Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies (JSSS)

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.-- Carl Jung


The Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies
Conference 2003 Highlights

The Psyche of the Text: A Post-Jungian Feminist Critical Manifesto

Christine Herold

This purely theoretical paper serves to elucidate my own feminist Post-Jungian approach to literature. My attempt to contemporize and formalize feminist archetypal theory is made in the hope of increasing its acceptance and encouraging its use among scholars of literature. In this attempt I follow humbly in the footsteps of some extraordinary archetypal theorists, as well as Jung himself.

To begin, I would like to try to engage a perennial objection to literary critical theory—"Why must literature be approached, why not just read and enjoyed?" Because, simply to read and respond is, as educational philosopher, Yoshiharu Nakagawa would say, to encounter only its empirical phenomena, to remain in the "realm of 'naïve realism' in which atomistic and mechanistic worldviews and subject-object dualism are predominant."[1] Reading should be the first of several steps, the starting-point, for engaging with literature as with any objectified phenomenon of sensory data. At this initial level of reading, the linguistic symbols that constitute the text are limited, in Nakagawa's words, to the "articulation and differentiation of a given reality according to ... predetermined meanings."[2] I am, at this level of engagement, allowing the text to be understood for me by a system of signifieds culturally acquired.

What David Abrams describes as this "strange and potent technology which we have come to call 'the alphabet',"[3] arose originally out of humans' sensory interactions with the natural world. Meaning was derived from animal tracks, cloud formations, bird flights, leaf surfaces and other natural signs. Animal tracks, hand and foot prints, led to pictographs. Egyptian hieroglyphs appeared at about 3000 BCE; Chinese pictographs around the fifteenth century BCE. The Semitic aleph-beth, while shifting "attention away from ... the sensible phenomenon that had previously called forth the spoken utterance," still retained reminders of the "worldly origin of the letter," as in the sign , aleph, which stood for ox.[4] By the time of the Greek alphabet the link between the sign and its natural event had been severed. Abrams observes, "The apparently autonomous, mental dimension originally opened by the alphabet—the ability to interact with our own signs in utter abstraction from our earthly surroundings—has today blossomed into a vast, cognitive realm, a horizonless expanse of virtual interactions and encounters." We are, Abrams laments, caught in disconnected, "ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs."[5] But Abrams believes, and I believe, that language and linguistic signs retain enough vestigial psychic connection to the rest of the world that we can reclaim their real communicative powers, reconnect our use and understanding of them to their roots in direct sensory and intuitive interactions that bind self and world, self and universe, not only in physical, but in emotional, psychological and spiritual ways as well. During the Shang dynasty (c.1500-c.1050 BCE) writing was understood as "a form of communication with higher spiritual powers." It was used in Daoism as a medium for spiritual revelation.[6] Approaching a text is like approaching a sage—the answer obtained depends upon the question asked. The question asked depends upon the state of mind of the questioner. To approach literature from a deeper level of consciousness places me in touch with its deeper levels of meaning, its reality beyond that constructed for it by those acculturated meaning-determinants.

Beneath the surface fictive sinage of the text I engage the psycho-biological ground out of which symbols and all other signs and empirical phenomena arise. Approaching literature at this deep psychic level makes its primal meanings available. These archetypal meanings constitute what I call the psyche of the text. Accessing the archetypal content of a text is "extremely valuable" because, in Toshihiko Izutsu's words,

the figures of the things looming up through the mist of these images do represent the primeval configurations of a reality which are psychically far more real and more relevant to the fate and existence of man than the sensory reality established at the surface level of consciousness. The world-vision presented by the images ... is, in other words, a direct reflection of reality as it is viewed at a deeper level of consciousness, and as such it reveals the primeval structure of Being which remains hidden from the view of the empirical eyes.[7]

Izutsu here describes the difference between communicating with a text and communing with it.[8] Language-based education and self-identification has historically failed to discover the dynamic interconnectedness of all levels of being. This substantialist approach to knowledge cannot access the deeper truths of relational reality.

