I’m at an age where I pay more attention than formerly to texts on health and Thanatos. Among the authors I seem to be engaged with are Atul Gawande, Sherwin Nuland, Jerome Groopman, Jenny Diski, and most recently Colm Tóibín. I’m especially interested in the grace and wit these writers apply to the direst of subject matter. Thus Tóibín in a recent article in London Review of Books:
A week later the phone rang and I was told that I had a cancer of the testicles that had spread to a lymph node and to one lung. Instead of seeing the urologist, I would now need to see an oncologist. For a few days I comforted myself by pretending that, because of my abiding interest in the mysteries and niceties of Being, I had to see an ontologist… (18 April 2019, page 3)
The art of the grim jest, the sardonic and the mordant, is not to everyone’s taste. Once again, Amazon seems to be reading my mind: as I wrote the last sentence, email binged a come-on for Tony Moyle’s The End of the World is Nigh (“If you love books about con-men, conspiracies, Renaissance history, massive agitated boar, exploding beds, marmalade and historical satire then this is the book for you…”). Did I succumb? Of course.
Question: can we chip off pieces we like and leave the rest? Purists and true believers will always say NO.
The question arises because I recently began to re-re-read Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders), last visited maybe 20 years ago. Besides being a cracking good yarn and highly literate in a Canadian/British mode, it involves an extended meditation on entangled lives, on interwoven Stories, and on friendship. The second volume, The Manticore, was the source of pretty much everything I know of Jung. And now, in the context of thinking about life, and legacy, and Stories, it seems worthwhile to revisit one of the influential syntheses of the internal worlds.
Interlude: On our many passages between Nova Scotia and New England we would pass by a bizarre theme park/sculpture garden in deepest New Brunswick, called Animaland, the entrance to which was graced by a skeletal statue of a horse.
Betsy joked that it was “a place for the Jung at heart.”
Jungian analysis (AKA ‘analytic psychology’) proceeds from a foundation in anamnesis, an exercise by the analysand in extended autobiography (‘subjective confession’) aimed at confronting neurosis (seen as a “state of disunity with oneself”) and an attempt at self-cure of “mild dissociation of personality”.
“We can start almost anywhere. But from what you have told me I think we would be best to stick to the usual course and begin at the beginning.” “Childhood recollections?” “Yes, and reflections of your life up to now. Important things. Formative experiences. People who have meant much gto you, whether good or bad… We look at your history, and meet some people there whom you may know or perhaps you don’t, but who are portions of yourself…” (The Manticore pg 70, 71)
This seems not irrelevant to some of what the Convivium is exploring. It’s not that I wish to immerse myself in Jungian bathos, but some of the terminology and background ideas may be provocative, evocative, useful to myself and others, so it’s useful to try to set out the framework, and to pick and choose elements that seem resonant.
…we are attempting to recapture some forgotten things and arousing almost forgotten feelings in the hope that we may throw new light on them, but even more new light on the present. Remember what I have said so many times; this is not simply rummaging in the trash-heap of the past for its own sake. It is your present situation and your future that concern us. All of
what we are; talking about is gone and unchangeable; if it had no importance we could dismiss it. But it has importance, if we are to heal the present and ensure the future. (The Manticore pg 100)
Powerful notions in the Jungian cosmology include the collective unconscious, broadly conceived as applicable to all Mankind, and coming from “somewhere beyond”, a “dynamic psychic substratum” encoded in myths “common to all humanity, on the basis of which each individual builds his or her private experience of life”—a grand and contentious notion [how transmitted? how across cultural/linguistic boundaries? from what origins? what are the Universals?].
Archetypes (“identical psychic structures common to all”) are another realm generally associated with Jung.
