1863-1928), Sensuality (1897), (Dijkstra, 1986, p.312).
These images sit against the backdrop of a general flourishing of artistic works and surprisingly immodest stories in popular magazines about womens natural tendency to rapidly degenerate to a bestial past and engage in intimate relationships with animals generally (snakes in particular), given half a chance.
Léon Victor Solon (b.1872), Bacchanale (ca.1903), (Dijkstra, 1986, p.292).
In terms of a wider bestiality, classical themes were used repeatedly to explore these cultural fantasies of women and their relationships with satyrs, fauns, birds in general (swans with long sinuous necks especially), dogs, gorillas, lions, tigers, and, of course, snakes. A scene in Flauberts Salammbô published in 1862 described a dark ritual entailing an erotic encounter between Salammbô and her serpent partner and fired the imagination of many an artist of the period (Dijkstra, 1986, p.306). Rider Haggards She contains numerous descriptions of Ayesha in snake-like terms: she had a '... terrible whisper, which sounded like the hiss of a snake.. (1888, p.197).', when she undressed, she appeared '... shining and splendid like some glittering snake when she has cast her slough... (1888, p.189).', her physical being was '...instinct with a life that was more than life..[and possessed] a certain serpent-like grace that was more than human (1888, p.155)'.
I am not saying that Jung was directly influenced by these works. My point is simply that Jung worked in a particular cultural context and that certain images were not only common place in that world and carried particular significance which has since changed as the culture has changed, but that these images and their meanings were firmly embedded in cultural processes around the definition of gender. By way of illustration, a painter whose works Jung was familiar with and refers to was Franz von Stuck, a German painter who '... was in the habit of repeating his compositions [of beautiful young women with big black serpents] endlessly, as eager new clients demanded more images of evil women to hang on their walls as cautionary emblems' (Dijkstra, 1986, p.313). The rise in enthusiasm for these images was part of a series of cultural shifts which had started with the rise of the cult of what Bram Dijkstra calls the household nun - the institutionalised restriction of womens role to the sphere of domesticity, a world far from the cut and thrust of trade. This cultural fantasy inevitably spawned a shadow - and fears of womens tyranny, wantonness, madness and sexual licentiousness began to express themselves in the art of the period.
Fuelled by the rising issue of womens rights and the womens suffrage movement from about 1848 onwards, this fear-based vision of womanhood focused on the dangers of what would happen if women slipped the moorings of the domestic sanctuary. Additional impetus was added by the early scientific investigations of women, their behaviour, and most dangerously of all, their experience of a sexuality which was not merely procreative or a submissive response to male desire. The general reaction was that the 'woman problem' represented a fundamental threat to the fabric of society and was likely, if left uncontained, to result in the demise of civilised existence. It is interesting to note that these fears are echoed in Jungs paper Woman in Europe, first published in 1927.
The fin-de-siecle vision of woman was split: the fantasy of the domestically-focused angel (variously tubercular or weightless nature-nymph) being undermined by the suspicion that women were the enemy within the walls of society, a fear which echoes Hegel's earlier view of women as the enemy of the Civil Society. A subtext of these works was that women took mens heads: literally (if men didnt keep their wits about them), failing that, figuratively, by making men fall in love with them and become slaves to their whim through the commoditisation of virtue (Dijkstra, 1986, pp.352-376). Not surprising prostitution was rife. Naive and uncritical use of Jung's work on gender risks importing these psychologically split and splitting fantasies about female sexuality and woman's Otherness. Even as the fin-de-siecle images offer women fantasies of power, they bring with them the oppressive politics of their period.
Salomes trajectory during this period is particularly fascinating. The notion that women bring men low and are essentially corrupt and bestial by virtue of their virginity, by virtue of their purity, plays out in Flauberts Salome. Here, the '....virginal Salome is a blind tool of her calculating mother, who had made certain that her daughter would grow up to be an innocent lure in service to her power-hungry parent' (Dijkstra, 1986, p.318).
Edouard Toudouze (1848-1907), Salome Triumphant (ca. 1886), (Dijkstra, 1986, p.383).
