[Religious Types 12] Alienation and Innovation

15 05 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

To the extent that Introverted Intuition produces a useful cultural form, the form’s adoption will alienate it from the Introverted Intuitive’s own experience. It is easy to see this as a corruption or loss, the habituation of insight or the ossification of reason into superstition. However, before we do that, we need to appreciate the context for this transfer.

As we have already discussed, the efficacy of Introverted Sensation has much to do with the general stability of the environment. The habits it prefers are introjections of that stability. The variation of forms, rational or not, that occurs under the auspices of Introverted Intuition operates by suspending this stability in the imagination. The forms introjected from the outside world are explore more imaginatively. The understanding of Introverted Intuition, though, is detached from the general stability of the environment. It is, to an extent, unrealistic.

The adoption of new forms into Introverted Sensation is necessary as the environment changes (and, worth remembering, it is people who can be introducing those changes), so Introverted Intuition provides an important wellspring for adaptation to those changes. However, the stability of Introverted Sensation’s habits and figures more aptly captures the general stability of the world. A community supported entirely by Introverted Intuition would be prone to the sort of variations that would be mismatched to the environment. Instead, joined through the medium of the community, the two functions function optimally (not ideally) to produce a stable yet potentially adaptable communal environment.

That communal environment isn’t just good for the community, either, but for the individuals that compose it, including and especially the Introverted Intuitives. Even though the Introverted Intuitive will often be alienated from their community, the forms preserved by it provide the rich material required to deepen and develop their experiences. In this regard, it might be useful to think of Moses and the Israelites. While Moses (Introverted Intuition) cannot himself enter the promised land, it is only through the people who can that his visions acquire a life beyond his own.

For the community at large looking for new forms with which to do justice to their experience, the communal forms adopted by Introverted Intuition serve to mediate between the established cultural patterns and the introduction of new ones. Couching the new within the forms of the old, eases the transmission of new forms into the community’s repertoire.

This is not the necessary pattern, though. It is just as easy as for Introverted Intuitives to form a minor, somewhat alienated existence on the margins of their community without any substantive impact on the community as a whole. It is also possible for the forms to enter into the communal sphere in a more dilute form, a compromise between the material produced in Introverted Intuition and the established forms of the community. The reasons for this vary, but we can see in the work of Jung and Dick a model for one pattern this compromise can take.

Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick have all the earmarks of Introverted Intuitives. We can see in their work the sense of distance from those around them, but  we can also see how deeply engaged with their communal forms they are. It is through an engagement with them that they give voice to the working of their Introverted Intuition. This debt to their community isn’t always appreciated, in part because both figures have largely been set aside as exceptions, either by way of genius or madness.

Still, it is hard to imagine a more deeply cultural work than Jung’s Red Book. It bears the traces not just of the medieval and Renaissance, but also of the developing modern art forms like the Art Nouveau. Jung is widely educated and that education is clearly on display. Similarly, Dick’s Exegesis fuses disparate elements to give form to his experiences. While Dick was not so broadly educated as Jung, he was a gifted autodidact with broad tastes. He read widely and the traces of that are easy to see. He doesn’t just employ ancient Gnostic philosophy and the speculative framework of contemporary science fiction, but employs the I Ching and classical scholarship.

However, while they made extensive use of the cultural forms available to them, they did so in ways that made it difficult for those forms to enter into the communal sphere for engagement and preservation. Both texts remained private during their creator’s lifetimes.

Both men were aware that the privacy of their works was problematic. They expressed in their work a sense that they were being called to preserve their revelation in a new communal form. Jung experienced his soul calling for him to establish a new church (which Jung rejected) and Dick sensed the need to preach the message he had received (though he had no clear sense of how to do so).

To the extent that their work has been preserved, it has been more often at the expense of communal forms than as an enrichment of them. Jung’s work has fostered a system of equivalences between different cultural communities by way of his notion of the collective unconscious (concealing the lived specificity of them), while Dick’s has remained a counter-culture literary phenomenon (a form of rebellion against cultural forms).

The form that their legacy takes is telling, too. While Jung’s work in the Red Book is deeply personal and visceral, the work he left behind is intellectual and fits more neatly in the late nineteenth-century tradition of comparative religion. He concerns himself more with the structural and figural similarities between disparate religious practices than with the religious experiences of individuals within those practices. While he identifies, often rightly, the common impulses underlying ritual practice, he divorces them from their specific manifestations.

This leads to a problematic spiritual relativity. One form is as good as another. At best, perhaps, we have the Joseph Campbell-style defense of specific forms based on cultural familiarity (i.e., Hinduism is good for Indians because they recognize its forms and so can work more easily with them), but at no point is it really thought that the spiritual practices are specific to negotiations that occurred over centuries of practice. New forms are as good as the old, as long as they speak to the individual employing them.

Dick proceeds down a different path. He makes much of his spiritual experiences and refuses to generalize from them. He greatly diminishes the force with which they came to him by presenting them publicly as fictions. He engages in a kind of double-consciousness, presenting them as fictions even as he is unable to shake the almost prophetic character they acquire for him personally.

While not as inimical to cultural forms more generally as Jung’s legacy, their mode of presentation undercuts the force of their content. Moreover, by presenting religious experience through the lens of speculative fiction, he encourages readers to see the religious experience as something escapist, something to be played with and put down by an individual, rather than as something demanding communal appreciation. Dick’s own association with, and subsequent adoption by, the counter-culture interest in psychedelics amplified this. His books, like a drop of acid, were ‘trips’ you could take and put down without communal commitments.

As legacies, though, these patterns are not just about Jung and Dick. They are also about the societies that embraced and sustained them. Their present publication takes place under the rubric of academic interest, as material that might better our understanding of the published works already in circulation. This approach sets the work off to the side, behind the more tame published material. That their diminished forms of Introverted Intuition seemingly have the greatest appeal suggests a comparably diminished milieu of Introverted Sensation. That they were able to so quickly become alienated from their own experiences, and that it was the alienated forms of their experience that we inherited, may indicate some broader transformation in their, in our, society’s experience of community.

[Next Post in the Series: ‘Modern’ Community]




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