Matthew Clark proclaims his essay, which is an attempt to extrude archetypal themes from Incubus song lyrics, is an exercise in the science of interpretation, hermeneutics. Clark does not claim to purport a singular, definitive interpretation of these songs, but does seek to look at innately subject material in an impersonal and objective fashion.
Last Updated on Sunday, 27 October 2013 20:37
Written by Matthew Clark
This essay is an exercise in Hermeneutics. An attempt is made to extrude or to pick out archetypal themes from the song lyrics of a contemporary band, Incubus. Before moving any further, a pertinent point to be made is that in no form or fashion does the author claim to point out the definitive interpretation of any of the respective songs presented within the confines of this interpretive essay. Quite conversely, the only claim here is that an effort was made in dealing with the problem of translation of innately subjective material in an impersonal and objective fashion. Much like a poem or cinema can supply myriad nuances to its audience, the song lyrics that are dealt with here are quite logically understood to possess a tantamount quality. Further, the symbols of an archetypal theme, while stemming from the collective unconscious, are only made observable through the ideas and experiences of the conscious mind of the individual (Jacobi, p. 74, 1959). Thus, it is the belief of the author that Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, the father of Analytic Psychology, would do little more than frown at such a claim of even a quasi-definitive interpretation without having delved into the respective psyche of the lyricist himself. This point will be further illustrated later in the essay.
For the purpose of reading this paper, it is not necessary to possess an exhaustive understanding of Jungian psyche development. What are required are a rudimentary understanding of (a) the structures or segments within the psyche - personal conscious and unconscious, collective conscious and unconscious -, (b) complex formation, (c) archetypal themes - Anima/Animus, quaternity, mandalas -, (d) a brief look at Jung’s theory of Psychological type, (e) possession and, (f) the principle of opposites. For this reason, an extended introduction is offered as a pedagogical tool for use in the later more synthetic portion of the essay.
For Jung, the psyche operates on the principle of opposites (Rychlak, p. 182, 1981). This means that for any action or thought a commensurate and opposite reaction or thought is made confluently. Thus, the psyche may be thought of as existing in a realm of dialectics, much like the respective realm of personality psychology. For example, polar opposites are found throughout the concepts of Freud, one may recollect of his theory of Repression (cathexis and anticathexis). Further, a Freudian psychoanalyst may think of a behaviorist’s approach to psychotherapy as the mirror image to his approach.
The Jungian psyche is composed of four disparate realms - collective conscious, personal conscious, personal unconscious and collective unconscious - operating as a dynamically functioning amalgamation. First, the collective conscious, is composed of those socially learned (reinforced) mores that are demonstrated behaviorally to those surrounding us, the collective society, as it were. In the interest of intelligibility we can think of the collective conscious as providing us with a sort of mask that can be worn, no matter what our true mood, in an attempt to harmoniously interact with surrounding society. Thus, our masks function as adjustment aids in our attempts to get along with others (Rychlak, p. 187, 1981). Second, the personal conscious is composed of those experiences and internalized values that we acquire throughout the course of our life activities and observations. These internalized materials may or may not be shared with those we come in contact with throughout the course of day-to-day life. In fact, it would be reasonable to surmise that the material within the personal conscious would be more readily shared with those most intimately acquainted with us, withstanding paradoxical disclosure of course. If one were to visualize the psyche split into halves, the personal unconscious may represent the truer to self-concept or deeper layer of the conscious hemisphere, much like Freud’s conception of the ego.
Third, the personal unconscious is composed of those experiences and values that are unique to each individual, much like its conscious counterpart. However, unlike the personal conscious, these values and experiential nuggets of sensory input are not readily available to the conscious. Fourth, the collective unconscious, without a doubt, the most exquisitely creative and inherently deep of all the respective realms of the Jungian psyche, is composed of all those primordial elements that have been passed on to homo erectus throughout human development. For a more apparent conception of the collective unconscious it is necessary to discuss the Darwinian-Lamarckian Rule of Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny. The thought here is that humans, in utero, developmentally pass through stages that resemble the physical characteristics of lesser-evolved life forms, such as the fish and pig. In fact, at certain periods of uterine development, a fetus does possess a set of gills, much like a fish and later possesses a pseudo-tail resembling that of a fetal pig (Rychlak, p. 65, 1981). With this in mind, one has enough objective information to make an inferential leap toward that which Jung has dubbed the collective unconscious.
