Thursday, September 9, 2010

Aimless Reading: The J's, Part 14.1 (C.G. Jung)

Jung, C.G.
Symbols of Transformation

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I was surprised one morning over brunch by the answers to a question I'd posed, while sitting around a table full of writers and artists -- I think it was Jonathan Skinner and Laird Hunt and possibly Eleni Sikelianos and Isabelle Pellissier -- to the effect of "Do you consider yourself a Freud person or a Jung person?", the collective response being a unanimous, "I am a Jung person."

I think we were eating breakfast at a place called Cybele's, a long gone and sorely missed Buffalo brunch haunt, so we didn't delve too deeply into the reasons for everyone's embrace of Carl Jung. The conversation had more the tone of, "Are you a John, Paul, George or Ringo person?" than it did that a penetrating psychological study.

I think I was surprised because I feel myself to be more of a Freud person and I assumed that would be the more common response among my peers.

Despite the fact that I consider myself an atheist, I find, probably because of my relatively strict Catholic upbringing (I say "relatively" because I wasn't forced to attend Catholic school until high school, so I avoided some of the more traumatic childhood damage inflicted on many of my friends), I can't resist returning again and again to the religious question, not because I care one way or the other to discuss the existence or non-existence of God, a moot and settled point as far as I am concerned, but because I think this kind of question always hovers around the central fact of our psychic or so-called spiritual lives. I mean of course death.

I think I have been thinking about the fact of death, specifically my own, since I was a child. I can remember at a tender age, say 5 or 6, sitting around wondering whether or not I had not in fact already died and if I were not in fact already in heaven, lying on a bed of clouds, dreaming my entire life from start to finish, or if I weren't on that same cloud, this time awake, simply recalling the whole of my former life in all its rich detail, from start to finish, as if watching a movie.

The fact of one's death raises many central questions, probably the most important of which is how shall I live, knowing that someday I won't live any more? Should I treat life as one passionate bacchanal and flameout early or should I parcel it out, measure it in coffee spoons or whatever Eliot said, taking things in in a kind of predictable if pleasant moderation. And how does my relationship to these questions change as I get older. If you had asked me at 16, I would have answered, "Better to burn out than to fade away" I'd answer differently now.

But getting back to the Freud/Jung thing. I feel a certain kinship to Freud: I prefer his atheism to Jung's spiritual focus. I tend to think of human beings as more or less isolated individuals in a more or less meaningless universe, a fact which requires each one to make meaning out of what are the given circumstances of their lives.

I think Jung's worldview tends to view everything as connected vis-a-vis ideas like a collective unconscious and symbols of transformation. I tend to see connectedness as a physical fact of existence, i.e., that we are all carbon-based life forms, but I don't take it much further than that.

I sympathize more with Freud's somewhat cynical view of human beings, societies, and the drives that motivate their actions than I do with Jung's sense of human beings as participating in a kind of constant, perpetual renewal. I guess I am painting a less than idealistic picture of my thought here, but there it is.

I am a George person, in case you were wondering.

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