Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (8): Robert Segal’s one-sided review

Robert A. Segal wrote a not so good review of CATAFALQUE, published here on the Times Higher Education website, to which Peter Kingsley replied.

I submitted a comment, which I reproduce below:

I do not think that Robert Segal’s review is « inaccurate and empty », as Kingsley claims. It is critical, and I think it is one-sided, unfair and incomplete.

Peter Kingsley seems to have some trouble with the very fact that it is critical, and so his reply is weaker than it could have been.

However, I think that his book CATAFALQUE itself is weaker than it could have been. We should try to learn from our critics, even when we do not agree with them.So we should at least try to get right what their actual criticisms are.

For example, Peter Kingsley does not react well to what he presents as Segal’s claim that « Kingsley has no arguments ». In fact Segal says « Kingsley never offers arguments for his intuitions about Jung ». This is a very different proposition, and Kingsley’s only reply is a sort of mute gesture at his second volume, composed entirely of footnotes.

This poses the question of the nature and status of these footnotes, many of which serve to give scholarly information ancillary to the main argument.

However, some of these footnotes are manifestly subjective and under-argued value-judgements of Kingsley’s predecessors (Hillman, Edinger, Heidegger, Nietzsche). Sadly his reply fails here.

Segal’s review is flimsy, and what he says about Jung’s RED BOOK is silly, reductive, and uninformed.

Kingsley missed here an opportunity to demonstrate the flaws in Segal’s account, and merely gave vent to an emotional retort that exhibits the same weaknesses that appear in his more emotional, judgemental footnotes.


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Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (7): Bibliofalque – A Suggested Reading List

Early reviewers have hailed Peter Kingsley’s impressive « scholarship » as displayed in his CATAFALQUE, taking at face value its mise en scène in volume two, entirely composed of footnotes.

However, the informed reader soon realises that some of these footnotes, despite their bibliographical indications, are more akin to emotional blasts and settling of personal scores than erudite testimonies to his impartiality and willingness to acknowledge his predecessors.

If one could peel off the resentment-blinded pseudo-scholarship (slipped in with the real scholarship) and the claims to contact with absolute reality, Kingsley would be a much more congenial and inspiring figure. Unfortunately he falls victim to the hypothesis of his own uniqueness.

Kingsley’s Grand Narrative is is composed of two grand ideas

(1) the Seeding of the West by Empedocles and Parmenides and a few others. These are the mystics-magicians-shamans-poets who descended into the underworld by means of archaic techniques of ecstatic voyage: drugs, breathing, postures, meditation, incubation, incantation.

(2) the Decline of the West since them. The progressive loss of the Divine Seeds to Reason and egoism.

It is based on ignoring, down-playing, or travestying anyone who espoused any one of the motley set of ideas that he retrieves to compose or to bolster his story.

I think we need to compose and submit to Peter Kingsley a reading list of a dozen books he should read to feel less lonely. He’s read so many books that a few more should be no trouble for him. He may discover that many of his ideas have already been expounded and explored, and welcomed by many,and that he is not at all a lone voice crying in the desert.

1) James Hillman THE DREAM AND THE UNDERWORLD – for a working out of the idea of the encounter with Hades and Persephone, and of psychic reality as the underworld

2) Jeffrey Raff JUNG AND THE ALCHEMICAL TRADITION – for the psychoid reality of the spiritual beings encountered in individuation, and for the alchemical patterning of this process

3) Marie-Louise von Franz C.G. JUNG: His Myth in our Time – for a re-visioning of Jung’s life and work in terms of his personal myth and its collective ramifications

4) Gary Lachman’s JUNG THE MYSTIC – for a full re-integration of Jung within the magical and mystical traditions

5) Edward Edinger THE NEW GOD-IMAGE – for the evolution of the God-image, changing with each new epoch (this could help Kingsley get over his nostalgia for the past).