To restate, the personal unconscious holds those experiential elements that are unique to sentient beings. Conversely, the collective unconscious is that tie which binds contemporary man to the essence of earth’s antiquity. Just as the human body resembles lower-level life forms in fetal development, the psyche too carries within it the blueprint of the past.
Quite reasonably, one might wonder how or if these primordial remnants have any bearing on contemporary man’s behavior. To answer these questions an explanation of the archetype is called for. The term archetype can be traced back to the writings of Plato. Although Jung borrowed the term he differed in its delineation. Jung thought that the archetypes were more than just ideas, as it were. In fact, these archetypes were that which gave shape to and influenced our thoughts and feelings (Stevens, p. 39, 1983). Archetypes are those commonalities that have been passed on through Darwinian evolution to present-day man. These commonalities reside in the deep recesses of the collective unconscious and enjoy neither absolute forms nor fashions with which to present them to the conscious hemisphere of the psyche.
To rephrase a prior statement, the personal unconscious provides a metaphorical receptacle for day-to-day sensory input. It is through these stored elements (symbols) that archetypes may be revealed to the conscious. For instance, it is relative common knowledge that a four-leaf clover represents (symbolizes) good luck. Consequently, the four-leaf clover has become much more than merely a rarity of the garden. The clover now represents something other than its original meaning, i.e. good luck. The four-leaf clover, interestingly enough, is a symbol of quaternity, a topic, which will be discussed later. Similarly an archetypal theme may be presented through dreaming in the form of some ambiguous, symbolic figure. Jung frequently observed, through dream analysis, that the innate subjectivity of individual perception was responsible for a symbol appearing in the dreams of two unique individuals conveying two entirely unique meanings. This further illustrates the point of mentioning Jung’s predicted disproval of such a claim of a definitive interpretation without analysis of the individual.
For convenience, one can imagine each disparate segment of the psyche as having a job to perform. According to the principle of opposites, if the conscious were to become one-sided with respect to any particular characteristics, excessive shyness for instance, it would becomes the job of the unconscious to introduce an alternative (opposite) manner of functioning through the use of archetypal themes manifested through symbolism in the dream state.
A few archetypal themes pertinent to the clear conception of this essay will be discussed. First, the anima archetype, Latin for soul, and the animus archetype, Latin for mind, can be thought of as antithetical psychic manifestations of the behavioral material that is acted out in common daily functioning. Furthermore, remembering that, in Analytic Psychology, the principle of opposites is that which governs the psyche. Thus, it follows that the anima archetype, which is found within the psyche of the male is, in fact, a personification of all feminine psychological tendencies, such as prophetic hunches, e.g., women’s intuition (Jung, von Franz, Henderson, Jacobi, Jaffe, p. 182, 1964). Conversely, the animus archetype represents the male characteristics of a female psyche. Second, Jung noticed two commonly reoccurring symbolic themes of history, the Mandala symbol and a quaternity. Mandala is Sanskrit for circle. Quaternity refers to a geometric figure with the property of being divisible by four (Rychlak, p. 239, 1981). In Analytic Psychology these symbols, the Mandalas and a quaternity both represent a psychic state of wholeness or totality.
The formation of complexes is central in understanding Analytic psychology. However, this topic, in the ultimate interest of brevity, will not be covered in its entirety. To reduce this concept to its bare essentials, one might say that a complex comes to fruition through one of two avenues: (a) an archetypal theme made known to the conscious via dreaming, or (b) without making its presence known to the conscious via possession. Possession is operationally defined by Jung as an alteration of the normal overt behaviors of a person in which a complex has formed. The possessed person may suffer from blackouts. Upon waking, one possessed may be unable to explain his bizarre uncharacteristic behavior (Rychlak, p. 222, 1981). Of course, the concept of complex formation is abundantly more intricate than has been made known here. However, no further depth of subject need be entertained at this time.
Fourth, a brief introduction to Jung’s psychological type theory is needed. Psychological type theory posits that personality can be described according to one’s preferred attitude about outward or inward focus of energy, extraverted versus introverted. Further, personality can be typified as ones preference for two of the following four functions, intuition/sensing and thinking/feeling. Intuition deals with one’s tendency to look toward the future, seeing the big picture. Sensing, however, is the focus of one’s attention to those details of experience, the here and now, as it were. The thinking function deals with one’s propensity toward distancing oneself from a situation and assessing the matter analytically. Conversely, the feeling function denotes that one’s preference of taking in information is to assess with value judgments rather than a more logic ruled, objective approach. An important point to remember when considering the type theory is that there is no good or bad. Also, each function or attitude is merely a measure of preference, as humans we each possess all of these characteristics, attitudes and functions. It is simply our innate preference for one of any of these dichotomies that determines our psychological type.
