Requiem for analytical psychology: a reflection on Jung’s (anti)catastrophic psychology by Marco Heleno Barreto, Brazil
Abstract: This article is an interpretation of analytical psychology in the light of the catastrophic vision and dreams that Jung had in 1913 and 1914.
It is shown how the guiding spirit of Jung’s psychological project is to be found in that psychic material.
Then it is proposed that the completion of the symbolic catastrophe displayed in Jung’s last vision (1961) points to the end of the psychological foundations upon which analytical psychology is built, and thus to its cultural obsolescence, extensive to any psychology grounded in Jung’s notion of ‘soul’.
In this paper I examine Jung’s catastrophic visions and dreams, adopting a very specific interpretative position anchored in the viewpoint of psychology as the discipline of interiority, which considers a psychic phenomenon as meaning itself, being its own interpretation, so that interpreting it is an ‘attempt to discover the interpretation as which the [psychic phenomenon] is’ (Giegerich 2008, p. 180).
This statement is identical with Jung’s position concerning the dream being its own interpretation (see Jung 1938/1940, para. 41; see also Jung 1976, p. 294).
What Jung says about the dream can be extended to all psychological phenomena, which are then taken purely as expressions or statements of ‘the soul’s speaking to itself about itself’ (Giegerich 2008, p. 176), thus not pointing to anything else but themselves.
This does not mean that soul has absolutely no relation to reality.
The point here is methodological: ‘Soul-making cannot focus on the individual and it cannot focus on the world.
It has to focus on the soul itself, that is, on the logic that is neither, but is the innermost life of both’ (ibid., p. 249).
It should be emphasized that this methodology is grounded in Jung himself.
Its basis is the interpretative principle of any psychological phenomena, established by Jung in these terms: ‘Above all, don’t let anything from outside, that does not belong, get into it, for the fantasy-image has ‘“everything it needs”’ (Jung 1955–1956, para. 749).
In using the word ‘soul’, I follow first of all Jung who abundantly uses Seele in his writings.
I am not using ‘soul’ with a spiritual or metaphysical meaning.1
In the context of my paper, ‘soul’ is used as a synonym for ‘objective psyche’.
It should not be understood as meaning an existing entity or substance.
‘Soul’ here means interiority, the inner psychological dimension of a given phenomenon, and not a subsisting ‘part’ that human being has.
‘Soul’ may thus be defined as the contra naturam essence of human being’s entire world-relation, the form of his actually lived life as it is seen from the perspective of psychological
From this perspective, interiorization or ‘soul-making’ is the act of considering a given psychic phenomenon exclusively in its own terms, without letting ‘anything that does not belong to it’ come in, thus reaching its psychological objective meaning, its inner symbolic depth, its ‘soul’.
As meaning changes with time, place and culture, with structural shifts in humankind’s conscious situation
(see Jung 1946, paras. 395-96), ‘soul’ is not a static eternal structuring form of human life, but a living historical dynamism.
In this intrinsically historical sense one can speak of ‘soul activity’, both on the individual level and on the
Thus, ‘soul activity’ refers to the effectively real (wirklich)
psychological dynamism which produces images, symbols, ideas, thoughts, values, be it individual (such as in a dream or a vision) or cultural (as in a work of art, or in a religious doctrine, for example).
A word about the relation of these two levels—the individual and the cultural—is necessary.
The distinction between both levels refers to their different scopes: while a personal dream, for instance, has ordinarily only subjective significance for the individual dreamer, a true work of art, as well as any cultural product, reflects something of the objective state of the collective ethos, and thus has a
broader and objective significance.
If we use the alchemical locution ‘opus parvum’ to designate the smaller personal-subjective level, we may use its
counterpart ‘opus magnum’ to designate the broader sphere of culture and historical processes at large (both are distinct levels of ‘soul activity’).
Despite this core distinction, sometimes there can be a conjunction of both levels, so that exceptionally a psychic event happening at the level of opus parvum, being individual and subjective, may have also a broader significance, thus displaying something of the psychological dynamism going on at the level of opus magnum.
Only an approach focused on the ‘soul’ of the work in its opus magnum significance (and not on the personal intricacies of its human artifex) can reach its objective psychological interiority.
Now, in examining here some of Jung’s visions and dreams, I submit that, due to their extraordinary nature, they have
the broader significance above-mentioned.
Jung himself envisaged them in this way (see Jung 2009, pp. 230–31).
This means that I am not interested in their personal subjective dimension.
The personal possibility of a psychotic breakdown, raised by Jung himself at the time of the first visions and dreams (1913), is of no concern to me here.
However, I do not follow either the second possibility raised by Jung, which came to be the ‘standard’ accepted interpretation for his visions and dreams: their synchronistic, acausal correspondence with World War I.