You may call these figures many things. You might call them the Comedy Company of the Psyche, but that would be flippant and not do justice to the cruel blows you have had from some of them. In my profession we call them archetypes, which means that they represent and body forth patterns to which human behavior seems to be disposed; patterns which repeat themselves endlessly, but never in precisely the same way… (The Manticore, pg 229)
And here we quickly find ourselves in deep waters. I ran across a list of 300+ Archetypes, the most familiar of which are
The Wise Old (Sage)
The poignancy of this Archetype thing may be appreciated with another list, immediately resonant for the males among us:
The four healthy archetypes of boyhood are:
The Divine Child
The Precocious Child
The Oedipal Child
The eight shadow archetypes of boyhood are:
The High Chair Tyrant
The Grandstander Bully
The Know-it-all Trickster
The Momma’s Boy
The Weakling Prince
In my search for efficient entrée into Jung, I’ve been reading the excellent Jung: A Very Short Introduction, and I also found Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts, worth a few minutes of your time to scan and thus to realize how integral and hermetic and inward-facing the world of Jungians is, and how vast and dauntingly impenetrable. The idea of breaking off a few convenient ideas or insights would be Anathema to true believers, but there are tasty bits that seem to accord with notions we’ve already discussed among ourselves, such as
Individuation: to “realize one’s own potential, follow one’s own perception of the truth, and to become a whole person in one’s own right”, “to work with and confront the unconscious” as a lifelong process.
Projection: “confronted by a field of ignorance, we project into it our own psychic activity and fill it up with meaning.”
Stuff keeps washing up along my personal tidelines, some of it simple flotsam or jetsam, some of it elements in evolving sculpture and macramé, some of it of indeterminate utility. It All Counts, as my mentor Allen Smith said of the work of the Reference Librarian.
Two cases in point, the first an enduring puzzlement reeled in and partly digested a few months ago, the second a new discovery this morning, via a posting to The WELL’s State of the World (Paulina Borsook) which seems to make sense of the first:
“…Global warming is perhaps the most dramatic example of what Timothy Morton calls ‘hyperobjects’—entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place… concepts such as world, nature, and even environment are no longer a meaningful horizon against which human events take place. Instead of inhabiting a world, we find ourselves inside a number of hyperobjects, such as climate, nuclear weapons, evolution, or relativity. Such objects put unbearable strains on our normal ways of reasoning.Insisting that we have to reinvent how we think to even begin to comprehend the world we now live in, Hyperobjects takes the first steps, outlining a genuinely postmodern ecological approach to thought and action…”
Nature’s economic system stores the energy that it does not immediately need
mostly in carbon formations
Nature does not charge a profit as do culture’s economic systems
All natural systems are dissipative structures with individuals that form them living,
reproducing then dying with indeterminacy as a norm
All natural systems have learned to nest within each other, and, within a context of
symbiosis contribute to collective systems survival, sometimes with abundance
Human constructed artifacts particularly legal, political, economic as well as
production and consumption systems seek constancy but are often in violation of the
laws of conservation of energy pointing toward systems entropy
Working out the implications, awaiting the next tide…
the theory … that anything that is art … is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it’s no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it’s irritating. (in Floating Worlds: : The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer, pg 39)
Thinking it over, it’s difficult to gauge how very much of my sensibilities I owe to Edward Gorey, whose work I think I first encountered in 1962, thanks to Laura de la Torre Bueno (The Curious Sofa was the gateway drug).
The groundwork before that was surely laid by Charles Addams and other New Yorker cartoonists (via The New Yorker Album: 1925-1950) and of course by Walt Kelly’s Pogo (which I first imbibed in the early 1950s, and have never been without ever since), Don Marquis’s Archy and Mehitabel
and before all Abner Dean’s What Am I Doing Here?
and Heinrich Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter.
Some would diagnose a very odd childhood, and I suppose that’s true, but I thank the gods for it.