Since the anima/animus archetype represents that which directly opposes one’s normal daily behavior, it follows logically that these archetypes display the opposite psychological type. Thus, the anima of an introverted male provides extraverted solutions to whatever the obstacle faced by the psyche. Any further depth of demonstration of Jung’s psychological type theory is beyond the scope of this essay and, therefore, will not be covered. It is now imperative that a functional amalgamation be made of all those subtopics previously discussed under the rubric of Analytic Psychology.
Too often we look at art, no matter the media through which it is expressed, with an extraverted attitude. By this it is meant that modern culture first looks to attribute a certain interpretation of isolated self-expression harboring one omnipresent translation. Instead, Jung would advise that his clients focus on a more internalized meaning, innately more esoteric, to find what that artist is attempting to inspire and put them in touch with the symbol-forming capacities latent within their own psychic nature, (Stevens, p. 33, 1983), rather than just looking for an absolute commonly agreed upon truism. This sort of introverted bent towards that which lies within the psyche is of paramount importance in Analytic Psychology. Hence Jung tenaciously stressed his conviction that the psyche was the very basis of human experience of existence. Indeed, he believed that the psyche was the most precious possession (Stevens, p. 32, 1983).
Taking this introverted perspective a step further into the direction of realization of these intrapsychic events, such as complex formation or the projection of archetypal themes into the conscious, one finds the optimal goal of Analytic Psychology. Those symbols of totality, the Mandala and quaternity, surely come into play at this point of discussion. It was the belief of Jung that one’s primary goal in life was to reach a relative level of totality or union of all the disparate realms of the psyche, to achieve individuation. Any dream, be it at night or day, which contained either of these symbols of wholeness was thought to be a calling out to the conscious realm for union of the psyche, a teleological striving. This striving could be accomplished through a conscious surrender to the callings of the collective unconscious, simply listening to what the psyche advises (Jung, et al, p. 164, 1964). Next, the results of the analysis of the four selected songs - Warning, New Skin, Circles and Nice to Know You - will be illustrated and discussed.
This particular piece has enjoyed play on MTV for the past few weeks now. Watching the video has brought to this discussion yet another opportunity to extrapolate Jungian symbolism. The time reading 10:24 AM is periodically flashed on the screen throughout the course of the video. If one were to take this measure of time out of its original context by conversion to ordinal number, one would find a quaternity (1024/4 = 256). Coincidentally, quaternities have been connected with the anima. Within Jung’s Analytic psychology, it is thought that the anima brings with its projection the possibility of achieving wholeness (Jung, et al, p. 185, 1964).
It is believed that the overall Jungian theme of this piece is that of the anima making her presence felt within the conscious, thus, providing a warning. The title of this piece, with concise eloquence buttresses this notion. “Be otherworldly, count your blessings seduce a stranger,” (Incubus, 2001). Apparently the call to a one-sided, introverted type to, in essence, extrovert. Get over this shyness! Approach others and see what happens.
I suggest we learn to love each other before it’s made illegal (Incubus, 2001). Here a recognition and subsequent union of the two currently disparate realms of the psyche (conscious and collective unconscious represented by the Anima archetype) is rather vehemently called for. In addition, the warning message makes mention of the ultimate ramifications if, in deed, conscious man does not heed the exigency of the message, possession. Hence, the conscious becomes overtaken. The overt behavior during possession being quite uncharacteristic of the current personality, for example, an extreme introvert may become pompously gregarious.
“Floating in this cosmic Jacuzzi, we are like frogs oblivious,” (Incubus, 2001). The conscious has failed, for whatever reason, to head the more subtle interjections of the anima. Reference of the Jacuzzi so fluently symbolizes the unconscious (water), the forgone warnings of the anima (increasing temperature of the water), and the conscious layers of the psyche (frogs oblivious to temperature change).
“Soon the water is starting to boil, no one flinched and we all float face down,” (Incubus, 2001). This line, the ultimate result of continued one-sidedness, the conscious has become possessed, symbolically dead. Without control over or knowledge of the irrational impulses of the now consciously existing complex of the collective unconscious, the conscious is, in effect, rendered powerless. New, uncharacteristic behaviors may now be displayed without a rational explanation by the conscious realm of the psyche.
