Imaginology: The Jungian Study of the Imagination
The following article by Michael Vannoy Adams is a paper presented at the "Psyche and Imagination" conference of the International Association for Jungian Studies at the University of Greenwich, London, July 6, 2006.
In The Fantasy Principle: Psychoanalysis of the Imagination, I state that "Jungian psychology is what I call imaginology, and Jungian psychologists are imaginologists" (Adams 2004: 7). Imaginology is the study of the imagination, and imaginologists are students of the imagination. Other psychologists study drives, the ego, objects, or the self. Jungian psychologists study images. The emphasis on the imagination is what is unique about Jungian psychology, which is an imaginal psychology.
"Anxiety" is one of the most important technical terms in psychoanalysis. "The ego," Freud says, "is the actual seat of anxiety" (SE 19: 57). According to Freud, "It is always the ego's attitude of anxiety which is the primary thing and which sets repression going" (SE 20: 109) – or, more generally, I would say, which sets defenses going. Freud says that "anxiety is a reaction of the ego to danger" (SE 20: 129). That is, the ego reacts anxiously – and then repressively or defensively – to what it regards as dangerous. Jung says: "In this way, as Freud rightly says, we turn the ego into a 'seat of anxiety,' which it would never be if we did not defend ourselves against ourselves so neurotically" (CW 10: 170, par. 360). In a very real sense, every neurosis is an anxiety neurosis. .
What Jung means when he says that "we defend ourselves against ourselves" is that the anxious ego neurotically defends itself against the unconscious. As a practitioner of imaginal psychology, I prefer to say, instead, that the anxious ego-image neurotically defends itself against non-ego images. As James Hillman says of the ego, "it too is an image" (1979: 102). "Ego" means "I." The ego-image is the "I"-image. It is who or how "I" imagine myself to be. The psyche – or the imagination – comprises an ego-image and a variety of non-ego images.
In effect, I advocate that Jungians adopt a new terminology that I believe would be advantageous. The terms ego-image and non-ego images emphasize that, as Jung says, "the psyche consists essentially of images" (CW 8: 325, par. 618). As I define "unconscious," it is what the ego-image is unconscious of. Ironically, it is not the unconscious that is unconscious. Rather, it is the ego-image that is unconscious, and what it is unconscious of are non-ego images. To the extent that the ego-image is unconscious of non-ego images, it tends to react anxiously and defensively because it regards them as dangerous.
The function of non-ego images is transformative. Non-ego images are what I call "images of transformation." They attempt to contact and impact the ego-image in an effort to transform it. The ego-image, however, regards non-ego images as dangerous precisely because they are transformative. That is, non-ego images are only ostensibly dangerous, from the perspective of the ego-image. The ostensible danger that non-ego images pose is to the partial, prejudicial, or defective attitudes of the ego-image. Non-ego images present alternative perspectives on the attitudes of the ego-image. If the ego-image is not defensive but receptive, it may entertain these alternative perspectives seriously, consider them critically, and then either accept or reject them. How might the ego-image be less defensive and more receptive? It would have to be less anxious and, I would say, more curious about non-ego images.
"Curiosity," in contrast to "anxiety," is not a technical term in psychoanalysis. Freud does, however, discuss curiosity. True to form, he derives it from and reduces it to sexuality. Civilization, Freud says, progressively conceals the body and, as a result, provokes "sexual curiosity." He says: "This curiosity seeks to complete the sexual object by revealing its hidden parts" (SE 7: 156). Sexual curiosity, Freud says, is perfectly normal, although it may also be prurient or even perverse, as in voyeurism. It is ultimately, he says, "curiosity to see other people's genitals" (SE 7: 192). According to Freud, sexual curiosity in particular is the very origin of curiosity in general. From this perspective, curiosity is originally an urge to see the unseen – and, more specifically, what I might call the "sexual unseen," the hidden parts of the body, the genitals of other people. I would say, however, that curiosity is neither derivative from nor reducible to sexuality. Sexual curiosity in particular is merely one variety of curiosity in general. In this respect, I would say that curiosity is an urge to know the unknown – and, more specifically, what I might call the "imaginal unknown" – the non-ego images of which the ego-image is unconscious. From this perspective, a defensive ego-image is an anxious ego-image, and a receptive ego-image is a curious ego-image.