I am not dealing with the notion of synchronicity and its metaphysical aspects.
Jung’s interpretation of his visions and dreams at the time they happened implicitly anticipates the notion of synchronicity, inasmuch as he took them as being prophetic.
I work here from a different interpretative possibility, opened up by the restricted methodological psychological stance presented above.
This choice may be referred to Jung himself: the unconscious ‘simply creates an image that answers to the conscious
situation’, and such ‘an image would be better described as an artist’s vision’ (Jung 1928, para. 289).
When a work of art has an anticipatory quality, it does not have
to be taken as being literally ‘prophetic’, but more simply as ‘self-representations of unconscious developments’ (ibid., para. 216), just like some dreams, with the difference that the developments expressed in a work of art (and, as I claim, in
Jung’s catastrophic psychic material) belong to the wider horizon of culture, whereas ordinary dreams stay at the level of opus parvum.
In focusing my reflection at the level of the soul’s historical opus magnum, I attribute a trans-human quality to the psychological dynamism displayed in Jung’s visions and dreams.
This should not be understood as some mysterious or religious dimension of the psychic material.
It simply means that the immanent telos (goal or aim) of soul activity is its own self-actualization, regardless of the human subject’s interests or concerns.
As a ‘dark urge’ or ‘unclear impulse’, a ‘longing and telos’, soul activity has a fundamental process character, which aims at the
completion of its ‘full reality in the empirical world and real life’ (Giegerich 2012a,)
In this very particular sense, a psychologically creative
individual is able to follow soul’s telos regardless of his/her own interests, just for the sake of the ‘logos of the soul’.
Jung certainly had that capability.
As is well known, Jung stated that all his work came from the fantasies and dreams he had during his ‘confrontation with
the unconscious’, the prima materia which compelled him to work upon it, and which he compares to a ‘stream of lava’.
He saw his analytical psychology as ‘a more or less successful endeavour to incorporate this incandescent matter into
the contemporary picture of the world’ (Jung 1963, p. 199).
We could say, drawing on Jung’s thought about the dream being its own interpretation, that this ‘incandescent matter’ is already a self-interpretation of ‘the contemporary picture
of the world’, it is this picture (obviously only to a certain extent), although, as Jung said, ‘at first only in the form of emotions and images’ (ibid., p. 192).
Within Jung’s ‘stream of lava’, there are some particular images, gushing forth at an early moment of his creative founding experience, which call our attention due to their extremely dark content: the impressive twice repeated catastrophic vision he had at the end of 1913, as well as the thrice repeated dream of a similar nature he had in the first half of 1914.
This apocalyptic initial material is akin to the tragic dimension of the twentieth century, so that Jung’s catastrophic vision
and dreams could be understood as fateful psychological events, arguably having some kinship (regarding their common inner logic) to fateful contemporary historical events.
Thus all of them—the psychological as well as the historical
events—manifest some relation to the soul’s opus magnum.
The catastrophic content reappears at the very end of Jung’s life (and work), in 1961, in the context of a truly decisive experience—his imminent death—and again in the form of a vision.
We have only an extremely brief allusion to this last
vision, made by Marie-Louise von Franz, and this determines the narrow limit within which we can explore it.
However, its catastrophic content is beyond any doubt, and one can see that it is significantly different from the psychic aterial
My working hypothesis is that this last vision could be considered as the psychological closure of that same soul experience on which analytical psychology is grounded, and at the same time the opening—or anticipation—of a radically new situation, to which it is not fitted any more.
Therefore one could envision Jung’s work as framed and deeply determined by a psychological catastrophe, from its beginning to its end.
And I shall argue that this catastrophe is not only Jung’s, but, on the contrary, refers to the psychological configuration of
the modern form of consciousness, a configuration which has been fully realized or has completely exteriorized itself in history during the twentieth century.
This is what I intend to show in what follows.
The visions and dreams of 1913–1914
Itmay be interesting to note that ‘catastrophe’ comes fromthe Greek katastrophé, which means ‘a sudden end, an verturning’ (katastrophé is composed of kata, ‘down’, and strophein, ‘turn’, so that literally taken a catastrophe is a ‘turning down’).
The word had its origins in Ancient Greek tragedy: it designated the moment in which events turned against the main character, in amovement executed by the whole chorus in the theatre.
It was a fateful turning point.
Catastrophe thus, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is ‘amomentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin’ (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, http://www.merriam- Webster.com/dictionary/catastrophe, accessed 26 June 2013).
Jung’s experience in 1913-1914, having at its centre the apocalyptic vision, fulfils the original meaning of katastrophé, not only in the personal sphere, but also in the psychological structure of the soul event falling upon him, which expresses itself in his feeling of falling down—we must only remember the moment, in the Advent of 1913 (December 12), when Jung finally gives up and lets himself drop, and says:
‘Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down in dark depths’ (Jung 1963, p. 179).
