On Jung's Solution to the End of Meaning

Dolores Brien continues her examination of Wolfgang Giegerich's essay "The End of Meaning and the Birth of Man" in this latest collection of posts to her weblog "A Jungian Notebook."

by Dolores Brien
(Adapted from A Jungian Notebook weblog for January and February, 2006.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006
More than a year ago now I worked my way, intermittently, falteringly, but doggedly through “The End of Meaning and the Birth of Man” by Jungian analyst Wolfgang Giegerich, which is subtitled “An essay about the state reached in the history of consciousness.” My thoughts on that essay can be found  elsewhere on the  C.G. JungPage (See Links). There is, however, a second part to the essay with the subtitle: “An Analysis of C. G.Jung’s Psychology Project.” I found it much more difficult and I felt I wasn’t quite ready for it at the time. Ready or not, I intend now to grapple with it, not knowing where it will lead me.

Thursday, January 19, 2006
Intolerable Reality
The title of this last section of Giegerich’s essay is long and formidable: “The Logic and Genesis of C.G. Jung’s Psychology in the Light of the Question of Meaning: The problem as it presented itself to Jung and its Solution, or Saturnian Swallowing.” I justified abandoning this section by claiming that it was not essential to the rest of the essay. This may be true if we take the section solely as a frontal attack on the whole of Jung’s psychology which it certainly seems to be. But it is much more than that, and I believe not intended as such. Giegerich gives no ground when he pursues his subject wherever it may lead him. No dark corners will be left unexamined, out of deference to that subject.

“The End of Meaning” begins with Giegerich reminding us that Jung was “one of the most persuasive voices that during the last century raised the question of the ‘meaning of life.” But Jung was of two minds about this question. On the one hand, he recognized that for “modern man,” that is, the fully conscious human being, myths, rituals and symbols no longer provide Meaning. Modern man “ . . . has come to the very edge of the world, leaving behind him all that has been discarded and outgrown and acknowledging that he stands before the Nothing out of which All may grow” (CW10 § 150). This was an incontrovertible fact. “We cannot turn the wheel backwards; we cannot go back to the symbolism that is gone.” Jung continues: “I cannot experience the miracle of the Mass. I know too much about it. I know it is the truth, but it is the truth in a form in which I cannot accept it any more. . . . It is no more true to me; it does not express my psychological condition” (CW18§632).

Although Jung recognized the irrevocable estrangement of the modern human from the past, he found this situation intolerable, nothing less than a disaster for the psyche. “You see, man is in need of a symbolic life—badly in need.” “Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul—the daily need of the soul, mind you!” (CW 18 § 625) “My psychological condition wants something else. I must have a situation in which the thing becomes true again. I need a true form” (ibid.§632). The question then for Jung was what to do about it? As Giegerich sees it, Jung’s solution to his dilemma was to save the symbolic life by splitting it off from adult, modern conscious life and interiorizing it in the unconscious. Consciousness, according to Giegerich, “exists now twice” as ego consciousnesss of rationality, science, and empiricism, and of the “public arena” and as the unconscious which contains the traditions, symbols, and meanings which had been otherwise lost to the modern human except as relics of an historical past. Giegerich compares this splitting of the unconscious away from the consciousness with a draconian metaphor, to that of Kronos/Saturn swallowing his children. “Only by swallowing, interiorizing the contents of the former tradition into ‘ourselves’ as our unconscious,’ Giegerich claims, could ‘that thing become true once more....” (p.35)
Giegerich’s critique of what he describes as a ploy (albeit an unconscious one) on the part of Jung to save myth and symbol from being relegated to the dust bin of history, is the subject of this final section of the essay “The End of Meaning.” This critique has been called controversial, which is putting it too blandly. No doubt there are aspects of it which are, at the least, irritating and some that might be considered outrageous. (What does he mean, that Jung “invented” the unconscious?!!”) For myself I believe understanding Giegerich’s point of view is essential for anyone interested in Jung’s psychology. At bottom, I am convinced that he is not interested in proving Jung mistaken, but in establishing a firmer connection between Jungian psychology and the “modern consciousness” of the twenty-first century. It is all about relevance.

