Having continued in my reading, and huge enjoyment of Jung’s ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, I have been struck by further parallels with ‘The Damnation of Fist‘ that I would have drawn on in the novel had I read it earlier, or not vowed to myself that it was now finally and irrevocably complete.
In fact, it is quite plain that John Fist would have benefited hugely from a few psychotherapy sessions with the great man.
As I hope my makes clear, and as any analyst worth his salt would tell you, all the answers John needs lie within his grasp, within himself. His problems have arisen because of the conflict between the facet of his identity which senses a miraculous existential reality, and that more rational side which urges him to ignore such chimerical intimations of existence and ‘make something of himself’ in the world. Indeed, we may well believe that this emotional perdition John experiences ought to be the making of him in the truest sense. As Jung himself wrote,
“A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them”.
Jung claimed that he frequently treated those who had become psychologically disturbed by their efforts to content themselves with answers to the questions of life which, for them, were inadequate or wrong. Seeking position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, they remained unhappy and despairing even when attaining that which they sought. These people were, Jung believed, confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon, their lives lacking sufficient meaning. If enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, their anguish generally abated or disappeared.
Jung illustrates his observation with a story of an intelligent, chic and vivaciously attractive young Jewish woman who was suffering a severe anxiety, the cause of which his colleagues could not discover. During the course of analysis, Jung learned that although her father was a conventionally rich successful secularised Jew, her grandfather had been a deeply holy rabbi, who many had thought touched by saintliness.
Jung saw that, despite her outward appearance and her more conscious identity, his patient was far less her father’s daughter than her grandfather’s granddaughter:
“She was not just a superficial little girl, but …beneath the surface were the makings of a saint. She had no mythological ideas, and therefore the most essential feature of her nature could find no way to express itself. All her conscious activity was directed toward flirtation, clothes, and sex, because she knew of nothing else.”
Conscious of nothing but the intellect, she yet unconsciously knew that she lived a meaningless life.
“In reality she was a child of God whose destiny was to fulfil His secret will.”
Jung’s idea of ‘God’ is accords with that of many philosophers as well as theologians of all faiths: that whereof man can only ever intuit an “unseen presence”, “a numen that lives its own life, and in whose presence man shudders”.
Jung recounts the experience of watching the sunrise amongst African tribesman with whom he was staying.
“The sun’s birth in the morning strikes the natives as so overwhelmingly meaningful. The moment in which light comes is God. That moment brings redemption, release. To say that the sun is God is to blur and forget the archetypal experience of that moment.”
Jung’s patient “belonged to that class of human beings of whom spiritual activity is demanded” and Jung, who professed always to treat his patients in not only the fullness of their own personal individualization but moreover that which formed their cultural collective unconscious, sought to awaken mythological and religious ideas in her.
“Thus her life took on a meaning, and no trace of the neurosis was left. In this case I had applied no ‘method’, but had sensed the presence of the numen. My explaining this to her had accomplished the cure.”
Jung thought that most modern Westerners prone to such a sense of intense innermost experience are overcome by fright and will turn away from it. The experience reveals to them the true adventure open to an awakened human spirit, and it terrifies because it has become alien to the modern human mind. That life might have a truer reality than the one we have all seemingly agreed upon is such an anathema to most that to contemplate it is contemptible. So will modern material rationalism have us respond.
But Jung was convinced that to possess only an intellectual point of view and ignore empirical criteria is where perilous aberrations begin. The first such error is the attempt to dominate everything by the intellect, serving to substitute for ineffable experiential reality an apparently secure, artificial, but merely two-dimensional conceptual world, in which the reality of life is smothered under so-called clear concepts.
“Experience is stripped of its substance, and instead mere names are substituted, which are henceforth put in the place of reality. No one has any obligations to a concept; that is what is so agreeable about conceptuality – it promises protection from experience.”
“The spirit does not dwell in concepts, but in deeds and in facts. Words butter no parsnips; nevertheless, this futile procedure is repeated ad infinitum.”
In ‘The Damnation of Fist’ John is one who intuits, beyond the delusion of such rational conceptualization, the truth of reality; his unconscious will not allow him to acquiesce to an existence thereby effectively experienced only from the outside. Jung believed that had those like John lived in a period and in a milieu in which man was still linked by myth with nature as truly experienced, rather than purely as rationally comprehended, they would have be spared such division with themselves.
“I am speaking of those who cannot tolerate the loss of myth and who can neither find a way to a merely exterior world, to the world as seen by science, nor rest satisfied with an intellectual juggling with words, which has nothing whatsoever to do with wisdom.”
I wrote the ‘Damnation of Fist’, itself a fictionalized autobiography, as one who could not rest satisfied with a juggling of words that wasn’t in as full a knowledge of the juggling I was doing, and an illustration of the limitation of mere words, as I was capable.