Book Review: For Love of the Imagination

Michael Vannoy Adams, For Love of the Imagination
London and New York: Routledge, 2014

The following book review by Ginette Paris is from Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture , 91 (Fall 2014): 289-91.

Michael Vannoy Adams remains the undisputed champion of the basic and foundational insight of Jungian psychology: "we have to keep it simple, and stick to the image." The benefits of examining the inner images we live by (call them, if you wish, symbols, metaphors, myths, archetypes, narratives, scripts . . .) is the reason why Adams suggests that Jungian psychology is an imaginology — rather than a psychology. "For me, psychotherapy is essentially an affair of images — of how we imagine, and, more important, reimagine ourselves," writes Adams. This process of reimagining ourselves, Adams, in 2004, called the fantasy principle, and now, in 2014, he argues that it is more fundamental than either the pleasure principle or the reality principle. "The reason that I am a Jungian rather than a Freudian is that it seems to me that Freud wants to rectify the imagination - to require what I call the fantasy principle to conform to what he calls the reality principle." Adams's sharp critical judgment also applies to Jungians who only ask what images mean, while neglecting to ask how they mean. The how we construct — and deconstruct — reality is the core of a Jungian analysis.

Adams's imaginology is not only a way back to the essential Jung, it is also a way out of the tiresome hyper-theorizing that is typical of an aging, fading, dying, boring Jungian orthodoxy. For too long, the emphasis has been on the interpretation of the image — a left brain, logos operation — while reimagining is a right brain, Eros operation. Like an app that needs upgrading to function on new operating systems, what Adams calls the Jungian app needs to redress the balance between interpreting and imagining. Adams urges Jungians to leave the field of conceptual essentialism with its "vain definitional conflict over concepts that are intrinsically vague" to get back to the core task of analysis: the differentiation of imagination. "To me, the discovery that internal reality, psychic reality — or imaginal reality — is just as real as any external reality is the most important discovery of psychoanalysis."

Neuroscience would agree with such a statement. The new wave of left brain/right brain research (summarized among others by Iain McGilchrist) demonstrates how inner images push neurons around. This biological reality underscores the necessity of a balance between right and left brain operations.

When Adams explores what he calls non-ego images, he reminds us how surprising they always appear, because they have a transformative power that may frighten the ego. For that very reason, we, like Adams, should be curious about non-ego images! This curiosity brings us to what Hillman believed Jungians should be doing: "We need an imaginal ego that is at home in the imaginal realm, an ego that can undertake the major task now confronting psychology: the differentiation of the imaginal."

Adams's writing is doing "things with images that do things." He does it by seeing through many trends in our culture, for example, the conceptual impossible purity in Giegerich's discourse, or Hillman's brilliant renaming the unconscious as the imagination. He makes us see through the ideological stance that keeps our economy in the grip of the myth of the invisible hand, with its rigid ideology of the bottom line. He renews our imagination of political heroism, with Obama as Icarus: "the myth of Icarus does not say not to fly. The moral of the story is to fly just high enough and not fall." He invites us to visit Moscow's mythological unconscious.

Adams's imaginology is both original and a most-needed return to the basics, before conceptual jargon contaminates our whole field. Adams writes: "Ironically, it is not the unconscious that is unconscious. Rather, it is the ego-image that is unconscious, and what it is unconscious of is the imagination — the images that emerge continuously, incessantly from the unconscious." I read this great quote to also mean this: Ironically, it is not so much the unconscious of the patient that is unconscious. It is the ego of the analyst that is unconscious, and what it is unconscious of is his imagination and that of the patient.