UNCONSCIOUS JUNGIANS: the “theological” turn is an unconscious variant of the Jungian turn

I have been claiming for many years that our major continental thinkers are “unconscious jungians”. Lacan is a case in point, his dissolution of the ego and subjective destitution take the same turn as Jung originally did with regard to Freud’s “where there was id there shall be ego”. Even his signifiers are linguistically reductive versions of archetypes, once you take into account the Hillmanian critique of the difference between the archetype and the archetypal image. In this case there can be no fixed closed list of archetypes. Zizek is an even better example as his theological turn shows. He procedes by violent denegation i.e. whenever some thought is to close to (and I would add prior to) his thought he concentrates one one little detail that differentiates his position from these predecessors and influences, then he proceeds to denounce them vociferously. His critiques of Deleuze , of Jung, and of Gnosticism are of this type: the anxiety of influence. Some of his reflexions on the Holy Spirit as the community of those who live beyond the death of the big Other could be cosigned both by Jung and by P.K.Dick, yet Zizek fulminates against “gnosticism”. Deleuze at least was consciously influenced by Jung and admitted it, though I suspect that he was far more influenced by Jung than he admits or is even aware of. Gnosticism is about as pagan and polytheistic as Christianity can get, given the multiplicity of variants. PKD’s EXEGESIS is a perfect example of this Jungian paganised Gnosticism with its explanations that go off in many directions, and give no clear answers.

Bob Bogle notes that this principle of divergence rather than convergence is a constitutive feature of Frank Herbert’s DUNE series. Herbert was very influenced by Jung and we can see this influence all through the DUNE books. Bogle goes so far as to describe this as part of the creation of a “new myth” where pluralism and its abundance are affirmed on every level:  “it is preferable to live in a universe in which mythologies diverge infinitely, like light passing through a biconcave lens. And if that means there are no clear answers — nor even maybe a very clear plot — so be it”.

My feeling is that many of those who speak out in favour of myth are in the same case as Frank Herbert, they do not wish to impose the One True Myth, but see myth as a processual dimension of many types of activities. So I would argue for the equation: myth is immanence, myth is an open plurality of processes of fabulation. The danger for me is the literalising of myth into a fixed closed  unique system, for which I would reserve the term “mythology”. It is this monist move that is obscurantist, and the mythic move is rather one of a rationalism that is more open and more complete, treating reason not as a closed system of principles but as a pluralism of processes of rationalisation. The mythological turn is not a new obscurantism but a further step in the process of transindividuation that we call the “Enlightenment”. Following Deleuze in his little book PERICLES AND VERDI, we can say that there is no essence to enlightenment, that there is no one enlightenment, that it is an open plurality of processes of rationalisation.

So there is only a seeming paradox to saying more enlightenment implies more myth, and vice versa. Even religion on these definitions has both a mythic, enlightened, processual, diachronic side and a dogmatic, creedal, static, synchronic side, as does psychoanalysis. Freud posed as a champion of the enlightenment but he is a typical case of what one can call the timid enlightenment with his positivism and scientism and authoritarianism (in his own practice of power, manipulation, intellectual predation, exclusion, self-serving fraudulent publicity, cynical money-making manouevres; in his justification of the status quo and of authoritarian politics and his antipathy to democracy). One could argue that Freud’s Enlightenment (and here we must say that Freud is not part of the radical enlightenment, but rather of the authoritarian, élitist, conformist enlightenment) was precisely the concretising and dogmatising force that  Deleuze and Guattari had to overcome. This deterritorialising of Freud can be seen equally validly as fracturing his enlightenment dogmatism and monism by valorising the conceptual (mythical) characters over the positivistic conception of reason and the real, or by radicalising the notions of reason and the real and so pushing his enlightenment further. With Deleuze I think that “Reason” under a certain acception (there is no essence, so no one true definition of Reason) as always and everywhere automatically on the side of progress and justice, can do much harm and is itself just as in need of enlightenment as any other process.