Oscar Wildes Salome, a popular play which was widely discussed after its performance in Paris in 1896 (it was written in French) and London in 1905, pitched:
... sight against sound. Both may be primary senses, but for Wilde, the battle between sight and sound represents the struggle between materialism and idealism, between the feminine and the masculine. Salome, Everywoman, the moon is 'seen,' perceived solely in terms of her physical beauty, her material presence. One looks at Salome, at woman who, in turn, as Jokanaan says of Herodias always gives 'herself up unto the lust of her eyes' (Dijkstra, 1986, p.396, original italics).
In the light of the foregoing texts which point to the blindingly dangerous nature of Salome's presence, it is not surprising that she is blind in Jungs fantasy. Given the proliferation of fin-de-siecle fantasies about women like Salome, it is also not surprising that Jung's analysis of what she represents in his imagination does not extend to the usual Jungian understanding of blindness in myth or fairy story - that loss of external sight is associated with gains in inner-sight.
The point of this discussion is not, however, to prove a causal link between Jungs fantasies and the images of the period - that is something which can only be conjectured it is to show that images, myths, stories and so on are part of the process of social change. Doubtlessly they are also vehicles for the avoidance of social change. Jungs Salome seems to fit the pattern pointed out by Warner, above. She looks like an example of an eternal verity, but is to a significant extent transitory and contingent although her structure conceals those elements.2
More importantly, the archetypal lens through which Jung views his Salome makes it seemingly unnecessary (I would argue impossible) to discuss the importance of the transitory, political or period-specific aspects of the image since the emphasis of the very frame of reference of archetypal thinking is on stability and universal recurrence of imagery. In this way, images of women like Salome and Ayesha are seen as representations of eternal, universal patterns, rather than struggles with Otherness (including the dangerous, disruptive desirability of the Other) which are very much inflected through the position of the individual in history, culture, class and gender. In other words, the way in which the Other is perceived is significantly influenced by the identity of the perceiver.
In some ways this simply takes Jung's (problematic) reading of Kant one step further. Jung's own position can be summarised as esse in anima - all that we can know to be real is psyche. In practical terms this means that one's experience of the world is always and already constituted through the lens of one's psyche so that what one experiences is, in significant part, a function of one's (largely unconscious) psychological makeup. I want to take this a step further and suggest that how one sees a particular phenomenon (such as She) acts as a lens not just on how one's psyche is organised (for example around the question of Otherness), but also on how the processes of identity formation work to channel the individual's experience of Otherness (and expressions of that experience) in ways which are intelligible within a given culture at a specific point in time.
I suggest that this was Jung's own core position, even if (at times) he was all-too-humanly unable to apply his theory to his own process. David Miller speaks of this Jung when he writes:
...if Jung were alive today, would he not have to be a semiotician rather than a symbolist? Would he not be nearer to the French Freudians than to the American Jungians with their hermeneutic knowledge? ... Today .... Jungian fundamentalism [is] symbolic. [It has] become a knowing. But what Jung called symbolic, and recommended for the soul, is not this knowing. It is the paratactic, 'gappy' unknowing that is today called semiotic (Miller, 1990, p.328).
In order to take up this gappy view of the psyche, it is essential to understand its clinical background and practical application: it is not just a theory, it is how Jung worked with extremely distressed and disturbed people.
Gary Hartman comments that Freud was aware of the dissociative split in libido (in other words, its tendency to fragment into seemingly disconnected parts), but saw it as pathological and pathogenic, while Jung saw it as normal and a natural prerequisite for the movement of psychic energy. John Haule points out that Freud chose to stay away from the ideas of the dissociationist movement of the late nineteenth century (with its links to spiritualism), and wanted psychoanalysis to be regarded as a science, with its own independent credibility (Haule, 1992, p.247). Jung, on the other hand, was strongly influenced by the dissociationists who:
held that every aggregation of ideas and images possessed in some measure or other, its own personality. The guiding image for this was the phenomenon of multiple personality, for which there was already a hundred-year-old therapeutic tradition, going back to Mesmer, Puysegur, Despine, Azaam and the people Janet calls the French alienists (Haule, 1992, pp.239-240).