It is a notorious fact that it is rare for the ego-image to exhibit any initiative in regard to non-ego images. Seldom does the ego-image approach non-ego images. Most frequently it is non-ego images that approach the ego-image, that attempt to contact and impact the ego-image in an effort to transform it. Rather than approach non-ego images, all too often the ego-image avoids them, or, when non-ego images approach it, attacks them – demonstrates just how neurotically defensive it is and exactly how it is defensive, in an effort to protect the ego-image. The ego-image employs the familiar, famous defenses of "flight" or "fight." An anxious ego-image is a suspicious ego-image – even, at the extreme, a paranoid ego-image. In contrast, a curious ego-image would be an inquisitive ego-image. It would inquire into non-ego images.
Jung declares that it does not matter – or matter very much – what the image is. What matters to Jung is not the image but the concept – for example, the concept of the treasure or the monster. Jung says that "it does not matter" if the treasure is a ring, a crown, a pearl, or a hoard (CW 8: 112, par. 229). Similarly, Jung says: "It matters little if the mythological hero conquers now a dragon, now a fish or some other monster" (CW 8: 372, par. 718).
Gregory Bateson notes that in formal logic a class is "on a different level of abstraction" from the members of the class (1987: 201). As a result, the class cannot be a member of the class, and a member cannot be the class. In this respect, the concept "treasure" is a class, and the images "ring, "crown," pearl," and "hoard" are members of the class; the concept "monster" is a class, and the images "dragon" and "fish" are members of the class. Logically, a treasure is on a different level of abstraction from a ring, crown, pearl, or hoard, and a monster is on a different level of abstraction from a dragon or fish. In effect, Jung privileges the class over the members of the class. What matters to Jung is the class (or concept). The members (or images), he says, do not matter or matter little. Jung commits a version of what Alfred North Whitehead calls the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness." Whitehead defines this fallacy as "mistaking the abstract for the concrete" (1967: 51). When Jung says that the concept of a treasure matters more than the image of a ring, a crown, a pearl, or a hoard and when he says that the concept of a monster matters more than the image of a dragon or a fish, he regards the abstract concept as more important – in effect, more "concrete" – than the concrete image.
On the contrary, I would argue that it matters a great deal if the treasure is a ring, a crown, a pearl, or a hoard – or if it is, in fact, a treasure at all – and if it is a dragon, a fish, or some other monster – or if it is a monster at all – and that it matters a great deal if the hero attempts to conquer the dragon, fish, or monster or engage it in some other way. Why it matters – and why it matters so much – is that, in contrast to a concept, which is an abstract form, an image is a concrete content. The concept is nondescript; it possesses no distinctive qualities. In contrast, the image possesses quite distinctive qualities that imply, with exquisite exactitude, an essence. It is in and through those distinctive qualities that it is possible accurately to ascertain what is essentially implicit in the image.
Consider a dream that Fritz Perls cites. The dream is of a lake with water that is drying up. The dreamer says:
And I think that there's one good point about the water drying up, I think – well, at least at the bottom, when all the water dries up, there will probably be some sort of treasure there, because at the bottom of the lake there should be things that have fallen in, like coins or something, but I look carefully and all that I can find is an old license plate. (1969: 81)
The dreamer anticipates that she will find at the bottom of the lake a treasure, but all that she finds is an old license plate. In contrast to a treasure, which as an abstract concept possesses no distinctive qualities, an old license plate, as a concrete image, possesses quite distinctive qualities. The dreamer says that the license plate is "outdated." She notes that the essential function of a license plate is "to allow – give a car permission to go" (1969: 81). An out-of-date license plate is, in this respect, essentially dysfunctional. What this image essentially implies is that even if the dreamer has a car and may want or need to go somewhere in it, she does not effectively possess the wherewithal, the means to that end – an up-to-date license plate that would allow or give that car permission to go there. This image is, truly, the license plate "hard to attain."