Monday, January 23, 2006
Inventing the Unconscious
According to Giegerich, Jung created a division in consciousness in order to restore symbolic, mythical, metaphysical (transcendental, supernatural), and religious meaning. Consciousness was split, on the one hand, into its adult, modern, “born” consciousness and on the other hand, into the child which existed before it became aware of its having been born. The content of this split off unconscious, however, is not the true child of a living religious or mythic, or metaphysical tradition, because the break with that tradition has already happened and cannot be repaired. The contents—images and ideas— of the split off part of modern consciousness are “already the modern, abstract, uprooted version of the traditional contents.” Giegerich compares them to altarpieces in museums which have been removed from their place in churches which then represented a still living religion.

But Giegerich contends that for Jung the unconscious cannot be compared to a museum  which is the institutionalizing of an objectified memory. In its function of memorializing the past, the museum analogy relates us to an historical past, and makes us aware of our unassailable distance from it. Only in swallowing this past into ourselves, in interiorizing this past, does it becomes alive again and with it that in-ness, that Meaning we had lost. It is in this sense, I believe, that Giegerich states that Jung “invented” or “manufactured” the unconscious. Or that he can say, confusingly, that this unconscious is “new born” because as Jung believed, “the images emerging from inside are absolutely spontaneous and pure, pristine nature, and our experience of them experienced directly from the source. Only then does “the thing become true once more” as Jung so desired.

In doing this, however, Jung reduces these contents to a ''second, embryonic unbornness.'' Although the contents had already been released from religion and metaphysics, they are once again to be contained in the unconscious where, as Giegerich sees it, “they are once and for all prevented from ‘growing up’; getting out and taking part in public intellectual life and being in turn affected by its transformations.”

This is not easy to follow and I may be guilty of misinterpreting Giegerich. But the direction he is taking seems clear enough. What primarily concerns Giegerich is the bracketing off by Jung of the unconscious (that is, of dreams, myths, the symbolic life) into a “hands-off,” sacrosanct realm of its own. In the following section on “the sacrifice of the intellect” he elaborates this theme.

Thursday, January 26, 2006
The sacrifice of the Intellect (pp 36-39)

I have great difficulty with Giegerich’s point of view in this section. First of all, do I really understand what he is claiming and secondly, am I convinced by it? Previously Giegerich had cited Jung: “Since the stars have fallen from heaven and our highest symbols have paled, a secret life holds sway in the unconscious.” (CW 9i § 50). Giegerich returns again to it as being “most revealing.” His gloss on it is that Jung is affirming that what were formerly “objects of public veneration” have “been sunk and logically entombed in the unconscious.” In this state they are no longer accessible to “public” thought and cannot rationally be accounted for. “The intellect must not enter them thinkingly.”

Although Giegerich does not cite it, in the next paragraph (§51) Jung goes on to say that to speak of an unconscious at all in cultures which acknowledged the symbolic life, where “symbols are spirits from above” and where “the spirit is above too,” would be superfluous. Our unconscious, however, hides spirit as “living water,” spirit “that has become nature, and that is why it is disturbed.” Jung comments that those who know of “the treasure that lies in the depths of the water” will try and “salvage” it. He then goes on to say that those who do so . . .must on no account imperil their consciousness. They will keep their standpoint firmly anchored to the earth, and will thus—to preserve the metaphor—become fishers who catch with hook and net what swims in the water.” This does not sound to me as if Jung is suggesting that the contents of the unconscious are entombed, rather it suggests an invitation to go fishing in the unconscious for the riches it may yield.

Giegerich asserts that Jung does not allow the intellect to have anything to do with the contents of the unconscious. He quotes Jung from “The Symbolic Life:” “Our intellect is absolutely incapable of understanding these things.” (CW18 §617) Not quoted by Giegerich is the next sentence from Jung: “We are not far enough advanced psychologically to understand the truth, the extraordinary truth, of ritual and dogma. Therefore such dogmas should never be submitted to any kind of criticism.” As I read Jung in the context of these quotes, he is stating, in no uncertain terms, that when you are dealing with firm believers in their myths and rituals leave them alone, for their myths and rituals work for them. But what about the case of a modern consciousness for whom they no longer work? Does Jung exclude the possibility of entering into the problem in a thinking way as Giegerich tells us?

