Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (1): A Contrary Review

I have just received CATAFALQUE by Peter Kingsley, and am only part way through it (about 100 pages, including his very copious notes, which fill up the second volume).

I discovered the existence of Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE by accident, or, if you will, by « synchronicity »:

I was thinking about the relation between Gilles Deleuze and Carl Jung, when I came across references to Kingsley and his new book.

For me the relation between LOGIC OF SENSE, ANTI-OEDIPUS, A THOUSAND PLATEAUS and Jung’s RED BOOK is obvious. DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION also participates in that movement, but it is a conservative synthesis, too structuralist and too Freudian.

Peter Kingsley interests me because of the primacy he gives to THE RED BOOK, but he is no pluralist. He self-identifies as the Contrary, an archetypal figure for North American Indians of all tribes. Supposedly when they see him Indians immediately recognise him as a Contrary, a Trickster figure who upsets and inverts established perspectives.

I have never met him, but on his videos he looks a rather toned down, diluted exemplar of the Contrary. He seems to frequent mainly classicists, « spiritual » guides and seekers, and established Jungians, so maybe his threshold for being Contrary is rather low.

In my preferred domain of thinking, Paul Feyerabend, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, James Hillman, Jean-François Lyotard, François Laruelle, Bruno Latour, Slavoj Zizek, Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, Kenneth White, Steve Fuller and Babette Babich all incarnate the Contrary quite effectively, without fanfare. The Contrary is not a club but an open and multiple cluster.

So I will be reading Peter Kingsley’s book for the experiences, the images and the affects, the dreams and the visions, the doubts and the guesses, and not for his certitudes and his opinions about his special status.

Peter Kingsley begins CATAFALQUE with the Eranos Lectures, and the figures of Jung and Corbin. He quotes Corbin as lauding the atmosphere of « absolute spiritual freedom » and the goal « to be themselves, to be true » that prevailed in these meetings.

However, Kingsley glides quickly from truth as « being true » to Truth as « timeless and sacred realities », from existential truth to ontological Truth. No wonder he condemns James Hillman as « missing what is essential ». Hillman, like Deleuze, is a pluralist. They are very wary of monist « essences ».

My attraction to the book is its fidelity to the Jung of THE RED BOOK, which incarnates a schizo-process close to what Deleuze and Guattari discuss, it recounts an encounter with madness. For me Deleuze is totally a Jungian, but he tried to hide it in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION and needed Guattari to come out.

I am quite in favour of Kingsley’s approach to the Pre-Socratics, in particular Parmenides and Empedocles, as embodying a « wild » mystical experience and thought outside of the Platonic grid, but I don’t think he is alone in seeing them along these lines (cf. Nietzsche, Jung, Deleuze, Feyerabend, Hillman, Heidegger).

(Note: I am puzzled – why no inclusion of Heraclitus?)

Kingsley’s critique of the Jung establishment as apotropaic of Jung’s experience is well-taken, but others such as James Hillman in English and Étienne Perrot in French have made similar, and quite virulent critiques. However Kingsley trashes Hillman and Hadot in the name of some self-proclaimed deeper, wilder uniqueness.

Original scholarship, personal experience, and a contrary attitude can get you pretty far, but they are not enough, they are not proof. They can hold you captive you inside a self-validating circle. Anecdotal external validation by North American Indian medicine men and women who haven’t even read your work can at best confirm your « being true », not your saying Truth.

The problem with Kingsley self-identifying as a Contrary is that he is not reflexively so. He is a good Contrary to others, but not to himself. He is no self-contrary, so he remains in the domain of certitude. His Contrary is thus entwined with the archetype of the Wise Old Man, and guru-dom ensues. I will try to separate them.

Is this « inflation »? I don’t think so. This category is impractical and reductive as usually applied. Strictly it means « too influenced by the archetype for your own good ». Inflation is not a question of absolute prohibition but of dosage, and should be seen positively as an alchemical operation that can be useful or required.

I will be reading CATAFALQUE not for its « teachings » about an absolute reality, but for its account of Kingsley’s alchemical operations and experiences.


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2 commentaires pour Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE (1): A Contrary Review

  1. I share some of your reservations in reading Catafalque. It did take me a while to get through the book. And I never did read all of the notes. But it was worth reading, specifically for his take on Jung’s Red Book.


  2. Ping : JUNG’S BLACK BOOKS (1): An A-theological Treatise | AGENT SWARM

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