[the Grail King] was sitting there, joyless and despondent, you failed to free him from his sighs!…In Heaven, before the seat of the Most High, you are assigned to Hell as you will be assigned here on earth [as well]…”(Eschenbach, pp. 164-5).
Parzival had failed in his deeper task because of the superficial shame of social propriety. When confronted by Cundrie, he suffers the deepest level of shame: a failure of integrity.
Eschenbach’s description of Parzival’s reaction to humiliation shows the perspective of those times. In the world of the high Middle Ages, shame was not seen as an inferior concern of conformists, but a guide to the knight who is serving the most sacred purposes. The author strongly doubts whether merely a brave heart and manly breeding can help a person after such mortification. Answering his own questions about Parzival’s character, Eschenbach says: “Nevertheless, he has a further resource, a sense of shame that reigns supreme over all his ways…a sense of shame is rewarded in the end by esteem and, when all is said and done, is the soul’s crowning glory and a virtue to be practiced above all others.” (Eschenbach, p. 166)
In thinking of shame as a teacher, it is important to remember that Cundrie, who publicly mortified him, is also the first to indirectly inform Parzival about his lost, speckled “shadow” brother, the “infidel” knight Feirefiz. At the marvelous conclusion of the story, it is Cundrie who is revealed as a messenger of the Grail, as well as a sorceress. It is she who proclaims Parzival’s destiny as the new Lord of the Grail (Ibid., p. 387).
It is Parzival’s assumption of the mantle of shame which leads to his redemption and transformation. He is restored to accord with the heavens, with his true destiny as the Grail King. It is of interest to note that Emma Jung and Von Franz considered the Grail to represent the feeling function (Jung, E. and Von Franz, p. 388). Shame is a powerful teacher, and, in this singular work of Western literature and moral thought, it is clearly the vehicle which can lead to redemption and the deepest sense of integrity. It leads Parzival to the Grail of discriminated feeling, the truth of the heart.
The Psychobiological Immanence of Shame
There is a strong biological basis for seeing shame as a teacher. For the first few months of life, the infant is largely dependent on mother’s soothing behavior to regulate the ebb and flow of its emotions. When that fails, and the small infant is overwhelmed by emotions, one may see a “freezing-up” behavior. Mel Knight has speculated that this is an early experience of finitude or shame (Personal communication, 1998). The neurobiologist and psychoanalyst Allan Schore, in his pioneering work, Affect Regulation and the Formation of the Self, has described how an area of the brain specifically involved with shame, the orbito-frontal cortex, matures between 10 and 12 months of age.
This shame cortex, located in the orbito-frontal area, is connected with memory and inhibitory control, acting as a regulator for the cacophony of infantile affects. Such regulation — the basis of the emerging self — involves internalization of the interaction between self and other. These internal representations begin to act as modulators of affective states (Schore, pp. 177-8). The maturation of this cortex coincides with the growing motility of the child, as it moves toward becoming a more autonomous being. At this age, the child must learn to hear “no,” and to inhibit its more dangerously exuberant impulses.
This function is largely right-brain (Ibid., pp. 66-7; p. 196). We know that the brain roughly doubles in size during the first two years of life due to myelinization. However, there is a death of 15-85 per cent of neurons between infancy and childhood (Ibid., pp. 19-20; pp. 258-9). There is a kind of “Darwinian” survival of areas and propensities in the brain. This is mediated by local hormonal influences in the brain itself, especially during “open periods” of development, like Lorenz’s imprinting mechanism. The mother, and especially her gaze, directly stimulates or fails to stimulate growth or inhibitory hormones in the evolving brain (Ibid., pp. 71-7; 271; p. 333). This is obviously a highly social, interactive process. The attuned mother is “inside” the infant, “metabolizing” the infant’s emotions, literally shaping its brain.
A secure parent, confident of meaning and perspective, gives clear, attuned messages about behavior and emotional management. That relationship is internalized as a stable, coherent structure of the self. It is reasonable to think that the fragmentation of cultural myth has, over time, created increasingly unsure and disconnected parents. That is, the parents have themselves become incrementally more narcissistic, with increasing problems in managing their own shame and self-esteem. This has had its effects on the emotional configuration of their children. Over these last centuries, we have increasingly actualized what John Donne described in the early seventeenth century, at the beginning of the modern age (An Anatomy of the World, 1611):
‘Tis all in peeces, all cohaerence gone;
All just supply and all Relation:
Prince, Subject, Father, Sonne, are things forgot, For every man alone thinkes he hath got
To be a Phoenix, and that there can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but hee.