Thus, while Freud saw dissociation as pathological, the dissociationists saw it as an exaggeration of the normal (Meir, 1992, p.201). This difference in perspectives has important implications and Sonu Shamdasani argues that locating Jung as primarily a Freudian thinker who broke away misses the point of much of Jungs work. Shamdasani traces the influence of Janets work on Jung (through Flournoy) and offers strong evidence that Jungs model was far closer to the French dissociationist tradition than it was to Freuds work (Shamdasani, 1998, pp.155-126).
In Jungs work, the dissociationist perspective gives rise to the theory of complexes, a word whose use originates with Eugene Bleuler (Meir, 1992, p.202). For Jung, complexes were concurrently active centres of the psyche and Carl Meir points out that the word 'complex' is from the Latin complector 'to entwine, encircle, envelop, embrace, take possession of', also the verb compleo 'to fill out completely, to overfill or to complete' and noun complexus 'envelopment, embracing or mutual entwinement' (Meir, 1992, p.202).
Meir observes that 'many impressions are obliterated in the moment of perception on account of their incompatibility with the habitual attitude of the conscious mind; this seems to occur automatically and unconsciously' (Meir, 1992, p.205). These ego-distonic impressions cluster together to create centres of 'Not-I-ness', or inner Otherness in the psyche (complexes), hence Jungs taking up of two principles in line with the dissociationist perspective:
1) Recognising and attending to the 'Not-I' and,
2) Allowing the time necessary for the characteristics and personality of the 'Not-I' to emerge (Meir, 1992, p.202).
Thus for Jung the psyche was fundamentally gappy and dissociable, but could be engaged with therapeutically if one saw that state as being healthy and potentially productive. The specific benefit of this model was that, as Richard Noll points out, it allowed for the ' expansion of the personality through greater differentiation ' of its contents; also this was seen as ' an adaptive move ', but one which ' creates an inevitable instability ' (Noll, 1992, p.213).
This way of thinking about the 'Not-I' which one finds within oneself is particularly useful to the clinician since it offers an imaginal embodiment of it, capturing the fleshy compulsiveness of the impulses in question. Everyday examples of this are commonplace, ranging from comments such as 'I don't know what got into me', to the experience of compulsive behaviour, which, by its nature, feels as if it is not under one's control.
Taking compulsive behaviour as an example, a basic, post-Jungian approach to someone presenting for analysis might start from a loose hypothesis that some element of split off Not-I-ness is being expressed in the compulsive behaviour. The Not-I within which has been split off in this way cannot currently be brought into consciousness and recognised by the ego without the ego being intolerably threatened. A clinician might then hypothesise that although the material which has been split off is unbearable for consciousness, it has an important part to play in the individual's psychological economy, and is therefore making itself very much known through the compulsive behaviour. The clinical task then becomes one of holding an interpersonal, analytic space in which these elements of the psyche might present themselves, along with the tensions between and around them. If this can be facilitated there may be possibilities of experiential engagement with the analysand's psychological structures, including that which is split off from the analysands sense of I, but demands engagement, for example through eating disorder, compulsive behaviour or recurrent relational difficulties. It should be noted, however, that the split-off, Not-I within is not exclusively negative material - it is simply that which cannot be engaged with consciously at any given point in time.
Clearly the danger of thinking in this way is that the Not-I may become over-characterised to such a degree that sense of responsibility for it is undermined, and along with that goes the capacity to feel deeply and think critically about the nature of the relationship between the I and the Not-I. I would suggest that this is part of what happens when Jung discusses his images of Salome, and when he cites Rider Haggard's work as an illustration of the validity of his theories. These images do offer a glimpse of some form of Otherness, some element of 'Not-I-ness within', which was extremely potent for a lot of individual men's imaginations in the fin-de-siecle period. But that does not make for statements about the true, universal and eternal nature of men's fantasies of inner femininity, far less about women's experiences of their 'feminine' selves.
