Jung’s inklings

Jung’s psychological writings always touch upon solitude because solitude is the ontological situation of each human being. Consciousness separates us from each other and from all extent beings, which is physically always the case but takes on a new poignancy with consciousness.

Jung’s contribution in identifying the reservoir of motives and limitations in the unconscious, and the historical pool of motives and archetypes in the universal unconscious, opened an entirely fresh look at epistemology.

While science represents the spirit of the times (zeitgeist), Jung argued that the humanities represent the spirit of the depths within all of us, collectively and individually, and that the investigation of these depths represented a rebirth for the individually. This understanding underlies Jung’s entire work, his very mission a reversal of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra — not for Jung to deny the death of God but to announce the birth of a method of understanding the depths.

The psychology of the individual is the psychology of the culture, and while Nietzsche influenced Jung in identifying this cultural foundation of thinking, Jung saw that the exhaustion of the age was a signal that a new direction outside of the purely philosophical or rational discourse must be pursued.

Only the transformation of the attitude of the individual can bring about cultural renewal, said Jung. A deep subliminal connection exists between events and individual psychology. The content of the collective unconscious is the repository of the connection and its objects: myths, images, powers, dominants. Where Schiller had posited a reconciliation of the rational and irrational in higher art, and Nietzsche had rejected reconciliation (of Apollonian and Dionysian) for the will, Jung foresaw reconciliation in the depths, in symbol, and in comprehending the content of the unconscious, and applying it to life and thought.

Jung is persuasive when he argues that the content of the unconscious can not only alert us to but inform of the nature of cultural events. This, at least, was his own experience, when dreams of violence and chaos preceded World War I. He thought he was going mad, but realized with the outbreak of war in 1914 that the troublesome dreams originated in “the subsoil of the collective unconscious.” This is a simple non-rational hunch, a premonition lacking data, but it is a moral inkling that can be the beginning of a more comprehensive linkage of self and world.

All non-rational images, Jung argued further, arise from the soul or self, and express themselves as cultural phenomenon. If a society ignores, suppresses, or destroys this content, the content will re-emerge, malevolently and in distorted fashion, as violence, aggression, and war. The suppression of non-rational images such as art, philosophy, religion, or even licentiousness (leaving unmasked and unexplored those primordial instincts) can lead to mutilated forms later, in the individual and in the society.

Jung introduced an alternative to what society had done or does in addressing subconscious images: he introduced a new psychology, in short, and afforded the individual the opportunity to construct a personal mythology, a psychology that would restore the images, symbols, rituals, and processes to proper function and experience. This allows the individual to reconnect to the primordial sustenance while being able to distinguish the self from the culture and society that is around one. All religious traditions had made this distinction between large and small self, between Self and I. In Psychological Types (1921), Jung wrote:

In as much as the I is only the center of my field of consciousness, it is not identical with the totality of my psyche, being merely complex among other complexes. Hence I discriminate between the I and the self, since the I is only the subject of my consciousness, while the self is the subject of my totality: hence it also includes the unconscious psyche. In this sense the self would be an [ideal] greatness which embraces and includes the I. In unconscious fantasy the self often appears as the super-ordinated or ideal personality, as Faust in relation to Goethe and Zarathustra to Nietzsche.

The realization of the complexity of the individual leads idealized personas or, more logically and humbly, to solitude. Solitude is not here a condition of study or research but necessarily separates the seer from the world. When Jung constructed a primitive tower on the Swiss shores of Lake Zurich in 1920, he reflected that the tower was a solitary symbol of self. “I must catch up with a piece of the Middle Ages — within myself,” he wrote, for the Middle Ages seemed to express the subconscious more openly in society than in the modern age. Here, essentially, was an obvious symbol of solitude.

And to the theologian Richard Wilhelm, Jung wrote candidly:

Why are there no worldly cloisters for men, who should live outside the times!