Jesus Thoughts (13) : Psychic Sidestep

Being what they call a glutton for books, a non-stop reader, & working in a big library, & always following vague hunches & intuitions in my hunt for material, which is all caught up with what I'm trying to do in poetry, which is an obsessive pursuit in tandem with the reading.... well, it leads me into obscure corners.

"Synchronicity" : the term from Jungian psychology for the uncanny conjunction of seemingly chance events in the outside world, with one's own thoughts, or the inner world of the psyche.  I'd been thinking about this lately since I was working on a book review of Christian Wiman's volume of Mandelstam translations (Stolen Air) - why?  Because the review work brought back memories of my own first encounters with Mandelstam's poetry, back in the 1970s... which led me to reflect on the psychic crisis I went through in college, & the literary-synchronic strangenesses which happened to me - the happenings - in those days.

& perhaps I also began to triangulate recently on these issues due to some other recent researches, into the cathedral of St. Apollinare in Clase, and its connection with imagery in Dante's Paradiso (see Jeffrey Schnapp's book, Transfiguration of history... on that). A pun is a sort of miniature synchronism (of senses in sound)... & it got me thinking about one of my favorite poets from the old days (my old days, early 70s), Guillaume Apollinaire (though come to think of it that's not really a pun : who knows, Apollinaire may have originally been named after the saint).  Soon enough I was immersing myself in a flurry of old French poets, as if part of me was sinking back into a 2nd literary childhood...

What does all this have to do with Jesus, you ask?  Well, I was going to say that this general trend of my book-devouring led me to a very interesting & curious little-known (eccentric?) interdisciplinary book by Marie-Louise von Franz, a student & disciple of Carl Jung : Number and Time.  This is an extremely erudite & wide-ranging meld of physics, mathematics and Jungian psychology, which examines this phenomenon of synchronicity, and proposes a sort of cosmic order rooted in basic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4...) which embody forces shaping both the mind and the physical universe - Franz's unum mundus (world-unity).   It's rooted in Jung's metaphysical psychology, which posits a cosmic Self uniting all opposing forces in nature, mandala-like.  An awesome and mysterious (strictly beyond conscious awareness) Mind or conjunction of opposites (subsuming good & evil).

I've always had mixed feelings about Jung.  On the one hand, he seems remarkably perceptive about the artistic personality, and many of the things I went through in late adolescence seem amenable to a "Jungian" interpretation (those uncanny experiences in the midst of a crisis).  On the other hand, he strikes me perhaps as a kind of Gnostic : as a "scientist" of the mind, he pursues explanations of things down dark corridors of mind & personality - explanations which reach toward the mystical & the cosmic.  Yet I wonder if his  theory of the cosmic Self might be a sort of spiritual over-reach of some kind.  It's so close to the religious vision - the sense of a metaphysical dimension transcending & ordering the physical - a dimension which is also personal in some mysterious fashion; yet in trying to present a theory of Totality rooted in a Self which combines good & evil, it seems like he may also be reaching beyond Christianity.

There is much of warning in the Gospels about the awesome threat of God the Father's eternal judgement.  "If your hand causeth offense, it is better to cut it off than to lose your whole soul to hell" (rough paraphrase from memory).  Or : "Do not fear those who can destroy the body; fear Him who can destroy the soul in eternal fire!" (another rough paraphrase).  A Jungian might see these warnings as evidence of a parallel notion of the frightening aspect of the ultimate Self.  But what Jungianism might be missing is the time dimension of salvation history.  The work of the Christian Trinity is manifest in time as a procession of saving acts.  We have to grasp that this invitation to salvation and renewal is addressed directly to us, now, spoken by God-become-Man : the context of understanding (the insight of the Holy Ghost) is everything in these realms.  We have to move beyond theory & intellectual speculation to action, to personal commitment, body & soul.

Jung, it seems, was fascinated by the mathematical structure of the psyche : the basic orientation by four (in the human body, in mandalas, in maps, etc. etc.).  Marie-L. von Franz explores these concepts in great depth.  Jung saw an oscillation (in the psyche, in reality) - a flickering - between three-four... I find these concepts very fascinating too, esp. in relation to making poetry.  If we think of the Trinity - the Son & the Father, leading to the "procession" (the manifestation) of their witness & "advocate", the Holy Spirit (the very spirit of God in the body of the Church) - perhaps the matrix of that body - be it the Virgin Mary, the center of the earth, the center of the church, the center of our own individual soul - could be thought of as the "fourth".  I think Jung might assent to this (though I'm by no means an expert, or even very familiar with his complex work).  Where I hesitate to "follow" Jung is that sometimes in reading him I sense a curious kind of gnostic pedantry at work : the "explanation" of mysteries takes the place of a more active, direct commitment to the historical, actual embodiment of faith.

I'm probably not being fair to Jung.  After all, Jesus himself says "God is Spirit and truth : & those who worship him do so in spirit and truth" - and there's something heroic about his liminal truth-search into the dark underside of the human mind.  Often enough he prefaces his writings with a disclaimer : they are psychology, not theology.  Maybe it's my own problem : a personal hesitancy to grapple with some of my own "unconsciousness".

I have to say I'm deep into Number and Time, though.  Franz's discussion of the numerical dimensions of Chinese thought - the mandalas of number from the I Ching etc. - is very absorbing.  Having just finished a very very long poem designed ornately around a symbolic number (the atomic number of Lanthanum, #57) - I feel an affinity here...

p.s. (a few hrs later.)  I'd like to summarize with a little more precision what appeals to me in M-L von Franz's Jungian approach, and what gives me pause on the other hand.  One of the main themes of Number and Time is the view of number as a mediator or mid-point between the psychic and the physical; Franz examines ancient Chinese modes of divination as representing an approach to reality which is irreducibly personal.  The aim of divination is to examine the "field" of phenomena (by numbering) at a certain moment in time, in order to understand its meaning for the person for whom the die are cast.  The play of chance allows for the decree of fate.  Franz explores how this attitude is not that different from certain streams in 20th-cent. physics; time & space and physical phenomena are inseparable from the position of the observer (I'm drastically simplifying Franz's thesis here).  She concludes (in a Jungian mode) that the ultimate meaning of phenomena involves the person, the self - perhaps in a dramatic analogy to the cosmological or collective Self at the creative source of all phenomena.  These are "fields" which cannot be objectified or depersonalized.  This I can agree with, I think : & it rhymes with my sense of the epistemology of Michael Polanyi (in Personal Knowledge and other writings).

What I am less taken with, in the Jungian approach, is the idea of a collective unconscious, structured by  fixed "archetypes" shared by all human beings, and unified by an unknowable Self (in the unconscious) with which the ego seeks to be (re)integrated.  There may indeed be certain "constellations" of mythological projections, representing durable aspects of human nature & personality : I'm just not sure I would grant them autonomy within an unconscious "structure".  To do so seems to lead in the direction of what I was trying to describe above as Jung's turn to abstraction or gnostic "knowledge" in the description of ultimate Reality.  Again, this is probably being unfair to Jung, a many-sided, subtle thinker if there ever was one.  Yet for me the ultimate Reality does not "reside" in the unconscious, or in any identifiable metaphysical "place" or intellectual formulation.  The ultimate Reality is not an objectively describable "Self" (no matter how awesome or obscure) : it is a relation between persons and Persons, not fixed by anything other than agape, caritas, love.

Again, to repeat : I'm not representing either Franz or Jung very thoroughly or accurately here.  I'm just responding to them, informally, provisionally (this is a conversation, not a paper).

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