Giegerich says that, of course, the consciousness mind can approach the unconscious but only through “amplification” or with their form or structure, but may not tamper with “what” they are. It is true Jung said (in reference specifically to religion) that these things are essentially experience, “an absolute experience, and cannot be discussed.” (ibid.§ 692). When someone has a religious experience, that’s that. But this experience, according to Giegerich, does not really permit us to know “what.” We don’t realize this however because that experience, emotional and subjective as it is, only approximates a sense of knowing “what” much as we can “feel with” a sick person isolated behind a window of glass. In our sympathy we feel as if we have penetrated the glass to the person, but in fact, glass window is still very much there. This point of view raises for me the question of just what analysis is all about, if in fact the glass window cannot be penetrated.

In following through with this thought, Giegerich then goes on to describe the split which he sees Jung inventing between the conscious and the unconscious as a split between content and logical form or as between semantics and syntax. I admit that here I have not yet been able to decipher Giegerich’s meaning and so resort instead to what I think Giegerich intends as an example of that meaning. He refers once more to that passage in which Jung tells us that he can no longer “experience” the Mass because he knows too much about it. “I know it is the truth, but it is the truth in a form in which I cannot accept it any more . . . .My psychological condition wants something else. I must have a situation in which that thing becomes true once more. I need a new form (CV18 §632.)(Italics are Giegerich’s). For Jung, Giegerich states, that new form was a “psychologized, interiorized, privatized version of the former mythical and metaphysical knowledge.” That knowledge, no longer belonging to the culture as a whole, is now transferred into the unconscious of the single individual: “. . . all the great religious and metaphysical ideas and issues from world or cosmic problem, and public problems, and problems of the thought of ‘the whole man’, into psychological, merely internal ones, ones in man . . . . “  This was how Jung solved his problem.

I recognize in these few pages another foray by Giegerich to strengthen the case of his underlying theme (not only of this essay but of many of his writings, especially The Soul’s Logical Life) that Jung’s psychology abdicated its responsibility towards humanity as a whole, towards the world, towards the public arena by locating the “great religious and metaphysical ideas and issues” into “merely internal ones.” As of now, most likely because I do not understand it sufficiently, I remain unpersuaded about this particular charge against Jung, that is, about Jung’s entombment of religion and metaphysics in the unconscious, the consequent split between consciousness and the unconsciousness and the excluding of the intellect as unable to deal with the contents of the unconscious.

Which brings up (for me) an unresolved problem : Giegerich’s use of terms which he takes for granted his readers do (or should) understand. (He did, mercifully, in a footnote, explain the two ways in which he uses the word "metaphysical".) But what does he mean by “logic” and “logical life”and “logical form”? How does he apply the terms “semantics” and “syntax.” Nowhere in any of the writings I am familiar with (including The Soul’s Logical Life) does he define, describe or explain these terms. xThe best I have been able to do is to try to derive their meaning intuitively and from the way in which Giegerich’s applies them. Perhaps I am wrong, but I am counting on the possibility that the problem of not sufficiently understanding those terms is not, in the long run, an obstacle to grasping Giegerich’s essential thought. when you can’t solve a problem you sometimes have simply to “work around it.”

Saturday, January 28, 2006
No More Numinosity
As a “born Catholic” I am charmed by some of Jung’s remarks in “The Symbolic Life,” mindful that they were spontaneous remarks made in response to questions from his audience. (Transcribed later from notes and approved by Jung). He was proud, he said, of having had six practicing Catholics as clients because generally Catholics were less neurotic even though they were subject to the same neurosis producing social situation as the rest of us. Why, he asks, is this the case? It had to be explained by something in the Catholic cult, foremost in the Mass which, for practicing Catholics, is still the mysterium tremendum. Their parish priests, however, when asked, will not be able to explain what happens during the Mass. (Jung does not mention it, but they will tell you at least that it is the perpetuation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. (For a learned and lengthy response turn to the Catholic Encyclopedia.) Jung, however, traced the Mass to “a mystery which reaches down in the history of the human mind,” even probably into our pre-history. He says:

Now these mysteries have always been the expression of a fundamental psychological condition. Man expresses his most fundamental and most important psychological conditions in this ritual, this magic, or whatever you call it. And the ritual is the cult performance of these basic psychological facts. That explains why we should not change anything in a ritual. (My italics). (CW18§617).