This is surely the psychic experience of katastrophé, ‘turning down’.
Jung describes the whole catastrophe in very dramatic terms.
I will follow here step by step the sequence of the narrative presented in Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
Toward the autumn of 1913 the pressure which I had felt was in me seemed to be moving outward, as though there were something in the air. The atmosphere actually seemed to me darker than it had been. It was as though the sense of oppression no longer sprang exclusively from a psychic situation, but from concrete reality. This feeling grew more
and more intense. (Jung 1963, p. 175)
Jung feels a movement from an exclusively inward location (‘in me’) to an outward emplacement (‘as though there were something in the air’).
He interprets this movement as a convergence of a merely subjective ‘psychic situation’ and positive-factual objective ‘concrete reality’.
Nonetheless, one can also concentrate exclusively on the contents of the whole situation and think it through, taking its two sides (‘psychic situation’ and ‘concrete reality’) psychologically, and leave aside the blinding fascination of the possible positive-factual synchronistic coincidence.
In this way, from the outset ‘concrete reality’ is taken as indicating the activity of the objective psyche, a self-presentation of soul’s dynamism, and can thus be interiorized.
Let us remember the methodological rule: neither the ndividual ‘in here’, nor the world ‘out there’, but the soul itself.
This is the specific condition for reaching (or producing) the psychological dimension, understood as the in-depth
interiority of a given phenomenon.
From this perspective, the psychic atmosphere indicates an extra-ordinary or non-ordinary circumstance. There is a transition going on. Jung is crossing a threshold: from ordinary subjective perspective (‘the pressure which I had felt was in me’) to an uncanny perspective (a darker atmosphere,
‘concrete reality’, ‘as though the sense of oppression no longer sprang exclusively from a psychic situation’).
This transition of perspective is also signalled in that fateful
moment of his crisis when he feels he is ‘plunging down into dark depths’.
The vision and the three dreams that subsequently follow confirm this transition to an objective, impersonal level.
In October , while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress.
I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood. This vision lasted about one hour. I was perplexed and nauseated, and ashamed of my weakness. (Jung 1963, p. 175)
A brutal upheaval destroys the north European region: civilization is reduced to rubble, a portion of mankind is wiped out.
On the semantic level, the catastrophe is imaged as a monstrous flood—which means that it is not the result of human activity, or rather that it does not spring from the human realm.
Just like the Biblical deluge, it comes from some trans-human source (see p. 62 above) which is oriented to and affects mainly the human realm.
Following this analogy, Switzerland protected by the mountains may be functionally compared, to a certain extent, to Noah’s ark: something is preserved from the catastrophic destruction.
There is a remainder of the old order: Switzerland is safely protected (through the rising mountains) from the ‘frightful catastrophe [that] was in progress’ (by the way, what an interesting and suggestive double sense here!).
Iwill return to this detail.
For now, it should be noted that both the destructive flood
and the protective barrier against it belong equally to the soul activity going on and pictorially represented in the vision.
Two weeks passed; then the vision recurred, under the same conditions, even more vividly than before, and the blood was more emphasized. An inner voice spoke. ‘Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it’. (Jung 1963, p. 175)
The water turns into blood.
This is not to be taken as a causal-natural result of the ‘drowned bodies of uncounted thousands’: firstly, because drowning does not imply bleeding; secondly, because even if it did, the blood of uncounted thousands would not suffice to turn the whole sea into blood. No.
The vision presents a strange transformation from water to blood, somewhat similar to the transubstantiation of wine into blood in the Eucharist.
There is an uncanny transformation taking place, a non-natural event—a soul event.
And the reality of themysterious transformation as well as of the whole soul process is emphasized, not necessarily as a (possible) synchronistic premonition of the brutal positive-factualwar that soon was going to follow externally (this is alien to the image, it comes from outside as an a posteriori conjectural interpretation): sticking firmly to the image,
and to the methodological stance of a discipline of interiority, it is the vision itself that is wholly real and will be so.
Soul activity reinforces by means of the inner voice its own reality, its objectivity—in the sense of ‘objective psyche’.
That winter someone asked me what I thought were the political prospects of the world in the near future. I replied that I had no thoughts on the matter, but that I saw rivers of blood.
I asked myself whether these visions pointed to a revolution, but could not imagine anything of the sort. And so I drew the conclusion that they had to do with me myself, and decided that Iwas menaced by a psychosis. The idea ofwar did not occur tome at all. (ibid., pp. 175-76)
Jung at first sees only two possible alternatives: either a personal subjective pathology (psychosis), or an external positive-factual event (revolution, war).
And I think one should not simply dismiss these possibilities.
It is plausible to think that there was a real risk of a psychotic breakdown.