6) Étienne Perrot’s CORAN TEINT – for a modern day alchemical Jungian adventure lived out in Paris

7) James Hillman ALCHEMICAL PSYCHOLOGY – for a re-psychologisation of alchemy so that it does not spin off into schizoid spirituality, cut off from real human experience in the world of ordinary people

8) James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani LAMENT FOR THE DEAD – for a contextualising dialogue on Jung’s RED BOOK

Leaving behind the Jungian ghetto, Kingsley could then read

9) Alain Badiou – MANIFESTO FOR PHILOSOPHY. Badiou’s listing of four truth procedures is a useful but preliminary approach to enriching our repertoire of examples, to help us get out of our fixation on a single type of experience and of our drawing unwarranted conclusions from that.

10) Bruno Latour – AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE. Latour’s expanded list of 15 modes of existence (as against Badiou’s four truth procedures) is an even better heuristic against conceptual fixation and for the fluidity of ordinary mind, but it still doesn’t go far enough

11) Deleuze and Guattari – A THOUSAND PLATEAUS. (« Thousand » meaning as many as you want, or as is appropriate to the occasion) and its idea of the series of becomings, ending with becoming-ordinary as a perception of the ordinary as itself becoming.

12) Alain Badiou – THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS. This would give Peter Kingsley a new understanding of the Absolute, and so a way out of his obsession with transcendance.  (he would have to brush up on his transfinite numbers, logic and mathematics are probably a weak spot in his personal culture).

Not only need Kingsley never feel lonely again, he could constantly challenge his beliefs and re-vision his experiences by encountering radically different creative points of view and critical perspectives.

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Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (6): Back to Zarathustra

In his CATAFALQUE Peter Kingsley seems to be writing from a state of inflation, which expresses itself in a form of shamanistic reductionism that is just as bad as the scientism he supposedly combats.

I can only suggest that one read volume one alone first, as Kingsley’s footnotes (printed in volume 2) contain much that is irritating and unfair. I am surprised to see how many people take Kingsley at his word in his own self-evaluation. People praise his scholarship as exhibited in volume 2, but it is far from objective or accurate from the very first page of v2 where he accuses Cheetham of being just like Hillman in that they both typically « miss the essential ».

Later Kingsley criticises Hillman, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Steiner, Giegerich, Edinger with truncated quotes taken out of context, and with no regard for their work as a whole.

In short, Kingsley criticises

(1) the staid Jungians (ok, but this is nothing new) and

(2) anyone and everyone who could be seen as a predecessor already advancing ideas like his own (here his scholarship is laughable).

I think Kingsley’s appeal is via strand 1 (shamanic Jungian) seemingly buttressed by strand 2 (cranky scholar).

Kingsley praises Empedocles and Parmenides for bringing the « seeds » of Western Culture, but he seems unaware that the most important new seed contributed by the Presocratics (I emphasise « new » seed, because paradigm-changing shamanic voyages existed before and elsewhere) was critical thinking, a sort of meta-tradition inside the Traditions.

Kingsley reminds me of those inspired Jungians who dream with a megaphone in their brain, always recounting big archetypal dreams and experiences, but who would never recount a dream where he goes into the kitchen and finds his salt-shaker is empty except for a dead ant and a note from his wife to do the shopping (note: I am trying to invent an « unimportant » dream, but I can’t – all dreams are important, and the most banal images contain archetypal depths).

Kingsley lays great claims to omniscient scholarship, but in his tiny world there is just the Ancient Greeks, Jung, and a few Amerindians. He has not read Deleuze and Guattari, Badiou, Michel Serres, Derrida, Bruno Latour, Lyotard, Laruelle, Baudrillard, etc, nor is it in his interest to do so. Widening the field of reading and of experience would relativise his own knowledge and achievements.

One part of Kingsley’s appeal and seeming freshness of approach is that he distinguishes himself from the overly Christian perspective of many Jungians. However, he shares this « de-Christianisation » of Jung with Hillman, who once again preceded him.

Unlike Hillman, who goes back to Homeric polytheistic subjectivity, Kingsley only goes back as far as Presocratic subjectivity, which is already giving a monistic overlay to that preceding polytheistic pluralism, and even there he drops the meta-tradition of critical thinking.

