Author Topic: Valuating the Puer  (Read 6881 times)

Matt Koeske

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Valuating the Puer
« on: March 08, 2008, 12:55:22 PM »
From James Hillman's 1967 essay, "Senex and Puer" in Puer Papers.

The puer in any complex gives it its drive and drivenness, makes it move too fast, want too much, go too far, not only because of the oral hunger and omnipotence fantasies of the childish, but archetypally because the world can never satisfy the demands of the spirit or match its beauty. Hungering for eternal experience makes one a consumer of profane events. Thus when the puer spirit falls into the public arena it hurries history along.

And finally, as Henry Corbin has often pointed out, the puer eternus figure is the vision of our own first nature, our primordial golden shadow, our affinity to beauty, our angelic essence as messenger of the divine, as divine message. From the puer we are given our sense of destiny and mission, of having a message and being meant as eternal cup-bearer to the divine, that our sap and overflow, our enthusiastic wetness of soul, is in service to the Gods, bringing eternal refreshment to the archetypal background of the universe.

So the puer personifies that moist spark within any complex or attitude that is the original dynamic seed of spirit. It is the call of a thing to the perfection of itself, the call of a person to the Self, to be true to itself, to maintain the connection with its own divinely created eidos. The puer offers direct connection with spirit. Break this vertical connection and it falls with broken wings. When it falls we lose the urgent burning purpose and instead commence the long processional march through the halls of power towards the heart-hardened sick old king who is often cloaked and indistinguishable from the sick wise old man. This tragedy occurs every day, even from and through analysis, even within analysis, and even within analysts. We work to overcome the puer in ourselves and behold before us images of the wise old man to be. And that puer search which drew us to Jung in the first place is steadily overcome through successful adaptation to the horizontal world of academy science, or clinic—the published paper, the opening of practice, the recognition by professional society, marriage and the child, and the archetypal influence of Ulysses (captain-husband-father)—until we have become already before forty indistinguishable from the structures that the puer aspect in us is called to transcend. The spark extinguished by this ‘heroic overcoming’ leaves behind sad regrets, bitterness and cynicism, the very emotions of the negative senex. By conquering the parental complexes in the neurotic foreground, we smother the archetypal background. The puer suffers an enantiodromia into senex; he switches Janus faces. Thus are we led to realize that there is no basic difference between the negative puer and negative senex, except for their difference in biological age. The critical time in this process that is represented by the midpoint of biological life is as well the midpoint of any attitude or psychological function that ages but does not change. The eros and idealism of the beginning succumb to success and power, to be re-found, as we have seen from our examination of the senex, only at the end when power and success fail, when Saturn is in exile from the world—then eros as loyalty and friendship, and idealism as prophetic insight and contemplation of truth return.

In all this, the greatest damage is that done to meaning, distorted from idealism into cynicism. As the spirit becomes in one way meaning through senex order, so the puer is meaning’s other face. As archetypal structure, the puer is the inspiration of meaning and brings meaning as message wherever he appears. A beginning is always meaningful and filled with the excitement of eros. Meaning expresses the invisible coincidence of the positive puer with the positive senex. The puer aspect of meaning is in the search, as the dynamus of the child’s eternal ‘why,’ the quest, or questioning, seeking, adventuring, which grips the ego from behind and compels it forward. All things are uncertain, provisional, subject to question, thereby opening the way and leading the soul towards further questing. However, if persuaded into the temporal world by the negative senex, within or without, the puer loses connection with its own aspect of meaning and becomes the negative puer. Then it goes dead, and there is passivity, withdrawal, even physical death. These pueri are only flower-people like Hyacinthus, Narcissus, Crocus, whose tears are but wind-flowers, anemones of the Goddess, and whose blood gives only Adonis-roses and Attis-violets of regret; they are flower-people who are unable to bear the suffering of carrying their own meaning through to the end, and as flowers they must fade before fruit and seed. Eternal Becoming never realized in Being; possibility and promise only. Or the negative puer may become hyperactive, and we find all the traits accentuated and materialized but without inherent meaning. When the falcon cannot hear the falconer, wingedness becomes mere haste and fanaticism, an unguided missile. A man is caught in the puer activities of social rebellion, intellectual technology, or physical adventure with redoubled energy and loss of goal. Everything new is worshipped because it gives promise of the original, while the historical is discarded because it is of the senex who is now enemy. Personal revelation is preferred to objective knowledge so that even minor epiphanies weigh more than the classics of culture. Eventually meaning declines into a philosophy of the absurd, action into the acte gratuite or violence, or intoxication, or flight into the future; and the chaos returns which the puer as archetype is itself called to oppose. By refusing history, by pushing it all down into the unconscious in order to fly above it, he is forced to repeat history unconsciously. In the unconscious the senex position builds up with a compulsive vengeance until with all the force of historical necessity it takes over in its turn, reducing new truths to old clichés again, switching the only-puer into an only-senex, split from the next generation.