The new physicists such as Fritjof Capra, F. David Peat, Amit Goswami and others have discovered these truths, and have turned to the East for language with which to express their findings. Carl Jung also, as you know, looked to eastern philosophy, to the I Ching, Tao te Ching, the Hindu Sutras and to Zen masters for corroboration of his theories and vocabulary to help express them. In a famous debate with Neils Bohr over the "proper interpretation of quantum mechanics," Albert Einstein argued in favor of an understanding of the ultimate concrete reality of Platonic archetypes: "When we measure something," Einstein said, "we are in fact measuring some thing." Bohr argued, however, for quite a different understanding of archetypes: "When we measure something we are forcing an undetermined, undefined world to assume some experimental value. We are not 'measuring' the world, we are creating it."[9] Bohr's position reflects the Eastern understanding of non-manifested versus manifested reality. This understanding influenced Jung's psychological theory of archetypes and archetypal forms in which he hypothesizes the archetypes themselves as formless forces that only take on form when clothed by the symbol-making function of the unconscious psyche. Jung says it is "probable that an archetype in its quiescent, unprojected state has no exactly determinable form but is in itself an indefinite structure which can assume definite forms only in projection."[10] Archetypes themselves cannot be described or analyzed. Like quanta, they can be known only by the traces of their effects in the observer's mind; thus we are not able to distinguish a separate existence for archetypes outside the individual and collective minds that respond to them any more than we can assign objective reality to the behavior of subatomic particles.

In looking for archetypal figures in literary texts, therefore, I am looking for evidence of the author's conscious or unconscious engagement with the collective symbol-making function that projects meaning onto human experience. Archetypal symbols, like the symbols of human language, are world-making tools by which humanity creates the reality it wants to believe in. Archetypal projection creates the illusion of control and understanding which masks the fluid, formless nature of pre-manifested and non-manifested reality. By studying the archetypal content of a text, then, I am studying the origin of the world in a primordial imagistic form that preceded the invention of the word as meaning-making symbol.

The spontaneously arising unconscious symbols Jung identified as archetypal figures are a gateway--opening on the one side into analytical psychological self knowledge, and on the other opening into the realm of the archetypes themselves, those primal, pre-formal forces to which the embodied psyche reacts, signaling our relationship with pre-existent, pre-manifested being. My purpose in studying archetypal symbols in literary texts is, therefore, twofold. One function of this investigation is to increase my knowledge of the unconscious psychic contents of the author revealed in her or his text, and of the collective cultural and universal human psychic community, and through identification with and reflection on this symbolic evidence, to increase my knowledge of myself. This is the purpose in reading literature pioneered by Post-Jungians such as Feminist literary critic Bettina Knapp and Feminist analyst Demaris Wehr. Knapp acknowledges, in her introduction to her book, A Jungian Approach to Literature, that

Archetypal analysis takes the literary work out of its individual and conventional context and relates it to humankind in general. This unique approach lifts readers out of their specific and perhaps isolated worlds and allows them to expand their vision, and thus to relate more easily to issues that may confront them and to understand their reality as part of an ongoing and cyclical reality.[11]

Professor of Romance Languages and Comparative Literature at Hunter College and Lecturer at the C. G. Jung Foundation, Knapp encourages and facilitates a personal psychological "confrontation" with the work of literature which may lead to increased self-awareness on the part of the reader. "Reading" she observes, "now becomes not merely an intellectual adventure but an excitingly helpful living experience."[12] "Literature," she writes, "is not merely a means of broadening knowledge but a way of discovering one's own ground-bed and of developing one's potential and spiritual élan—of helping a personality to grow and individuate—which are the fruits and goals of the creative process."[13] From this point of view literary criticism is a psychological study, even a therapeutic method, as Knapp suggests, akin to other forms of art therapy.