Jung is what I call a conceptual essentialist. He privileges the concept over the image. He derives the image from and reduces it to a concept. He replaces the image with a concept. For Jung, the image is incidental – relatively trivial, even utterly irrelevant. What is ultimately important to Jung is the concept, for "some other monster," as he says, would serve the same purpose just as well as a dragon or a fish. From this perspective, a dragon might as well be a fish, and a fish might as well be a dragon, for both are monsters. The dragon and the fish are merely examples of the monster. They are images that exemplify a concept. For Jung, the images of the dragon and the fish possess the same essence, and that is the concept of the monster.
I, too, am an essentialist, but I am what I call an imaginal essentialist. I maintain that images have essences, implicit ones, and that the Jungian methods of interpretation and active imagination can render these essences explicit. Although it is extremely difficult – I would say, impossible – to define the essence of a concept, because a concept is an abstract form, I argue that it is possible, as Hillman says, to "stick to the image" (1983: 54; 2004: 21) and accurately define the essence of an image, because an image is a concrete content with distinctive qualities. Hillman emphasizes "the actual qualities of the image" (1977: 69). It is the actual qualities of the image that enable the elaboration of a definitional consensus through the Jungian methods of interpretation and active imagination. Conceptual essentialism is futile, for it results in incessant, vain definitional conflict over concepts that are intrinsically vague. In contrast, imaginal essentialism is feasible, for it relies on the distinctive qualities implicit in images.
The images of the dragon and the fish possess very different essences that are neither derivative from nor reducible to the concept of the monster. These different essences are a function of the distinctive qualities of these images. Functionally, an image is a qualitative distinction with an essential difference. A dragon is a dragon is a dragon – and not a fish. A fish is a fish is a fish – and not a dragon. The one is not equivalent to the other, and neither the image of the dragon nor the image of the fish is commensurable with the concept of the monster. Different images serve different – often vastly different – purposes.
I do not merely prefer concrete contents to abstract forms. I do not just have a predilection for images over concepts. For me, the decisive consideration is purely pragmatic. Images simply have more practical value than concepts. What is so practically valuable about images is that they are more informative than concepts. The images of a dragon and a fish possess more information than the concept of a monster. Concepts are generalizations; images are particularizations. In this respect, it is the unique nuances, the details, of a specific image that eloquently articulate and heuristically indicate what it essentially implies and that pragmatically inform the conduct of any analysis.
Of course, from a certain perspective, a dragon and a fish are also concepts and not images. "Dragon" and "fish" are classes with members – for example, "Grendel" and "Jaws." As concepts, a dragon and a fish are not as abstract as a monster, but they are not as concrete as the images of Grendel and Jaws, which are a dragon and a fish with not only distinctive qualities but also proper names and very specific narratives.
"What others call neuroses," Ginette Paris says, "let's call a 'monster'" (2007: 68). She says that a monster is an image, in contrast to a neurosis, which is an "abstract concept" (2007: 69). I agree with Paris that a neurosis is an abstract concept, but I disagree with her that a monster is an image. A monster is also a concept. It is no more a concrete image than a neurosis is. Catherine Atherton notes that the concept of the monster is "vague, malleable, and inconsistent" and that, as a result, "any general theory about what monsters are and what they do" must acknowledge "this uncertainty." Atherton says that "it is we who decide – in some sense of 'decide' – what counts as monstrous." She says that different definitions of the monster are a function of "different times, places, and cultures" or of different perspectives within a culture (1998: x). That is, in teratology, or the general theory of monsters, the definition of the monster, as a concept, is indefinite. I would say that it is the ego-image that decides what counts as monstrous. What the ego-image counts as monstrous are non-ego images, which it tends to regard as dangerous. A monster is just a non-ego image that an anxious and defensive – or neurotic – ego-image considers a danger.
In this respect, Jung mentions "the totally erroneous supposition that the unconscious is a monster." This notion, he says, is just "fear of nature and the realities of life" (CW 16: 152, par. 328). The unconscious, Jung asserts, is not a "monster" but a "natural entity" that is "completely neutral." He contends that the unconscious "only becomes dangerous when our conscious attitude to it is hopelessly wrong." He says of the unconscious: "To the degree that we repress it, its danger increases" (CW 16: 152, par. 329). Or, as I prefer to say, non-ego images from the unconscious only become dangerous when the anxious and defensive – or repressive – attitude of the ego-image wrongly regards them as monstrous.
