Author Topic: Puer Heroes and American Fundamentalism  (Read 6331 times)

Matt Koeske

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Puer Heroes and American Fundamentalism
« on: February 11, 2008, 12:39:16 PM »
The Religious Imagination: Fear and Fundamentalism in Contemporary American Culture
by Sally Porterfield

From Volume 3, the 2007 issue of JUNG: the e-Journal

(with thanks to Kafiri for sending this to me)

You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Matt Koeske

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Re: Puer Heroes and American Fundamentalism
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2008, 03:17:37 PM »

Quote
For everything there is a proper time, not only with individuals, but with societies, nations, and cultures. As Miranda’s [from Shakespeare's The Tempest] naivete would ill suit her father, so does such an attitude reflect poorly on a nation that remains stubbornly wedded to its own youthful illusions.

There are many reasons why those illusions have stayed past their season in the United States, and I would suggest that this immature perspective constitutes a puer aeternus possession that is responsible for much of the religious fundamentalism that is the subject of this paper. Two strains of influence that have contributed to our present situation are in the national myth of the American hero in his Western incarnation as the pioneer/cowboy/loner on one hand, and his Eastern counterpart in the pilgrim/puritan/Calvinist self-made man.


Quote
Andrew Samuels furnishes us with a description of the puer in both his negative and positive aspects: “The most striking characteristic of the puer aeternus when looked at as a personality disorder, is his over-emphasis upon SPIRIT” (Samuels 126).

Samuels points out that Von Franz used the term puer to describe men who had difficulty settling down, were impatient, unrelated, idealistic, ever starting anew, seemingly untouched by age, appearing to be without guile, given to flights of imagination” (Samuels 126).

But the puer has a positive side as well. Along with the perennial adolescence that leads to a provisional life, Samuels quotes Hillman, who saw in the puer a vision of “our own first natures, our primordial golden shadow…our angelic essence as messenger of the divine.” From the puer, he concludes, “we are given our sense of destiny and meaning” (Samuels 126).

 
We've recently been engaged in a discussion of the Hero archetype.  Perhaps the most interesting thing (in my opinion) this discussion has produced so far is at least three divergent definitions of the Hero as both mythic figure and psychological process or complex.  One of the topics of debate in that conversation has dealt with whether or not the Hero is a "transitional figure" in the psyche that represents a particular attitude of the ego, "pre-initiation" into a more-coordinated relationship with the Self.  I recognized in this discussion one of the ways in which my revisionary Jungian thinking is problematic.  Namely, I use the term "heroic ego", but in a very different way than it is conventionally used in Jungian writing.  Most Jungians are inclined to use this term to describe what is perhaps the "pathologically heroic ego", the ego that sees the unconscious as available land for its project of "manifest destiny". 

I have typically referred to this attitude as the "conquering hero" or simply as egomania or inflation.  The attitude could perhaps be described as a devaluation of the instinctual unconscious characterized by the conscious belief that the ego makes its own thoughts and sense of order and that the unconscious is primitive and demonic, a kind of Nature (or Dark Mother) monster, which is destructive to consciousness unless the ego finds a "heroic" way to cultivate and direct it.  As Kafiri pointed out in the other thread, the conventional Jungian position of this "heroic ego" is that it is delusional, a kind of "puer pathology" that must give way (during some kind of death/rebirth initiation) to a new attitude that respects and valuates the instinctual unconscious as the only source of humanness and intelligence.  This source is seen as already, innately "cultivated" and "wise" and capable of directing the ego-as-initiate into and through individuation.

Although I am in agreement with this Jungian principle, I (always the poet and linguist) felt a "language crime" had been perpetrated here.  Namely, that this usage of the term "heroic" sometimes prevented Jungians from clearly seeing the positive heroic orientation.  This positive orientation is recognized in the "spiritual hero", who is able to surrender to the instinctual unconscious and its initiation process.  It is through this surrender that "enlightenment" (seeing-through the illusions of belief and tribal affiliation) is possible.  Buddha and Christ are common examples.