Wehr, as a Post-Jungian psychologist and theologian, having come to terms with her justified anger at Jung's sexism,[14] considers "Jung's psychology ... a worldview [that] offers far-ranging explanations, some of which are ignored at our peril."[15] She sees part of her task as a feminist Post-Jungian to recontextualize Jung's theories, to correct and extend them where necessary, and thus to bring them up to date. Wehr acknowledges Jung's concept of the anima as "an important first step" in recognizing the feminine side of the masculinized psyche. But adds that his "descriptions of the anima reveal the source of emotional alienation from which Western men seem to suffer."[16] Nevertheless, she writes, "for all its faults from the point of view of women's search for authentic self-definitions, arising out of their own lives and woman-affirming experience, Jung's valuing of what he called the 'feminine' has pointed to what is lacking, undervalued, misunderstood, and feared in the Western world." Wehr calls upon feminist Post-Jungian thinkers to join her in expanding Jungian theory to a more holistic approach. As a Feminist Post-Jungian I answer this call to further Jungian thought in areas of gender identity and psychological and sociological interpretation championed by such analysts as Knapp and Wehr. Building off Wehr's approach, I expand Jung's theory of the animus/anima to allow for an anima in a feminized psyche as well as in a masculinized one, and to allow for an animus in a masculinized psyche as well as in a feminized one. I update our understanding of the anima and animus by removing the limiting negative associations (especially with regard to the anima). I also try to do a better job than the master did in not identifying features of the anima (again especially) and animus with actual biological females and males, and generally update the understanding of gender to a more contemporary concept of gender as a spectrum rather than a dualistic opposition. Thus my use of "masculinzed" and "feminized" to refer to cultural accretions and traditional gender associations, as distinguished from "biological male" and "biological female." But my purpose in doing so does not stop with these ends, valuable as they are.

My ultimate purpose is deeper still—to study literary texts as living symbol-systems which, by their connection to collective unconscious materials, can lead us into planes of awareness that draw us away from individual psychology and a sociological understanding of individuation, and to direct encounters with levels of reality offering spiritual awakening/enlightenment. From this point of view literary criticism is a spiritual practice. Moving beyond intellectual engagement with form, style, intent, imagery and context, and beyond individual, cultural and collective interpretation of archetypal figures, I contemplate the deeper forces of the archetypal symbols by allowing my unconscious to respond intuitively to the psychic energies of the text. Through the gateway of its symbols the artistic text can, like a mandala, an icon or a mantra, bring me to realization of the source of symbol, text, author, reader, critic, universe. I might call this approach "visionary" literary analysis. Its practice requires unlearning the programmed rationalistic, substantialist response to language, and reclamation of the mystical power of symbols. Chuang Tzu (4th c. BCE) writes of a Hunchback Woman who had found Tao. When Nan Po Tsu Kuei asks her where she learned what she knows, the woman answers,

I have learned it from the son of Ink-writing, the son of Ink-writing from the grandson of Chanting-recitation, the grandson of Chanting-recitation from Clear-understanding, Clear-understanding from Quiet-affirmation, Quiet-affirmation from Immediate-experience, Immediate-experience from Dramatic-expression, Dramatic-expression from Dark-obscurity, Dark-obscurity from Mysterious-void, and Mysterious-void from Beginning-of-no-beginning.[17]


[1] Oshiharu Nakagawa, Education for Awakening: An Eastern Approach to Holistic Education (Brandon, T: Foundation for Educational Renewal, 2000) 31.

[2] Nakagawa, 39.

[3] David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous (New York: Vintage, 1997) 95-96.

[4] Abram, 100-102.

[5] Abram, 265, 267.

[6] Art in China, 135-36.

[7] Quoted in Nakagawa, 25.

[8] Nakagawa, 36ff.

[9] Quoted by Giberson, 41. Karl Giberson, "The Greatest Debate in History," Science and Spirit, (Spring???): 38-39.

[10] Jung, Aspects of the Masculine/Aspects of the Feminine, trans. R.F.C. Hull (New York: MJF Books, 1989) 120.

[11] Bettina L. Knapp, A Jungian Approach to Literature (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984) x.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Knapp, xvi.

[14] Demaris S. Wehr, Jung & Feminism: Liberating Archetypes (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987): "Androcentrism and misogyny distort Jung's discussions of women, the anima and animus, and the feminine" (99).

[15] Wehr, ix-xii.

[16] Wehr, 113-14.

[17] Chuang Tzu, Inner Chapters, trans. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English (New York: Vintage Books, 1974) 126.

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