It is in this context that Jung claims “You must not allow your reason to play with it. . . . Our intellect is absolutely incapable of understanding these things. We are not far enough advanced psychologically to understand the truth, the extraordinary truth, of ritual and dogma. Therefore such dogmas should never be submitted to any kind of criticism.”

Now, we know that this did not satisfy Jung. He tells us that he cannot accept the Mass, that it does not represent his “psychological condition.” As a once-believing Catholic, who for a long time attended Mass every day, I can say the same for myself. My psychological condition does not allow it. But what is this “psychological condition?” It corresponds to Wolfgang Giegerich’s modern man and woman having come to the end of such Meaning for themselves. But how it happened is difficult to explain. I remember that moment, which came unsought on my part, when I decided that I was not going to go to Mass any longer, because it meant nothing to me. I had lost —if I had ever had it—that sense of that mysterium tremendum. There was no conflict for me. It just happened and that was that.

Jung tells us that he wanted to find the “truth” of the Mass once more, but he had to find it in another form. I cannot say that I have felt the same need. I would like to understand it psychologically, but not because I personally need to. On the few occasions I have gone to Mass in recent years, I did not participate in it, neither  objectively as a Catholic (who is not obliged to feel the mystery to be part of it), nor subjectively, because it speaks to me in some hidden, inner, mysterious way. One of the reasons I have been drawn to Jung, however, is his profound sense of connection with our human past. I would have liked to have known more of the ancestral roots of the Mass, which Jung hints at and which offer continuity and connection with our human past. This leaves the Mass subject to being approached “thinkingly,“ without being blinded by its numinosity. For me, this would be satisfying enough.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006
A Real Quest is Open-Ended

Wolfgang Giegerich’s essay, “The End of Meaning and the Birth of Man,” was first given as a lecture sponsored by the Guild of Pastoral Psychology (London) and subsequently published as a pamphlet. A Guild member expressed his disappointment with the essay because it seemed to deny “the validity of any spiritual quest.” This concern was pursued in “Dialogue with Wolfgang Giegerich” edited by Judith Keyston of the Guild.
The following is an excerpt from Giegerich’s reply in which he addresses the meaning of a “quest.”

A quest, I think, is essentially open-ended. It is very different from a confirmation of a given faith as well as from the gratification of one’s spiritual needs. A quest is not like a search, say, for one’s misplaced keys, where what is to be found is known in advance and merely not at hand; it is not merely a process of personally actualizing for oneself generally or collectively known answers. The outcome of a quest, if it is a real one, is not known ahead of time. It is in principle even feasible that an honest quest or exploration might lead of its own accord to the insight that the very idea of a quest had been based on wrong assumptions or has become obsolete because times have changed. In constrast to a petitito principii, a begging of the question, a quest must question everything, including its own presuppostions.

For Giegerich’s response, as well as explanations for some of his terms (which may or may not help), and a very interesting quote from the philosopher Charles Taylor which Judith Keyston offers as an illustration of what Giegerich was “getting at” check out Guild of Pastoral Psychology

Wednesday, February 01, 2006
The Persistence of In-ness
While reading an article in last Sunday’s New York Times (“The Call” by David Bergner, 1/29) I thought of Jung and his warning about not interfering with people for whom their religion, cults and myths still “work.” (CW18 §617) The article focuses on a Christian evangelical family, the Mapleses, who serve as missionaries to the Samburu tribe (closely related to the Masai) in a remote, not yet modernized area of northern Kenya. Firmly persuaded of their call to minister to the Africans, they are “post-colonial” missionaries, committing themselves to living simply alongside the people among whom they work, learning the language, respecting their customs, and working to convert them in the hope that they can eventually turn over their ministry to the Samburu themselves. Although they like and appreciate the Mapleses, the Samburu have shown little interest in becoming Christian. They are a dignified, proud and self-sufficient people, seemingly content with their traditional way of life and customs.
The Samburu are monotheists. Their god is Ngai. Here is what they told the author about Ngai:

