Author Topic: "Post-Jungian"  (Read 3344 times)

Matt Koeske

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« on: March 08, 2007, 02:34:03 PM »
A lot of Jungians find the term "Post-Jungian" good cause for the gnashing of teeth.  That would seem on the surface to be an outrageously dogmatic reaction . . . but it isn't entirely without warrant.

For instance, anyone who has read the writings of both Jung and other Jungians extensively knows there is usually a distinct difference.  Jung's style is expansive and digressive . . . and his thinking on "Jungian issues" remains, in most cases definitive and unsurpassed for depth and complexity.  To compound the discrepancy between Jung and the Jungians, it (not surprisingly) is the case that most Jungian books are effectively applications of certain elements of Jung's ideas.  That is, they are not theoretical expansions . . . and rarely constructive criticisms of analytical psychology's originator.

There are, no doubt, many reasons why Jungian psychology since Jung has occupied itself with application rather than evolution.  For instance, Jung was certainly a genius, a very powerful thinker . . . and few could "out think" such a mind.  It's intimidating to try to.  Jung was usually very thorough . . . and although perhaps not very linear or easy to follow, it seems as though he sounded off (with impressive intelligence) on a great many subjects.  I often think I have come up with something new to compliment Jungian theories only to later discover almost exactly the same idea (and sometimes even phrasing) in an essay of Jung's that is "supposed" to be on an entirely different subject.

Jung's digressiveness makes him a hard thinker to study.

There is also the problem of Jung's "guru" status among many of his followers.  I would argue that much of the interest in Jungian ideas has come from those people looking for "reasons to believe" or for "better religion", one might say.  Those who want to follow Jung "scientifically" are less common.  The scientific community doesn't hold much stock in Jung and his theories.  But it is the nature of science (and the principle of the scientific method) to revise and improve theories as more and more useful data is accumulated.

Belief-seekers tend to be less interested in seeking data . . . and less interested in revising ideas.  They prefer discovering ideas that bring meaning to their lives.  If Jung's achieve this for them, they will, needless to say, be hesitant to contradict or even question them.  The ideas "work" after all, so why pick at them?

We all have some of this belief-seeking attitude in us.  It is probably why we were drawn to Jung in the first place.  So we are in a state of self-conflict if we also share an interest in Jungian theory as an evolving, scientific approach to the psyche.  These two impulse will not always cooperate for us.

Still, the term "post-Jungian" . . . are we really ready for that?  Have we grown enough to "leave the nest"?  I've encountered a number of Jungians who think that "post-Jungian" is a term only used by arrogant fools who delude themselves into thinking they could possibly "know better" than Jung did.

Of course, this is a mess.  We Jungians are in a rotten predicament here.  Our desires to both know and believe through Jung are in conflict.  But Jung himself seemed to prescribe the path of knowing.  He was resistant to the dogmatization of his theories.  He acknowledged that many of his theories were only beginnings and expressed the hope that others would build on to them, even correct them as needed.

That is the Jung I most admire.  Not Jung the guru . . . who is, I think, the concoction of our own projection.  Jung the guru is something we designed to serve our desires and transferences.  And he may have been helpful, even revelatory . . . but as Jungians, how do we ultimately choose to define ourselves?  Are we Jungian because we follow a guru named Jung, because we make an archetype of him?  Or are we Jungians because we use Jung's ideas as a foundation for our own quest to know?  Is it the theory or the man that defines us most?

I am equivocal about the term "post-Jungian", too.  I share all the common concerns.  But I think we Jungians have reached an impasse.  We need to reconcile our desires on this issue.  We need to decided whether we want Jung to work for us or whether we want to work for Jung (and Jungian psychology).  Do we want to take or give?

I have taken, and taken a great deal, from Jung . . . and now I feel like I owe him a debt of gratitude.  I can think of no better way to repay this than with the attempt to develop his ideas more.  Even to improve upon them, if possible.  I will accept the stigma of "post-Jungian arrogance".  I will accept the likelihood that I will fail to achieve such improvement and development.  The attempt is worth such failure and worth the stigma of arrogance and foolishness.

I simply believe it is time to press on, to leave the nest.  If we arrogant fools don't make this leap, we will condemn Jungian psychology to oblivion.  It will be remembered only as an occult religion.  It will be a dead thing.  And I think there is too much life left in it for this.  I think the real failure, the moral failure (if you will) is in not trying to push Jungian thinking forward . . . simply because we fear we will make fools of ourselves or otherwise fear what we stand to lose.

