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Symbolic Life

The antecedents of this book are such that it might give rise to misunderstandings unless the reader is acquainted with them beforehand.

Let me therefore say at once that its subject-matter is a dialogue extending over a period of eight years.

The partners to this dialogue made it a condition from the start that the record they kept of it should be as honest and complete as was humanly possible.

In order to fulfil this condition, and not restrict it to the conscious aspects of the situation, they made it their task to take note also of the unconscious reactions that accompanied or followed the dialogue.

Obviously, this ambitious project could be completed only if the unconscious reactions of both partners were recorded.

A “biographical” debate of such a nature would indeed be something unique in our experience, requiring exceptionally favourable circumstances for its realization.

In view of the unusual difficulties she was faced with, the author deserves our thanks for having reproduced, scrupulously and in all the necessary detail, at least threequarters of the dialogue.

Her experiment will be acclaimed by all those who are interested in the real life of the psyche, and more particularly because it gives a vivid account of a typical masculine problem which invariably arises in such a situation.

Although every case of this kind follows an archetypal ground plan, its value and significance lie in its uniqueness, and this uniqueness is the criterion of its objectivity.

The true carrier of reality is the individual, and not the “statistical average” who is a mere abstraction.

So if the author confines her observations to two persons only, this shows her feeling for the psychological facts.

The value of the personality, too, lies in its uniqueness, and not in its collective and statistical qualities, which are merely those of human species and, as such, irreducible factors of a suprapersonal nature.

Although the limitation to two persons creates an “unscientific” impression

of subjectivity, it is actually a guarantee of psychological objectivity: this is how real psychic life behaves, this is what happens in reality.

That part of it which can be formulated theoretically belongs to the common foundations of psychic life and can therefore be observed just as easily under other conditions and in other individuals.

Scientific insight is essentially a by-product of a psychological process of dialectic.

During this process, “true” and “untrue,” “right” and “wrong” are valid only in the moral sense and cannot be judged by any general criterion of “truth” or “rightness.”

“True” and “right” simply tell us whether what is happening is “true” or “right” for the person concerned.

The reader of this book is thus an invisible listener at a serious dialogue between two cultivated persons of our time, who discuss the various questions that come their way.

Both of them make their contribution in complete freedom and remain true to their purpose throughout. I lay particular emphasis on this because it is by no means certain at the outset that such a dialogue will be continued.

Often these discussions come to an abrupt stop for lack of enthusiasm in one partner or both, or for some other reason, good or bad.

Very often, too, they give up at the first difficulty.

The circumstances must have been unusually favourable for the dialogue to have continued over such a long period of time.

Special credit is due to the author for having recorded the proceedings on two levels at once and successfully communicated them to the outside world.

The thoughts and interior happenings she describes form a most instructive document humain, but its very uniqueness exposes it to the danger of being misunderstood and contemptuously brushed aside as a “subjective fantasy.”

For it is concerned mainly with that special relationship which Freud summed up under the term “transference,” whose products he regarded as “infantile fantasies.”

As a result of this devaluation and rationalistic prejudice, their importance as phenomena of psychic transformation was not recognized.

This scientific sin of omission is only one link in the long chain of devaluation of the human psyche that has nothing to justify it.

It is a symptom of profound unconsciousness that our scientific age has lost sight of the paramount importance of the psyche as a fundamental condition of human existence.

What is the use of technological improvements when mankind must still tremble before those infantile tyrants, ridiculous yet terrible, in the style of Hitler?

Figures like these owe their power only to the frightening immaturity of the man of today, and to his barbarous unconsciousness.

Truly we can no longer afford to underestimate the importance of the psychic factor in world affairs and to go on despising the efforts to understand psychic processes.

We are still very far from understanding where we ourselves are at fault, and this book should grant us a deep insight.

It is, indeed, only a random sample, but all experience consists of just that.

Without individual experience there can be no general insight.

The author has done well to take a well-known case from the history of literature as an introduction to the real piece de resistance of her book.