This negative turn happens not only in young people or in the first half of life or in new movements. Because the puer gives us connection to the spirit it is always concerned with the eternal aspect of ourselves and the world. When this concern becomes only-puer, exclusive and negative, the world as world is itself in danger of dissolution into the otherworldly. This danger is especially present in the psyche and history of this fraction of our era. Therefore it is of immense importance that the puer be recognized and valued, for it carries our future—positive or negative—not necessarily as the next step in time, but as the futurity within every complex, its prospective meaning, its way out and way forward, as a possibility of renewal through eros and as a call to meaning built on the eternity of spirit. Therefore it is of immense importance that we attempt the healing of the archetypal split which divides puer from senex, turning them into a negative antithesis, driving the individual into a hardened position against his own puer eternus, thereby demonizing his angel so that the new which comes into being through the puer is demonic. When the archetype is split, the dynamus works independently of the patterns of order. Then we have a too-familiar pattern: action that does not know and knowledge that does not act, fanatic versus cynic, commonly formulated as youth and age.

We must therefore deny again the usual separation into first and second halves of life, as presented for example by Jacobi, Fordham, and Dunn. It dangerously divides puer and senex. Always the puer is described from within the senex-puer duality and therefore comes out negatively, which also implies a positive senex view of itself.

Let us look at the usual recommendations for the ‘first-half’ of life, or ‘how to cure a puer’: analyze the unconscious, reduce the fantasies, dry the hysterics, confront the intuitions, bring down to earth and reality, turn the poetry into prose. The will is to direct sexuality into relationship; the crippling is to be overcome through the exercise of work; practicality, sacrifice, limits, hardening. The face is to be set, positions defended, the provisional overcome through the panacea of commitment. Concentration, responsibility, roots, historical continuity and identity: in a word, ego-strengthening. Note well: all these images are Saturnian.

Commitment as duty clips the wings and binds the feet, as Saturn is chained through his commitments. Ego-strengthening builds in the unconscious a revolutionary unattached shadow that would smash all fetters, for the strong ego has the strong shadow, the brilliance makes its own blackness. This path of worldly commitment aims to sever the puer from his own vertical axis; it reflects a senex personality which has not itself separated the parental from the archetypal and is thus threatened by its own child, its own phallus, and its own poetry.

However we conceive the tasks of youth, or of the beginning of things, they cannot be accomplished without the meaning given by the spiritual connection. Initiation into reality is not to take away the initiants’ relation with the primordial origins but only to separate these origins from the confusions of the personal and parental. Initiation is not a dc-mythologizing into ‘hard’ reality, but an affirmation of the mythical meaning within all reality. Initiation ‘softens’ reality by filling in its background with layers of mythological perspective, providing the fantasy which makes the ‘hardness’ of reality meaningful and tolerable, and at the same time truly indestructible. The puer figure—Baldur, Tammuz, Jesus, Krishna—brings myth into reality, presents in himself the reality of myth that transcends history. His message is mythical, stating that he, the myth—so easily wounded, easily slain, yet always re-born—is the seminal sub-structure of all enterprise. Traditional initiation of the puer by the positive senex confirms this relation to the archetype. Some substitutes for initiation—and analysis can be one— may instead sever this relation.

Relation with any archetype involves the danger of possession, usually marked by inflation. This is particularly true of the puer, because of his high-flights and mythical behavior. Of course, possession through the senex brings an equally dangerous set of moods and actions: depression, pessimism, and hardness of heart. Even a minimum of psychological awareness— that I am just what I am as I am—can spare complete archetypal possession. This awareness is made possible through the reflective, echoing function of the psyche. This function is the human psyche’s contribution to spirit and to meaning, which noble as they may be can also be, without psyche, runaway destructive possessions. So the main puer problem is not lack of worldly reality but lack of psychic reality. Rather than commitment to the order of the world the puer needs to be wedded to psyche, to which he is anyway naturally drawn. Rather than historical continuity and roots in the horizontal, he needs devotion to the anima. First psyche, then world; or through the psyche to the world. The anima has the thread and knows the step-by-step dance that can lead through the labyrinth, and can teach the puer the subtleties of left-hand/right-hand, opening and closing, accustoming and refining his vision to the half-light of ambivalence.

Let us not mistakenly take this as Lebensphilosophie or a psychological prescription for ‘cure’—i.e., only involvement with a real woman leads a man out of his mother-bound adolescent compulsions. We are discussing rather an archetypal structure, not ‘how to be.’ Thus the puer-psyche marriage means that each new inspiration, each ‘hot idea,’ at whatever time of life in whomever, wherever, requires psychisation. It needs first to be contained within the relationship to psyche, given the soul connection. Each complex needs realization and connection within the psyche. The puer-psyche marriage tames the puer’s hot compulsions with the common salt of the soul. This salt makes things last and brings out their true flavor. The young and burning sulphur needs union with the elusive quicksilver of psychic reality before it becomes fixed and weighty. The puer-psyche marriage means taking in our complexes out of the world, out of the realm of senex power and system. Only this can slow the speed of history and technology and the acceleration of particle—men into bits of information without souls. It means that the search and questing be a psychological search and questing, a psychological adventure. It means that the messianic and revolutionary impulse connect first with the soul and be concerned first with its redemption. This alone makes human the puer’s message and gives to the meaning that the new carries with it the values of soul, at the same time reddening the soul into life. And it is in this realm of the soul, and not the world, which has had enough puer inspiration and puer revolution demonically adventuring through it, that the gifts of the puer are first needed.

          [pp. 26-30]
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