I see no conflict between enlightenment and myth, but between enlightenment and “religion” understood as a literalising belief in myth. Myth is rather a  immanent mode of thinking that proceeds by envisaging the virtual world of powers in terms of personified entities. This is no different from what Deleuze and Guattari do in their construction of a mode of  thinking that uses conceptual characters (badly translated as “personae”). The idea is that the pure concept is associated with spatio-temporal affective-perceptive dynamisms that are best expressed in recurrent characters that incarnate and give content to the concepts. Like myth, this form of thinking is open-ended, pluralist, non-literal (non-mimetic), and more concerned with Powers and Events (or archetypes) than actualised entities and organised realities (or stereotypes. Deleuze and Guattari’s texts are swarming with becomings (woman, animal, plant, mineral). These are so many conceptual personages that permit them to think beyond what a narrow conception of reason would allow.

Myth only becomes a danger when these figures are literalised, codified, stratified creating closed static lists of entities with fixed attributes. The problem is not myth but religious treatment of and belief in certain myths as literal realities. In this sense Enlightenment, Science, Reason can function religiously (or if this is too restrictive a definition of religion, we could say creedally). Freud is full of mythological figures, both classical ones and those of his own invention (Eros, Thanatos, Oedipus, but also id, ego, superego, libido, death-drive). The problem with Freud’s mythical thinking lies not in the myth but in the dogmatic, scientistic, literalising and monist “enlightenment” overcoding of these conceptual characters.

Melville in Moby-Dick is both mythical and radical enlightenment in his style, as the scattered remarks of Deleuze on Moby-Dick would suggest. Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly’s book ALL THINGS SHINING (which advocates a deterritorialised mythological thinking as a way out of the nihilist trap of post-modernity) is in close convergence with what Deleuze and Guattari say in MILLE PLATEAUX on Moby-Dick, and their use of mythology is neither obscurantist nor proto-fascist. Dreyfus and Kelly call Melville’s work a masterpiece of polytheism, Deleuze and Guattari call it a masterpiece of becomings, and given their analysis of becomings in relation to a plurality of conceptual characters, these two approaches concur very closely. So mythic thinking is more widespread than one may think in enlightened works and thoughts.

Enlightenment means more myth not less, and it means freeing the myth from its creedal stratifications and literalisations and unleashing its power of “fabulation”. For Deleuze and Guattari fabulation is not a hindrance to enlightenment and a cause of horrors, but the way to a fuller accomplishment of enlightenment and a means of resisting the horrors created by the plane of organisation and its States. Fabulation involves the creating and the projecting as material entities of figures, characters, populations that exist intensely and have a life of their own. Another name for the same thing would be mythologising with its other face of de-literalising.

Enlightenment is not synonomous with ridding ourselves of myth. The Enlightenment notion of the autonomous individual is the transposition of the stucture of divine transcendence onto an anthropocentric paradigm. One can easily find all sorts of mythic structures: Apollonian reason, Promethean progress, the ego as Hercules imposing its will on the world. My timid idea is that, from my reading of pluralist epistemology, Deleuzian ontology, and Jungian analysis, myth is an immanent process once it is detached from institutional, ritual, and doctrinal imposition, closure, and conformity. We are enmeshed in myth, including the strange and twisted (Apollinian) myth of being myth free. This is not a bad thing if we keep myth-conscious and so participate in its flux. For example I open ANTI-OEDIPUS to the first page and I read:
“The schizophrenic’s stroll: this is a better model than the neurotic lying on the couch. A bit of open air, a relation with the outside”
(my translation)
This is myth, thinking in terms of conceptual characters and landscapes that resonate over many different domains and contexts. This is mythic thinking, even if the elements (the schizophrenic, the stroll, the neurotic, lying down, the couch, open air, the outside) belong to no list of “archetypes” or pantheon. For me Deleuze and Guattari are enlightenment figures (they certainly advocate and practice “immanence”), and so they add to myth as they subtract the transcendences that hinder our mythic processes. Far from ridding us of myth, Enlightenment as immanence leads to its proliferation.

