A Portrait of the Artist as a Jung Man

I say in the Bibliographic Acknowledgment that ‘The Damnation of Fist’ is the product of my aggregated reactions to everything, even remotely philosophical, that I had read up to the time of its composition.

This being so, It would always be the case that I would continue to happen upon works after the novel’s completion which otherwise might have been just as influential. I am currently reading one such: Carl Jung’s ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’.

The principle premise of my novel is that the notion of one’s own ‘self’ is no simple matter at all; there is so much conflict between, on the one hand, its pure relation to itself and, on the other, its necessary commerce with everything that is not it, that one’s unitary sense of ‘self’ can feel totally riven. John Fist is rent between these two antipodes of being; between his categorical sense of miraculous experiential singularity and the, in comparison, mundane article of personhood, with all its contingent yet consuming fears and desires, that the world demands it be.

While I may have been dimly aware of Jung’s principal ideas, I did not know that a major subject was his own sense of two distinct identities, which he termed ‘No.1’ and ‘No. 2’. As a psychologist, Jung believed this was no ‘split’ personality in the medical sense, but that, consciously or unconsciously, “the play and counterplay between personalities No. 1 and No. 2 …is played out in every individual.”

Although Jung’s ‘No.1’ and ‘No. 2’ were, of course, his own very individual experiences, they each seem to share common existential ground with the poles of self-perception I have experienced and attempted to portray in John Fist: one grounded in the world in which one must make something of the raw material one is given in oneself; the other, a direct experience of unadulterated being with intimations of a numinous ‘beyond’ from which everything else, including oneself, is an abstraction1.

Both Jung and John Fist begin in childhood feeling their most profound distinction as a human being their secret ‘No.2’ personalities, which provide them with a native, almost mystical wisdom. Both, as they grow, begin to find this vita peracta understanding increasingly disruptive to coming to terms with the human necessity of planning a life.

Like the young John Fist, Jung felt the conventional project of social human being compelled him to identify with No.1, and to put No.2 behind him:

now all at once I understood many things that had been inexplicable to me before – in particular, that cold shadow of embarrassment and estrangement which passed over people’s faces whenever I alluded to anything reminiscent of the inner realm”.

Like John, this in no way affected Jung’s profound sense of the reality of ‘No. 2’,  but while Jung’s decision is a temporary accommodation,

I must leave No. 2 behind me, that was clear. But under no circumstances ought I to deny him to myself or declare him invalid”,

John’s is a more deliberate attempt repudiate the validity of his ‘No.2’, which he feels an impediment to the ambitions of status and material success he is encouraged to believe himself capable of attaining2. Thereby John inflicts the act of ‘self-mutilation’ to which Jung knew such a decision must amount

In both Jung and John Fist’s cases, when each chooses to take one facet of their being as their ‘self’, an equally valid constituent is left dangerously untended. But while Jung’s professional career will, in time, reconcile this rift in his comprehension of ‘self’, John’s drives them not only further apart but into a maddening antagonism.

Jung comprehended the peril of hazarding one’s very self-understanding from an early stage. As a student he had been aware of Nietzsche’s reputation as a bizarre, disturbed and solitary figure, and had initially hesitated to read him, fearing a like attempt to reconcile his own ‘secret’ sense of inner experience would lead him to the condition that had eventually destroyed the philosopher’s mind. Finally resolving to read him, however, Jung was carried away by ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, recognising his own ‘No. 2’ as corresponding to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

Jung saw that, moved by the naïve hope of finding others able to share his ecstasies, Nietzsche had let his ‘No. 2’ loose upon a world that knew nothing and cared less about such things; even among his educated colleagues, Nietzsche found only Philistines. Moreover, an academic himself, Nietzsche’s own training tragically would not allow him to comprehend himself “when he fell head-first in the unutterable mystery and wanted to sing its praises to the dull, godforsaken masses”; and so, “he fell – tightrope-walker that he proclaimed himself to be – into depths far beyond himself”.

Jung better understood that one simply must not force talk about matters lying beyond the will or ability of others to follow:

I realized that one gets nowhere unless one talks to people about the things they know. The naive person does not appreciate what an insult it is to talk to one’s fellows about anything that is unknown to them. They pardon such ruthless behaviour only in a writer, journalist, or poet.

I haven’t yet finished reading ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, but felt compelled to observe this parallel, particularly moved by its explanation as to why, unable myself to talk to others about my very real but objectively unverifiable ‘No.2’ consciousness, I have always found myself driven to writing and poetry (or, at a push, journalism; and in lack of any such push at all, blogging).

The Damnation of Fist’ is simply the most comprehensive manifestation thus far of my compulsive need to explain – to myself – precisely what I experience in this ‘me’ of mine. That it does so using the ‘Faust’ story is another heretofore unknown congruence with Jung, who wrote:

Like anyone who is capable of some introspection, I had early taken it for granted that the split in my personality was my own purely personal affair and responsibility. Faust… had made the problem somewhat easier for me by confessing, “Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast; [it] struck a chord in me and pierced me through in a way that I could not but regard as personal.

 In the Bibliographic Acknowledgements I say of the Faust story, almost dismissively, that it simply presented a ready opportunity to encourage what would of a great “snarl of interlinked thinkings to coalesce around a story,” and that it was “just the gravitational centre around which the novel formed, pulling much material inspired by many, many others into its orbit”.

Perhaps I can admit the operation of my Jungian unconscious, because, in that story, I now realize, like him I must have seen

 “my own inner contradictions appeared here in dramatized form… virtually a basic outline and pattern of my own conflicts and solutions.

 

_______________________________Notes_____________________________________

  1. Jung describes the bewildering distinction and consequent conflict between these two grounds of self-awareness in terms that I find very familiar:

    Through No. 1’s eyes I saw myself as a rather disagreeable and moderately gifted young man with vaulting ambitions, an undisciplined temperament, and dubious manners… On the other hand, No. 2 regarded No. 1 as a difficult and thankless moral task, a lesson that had to be got through somehow, complicated by a variety of faults… But No. 2 had no definable character at all; he was a ‘vita peracta’, born, living, dead, everything in one; a total vision of life. Though pitilessly clear about himself, he was unable to express himself through the dense, dark medium of No. 1, though he longed to do so.

    When Jung writes,

    When No. 2 predominated, No. 1 was contained and obliterated in him, just as, conversely, No. 1 regarded No. 2 as a region of inner darkness”,

    I am reminded of the constant interplay of ‘selves’ in John Fist, which finally become so sundered as to leave him in a derangement of psychological imbalance:

    Thus, slave to two masters, he existed, praying his misery be halved and one prevail: he would not have cared which. But neither his unconditional conviction of conditional necessity nor his destabilizing awareness of absurd absoluteness could, or would extinguish the other. Instead, one would always appear, in the guise of a saviour, whenever the other become too burdensome, too maddening to bear, leaving him between times in a purgatory of existential abeyance

  2. Highlighting modern society’s emphasis of individual material health, and thereby its own, to the exclusion of any more rounded sense of well-being