I’ve been seeking subsetting and organizing principles to cope with the vast complexities of wood and rock portraits I’ve been collecting, and yesterday an interesting candidate presented itself as I was reading Rudolf Arnheim’s Visual Thinking (1969):
A concept, statistically defined, represents what a number of separate entities have in common. Quite often, however, a concept is instead a kind of highspot within a sweep of continuous transformations. In the Japanese kabuki theatre, an actor’s play suddenly petrifies into an immobile, monumental pose, the mi-e, which marks the climax of an important scene and epitomizes its character. (pg 182)
Mi-e generally follow a pattern, serving to focus our attention on a particular character or characters at an important moment during the play. Mi-e crystallize the action into a formal picture. More than mere focal points, mi-e are used to express to the audience a climax of great emotional tension. To perform a mi-e the actor must physically and emotionally wind himself up to the desired emotion, be it anger, fear, indignation, or surprise. Most mi-e are accompanied only by the beating of the wooden clappers (tsuke) … struck in a pattern called ba-tan, the two beats of which serve as a framework for the climax of the mi-e, in which the actor, while holding the pose rotates his head toward his adversary and crosses one eye, the other looking straight ahead. …
The first beat, the ba, is hit as the actor strikes the pose. Then, as he rotates his head and glares, the mie is completed by the second, tan beat. The tsuke beater, or tsuke uchi as he is called, has the great responsibility of not only timing his beats to the actor’s movements but also feeling the emotional climax of the mi-e with the actor. (from Ronald Cavaye Kabuki: A Pocket Guide)
“How very like the moment of photography!” I thought. And sure enough some of my creatures are caught in mi-e, communicating directly to the viewer.
Form Finds Form is a phrase I’m continuing to unpack and trying to more completely grok. My mother was wont to say it, and via Ann Berthoff it has crept into the field of Rhetoric and Composition. It seems to resonate with many things I’ve done over the years (photographic projects, surname mapping, improv music…), even though I can’t fully explain just what it Means. In this instance, my almost accidental discovery of the Form mi-e educed the subset of images, each an exemplar of that Form. But which found which?
The Just A Rock book is beginning to come together, slowly, and is of course accompanied by discoveries and diversions of many flavors. I’ve been photographing at Drift Inn almost daily for the last 6 weeks or so, and each time I discover new rocks and often enough re-photograph ones I’ve already collected. A few days ago I was paying more attention to smaller rocks, those that fit in the hand and are rolled back and forth by the tide. One that I picked up seemed especially characterful, so I set it on a flat granite surface and photographed it:
…and tossed it back onto the rocky beach.
It wasn’t until I was processing the image that I noticed that it was a portrait, and my first thought was “Zen Patriarch” since it reminded me of Japanese paintings I’d seen of those worthies. I wasn’t immediately sure which Patriarch, but put that question aside to explore later.
Wakuan said, “Why has the western barbarian no beard?”
The commentary explains that the koan has to do with the vexed and fundamental question of the distinction between the essential and the phenomenal, which bears directly upon what I’ve been trying to write about in the case of rocks [relevant to the distinction between rock as an abstract and a rock as something with character and personality]. The “western barbarian” in the koan is often personified as Bodhidharma, the First Zen Patriarch, who was indeed an Indian monk who went to China in the 6th century:
So I realized that I wanted to find that rock with Bodhidharma on it; I wanted to possess it (I do have a modest collection of especially evocative rocks…). I went back to Drift Inn to try to find it again. And didn’t. And went back twice more, trying to reconstruct where I might have tossed it. No Bodhidharma.
seek Bodhidharma among the ten thousand rocks alas, he’s moved on
The quick-witted will note that my Drift Inn beach Bodhidharma has no [evident, phenomenal] beard. Teisho’s commentary on the koan includes this:
Pictures of Bodhidharma are well known, and not only does he always have a beard but a very thick beard indeed! Wakuan was well aware of this. Why then does he say that Bodhidharma has no beard?
Everything has two aspects, phenomenal and essential. The phenomenal Bodhidharma has a beard, but the essential Bodhidharma has no beard. To realize this, you must grasp by experience the essential nature of Bodhidharma.
The essential nature [of anything] cannot be destroyed, even by karmic fire. If the whole universe were to be completely destroyed, the essential nature would continue to exist because it is empty. It is nonsubstantial. It cannot be seen with the eyes, heard with the ears, or touched with the hands. No one can identify the spot where it is.