Even the use of capitals, as in “Enlightenment”, is a sign that we are detaching the phenomenon from its historical manifestation and giving it mythical status. “Myth”, “Enlightenment”, “Immanence” are not just abstractions, they are living concepts with their associated percepts and affects, and their use is tied to so many stories and combats in the world and in our own lives. Everyone has their own definitions, and the controversy becomes passionate. At each turn we are faced with impossible choices. For example, shall we condemn the Enlightenment as deist, authoritarian, enthronoing the will of the autonomus individual, naïvely thinking it can be myth-free, legitimating the rise of liberal capitalism? Or shall we praise the Enlightenment as the pursuit of immanence into all domains, undermining dogmatism and authority, integrating human beings into the vaster ecology, freeing myth from its epistemological, social and psychological imprisonment?

(Note: Immanence for James Hillman is the element where psychological creativity can develop:

“Where spirit lifts, aiming for detachment and transcendence, concern with soul immerses us in immanence” (THE MYTH OF ANALYSIS, p27)

This espousal of immanence has led Hillman to return therapy to the outside, to open the psyche from introspection to the finding of depth and intensity in the world, to advocate an ecological rather than a psychological model for coping with symptoms and pathologies. Freudian psychoanalysis remains entrapped in transcendence in its theoretical accounting, despite what it may mobilise in everyday practice. We need to reimagine ourselves outside of limiting models if we wish to empower life to attain its full potential.

Hillman cites Spinoza and Jung as fellow thinkers of immanence near the end of this video:

However, he considers that Jung goes one step further than Spinoza:

“it is important to recognise the crucial twist that Jung’s psychology gave to the immanence of the gods – they have been interiorised into pathology, their myths live in our behaviours”).

In a moment of lucidity Zizek declares in Foucauldian terms “the first act of power of the analyst is to declare what deserves to be analysed and what doesn’t” (A TRAVERS LE REEL,p20). He draws the correct conclusion, unfortunately calling it a “Freudian” conclusion, that “everything is to be analysed” (p21), making clear by the examples he gives that it is above all conformism, normality, and the acts of power of psychoanalysts that are to be analysed. However this intuition itself is extra-analytic, as, if everything is to be analysed, the analytic system itself is to be analysed … as a fantasm. “Everything is to be analysed” is ironically a jungian slogan, rather than a freudian one. Freud was unable, unwilling to pursue his own auto-analysis to the point where he could see his “scientific discoveries” as just another fantasm, and not the reality behind the fantasm. This is what Zizek seems to insinuate with his thesis that “surplus enjoyment comes first” and that impossible enjoyment, forbidden and repressed, is only a secondary formation projected as origin:
“This idea of a substantial, incestuous, impossible enjoyment is only a retroactive effect of surplus-enjoyment” (p39).
An obvious conclusion, that Zizek himself does not draw, is that the purported foundations of freudian theory are only retroactive fantasms. Instead, he attempts to confuse the issue and to perpetuate the mystification of the fantasmatic system of analysis, a defence which is not unique to him. One is “Freudian” but Freud is too positivist, too dogmatic, too conformist. So one progresses to Lacan, who is himself too dogmatic, too linguistic, too structuralist, too conformist. So one divides Lacan up into periods, distinguishes successive Lacans: Lacan 1, 2 3 4; and we pick out what suits us. Zizek likes the “old Lacan”, the “late Lacan”, but not Lacan at the end. He likes Lacan 3, who has abandonned the notion of the cure as the elimination of the symptoms (p32). But he rejects Lacan 4, with his topological schemas(p35).

It is obvious that the signifier “Lacan” functions as a fantasm that allows Zizek to validate retroactively his own ideas. And even all these operations are insufficient, because Lacan did not see that surplus enjoyment precedes impossible enjoyment. It is also obvious that Zizek, as usual, concedes implicitly everything to his adversary once he has condemned him unambiguously. Thus, Zizek condemns New Age mysticism many times over, but goes on to valorise “the cartesian moment of the void, accomplished by Lacan” (p11). Of course this passage through the void to begin real change has nothing to do with similar-sounding New Age wisdom; No confusion is possible, as Zizek has been very careful to insert the adjective “cartesian” and to invoke the master-signifier “Lacan”. (Similar remarks could be made for his ripping off ideas from Deleuze and Guattari, Jung, the Gnostics, etc. once he has thunderously condemned them). One could in each case ask which Lacan is being invoked here? Lacan 2? or Lacan 3? or rather Lacan-Z, the Lacan that Zizek constructs pluralistically, by opportunistic picking and choosing. “Lacan” is in fact a conceptual persona that permits Zizek to think and to validate his ideas retroactively. Surplus-Lacan comes first. This is why Zizek can easily accept all the critiques that Onfray and anyone else can make of the Freudian system or of its Lacanian variant. After all, Lacan-Z preceded them all, since he is a retroactive fantasm, and as such immunised against all criticism.