It holds its own sacred history in which, I was told, humankind had once been linked to Ngai by a ladder made of leather. Ages ago, A Samburu man, enraged by the death of his herd, cut the ladder, and ever since the people have been disconnected from their deity. Yet when the Samburu spoke to me about Ngai, they evoked not a divinity that is abstract and removed but one that is, though invisible, close at hand, especially on the steep mountains that bound the valley . . . . Ngai is up there, taking care of his people. He has granted the Samburu the knowledge of how to survive on cow’s blood . . . And he was forgiving when the people did wrong. He had placed a spring at the spot where the leather ladder had been cut. The Samburu told me that their religion makes no prediction of a messiah. They didn’t seem to feel the need for one.

One of their customs, however, is excising the clitorises of young girls before their wedding. Meghan, the Mapleses 12 year old daughter, witnessed an excising of a 13 year old girl, done with a razor and without benefit of any anaesthesia. Mehgan called it “a mutilation.” Female circumcision presents a dilemma for the Mapleses who see it as not only “a spiritual issue, but a public-health issue, it’s a human rights issue.” They are also earnestly concerned about the role of women in the tribe who apparently are as content with this custom as are the men.

Religious beliefs, even if to the believers they represent absolute and universal truth, cannot be separated from their particular culture. As Bergner observed: “[A]mid the Samburu culture, the Mapleses could seem to be not only Christian crusaders but also bold and progressive social activists, champions of female emancipation and sexual fulfillment.”

In time, given the ruthless advance of “modernization” the culture of the Samburu will probably disintegrate of itself. Meanwhile, how to change their minds and hearts? There is no guarantee the consequences will be in accord with the Mapleses hopes and expectations. Because of their conviction that they have been called by God to minister to the Samburu, the Mapleses cannot ask the question: Should one try to change their lives? Meanwhile, it seems that for the Samburu their religion, myths, rituals and other traditions satisfy their human need for meaning which includes the reassurance of a numinous, transcendent power that looks over them benevolently.

Perhaps this story of the Mapleses and the Samburu has little long term significance in the context of the overarching story of “the end of Meaning.” But their situation is a poignant one. They cannot claim as Giegerich does: “Our situation is different. We do not have to fight ourselves out into the open. We do not have to remove magic from our path. Magic, that is, the sympathetic world-relation, the mode of in-ness, metaphysics, is something we only know from hearsay.” (p.32)The Mapleses also live in their own in-ness, reassured by their God-given Meaning, or with what others might label their own “magic.” And not only they, but millions across the globe.

In reality, it does seem, despite the preceding centuries in which it emerged in human history, that we are only at the very beginning of the end of Meaning. And how certain is its outcome?

Monday, February 06, 2006
Not to Heal but to Understand

In the section “Downsizing and Privatization” Giegerich cites those much beloved passages from Jung which have so inspired (or inflated?) us:

Does the individual know that he is the makeweight that tips the scales? (“The Undiscovered Self,” CW 10§586)

”He [the individual] is the one important factor and . . .the salvation of the world consists in the salvation of the individual soul. (CW 10 §536)

Essential is, in the last analysis only the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations takes place.

Jung did not see, says Giegerich,  that psychology is not about the individual’s inner state or experiences, but is about humanity itself, “the logic of our- being -in- the- world at a given historical situation.” He asks how can the individual person be transformed, if the logic, the reality of our human existence is not changed? This is the question which Giegerich raised before, most notably in his essay The Opposition of ‘Individual’ and ‘Collective’— Psychology’s Basic Fault....”, the subject of an online seminar with Giegerich, sponsored by the C.G.Jung Page in 1999. Not surprisingly, many participants were disturbed by this challenge to the primacy of the individual as opposed to the collective. After all, this was what Jungian psychology was thought to be all about! Giegerich had taken great pains, however, to explain his position in the essay. He had been critical of himself in having chosen as a motto (the essay was first given as one in a series of lectures): “The rescue of one’s own soul consists in the rescue of the world.” For one, he realized it was too grandiose an idea to imagine that we could save the world. More importantly, it seemed to him that it contradicted “the very impulse of psychoanalysis.” To make his point he tells of a dream of one of Jung’s analysands which apparently pleased Jung very much.