This spiritual hero must still be brave and must still face darkness and death in order to find rebirth.  But instead of functioning in the conquering mode, such a hero achieves transformation through descent, dissolution, and sacrifice of egoic power to the natural process of transformation itself (as opposed to a specif dogma).  My gripe with Jungian convention was that it did not make a functional differentiation between the egomaniacal conquering hero and the spiritual hero (or ideal individuant).  The danger in such a failure is multifaceted.  To begin with, such confusion runs the risk of losing the spiritual hero in the shadow, devaluing it.  That is, when a blanket decree against heroism is announced.  Next, allowing the egomaniacal conquering hero to wear the mantle of the Hero archetype demonstrates not only a failure to make an important differentiation, but also a kind of backwards overvaluation of the conquering ego.  In other words, to grant this attitude such importance that it even eclipses the spiritual hero (although it may be held up as negative) is to further (albeit indirectly) inflate the ego or exaggerate its importance.  Whether considered god or demon, the ego afforded such power indicates an imbalance. 

Jungian convention might hold up this conquering ego as "demonic", but this attitude wouldn't have to be so demonized if it wasn't for an initial overvaluation of the attitude.  In other words, I am suggesting that the conventional Jungian attitude toward this "heroic ego" constitutes an enantiodromia in which the war of Opposites has not yet settled down into a state of equilibrium or synthesis . . . in which the waters in this pool have become still enough to see through.  An overvaluation like this still unconsciously invests the conquering ego with power to wreak havoc in the psyche . . . and this power goes inadequately acknowledged in conventional Jungian thinking.  I suggest that this inadequately examined problem leads to a higher-than-necessary rate of inflation in the Jungian individuant.  This inflation is characteristic of the phase in which (in Jung's words) the "unconscious has been assimilated" resulting in the creation of a mana-personality that inflatedly believes it has accomplished some kind of great heroic, spiritual feat when (in my opinion . . . Jung remains vague on this) it actually hasn't "broken with the Parent" or been initiated yet.

If the differentiation between the conquering hero and the spiritual hero had been more precise in Jungian thinking, the actual details of "spiritual heroism" would be more clear and better understood.  The fact that this is frequently not the case and that the inflation of individuation work, the mana-personality, is fairly common with Jungian acolytes, is, I feel actually a matter of the spiritual hero being devalued.  We might say (in the case of a man) that so much emphasis has been placed on the problematic attitude that would have the hero conquer or slay the Mother, that it has become much more common among Jungian men to throw themselves into the lap of the Mother in an act of penitence . . . and then inflatedly mistake this gesture for an "attainment" or enlightenment or transcendence or Oneness with the Self.

But in this attitude, there has been no initiation, no sacrifice.  The dissolution (what Jung called "assimilation of the unconscious", perhaps revealing some of his residual overvaluation of the conquering ego) stalls out in a worship of the chthonic Goddess, which is essentially a form of tribalistic cultism where those indoctrinated are "saved" while those refusing indoctrination are considered "evil" or lost or otherwise less-human (where humanness is a measure of indoctrination only).  But such salvation is not only dependent on the tribal participation mystique, it is also useless as an "individuation" or as the adaptation of the individual to modern society.  It is a form of hiding.  An anti-heroism.  The indoctrinated members of such a tribe do not descend with their consciousness intact, and so cannot return to the "living" . . . nor can they ever differentiate the partner animi from the primordial parental animi.  The partner animi must be engaged with heroically, while the original, parental versions are merely objects of worship or fear, obedience of or belief in which is considered "salvation".  But such salvation is nothing more than protection from the environment, and therefor from adaptation of the individual to the environment.

I feel there is a big problem along these lines in the greater Jungian community . . . and it all derives from mistaking the spiritual hero for the conquering hero.  This failure to differentiate leads to a pathological puerism.  But this puerism hides inside a tribalism and often convinces itself that, because it affects the "horizontal" attitudes and beliefs of the tribe, it is "wise" like the senex.  But this "wisdom" is nothing more than collective belief or dogma, a totem.  It has nothing to do with genuine individuation . . . and is in fact wholly incompatible with it.  The "puer" is then held up by this group as a kind of Trickster who cannot follow the rules of this tribe due to some form of "spiritual retardation".  We can see this in the quote from Andrew Samuels in the article by Porterfield: “The most striking characteristic of the puer aeternus when looked at as a personality disorder, is his over-emphasis upon SPIRIT”.  Samuels may have seen other sides to the puer beyond this, but many Jungians fail to do so.

