Author Topic: Agism and the Animi in the Jungian Mindset  (Read 3186 times)

Matt Koeske

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Agism and the Animi in the Jungian Mindset
« on: March 21, 2007, 02:14:26 PM »
The following reflections are bound to prove offensive to many Jungians.  I hope (but do not expect) that they will be more "challenging" than offensive . . . but we'll see how it goes.

I think Jungians would benefit from a deeper and more thorough investigation of one of the primary Jungian prejudices: the notion that Jungian psychology is a midlife venture.  Jung's basic reasoning behind this is that we spend the first half of our lives developing our egos in relation to society, occupation, and various worldly ventures . . . and that this finally creates a dissociation resulting from an unconsciousness of and detachment from the Self and the archetypal psyche.  In response to this dissociation, the ego is called inward into a process of reconciliation with the archetypal structure of the psyche.

During the shift in ego-orientation (or, we might equally say, in libido directedness), the individual often suffers a kind of "midlife crisis" or a complex resulting from the discrepancy between the outward focus of the first half of life and the inner destitution resulting from it.

Often enough, this paradigm proves quite valid.  Certainly, the majority of Jungians are midlifers.  Not surprisingly, these midlife reconciliations and reintroductions to the unconscious have been not only focused on in Jungian writing, but at times lifted up into numinous rites of passage.

But, rather obviously, this paradigm seems to discount the many individuals who are inclined to move or exist inwardly at a much younger age.  How does the Jungian mindset treat these individuals?  In some ways, these individuals (and there is no small number of them) are anomalous data.  Jungian theory does not have a valuating expression for such people.  In a manifestation of Jungian "agism", many of these individuals have their inner experiences dismissed or devalued by the older Jungians.  The elders sagely nod and wink, asserting that they have some special knowledge or experience that only chronology can supply.

In my experience, age, however advanced, is not a very reliable predictor of progress in the individuation work (a thing which is itself incredibly difficult if not impossible to reliably measure, we should note) . . . and can even represent an additional complication, depending on the individual's attitude toward it.  If I had to pick one quality that is most associated with individuation progress, it would not be age, but courage.  Courage for the Work, the courage to face the darkness of the unconscious and the ugliness of the shadow are the best guarantors of progressive individuation.

But, I believe we need to look deeper into the psychic stuff of the midlife crisis and the "Jungian Call".  The Jungian approach to this Call is a rather complex interaction with the animi archetypes.  The animi are seen as the gatekeepers and guides or psychopomps to the unconscious.

But few if any attempts are made in Jungian psychology to investigate the more biological counterparts to psychological life stages.  We do not ask, for instance, what aspect of biological maturation might the anima archetype correspond to?  And recall that archetypes are instincts (or personified representations of instincts).  Instincts are founded in biology, in the evolutionary, genetic make-up of our species.

We know that the Jungian conception of the anima depicts her as a seductress . . . and specifically, a seductress into the unconscious, often mystical realms of all that seems alien to us (yet also appears to reside within us).  In other words, our inferior function/s.  Jung himself frequently disparaged the anima and saw her seductions as deceptive, prescribing a kind of ego-resistance to her "charms".  But, at other times, Jung seemed to prescribe an approach that gave the anima more respect and encouraged the individual/ego to listen to her.  What we can at least say for certain is that Jung's attitude regarding the anima was ambivalent.  Not only this, but we might gather from MDR that Jung gave much more precedence to the anima personally (especially later in his life) than he prescribed in his more scientific writings.  His "confrontation with the unconscious" can be seen as a gradually increasing acceptance for the input and voice of the anima.

I will posit a fairly simple "tidying" of the Jungian anima theory.  It is merely this: the anima is a representation of the instinct that steers libido away from the mother and toward a peer-partner.  Through this redirection of libido, the ego must experience the archetypal "leaving of the nest" or Fall from Eden experience, which is a severing of the unconscious dependency on the maternal support or providence.

