In keeping with recent post themes, I watched A Dangerous Method last night. Given the focus on historical figures in early psychoanalysis, and the fact Cronenberg directed it… Well.. How could I not see it?
Aside from the overt choices made in character portrayals, the content of the plot hardly embellishes upon historical record at all. And rare is that, in a costly film, indeed. While this does leave us to ponder what’s between flags on the timeline, I doubt this was Cronenberg’s emphasis of concern. A Libertarian, the director sustains expression of his worldview throughout in his cinematic repertoire. Explains his attentiveness to the two, otherwise historically marginalized, characters I was so pleased to see depicted.
Though I have dabbled heavily in the study of psychology, what I learned of Sabina Spielrein and Otto Gross was not within those texts. I suspect the apparent inertia behind translating their letters and essays can be attributed to the radical conservatism of the medical sciences, and the politics of their day. This didn’t keep Gross’s anarchic ‘sexual revolution’, nor Spielrein’s proto-feminist aspirations to ‘free the self’, from the seedling bohemian movement that would flower in a generation yet to come.
The long history of much wider debates surface, and are drowned out, but then surface again. What is persistently omitted begs to be, likewise, persistently recorded. I first came across their unfortunate stories among feminist and anarchist circles.
You might have guessed by now. Both figures are known to have had influence as colleagues, as well as being patients, of Jung and Freud.
“Nothing good could come from such theories, and nothing good has. Jungianism plays a harmful role in every field where it is taken seriously, including in art. Under its influence, artists tend to draw away from the concrete examination of life and turn to myth and delineating the supposedly archetypal elements of existence, a futile and essentially anti-artistic effort.”
And this is why Jung’s work is deemed more essential to students of art therapy than of clinical psychology.
In fact Jung himself was explicit about not-designating his creative experiments as Art. For good reason, too. Took the whole of the twentieth century to even modestly liberate art from the Art Market that defined, privileged, and likewise profited from it’s same-serving judgments. In a way, Capitalism and Aesthetics are like dance partners that out-performed the world’s sorriest song. 1-2-3-4 and a 5-6-7-8. Categorizing and systematizing objects until all the subjects were gone.
There isn’t yet an appraisal system built to harness and monopolize the process-centric intentions Jung had. Ironically, I think this where Walsh’s review misses the Marxist boat.
When we shift significance from outcome / product to the method / experiential progression, we distance ourselves from the capitalist-aesthetic convention. Certainly, whatever resides outside familiar convention is then isolated in the shadows of doubt. But that’s to do with the judgment of others. By distinguishing the results of a therapeutic process from that of Art, Jungians intend also to liberate the ‘artist within’ from making like-kind judgments about themselves.
For those saddled with the title of Artist, if also believing the maker benefits from the experience of making (unto itself)… Whom, and of what industry class, does this harm?
Let’s us remember that, for guarantee of a minimum wage to all ‘starving artists’, there are no unions.
Rather than stake a claim in the Market-made debate “What is Art?”, why not question what is expected from the experience of an artwork?
Creative works are not actually one-way radio transmissions but require intimate involvement. An engagement and participation, to some degree, one way or another. What resonates and with whom is mostly quite unforeseeable. Certainly, time and place have a say. And we each do intuit whether or not a work successfully imparts and / or communicates with us, as individuals. An intention to cultivate a meaningful personal process (while making what will be called art) no more or less risks this communicative relationship. Not by broad strokes, at anyrate, if on a case by case basis.
To put it another way: The mode of production amounts to more than an issue of economics or utility. It is in the experiential dimension of an endeavour that we define our value for it.
Back to Jung. Rather than prescribing a strict adherence to an archetypal scheme of expressiveness, Jung supposed that we all reference archetypes in our inner-world imaginings. While he was aware of cultural differences and their import, still, he attributed to this to an inherited collective unconsciousness. A pool of experience, of sorts, that spanned time and that we all had access to.
It is harder to argue with than you might initially presume.
Unless we are determined to disparage theory on the sole premise of a theorist’s metaphysical beliefs. In which case, most of Occidental history is fodder for that scrap heap. And make no mistake – the theoretic history of the ‘hard sciences’ is no less magically inclined. Unless there lingerings the scent of social-darwinism, in favour of the civilized theist and at the heathens expense, it seems to me the extent to which Jung’s mysticism has met with prejudice cannot be substantially explained.
In contrast to many historical figures, whose theories still influence our societies today; Jung’s theories aren’t dependent upon a god’s intervention (Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand?), and he didn’t actually promote maniacal cult followings (like Ayn Rand). He even developed an applicably plural view of human complexes (unlike Sigmund Freud).
And besides fear of (admitting to) using our imagination, we’d dismiss the obvious and more mutually agreeable attributes of his findings. In the proposing there is a collective unconsciousness Jung was: a) Recognizing a common habit and perceptual thread among humans, regardless of culture, and ; b) identifying a ‘built-in’ resource that is expressed through both personal processes and cultural manifestations.
To my knowledge, there is no field of academia today that would recoil from these assertions. Discussion guaranteed, but dismay? Not at all.
Archetypes. Though issues pertaining to diversity are profoundly important to our social co/existence, we are also but one species among many living entities upon this planet. When differentiating one species from another, we recognize and separate groups of generalizations.
We are, as of yet, forced to assume that there is less difference between seeing the world through blue-coloured human eyes than brown, for example, as compared to seeing through the eyes of a bird or a fish. To live out our days with a heart-rate between 55-100 bpm, rather than 125-180bpm is to experience a certain quality of relationship with time. A roughly fourty week gestation period and not a one of us is yet physiologically functional at birth. This alone is quite enough to suggest there are common developmental vulnerabilities and dependencies, which cannot possibly be over-looked when inquiring into the how and why’s of the human creature.
Mothers, father, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, and so on. Seeing as the humans of past civilizations did not differ in these ways, noting any congruence in iconography, symbolic meanings, mythical tails or personal plights is hardly sensational. Nor is suggesting that this represents a collective resource. It’s an issue of scale, interpretation, and a matter of ‘for what purpose’ we are casting our eyes upon this or that attribute of ourselves. But more on this, later.
In Jung and Freud’s day, only universal claims could legitimize the absolute truth awaiting our discovery. That, it was still said, was the righteous path and purpose of science. So did they explain their findings with this same spirit of faith.
… My aim is not to defend it, and wouldn’t, I should add. Merely examining the purpose and meaning of a “harmful” and “essentially anti-artistic” practice, concretely.
“In 1913 Gross published, in the Expressionist review Aktion, an essay entitled “Zurerwindug der kulturellen Krise” (How to Overcome the Cultural Crisis), in which he affirmed that “the psychology of the unconscious is the philosophy of revolution.” He referred to Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud, and one can only wonder what influence this early work may have had on the Marxist psychoanalysts of the following decades.” [Gross entry at enotes]
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