Were the circumstances different, leading to a failure in the elaboration of his dramatic crisis, a psychosis could have ensued—Jung certainly was well acquainted with this possibility as a psychiatrist at the Burghölzli.
On the other hand, World War I was indeed a bloody human catastrophe, a real positive-factual revolution, signalling the
end of a phase of modern history and the beginning of the catastrophic twentieth century.
However, a rigorously psychological approach takes the
vision as vision, that is, as a psychic event on its own, regardless of its possible impact on the individual’s psychic equilibrium or its correspondence with an external event.
Only by following this approach can we try to reflect the soul
truth displayed in the vision.
The primordial act of soul activity, through and in which soul creates itself anew, or creates a new form of consciousness, is the negation of a previous form, from which it pushes off.
This ‘pushing off’ is represented as killing, destruction, catastrophe, death.
So the monstrous destructive flood could, in these terms, be seen as displaying the negating activity of soul, which is exerted
on ‘civilization’ and ‘humankind’.
Accepting that civilization and human form of existence are expressions of soul activity, it becomes clear that in Jung’s
vision soul is negating itself, it is destroying an accomplished level of itself.
However, the preservation of Switzerland from the negation/destruction shows that in Jung’s vision the negation is countered by a conservative movement of soul itself.
This means that the negation is not absolute, the transformation portrayed is not fully accomplished, since there is a remainder of the ‘old’ configuration, preserved from the transformative drive.
If we move now to the thrice repeated dream, we will find the same catastrophic motif (though with a different symbolization), displaying both the self-negation going on and the unfolding of the resistance that soul is opposing to itself, disclosing its goal.
Soon afterward, in the spring and early summer of 1914, I had a thrice-repeated dream that in the middle of summer an Arctic cold wave descended and froze the land to ice. I saw, for example, the whole of Lorraine and its canals frozen and the entire region totally deserted by human beings. All living green things were killed by frost. This dream came in April and May, and for the last time in June 1914. (Jung 1963, p. 176)
Envisaging the dreams as an expression of the same soul process portrayed in the catastrophic vision, we can say that the prime matter suffers a transformation: from the heat of a sea of blood to the frost of an Arctic cold. The change from
the blood-heat of recently destroyed life in the vision to the cold of frozen death in the dreams is indicative of a deepening of soul’s ‘deadly’ negating activity. Empirically, the more one moves away from natural life, the colder it gets.
Psychologically envisaged, the ‘icy-cold’ character of soul activity indicates the special active relation of soul and death.
We can even say that ‘soul’ is the interiorization of death into life, a movement that creates consciousness (and is consciousness itself) and opens up the specifically human form of existence.
The transformation of consciousness through the negation of a previous stage of itself is the psychological form of death.
But this death ‘could in no way have been that innocent death that merely happens to a living being as a natural life event to be passively endured.
No, it must be death in the active sense, as the unnatural, outrageous, deliberate act of killing’ (Giegerich 2008, p. 215).
In the vision, the unnatural quality of the death is indicated by the transmutation of the deadly sea into blood; in the dreams, by the uncanny detail that frost occurs in the middle of summer.
There is clearly something out of the natural order, extra-ordinary.
The frozen death of the dreams kills all living green things, the green life.
It reaches beyond the animal/human level (blood organisms), and affects the first stage of life: vegetation.
The landscape is totally inhospitable to human beings,
indicating the exclusion of the human point of view.
In the third dream frightful cold had again descended from out of the cosmos.
This dream, however, had an unexpected end.
There stood a leaf-bearing tree, but without fruit (my tree of life, I thought), whose leaves had been transformed by the effects of the frost into sweet grapes full of healing juices.
I plucked the grapes and gave them to a large, waiting crowd.
(Jung 1963, p. 176)
Now, here the catastrophe acquires a cosmic dimension, and this stresses its otherworldly, trans-human nature.
This expansion of the frame, so to speak, is signified by the appearance of the leaf-bearing tree: the deepening of the
frozen death makes the source of life appear.
And it is a strange tree, which endures frost, and thus does not belong to the same level of the previously destroyed ‘living green things’.
It is a supernatural tree, uncanny, the ‘tree of life’, which has a different relation to ‘death’: unlike the individual natural trees, which were simply destroyed, this ‘tree of life’ has a deep dialectical relation to ‘frozen death’.
If ‘soul’ is ‘death’ interiorized into ‘life’, so that ‘ensouled life’ is plainly consciousness (or psychological life), thenwe can understand the identity of ‘frost’ and ‘tree of life’ as an expression of the dynamism of consciousness.
That the tree of life is dialectically the frost itself becomes patent in its fruits.
For these grapes are no ordinary, natural fruits: frost turned the green leaves into sweet grapes, which is impossible on the naturalistic dimension.
They resulted from a different kind of transformation.