This process also necessitates a confrontation with and reorientation to the unconscious, because unconsciousness of these deeper trenches of the psyche is akin to the unconscious dependence on the mother.  The mother will provide; the unconscious will provide.  We see this notion in many of our religions, too . . . in the proposed relationship to the god or goddess of providence.  The re-orientation to the unconscious makes for an enantiodromia on this front.  Instead of basking in our unconsciousness, waiting for the divine providence of the Self, we come to see that it is the Self that requires the ego to function as the effective impresario for the entire psyche and organism.  Psychological health becomes a matter of feeding the Self the proper diet, the "Good Medicine" that allows it to generate reciprocal libido.

We see this in the common dream images of the sick, poor, or otherwise needy animi figures who can only be helped by us (the egos).  Jung's vision of Salome wanting to worship him as Christ and be healed by him is a grand figuration of this theme.  At the beginning of my anima work, I had a dream in which I was Doogie Howser (80s-90s? TV sitcom character who was a teenage wunderkin who became a practicing doctor) and was being given a tour of the family mansion of a mysterious, witchy woman (guided by this woman) I was profoundly attracted to.  I had met her after she stole a golf club from me while I was at a practice range.  The club she stole was my "Driver".  Back at her home, she showed me her sick twin sister . . . and many other toils that were leading to the destruction of her family and the disappearance of its wealth and status.

Meanwhile, all I could do was go on and on to her about my own personal issues  (-).?!.(-).  She listened very patiently and quietly . . . and all of a sudden it dawned on me that I was a doctor and that I had the power to heal her and her sister.  It was she who was suffering and in need, not me.  Thus, with this recognition, my anima work had begun.

The progress of such anima work involves the increasing devotion to the peer-partner anima . . . who loves the ego for what is heroic in it.  She, in essence, loves the hero archetype out of the ego, and with the activation of this archetype, the unconscious, maternal dependencies are gradually overcome.  This culminates in the eventual self-sacrifice of the heroic aspect of the ego, which corresponds to the coniunctio or hieros gamos with the peer-partner anima.  The sacrifice of the hero is at once the relinquishment of dependency upon the maternal, providing unconscious and, simultaneously, the surrender to the instinctual process of transformation/maturation.  It corresponds to various tribal scarification rites meant to introduce a "death" to the initiate that must be endured and overcome . . . but only through a kind of surrender.

There is a distinct drive behind this . . . and this drive manifests symbolically to us as the "fatal" attraction to the anima.  Thus, she is not only love, but death (and perhaps this was the cause of Jung's ambivalence toward her).  It is not only the heroic awakening in the ego that must die/be sacrificed, but also his lover.  Really, the anima and the hero are elements of the same archetype, which was painfully divided ("contra naturum") when the ego was extracted from the unconscious Self through normal socialization and personality formation . . . and now it must be reunited.  But in this union, the profound/fatal attraction that spurred it on is resolved.  As a result the anima (as symbolic representation of the attractor) is "depotentiated".  This is commonly depicted in dreams and myths/fairytales as a death or disappearance/ascension.

What has happened is that the entire maternal orientation of the unconscious has been depotentiated.  The ego has been, to a large extent, differentiated from the Self.  The anima had been the magnet that pulled the ego's attention and desire toward the Self, but at the fullest extent of this attraction (the coniunctio), the anima as sexualized Other who knows the mysterious language and will of the Self is no longer essential to the ego.  Instead, the ego takes up the role of conscious translator and go-between for the Self.  Providence, to a very high (but not absolute) degree is relinquished, and the ego becomes the Self's devotee.

In the alchemical opus, this corresponds to the death of the unified/hermaphroditic body after the coniunctio.  I would also associate the putrefactio and albedo/purification of the hermaphroditic corpse with the "suffering apprenticeship" of the ego to the Self, the learning of the anima's role.

If we apply a known biological paradigm to this series of psychic/symbolic events, we see that this entire movement corresponds to the adaptive "leap" in maturation that we call adolescence.  In this period, we experience a profound sexual awakening, an awakening that also awakens other worlds for us (both internal and external).  This reorients our methods of dealing and interacting with others (especially with our parents and members of the opposite sex).  As we "grow up" and leave the nest, we often accomplish this transition with the help of a partner . . . who may perhaps become a spouse.

This conventional maturation pattern in our species is founded on an instinctual process . . . the process I described above in psychological terms as the animi work (and this process as described above differs very little between men and women from what I've seen; that is, the animus work for women serves much the same biological-psychological purpose and is characterized by the same archetypal stages . . . as it is based on the same instinct).

