Jung and the Unconscious
In 1875 Carl Gustave Jung was born into a polarised world. Before he finished his medical training, Europe was to be torn into two fatal axes of empire. Political blocs that had been inflated by wealth garnered from Africa, the East Indies, and southern America blew asunder and gave rise to the modern nation state. Literally in the middle of this turmoil, Switzerland was an isolated, historically rich, democratic, and self-sufficient place, which maintained balance through it all.
As the only survivor of four children, Jung had an isolated childhood. Though not at first an outstanding student, Jung’s brilliant mind stood in contrast to the simple country life of his youth. Undoubtedly impacted by their multiple losses, Jung’s parents had a difficult marriage. Jung remained closer to his father, a pastor in the Swiss reformed church, who saw him as weak for his lack of faith. Jung’s mother came from an affluent background; and while quite normal by day, had such a powerful spiritual reality by night that reported paranormal phenomenon were not a rare occurrence. These events created a distance between Jung and his mother; though he himself acknowledged a similar dissociation in his own character between a normal number one personality, and a powerful spiritual number two personality.
As a college student in Basel, Jung was immersed in the deep rich history of the Swiss Canton. Associated with Burckhardt and Nietzsche, Basel was a place that was at once both staunchly traditional and intellectually daring, and served to bring him out into the world. Here Jung studied as a medical student until, at the very end of his training, he came across a book on psychiatry by Richard von Krafft-Ebing that described psychoses as a subjective science. Lured by the possibility to marry his interest in religion and philosophy to science, he surprised his colleagues by deciding upon a career in psychiatry.
Psychiatry was then a very new and not highly regarded profession. Wundt had founded experimental psychology in Leipzig in 1869. Charcot, an eminent neurologist at the Pitié-Salpêtrière clinic in Paris, had used hypnosis and related hysterical attacks to past trauma. Two of Charcot’s students made further strides.
Emile Janet recognised the mechanism of hysterical symptoms, and described partial dissociation states in neurotics. The other was Freud who went on to found psychoanalysis. Jung was introduced to Freud by Eugen Bleuler in 1900. Jung started his professional career under Eugen Bleuler, the director of Burghölzi psychiatric clinic near Zurich, in that same year before establishing his own private practice in 1909 at Kuessnacht.
Jung married in 1903 to Emma Rauschenbach. But his meeting with Freud in 1907 was to define his career. Freud’s appointed heir apparent, Jung split with Freud and his school in 1912. Soon after this break, and until the end of World War I, Jung entered a profound withdrawal from the world. This was the seminal period of his career, and using active imagination (a fantasy-producing, controlled psychosis technique) he formulated all his key ideas.
He continued to work on these ideas for 16 years in his undisclosed Red Book, which was only released for publication in facsimile in the last few years. Jung is accused of covering his mystical inspiration in a veil of science, understandable in the academic protocols of his time. But after a near death experience in his sixties, he became more open in his writings, publishing his essay on the acausal method of Synchronicity, for example.
Jung’s experience led him to being an astute observer of Germany between the wars. He saw the rise of Nazism as identification with a godhead figure, a response to the crushing inferiority the Germans suffered due to economic sanctions after World War I. According to Deirdre Bair, Jung is thought to have been a spy (Agent #488 employed to analyse the psychology of leaders) for the British during WWII.
Jung is responsible for introducing a number of influential concepts in his psychological theory.
Extraversion & Introversion
People who are extraverted project feeling, or empathise with the outside world, where they find themselves comfortable and at ease among their peers: the object takes precedence over the subject. Extraverts look to past experience to smooth over difficulties in the present.
Introverts, on the other hand, introject the world, imposing their own view of the world on experience and living by the ‘regulating fictions’ that they fashion: the subject takes precedent over the object. For Jung, extraverts relate to the world by love, introverts by power. No one is ever completely either; these attitudes express a continuum of behaviour.
Freud was the first to recognise projection and introjection as the primary imaginary basis of experience, especially between mother-child and therapist-patient.
Admitting he had no absolute or necessary reason for this, Jung chose four key personality types, or functions.
The four types are presented as two pairs of opposites: a rational pair 'Thinking-Feeling' relating to reflection, and an irrational pair 'Sensation-Intuition' relating to perception. But in terms of lived experience, Thinking and Sensation can be grouped together (i.e. not an opposed pair) as particularly active conscious awareness, while Feeling and Intuition are more general unconscious processes.