And therefore the grapes also are strange: not only are they frost itself in the form of transformed leaves, but they are full of ‘healing juices’—which means that frost is healing. Just as in the Bible Yahweh formed mankind (homo) from the dust of the ground (humus) by breathing the breath of spiritual life (the divine pneuma, divine life) into the nostrils of Adam (adâm comes from adamá, the soil), thus transmitting Himself to the new human form, frost in the dream transmits itself as healing juices in the new form of grapes.
Whilst it is life-destroying on the naturalistic level, the dream’s frost (soul’s icy-coldness) is life-giving on the spiritual level.
This means that the grapes are not fit to nurture or give sensorial pleasure in the biological, bodily sense: they are meant to heal the spirit.
They have a psychological (‘spiritual’) meaning.
Their healing juices makes them analogous to the Eucharistic bread and wine (taken in their symbolical/psychological
The grapes are definitely not ordinary grapes, but a healing
As such, they come from a transformation involving sacrificial
death: just like Christ’s body and blood.
Consequently, we are faced here with a kind of communion: the self-transformation of soul is extended, through the giving of the grapes, to ‘a large, waiting crowd’.
Jung only plucks and gives the grapes: he is not their source, which is the frost.
So, in the dream Jung acts in a way similar to the priest in the Catholic Mass: he is only an instrument to the transformation/transubstantiation, whose real cause is soul activity.
We can further explore this analogy: in the Mass—and in the dream—the ‘terrors of death are an indispensable condition
for the transformation’, which is ‘in the first place a bringing to life of substances which are in themselves lifeless, and, in the second, a substantial alteration of them, a spiritualization, in accordance with the ancient conception of pneuma as a subtle material entity’ (Jung 1942/1954, para. 338).
And ‘man, too, by his devotion and self-sacrifice as a ministering instrument, is included in the mysterious process’ (ibid., para. 338).
The destructive-creative activity of soul, imaged as frost, gives birth to (or presents itself as) a new level of spiritual life (as healing juice to humankind) through killing the naturalistic level of conscious perception (the natural green life).
This, I claim, would be the resumed soul truth imagistically presented in the dream—and the core of the entire soul catastrophe also (partly) represented in the vision.
But we should also stress here the difference between Jung’s soul event and the Christian Mass.
There’s no mention of ‘God’, no explicit religious feeling
associated with the vision and the dreams.
The uncanny aspect of the ‘catastrophe in progress’ does not have a religious content.
It only points to the (by definition) unnatural form of soul activity.
And finally, the difference can be made explicit by our focusing on one element of the dream image: Jung himself.
It is not a priest who is causa ministerialis in the dream, but a man whose life was (and would continue to be from then on) deeply identified with psychology, the very same man who ‘had a real Notion or Concept of “soul”’ (Giegerich2001, p. 41).
This notion seized Jung, imposed itself on him—remember the inner voice in the vision: ‘Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it’.
So, the human sacrifice in the vision and the turning down—
catastrophé—in the vision and dreams represents soul transmitting itself in the new form of psychology, and not of religion.
Accordingly, Jung’s understanding of his work as ‘a more or less successful endeavour to incorporate this incandescent
[and, dialectically, frozen] matter into the contemporary picture of the world’ is perfectly grounded in the third dream: he would indeed pluck the soul’s grapes and offer them to a vast crowd.
His life’s work would really be an event rooted in that transformation and in the real objective notion of soul.
As such, his was truly a catastrophic psychology.
On the other hand, as pointed out above, the ‘catastrophe in progress’ was not absolute.
Soul preserves ‘Switzerland’ from its destructive-negating activity in the vision.
Something of its initial status is conserved, a self-conservation
If now we merge ‘Switzerland’ with ‘Jung plucking and giving the grapes’, the result is that his psychology, being an expression of its grounding
soul event and wholly committed to it, as this event effectively happened to him, necessarily would present a conservative thrust.
Jung acknowledges his personal conservatism, but the conservatism we can easily find in the very theoretical structure of his thought should not be attributed merely to his personal inclinations, but to his psychology’s founding soul event itself.
Jung explicitly defends his kind of ‘reforming conservatism’ in the broader frame of cultural-historical life (see Jung 1963, pp. 235–37).
In being absolutely true to his catastrophic founding vision and dreams of 1913-1914, Jung has consciously proposed in his psychology a ‘reform by retrogression’.
A certain conception of humankind and civilization (in continuity with the classical and Christian traditions) was preserved and spared from negation in that founding soul event.
‘Man’ is the highest value in this conception.
Furthermore, Jung’s ‘psychology with soul’ is, in a deep sense, anthropo-logically biased (see Barreto 2010)—being thus structurally modern.
