nature of the Self: theory, image & archetype
Given a plethora of television shows and films about zombies, what is a Jungian to see but a collective fantasy. Carl Jung showed that what cannot be worked through at the conscious level is often worked through at the unconscious level, in symbolic fantasy (CW 5, para 4-45). Encountering that for which there is yet no fantasy, we confront the limits of sense.
For the collective social body, film and art are an unconscious attempt to work through collective transformation at the limits of reason and sense. In the case of zombie movies and the growing zombie apocalypse movement, we may be seeing an attempt to dream ‘apocalyptic’ change.
Zombie are the ‘Undead’: not living, not dead, driven yet not alive, the zombie images emerge from the recesses of the collective unconscious. Animated yet with out life, they move. Driven, yet without desire, they seek. Emerging from “subterranean passages” of psychic life they express a surplus of drive without instinct, of desire without meaning. How else shall we understand the collective dreaming of the zombie, but to see that our “natural instincts [have transformed] into a monstrous drive that can never be fully satisfied” (Slavoj Zizek, 2000).
Zombies express a fundamental split within psychic life. This split bars us from instinctual life, thus initiating a “monstrous drive” within the collective culture. The question is how did we get here, and what are the nature of the instincts, manifest and latent? In my previous post, I borrowed from Jung’s text to say that during the evolution of consciousness there was a split between the ego and the depths. This split occurs not only within an individual but also within the collective social body.
The split in the collective forms, or is formed by, two types of thought: one is the dominant and affirmed mode of thought, and the other is negated as worthless. According to Jodl the dominant mode of thought is word based. It is “already and always socialized” (cited in Jung, para. 15). Language is overdetermined by history and the collective. Jodl says:
“Language is the register of tradition, the record of racial conquest , the deposit of all the gains made by the genius of individual. The social “copy-system” thus established reflects the judgmental processes of the race, and in turn becomes the training school of the judgment of new generations” (Jodl, cited in Jung, para 15).
The dominant mode of thought becomes a “copy system”, which serves as a copy of the ‘real.’ Such a copy system is a working system which allows individuals to express their egoic will via adaptive means, but it can never fulfill our deeper instinctual will. The copy system acts as a miniature village of reality, an existential Faraday cage, which cuts being off from its instinctual roots.
It is only through understanding this split within psychic life that we might understand the historical developments that are underway. Not only are the zombies expressing the ‘undead’ within us, they are also the spawn of excess, of a triumphant ego culture. Such images erupt into the collective from an insurrection of undead drive. They are also symbols of transformation. As frightening as they are, they represent the very capacity of the collective to begin to dream a catastrophe, instead of acting it out. This ability to dream the unthinkable offers a potential for transformation. The ability to dream is a reclamation of instinctual life.
But we must go beyond a Freudian reclamation of the instinctual, which encourage us to reclaim the sexual instincts. We need to go into the depths of instinctual life, whose truth is best reckoned with in religious terms (Jung, Cw 5, para 4-45). This is no easy task; egoic life is alienated from the instinctual depths to such a degree that there is no language by which to speak of such depths.
Egoic life is collective life: adaptive, productive, and good. But it also comes at a price: loss of the instinctual roots. By entering into the collective, the ego makes a ‘copy’ of itself, becoming an object to itself. The ego is an exoskeleton built upon collective identifications, facing outward toward the collective, mirroring itself within the collective. ‘I’ know ‘I’ by defining what is ‘not I’ or defining how ‘I am’ like something else. The ego objectifies itself as “I” with shallow constructs: ‘I am this’ or ‘I am not this.’ As a “pleasure ego”, it affirms only the positive within itself, spitting out or projecting the negative (Hegel; Freud, 1922).
Identification in general serves an adaptive function, helping us to achieve a positive identity within the collective. At the same time and on another level it isolates us from the totality of our being. Rigid egoic structures form bulwarks against the existential intensity of being, the ‘real’ (Hegel, see Footnote). They act to affirm some things and negate others. Zombies are a breakdown of the bulwarks against the existential intensity of the ‘real.’ But they also point to a readiness, a critical mass of individuals who are opening to life beyond identification and capable of dreaming the undead drive. I have come to understand that to dream something is to be already coming into awareness of the dream images, to already be transforming. Dreams are not so much expressions of the repressed as Freud thought, but themselves acts of transformation, living symbols and expressions of transformation.
If I am correct then the collective may be in a process of transforming beyond egoic culture. We are in the process of discovering, of beginning to dream, what is ‘real’ beyond the egoic ‘copy system.’ Such transformation is not found in positive and pre-affirmed aspects of being. It occurs as we begin to ‘look the negative in the face.’ Hegel said as much:
“It is this mighty power, not by being a positive which turns away from the negative, as when we say of anything it is nothing or it is false, and, being then done with it, pass off to something else: on the contrary, mind is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and dwelling with it.” (Hegel, para 32)
The positive and affirmed ‘reality’ of egoic culture is overdetermined, already preferred and predefined. Collective ‘reality’ is socially constructed through words and symbols (Jung, CW 5; Lacan 1988). If we are to know who we are at the depths of being then we must come into a relationship with the ‘real’ as it lies beyond such overdetermined constructs.