His adhesion to this truncated view of the Western Tradition explains how Kingsley can see the last 2,500 years as a constant decline, as if nothing that created since then could come up to the level of Empedocles’ and Parmenides’ « seeds ».

Kingsley scorns Plato, perhaps the greatest philosopher of all time, in a vocabulary that is itself platonic (lower-case « p ») with his talk about an « absolute » reality radically separate from our world of illusions.

With his dualism Peter Kingsley has more in common with the first Zarathustra than with Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, hailed by Jung as expressing the new Spirit of the Depths for our time.

Kingsley seems to have no idea of and no place for the evolution of the God-image or the Spirit, something essential to Jung’s perspective. Instead he scorns the modern emphasis on « evolution ».

And people praise Kingsley’s « rigour » and « fidelity » to Jung!

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Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (5): Prophet and Scholar

It is difficult to get an idea of the text’s content and style, the reviews I have seen do not quote much, and are mainly dithyrambic, praising both Kingsley’s authenticity and his scholarship.

To get an idea of his prose, you can hear a sample chapter being read here.

This is a great reading of a powerful text. However, I am ambivalent about Kingsley’s approach. There is too much certitude in his manner. As stated in a previous post, Jung affirmed in his last interview that the major difference between his own approach and Freud’s was that when Freud thought he « knew » something he was certain of it, whereas Jung felt he was always full of doubts.

In other words, in relation to psychic experience, Freud was a metaphysician and Jung was a phenomenologist. Kingsley rightly critiques the widespread adulteration of Jung’s testimony of psychic reality to make it fit into secular consensus « reality ».

However, rather than sticking to the phenomena Kingsley re-metaphysicises experience and talks about attaining « absolute » reality.

In short, I am enchanted by Kingsley’s narrative, I share his critique of the domestication of Jung’s message, I am inspired by his experience, but I reject his certainty.

Kingsley is an uneasy hybrid between Prophet and Scholar, and the one fecundates the other and vice versa, but sometimes they sterilise each other. The second volume is 350 pages long, and is composed exclusively of footnotes. This demonstrates an impressive amount of scholarly work, but sometimes the prophet superposes himself on the scholar and scorn replaces justice (cf. Kingsley’s disparaging remarks on Hillman, Nietzsche, Edinger, etc.).

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Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (4): Deleuzian aspects

My review of Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE so far brings out the negative aspect of my reading experience, but I hope to get to my more positive reactions.

One approach to what is positive in the book’s overall perspective would be to envision it in terms of its radical empiricism and of its uncompromising rejection of the rationalist tradition. To bring this out we can usefully compare Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE to Deleuze’s oeuvre. A « Deleuzian » aspect is present in this book, even if it is skewed, as we have seen, by Kinsley’s dogmatic image of thought.

We can see the Deleuzian aspect in

1) Kingsley’s commitment to experience over doxa, and to a wider range of experience

2) his anti-Platonism

3) his fidelity to an underground tradition stretching from the pre-Socratics to Jung

4) his critique of the orthodox Jungian analysts, of their adulteration or betrayal of Jung’s experience and message

5) his « magical » language and incantatory style

6) his appeal to dreams and visions, to altered states of consciousness and to techniques such as incubation for reaching them

7) his emphasis on individuation as de-personalisation, dis-egoisation



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Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (3): Epistemological Slippage

In this review I am in the process of subtracting Peter Kingsley’s dogmatic elements and of immanentising him (no doubt against his grain).

A first line of entry into examining Kingsley’s attempt to inherit Jung is epistemological. Jung was very clear on this point, the importance of epistemology, as marking the major disparity between his own approach and that of Freud :

« when he had thought something, then it was settled, while I was doubting all along the line. It was impossible to discuss something really à fond…He had no philosophical education…I was studying Kant, I was steeped in it, and that was far from Freud ».

(Quoted from this interview).

I think that Peter Kingsley sees Jung’s life and work through pre-Kantian spectacles and so fails to inherit or illuminate his thought correctly. Similar looking experiences can be very different if we consider the epistemological mode as part of the experience.

