Matt Koeske

Photo by Christina Montemurro

My name is Matt Koeske.  I live in Pittsburgh, PA with my wife, Christy, and our sons, Leo and Jonas.  I have been interested in Analytical Psychology since the age of 16, and it has been the foundation of my world view ever since.  I studied creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh and authored a book of poems, What the Road Can Afford (2005).  My poetry and fiction have always been heavily influenced by my Jungian background and by the logic, texture, and self-reflectivity of dreams.

In 2006, I became the administrator of the dissident poetry website, (founded by Alan Cordle), which sought to expose and analyze aesthetic and publication trends in the American poetry business.  Alan and I decided to shut down in 2007.

In that same year, I turned entirely away from poetry and literary criticism and founded the Useless Science discussion forum in the hope of creating a venue for the serious discussion and debate of depth psychology theory and practice and for the pursuit of a progressive Jungian thinking.  Useless Science was and is intended as a non-tribal, non-partisan, but generally Jungian space.  Although any kind of Jungian affiliation is welcome among members, there is a significant chance that any belief or theory could come under critical analysis . . . including those of the administrator.

More about Useless Science and Beginning the Blog

My hope has been that the Useless Science forum could serve as a blank canvas for a Jungian thinking and scholarship that dares to be revisionary and deeply self-examining . . . and also as a melting pot for Jungian thinkers interested in exploring the psyche both scientifically and rigorously.  There is a bias toward scientific thinking and valuation, though.  I consider myself an atheist, which in the Jungian world is a rarity.

This does not mean that religion, spirituality, or various Jungian mysticisms are not discussed at Useless Science.  I have just as much interest in the psychology of belief, religious experience, and mysticism as any Jungian.  But I try to follow in the (at least claimed) tradition of Jung himself, who insisted that his investigations and theories of the psyche were scientific and phenomenological and did not make any philosophical or metaphysical assumptions.  I aspire to be that kind of Jungian . . . and in achieving this aspiration, I no doubt fail as much as Jung did.  Whatever the case may be, there is, in my opinion, both precedent and need for a "Jungian science".

Moreover, it is simply too compelling to "stop at belief" in one psychic phenomenon or another.  I desire to know, to dig deeper.  And in this desire, I am in accord with the Jungian tradition of "gnostic" inquiry.  Mysticism and science do not have to have opposing views.  If the desire to know is genuine, its rewards and the journey it unravels are spiritual or numinous experiences.  "Gnostic integrity" will always move toward "truth" . . . even if that goal itself is unattainable.

I have decided to start this blog in large part because the Useless Science forum has not (not yet, at least) lived up to my (no doubt demanding and perhaps unrealistic) expectations.  In general, traffic has been very low and very few people have participated regularly.  Of these, fewer still have engaged in the kind of "progressive" idea sharing that I had originally started the site to foster.  I suspect there are two main reasons for this.  One is that the Jungian community that is active on the web and willing to participate on a public forum has very limited interest in "progressive Jungianism" or criticism and revision of Jungian ideas.  Many "lay-Jungians" are merely using Jungian tools to find more meaning or healing in their lives . . . or to discover their "true tribe", a psychic space that feels sacred and in which they feel like "a part of something larger".  And these are perfectly legitimate desires.  These desires are ones I share . . . and (like other Jungians) it is the Jungian system of languaging and valuation that I have used to orient my own life and identity.

Unlike many other Jungians, I have felt obligated to repay the great gifts I have received from my devotion to Jungian literature and thought . . . and the best method of repayment I could conceive of was to attempt to help carry the Jungian valuation system forward.  It seems to me that this was what Jung himself wanted of his successors . . . and perhaps even expected.  But in contrast to many schools of thought in various areas (scientific ones often most of all), Jungian thought has remained surprisingly (but by not means absolutely) derivative.  It surprises me mostly because Jung himself was very much a pioneering and defiant individual (by disposition perhaps even more so than by his creative products) . . . and shouldn't this, not just model but intentionally bestowed legacy, rub off somewhat?

Of those Jungians who have gone in new or different directions from Jung himself, I remain unconvinced that these directions are either truly viable and modern or truly "Jungian" (which, of course, is arguably impossible to define).