Jung and the Emotional Self
Much of Jung’s early research concerned emotions. The word association test, psychogalvanic skin responses, and his writings on complexes were substantially about emotions. He spoke of affectivity being the ground and basis of personality (CW 3, par. 78). In another place, Jung said, “…emotion is the chief source of consciousness” (CW 9i, par. 179). He described the highly differentiated subjective sense that human beings have of the interpersonal affective field. We possess this sense like an “instinct,” similar to animals (CW 8, par. 25).
The nuclear element of a complex is its feeling-tone, which Jung equates with its intensity of affect (Ibid., par. 19). It is through feeling that the individual sorts out the relative value of inner, symbolic- emotional experiences, and shapes the structure of the personal self. Jung indeed says that it is through feeling that the archetype exerts its influence on the “configurations” of our everyday, ongoing life (Ibid., par. 411). This strongly suggests that affects have an innate “shaping” tendency, as well as being the ground and source of consciousness. To quote William Willeford (1987, pp. 149-50), “The self has an evaluative aspect that has never been sufficiently stressed — and has never been made explicit enough — though Jung had it in mind when he regarded feeling and affectivity as essential qualities of the vital core.”
In fact, Jung said contradictory things about the affective spectrum. Despite his above ideas about the affective basis of personality, he made a great deal of the separation between emotion and feeling. He was very eager to preserve feeling as something conscious and rational, and rather different than emotion (CW 18, par.. 45). In addition, he said that the dynamic, emotional pole of the archetype indeed provided the dynamism, but that the image provided the integrative element (CW 8, par. 414). That is, the archetypal image was the basic meaning-giving element, with a rather nobler role than affect. The wise animal sense of life, patterning through emotion and feeling, was usually not portrayed as the deciding factor in individuation.
In Jungian writings, the affectivity of complexes is most frequently depicted as nuisance rather than guide. It is something that “gets in the way.” Emphasis on the image as an integrative guide for affects — the image originating from the “spiritual” or ultraviolet pole of the archetype — has fostered a tendency for Jungians and Jungian psychology to “go upwards,” away from the earth, away from emotion, body, and the psychobiological self. Thus the Cartesian split of mind and body has generally continued in Jungian psychology.
This split has manifested as a kind of polarity. On the one hand, the urge for transcendence through the image. On the other hand: emotion, shadow, Nigredo. In much of Jungian psychology, one gets the impression that transformation occurs through images of the transcendent, and that the meaningful patterning of life occurs through the “spiritual,” or “ultraviolet,” spectrum of experience. The image as the “leader” of experience is emphasized rather than the turbulent emotions that give it birth. At the extreme, this leads to a romantic, seductive promise of being healed by the special experience of an archetypal image (Williams, D., p. 14). This attitude often results in a kind of “symbolic excitement,” rather than symbolic experience.
Idealized Image and Faustian Progress
Romancing the symbolic image can lead to a Faustian intoxication with the ideal. For the sake of his fantastic projects, Faust rejected Care (Sorge) for the earth (Edinger, 1990, p. 83). All Western individuals have some of this seductive myth of Progress somewhere in their psyches. It has expressed itself in the ideology of endless change and revolution (Calasso, 1994). Actual revolution has subsided. Infatuation with the idealized image continues, creating a restless obsession with perfection at the expense of life. Technologies such as the Internet add to the endless possibility of knowing more, having more. We are alienated from Care: the immediate, emotional sense of earthy responsibility. The destruction of the environment continues. The search for a perfect happiness to which we are entitled, and the pursuit of change for the sake of change, race on.
For the sake of a progressive land development, Faust caused the murder of Baucis and Philemon, a gracious old couple who were close to the gods. He experienced no shame or guilt about his deeds. (Ibid., pp. 84-5).
Jung was plagued by his own Faustian heritage. Over the door at Bollingen, Jung carved: Philemonis Sacrum — Fausti Poenitentia (Shrine of Philemon — Repentance of Faust). He saw the Faustian moral problem as the key to the future of the modern world.