What goes awry when Jung discusses his internal images is that he only partially applies his own theory, with the result that he prefers to engage with the more accessible, less threatening Philemon, a 'wise old man', and turns away from the unsettling Salome. The issue here is that by Jung's own theory, engaging with Salome's unsettling Otherness might bring greater possibilities for growth, since her unsettlingness flags her as a portal to the Not-I within. As an aside, beyond Salome, there is another, even less accessible (and probably therefore even more important) portal to the Not-I within in Jung's fantasy since, as Claire Douglas points out, '[t]he missing human fourth [in the fantasy] is Baucis, Philemon's biblical wife whom Gerhard Wehr traces through Goethe's Faust, to Philemon and Baucis / Baubo, the crone, the old, vulgar, sexual, and potent woman - the human form of the black serpent' (Douglas, 1990, p.24).
Again though, there are other moments in Jung's work where he does make the turn to the unfamiliar, the split-off Not I within, and Paul Kugler summarises the importance of these moments thus:
Self-reflection in Jungian depth psychology is a process through which the personality turns back on itself in an asymmetrical fashion. This provides a way out of the philosophical solipsism and therapeutic narcissism inherent in the humanistic model. The mirror at work in the Jungian hermeneutic does not reflect the self-same face. Rather, it mirrors back the face of the Other (Kugler, 1993, italics added).
This is what makes the Jungian view different from other depth psychological models - this core engagement with Otherness and the assumption that resistance to unitary identity is normal and potentially available for clinical engagement. Inner Otherness is assumed, however, to be more than a matter of Lacanian alienation, and is, instead, taken as a matter of awe, fascination, terror, enlivenment and radical powerlessness.
Thus, if, instead of reading Jung's references to Salome and Ayesha as being images of an eternal and universal male fantasy about inner (and possibly outer) femaleness, we read Jungs fascinations in the way that I am suggesting, they can be seen as attempts to engage with the nature of desire, particularly if we read desire as:
most truly itself when it is most 'other' to social norms, when it transgresses the limits and exceeds the 'proper'. The result is a hotchpotch, formed only by its status as the forbidden ... (Cowie, 1993, p.134).
This notion of desire fits with the assumption that some of the most powerful cultural process are those which define which kinds of desires are regarded as legitimate and which are not. In Foucault's terms, what matters is not 'what we want' but 'how we come to desire what we want' and how we come to believe that our desires are somehow natural, individual expressions of our unique identity, rather than the canalisation of the potential to desire along lines which serve cultural interests and practices.
Viewing this through Derrida's argument that a privileging of presence - which he refers to as the metaphysics of presence - underlies western notions of identity, Patrick Fuery argues that '[t]he metaphysics of presence - that privileging of the centre over its margins and the marginalised - evokes an immediate if problematic connection with desire. Because presence is perceived as a desirable status, all that is positioned as presence becomes desirable'. Fuery goes on to argue that '... desires which are not articulated in centres as presences are denied existence' (Fuery, 1995, pp.46-47).
What this means in practical terms is that the pull of mainstream identity structures - those modelled on a metaphysics of presence - drag Jung to focus on Philemon, even though his own theoretical commitment would take him to focus on the inarticulate centres of desire that are represented by Salome and the serpent. Through this move a potential epiphany is regulated out of existence.
The breakthrough on offer here is complex and subtle, and I explore it more fully elsewhere (Austin, 2005). Within the space constraints of this essay I can only offer a simple schematic image. Picture raw human potential unshaped aliveness at a point prior to the formation of any system of identity, and prior to the canalisation of desires required for the formation of identity. The processes of identity formation then begin to operate and are reiterated over and over so that patterns arise and parameters form which mark out domains of liveable identity, in other words, something which is recognisable to others who partake of the same identity system. Canalisations and demarcations occur defining which kinds of desires and alivenesses are thinkable and liveable and which are not and thus raw aliveness is channelled into identity. In effect, these processes mark off the collective I from the collective Not-I. They establish what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak calls the I-slots which define the envelopes of liveable identity (1988). In the case of Western identity, they establish the familiar metaphysics of presence by mapping out the range of recognisable desires, i.e., those which centre on presences.