In this sense, Jung’s catastrophic psychology is simultaneously anti-catastrophic: being fundamentally soul based, it expresses the (then still) historically unresolved particular opposition
of soul to itself. ‘Switzerland’, as a momentary and contemporary ‘Noah’s ark’, was not yet dissolved by the power of the negative.
I think this accounts for the ambiguity we can detect in Jung’s conservative project (and also in a vast portion of his followers, of those who waited for the ‘healing grapes’): as the radical transformation going on was not absolute, the destruction of the old forms also could not be complete. And so ‘psychology’
in Jung could not be radically distinct from ‘anthropology’ and from ‘religion’ (inasmuch as the notions of ‘Man’ and ‘God’, structuring the old level of consciousness, presumably were preserved from the destruction/sublation in the spared region of ‘Switzerland’).
At the end of July 1914 I was invited by the British Medical Association to deliver a lecture, ‘On the Importance of the Unconscious in Psychopathology’, at a congress in Aberdeen.
I was prepared for something to happen, for such visions and dreams are fateful. In my state ofmind just then, with the fears that were pursuingme, it seemed fateful to me that I should have to talk on the importance of the unconscious at such a time! On August 1 the world war broke out. Now my task was clear: I had to try to understand what had happened and to what extent my own experience coincidedwith that ofmankind
in general. Thereforemy first obligationwas to probe the depths ofmy own psyche. I made a beginning by writing down the fantasieswhich had come tome duringmy building game. This work took precedence over everything else. (Jung 1963, p. 176)
Until the irruption of the world war, Jung was living the catastrophe on a subjective level (the one in which he thought there was a risk of psychosis).
But then the second possibility considered by Jung (war, revolution) became concrete.
Although he does not consider the third alternative explicitly, we can say that it was immersed, buried, implicit in the way he tried to understand the inner and outer events.
And the risk of a personalistic reduction of the whole experience (‘my tree of life, I thought’) is countered by his considering that his experience coincided ‘with that of mankind in general’.
Jung understood there to be an objective level of the process he was living, and saw that the problem was one of the times—
in the same way as he realized that his personal identification with the Faustian issue was a misunderstanding, because ‘Goethe’s strange heroic myth was a collective experience’ (Jung 1963, p. 234).
This psychological constellation was effective in 1913-1914.
But the ‘psychic atmosphere’ would change, and the catastrophe was to have a further development.
The last vision, 1961 The experience of world war in the XXth century exerted a traumatic and deep impact on European consciousness and affected Jung as well.
After the Second World War, he wrote to Esther Harding: ‘Switzerland has become an island of dreams amidst ruins and putrefaction. Europe is a rotting carcass’ (8 July 1947, quoted in Shamdasani 2003, p. 349).
Jung’s engagement with the healing of civilization prevailed in the last decades of his life.
True to analytical psychology’s founding visions and dreams, he tried to find a way to preserve the continuity of culture.
He believed that the cure for the split in modern
consciousness was buried in the Christian roots of Western civilization, and so he dedicated all his efforts to ‘the psychological reinvigoration of Christianity’ (Shamdasani 2003, p. 350).
However, to Jung the conscious confrontation of ‘the actual existing man’ with ‘his own demons’ seemed ‘to be a losing fight’, at least for the time being (ibid., p. 349).
To such confrontation analytical psychology was devised.
No wonder, then, that Jung’s pessimism concerning the fate of the world would be extended to his own work.
At the end of his life he experienced a strong feeling of failure (ibid., p. 351).
If we leave aside the personal inflated identification of Jung with his projected cultural task for psychology, an inflation envisaged by Michael Fordham as a ‘delusion of being a world saviour’ (ibid., p. 351), the failure felt by Jung is of depth
psychology itself as a source of collective compensation for ‘what was lacking in theWest’ (ibid., p. 351).
Jung believed that psychology should provide themedicine
for the dilacerations in modern consciousness (see the ‘healing grapes’ of the 1914 dream).
Arguably the most crystal clear testimonies of his concern with the catastrophic possibilities present in the unfolding of contemporary history are his later essays, ‘The undiscovered self (present and future)’ (Jung 1957) and ‘Flying
saucers: a modern myth (Jung 1958).
In them one can find his speculations about the ways of protecting and healing modern humankind from the disintegrating forces that would fatefully change its cultural form.
The failure of psychology in this inflated (and thus unrealistic) projected task of rescuing a lost balance in the wider scale of the world is a historical fact.
This cultural project became obsolete in face of the structural and radical changes in the world.
Depth psychology was devised for a specific modern form of being-in-theworld, which was superseded by another form, not any more interested in ‘depth’, ‘interiority’ or ‘soul’ (in Jung’s sense).
This new situation was painfully experienced by Jung, and it can be read in the impressive final visions which he had in 1961.