The question to be asked then is: "If the puer is a 'disorder' that over-emphasizes spirit, what is the healthy relationship to spirit?"  Is the healthy relationship to spirit merely an indoctrination into a tribe in which spirit is devalued?  Or, is healthy spirit not an "unruly" attitude transformed into belief but an initiation of that spiritual drive from a state of disorder and destructiveness or delusion into a state of adaptability and coordination with the Self?  That would mean that we have to be able to differentiate between the Self (as an "inner collective" of archetypes or instincts) and the Tribe, as an outer collective.  And of course, such a differentiation is what individuation is all about: the differentiation of the Self from the Tribe and its Eros or participation mystique.

The ego is the organ of such participation in the tribe . . . as well as the potential vessel for individuation.  So the depotentiation of the ego (dissolution) should accompany the depotentiation of tribal affiliation.  What I worry is more common in the Jungian community is the conversion from one tribe to another . . . and not a true individuation at all.  Instead of individuation, we often settle for finding solace in the Jungian tribe in the participation with others who share similar beliefs and a similar (Jungian) language.  This is not "bad" or "wrong" . . . but it isn't individuation.  It merely appropriates the Jungian terms and totemizes them, making them into gods to be worshiped (or feared).

A sub-section of this gripe is my concern that the removal of the "heroic attitude" (as in the attitude of the spiritual hero) from the individuation process is destructive to both individuation as a process and to the scientific understanding of individuation through Jungian theory.  Individuation is hard, hard work.  It requires (like scientific experimentation) revision after revision, constant testing, constant accumulation of data, and many, many failures (which are the only teachers of the Work).  If we sacrifice the heroic attitude of dedication to the Self and to the individuation process and start to believe that individuation is just a matter of coming into a new psycho-theology or totemic metaphysics, where to "individuate" means merely to accept the belief system of the Tribe of Jung . . . we not only lose sight of what it means to be an individuant, we also endanger Jungian psychology as a viable, theoretical system.

That is, we do not begin as "puers" and (through indoctrination, analysis, or cultural acquisition) evolve into "senexes".  Senexism is not the "cure" for the spiritual disease of puerism.  They are both symptoms of the same disease.  In my opinion, it is the heroic spirit or archetype that drives the ego to not only be able to see-through to this deeper reality, but to be able to handle the "cognitive dissonance" that such inconvenient complexities generate.  It is not the obedient, horizontal senex that can persevere in the face of this cognitive dissonance . . . nor is it the subversive, vertical puer.  The ego can't outsource to these polarities when it needs to survive the demands of individuated consciousness.  Only the heroic attitude guides such perseverance.  That is, we keep going, because we know it is the "right" or fair or honorable thing to do, because we know that the suffering will be worth the psychic wealth the heroic path generates.  It is this subtle wealth or valuation of what had previously been debased that makes the life of the individuant meaningful.  The puer's pride in attainment and the senex's consolation in law and order are states of impoverishment in comparison.

I would revise the quotation from Samuels above to state that the so-called "puer pathology" is not a matter of over-emphasis on spirit so much as an improper or flawed emphasis on spirit.  Specifically, the emphasis on spirit that the Jungians find fault with in the puer is only "pathological" when it conflates egotism with spirituality.  So I would prefer, here, to make a differentiation in which "spirituality" is defined as the ego's healthy orientation to the Self.  That healthy orientation is governed by the heroic attitude of the spiritual, not the conquering, hero.  In other words, the true heroic attitude is the one that properly valuates the Other, seeking neither to conquer/conform it nor to totemize/abstract/distance it.  The hero seeks both to see-through to the true (not-projected) essence of the Other and to relate actively to that Other essence(through the organ of consciousness).  There is no way that we can accomplish these things without "heroism".
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