That which is not incorporated into identity in this way, (the collective Not-I), forms into clusters of energy, experienced by individual psyches as their own complexes, but related to collective clusters of energy which have been excluded from identity (the archetypes of the collective unconscious), as Jung describes.3 Viewing the clusters of energy which we think of as archetypes as the gathered-together left overs from the formation of a system of identity frees them of their ever-was-and-ever-more-shall-be-so quality. They remain powerful markers of the edges of sanity (i.e., inhabitable, recognisable identity), but this does not give them foundational status. Quite the opposite a different system of identity would incorporate different energies into the realm of the inhabitable I and exclude different energies which, in turn, would form quite different archetypal configurations. Thus archetypal becomes a description of the powerful energies associated with that which is marginalised and excluded in the formation of identity, but continues to haunt and dominate identity, rather than a name for the specific clusters formed by these energies under specific identity systems.
From this perspective, Jungs dissociationist emphasis becomes all the more important it offers a point of contact with not only the personal, individual experience of the Not-I within, but also with that which is rendered culturally Not-I (and often projected and idealised or denigrated). This move also makes the political dimensions of the production and maintenance of the cultural I / not-I boundary accessible to psychoanalytic technique because the individuals experience of their own Not- within will contain residues of the processes of identity formation. Thus the dissociationist perspective offers a point of contact with the inarticulate desires and resistances to identity which, as Jacqueline Rose suggests, lie at the very heart of psychic life (Rose, 1990, p.232).4 In making this connection I am agreeing with Rowland's view of Jung's deconstructive reading of the unconscious, but also moving the theoretical implications of that view into the clinical, interpersonal realm.
As a clinician I am especially interested in these moments of inarticulate desire and resistance to identity and how they are regulated out of existence through our performance of identity, especially gendered identity. I am also interested in what people do with the kinds of canalisations of desire which constitute identity, in other words, how and where individuals (for example) variously resist, work with or capitulate to these canalisations. Likewise I am curious about how people do (or don't) eroticise and make meaning (or fail to make meaning, or refuse to make meaning) out of their conscious and unconscious choices in these domains of identity.
The metaphysics of absence embedded in Jung's work and articulated by Miller and by Kugler (above) focuses on desires not expressed in centres of identity, and (in particular) desires which do not relate to known presences. As such, Jung's model takes us to the edges of inhabitable identity, certainly beyond the edges of most depth psychology. Again, this is where Jung's Not-I within comes into play clinically: it provides a way of thinking about such inarticulate desires without necessarily having to 'know' them, 'understand' them or gain access to them in ways which would canalise them into mainstream identity, e.g., into the service of the development of the ego. Desires which drive us to these edges cause endless emotional and psychological trouble, even as they save us from death by psychological atrophy.
So what does all this mean in terms of my fascination with the Hammer Horror version of She? In the first instance, I would say that I responded to the film as a young woman encountering one of the culture's morality tales. Specifically, the tale dealt with the cultural assumption of the opposition between love and power, especially for women. Ayesha has power - infinite power, by virtue of her immortality. But thousands of years ago, in a fit of jealousy, she killed her lover Kallikrates, and has had to wait for his return. When he is eventually born again, he falls in love with the woman (Ustane) whom Ayesha has sent as bait to draw him to her.5 Ayeshas jealousy flares again and she has Ustane killed, but only after she has put Kallikrates in a position where he must chose between her and Ustane.
In the film version, the outcome of Kallikrates' choice between these two women is pre-figured in a scene where he looks down on ruined city from a balcony in Ayesha's walled kingdom. He imagines the roar of the crowd at his command as an immortal god, if he takes up Ayesha's offer of bathing in the fires of immortality. So it is no surprise that when confronted with a choice between mortal love and immortal power, Kallikrates chooses the latter. But by aligning himself with Ayesha's power-centred universe, he unwittingly leads to her destruction when she steps into the fires of immortality a second time to help him overcome his fear of the flames. His choice of power over love also leads to Ustane's destruction. When he chooses Ayesha he frees her to kill Ustane as she wanted all along: all that was preventing her from doing so was the fear that Kallikrates was attached to Ustane's love more than he was to her own offer of immortality and unlimited power.
Thus power and love, as they so often are in the Western Romantic tradition, were set in opposition in the film. Watching this as an adolescent, I recall sensing the massive energy and drama in this arrangement, but also feeling something like distaste about how this opposition was being set up and about how I was being manoeuvred in relation to it, although I had no language for it at the time, and have spent some twenty five years trying to build one.