According to the testimony of Marie-Louise von Franz, recorded in the documentary Matter of Heart, when she saw Jung last he had a vision (while she was with him), and said: ‘I see enormous stretches devastated,
enormous stretches of the earth, but thank God it’s not the whole planet’.
Here the catastrophe is not portrayed any more as restricted to a particular region of the Earth: it has become planetary, globalized, so to speak.
But, just as in the vision of 1913 Switzerland was protected by the mountains from the monstrous flood, here too some portion of the planet is still preserved.
Thus, the moment of the soul process displayed in this penultimate vision has still some inner reservation, it is still not absolute negation.
This could a reflection on Jung‘s (anti)catastrophic psychology
further an optimistic hope to an ego-psychologically oriented consciousness, a hope related to its self-preservation.
However, immediately before his death Jung had another catastrophic vision whose content was ‘the last fifty years of humanity’ (see Matter of Heart).
Notes were taken by one of his daughters, with some remarks about the final catastrophe being ahead.
There is no mention of a remainder preserved from the destruction.
The final catastrophe ahead seems to be absolute.
Therefore, this last vision is more radical: it depicts humanity as on the eve of its total extinction.
And this means that the soul truth symbolically articulated in the vision (and, according to my working hypothesis, in Jung’s psychology as such) will finally be absolutely realized.
More than just a psychic event announcing the literal death of the individual Carl Gustav Jung, the vision anticipates the coming logical death of his psychology, within ‘fifty years’.
The soul experience of which it is the ‘more or less successful’
expression comes to its logical conclusion.
In Jung’s final vision, soul in advance sings the requiem for analytical psychology, which is its own (soul’s) requiem—for, if ‘soul’ is necessarily humankind’s opus, without humankind there is no soul.
To put it another way, psychologically speaking the full realization of soul is equivalent to the full realization of humankind as the necessary agent of soul-making, and this is
tantamount to the logical death or obsolescence of both ‘soul’ and ‘humankind’.
The psychological difference, the true foundation of psychology as the discipline of interiority, is negated—this is the form of soul’s absolute final self-negation.
To avoid any misunderstanding, I must now make a clear and strong remark:
when I use the concept of ‘humankind’ in the interpretation of Jung’s catastrophic psychic material, I have in mind only a very restricted, particular sense of this notion, namely one embodied in the modern logical form of consciousness.
It is to this particular sense of ‘humankind’ that Jung’s psychology is addressed.
It is this notion that it partly expresses.
So, if the ‘last fifty years of humanity’ in Jung’s final vision on his death-bed imagistically displays the extinction of human presence in the world, its radical de-humanization, then from the perspective of psychology as a discipline of interiority this should only be interpreted as the overcoming of a specific notion of humanity, the one for which analytical psychology was devised.
On the other hand, this particular notion has universalized itself empirically (see the movement of ‘globalization’) and logically (it is more complex than any other previous forms of consciousness, and dialectically sublates them), so that its
absolute fulfilment affects the whole of humankind both empirically and logically.
Von Franz interprets the vision in a prophetic-apocalyptic perspective, as referring to the literal destruction of humankind.
In so doing she could invoke the precedent of Jung himself, who interpreted the vision of destruction he had in 1913 as an announcement of the coming world war.
And, as a matter of fact, this hypothesis is not negligible: the possibility of a drastic collapse of humanity cannot be dismissed any more as being simply a paranoid delusion.
But to the methodological and self-definitional stance of psychology as a discipline of interiority, this hypothesis is neither here nor there, for the sole interest of this specific psychological stance is precisely in the inner psychological articulation of the image, its logical life.
Nevertheless, one can indicate an empirical correspondent to the soul truth expressed in Jung’s final vision.
Here I will focus on a tellingmoment of von Franz’s interview:
[Young people seem today to be] giving up and running away into a fantasy world. When you study science fiction, you see there is always the fantasy of escaping to some other planet and beginning anew again, which means give up the battle on this earth.Consider it hopeless and give up. I think one shouldn’t give up. (von Franz, transcribed from the interview in Matter of Heart).
Isn’t this precisely what happens in media-structured odernity, the new form of living in a virtual space? ‘This earth’, or the quality of realness or givenness of ‘this earth’, is replaced by the technologically fabricated conditions of existence. ‘Fantasy’ has prevailed. The active giving up of ‘this earth’ has posited a new form of world. And the new forms of subjectivity emerging from the radically different techno-environment that moulds our contemporary world do not correspond to the analytical (or psychoanalytical) understanding of human being. More than that: we could say that the radical changes in humankind’s being-in-the-world in our post-industrial media-structured modernity renders any psychology understood as the opus of soul logically obsolete.
It is not only the end of analytical psychology that is anticipated in Jung’s vision.
Soul’s requiem is intended to any psychology with soul—there included psychology as the discipline of interiority.
To corroborate this last statement, let us reflect for a moment on a passage from Wolfgang Giegerich.
