Wednesday, July 13, 2011

C.G. Jung: the best book ever

Profoundly intelligent, highly educated, creative genius. This is Carl Jung.
When you have a creative life, even making that statement seems pretentious, the common wisdom is that you scamper around like a happy woodland creature with your head in the clouds (or up your arse) and every day is a childlike discovery. To declare yourself to be an artist, in the general sense of that term, is to invite derision. The common wisdom is that you are deluding yourself and that one day, you will grow up and see that all this has been nonsense. Americans in particular are generally mystified by two words: spirituality and artistry. If we cannot hang a dollar sign on it, then we don't get it. Unless we reach the heights of commercial success with our art, then we are talentless and all has been for naught. This is the prevailing attitude or at least an attitude I've rubbed up against more times than I care to reccount on a therapist's couch.

To speak about the creative experience and the sometimes other-worldliness aspects of it is to declare yourself a lunatic or a fool in some people's eyes. Better then to silently acknowledge this aspect of life than to waste time with those for whom this does not resonate. Or those who deem us silly or as I have heard countless times, "You're crazy." Great conditions under which to try to survive, let alone thrive, yes?

The world clamors to smother creativity and sometimes we renounce our own creative powers. I suspect that there is something in the human psyche that fears the unpredictable. My guess? The ape brain wants to kill the God part of us because it fears light; the light which could makes us accountable for our actions. After all, it's easier living in the now concerned only with the temporal physical needs of the body than to suspect or believe there may be something far richer beneath the surface of consciousness.
When we are young, we simply act without reflection. I didn't wonder why sitting in a tree and just watching the leaves dance was so wondrous. Or why the forces of nature seemed to be speaking in a language that was almost intelligible. Or even why music could elicit a sudden bolt of electricity up my spine and make my head feel like a thousand pins were dancing in it. There was innocence, a purity and a lack of self-consciousness that were the marks of an openness to the world about me. I had a desire to express myself without knowing why or what it meant. I didn't even know music would ultimately be my medium.

What I do know is that these experiences of creativity and subsequent world view are not lost when speaking to fellow musicians, writers or graphic artists. From the greatest to the least, it's as if we are all tuned to the same creative stream, a stream which I imagine is always available, infinite but ultimately mysterious.

What doth this have to do with Jung?

When I read Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections, I was changed forever. That's how powerful this book was (is) to me. I certainly do not think that I come anywhere near this great man's artistry or intelligence. I am a pair of ragged claws...etc, but he speaks in such an eloquent way of the inner life. This is the life of the artist.
Here's an excerpt from the final chapter:

"As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know. Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible. The loneliness began with the experiences of my early dreams, and reached its climax at the time I was working on the unconscious. If a man knows more than others, he becomes lonely. But loneliness is not necessarily inimical to companionship, for no one is more sensitive to companionship than the lonely man, and companionship thrives only when each individual remembers his individuality and does not identify himself with others.


It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole. For me the world has from the beginning been infinite and ungraspable.

I have had much trouble getting along with my ideas. There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me, and if I was at times ruthless it was because I was in the grip of the daimon. I could never stop at anything once attained. I had to hasten on, to catch up with my vision. Since my contemporaries, understandably, could not perceive my vision, they saw only a fool rushing ahead.

I have offended many people, for as soon as I saw that they did not understand me, that was the end of the matter so far as I was concerned. I had to move on. I had no patience with people—aside from my patients. I had to obey an inner law which was imposed on me and left me no freedom of choice. Of course I did not always obey it. How can anyone live without inconsistency?

For some people I was continually present and close to them so long as they were related to my inner world; but then it might happen that I was no longer with them, because there was nothing left which would link me to them. I had to learn painfully that people continued to exist even when they had nothing more to say to me. Many excited in me a feeling of living humanity, but only when they appeared within the magic circle of psychology; next moment, when the spotlight cast its beam elsewhere, there was nothing to be seen. I was able to become intensely interested in many people; but as soon as I had seen through them, the magic was gone. In this way I made many enemies. A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon.

“Shamefully A power wrests away the heart from us,

For the Heavenly Ones each demand sacrifice;

But if it should be withheld

Never has that led to good,”

says Holderlin.

This lack of freedom has been a great sorrow to me. Often I felt as if I were on a battlefield, saying, “Now you have fallen, my good comrade, but I must go on.” For “shamefully a power wrests away the heart from us.” I am fond of you, indeed I love you, but I cannot stay. There is something heart-rending about that. And I myself am the victim; I cannot stay. But the daimon manages things so that one comes through, and blessed inconsistency sees to it that in flagrant contrast to my “disloyalty” I can keep faith in unsuspected measure.

Perhaps I might say: I need people to a higher degree than others, and at the same time much less. When the daimon is at work, one is always too close and too far. Only when it is silent can one achieve moderation.

The daimon of creativity has ruthlessly had its way with me. The ordinary undertakings I planned usually had the worst of it—though not always and not everywhere. By way of compensation, I think, I am conservative to the bone. I fill my pipe from my grandfather’s tobacco jar and still keep his alpenstock, topped with a chamois horn, which he brought back from Pontresina after having been one of the first guests at that newly opened Kurort.

I am satisfied with the course my life has taken. It has been bountiful, and has given me a great deal. How could I ever have expected so much? Nothing but unexpected things kept happening to me. Much might have been different if I myself had been different. But it was as it had to be; for all came about because I am as I am. Many things worked out as I planned them to, but that did not always prove of benefit to me. But almost everything developed naturally and by destiny. I regret many follies which sprang from my obstinacy; but without that trait I would not have reached my goal. And so I am disappointed and not disappointed. I am disappointed with people and disappointed with myself. I have learned amazing things from people, and have accomplished more than I expected of myself. I cannot form any final judgment because the phenomenon of life and the phenomenon of man are too vast. The older I have become, the less I have understood or had insight into or known about myself.

I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself. I am distressed, depressed, rapturous. I am all these things at once, and cannot add up the sum. I am incapable of determining ultimate worth or worthlessness; I have no judgment about myself and my life. There is nothing I am quite sure about. I have no definite convictions—not about anything, really. I know only that I was born and exist, and it seems to me that I have been carried along. I exist on the foundation of something I do not know. In spite of all uncertainties, I feel a solidity underlying all existence and a continuity in my mode of being.

The world into which we are born is brutal and cruel, and at the same time of divine beauty. Which element we think outweighs the other, whether meaninglessness or meaning, is a matter of temperament. If meaninglessness were absolutely preponderant, the meaningfulness of life would vanish to an increasing degree with each step in our development. But that is —or seems to me—not the case. Probably, as in all metaphysical questions, both are true: Life is — or has — meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle.

When Lao-tzu says: “All are clear, I alone am clouded,” he is expressing what I now feel in advanced old age. Lao-tzu is the example of a man with superior insight who has seen and experienced worth and worthlessness, and who at the end of his life desires to return into his own being, into the eternal unknowable meaning. The archetype of the old man who has seen enough is eternally true. At every level of intelligence this type appears, and its lineaments are always the same, whether it be an old peasant or a great philosopher like Lao-tzu. This is old age, and a limitation. Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, and the eternal in man. The more uncertain I have felt about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things. In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself."

1 comment:

lilasvb said...

i like this book too