The other main reason I see for limited participation on the forum is that my own writing has been both prolific and contentious.  I started my return to Jungianism (after spending years in academia studying and writing poetry) thinking I was more or less the poster boy for the "Jungian type".  I was used to being the only "Jungian" in any class or conversation.  But as I engaged with other Jungians and revisited Jungian literature, I began to feel more and more unusual.  It led, in fact, to a period of difficult self-conflict for me in which I had to wrestle with my own Jungianism and my relationship to my "personal Jung".  When I came back to Jungianism, I thought I would be returning "home" to my kind of people after years of feeling out of place and rather "too Jungian" as a poet.  What I found was that my own alienness was more significant than I ever expected.

My attempts to come to terms with this have driven me to explore my ideas both more passionately and more defiantly.  Some might say offensively.  At least I have worried at times that I have failed to separate my frustration with finding so few reliable colleagues and such meager welcome among Jungians from my own drive to innovate and to criticize what I see as wrong turnings and at times even delusions in Jungian thinking.  For better or for worse, my approach to criticism and revision is one in which I am personally involved.  The so called "personal equation", the specific lens through which each individual perceives and exists (both consciously and unconsciously) is well know to Jungians.

But there is too high a degree of arrogance among many Jungians that leads them to believe the personal equation can be set aside through some force of will (of course this would be contradictory to Jung's thinking on the matter, but that's another issue).  In my opinion, the best we can do is to live in conscious relationship to our personal equations and to our complexes.  They are not only our Achilles' Heels but also our guiding stars.  In their gravity we both err and find our way.  And we often don't know one from the other.

As an atheist and a devoted critic of classical and developmental Jungianism (and equally of archetypal Jungianism), it is hard for me not to offend many in the Jungian world.  As one who sees his involvement with Jungianism as not merely an ideological flirtation, but a complex and important relationship to his tribe . . . a crucible for his social identity . . .  my passion is, I feel, appropriate and warranted.  Still, it is not my intention to offend, but to catalyze.

In this blog, I may continue to pursue my flawed attempts at catalyzing investigations into Jungian theories and identities . . . but I hope to leave the Useless Science forum less "oppressed" by my own ideologies and attitudes . . . or to free it from the potential perception of others who feel their participation is dependent upon any agreement with my developing theories and beliefs.  I'm not sure I expect this to have a significant impact on the way it is perceived by others.  Just as much a motivation in creating the blog is a desire to improve the organization and flow of my scattershot essaying at the forum.  My writings have grown there organically, but they are not easily organized or summarized.  This stylistic tic is a trait I seem to share with my intellectual progenitor, Jung.  And I have seen in both his writing and mine how this intuitive, sprawling, digressive meandering confuses and aggravates readers.

My current intention is to link my blog posts to threads in the forum where they can be discussed.  I am still undecided about enabling comments on the blog.  For now they remain on, but I much prefer the forum environment and its tendency to encourage collaborative debate and discussion.  I would like to see the digressive evolution that forum conversations can lead to.  What I am offering both on the blog and on the forum is not a finished product that I want people to respond to, yea or nay.  I see these writings as rough drafts on canvases still left wet for the next person to create on.

I do welcome any comments or email (matt AT uselessscience DOT com) . . . and would be happy to discuss any issues related to my blog and forum posts . . . or simply any depth psychology issues.  I am a fairly slow correspondent, though . . . so please bear with me.

Useless Science: What's in a Name

(from the inauguration of the forum, January 2007)

The name of this website comes from the Remedios Varo painting, Useless Science, or the Alchemist (1955).


by Remedios Varo

by Remedios Varo

I love the complexity of the painting . . . the "statement" it makes about inner Work.  The apparatus the woman is using is ridiculously elaborate . . . yet can be turned with a simple crank.  It seems to distill the atmosphere, drawing the Tincture out of it.  The bottled Tincture sits in the background unceremoniously.  The contraption, though!  It looms over everything, preposterous and wonderful.  Distillation as a process of convolution!  Lovely!

The alchemist pulls the floor (checkered with the opposites) over herself like a blanket.  This blanket is not only a part of the floor (a kind of prima materia on which everything is established), but (if you look closely) also a part of the alchemist's head.  Her look seems to convey so many things: sorrow, concentration, patience, determination, resignation, prayer.