She was told to descend into a pit filled with hot material and submerge herself in it. She obeyed, with merely one shoulder left sticking out of the pit. Then Jung came by and pushed her all the way into the hot material saying, ‘Not out, but through.”

This, according to Giegerich, is true psychology. It is not about curing or healing, and therefore being pulled out of the boiling pit. Rather, psycotherapy is analysis, a cognitive process. It is about getting to the heart of psychological realities and understanding them. Psychotherapy, as Giegerich uses the term, can result in healing or correcting or treatment—and that is all to the good— but it should not be seen as its intention or purpose.

I think Giegerich’s use of the term “psychotherapy” in this context contributed to some of the resistance. The etymological source of the word “therapy “ is the Greek therapeuin meaning to attend to, to treat, to heal. When people come for psychotherapy understandably it is healing that is sought.  Nevertheless, I think Giegerich would insist, that whatever you call it— analysis or therapy—the purpose of psychology is fundamentally to understand. Healing is a side-effect which may or may not occur for the individual.

What is it then that “psychology” is intended to comprehend, if not to treat the neuroses and pathologies of the individual? In the essay, Giergich affirms that Jung himself never wanted to stress the individual to the detriment of “the collective” (humanity as a whole, the world). Although individuation meant the development of the Self, it was never meant to be solipsistic or to be set up in opposition to society. He cites Jung: "This self, however, is the world.” Jungians, however, seemed not to have understood or were not convinced by this or, he suggests, it never became fully incorporated into Jungian theory and practice.
In the interim Giegerich has become, if anything, more adamant in his position and less inclined to defend Jung in what he sees as a turning away by Jung from the very purpose of psychology, for the sake of finding “his own form” and thereby preserving the Meaning of an historical past by containing it within the individual unconscious. Having done this, Jung prevented psychology from entering fully into collective life. It is in the public arena, however, that the real problems of humankind are played out and it is with this that pyschology must concern itself, if it is to be true to its purpose.

Thursday, February 09, 2006
The Spear Thrower

In the preface of his book The Soul’s Logical Life, Giegerich tells a story from an Icelandic saga in which a young man, content to while his time sitting by the fire, is prodded by his irritated mother to get out of the house. Finally, he gives in, leaves the house, taking his spear with him. Once outside, the young man repeatedly throws the spear as far as he is able and then each time runs to recover it. “In this way,”, comments Giegerich, “with these literal ‘projections’ that he then had to catch up with, he made a way for himself from the comfort of home into the outside world . . . . If psychology is to leave the cozy confines of its present home and move out and reach the real world of the soul, there is probably no other way than to work with such literal ‘projections.’ But . . . projections exist for the purpose of running or jumping after them in order to catch up with them.” Just as a blueprint comes first before a house is built, so must a projection come first. It is, however, only the beginning of the work. What remains to be done is “backing up the projection and filling it with real life.”

Giegerich knows that psychology is a lot more complex than that of a young man finding his way in the world by throwing a spear. For psychology it is not a case of home and world viewed as opposites. Rather, by moving out into the world, Giegerich believes psychology is also arriving at its true home.

This little story tells me that Giegerich’s work is thought-in-progress, still open. Who knows where the next throw of the spear will land? The first projection— not the only one or the final one— is “to pull the stay-at-home psychology away from the home in which it seems to have taken roots.” But this cannot be done without opening up such psychology to criticism.

Another posting. Same day
The opus magnum is somewhere else
Giegerich severely criticizes Jung for having “downsized, privatized” the magnum opus, making of it an opus parvum, a small work, thereby exaggerating and inflating the significance of the individual. In doing so, Jung had not permitted —and here Giegerich refers to the alchemical process—of decomposition, sublation, fermenting, corruption, its death, the death of Meaning. Despite his having recognized the emergence of a new level of consciousness in “modern man,” his having been born from the womb of Meaning, Jung refused to let go of what he believed were the still “the living spirits” of the past. This “reservoir of archetypes” was now to be found preserved only in the individual psyche. And it was therefore only in the individual psyche that the great problems of humankind could be grappled with and resolved. “Jung wants to pass off what is a private matter as a publicly significant one, the opus parvum for the opus magnum.” In doing so he inflated, says Giegerich, the importance not only of personal analysis but of the analyst as well. On the contrary, the opus magnum is to be found only “in those works that articulate and change the logic of our being-in-the world.”