The undeniable theme here is that of the intuitive type crying out in disgust over an ominous perception of a world in which the many cannot or chose not to see the bigger picture. The battle between the innate desire for individuation and the ease of the collective identity is exemplified through lyrics.
The refrain of the song is of interest here. “It’s all been saved, with the exception for the right parts. When will we be new skin? It’s all been seen with the exception for what could be,” (Incubus, 1997). Here the intuitive is able to see what he feels to be utterly disturbing, that of an entire culture living mindlessly, focusing only on what their five senses allow. This is the truest example of a somnambulist society. Unaware of their psychic potentiality, its citizens bumble through life without desire for a greater existential purpose.
Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest is also implicitly made reference to. The common majority that has persevered consists of the Mesomorph, to borrow a term from Sheldon. By this it is meant that the physically strong and not necessarily those more cerebral in nature or those more in touch with their psyches have survived the trials of Darwinian evolution. Understandably so, the use of the somatoform, Mesomorph, can be construed as a misuse. However, the author has no intention of redefining or implying any negative connotations or characteristics to the Mesomorph. The idea of this complacent society is intolerable to the intuitive type. “At first I see an open wound infected and disastrous, it breathes chaotic catastrophe, it cries to be renewed,” (Incubus, 1997). He exhorts society to step back from everyday life, to take a closer look at modern-day culture, to surmise where it is and extrapolate where it could be (innate potentiality of man).
“There is evidence of hope. It is a circle. There is a plan. Dead skin will atrophy itself to start again,” (Incubus, 1997). The circle, the Mandala symbol has presented itself whether recognized or unbeknownst to the lyricist. Thus, man can once again recognize his teleological thrust toward individuation.
Again, the Mandala symbol has representation here. To fully comprehend the translation of this piece, the acknowledgment of a dialogue between man and anima archetype as a possibility is required.
Suspense of disbelief may also be necessary. Such an experience becomes possible through personal self-analysis, as was demonstrated by Jung (Rychlak, p. 232, 1981).
Here man confronts anima through verbal dialogue. A slight twist is added, though. A mocking undertone can be detected throughout the verbal exchange. In the case of this piece, man has broken free from the fetters of neurosis, as symbolized by the figurative crumbling of the wall. “I knew the walls was coming down and the stones that fell were aiming away from me,” (Incubus, 2001). The wall, which symbolized a division of dissociation between conscious and unconscious, has been obliterated through depotentiation. Through such a process one is able to acknowledge the existence of the anima, refute its more irrational suggestions, thus, removing all sources of energy from its holding. In Jungian dream analysis an explosion of some sort usually symbolizes such a happening. Further, the lyrics state that, the stones that fell were aiming away from me (Incubus, 2001). These figurative stones, no longer pose any threat to the man. Thus, individuation, a wholeness of the psyche, has been achieved.
In dealing with the subtle twist evident in the song lyrics, one senses a lack of compunction on the part of the man in his sarcastic exchange with the anima. Why is it that any detectible level of animosity is present? After all, the man has reached the ultimate goal of his existence. This may be explained by way of an intuitive hunch about previous experiences between the writer and the anima. Perhaps the man, feeling as though he had already reached individuation, succumbed to a neurosis. Continuing in this vein of reasoning, the idea of the man’s gloating during present exchange seems acceptable. The man may have felt ill prepared or let down by the anima. Further, he has overcome said neurosis through proper acknowledgment of the neurotic complex and subsequently achieved individuation, as is evidenced by the verbal exchange between the two in the song lyrics. This chain of occurrences provides a reasonable explanation of the writer’s gloating.
The song ends with the line, “who could have known it would end so well,” (Incubus, 2001). Thus, implying that wholeness of the psyche has been achieved.
Nice to Know You
Interpreted as the recognition of the presence of the collective unconscious and its subsumed archetypes, this piece illustrates the ethereal nature of the collective unconscious. “Better than watching Gellar bending silver spoons. Better than witnessing newborn nebulaes in bloom,” (Incubus, 2001). To realize that one’s psyche contains such a magnificent bank of wisdom is truly sublime. Even better, as illustrated through the just cited verse, than watching heavenly bodies come to form.
“To obtain a bird’s eye is to turn a blizzard to a breeze,” (Incubus, 2001). With a union of the psyche comes the ability to put in proper perspective the trivialities of a worldly existence. That person, who is able to recognize the potentiality of a tie to his collective unconscious, cannot help but strive for individuation.
