Author Topic: Opposites Schmopposites?  (Read 2864 times)

Matt Koeske

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Opposites Schmopposites?
« on: April 10, 2007, 06:10:32 PM »
I was thinking about some aspects of Jung's notion of morality, namely, that all psychological positions or attitudes or selves have a negative and a positive pole.  This is a simplification of Jung's thinking, of course . . . but when we look at some examples, I think we can tell this is not an entirely unfair assessment.

So, for instance, take an archetype like the anima.  Jung's portrayals of the anima are split into positive and negative qualities.  On one hand she is the "soul" of a man; on the other hand, she is a seductress drawing him toward doom.  Every archetype in the Jungian pantheon can be broken down this way . . . and perhaps every complex, as well.

My point of entry into this speculation was Jung's own person (or at least the common interpretations of his person that we see hovering around the myth of the man).  It may be possible to recognize two common approaches to Jung-the-man taken by the communities that have read and contemplated Jung's writings (and the biographical information written about him).  On one hand, there is a significant pocket of followers who see in Jung a brilliant and/or wise man with a special connection to the unconscious and perhaps to God.  This is Jung as the wise old man archetype.  We see this Jung in full regalia in Memories, Dreams, Reflections.  This is Jung as anything from genius to spiritual guide, to guru.  This is the shadowless Jung.

On the other hand, there are plenty of others who take up much the opposite position on Jung.  He was a womanizer, an antisemite, a patriarchal sermonizer, a misogynist, a homophobe, a mystifier, a spiritualistic rube, a delusional psychotic, a power-hungry manipulator, a leech.  I get the feeling that the core of this negative view of Jung comes from the Freudian camp (where he is still seen as a kind of Judas) . . . and I find the credibility of that camp (when it comes to Jung) suspect (although not entirely wrong in every one of their assessments).  But many others who are not themselves indebted to Freudian tribalism for their world views have still taken up these positions second hand (a substantial body of anti-Jungian literature written by Freudians who aren't always forthcoming about their affiliations has no doubt helped this along).  Here we have Jung as the shadow, the anti-Christ.

It doesn't take a genius to come to the conclusion that the real Jung almost definitely fell somewhere in between these polarized archetypal characterizations of him.  Jung (to the best of my knowledge) never claimed to be free of shadow . . . and his writing is filled with innumerable indications of a complex moral consciousness.  He may or may not have lived up to his own ideals of moral consciousness, but it seems to me a prejudiced conclusion to assume Jung was unaware of the moral conflicts he was either embroiled in (through his naivete) or engendered (through his own moral lapses).  There is no indication (from the body of writing and the recorded memories of others) that Jung was lacking self-consciousness or would have "sinned with impunity" and ignorance . . . unrepentantly.

Whether or not he did, we simply don't know.  I'm merely saying there is no indication based on what we do know that this was the case . . . and therefore, when we leap to the conclusion that, for instance, Jung was enamored with the Nazi "ethos" (and hated or blamed Jews for all sorts of personal calamities) or brazenly bedded down female patients and colleagues while ordering his wife to "clean the bedsheets" afterward, it seems most likely that we are (for whatever reasons) projecting onto Jung.  For Jung to go about these things without consciousness and moral consideration (or a heavy burden of guilt), he would have to be an absolute hypocrite . . . as the philosophies put forth in his writings do not in any way condone such actions (by contrast, Nazi philosophies functioned as instruments of rationalization for the enactment of actual atrocities).

If I had to draw one most probable conclusion about Jung-the-man from his Collected Works it would be this: he was not an unconscious person . . . far from it.  But critics of his character rest their cases upon the notion that Jung was psychologically juvenile.  There are vague indications of this in the Sabina Spielrein affair and in the Freud-Jung letters.  Jung is definitely more emotive, and even petulant as his conflict with Freud peaks.  As much as Freud powerfully (even brutally) reinforced his father role in his relationship with Jung, Jung also embraced the role of the rebellious son.  And Jung was a young man when these incidents occurred.  It seems unlikely to me that the Jung of this era was the same Jung we recognize in the last 20 years or so of his life.