"Monster" is an epithet by which the ego-image disparages the non-ego image. This is an example of the process that Bateson calls "teratogenic," which he defines as "a creating of monsters" (1991: 292). A teratogenic ego-image creates a "monster" merely by calling it so. The non-ego image is a "so-called" monster. Calling it so "monsterizes" the non-ego image and immediately restricts the options at the disposal of the ego-image. For example, calling it so may excuse killing the non-ego image.
Among the seven plots that Christopher Booker identifies as basic, the very first is what he calls "Overcoming the Monster." I might say that the hero does not "undergo" the monster but "overcomes" it. Booker says that the monster is what "the hero must confront in a fight to the death" (2004: 22). From this perspective, overcoming the monster entails slaying the monster. The contemporary monster, Booker says, is the "monster of global terrorism" (2004: 695). He notes that the first war in Iraq in 1991 did not "overcome Saddam Hussein," did not "slay the monster." In this respect, the second war against Iraq in 2003 was an effort by America and George W. Bush to complete the plot, but, as Booker says, "the plot was not quite so simple," for, even if Saddam Hussein was to a certain extent a monster, he was not as monstrous as all that. He did not possess weapons of mass destruction, and, from another perspective, Booker says, "of course, it was not Saddam who was the monster" but "America and Bush" (2004: 696).
Monster-slaying is a recurrent but not, as Jungians tend to assume, a universal theme. Of fifty cultures that Clyde Kluckhohn surveys, the monster-slaying theme is indigenous to thirty-seven cultures (1960: 51). Although by definition killing is a putting to death in any manner, while slaying is a putting to death in a deliberate, violent, even wanton manner, slaying has a more heroic connotation than killing – hence the Jungian preference for monster-slaying over monster-killing. To "slay" is more poetic – and, I might say, more euphemistic – than to "kill." Slaying justifies, dignifies, even glorifies killing.
When the ego-image regards a non-ego image as a monster, however, it tends to commit what I call imagicide. The tendency is for the ego-image to "kill" the non-ego image, the "monster." Consider, in this respect, the ego-image and non-ego image in this dream:
I'm walking in the dark. A very strange animal arrives. The body is of a big dog. The face is of a rabbit with two very big teeth like a snake's. The animal keeps biting me and literally taking part of my flesh. I grab the animal, twirl it in the air, and throw it away. At that moment, I'm thinking: "Yes, it's dead." I've killed it.
In dreams, Anthony Stevens says, "from a psychological perspective, the monster is the 'monster within'" (1995: 188). Edward C. Whitmont and Sylvia Brinton Perera assert that monsters "are not uncommon in dreams." Such images, they contend, epitomize "energy that is, in actuality, or felt to be, 'monstrous.'" Frequently, they say, the image of the monster is "an unnatural combination of qualities" (1989: 109). In this dream, the ego-image does not explicitly identify the non-ego image as a monster. It describes the non-ego image as a "very strange animal." David Williams notes, however, that prominent among "monsters of earthly form" are those that are "combinations of various animal forms" (1996: 178). The animal in this dream is just such an unnatural combination of qualities. It is a combination of three animal forms – a dog's body, a rabbit's face, and a snake's teeth. After the dreamer recounted the dream to me, I asked him why he had killed the animal. "When you asked me why I killed it," he replied, "I was lost – I had no answer." Then, he said: "In the dream, I felt that I had to protect myself, that I had to kill it." The non-ego image bites the ego-image and literally takes part of its flesh. The ego-image responds defensively, as ego-images tend to do, and kills the non-ego image. It does not occur to the ego-image to engage the non-ego image in any other way. The ego-image just reacts; it does not pause and reflect and consider that there might be any viable alternatives but to kill the non-ego image.