In his The Soul’s Logical Life, Giegerich draws on
the Nordic myth of Thor to establish a distinction between two levels of reality—the ordinary, positive-factual one, represented by the Utgard Serpent, and the uncanny, soulful one, represented by the Midgard Serpent.
From this distinction follows the possibility of envisaging certain phenomena through a specifically psychological perspective, grasping their inner depth, their soul aspect or internal infinity, so that, just as the alchemist’s stone is not a stone, in the myth
Thor is confronted by a cat that is not a cat, inasmuch as its soul dimension (‘Midgard Serpent’) makes it be more than a cat.
Then Giegerich confronts these structural conditions for a psychological approach with the prevalent configuration
of today’s world:
In the World Wide Web the notion of an internal infinity does not make sense any more.
The ‘more’ of the cat we have been speaking about can in its context only mean jumping by way of hyperlinks to other cats or other topics.
To apperceive the cat in such a way that in reality, even if unwittingly, one is dealing with the Midgard Serpent
becomes absolutely impossible under these circumstances.
But if this is what the psychologist has to be doing, one comes to the realization that the psychologist is inevitably in this day and age a dinosaur, as much as the Midgard Serpent that he is
so interested in, had in all likelihood been. (Giegerich 2001, pp. 58–59)
This is tantamount to a confession that the ‘rigorous notion of psychology’ aimed at by Giegerich was already obsolete right from the beginning.
Its truth is counterfactual, if we take theWorldWide Web as paradigmatic of the newtruth of the Age of Technique.
The very notion of soul here adopted (correlative of ‘internal
infinity’) does not make sense anymore ‘in this day and age’. Psychology as a discipline of interiority, or psychology with soul, does not embody the truth of the age.
It is only a private occupation that one can choose according to one’s inclinations.
And if ‘soul’ as the essence of the human mode of being-in-the-world becomes obsolete, this only means that, as Günther Anders has seen long ago (see Anders 1956), humankind has itself become antiquated.
This, in the last analysis, is what Jung’s final vision presents: the human age is over.
We live in the beginnings of the post-human era.
To conclude, I will briefly summarize the basis of my argument here.
The nihilistic principle at the root of the modern logical form of consciousness finally achieves its full external concrete and historical realization in contemporary nihilism, which is the deep objective truth of western contemporary society in
the Age of Technique.
The destruction of humankind in Jung’s last vision means
very simply that soul negates the last sacred and highest western value—the idea of human dignity, of ‘man as such’ as the ultimate goal of civilization.
This value was preserved from destruction (negation) in the vision of 1913, through the rising mountains that protected Switzerland.
Logically, the idea of human dignity (transported to the declaration of human rights) requires the intactness of the person, which includes ‘the necessity to protect the intact physical existence (i.e., life) of each empirical person’ (Giegerich 2008, p. 424).
The imaginal way of representing this final and absolute negation is, thus, the absolute destruction of humankind, without remainders.
This is what arguably is implied in ‘the last fifty years of mankind’.
The modern form of consciousness is defined and structured by the so-called anthropological turn, which means that ‘Man’ (Anthropos) is its radical and ruling idea.
In fact, modern consciousness is created by a logical revolution:
to the notion of ‘Man’ is attributed the logical function of the Absolute, and thus the notion of ‘God’ (or ‘Being’) is substituted or rendered logically obsolete.
Therefore, the total destruction of mankind in Jung’s last vision may be seen as equivalent to the absolute realization of the modern form of consciousness and also of its end.
What is already present in its logical constitution from the very beginning is what will be negated by soul, as its last and absolute act of self-negation possible and thinkable within this form of consciousness.
‘Man’ was the initial and the final absolute remaining to be negated in modern history.
This modernity completely realized on the logical level is what can be designated as the post-modern or, using a newly widespread expression, post-human logical status of consciousness.
This form can be grasped through the perception that our world is not really, truly organized having as its goal
concrete human benefits, but it is the other way around: concrete human beings serve the goals of the great systems of technology and economics, as replaceable parts in the process of those objective systems.
In face of the total logical sublatedness of the human position in this same world, we are again living within the logic of human sacrifice, with the difference that this time the sacrifice
is not performed only on an individual victim, and on a special occasion, but absolutely realized all the time and on all of us.
It is the perfect sacrifice.
This is the soul meaning of ‘the final catastrophe’ seen by Jung on his death-bed, which is quite different from the (possible) positive-factual destruction of the human species, of Homo sapiens.
Correlative of the full accomplishment of the modern logical form of consciousness, the catastrophe implies particularly the end of psychology with soul.
For this psychology soul sings its requiem through Jung’s final vision, as a way of saying of its own opus: Consummatum est. ~Marco Heleno Barreto, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2014, 59, 60–77
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