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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WAKE ME UP BEFORE I IMAGO-GO

"We must therefore assume that, over and above the incest-fantasy, highly emotional contents are still bound up with the parental images and need to be made conscious. They are obviously more difficult to make conscious than the incest-fantasies, which are supposed to have been repressed through violent resistance and to be unconscious for that reason. Supposing this view is correct, we are driven to the conclusion that besides the incest-fantasy there must be contents which are repressed through a still greater resistance. Since it is difficult to imagine anything more repellent than incest, we find ourselves rather at a loss to answer this question."-- Jung,
Concerning the archetypes, with special reference to the anima concept.


In this 1936 essay Carl Jung offered a counterstroke to the emphasis his former mentor Freud had placed upon a purely empirical (i.e., referencing only physical patterns and processes) interpretation of human psychological problems. Early in the essay Jung takes issue with Freud's emphasis with physiological processes alone:

"All the same, it was Freud who cleared the ground for the investigation of complex phenomena, at least in the field of neurosis. But the ground he cleared extended only so far as certain basic physiological concepts permitted, so that it looked almost as if psychology were an offshoot of the physiology of the instincts."

By the time Jung reaches the point of the later quote, he asks rhetorically whether or not Freud was really correct in thinking that "physiological concepts" were really the base of the psyche's "highly emotional contents," which he asserts are more elusive, and therefore more repressed, than the incest-fantasies which Freud viewed as the sine qua non of psychology.

Jung's answer to his own question is that what he calls "religious ideas" are actually far more subterranean material than one's sex fantasies. After observing that people are sometimes more leery of talking about religion than sex, and noting that the Freudian concept of "resistance" may be overrated, Jung speaks of religious ideas as taking any sort of "superordinate idea" that suggests the subsumptive power of religion.

Now religious ideas, as history shows, are charged with an extremely suggestive, emotional power. Among them I naturally reckon all "representations collectives," everything that we learn from the history of religion, and anything that has an "ism" attached to it. The latter is only a modern variant of the denominational religions. A man may be convinced in all good faith that he has no religious ideas, but no one can fall so far away from humanity that he no longer has any dominating "representation collective." His very materialism, atheism, communism, socialism, liberalism, intellectualism, existentialism, or what not, testifies against his innocence. Somewhere or other, overtly or covertly, he is possessed by a supraordinate idea.


Thus Jung attempted to trump Freud by stating that collective representations are in fact more repressed, and more indicative of true psychological processes, than "physiological concepts."

For an amateur literary theorist such as myself, I find the argument between Freud and Jung brings me back to a dichotomy formulated by the poet Octavio Paz, which I explored in the OUR BODIES, OUR NONBODIES essay-series.

I take the phrases "body" and "non-body" from an essay by Octavio Paz in CONJUNCTIONS AND DISJUNCTIONS. Paz was mindful of the fact that a lot of the words used by human beings in opposition to the physical body (as well as physical phenomena generally) are highly speculative, such as "soul" and "spirit." For that matter, even words like "mind" and "the unconscious," while more commonly used by materialists, are still "iffy."

"Non-body," then, was Paz's portmanteau term for all that intangible shit. I believe he meant it not as a viable category in itself but just as a means of spotlighting how human beings regard everything that informs their symbolic universe (that's Cassirer, again, BTW), be it tangible or intangible, corporeal or incorporeal, body or "non-body." It appeals to me as a means to subsume aspects of humanity that are sometimes ascribed to "mind," sometimes to "spirit."


I believe, contrary to both Freud and Jung (at least as Jung expresses himself in the above essay), that both human psychology and human literature recapitulate what I'll term corporeal and incorporeal concepts. Just as the soundest possible psychology might take from both Freud and Jung, the soundest possible literary theory might be the offspring of, say, Northrop Frye and Leslie Fiedler.

As example, take my recent essay on THE NEW MUTANTS story "To Build a Fire," by Simonson and Muth.

In analyzing this tale of Young Mutants in Love, I tended to emphasize the incorporeal aspects of the characters' relationship, as in this sentence:

Amara's self-identification with the rainforest, though not stressed, follows the mythic motif by which femininity is equated with the earth and growing things.


This "imago" (what Jung called "the image of the subjective relation of the object") would certainly stand as one of his "representations collectives," since it stems from a cultural history in which one gender's characteristics are abstractly related to a nonhuman phenomenon.

However, I can see how one could analyze "Build a Fire" purely from the standpoint of "physiological processes." One could build, with some logic, a Freudian scenario in which Amara is afraid of a domineering father, who threatens her sense of integrity not by direct sexual contact but through a proxy whom he chooses for her. Manuel, despite having less pure power than Amara does, as well as less experience in the savage jungle, could be figured as a displacement of the threat of rape through a proxy, which is itself further displaced by using psychic rather than physical rape.

I don't think a purely Freudian reading is adequate to take in the complexity of the Simonson-Muth story. I indulge in one here to illustrate that there are times when corporeally-derived concepts may dominate a particular literary narrative. I touched on this fact in my comparison of the use of violence in two Golden Age comics, PLASTIC MAN and WONDER WOMAN, and I imagine that there will be other works that invite the same preponderance of one set of concepts over the other.

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