The problem is the initial stages of such an opening often bring us to the fantasy dimensions of our own psychic life (Jung, Cw 5, para 4-45, Lacan, 1988). We have to work to sort the difference between our own fantasy life and the real. This is the project of psychoanalysis. Lacan (1988) says that “the whole progress of the analysis is to show the distinction between these two planes, to unstick the imaginary and the real” (page 241). In Jungian terms this is just the first phase of psycho-spiritual development, it is a process which entails looking into the negative, confronting the personal shadow therein.
The negative can be seen as a mirror of the positive. All that is negated forms the existential background of the affirmed. In the first phase of spiritual development we must reabsorb our shadow: pulling back our projections, working through the split off hate, desire, envy, greed in ourselves. Such opening to our emotional life prepares us for the ‘great work.’ The field of psychology is not focused on this dimension of being. Hillman puts it quite succinctly: “psyche = mind, and mind = head” (p. 153), and “head = ego” (ibid). Psychology is a psychology of the ego, which aims at adaptation (Jung CW 9ii, para 11). There is something more, however.
The work is spiritual not psychological: immanent and internal. Such work takes “the suffering, the patience, and the labor of the negative.” (Hegel, 19) In Jungian terms, this spiritual work, our spiritual labor, forms the deepest instinctual urge within us. When we turn away from our internal life, we turn away from an innate instinctual guidance, disconnecting from our deepest instinctual urge. This deepest urge is an urge to know the “real.” In saying this, I am moving beyond a Hegelian ‘real,’ or a Lacanian ‘real,’ in order to articulate a Jungian ‘real.’
For Hegel “the real is rational”; for Lacan the real lacks “absence” (Book 2). Transcending their understanding, Jung highlights the mystery: the “mysterium magnum” (CW 12, para. 190) This mystery is experienced only through our capacity to enter into the inner world and reconnect to the deepest forms and instinctual urges therein. Henceforth, we will be guided by the archetypal movements of being. Such movements are deep movements, undercurrents within psychic life, that guide us beyond the collective into the eternal.
I like to imagine such movements. The first movement is ascension: a winding upward within the positive, until, through identification we have a positive, solid sense of collective identity and identification. As the zombies dreams reveal, this first movement is no end in itself. Purely positive identifications have an anxious relationship to death, nothingness, the abyss. As Hegel says:
“The life of God and divine intelligence, then, can, if we like, be spoken of as love disporting with itself; but this idea falls into edification, and even sinks into insipidity, if it lacks the seriousness, the suffering, the patience, and the labour of the negative” (para. 19).
Egoic culture is fixated upon identification and lacks all capacity to labor with the negative. Egoic culture in its current decadence has lost any capacity which might open to the mystery of being, much less work with the tensions of the negative. The dreaming part of us on the other hand is undergoing a transformation in which it is opening to the mystery. I encounter people in all parts of the world who in their hearts and imaginations are opening to the mystery, embracing the mystery.
It is only through such opening that we may move beyond fixed identifications. It takes courage to labor with the negative, the unknown, unsayable aspects of being. Without the guidance of Jung we might merely find ourselves staring into the negative as an abyss (the trap of nihilism). Jung’s ideas transform the stark abyss of the negative. A new horizon opens, revealing the mystery of the Self– beckoning us to be explored.
Here, we have to loosen the handholds, there are no identifications to guide us. We can no longer rely on a spirituality that wishes to ‘become the archetype’ or identify with ‘being spiritual.’ We have to encounter “the unknown” (CW5, para.5), allowing the living soul and its corresponding images to be our guide.
Carl Jung appears to me to be a guide for a our journey. Jung teaches us to develop soul, self-relating beyond identification. His works gather together the archetypal images from the mystery religions, forming a way or path of soul. Jung’s path of soul takes us into the negative ground of life, not as abyss or void, but as a leap into glorious mystery.
The Fragile Absolute or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For, Slavoj Zizek, London: Verso, 2000.
Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Google eBook),Sigmund Freud, International psycho-analytical Press- 1922
Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis…, Carl Gustav Jung, 1912
The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 1, Jacques Lacan
The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 2 ,The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis
The Phenomenology of Spirit Georg W. F. Hegel
Hegel said “All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real” (quoted in Engels, 1970. I have yet to find a good direct quote from Hegel, but this is part of Hegel’s discourse. I believe Jung offers a concept of the real that is a sort of a rational Mundus Imaginalis. I will be working through such concepts soon.