Kafiri

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Re: Puer Heroes and American Fundamentalism
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2008, 09:51:58 PM »
Quote from: Matt

The ego is the organ of such participation in the tribe . . . as well as the potential vessel for individuation.  So the depotentiation of the ego (dissolution) should accompany the depotentiation of tribal affiliation.  What I worry is more common in the Jungian community is the conversion from one tribe to another . . . and not a true individuation at all.  Instead of individuation, we often settle for finding solace in the Jungian tribe in the participation with others who share similar beliefs and a similar (Jungian) language.  This is not "bad" or "wrong" . . . but it isn't individuation.  It merely appropriates the Jungian terms and totemizes them, making them into gods to be worshiped (or feared).

A sub-section of this gripe is my concern that the removal of the "heroic attitude" (as in the attitude of the spiritual hero) from the individuation process is destructive to both individuation as a process and to the scientific understanding of individuation through Jungian theory.  Individuation is hard, hard work.  It requires (like scientific experimentation) revision after revision, constant testing, constant accumulation of data, and many, many failures (which are the only teachers of the Work).  If we sacrifice the heroic attitude of dedication to the Self and to the individuation process and start to believe that individuation is just a matter of coming into a new psycho-theology or totemic metaphysics, where to "individuate" means merely to accept the belief system of the Tribe of Jung . . . we not only lose sight of what it means to be an individuant, we also endanger Jungian psychology as a viable, theoretical system.

Matt, it seems to me that you and Jung have the same view:
Quote

But besides the possibility of becoming a prophet, there is another alluring joy, subtler and apparently more legitimate: the joy of becoming a prophet’s disciple.  This, for the vast majority of people, is an altogether ideal technique.  It’s advantages are: the odium dignitatis, the superhuman responsibility of the prophet, turns into the so much sweeter otium indignitastis.  The disciple is unworthy; modestly he sits at the Master’s feet and guards against having ideas of his own.  Mental laziness becomes a virtue; one can at least bask in the sun of a semidivine being.  He can enjoy the archaism and infantilism of his unconscious fantasies with loss to himself, for all responsibility is laid at the Master’s door.  Through his deification of the Master, the disciple, apparently without noticing it, waxen in stature; moreover, does he not possess the great truth-not his own discovery, of course, but received straight from the Master’s hands?  Naturally the disciples always stick together, not out of love, but for the very understandable purpose of effortlessly confirming their own convictions by engendering and air of collective agreement.

Now this is an identification with the collective psyche that seems altogether commendable: somebody else has the honor of being a prophet, but also the dangerous responsibility.  For one’s own part, one is a mere disciple, but nonetheless a joint guardian of the great treasure which the Master has found.  One feels the full dignity and burden of such a position, deeming it a solemn duty and moral necessity to revile other not of a like mind, to enrol proselytes and to hold up a light to the Gentiles, exactly as though one were the prophet oneself.  And these people, who creep about behind an apparently modest persona, are the very ones who, when inflated by identification with the collective psyche, suddenly burst upon the world scene. For, just as the prophet is a primordial image from the collective psyche, so also is the disciple of the prophet.

In both cases inflation is brought about by the collective unconscious, and the independence of the individuality suffers injury.  But since by no means all individualities have the strength to be independent, the disciple-fantasy is perhaps the best they can accomplish.  The gratifications of the accompanying inflation at least do something to the make up for the loss of spiritual freedom.  Nor should we underestimate the fact that the life of a real or imagined prophet is full of sorrows, disappointments, and privations, so that the hosanna-shouting band of disciples has the value of a compensation.  All this is so humanly understandable that it would be a matter for astonishment if it led to any further destination whatever.
C. G. Jung, Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious, found in The Portable Jung, pp. 120-121.
Part of the "Work," to use your term, is to differentiate one's own psyche from the collective.  Jung is, at the very least, implying here that not all are capable of being independent.  But is he saying that they identify themselves by posturing as disciples?  Does this "shoe" fit Jungians, even partially?