In a letter to the art historian Herbert Read Jung wrote that the great Dream “consists of the many small dreams.” (Letters, p. 591) Giegerich feels “let-down,” because previously, in that same letter, Jung had written “It is the great dream which has always spoken through the artist as a mouthpiece.” But, argues Giegerich, the great dream is not made up of little dreams; it is something totally different. He equates “the great dream” with “the work of great art." Great art is public, belonging to humanity. Great art is “the product of the whole man. . . including his wakeful consciousness and his intellectual power.” Contrary to Jung, great art does not come from the unconscious or “a reservoir of timeless archetypes,” nor from the personality of the artist (and great thinker). Where then does great art come from? As Giegerich sees it, it comes from “the real, concrete historical situation of each respective time, out of the fundamental truths, the open questions and deep conflicts of the age that press both for an articulate representation and an answer.”

Great artists and great thinkers are the ones who make the truths and questions and conflicts of the time the prima materia, the real subject of their creative work. "In them and in the great works produced by them, not in himself, not in his 'unconscious,' man has his soul and this is why the locus of the 'whole weight of mankind's problems' is those great works. In them and their succession we find the opus magnum.

At this point I feel ”let down.” Are we to return to the idea that the history of the world as nothing more than the history of great men? I thought this notion of Thomas Carlyle and other nineteenth century thinkers had long since been debunked. What can Giegerich possibly mean? At this juncture in the essay another spear is thrown, but perhaps Giegerich has not yet caught up with it?

Saturday, February 11, 2006
On Collecting Shards
A footnote to Jung’s letter to Sir Herbert Read

In his letter to Read, Jung complained that modern artists—Joyce and Picasso were his examples—are “masters of the fragmentation of aesthetic contents and accumulators of ingenious shards.” They had misunderstood “the primordial urge” of the unconscious which, he wrote sarcastically: “. . . does not mean a field of ever so attractive and alluring shards, but a new world after the old one has crumpled up. Nature has a horro vacui and does not believe in shard-heaps and decay, but grass and flowers cover all ruins inasmuch as the heavens reach them” They do not listen to the Dream which is “the future and the picture of the new world, which we do not understand yet.”
In a footnote to Jung’s letter, we are given an excerpt from Read’s letter in reply to Jung, in which he comes to the defense of modern art and artists. He did not believe that fragmentation was done egoistically on the part of the artists. Their intent was to “destroy the conscious image of perfection (the classical ideal of objectivity) in order to release new forces from the unconscious.” Rather, it represented “a longing to be put in touch with the Dream that is to say (as you say) the future.”

But in the attempt the artist has his “dark and unrecognizable urges,” and they have overwhelmed him. He struggles like a man overwhelmed by a flood. He clutches at fragments, at driftwood and floating rubbish of all kinds. but he has to release this flood in order to get closer to his Dream. My defence of modern art has always been based on this realizaion: that art must die in order to live, that new sources of life must be tapped under the crust of tradition.”

In this instance, Read understood the alchemical process —as Giegerich put it—“the fermenting corruption, distillation, sublimation, and of course, articulation.”—much better than Jung did.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Thrust the Spear Forward

If the gods are dead, do we replace them with demigods, Giegerich’s “great artists and thinkers”? Can we thrive without them? Where do they and their works come from? Not, says Giegerich, from the individual and his or her unconscious and its archetypes. They come “out of the fundamental truths, the open questions, and deep conflicts of the age that press both for an articulate representation and an answer.” They arise from “the “historical situation” of the times, which is both the source and the subject of their creative works.

For Giegerich, the great artist and thinker is an alchemical vessel in which the problems of the historical situation undergo “their fermenting corruption, distillation, sublimation, and of course, articulation.” Through them, the human problems of the time are grappled with and “can work themselves out,” by which, I presume, Giegerich means bringing about significant change, a new direction (their answer) in human experience.