Transposing the experience of his chosen inspiring figures into his own mode of thought Kingsley is led to a certain number of epistemological slippages that serve to validate his affirmations beyond what his experience actually warrants.

1) Kingsley slides from thinkers (like Corbin) being true to their propositions being True.

2) Kingsley slides from what philosophers (like Empedocles and Parmenides) say they are doing to endorsing that they are in fact doing that.

3) He slides from what philosophers (like Empedocles) say to what Kingsley himself says.

This slippage allows a conflation of the subject of the act of enunciation and the subject of the enunciated content.

This conflation of subjects creates the appearance of presenting an unmediated content, that is somehow self-enunciating and so self-validating (if you conflate yourself with the « right » subjects). The unmediated content is presented as raw experience. This form of naive empiricism merges with solipsism, and ultimately with a solipsism of the present moment (as Bertrand Russell pointed out).

Dialogue in this case is not necessary, and certainly not critical discussion. The main goal is to get the « right » experiences and then use them to interpret everything else. Insofar as Kingsley is true to his experiences he is an inspiring talker and stimulating thinker. He is not the vehicle of a pure and undiluted Truth.

Money is an unspoken pre-condition for this search for the right experience. Few people today can afford to lie down in a dark and quiet place for days on end, to « incubate » this experience. Jung emphasises that his « Red Book » experiences came to him while he was working as an analyst and supporting a family. Kantian critique is essential under these circumstances.

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Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (2): The War between Spirit and Brain

In a note (v 2, p 483) of CATAFALQUE Peter Kingsley pours scorn on Nietzsche, Heidegger, Steiner, and Aurobindo for their supposed « fantasies » and « clumsy misunderstandings » of Parmenides’ poetic language and style. He repudiates in particular Aurobindo’s talk of Heraclitus’s « logos doctrine ».

Strangely, Kingsley’s conclusion (spiritual intuition and insights however deep are not enough to uproot the « prejudices and collective misunderstandings embedded in the human brain ») rings true, but he does not see that it applies to himself as well.

On this interpretation, some of Kingsley’s own most closely held beliefs are coming from his brain. This purported war between the spirit and the brain could lead to a strange hermeneutic principle of demarcation – between spiritual insight and brain engrams.

Unlike Deleuze and Hillman, who are more Heraclitean, Peter Kingsley is Parmenidean. This need not be an absolute division. Feyerabend is very pragmatic about these things. He treats both as methodological heuristics, to be used as required.

Thus, while he himself is more Heraclitean (and, beyond that, Homeric) Feyerabend praises Einstein for using a Parmenidean hypothesis (block universe) in a fruitful way.

If we treat Kingsley’s idea of an absolute timeless Reality as a heuristic hypothesis we can examine its fruitfulness.

1) In the domain of classical scholarship it has allowed Kingsley to shed new light on the Pre-Socratics.

2) In the scientific domain it has been less fruitful. Praising Empedocles for taking seeds from the Absolute Reality, such as the doctrine of the four elements, to inaugurate our culture is to confuse potency with truth.

If Peter Kingsley had found that previously incomprehensible fragments of Empedocles actually contained a formula for uniting general relativity and quantum physics, that would be a powerful argument for his transcending his time through contact with Truth. Unfortunately, Empedocles’ four elements theory turned out to be a dead end.

3) In the domain of psychological reality, Peter Kingsley takes into account the personal equation of other interpreters. For example, he condemns the interpretations of Jung promulgated by his « narcissistic », « inflated », « extravert disciples » (646-647). He does not relativize his own views by way of his own equation.

Jung himself is both Heraclitean and Parmenidean. There is what Hillman calls his flux of « psychological creativity » and there is the fixist doctrine of archetypes.

4) In the domain of theory, Kingsley’s interpretative hypothesis does not allow him to see the works of Feyerabend, Deleuze, and Hillman as creative continuations of Jung’s work. It blinds him to some of the most vital contributions of this time.

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