Not only is it impossible, in a strict sense, to kill the monsters that emerge from the unconscious – as Paris says, they "can never entirely be eliminated" (2007: 69) – but it is also imprudent even to attempt to kill them. In the first place, the non-ego image may not be a monster at all but only a "monster" in the paranoid projection of an anxious, excessively protective ego-image. In the second place, even if the non-ego image is, in some respect, a monster, to kill it is to obviate any necessity – and any opportunity – for the ego-image to engage it in some other way. For example, a curious ego-image might inquire into the non-ego image – might inquire of it why it is such a very strange animal, a combination of a dog's body, a rabbit's face, and a snake's teeth, and why it bites the ego-image and literally takes part of its flesh – why the non-ego image contacts and impacts the ego-image in just this way in an effort to transform it. Engaging the non-ego image in "some other way" than, for example, killing it (or censoring it) requires an ego-image capable of seriously entertaining, with no bias, a variety of options.
Not only in dreams does the ego-image kill non-ego images. England and America also kill non-ego images – dragons and fish. England has St. George and the dragon; America has Captain Ahab and the fish. St. George lances the dragon; Captain Ahab harpoons the fish. Jung says that, topographically, the unconscious is "something below your feet, and you are St. George standing upon the dragon." This image, he says, "is the medieval ambition, to kill the dragon and stand on top of it" (1988 1: 155).
I would say that this image is not only the medieval ambition but also the contemporary ambition, and it is not only, I would emphasize, a male ambition but also a female ambition. Consider, in this respect, the account that Williams provides of St. Margaret and the dragon (1996: 317-18). Margaret is a convert from paganism to Christianity. A local prefect attempts to seduce her and force her to worship pagan gods, but she refuses. From prison, she prays to God. Instantly, the enemy manifests as a dragon that swallows her. From the belly of the dragon, she makes the sign of the cross. The dragon explodes, and Margaret emerges. Then, however, the enemy manifests again, this time as a handsome young man who attempts to seduce her. "But," Jacobus De Voragine says, "Margaret laid hold of him by the head, stretched him on the ground, and put her right foot upon him, saying: 'Proud demon, lie prostrate beneath a woman's foot!'" (1991: 353). Like Kali the Hindu goddess, Margaret the Christian saint stands on top of a prostrate man. This is feminist – or "genderist" – triumphalism with a vengeance. What an ambition! To kill the dragon, to kill the unconscious, to kill the enemy, to kill the handsome young man, to kill the demon, to kill the non-ego image, and then to stand on top of it!
In this iconography, it is not only female figures who stand on top of prostrate men but also male figures who stand on top of prostrate women – as, for example, in the statue "Civic Virtue" in New York. This statue is a marble sculpture that was originally situated near City Hall in Manhattan but was eventually relocated near Borough Hall in Queens. As Jeff Vandam describes the statue, it is "a muscular nude male youth with two vanquished women representing corruption and vice at his feet" and "with a sword over his shoulder" (February 11, 2007: City Section, 8). The statue has never been popular. Fiorella La Guardia and Robert Moses loathed the statue, and feminists despise it as a politically incorrect, sexist image because it depicts civic virtue as a man and corruption and vice as women.
"The implacable mutual hostility between man and dragon, as exemplified in the myth of St. George," Carl Sagan says, "is strongest in the West." It is not, however, "a Western anomaly," he says, but "a worldwide phenomenon" (1977: 140-1). Although in the motif-index that Stith Thompson provides, "Fight with dragon" is type B11.11. (1955 1: 354), the theme is not, in spite of what Sagan says, universal. The Western tradition, of course, equates the dragon with the devil. Rather than analyze the dragon, the Western tradition moralizes the dragon. Moralistically equating the dragon with the devil, the very epitome of evil, conveniently excuses killing the dragon. St. George is a variation on St. Michael, who fights the dragon at the apocalypse: "There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out" (Revelations 12: 7-8). June Allen and Jeanne Griffiths say that "St. Michael threw the dragon out of heaven and left St. George to deal with him once he landed on earth" (1979: 51). As a result, it is easier, they say, to identify with the down-to-earth St. George than the up-in-heaven St. Michael.