Zizek’s actual method is quite simple: wherever there is a heterogeneous assemblage of elements he “retains” the oedipal structures. I put the quotation marks around “retains” because in practice he often has to invent these oedipal structures and forcibly impose them on the text, before retaining them as the key. Deleuze makes only passing reference to Hegel and dismisses his triads and negativity as coarse and clumsy representations of real movement and becoming. Zizek has to inflate this into a total repression of Hegel (“the absolute exception”) to then “discover” the oedipal drama in Deleuze’s philosophical practice. He has to maculate everything with Oedipus, losing the text and henceforth only dealing with his own misconceptions.

Despite his neo-lacanian sophistication when he talks theory, Zizek’s default position in his interpretative practice is naïve Freudian fundamentalism. He even espouses this explicitly at various places in his work, a good example being chapter 2 of IN DEFENSE OF LOST CAUSES.

In commenting on the prevalence of familialist ideology in popular culture, Zizek feels the need to pretend that familialism is the real content of in particular various popular science-fiction novels and films. This is rather interesting as he complains that Deleuze is incapable of perceiving or supporting alterity, symbolised in Zizek’s case by “Hegel”. As we have seen,  “Lacan” in Zizek’s work is in fact “Lacan-Z”, a conceptual persona that permits Zizek to think and to validate his ideas retroactively and to project them backwards onto Lacan’s texts. Zizek’s Hegel is a similar chimaera (Hegel-Z) preventing him from seeing anything other in Deleuze’s treatment of Hegel than the repression of alterity.

Zizek gives us “the key” to his own repression of alterity explicitly in his discussion of the recent remake of The War of the Worlds, where Zizek subtracts the aliens and retains only the oedipal drama:

“One can easily imagine the film without the bloodthirsty aliens so that
what remains is in a way “what it is really about,” the story of a divorced
working-class father who strives to regain the respect of his two children”. (p57)

Here Zizek is careful to qualify his oedipal reduction by using attenuations: expressions like “One can easily imagine” and “in a way”; quotation marks around his main thesis. But only a few lines down the attenuations disappear: “No wonder, then, that the same key discloses the underlying motif of the greatest cinema hit of all times”, James Cameron’s Titanic. In fact the key is not at all the same, and contrary to the simplicity of his treatment of The War of the Worlds (“I’ll just subtract the aliens”), Zizek has to go through some rather complicated slippage and breakage (but alas as usual no decentering) to force the film into saying what he wants it to.

Zizek goes on to generalise and dogmatise his oedipal key throughout the rest of the chapter. On page 59 he states blithely: “The same interpretive key fits science-fiction catastrophe films”. Darko Suvin famously defined science-fiction as “the literature of cognitive estrangement”, but for all his talk of alterity Zizek cannot endure the minimal doses of otherness that are contained in popular SF films. So it is no surprise that he was so vehemently critical of AVATAR, which confronted us with a whole new world, or STALKER which contains a “Zone” of alien production escaping from the basic laws of physics as we know them.

Zizek’s critique of Deleuze is regressively identitarian. Zizek cannot stand alterity or estrangement, and imposes identity as forcefully as he can whenever he encounters it. The greater the dose of alterity, the more vehement is his reaction. Deleuze’s reply to his “severe critic” Michel Cessole applies to Zizek as well: “You are doing everything in your power to make me become what you criticise me for having become”.

