[Religious Types 8] Shadow in Life

24 04 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

In talking about how our shadow functions give shape to our conscious ones, I made a point in passing that becomes important now: the shadow isn’t just an underdeveloped function, but a function that has been overrun by the external world. The way in which those functions are overrun, the exact content that animates them, is personal. It is personal in the sense that it varies from person to person, having everything to do with our place and time, but it is also personal in the sense that it is what makes us the person that we are, rather than an abstract confluence of preexisting types.

This interchange between the stable type and our fluid history is key. Our personality profile defines a mode of life in the face of changing events, and our development as a person has everything to do with how we do or do not manage to adapt those patterns to those events. Since those events manifest most clearly in our shadow function, we can talk about the way those functions both have a history and remain stable.

All manner of otherwise unnoticed material manifests through these functions. It might be our dissatisfaction with our mother, it might be the voice of God, but through these doors this marginal and marginalized material arrives. At times, because the material is not at our conscious disposal, it will mingle and mix together. The way in which our shadow functions operate can cause us all manner of problems on this point. What may, to our conscious mind, have all the trappings of the voice of God, may be little more than the voice of our parent amplified through the shadow function. Inversely, though, it may be that the voice of God fuses and joins to the voice of our mother.

This somewhat justifies our suspicion of the material that our shadow functions bring to our attention. It is ambiguous and often difficult to sort out. Whether in dreams, longings, errant thoughts, or technicolor visions, they provide information that is an admixture of light and obscurity. Still, in sorting through it, we come closer to the world around us. To some extent, the confusion of the shadow function’s productions has much to do with the conflict between the order imposed by our conscious functions and the more complex order/disorder that defines the world itself.

Which is where we (finally) can begin to turn our attention back to the works of Jung and Dick that began this series. In their work, they engage in the more mysterious face of shadow work, dealing with the realities of a spiritual world beyond their personal concerns. We see this very clearly with Jung, where his vision speak to World War I’s immanence, but with Dick as well, where the spiritual and political realities intertwine (e.g., “the empire never ended”). We can also begin to sketch out in more detail what it means to call these works productive failures.

While Jung does seem to have been caught in the throes of a religious experience while writing Liber Novus, he too quickly returns to their speculative consideration, withdrawing from their content to explore their structure. In returning to the structure of these experiences, he shifts away from the material content of them, the rich sensations attending them, and returns to his comfortable intuition.

In proceeding to formulate a psychological theory on the basis of his religious experiences, Jung proceeds to translate the externality of his experiences into a new sort of internality. The effort to see deep, super-historical themes in the visionary experiences, effectively neutralizes their historical content (the war and the modern world born of it) as well as the personal demands the spirits lay upon him (to found a church, a community). He passes along the message and even a method (attention to the psyche), but he shirks the calling. In so doing, he mangles the message, too, because that attention to psyche comes with the attendant demand to give voice to the psyche on a communal scale.

While his visions were rich, while they did resonate with mythological images the world over, I doubt that this was because our psyches simply rest atop a universal human unconscious trove of images. Rather, Jung had been steeped in the intellectual and aesthetic world of his time, images which he had as a man of reason, left to his shadow functions. In eliding his own personal knowledge of myth, he displaces himself from the material and the pressures it applied to him as an individual. He side-stepped the fate it pressed upon him, and so too sidestepped the destiny outlined in it.

Jung retreats toward the conscious functions and his own comfort with the therapeutic environment. His retreat is, tellingly, toward the attitudes with which he has the greatest comfort, the attitudes with which he had achieved the greatest success prior to his break with Freud and his immersion in the world he would come to call the collective unconscious.

Dick, to his credit, seems to have been far more aware of the shadow functions’ opportunism and saw in many of the forms it took the outline of his own history. Moreso than Jung, he was eager to share his experiences with others near and dear to him as having a religious content, as bearing upon his destiny as an individual. For this reason, we see more clearly a pattern of compromise and accommodation in Dick. While he never withdrew from a religious attitude toward his experiences, he never fully realized those attitudes in any sort of religious practice.

That compromise appears in the way Dick spent so much time trying to explain his experiences. In this fascination with understanding and explaining the experiences, we see Dick laboring to reincorporate the religious into the literary and speculative opus through which he had achieved some success and which was deemed more appropriate than his religious sympathies. With Dick more than Jung, it is easy to see in this retreat a compromise with the unwillingness of those around him to meet him on common ground.

He did explore his own connection to the sacraments. He may have given his child impromptu communion and, at least by Tim Powers’s account, considered that he might have the same capacity to give confession. Still, these practices were inconsistent at best and lacked the constancy and depth characteristic of religious practice. They were treated by those around him as signs of his eccentricity and, to some extent, his unwillingness to push further in that behavior indicates he, on some level, capitulated to this ‘Dick-the-eccentric’ characterization.

I suspect this dynamic of capitulation, though, is not unique to Dick. I suspect it holds of Jung, too, though we cannot see it so clearly. It seems the capitulation that is quite natural to certain forms of modern society. Before addressing that, though, I want to take another detour.

[Next Post in the Series: Community, Evolution, and Type]

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