In them and in the great works produced by them, not in himself, not in his “unconscious,” man has his soul and this is why the locus of “the whole weight of mankind’s problems” is those great works in them and their succession we find the opus magnum

But in his earlier essay, (“The Opposition of the ‘Individual and the ‘Collective’. . .”) Giegerich announced that the “ real opus magnum takes place all around us.” The public arena “is the new locus of the movement of the soul, the present form of the mystery.” It is to be found in changes occurring worldwide which “experience today. ” There is no reason, he thought, that “the magnum opus should be confined to the consulting room or in some other alchemical vessel.” Why should it not take place, he asked, “in the world out there, in the public domain?” This is where “the real action is.” Clearly, the great questions of the age are not only stirring within the artist and thinker. For this reason I find it puzzling that Giegerich should burden them, as he says, with “the whole weight” of our human problems. We have lost our gods, but is he offering us demigods to replace them? If our thinkers and artists serve as demigods, we don’t have to look “out there,” above and beyond this planet. They are among us, one of us. If their creativity comes out of the matrix of human experience in a given moment in history, it is an experience shared by all of us whether we know it or not.

I would like to see attention paid to this question: If the opus magnum is taking place in the world at large; if the soul is to be found where the “action is,” how does soul manifest itself? In this earlier essay Giegerich directed us to “the maximizing of profit” and “globalization” as the opus magnum of our time. He goes so far as to say it is “our real God, our real Self.” Underlying Giegerich’s claim is his conviction that, given the events taking place in today’s world at large, the individual counts for less and less. There is a process going on which will make the individual “redundant.” A spear thrust to the heart of this question would be welcome.

I would like to see attention paid to the rest of us. The conflicts, the fermenting going on, at this time, disturb us as well and we too aspire to understanding. It may be that we are overly, too exclusively, preoccupied with our opus parvum, our personal struggles. Yet no one is protected or immune from the confluence of all the forces, for good or evil, which surround us and which have the power, as long as we remain unconscious and unknowing, to shape the form and substance of our lives. What is happening in our particular historical moment resonates within us. The work of the great artists and thinkers would be futile if this were not so. It is no help to belittle those who, as ordinary persons, also carry the weight of humankind’s problems. Another spear needs to be thrown here, so that we can begin to explore the paths  which can lead us from the opus parvum towards the opus magnum of this time.

Thursday, February 23, 2006
Another Perspective

Giegerich’s thinking is original, disturbing, passionate. What motivates his thinking seems to be his conviction that Jungian psychology must be, and is not yet, relevant to the human psyche as it manifests itself in the world at large (“the public arena”). It is this impulse which I find so compelling and which inspires me to continue grappling with his ideas even with those which appear to subvert Jung’s psychology. I believe he is also redefining the nature and role of psychology itself, a more difficult, but perhaps, in the end, the more important task he has set himself.

At this point, I would like to consider in the next postings, the perspective of another Jungian analyst, John Dourley, because it provides, in some respects, a useful comparison to Giegerich’s. Dourley offers another way of looking at the issue Giegerich raises in his essay “The End of Meaning.” Jung recognized that the worship of the gods (and the authority of their traditional, symbolic, and institutional manifestations) had come to an end for “modern man.” How did Jung respond and what did he offer to resolve this human predicament?

Dourley, who is also a theologian, has been engaged for decades now with this issue, beginning with “The Illness that We Are: A Jungian Critique of Christianity.” In a major work he traces Jung’s thinking on the “primordial form of religious experience” as revealed in his dialogues with Victor White and Martin Buber and in comparison to other significant religious thinkers. More recently he has written two papers: “Revisioning Incarnation: Jung on the Relativity of God” and “Jung and the Recall of the Gods.” (Both are available on the website of IAJS). These two papers are the source from which I will be drawing my comments in the next postings.

This may come across as very academic stuff, best left to the specialists—psychologists, therapists, analysts, philosophers and theologians. But it is more personal, more immediate, more urgent than that. It has everything to do with what it means to be human in the 21st century without the gods to save us. No one was more acutely aware of this predicament than Jung was in his time. What relevance does Jung have for us in our time? Today we can no longer even think in terms of “modern man” —and woman—,nor even of the postmodern. We are fast approaching, or as some say, we have already arrived at the posthuman stage in our history

copyright 2006 Dolores Brien. All rights reserved.