Hillman notes that the tradition of St. George and the Dragon is "the major Western paradigm" of the hero myth. "Killing the dragon in the hero myth," he declares, "is nothing less than killing the imagination" (1991: 169). Hillman recounts how in the 1950s he was present when Esther Harding delivered a presentation "in favor of killing the dragon." Harding was, he exclaims, "so moralistic!" (Marlan: 192). The hero may have, as Joseph Campbell says, a thousand faces (1968), but the face of the hero in the Western tradition is that of a killer. The implications are absolutely incredible: culturally, socially, politically, militarily, religiously, sexually, ecologically – and, of course, psychoanalytically.
Jung considers Moby-Dick "to be the greatest American novel" (CW 15: 88, par. 137). Why is the novel so great? I would say that it is great because Melville so radically deconstructs the hero myth. Captain Ahab does not kill the fish. The fish kills Captain Ahab – and all the sailors except Ishmael, who survives only by accident. In an attempt to commit imagicide, or kill the image, Captain Ahab, in effect, commits suicide and homicide. Melville explicitly diagnoses Captain Ahab as a case of monomania. Captain Ahab is not neurotically defensive; he is psychotically offensive. As Melville deconstructs the hero myth, it is insane. Of course, this deconstruction does not prevent America from chasing the "White Whale" – however elusive, even illusory, it may be – and then harpooning it. America kills the fish first and asks questions later, if ever.
When Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to the president, resigns from the administration of George W. Bush, he cynically appropriates the image of the White Whale for partisan political purposes. He quotes opponents who say, "Rove is the big fish." In this case, the harpoon is a subpoena that Democrats might issue to a Republican with a grandiose persecution complex to compel him to testify before Congress. "You know," Rove says, "I feel like I'm Moby Dick and we've got a couple of people on Capitol Hill auditioning for the role of Captain Ahab." In this paranoid projection, Rove does not know whether he is the hero or the dragon. "Let's face it, he says, "I mean, I'm a myth, and they're – you know, I'm Beowulf. You know, I'm Grendel. I don't know who I am. But they're after me" (August 19, 2007).
Many villages and towns in England have traditions of dragon-killing heroes. These traditions recount local details about the hero and the dragon. For example, the version that Jacqueline Simpson provides of Jim Pulk and the Knucker of Lyminster even includes which pub the hero visits after he kills the dragon:
Jim Pulk was a farmer's boy, who baked a huge Sussex pie and put poison inside it, and drew it on a farm cart to the Knucker Hole [at Lyminster], while he himself hid behind a hedge. The Dragon came out, ate the pie, died, and Jim Pulk then emerged and cut off his head with his scythe. He then went down to the Six Bells Inn, had a drink to celebrate his victory, and fell down dead. Presumably, he had got some poison on his hand, which, no doubt, very properly, he drew across his mouth after downing his pint. (1980: 45).
Apparently, the ironically hygenic moral of this tradition is that, however civil the manners of the dragon-killing hero may be, in order to survive a beer perhaps he should also be an obsessive-compulsive hand-washing hero.
In The Mythological Unconscious, I acknowledge that I committed an egregious error when I interpreted a dream that a young man had about a dragon. I erred when I assumed that the ego-image must kill the non-ego image – that, in order to become a hero, the young man must slay the dragon. The young man cautioned me that the dream did not stipulate that "the dragon must be slain." There was no dragon-slaying indication in the dream. The young man pondered the image of dragons and quite properly wondered: "Why does everyone want to kill them?" (Adams 2001: 426-7). At least on that occasion, he was a much more astute psychoanalyst than I was. I deserved a rebuke. Rather than "stick to the image," I had unconsciously – and uncritically – projected onto the dream the Jungian concept of the dragon-slaying hero. I had killed the image. The dream, I had to admit, did not indicate that the young man must slay the dragon but, at most, only that he "must effectively engage the dragon in some way" (Adams: 2001: 430).