Sensation produces lived reality, facts and objects presented in the ‘out there’ of the world given by our perceptions.
Thinking transforms these objects into psychic contents, and this enables us to judge, discriminate and organise our world at a distance from raw sensation.
Feeling, on the other hand, is in much more proximity to sensation and therefore offers more immediate valuation of objects. Feeling accepts or rejects objects below the threshold of conscious awareness. Intuition is a little trickier to define, but is a kind of unconscious perception of possibilities as opposed to facts, and is revealed from the unconscious rather than given from perception. Jung states that while “instinct is a purposive impulse to carry out some highly complicated action, intuition is the unconscious, purposive apprehension of a highly complex situation. In a sense, therefore, intuition is the reverse of instinct, neither more nor less wonderful than that.”
As both sensation and intuition are ‘absolute perception of the flux of events’ they can never be the object of science as they are always before the fact. Consciousness is an organ of orientation for Jung. The four functions are like subjective compass points enabling us to position ourselves within the more objective latitude and longitude of introversion and extraversion.
Personal & Collective Consciousness
The essential focus of Jung’s psychology is psychic balance. Where psychic energy is blocked a regression will occur. This creates a gradient of psychic energy that can be identified in therapy and used to better integrate the individual.
Just as there is a personal conscious and unconscious that Freud identified, for Jung there is a collective conscious and a personal unconscious. The ‘persona’ is the public mask the individual presents to society, and is necessary for public life and morality. However, the persona is balanced by the shadow, that is, all the collective instincts that are cast out so that society functions.
In the inferior function, collective values are mingled with societal values, the process of individuation involves identifying and separating personal from collective unconscious contents so that the subject lives as consciously as possible.
In primitive culture, the scapegoat is the negative first expression for individuation. Until the individual can become conscious of collective contents, growth is impossible. In the scapegoat, a collective represents its entire shadow in an individual. In the individuated person the individual works with the collective shadow in themselves.
The shadow therefore is the first expression of the archetypes, of collective patterns of behaviour laid down over millennia of psychic experience. Archetypes are never known in themselves, but are possibilities of psychic expression and behaviour. Humans experience archetypal ideas, particular instances of the archetypal rather an archetype itself. Archetypes are internal objects of the collective unconscious, just as cities or geological periods are objects of the collective consciousness.
Archetypes are realized out of the shadow which is 90% pure gold. The anima/animus syzygy is the first to emerge from the shadow, as the individual representative of the collective archetype of the opposite sex. Integrating the anima leads to the emergence of the wise old man, of the animus to the great mother archetype. The essential factor is that by becoming conscious the ego is able to maintain its independence from the tremendous pull between the collective consciousness of the world, and the collective unconscious of the archetypes.
“A real settlement with the unconscious demands a firmly opposed conscious standpoint” for the unconscious is sufficient to itself and knows no human considerations.
Jung's Enduring Legacy
Jung’s influence is still evident today. Cinema has readily seized on the concepts outlined above, films called The Mask, The Shadow or Synchronicity have been made; and Jungian themes are ubiquitous.
Jungian psychotherapy remains widely practiced on a worldwide basis, as Thomas Kirsch has written on recently. Perhaps the greatest split in the Jungian community remains between those who follow Marie Louise von Franz, Anile Jaffe and the like who were analysed directly by Jung, and the broader Jungian community beyond those with direct experience of the man himself. Kirsch defines a key Jungian factor as the recognition of transcendental reality beyond conscious experience, that is the reality of an independently acting unconscious.
James Hillman used Jung’s ideas to develop an archetypal psychology, and Joseph Campbell has famously developed a type of comparative mythology adapting Jung’s theories. More recently Anthony Stevens continues to write and develop a Jungian approach, and popular psychology has adopted Jung as part of its ambit – Stuart Gilbert’s ‘The Compassionate Mind’ would be an example.
In an age trying to find its soul and move out of its psychological infancy Jung provides the ground map.
“We always find in the patient a conflict which at a certain point is connected with the greater problems of society. Hence, when the analysis is pushed to this point, the apparently individual conflict of the patient is revealed as a universal conflict of his environment and epoch.”
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