Four sisters and four degrees of fire governing the ‘circular work’ of the Zodiac1
1The Four Sisters of astrology sit with their full knowledge of the Order of the Heavens. Alchemy by Johannes Fabricius (Fig. 17; Diamond Books, 1994, p. 14
Jung describes the Unus Mundus as an experience where ‘opposites’ are transcended by unity, and an awareness of synchronicity becomes possible (Aziz 1990; von Franz 1975, p. 249). It serves as an implicit goal or telos, toward which a ‘spiritus lector’ (a spiritual guide in dreams or active imagination) leads the individual toward a ‘unio mentalis’ (a union of self and body/matter). This eventuates in the union of the ‘whole man’ with a transcendent ground that is presumed to be foundational (Jung 1963/1970, paras. 759–75).
This telos or goal has often taken on the status of the ‘constitutive myth’ of Jungian psychology (Gabriel & Zizˇek 2009). That is, although one can cite many sides of Jung’s writings, this particular set of assumptions tends to function, implicitly or explicitly, as the basic underpinning of Jungian thought and practice. It is his ‘solution’ to the ancient question of the ultimate truth of existence
In the postmodern era, however, one can see how such foundationalism repeats a primal error of modern thought that can be very destructive in its unforeseen effects. My three sons will provide different examples of how the foundationalist search for truth and progress, for ‘Enlightenment’, has often had unpredictable and sometimes disastrous ethical consequences. Our hope is that these dramatic examples can help free us from our implicit biases toward a reified oneness or totality.
The primal dilemma can be traced back to the origins of Western thought, especially to interpretations of father Plato and his Allegory of the Cave (Plato, Book VII). As you may recall, this parable depicts humankind as fixed in place, staring at the wall of a cave. Some distance behind them, unseen, there is a large fire, and various objects are paraded in front of the fire. The shadows of the objects are visible on the wall of the cave, in front of the denizens emplaced there, and they take those shadows as ‘reality’. Finally, one cave person is taken out into the light, where there is a different world and ‘real’ objects. . .not merely their shadows. When that person returns to the cave, however, his former compatriots will not believe him and go on staring at the shadows on the wall, believing that they are ‘reality’.
The assumption of the parable is that the ideal foundations of life have always been there, but that a befuddled mankind has lost its way (Gibson 2006, p. 159). From this point of view, ‘Inside the cave’ illustrates a view of humanity in error—an abject, ‘fallen’, and ‘lesser’ humanity. No creative event of truth can happen there because the ‘Truth’ is depicted as a pre-existing ideal world, a thing outside in the light (ibid., pp. 202–203). Such an ideal becomes the goal to be sought, the telos.
Plato’s Allegory is reminiscent of some conventional views of the analytic situation! Like the cave dwellers, we are at first unaware of the illusionary state in which we exist. When we become aware of the degree of our lostness and blindness it terrifies us, and we search for foundational certainties that will provide an escape. The fantasy of a place ‘outside’ our condition, one that transcends our sense of helplessness and suffering, continually magnetizes us (Carel 2001, p. 2). This picture has largely dominated the course of Western theology and philosophy, and is related to Jung’s conception of the Unus Mundus. Indeed, he specifically equates his viewpoint with Plato’s Allegory (Jung 1963/1970, para. 768), and describes it as restoring the ‘potential world of the first day of Creation’, the ‘eternal Ground’ of the empirical world ‘before things were divided into a multiplicity’ (ibid., para. 760).
Such utopian views valorize the possibility of seeing from an ‘objective’ position ‘outside the cave’, which is impossible; from where could that position itself be observed and validated? In an attempt to solve this problem, Jung asserts the existence of an ‘objective’, Archimedean point by positing the concept of the ‘psychoid’, a ‘non-psychic’ structure that is ‘neither mind nor matter’ 1960/1969, para. 417; para. 439, n. 130; para. 840). However, this merely shifts the illusion of objectivity and control to another level (Brooks 2009). Like other Utopian views, it ends in a tautology: how does the eye see itself? (Zˇ izˇek 2008). Jung himself sometimes raises the question of ‘whether the soul could be known through itself’, but this perspective usually becomes subsumed to his search for universals (Jung 1954, para 161 ff.; Shamdasani 2003, p. 89; p. 94ff.).