"Those of us who are students of psychology," Mary Watkins says, "have become heirs to a potential arsenal of ways to kill the image." The effect is to lead "away from a direct experience of the image," she says, "towards a concept" (1984: 135). Psychoanalysts – among them, Jungian psychoanalysts – routinely kill images. Hillman says that this killing occurs by interpreting images – that is, by deriving them from and reducing them to concepts. As Hillman defines interpretation, it is a conceptualization of the imagination. Interpreting a dream, he says, is "killing its images with interpretative concepts" (1979: 116). Replacing images with concepts – for example, interpreting a snake as "fear," "sexuality," or the "mother-complex" – is, Hillman says, "killing the snake" (1975: 39). A black snake may be an image in a dream, and in an analytic session an individual "can spend a whole hour with this black snake, talking about the devouring mother, talking about the anxiety, talking about the repressed sexuality, talking about the natural mind," Hillman says, and then the individual "leaves the hour with a concept about my repressed sexuality or my cold black passions or my mother or whatever it is" (1983: 53-4). From this perspective, any concept is the very death of any image. Not all interpretation, however, is conceptual. There is also what I call imaginal interpretation. Interpretation need not kill the image with a concept. Rather than replace the image with a concept, it may respect the image and, by meticulous attention to the distinctive qualities of the image, render explicit the essence that is implicit in the image.
Of course, interpretation is not the only Jungian method. There is also active imagination. Active imagination requires an ego-image that is curious and inquisitive. The ego-image actively engages the non-ego image in a dialogue. Active imagination is a conversation between the ego-image and the non-ego image. It is not a dictation but a negotiation. In this sense, active imagination is a variety of diplomacy. It is not only a "talking cure" but also a "listening cure." In active imagination, the ego-image talks to the non-ego image and listens to it, and the non-ego image talks to the ego-image and listens to it. Active imagination is interactive imagination. Both the ego-image and the non-ego image pose questions, and both provide answers. There is no imperative, I would emphasize, for the ego-image to capitulate to the non-ego image. In active imagination, the only obligation is for the ego-image to entertain seriously and consider critically what the non-ego image has to say. What the non-ego image has to say is not necessarily the "truth." It is an opinion that the ego-image may either accept or reject. In the process, not only may the non-ego image persuade the ego-image, but also the ego-image may convince the non-ego image. The non-ego image may transform the ego-image, and the ego-image may transform the non-ego image. In active imagination, the ego-image is just as much an "image of transformation" as the non-ego image is. Actively imagine a dialogue between St. George and the dragon or between Captain Ahab and the fish: not St. George lancing the dragon or Captain Ahab harpooning the fish – not a concept killing the image – but St. George and the dragon and Captain Ahab and the fish conducting a reciprocal conversation and experiencing a mutual transformation. Or actively imagine a dinner and a drink, a pie and a pint, with no poison, between Jim Pulk and the Knucker of Lyminster at a pub. Or actively imagine, as Nicholas D. Kristof does, a direct negotiation between America and North Korea over the issue of nuclear proliferation. "We sometimes," Kristof says, "do better talking to monsters than trying to slay them or wish them away" (October 10, 2006: A25).
Why does the ego-image tend to kill non-ego images rather than engage them in some other way? I would argue that it does so because it regards non-ego images as "opposite" rather than "different." The neurotic reaction of the ego-image to the non-ego image is a function of what I call moralistic, scientific, and aesthetic oppositions – good versus evil, true versus false, and beautiful versus ugly. These oppositions provide the ego-image with a convenient excuse to repress – or "kill" – non-ego images that it considers evil, false, or ugly – and, as a result, dangerous. "Evil," "false," and "ugly" are, of course, concepts. When the ego-image applies these concepts to non-ego images, these oppositions obliterate the differences, the distinctive qualities, that are intrinsic to non-ego images.
If Jungian psychology were an imaginology, it would be deconstructive rather than repressive. Such an imaginology would be a combination of Jungian psychology and Derridean philosophy. It would emphasize "differences," as Jacques Derrida does (1973). The ego-image would not repress non-ego images. Non-ego images would deconstruct the ego-image. The ego-image would not be "opposite" to non-ego images. Non-ego images would be "different" from the ego-image. An ego-image that non-ego images have deconstructed would be an ego-image that does not regard non-ego images as an array of oppositions that it must repress (evil, false, or ugly non-ego images as a danger to the good, true, and beautiful ego-image) but as a profusion of differences that it may contemplate and then engage in appropriate ways. This project would not be a conceptualization of the imagination but what Hillman argues is "the major task" of contemporary psychology: "the differentiation of the imagination" (1975: 37).
Adams, M.V. (2001) The Mythological Unconscious, New York and London: Karnac.
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