To me, this painting says everything about the Work (in Jungian terminology, the individuation process), about what it feels like to devote oneself to it . . . and it says it so subtly.  This sense of subtlety begs the viewer to pour him or herself into the painting . . . itself a process of distillation.

The Work truly is a "Useless Science".  It is "useless" when viewed through the rationalist's eye . . . because the psychic materia is immaterial.  To that eye, the alchemist in the painting is an absurd figure.  But the alchemists knew all about the "uselessness" of their Art and the seemingly worthless stone it was meant to produce.  The alchemical process is, I believe, a process of valuation more so than anything else.  Transmutation, yes, and rebirth, sure.  But what strikes me as most important is the valuation of the Work . . . which is a process of transmuting the desire for material things and valuation of material or worldly objects and pleasures into a valuation of the inner life, of the Self . . . and of the process of seeking, excavating, and re-valuing the Self.

Alchemy is a study of wealth . . . but even as this wealth is accumulated through the Work, the consciousness that it is worthless or useless to the outer, social world is also accumulated.  The alchemist must devoutly differentiate the inner from the outer value . . . as any confusion between the two will spell his or her downfall.  I've always felt that it is important to understand the ultimate "worthlessness" of psychic attainments.  I do not think such attainments should be confused with currency.  They do not convert into miracles or power or wisdom.  There is a profound emptiness to alchemical gold.  Go to grasp it, try to "spend" it, and it disappears.

We can buy nothing with consciousness.  It awards us with a humbling impoverishment.  This is probably why hardly anyone pursues it with rigor.  Consciousness is always a giving away, a sacrifice . . . and is stalled primarily by stinginess or possessiveness.  We want it to serve us, we want this gold to make us rich, this tincture to heal or preserve us . . . but everything gained through the Work is gained only for the Self, for one's god.  This is, I suppose, why all misappropriations of alchemical gold are "inflations".  They are like stealing a god's food in the primitive hope that consuming it will make us like that god . . . a fetish or totem object that is supposed to house the essence of the god.

But the second we put our hands on it, that essence evaporates.  It cannot be possessed . . . only transferred, only given away.

As far as the connection of this "individuation philosophy" to this website goes, I'd like this to be a vessel of mutual transformation, a place where people searching for meaning and understanding in a loosely Jungian paradigm can influence and be influenced by others.  It is the nature of the beast that this influencing will occur primarily in the realm of ideas.  I hope that we won't feel it necessary to disparage this limitation.  A great deal can come of this, I think.

This is the science of our exploration.  We compare and contrast, test the waters, hypothesize, argue, observe, see what sticks.  It's the quest for Logos . . . which is a quest to learn the language of the Self.  We could also call it Gnosis (a term which I mean to employ generally, not specifically relating it to the ancient Gnostic belief systems).  We seek to know . . . and although we may also seek to believe, it is not my personal intention to make Useless Science into a house of beliefs and conversions.  All belief systems are welcome here . . . but the emphasis (at least the emphasis I will place) is on trying to know.  I think the best we can hope for is to construct beliefs that will facilitate the process of Gnosis.  Gnosis, I feel, is open to the myriad languages of belief.  It is not corrective of these languages, per se.  Gnosis is like a star with immense gravity that can pull these various bodies of belief language into its orbit.  These bodies, these planets, need not change for us to know and pursue knowing . . . but sometimes their orbits will shift.

I look forward to having my orbit shifted . . . to learning from those of you who will participate here.

Aside from the mutual pursuit of knowing, we do offer a Dream Work forum for anyone who wishes to pursue the Work through dream analysis.  I also hope that we will be able to find a way to talk about the experience of individuation, an issue typically kept locked away in a dark inner room.  I worry that the Jungian individuation paradigm has locked up the individuant with the shadow.  I personally don't like this "Bluebeard" approach to the subject.  I think it's time to blow open these locked doors and push forward into a more detailed analysis and understanding of the actual process of individuation.

These are my personal interests . . . and these interests have led me to this name: Useless Science.

You will see me following this path here in the forum . . . and I hope you will choose to follow your own paths here, as well.  And that we will meet somewhere on the Road.

My Best,