While at Byron’s French commune, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a counter to Faustian romantic excesses (Shattuck, pp. 98-9). Can shame cool such collective and individual excess? Are we Faust, or are we Frankenstein? Can shame help teach us “lowly wisdom,” so that we welcome Care once more?
Emotion, Feeling and the Structure of the self
Feelings are best seen on a continuum with affects, or as “cooled affects.” Feeling presumes the internalized, functional memory of embodied emotional events (Damasio, p. 159; Willeford, p. 247). That is, feelings are based on memories of emotions. The basic “drive” of the emotions is retained in feelings, and gives them their continuing “charge.”
These embodied emotions have ways of “knowing” and deciding which are more efficient than thinking. Often rather automatic and out of conscious awareness, they are usually quite orderly (Ibid. pp. 219-222). They are regular, functioning parts of our personal self-structures, shaping our ongoing internal and communal lives. This gives our lives a sense of cohesion, and is the basis of our continuing, background awareness of self as process.
The emotional self is the original core of self. Broucek describes this as a “prerepresentational self,” which forms around our affective core. This is an enduring element of character that continues through developmental changes. The “affective core” has to do with early patterns of intersubjective relatedness, and is also “the foundation of our sense of ourselves as individuals” (Broucek, p. 45).
There is certainly not much syntactic communication in this early emergent self, when there seem to be only tones and vestiges of images. Shame becomes our teacher, so far as primary shaping of character and acculturation is concerned. Autonomous self control and self-direction are not possible before the shame cortex develops. From the classic psychoanalytic view, renouncing of childhood omnipotence, the great leap away from primary narcissism, takes place during this early period when the shame cortex matures (Schore, p. 208; p. 213).
Without affects we would not be alive, since we would not connect with anything. We cannot think ourselves into having a self. Indeed, we would have no desire to do or think. Affects have direction and connection; they connect us to both self and others. In addition, the body-self’s ongoing “background” feeling of aliveness is crucial to any vital sense of presence in the world (Damasio, pp. 150-1). Thought and image are not independent entities, but are intertwined with emotion from the start (Ibid., p. 160).
Indeed, most of the ongoing, sorting and shaping processes of life are based in emotional feedback loops from the body. For the most part, embodied emotions and emotional memories sort things out for us in a very efficient way, before we actually even think about our choices. Intellectually intact individuals who have suffered specific neurological damage cutting them off from embodied emotion, have profoundly flawed judgment (Ibid., pp. 212 ff.).
These findings contribute a clear limit and humbling perspective to the inflated pretensions of “pure” thought.
Shame as the Archetype of Feeling
If something like “cooled affects” decides value, as feelings, and this shapes the structure of the personal self, what cools the affects? Shame, itself an emotion, would seem to be the “cooler,” inhibitor, or dampener of the other emotions (Nathanson, 1992, p. 134). Louis Stewart suggested that shame is the archetype of feeling. He also viewed shame, and feeling in general, as crucial to a stable and viable culture. Stewart speculated that shame evolved directly as a function of the social needs of the mammalian species (Stewart, pp. 284-5). Shame, as the generic modulator of emotion into feeling, enables us to be participating members of a moral community.
Shaping and maintaining a coherent self is an ongoing, valuing function. In establishing and maintaining a coherent self with integrity, shame is our teacher. Its role is discrimination: the “regulation” or “taming” of affects into the function of “feeling.” One could see this on a gradated scale of intensity, ranging from powerful — sometimes chaotic — affective states to refined feeling, or even “dead” feeling.
In the early years of infancy and childhood, the attuned — or non-attuned — mother modulates and mediates this process. Her strongest influence seems to be on right-brain development and function. Most of our ongoing, automatic evaluating of situations and behaviors, the emotional “tone” of our lives, there before thought, is regulated by the right brain structures (Schore, pp. 30-31). That is where the shame cortex resides. Later, language and father become more important. The larger community takes on this “civilizing” function of cooling affects through shame.
Western culture has deified reason, and dismissed emotion and feeling. As a consequence, the modern, alienated individual has difficulty maintaining a personal sense of meaning. The moral compass, the capacity for evolved feeling, has been damaged. We need to seek and renew that Grail of lowly wisdom.