To come full circle then, when we recognize this as the Jungian paradigm and as the archetype/instinct activated during the "midlife crisis", we are forced to ask ourselves why the psychological/archetypal aspect of this process has been "delayed" until midlife.  This would seem to throw it out of sync with biological adolescence (which we could roughly say runs from the onset of puberty to perhaps the early 20s).

Of course, we live in a very complex society, a society that does not function by instinctual rules.  As Robert Bly and others have often said, we no longer have rites of passage in our socialization paradigm that effectively recognize, activate, and celebrate the passage from adolescence into adulthood.  There are certainly some (although symbolically devalued) rites that celebrate the onset of adolescence . . . but these rarely if ever differentiate this onset from the entire process of adolescence.  We have no rituals that mark the "cure" for adolescence.  We have no popular ideologies that equate biological adolescence with archetypal adolescence . . . and so, no resolution.

Adolescence is left entirely in the hands of individuals to sort out in their own individualized ways . . . which may be why the Jungian answer to archetypal adolescence is an "individuation".

There is nothing we can do about this.  It appears to be the nature of increasingly sophisticated culture to demand the egocentrism that marks the onset of adolescence without also demanding its resolution.  I remain deeply suspicious of the notion that cultural modifications will cure us.  So, for example, the call for initiation and initiators and rite of passage rituals in the mythopoetic Men's Movement strikes me as very romantic.  Even as adolescently romantic (in spite of its intentions and its recognition of the problem . . . at least in men . . . which I largely agree with).  Adolescence is not likely to cure adolescence.

If I had to pose any "solution" it would be one that doesn't try to "primitivize" us to fit with a Noble Savage ideology . . . but rather seeks to accept that our ego-oriented culture is an inevitable outgrowth of our species' instinctual behaviors.  It is not the social setting that must change (however corrupt and corrupting it might be); it is the attitude of the individual that must change, must adapt to its environment in order to survive (herein lies precisely the "heroic", self-responsible attitude needed to resolve adolescent psychology).  Basically, when it comes to individuation, life sucks (-)dvhuh(-).  The cards are stacked against it.  We must seek out whatever resources can aid us on our own most of the time.

And this process of seeking (and the subsequent, more difficult process of processing) does take a long time.  Biologically out of sync though it may be, facing archetypal adolescence at midlife is perfectly reasonable and typical.

But the side-issue of Jungian agism is a shadow issue.  Obviously, the loss of control and descent into fantasy and projection that mark adolescence and the animi stage, evoke no shortage of shame.  It is no wonder that the Catholic Church was able to utilize this adolescent shame instinct to vilify sexuality.  Adolescent shame was a market ripe to be capitalized on.

There is no cure for this shame . . . other than the facing down and integration of the shadow, and then the animi.  As long as the adolescent psychology prevails, shame, fear of intimacy, and powerful defensiveness will also prevail.

But, as Jungians, I think it is important for us to come down from our high horses a bit and consider the possibility that we are not achieving some kind of divine enlightenment and wisdom through our individuation work, but rather, that the work itself has a humbling aspect.  It is not advancing us into glorious exaltation or endowing us with profound wisdom, but merely catching us up psychologically to where we have arrived biologically.

We should not hide behind our age or proclaimed wisdom.  Here the shadow of the Wise Old Man and Woman is thwarting us.  To the degree that we appeal to this archetype for guidance and orientation, we will continue to maintain a restraint on our own development.  And I should clarify that the Jungian Wise Old Man archetype is constellated into two Opposites: the Senex and the Puer.  To bleach or exalt the Wise Senex, is to activate the dark Puer in our shadows.  This divided archetype can only guide us through to a resolution of archetypal adolescence when it is conjoined and reconciled itself.

The unified archetype of the Senex and Puer is the Fool.  The Holy or Wise Fool who is both young and old, smart and stupid, innocent and shrewd, strong and weak.  This figure tells us that maturation is not a linear escalation, but a spiraling inward toward a state of equilibrium.

This archetype remains unresolved in the Jungian shadow . . . a state in which it cannot be differentiated from the Trickster.  But that's another topic entirely  (-)howdy(-).
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