PS-I had trouble translating the latin phrases in the quote above, the best I could do was to find the individual words.  Here they are:
Quote

odium

odium, odi(I)  N 
hate/hatred/dislike/antipathy; odium, unpopularity; boredom/impatience;
hatred (manifested by/towards group), hostility; object of hate/odium;


Dignitatis

dignitat.is         
dignitas, dignitatis  N
worth, excellence; fitness/suitability (for task),; honor, esteem, standing;
rank/status; merit; dignity; position/authority/office; dignitaries (pl.);


otium

otium, oti(I)  N] 
leisure; spare time; holiday; ease/rest/peace/quiet; tranquility/calm; lull;


indignitastis

Two words           
May be 2 words combined (indignitas+tis) If not obvious, probably incorrect
               
indignitas, indignitatis  N (3rd) F 
lesser  vileness, baseness, shamelessness; outrageousness; indignity, humiliation;
If anyone can help with the meaning of these two phrases I would be grateful.
"We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves."
      -Eric Hoffer

Kafiri

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Re: Puer Heroes and American Fundamentalism
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2008, 09:52:17 AM »
As an addendum to my post just above, this section from Wolfgang Giegerich's A Little Light, to be Carried Through Night and Storm, Comments on the state of Jungian Psychology Today, might provide further insight.
Quote

The threat to the substance of Jungian psychology comes, secondly, also from the adherents and friends of this psychology, on the one hand from the professional Jungians under whose hands it has been turned into something completely different from what Jung himself intended with his ‘complex psychology,’ as above all Sonu Shamdasani has demonstrated (Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology. The Dream of a Science, Cambridge University Press, 2003). No one is likely to want to say that what Jung had struggled with is still alive among them and has fruitfully been further developed by them. Still today one would probably concur with Hillman when he stated years ago that the Jungians “really are mostly second rate people with third rate minds”  (Hillman, Inter Views, New York [Harper & Row] 1983, p. 36). Jungian psychology has the misfortune not to have been able to attract great minds, in contrast, e.g., to Freud’s psychology, which produced a psychologist like Lacan and was able to inspire many philosophers and poets. On the other hand, the threat comes also from the adherents of Jungian psychology in the wider public, among whom Jung’s work degenerated into “pop psychology,” in other words into a commodity, which has above all the function of satisfying private ideological-spiritual and emotional needs and thus of compensating for a feeling of lack.
"We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves."
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Matt Koeske

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Re: Puer Heroes and American Fundamentalism
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2008, 11:41:40 AM »
Part of the "Work," to use your term, is to differentiate one's own psyche from the collective.  Jung is, at the very least, implying here that not all are capable of being independent.  But is he saying that they identify themselves by posturing as disciples?  Does this "shoe" fit Jungians, even partially?

Yes.  I can really hear the personal opinion/experience in the subtext of Jung's quote.  Jung was completely aware of the problem of discipleship.  But it takes a lot of shadow work to be able to see-through this tribalistic drive (as Jung did).  The Jungians have, in my opinion, greatly underestimated the cleverness of their unconscious complexes and non-individuated instincts (for tribalism).  It's ironic, because the Tribe of Jung deifies/totemizes the Great Unconscious . . . but in this deification, there is also devaluation and underestimation.  I mean this in the sense that the Jungians tend to undervalue the Demons of their complexes.  Which means that they overrate their egoic power, their "consciousness".  But many Jungians are not seeing-through to the difference between the word used to represent a thing and the thing itself.  They feel that to use a name or a "magic word" is to have power over the thing . . . but this is animistic thinking.

Individuation is a totem for many Jungians.  The numinousness they invest in the word actually robs the thing itself of its due.  And this is done to protect oneself from the true dangers of individuation.  One of the reasons I like to use use the term "the Work" instead of individuation is that it forces me (and I hope others, as well) to consider the difficulty, obligation, and potential pretentiousness of the real individuation process.  It forces us to ask ourselves if we are really working or just jerking around.  And it constantly reminds us that even if we are really working through the individuation process, others might see this as "just jerking around".  The danger of lapsing into to laziness and shirking is ever-present with individuation.  The Boss is not setting deadlines and making demands.