We do not need to be or even think ourselves "smarter than Jung" to contribute to the body of Jungian thought.  It is time we stop stroking our pet cowardice and fall from the Jungian Eden of belief.  The Jungian fields need the toil of our labor.  We can't go on relinquishing the vision of a developing field of Jungian thought.

In daring to be post-Jungian, we are not challenging Jung . . . we are thanking him.  Jung will be just fine.  It is ourselves that we must challenge.

So, I intend to try to be post-Jungian, to be progressively Jungian.  I hope that this forum will not only tolerate such post-Jungian endeavors from its members, but resound with them.  We do not need to set out to overthrow the Old King of Analytical Psychology.  This post-Jungianism is not, cannot be, about the MAN HIMSELF . . . whether we indenture ourselves for or against.  Jung is not a totem that must be felled or worshiped.  That is the how we are deceiving ourselves, I think.

The totem that stands in our way is the one inside us, the one we and we alone are responsible for.  This Old King is a creature of our own invention, is a totem of our own selfishness.  Jungian psychology, this foundation that Jung gave us . . . it isn't the "mighty cedar" standing in front of Gilgamesh,  It's the ax.

We have to use this ax on our own egoistic desires to be benefited by Jungian beliefs.  The tool at hand is perfectly suited for this task . . . an irony that we have harbored in our shadows out of fear.  The usefulness of this tool is not in how it can define us, but in how it can help us build and transform.

So, here's to the sharper edge of our Useless Science.

« Last Edit: August 08, 2008, 04:20:29 PM by Matt Koeske »
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

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Re: "Post-Jungian"
« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2007, 07:41:52 PM »
Hear, hear!

In doing the personal work of examining one's own creative fantasies, dreams, etc or in studying the myths or in implementing Jungian ideas in therapy, we should remain sensitive to limitations and conflicts in Jung's ideas.  Really, his legacy is one of an open evolution of ideas. 

It seems to me that there is endless work to be done in just recording and analyzing the expressions of the unconscious, in interpreting art, philosophy, poetry, etc in Jungian terms.  There is even the work of applying Jungian theory to cognitive science to undertake.  All of these fields should be a source for the improvement and correction of Jungian thought.

Also, Jung emphasized the personal element of psyche in such a way as to allow for room in both subjective and objective modes.  It seems to me that there are more intuitives than sensation types in the Jungian "house".  I often, perhaps naively, wonder what sensation types make of Jung, how they see his work as valuable or silly.

Also, there is the application of Jungian thought to religious practices.  Some traditions will have more resistance to engaging with Jungian ideas than others. 

Then too there is the application of Jungian ideas to the rest of science.  I expect that the embodiment of consciousness as being not just in the brain, is an idea that Jungian thought could contribute greatly, too.  And in understanding how our individual consciousness can be embodied in a brain, in a social value system and in a verbal and written language system should shed light on Jung's ideas.

Jungian ideas are to the New Age as gasoline is to fire.  On the one hand, I see that the New Age movements are a welcome glorying in the fruits of intuition and that conscious function's ability to create meaningful connections where the facts of the world are otherwise unhelpful.  On the other hand, even as a strong intuitive, I usually find myself quickly turning away from New Age stuff to look for something more "grounded".  Of course, this isn't a fair assessment of all that the New Age has to offer.


Matt Koeske

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Re: "Post-Jungian"
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2008, 05:15:04 PM »

Revisiting this little stump speech, I realize that I did not (originally for the sake of concision) address a sister problem to the post-Jungian identifier issue.  Namely, that there are plenty of people claiming post-Jungian status who have not actually "come through" Jung to get there.  The quibble I have is semantic.  After all, the post-moderns (and in my field of literature and creative writing, the "post-post-moderns") have not actually "evolved from or solved the problems of the Modern.  Rather, they have taken a branch or detour off of the modernist path while still be concerned with the same essential problem of modernism.

So it is with many commonly titled "post-Jungians" today.  They are often not so much building on Jung's theories and writings as they are taking a detour off of Jung's "personal experiment".  That is, they are taking a road away from Jung that was built by someone else rather than continuing to pave the road that Jung began.  Or perhaps they are taking a parallel path that doesn't intersect significantly with Jung at all, but still embarks from the general territory of what Jung called the Collective Unconscious.  When I wrote this little sermon above, I was using the term "post-Jungian" is a slightly different way.  I meant it as, quite literally, building on the foundation of Jung and continuing the project he established, continuing his experiment.