AVATAR is a good example of the tension between dogmatic ideology and fabulation in modern myth-making that I have been tryng to describe. Zizek can only see the ideology and the oedipal foreground:

“In a typical Hollywood product, everything, from the fate of the Knights of the Round Table to asteroids hitting the earth, is transposed into an Oedipal narrative” (Return of the Natives)

So for Zizek AVATAR is oedipal, conservative, racist, and imperialist. But this reductive interpretation is an artefact of Zizek’s own interpretative spectacles, of his own retroactive fantasm. As usual, Zizek sees the ideology but represses the fabulation, re-enacting, and so making himself a part of, the problem. For me AVATAR is a product of the mythic imagination, a “pop” example of what Deleuze and Guattari call “fabulation”. As we have seen, myth is a difficult subject to discuss without forcing our conclusions by the definitions we use and the theoretical systems that we adhere to. For me myth is a system of beliefs and practices that give meaning and value to our lives. It has two faces:

1) a face directed towards the assemlages of power in a given society, serving to reinforce, legitimate, and naturalise the institutions and significations of that society (or of a more or less definite sub-group). This is the ideological face, in an Althusserian or Zizekian sense that includes the structuring practices of that society, and that I call mythology.

2) a face directed towards the production of meaning and value and subjectivity, serving to render and maintain our lives intelligible and open to at least certain types of intensities and becomings of the wild world of which we are a part. This is the spiritual face, in a Deleuzian or Jungian sense of non-creedal fabulation.

For thinkers like Jung and Hillman, myth is a non-codified non-creedal producion of the unconscious, something very akin to Deleuze and Guattari’s, and Robert Scholes’, notion of fabulation. A more recent example is ALL THINGS SHINING which argues for a fabulatory reading of MOBY-DICK (Deleuze and Guattari are in total agreement with such a reading, and in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, go so far as to call MOBY-DICK “one of the greatest masterpieces of becoming”, p268), and of certain key literary works of the Western Tradition. Fabulation is turned towards the present and towards the future, without creedal legitimations and teleological justifications.

Of course, things have come a long way since MOBY-DICK, and Ted Friedman , in his articles and his interviews and his podcast and in the bookhe is writing, is doing a lot to update the discussion by talking about fantasy and science-fiction from a consciously post-structuralist, post-marxist, post-jungian perspective, and about the need to approach them from a fabulatory perspective.

The distinction I have been trying to make between myth as fabulation and myth as ideology can be reformulated in Ted Friedman’s terms as a distinction between essentialist narratives and readings and anti-essentialist ones. If Lacan can be allowed to “de-essentialise” Freud (and, I would argue, goes nowhere near far enough) there is no reason why we should not familiarise ourselves with an anti-essentialist Jung. James Hillman de-essentialises Jung in a way that bypasses the lacanian detour via the signifier and that has much more in common with Deleuze and Guattari’s pragmatics of intensities and becomings.

Friedman’s article on The Politics of Magic can be found here ,

and here is a video version:

I think he is particularly interesting in his observations about the phasing out of oedipal type narratives (that he ties to the decline of the baby boomers and the passage from Generation X to Generation Y), and to the transition from themes of the bad repressed unconscious (typified in FORBIDDEN PLANET and its “monsters from the Id”) to the ambiguous but productive unconscious (typified in LOST). A more recent article by Friedman argues that our oedipalising critics choose their obsessions carefully to provide tautological validation of their reductive theses:

“While parsing the obsessions of exemplary filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock seemed to require the Oedipal framework of Freud, the work of comparable comic book auteurs such as Alan Moore and Neal Gaiman is in a very different, much more Jungian register. Their model for the psyche begins not with the family romance, but with a multiplicity of intense affects and impulses represented by godlike figures of outsized powers and desires”.

So in addition to one of my previous conclusions, Go watch AVATAR, I can now add another pluralist slogan: Let’s read more comics!

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3 Responses to UNCONSCIOUS JUNGIANS: the “theological” turn is an unconscious variant of the Jungian turn

  1. dmf says:

    are you going to discuss the role of the Self in Jung?


  2. good read. j-p caron sent me this after i posted quotes of watkins about the integers being the archetype of order (http://henriqueiwao.seminalrecords.org/o-arquetipo-da-ordem/). lacan-z sounds really neat.


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