Jung’s theoretical construct, although it has inspired many practitioners as an ideal, in the end foundered. That may be due to his isolation from emerging perspectives that would have challenged the assumptions of the prevailing zeitgeist, and opened new dimensions in his work (Brooks 2009).
A broader consequence of valorizing a ‘larger, purer’ totality is that it tends to minimize the raw particulars of human suffering. Seen through the lens of the Utopian gaze, suffering is often depicted as an unfortunate but necessary dimension of the path toward an idealized unity (Levinas 1998, pp. 91–102). Levinas repeatedly points out that such a totalizing point of view tends to obscure the ethical call of the singular Face of the Other and the stark reality of useless suffering (Levinas 1969, pp. 21–30 & 194–219).
Contemporary postmodern thought offers a different view of the universe. It eschews utopian totalities that employ foundational principles. Based on speculations about an unknowable realm, such principles have no necessary relationship to the particulars of existence. In contrast, the postmodern ethos values particulars. In this view Being is always situated, and we are always divided subjects in our ‘worlds’. There is no experience of Being beyond all structure, beyond the situations in which we find ourselves (Gibson 2006, p. 45).
In contrast to visions of totality, there is a fundamental incompleteness of reality itself that terrifies us (Johnston 2008, p. 5). Things being together do not indicate that they constitute a unity; and what we tend to call ‘opposites’ are actually ‘parallax views’ that cannot be ‘reconciled’ (Zˇizˇek 2006). Our knowledge is always condemned, in Lacanian terms, to be ‘non-all’, intrinsically lacking, invariably ending in enigma. This is an ontology of gaps and abysses, and the very structure of our subjectivity is a manifestation of such divisions. Jean Laplanche has carefully delineated this view, highlighting the prominence of enigmatic elements in the earliest formation of the subject (Laplanche 1999; Hinton 2009).
As a consequence, we are ‘constitutionally unable to keep things fixed and forever immune to disruption and change’ (Lear 2000, p. 112). However, the subject, when realizing this situation, may become a ‘crack’ in the very foundation of fundamental systems. Disruptiveness offers us something precious by opening up fields of possibilities (Carel 2001, p. 6). Leaving the apparent comfort of life as a ‘normal’ automaton involves bearing the awareness of gaps or ‘black holes’ in consciousness; but such ‘cracks’ are also, paradoxically, the basis of human freedom (Zˇ izˇek 2006, pp. 25, 65, 88–90).
This reverses Plato’s journey. Consciousness or reflection indeed results in an awareness of what we creatures in the Cave lack; but a ‘higher’ unity or wholeness, a thing or substance that is the incarnation of ultimate Truth, always eludes our grasp like a phantom unicorn. The crucial point is that, in the process of descent into our cave-like depths, we may momentarily experience the void of an always-missed encounter with unity, with ‘unprethinkable being’ (Gabriel & Zˇ izˇek 2009). It is such experiences that can open the space of the subject for poetry, new thoughts, images, and sometimes laughter (ibid., pp. 26–85; Bakhtin 1984; Gibson 2006, 54–55; Hinton 2002; Johnston 2008, p. 83).2 This is the essence of the analytic task.
2The void, as the constituting principle of experience, is the basis of the subject. It cannot itself appear as such but only in images such as the uncanny stranger. The self, the subject’s manifest presence, is thus at root an appearance based upon an experience that can never itself be represented—although the inexhaustibility of aesthetic experience may touch upon this possibility (Gabriel & Zˇ izˇek 2009, pp. 79–80) This lends an uncanny quality to life (ibid., p. 20; pp. 31–32)
From this perspective psychoanalysis is not merely part of a necessary developmental unfolding, but rather it is a subversive influence involving our being in the world, a break