Thursday 4 February 2021

Romanticism and the twin snares of CG Jung

Plenty of Romantics have got caught-up and lost in the toils of one or another of the snares left by CG Jung

My impression is that there was a major resurgence of the Romantic impulse between about 1954 and 1979 - which was the root of Existentialism, the Beats, Hippies, Neo-Pagans and the Counterculture in general.

I think initially there was a hope, a yearning, that modernity would be overwhelmed by a resurgence of what Alan Garner called The Old Magic. (This also drew-upon Robert Graves's White Goddess - which is another kind of snare.) 

When this just didn't happen, the counter-culture was disseminated, and modernity continued; there was a re-conceptualization in terms of Jung - and this was, pretty much, the transition to the multifaceted (and highly consumer-orientated) New Age, which still continues. 

The two snares of Jung are first the reduction of magic, the supernatural and the spiritual generally; to the psychological. And secondly the reduction of spirituality to therapy. 

Jung took all kinds of spiritual phenomena and re-explained them in terms of the psychological. For example, his last book took the phenomenon of Flying Saucers, and reduced them to a modern version of the same psychological phenomena that had previously caused sightings of fairies. Jung claimed that it was not a reduction, because he posited a new kind of psyche that was in between the objective and the subjective - a kind of objective subjectivity. 

This was perhaps related to the collective unconscious - which sounded exotic at first, but ended-up being a purportedly objective place, accessible by all people in certain half-awake/ half-asleep states of mind (active imagination).  

The deeper one goes into Jung, the more his world is revealed as just another branch of modernity. The exotic glamour of the subject matter becomes revealed as mundane symbolism - like Jung's paintings of mandalas - which strike me as excruciatingly dull!

The other snare of Jung followed-on. Since Jung turned out not to be an extra depth of living - and not to transform the person spiritually; Jung's ideas became reduced to a broad definition of therapy. 

Broader than the Analytic Psychology which was its root; the promise was a that if one adopted a Jungian perspective, there would be very general improvement about how one felt. This could be less suffering, more happiness, or (as with James Hillman - Jung's most eminent successor) a greater depth of apprehension, a more profound life. 

This got progressively diluted through the materialistic 1980s onwards; and became absorbed into the self-help, counselling and 'mindfulness' themes; which were rapidly bureaucratized. 

Jung was a red herring, a blind alley for the Romantic impulse. The problem was that while he addressed the important issues - he retained the this-worldly, atheistic, non-Christian context of mainstream materialistic discourse. His analysis was therefore intrinsically incapable of addressing the problems at a sufficiently deep level to solve them. 

Meanwhile; the proper way ahead was already available - deriving from Jung's rival and competitor of the early twentieth century in Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner; and elaborated by Owen Barfield. This was in the lineage of Romantic Christianity, which had begun in the late 1700s.

Yet, I cannot really blame the Romantics from missing the right answers - since, especially in the case of Steiner, they were buried in among a great deal of wrong and irrelevant material, and a personal guru-cult; where they still (pretty much) languish. 



William Wildblood said...

I completely agree with this analysis. Weren't Jung's last words "“Let's have a really good red wine tonight.”? I like a glass or two of wine as much as the next man but this does rather sum him up as what he was which is, in my view, a spiritual dilettante. There are grounds for saying he did as much harm to real spirituality as materialism since he reduced God and the divine to the level of man and the merely human.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Ed and I used Jung as an example of a flawed, partial genius in our book; but the basis of his appeal was that he was indeed a creative genius. Yet he was incoherent in a dishonest and evasive way - aiming to be all things to all men.

a_probst said...

He was also yet another case of "science-envy" (physical-, medical-). The successes of applied physical sciences drove Marx, Freud, Jung and so many others to think that a science of man should be pursued, using the methods that, as John Lukacs pointed out, worked so well for studying simpler organisms but now applied to the most complicated thing in creation.

Brief Outlines said...