I would now say that the power/love opposition which is so tightly sewn into much of the performance of gender in the West was being enacted melodramatically in the film in such a way as to encourage the viewer to eroticise the opposition and various positions in and around it. As I watched with fascination as the machinery of my culture swung into operation on the TV screen I could feel a torsion. I would now say that torsion arose from my longing to have my desires channelled into this metaphysics of presence, with well-mapped, gender-inflected positions around power, sex and death made available through it, even as my longing for that canalization nauseated and alarmed me. Not only was I uneasy about my own fascination with the film, I was also profoundly uncomfortable with the way it was trying to canalise my desire (and trying to seduce me into eroticising that canalisation). These positionings were attractive, but too safe, too much a product of a metaphysics of presence which has always felt deadening and deadly to me.
Of course the curious thing about these processes of creation of identity is that one does feel them as one's own choices and longings, just as I felt (and still do feel) the fascination with the She story as my own fascination. Even though I can now see some of the strings of identity production and how the film tries to manipulate them, I still note my own longing to eroticise those pulls and tugs and surrender to the production of gender. At the same time, I am also still trying to unravel and subvert those tugs and pulls of identity canalisation in my clinical work and by writing essays like this one.
To me, Ayesha and Salomes capacity to fascinate is not a function of their being culturally-specific images of an eternal, universal, neo-platonic, primordial essence of femininity. Their fascination is a function of their capacity to represent clusters of energies which have been disavowed in order to create and stabilise an inhabitable field of identity. These disavowed (Othered) energies are like anti-matter to identity they threaten to destabilise it catastrophically. This, however, makes them highly attractive, since as Bersani observes, only the decentred subject is available to desire (Bersani, 1986, pp.64-66, pp.112-113). Learning how to simultaneously disavow these excluded energies and to eroticise them and their disavowal is an important step in learning how to do gender. These political processes of identity production though disavowal, erotic investment and canalization of desire need to be made the subject of depth psychology, not assumed as its frame of reference.
My thanks to all the people who have helped shaped this essay, in particular: Andrew Samuels, Valerie Walkerdine, Leon Petchkovsky, Giles Clark, Peter Fullerton, Susan Rowland and Cliff Bostock (for introducing me to the work of Leo Bersani).
1. This section of the essay owes a heavy debt to Bram Dijkstra's fascinating and highly recommended work on images of 'evil' women in the art of the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. The images used here are from Dijkstra's Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture and are reproduced with the permission of the author.
2. Jung makes a distinction between archetypes (as ahistorical and universal) and archetypal images (as culturally inflected and temporal), and a traditional analysis of the Salome / Ayesha stories might be that they are simply culture and period specific images of universal and eternal patterns. That separation obscures too much of the politics which are packed into such images, and also the politics involved in choosing to view them in this way. My point is not that political analysis is an alternative to depth psychology, but that psychology is always and already full of unconscious politics. If those political processes are made conscious and engaged with, they can lead to a deepening of psychology; they can also lead to a more inclusive psychology which is more respectful of difference. Obviously I am taking my lead from Andrew Samuels work in this.
3. But note, this move leaves Jungs concern for an ethical base to analytical psychology in tact.
4. I am aware of Jaqueline Roses critical stance towards Jungs work in The Haunting Of Sylvia Plath. Nonetheless, her work remains important to me, and I use it to amplify something in Jungs work on the grounds that often contradictory things have to be acknowledged as both true, even if that creates an uncomfortable and untidy state of affairs.
5. I am also aware of the significant differences between the Hammer film version of She, and Rider Haggards book. The book takes place in Africa, the film in Palestine, and the approach to Ayeshas kingdom is by water in the book, not across a desert as in the film. Kallikrates comes to a different end, and the roles of almost all of the other characters are changed in significant ways (especially Ustane and Billali). Most importantly, however, Ayesha is much, much wiser and cleverer in the book, having her own sophisticated philosophy of life, My overlapping of the two is, however, legitimate because they both revolve around a woman who is 'She Who Must Be Obeyed' and something of her personality carries over into the 1970s film. Somehow, as a teenager, I totally misses the boys own adventure theme which dominates the film, and was transfixed by the idea of She Who Must Be Obeyed, much as Jung appears to have been when he met her through Rider Haggards text.
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