This piece offers duality of theme. Not only is the grandeur of individuation expressed but the acceptance of archetypes, in particular anima archetype, as viable sources of input, is also accepted. “Blessed is she who clearly sees the wood for the trees,” (Incubus, 2001). Thus, at times, man, in a one-sided state of psyche, is unable to figuratively step back to objectify his situation. Therefore, a dichotomous psychic situation need be. The anima present through the collective unconscious is there to provide that alternative, dialectical perspective.
“I haven’t felt the way I feel today in so long it’s hard for me to specify. I’m beginning to notice how much this feels like a waking limb, pins and needles, nice to know you, goodbye,” (Incubus, 2001). Here a farewell to one-sidedness is declared. The symbolic awakening of a limb to facilitate the fully functioning of the body represents union of the psyche.
“So could it be that it had been there all along,” (Incubus, 2001). Thus, the crystallization of the idea of an omnipresent collective unconscious, which ties him to his primordial past, has occurred.
The process of writing of this essay was treated much like that of a scientific experiment. Some hypotheses were formed, observations were made and results were reported. Of course, it is apparent that the interpretations made are inherently subjective, and the probability of their duplication are minimal at best. Though, the same could be said of any psychoanalytic dream analysis session. Again, to reiterate an already belabored point, no claim has been made as to offering a definitive interpretation of the lyrical subject matter.
Prior to analysis of any lyrics, an early presumption was that those songs composed of four verses, or multiples of there of, would innately be replete with Jungian symbolism. This was not the case. In fact, the majority of the songs examined for content consisted of an odd number of verses. However, upon further examination, the great majority of Incubus’s material contains Jungian themes. The four songs dealt with in this essay were selected at random.
Understandably, an argument could be made that the songs chosen were, in fact, written about a particular female in the lyricist’s life, thus, precluding any possibility of interpreting archetypal themes. However, Jung proposed that the qualities of the anima can and often are projected by man onto a particular woman (Jung, et al, p. 185, 1964). In such a case man would perceive the characteristics of the anima, as those of the woman. Thus, even if the case were that the songs chosen for review were written in response to the artist’s personal experience with a woman, no threat or bearing is placed on the interpretations made in this essay. In fact, the very idea that the characteristics of the anima have been projected onto a person implies an attempt by the collective unconscious to guide or alter the present state of the man’s psyche. This in itself presents enough reason to investigate further for Jungian themes.
Also, it is critical to understand that the anima archetype possesses no connotations at all, positive or negative. The nature of the manifestation of the anima be it in dream or projection onto a physical object outside the world of the psyche, hinges upon man. Thus, whatever means necessary for man to progress in his teleological striving for individuation need be taken. Any confusion in this area may be due to the striped-down manner with which the topics dealt with in this essay were presented.
An additional point worth noting is that of the phenomenological progression toward individuation. This can be observed from album to album. Two Incubus albums, S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and Morning View, were cited for interpretive use. The later, being the more recent of the Incubus albums, was found to be replete with representation of the anima, while the earlier album, S.C.E.I.N.C.E., dealt more with the generalities of Analytic Psychology. Implementing a deductive pattern of reasoning, it becomes quite logical that man, the lyricist, moves from general, the recognition of his innate potential of achieving wholeness of psyche, to more refined intricacies, that of actual dialogue with the anima archetype. The later being significantly further along in the human process of individuation than the prior. In order for man to achieve wholeness of psyche, he must first recognize that he possesses an unconscious realm and then confront it to find what it wants of him (Jung, et al, p. 167, 1964).
Finally, and perhaps of most significance, is the idea that this essay be received as empirical evidence of the presence of archetypal themes in contemporary American music culture. Thus, the themes of antiquity persevere and manifest themselves through that which is ever developing and yet maintaining its roots firmly planted in the past, the psyche.
© Matthew Clark 2003.
Incubus. Morning View . CD copyright 2001. Sony Music Entertainment Inc. New York, NY. 10022-3211 USA.
Incubus. S.C.I.E.N.C.E. CD copyright 1997, 2001. Sony Music Entertainment Inc. New York, NY. 10022-3211 USA.
Jacobi, J. (1959). Complex/Archetype/Symbol . NY: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G., von Franz, M. L., Henderson, J. L., Jacobi, J., Jaffe, A. (1964). Man and his symbols. NY: Doubleday & Company Inc.
Rychlak, J. F., (1981). (2nd ED). Introduction to personality and psychotherapy Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
Stevens, A. (1983). Archetype . NY: Quill