The case is that of Rider Haggard, who was afflicted with a similar problem. (One might also mention Pierre Benoit and Gerard de Nerval. )

Rider Haggard is without doubt the classic exponent of the anima motif, though it had already appeared among the humanists of Renaissance, for instance, as the nymph Polia in the Hypnerotomachia of Francesco Colonna, or as a psychological concept in the writings of Richard White of Basingstoke, or as a poetic figure among the “fedeli d’amore.”

The motif of the anima is developed in its purest and most naive form in Rider Haggard.

True to his name, he remained her faithful knight throughout his literary life and never wearied of his conversation with her.

He was a spiritual kinsman of Rene d’Anjou, a latter-day troubadour or knight of the Grail, who had somehow blundered into the Victorian Age and was himself one of its most typical representatives.

What else could he do but spin his strange tale of past centuries, harking back to the figures of Simon Magus and Helena, Zosimos and Theosebeia, in the somewhat sorry form of a popular “yarn?”

Psychology, unfortunately, cannot take aesthetic requirements into account.

The greatness and importance of a motif like that of the anima bear no relation to the form in which it is presented.

If Rider Haggard uses the modest form of a yarn, this does not detract from the psychological value of its content.

Those who seek entertainment or the higher art can easily find something better.

But anyone who wants to gain insight into his own anima will find food for thought in She, precisely because of the simplicity and naivete of presentation, which is entirely devoid of any “psychological” intent.

Rider Haggard’s literary work forms an excellent introduction to the real purpose of this book, since it provides a wealth of material illustrating the symbolism of the anima and its problems.

Admittedly, She is only a flash in the pan, a beginning without continuation, for at no point does the book come down to earth.

Everything remains stuck in the realm of fantasy, a symbolic anticipation.

Rider Haggard was unaware of his spiritual predecessors, so did not know that he had been set a task at which the philosophical alchemists had laboured, and which the last of the Magna Opera, Goethe’s Faust, could bring to fruition not in life but only after death, in the Beyond, and then only wistfully.

He followed in the footsteps of the singers and poets who enchanted the age of chivalry.

The romantic excursions of his German contemporary, Richard Wagner, did not pass off so harmlessly.

A dangerous genius, Friedrich Nietzsche, had a finger in the pie and Zarathustra raised his voice, with no wise woman at his side as partner to the dialogue.

This mighty voice emanated from a migraine-ridden bachelor, “six thousand feet beyond good and evil,” who met his “Dudu and Suleika”  only in the tempests of madness and penned those confessions which so scandalized his sister that traces of them can be found only in his clinical history.

This sounds neither good nor beautiful, but it is part of the business of growing up to listen to the fearful discords which real life grinds out and to include them among the images of reality.

Truth and reality are assuredly no music of the spheres—they are the beauty and terror of Nature herself.

The richest yield of all is naturally to be found in the primary material itself, that is to say in the dreams, which are not thought up or “spun” like a yarn.

They are involuntary products of nature, spontaneously expressing the psychic processes without the interference of the conscious will.

But this richness reveals itself, one might say, only to him who understands the language of animals and plants.

Although this is a tall order, it is not putting too great a burden on the learning capacity of an intelligent person who has a moderate amount of intuition and a healthy aversion for doctrinal opinions.

Following its instinct for truth, intuition goes along with the stream of images, feels its way into them until they begin to speak and yield up their meaning.

It rediscovers forgotten or choked-up paths where many have wandered in distant times and places—perhaps even one’s partner in the dialogue.

Picking up the trail, he will pursue a parallel path and in this way learn the natural structure of the psyche.

The author has successfully evoked in the dreamer the intuitive attitude he needs in order to follow the unconscious process of development.

The “interpretation” does not adhere to any particular theory, but simply takes up the symbolic hints given by the dreams.

Even though use is made of psychological concepts such as the anima, this is not a theoretical assumption, because “anima” is  erely a name for a special group of typical psychic happenings that anyone can observe.

In an extensive dialogue like this, interpretations can only be passing phases and tentative formulations, but they do have to prove themselves correct when taken as a whole.

Only at the end of the journey will it be discovered whether they have done so, and whether one was on the right path or not.

The dialectical process is always a creative adventure, and at every moment one has to stake one’s very best.

Only then, and with God’s help, can the great work of transformation come to pass.  ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 543-547