I think we should keep in mind that, to the degree that Jung's followers and heirs have hidden away the evidence of what Jung may have actually been guilty of, they have equally hidden away any feelings or gestures of repentance for these acts Jung may have had.  It is no wonder, then, that the Jung we have all inherited is both demon and saint.  Either way, this is the created or projected Jung.

My own guess is that Jung (in line with his own experientially-derived theories) saw his own moral character as both black and white . . . and that there had to be black so that there could also be white.  This would not only accord with all of his writings on subjects in any way relating to ethics, it might also account for the fact that he was definitely a person in whom many of the people who met him saw shadow.  In my experience, people who have undergone a substantial amount of shadow work tend to be perceived by those who haven't as "shadowy".  But what is being perceived is more of a moral complexity.

As for the real "Jungian shadow", my hunch is that the best place to find it is in those followers of Jung's who wished to denude him of his shadow by making him into a kind of guru.  I.e., start with a morally complex human being, then look at those people with less moral complexity (shadow awareness/incorporation) who react to him (with either positive or negative emotions) in a simplifying way, a way that reduces the complex human being to the less-complex level of the disciple or enemy.  So many who have come after Jung have wanted to either redeem or condemn him . . . but who are we (and they) to decide that Jung didn't manage to become the kind of ethical being he sought to become (i.e., one that fit his theory of containing the opposites)?


This is all a long (and probably unnecessary) introduction to the real issue I would like to address: the Jungian notion of the Opposites or polarities.  I merely started with this, because this was the process of thought that got me here (and I am ever the sucker for the numen of process).

The real question that should be asked (both in regard to the issues of the introduction above and out of intellectual integrity) is: is this kind of moral polarization in fact a quality of archetypes . . . or is such a polarization a purely abstract paradigm that only tells us the "as-if" of archetypal morality?

Let's revisit our friend, the anima.  Jung was determined to show the dark side of the anima (and the animus, even more).  I would be willing to bet that Jung's collected characterizations of the anima would weigh in as at least 3-to-1 negative to positive (the ratio for the animus would be radically higher).  The imbalance we perceive is typically attributed to a "19th century" sexism or misogyny that pervaded Jung's view of gender.  Perhaps this simplistic (and 21st century) way of looking at the data in question is valid.  But in spite of the derogatory comments Jung makes about the anima (and we are forced to conclude that these are gleaned from his own personal experiences most of all, as personal experience is the realm in which the anima most exists), he also manages to characterize this archetype as the contrasexual "soul" with which it is all-important for a man to engage (in transformative relationship). 

If we look closer at Jung's talk of his own anima in MDR, we see that, after disparaging her (as blind Salome and a voiceless voice within that spurred him on to artistic endeavors), he does manage to engage with her.  He doesn't give us the "romantic details", but he tells us that he filled volumes with writing influenced by or channeled from her intelligence.  He then later says that he no longer needs to call on her in the same way, implying that she has become an integrated part of his conscious intelligence (I will get these citations, but I don't have the book with me now).

Now it's true that we get a mixed message here.  Why does Jung feel more comfortable mentioning the weaknesses of the anima than her strengths?  Why doesn't he elaborate on how significantly his anima work has impacted his writing and his life?  We can only guess . . . but I will propose that it would be very sketchy of us to guess the reason was full-blown misogyny.  But yes, there does seem to be some sexism here.

I think that when we investigate this issue we need also to include Jung's ideas on archetypal inflation.  The two are absolutely inseparable for Jung.  I think it is fair to say that Jung saw the "seductions" of the anima as encouraging archetypal inflation in the ego.  His decision to not include the rest of his Salome vision (in which she worships him as Christ, begs him to heal her, and he is then deified as the lion-headed god, Aion) in MDR, is very telling.  He probably found this shameful (or else, perhaps, the editors of MDR did?).  Even as he understood it symbolically or psychologically on one level, on another he recognized that his detractors would use this vision to discredit him as a psychotic or megalomaniac. 