But I don't mean this as a kind of dogmatic Jungian fundamentalism that insists on sticking to the letter of Jung's texts (what a nightmare that would be!).  We already have too many variations of that, even as each of these "textbook Jungians" takes his or her entirely unique interpretation.  What I am thinking of is a project that specifically seeks out the blockades that Jung (and Jungians) have butted up against and failed to get past, and making these the main areas of investigation.  I would like to see innovation and revision thrown at these areas in a true "post-Jungianism".

So what trips us up?  What is most dissatisfying in the Jungian world view?  Which of Jung's ideas seem to have not stood the test of time?  What Jungian thinking now seems maladaptive in the 21st century?  If mistakes have been made (by either Jung or his followers), what are they and how might they be remedied?

These are the kinds of questions I would like to see on the plates of "post-Jungians".  As another example, I have noticed (along with many if not all Jungians in the last few decades) that some of Jung's psychic constructs no longer seem appropriate or functional in the 21st century (or were in the end of the 20th, for that matter).  Take the animi, for instance.  Or the Self as Light and Dark Opposites (rather than a complex system, as it currently seems to be).  Or the puer/senex archetypal dynamic.  What we have learned is that notions like these have proven themselves to be less about "psychoid", universal, instinctually-rooted structures than Jung seemed to assert . . . and much more about cultural constructions.

This problem (especially where the animi are concerned) has long been grumbled about in post-feminist Jungianism.  It turns out that Jung's constructs of the major archetypes (although they may still exhibit "primordial" attributes) are not exactly fixed, partially biological structures, but have clearly evolved (or need to evolve) in the years since Jung wrote about them.  Numerous (but by no means "innumerable") attempts have been made by Jungians to critique and tweak these archetypal constructions.  I am personally unaware of any interesting innovations in the construction, theorization, or understanding of the anima archetype made since Jung.  Yes, plenty has been written elaborating anima phenomena and images, but has there been any advance in the theory of the anima, what it "is", what it is for?

I haven't seen all the literature, and perhaps I missed something, but the anima was the first element of Jungian theory that I found myself thinking unconventionally about.  Over a decade ago, I tried to seek out all the Jungian writing on the anima, but came away nonplussed.  Yet, it seems like Jungians have accepted that the thinking about the anima has all been done, that the topic is exhausted, understood, explained.  If anyone has done more extensive readings on this site (such as in the forum called "The Animi Work", s/he has found that the notion that we know all there is to know about the anima and have said all there is to say is an absurd hubris.  Agree or disagree with my revisions, they at least suggest that the investigation is not over (no investigation of data in a constantly changing world is ever over).

But much worse than this is the current Jungian thinking about the animus.  Many Jungians became so frustrated with the animus that they decided to excise it altogether from the Jungian "archetypal pantheon".  More commonly, others have stuck to the incredibly antiquated and sexist notion of the animus that Jung and his original colleagues championed (this perspective has actually come back in the post-feminist world, now that the radical trend in feminism seems to have passed).

To me, these are examples of fertile ground for a true post-Jungianism.  These are psychic artifacts that Jung unearthed, but they remain on the Jungian shelf, gathering dust with most of their hieroglyphs untranslated.  I don't think a post-Jungian should be content with such a situation.  I don't mean to imply that the mysteries of the psyche are just a Rubik's Cube to be solved with the proper number of twists or that we should have an expectation for all things psychic to fit nicely in place and be explained away.  I am merely concerned with the lack of theoretical pursuits and investigative inquisitiveness in the professional Jungian community.  Has it become the Jungian way to keep all mysteries at arm's length, to make them over into totems?  Where has the hunger to know gone?  What I see in Jung and his writing is a distinct hunger to know, a drive to test and experiment and generally poke around the psyche like it was a laboratory filled with marvels and wonders.

It's that kind of hunger that I'd like to see driving a post-Jungianism.  This hunger (and the flexibility and open-mindedness with which it was exercised) was what to me, at least, was the libido behind Jung's thinking.  It was a scientific or gnostic libido.  Can we establish a post-Jungianism based on this gnostic drive?  Can we continue Jung's project by recognizing and continuing to channel its scientific spirit?
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]