Lord Jim is the story of Jim, an idealistic young officer on the Patna, a rusty steamship carrying pilgrims to Mecca. It strikes the hulk of an old wreck in the night and he impulsively abandons ship along with a cowardly group of the ship’s officers, leaving the pilgrims to their fate. However, the ship does not in fact sink, but is discovered and towed to shore by a naval vessel. Jim’s dereliction of duty is traumatic and deeply shameful for him and his profession. The containing structures of existence seem lost, and ‘the heart of darkness’ looms..
Jim seeks redemption, and the resolution of his shame. He is driven to understand the enigma of his flight. Stein, a wise and experienced man of good will, cites a butterfly as an example of something perfect and beautiful, knowing exactly what to do with its life, but therefore unfree. In contrast, the human being is not a beautiful butterfly, a complete work, but thereby has an element of freedom. His piercing advice for Jim is, “In the destructive element immerse!” This is the fulcrum of the story. Jim eventually develops an ethos of personal responsibility that is not dependent on mere duty, but on free choice. However, such freedom has a shadow side, and his community is almost destroyed by a shameless psychopath.
In our own times we seem to have lost not only a clear sense of duty, but even basic decency, and shame has become diffuse and largely unconscious. There is an ominous undertone to things. Jim’s example provokes material for deep reflection on some of the dilemmas we face.
Ladson Hinton, MD, is a member of the Society of Jungian Analysts of Northern California, the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles, and a founder of the New School for Analytical Psychology in Seattle. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Analytical Psychology and practices, consults, and teaches in Seattle. Shame & Temporality: Anguish and Awareness at the Crossroads, co-edited with Hessel Willemsen, will be published by Routledge in 2017. His recent interests are in the areas of French psychoanalysis, truth and shame, temporality, and the philosophical and historical grounds of psychoanalysis.