When Jung talks about inflation, he always prescribes an ego-fortification to resist it, a kind of conscious identity position that looks on this and "reduces" it to "merely fantasy" in order not to feel crushed by its numen and succumb to the belief that the ego is actually the Self.

I completely understand why Jung wanted to make a tether of the ego in this way . . . but I ultimately disagree with his prescription (and the reasoning behind it).  In my experience the anima does not seek to seduce the ego into a belief that it is actually the Self (or capable of becoming the Self).  The anima wants the ego to identify with the hero archetype (the solar hero, specifically), the heroic energy.  She is in love with this New King aspect of the ego . . . and her love and desire helps elicit the emergence of the archetype.

But the solar hero is not foremost a conquering hero.  He is a dying hero. . . . and this is what Jung (perhaps in his shame and ego-fortification) didn't adequately see or apply to this situation.  What the anima asks of the ego (as New King), is ultimately self-sacrifice, a surrender to the libido of the unconscious.  As a sister-lover, the anima deeply resembles the New King ego . . . the spiritual potential of the ego that has gone untapped, the devotion of the ego to the Self. 

We see in alchemy the fusing of Sol and Luna into the divine hermaphrodite, a becoming one.  There is no seduction in this aspect of the union, no "bad advice".  Ego and anima become one being.  Or, in other words, ego becomes anima (or integrates the qualities of the anima that are ego-identity qualities).  And this fusion results in a depotentiation or death.  The numinous attraction of one polarity for its opposite dissipates.    Along with this is shed a kind of primal, maternal Feminine that belongs only to the unconscious (not the ego).  In this freeing from the unconscious-as-Mother, a new responsibility is awarded to the ego.  Whereas previously the gateway to the Self had been the anima (and the attraction to the Self fueled by sexual/polaric libido), and therefore some aspect of the maternal provider/nurturer, the depotentiation (of the coniunctio) requires the ego to take up the role "abandoned" by the anima.  This transition is a movement from dependent to partner.  Whereas once the Self/unconscious provided (libido) mysteriously for the ego, now the ego must consciously act as the conduit for the Self in channeling libido into the world and feeding it back to the Self.

I have written about this in more detail elsewhere (see for instance my post on agism and the animi), so I will leave off here with fundamentals.  Suffice it to say that the anima (and animus), although personified in the ego's interaction with "her" is not a being, not a spirit or soul, not even a consciousness, per se (as we normally understand these things), but, at its root, an instinctual, archetypal process.  Anima is a process that realigns the ego with the will of the Self . . . and (perhaps as a kind of "byproduct") this realignment causes/requires a break with dependency on a providential/parental unconscious . . . which itself requires increased "self-consciousness".  This "self-consciousness" is the the quality of the new ego position that actively decides to live to protect and promote the Self's flow of libido . . . instead of as an unconscious parasite of that libido.  This corresponds, then, to functional, biological maturation . . . a parallel process.

Looked at this way (a way that Jung touches on at times, but doesn't emphasize or seek to reconcile with the "personality" of the anima effectively), we must ask ourselves: what about this instinctual process could be characterized as immoral?  Does the anima-as-process need to be "both light and dark"?  It seems to me that, from this perspective, the concept of moral polarity in the archetype looks like a flawed intellectual paradigm, a misapplication of an abstract idea to a biological process it cannot actually illuminate.

Instead, morality enters into the picture through the ego-perspective on this whole process.  So, we might say, to misinterpret the process as a self-deification (as is, I believe, at an earlier point inevitable) is the result of a morally-stunted ego-position that wishes to use (abduct, leech from) the numinousness of the Self to bolster egoic frailties.  The anima-process does not condone or seduce one to abide by such an interpretation.  It is the nature of the ego to be concerned with identity formation . . . and it forms identity from a weaving or storying of internal and external stimuli (condensed into symbolic ideas and identity strategies).  In the overwhelming aura of the numinous process of transformation, the ego tries to grasp onto what it can understand . . . and in this attempt it is truly a babe in the woods.

