What cannot be worked through at the conscious level is often worked through at the unconscious level, in dreams and fantasy. cf. Carl Jung (CW 5, para 4-45). When encountering that which we cannot dream, we confront the limits of sense.
Film and art may present an unconscious attempts to work through collective transformation at the limits of reason and sense. In zombie movies and the growing zombie apocalypse movement, we may be seeing an attempt to dream ‘apocalyptic’ change.
Zombies are the ‘Undead’: not living, not dead. Driven, yet not alive, zombie images emerge from the recesses of the collective unconscious. Animated, yet without 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 image of the zombie, but to see them as our “natural instincts transformed into a monstrous drive that can never be fully satisfied” (Slavoj Zizek, 2000). Zombies express the undead, as a ‘monstrous drive’ within, an empty hunger that cannot be satisfied. Zombies are the spawn of excess, images of a triumphant ego culture. Such images erupt into egoic culture from an insurrection of undead drive.
Ego identifications serves an adaptive function, helping us to achieve a positive identity within the collective. At the same time and on another level, egoic identifications isolate us from the Self. Rigid egoic structures form bulwarks against the existential intensity of being; they form bulwarks against the Self.
Early in his career Carl Jung made an interesting point: by entering into adaptive reality, the ego makes a ‘copy’ of itself. Jung cites Jodl to make this point:
“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 CW 5, para 15).
Egoic life is collective life: adaptive, productive, object-oriented and object seeking. We look outward to the object world. We adapt to the object world. We make a ‘copy’ of the object world. We attempt to fit ourselves within the ‘copy’. We lose ourselves within the ‘copy ‘, becoming hungry, and ever more hungry for that which is missing, until our ‘object hunger’ transforms into into ‘a monstrous drive that can never be fully satisfied.’
Said another way, the ego faces outward toward the object world, adapting itself to the object world. ‘I’ know ‘I’ by defining how ‘I am’ like some ‘thing’ or another ‘thing’. The ego objectifies itself as ‘I’ through pleasing object identifications: ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that.’ As a ‘pleasure ego’, it affirms only the positive within itself, spitting out or projecting the negative (Hegel; Freud, 1922). The Self, as that which can never be objectified or as that which can never be an object, is all too easily cast out like precious stone thrown into the mud. Once the Self is lost, it is not so easy to find.
The undead emerge as shadowy images and dark forms reminding of us our hunger for some ‘thing’ now lost. In the image above, we see a zombie figure emerging from the dark hole, a grave– symbol of emptiness, of the void, of hollowed out place or space where the Self once was. The zombie is a stark image of the negative: as image of that precious thing, cast out, made dead; or, as image of our ego hunger for that lost ‘thing’ so difficult to find.
As displeasing as they are, zombies may also point to a readiness for transformation. The undead offer themselves as ‘symbols of transformation’. Artful representations of the ‘undead’ express a capacity to represent ‘the negative’ that lies outside the bounds of reason and sense. This ability to dream the unthinkable speaks to the potentials of symbolic life, of dream life, of artistic creation in music and film. German philosopher, G.W.F Hegel might say that we beginning to ‘look the negative in the face’:
“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 collective ability to dream, imagine and symbolize ‘negative space’– the space where Self once was– is of primary importance in the reclamation of the Self. The emergence of zombie films indicates that there may be a critical mass of individuals who are opening to life beyond banal objectification, individuals capable of dreaming the undead, of bringing the shadow into light.
To dream of an archetype is to become aware of it, even if at an unconscious level. To dream an archetype is to begin to make transforms in fields of awareness. Dreams are acts of psychical transformation, living symbols and expressions of transformation. It is through such work we open to unknown frontiers of psychic life, revealing a field of representation for that which lies at the limits of sense.
- 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.