Saturday, February 4, 2012

On "Symbols of Transformation" by C. G. Jung *

Not easy or enjoyable reading in any manner, Jung's classic text at least manages to provide some interesting observations to think on and to pretty thoroughly relate a wide set of various mythological, religious, and literary images. In fact, in reading this book, I often thought not only on how widely Jung must have read but also on how much early psychological ideas rested in literary criticism.

In this book, Jung sets out to discuss symbols and their importance to our understanding of dreams and various psychological states (namely, the conscious versus the unconscious). He does this largely through an extended interpretation of one woman's written fantasies, a Mrs. Miller. To interpret these fantasies, he draws on similar images that show up in Christianity, in myth, in philosophy (Nietzche), in drama (Cyrano de Bergerac), and in one extended discussion in American poetry. Quotes from the latter, in fact, proved so interesting that I am tempted at some point to pick up Longfellow's Hiawatha.

The point of all this thought is, as Jung notes in his epilogue, to try to abolish the dissociation of the unconscious and conscious. By drawing these two spheres closer together, people will be less neurotic, less prone to schizophrenia. And this in turn takes us back to the book's start, where in Jung points out two ways of thinking. The two lists run something like this:

Conscious Unconscious
Directed Subjective
Adaptive Inner motives
Uncertainty Dream
Human knowledge Myth
Verifiable experience Prophetic
Will Autism
More individual Schizophrenic



No control



Less individual


The list, is of course very rough. In other passages, Jung points to schizophrenia being related to a nonintegration of the two spheres, but he also seems at times to relate it to an active fantasy life, a living in the world of fantasy.

On the conscious side, we have uncertainty, which at first seems odd. But it in fact makes sense. The conscious side is continually verifying things, whereas the unconscious works on gut, on feeling, on faith--and as such, there is a kind of raw certainty that one can't have when all things must be verified by experience and facts. For Jung, the unconscious side is also less individual, because he believes in a collective unconscious. When we delve into the unconscious, we are in fact delving into a consciousness shared with the universe, the source of "symbols"--and of myth.

These symbols are not allegories or signs. There is no one-to-one correspondence in a symbol to something else in life. A symbol is not like a word. Rather, a symbol is an image whose contents transcends consciousness. A sign points to s specific thing; a symbol points to a general idea and remains, essentially, unknown, indefinable.

Some random thoughts of Jung's: The libido is a kind of psychic energy (not necessarily sexual), and it is commonly symbolized by fire or as a demon or a hero. This psychic energy creates the God image via archetypal patterns--man worships the psychic force within himself as a divinity. We can also call the libido desire or lust (without reason); meanwhile, will is wanting with reason.

We gain illumination or revelation while under or having just passed through distress. The distress corresponds to an archetype in the unconscious. The archetype has a specific energy that when transferred to consciousness is what brings about that revelation.

Love is the energy that connects man to God, the conscious to the unconscious, the outer to the inner. Christianity protects us from animal desire or instinct.

Secrets cut us off from others.

A schizophrenic mind is one that is unable to assimilate the unconscious/myth with consciousness, and thus the mind splits. "The more a person shrinks from adapting to reality, the greater the fear that besets his path"--this in turn is what creates neurosis.

The self is a ruler in the collective unconscious or inner world. The hero figure (in dream or myth) does what the unconscious wants to do but which consciousness won't allow.

I read Jung's book on symbols mostly because of its influence on Philip K. Dick. In what way does Jung relate to Dick's work? Not having read too much of his work yet, I can't say for sure how it permeates the writer's texts. That said, in Martin Time-Slip, which I finished fairly recently, there's quite a bit about schizophrenics. In that work, those with autism or schizophrenia are more tuned into the dream world and are, in fact, even able to foretell the future. In turn, however, they are unable to live in the everyday world with the rest of humanity. No doubt, as I turn to other works by Dick, my thinking will turn back to what I've learned about Jung.

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