So here’s what I was writing about rock before all the above happened:
The essence of rock is mineral, molecular, elemental, time-encapsulating, entropic [in the process of returning to its chemical origins], crystalline, cooled to a solid phase of a material derived from and still encapsulating its liquid phase.
The essence of a rock, such as one might hold or photograph, is revealed via the phenomenal engagement with a mind: the mind discerns (makes, constructs) form. The mind of a geologist attaches labels and associations and temporal structure; the mind of a wall builder sees mass and shape and fit; the mind of a sculptor may see the form that dwells within; the mind of an artist abstracts and transforms the visual appearance of the rock…
So you can see why the progress on Just A Rock is slow…
From time to time I happen upon a bit of text that just has to be passed around. Here’s today’s:
Perhaps he was mothersmothered
(born into the muddlecrass, at a time when wimwin).
The mamafesta delivered when he was yung and easily freudened.
For a while, a tenorist who saw the world cycloptically—
in his bachelure flat, the life lamatory, listening to ladies’ lavastories—
bewilderblissed and inn sane, he mistributed the unfacts alcoherently.
Nowanights, he looks at the fadographs with violet indigonation.
An iciclist who fell on a pineapple but still climbs the bannistars
With his tellavicious langurge (or langwedge) points a colliderorscope
at the chaosmos, tells with puerity his rheumaniscences
and awaits a funferall, barks like a duck “quark quark”!
[* Almost all of these words were invented by James Joyce and used in Finnegans Wake]
Peter Kennedy, Literary Review Dec 2016/Jan 2017 pg 58
I’m forever finding things that seem to apply to people and situations that aren’t precisely my own but do need rediffusing in some medium. Here’s one that just snuck up on me:
Imagine a world where speaking or writing words can literally and directly make things happen, where getting one of those words wrong can wreak unbelievable havoc, but where with the right spell you can summon immensely powerful agencies to work your will. Imagine further that this world is administered: there is an extensive division of labour, among the magicians themselves and between the magicians and those who coordinate their activity. It’s bureaucratic, and also (therefore) chaotic, and it’s full of people at desks muttering curses and writing invocations, all beavering away at a small part of the big picture. The coordinators, because they don’t understand what’s going on, are easy prey for smooth-talking preachers of bizarre cults that demand arbitrary sacrifices and vanish with large amounts of money…
The analyst or programmer has to examine documents with an eye at once skeptical and alert, snatching and collating tiny fragments of truth along the way. His or her sources of information all have their own agendas, overtly or covertly pursued. He or she has handlers and superiors, many of whom don’t know what really goes on at the sharp end…
(from Ken MacLeod’s preface to Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives)
Trump connected to the segment of the population that was prepared to believe that racism was realism, misogyny was locker-room talk, inconvenient facts were media myths, and viciousness was the new normal. Just as surely as he has redrawn the electoral map, he has radically altered the Overton window. No Presidential candidate before him had ever mocked a disabled reporter, or bragged about his penis size during a debate. What kept every other candidate before him from stooping to these tactics, presumably, was deference to social norms. But norms can be swept aside.
What has happened has been the growth of a new way of thinking about organization and disorganization. Today, data from a New Guinea tribe and the superficially very different data of psychiatry can be approached in terms of a single epistemology—a single body of questions.
We now have the beginnings of a general theory of process and change, adaptation and pathology; and, in terms of the general theory, we have to reexamine all that we thought we knew about organisms, societies, families, personal relationships, ecological systems, servo-mechanisms, and the like.
(Gregory Bateson, Preface to the second edition  Of Naven)
“And the like” indeed. So: back once again to General Systems Theory, which beguiled me 45 or so years ago, abstractions high-flown enough to calm the yammer of daily helpings of News of Fresh Disasters.
What is needed are new modes of counter-hegemonic governance. Towards that goal I am going to do nothing. Social evolution is slow and silent not obvious and obnoxious. It is time for a break into scholarship and away from reactionary tabbing back and forth from The New York Times and Breitbart, The Guardian and Drudge.