Self-discovery and Work are not the same thing.  Work requires sacrifice, investment, drive.  "Individuation" can easily be mistaken for discovery . . . we trip and turn over a rock an there beneath is our "individuation" our "true selves".  Many Jungians look at it this way, but I see the process as more of an excavation, a labor that requires dedication and focus and painstaking clearing away of debris and illusion . . . and what is excavated through this labor must then be processed and transformed into something useful (which is itself another labor).

PS-I had trouble translating the latin phrases in the quote above, the best I could do was to find the individual words.  Here they are:
Quote

odium

odium, odi(I)  N 
hate/hatred/dislike/antipathy; odium, unpopularity; boredom/impatience;
hatred (manifested by/towards group), hostility; object of hate/odium;


Dignitatis

dignitat.is         
dignitas, dignitatis  N
worth, excellence; fitness/suitability (for task),; honor, esteem, standing;
rank/status; merit; dignity; position/authority/office; dignitaries (pl.);


otium

otium, oti(I)  N] 
leisure; spare time; holiday; ease/rest/peace/quiet; tranquility/calm; lull;


indignitastis

Two words           
May be 2 words combined (indignitas+tis) If not obvious, probably incorrect
               
indignitas, indignitatis  N (3rd) F 
lesser  vileness, baseness, shamelessness; outrageousness; indignity, humiliation;
If anyone can help with the meaning of these two phrases I would be grateful.[/quote]

I have no Latin, but my guess is that Jung is contrasting the "Burden of Honor" or the weight of responsibility for one's own thoughts, feelings, and choices, with the "Bliss of Dishonor", where "dishonor" is essentially "irresponsibility".  As a radical innovator and a driven son of a bitch, Jung knew all too well what was required to develop and champion a new theory and attitude.  Not only is self-criticism (the maintenance of honor) a major burden when there is no "master" to establish what is right and what is wrong, but dealing with the misunderstanding and hostility of others who do not recognize how hard it is to be adequately self-critical and innovative at the same time is another kind of companion burden.  The individuant works and fights like hell to extract something genuine from his/her own failures and flaws . . . and then must deal with the Tribe who sees the individuant as a threat or a heretic.

The disciple or tribalist does not have to bear those burdens . . . nor does s/he usually even recognize they are there waiting on the individuant's plate.  If there is some subconscious recognition of this, these burdens become demons for the disciple.  The disciple has to face (if only slantwise) the fact that s/he doesn't want to bear such burdens . . . and so the "master" or heretic is invested with a terrible darkness because they seem to be able to dine on hot coals and dung.  It's the projection of mana that I wrote about some time ago in relation to shamanism and Jung's writing on the mana-personality.  I called it "stranger-mana".  That is, part of the reason the heretic/stranger is feared is that s/he is alien, but part of it is also that s/he has managed to swallow something the projector sees as terrible, a piece of the shadow.  The projector might demonize this stranger, maybe even look down on or try to punish him/her.  But beneath this righteousness is a fear of the stranger's "power" or mana.  The projector, unable to bear the burden of this "mana", has projected it onto the stranger . . . but sometimes this projection can feel like castration, impotence, being over-powered by the stranger.

We can see this most easily, perhaps, in the projection of many white men onto black men in our culture.  And of course, many (especially young) black men have found that this mana empowerment affords them a mystique (which they may even fall in love with, despite the blackness it also carries).  And, as I have mentioned many times by now, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man portrays all this with great complexity, depth, and poetry.

Jung, I think, was a person invested with a lot of stranger-mana.  The Jungians called it "charisma", while the Freudians saw it as "heresy".  Perhaps behind the attempt of Jungians to cast Jung as a Wise Old Man filled with benevolent truths is a fear of Jung's dangerous stranger-mana.  The Jungians have tried to purge the stranger-mana from the mystique of Jung and the dangers of his theories . . . but in doing this, they have sacrificed much of that "Honor" or "Worth" that Jung knew was the burden of true individuation.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]