The easiest way to draw identity-formation from the perception of this anima-process is to fortify identity with delusions of Self-like power and glory and "omniscience".  This interpretation of the process is simply much, much easier than the interpretation that the ego should surrender to a self-sacrifice of its old identity positions (insomuch as they inhibit the libido flow of the Self) and take on a new and heavy burden of responsibility that it had always before been able to avoid.  That is, power and glory are so much more appealing than death and burden.

The inevitability of this mistaken ego position we call inflation is so significant and universal that the dynamic is quite richly portrayed in the alchemical process as the Old King (which is much, much more than the "old personality").  The Old King is everything in the ego-position that clings to its own empowerment and the usurpation of libido for the reinforcement of the ego-position, rather than surrendering to the will of the Self.  The psychological impact of the Old King (and the accompanying inflation psychosis) is noticeable in that, coming into conflict with the now-quite-constellated libido of the Self, the ego is often torn and tormented by its inner conflicts.  The ego does not know how to make a functional identity out of this mess and becomes dysfunctional.  If the individual finds himself in a social circumstance that corroborates the Old King identity, the inflation may even expand tremendously.  We might see this in the situation of gurus who attract disciples into their cults of personality . . . who then become the emissaries of "Old Kingism" (a kind of whitewashing, worshiping, denial) for the inflated leader.  This kind of energy tends to rush toward a very dramatic self-destruction.

All of this is inherent in Jung's ideas on both anima and inflation . . . but in my opinion, he was just off by a bit, and this off-ness both prevented his psychological ideas from adequately addressing these issues and encouraged a kind of sexism in the way he portrayed the anima.  He was compelled to see the archetypal processes in black and white, polaric terms . . . probably adopting the idea from the Gnostics.

In fact, Jung's gnostic take on Christianity, as detailed in Aion, follows this same dualistic pattern: Christ and Antichrist.  We could say that this polaric dualism (as well as being a staple of Jung's predecessors, the Gnostics) was his signature, intellectual trait.  The Light and the Dark for Jung were primal archetypal forces that the ego had to become developed, strengthened, and self-conscious in order to mediate.  The Jungian ego, then, always plays the role of mediator and diplomat for the unconscious.

I don't entirely disagree with this position . . . but the way Jung construes it grants the ego too much power for my taste, and doesn't correspond with my own experience.  I don't see the ego as eternally fortified against the Self in quite the same way . . . nor do I see the Self as a kind of undifferentiated Yahweh that would torture a Job or ask an Abraham to sacrifice his son.  I think the Self's instinct is to live in equilibrium . . . which is not the same thing as opposition or polarization.  It seeks a state of reciprocal flow for its libido.  Perhaps it seeks merely to exist.  But that is a much different (and larger) topic . . . and much more mysterious.

As for the moral polarization in Jungian thinking, I simply suggest that it be discarded.

What then are the Opposites?  What then is this sense of polarization in us and in nature?

I do see polarization as a natural dynamic of energy flow.  For there to be flow there need to be two (or more) relatively dissimilar points for energy to "leap across".  As far as the personified archetypes go, I think these poles are typically the ego and the archetype, self and Other.  This is why in a state of identification between ego and Self (such as nirvana or the coniunctio), energy seems to be extinguished.  Glimpsed briefly, these non-energic states may seem like bliss.  They bring a great quieting, that feeling of seeing through the veil of maya.  Cessation of libido and its requisite polarities.  But this is a state of death or inertia.  We are not who and what we really are during these moments.  Living is much more challenging . . . because we are forced to use ego.  That means we are forced to use polarities, to exist as self and Other.  This is what existence in the world requires of us.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

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