BOOK REVIEWS (2014): CG Jung’s (1981) Symbols of Transformation

14 March 2014

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve already read this section, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop).  I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To:  CG Jung’s (1981)[2] Symbols of Transformation[3]

One usually doesn’t get the subtitle of this book (“An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia”) along with the main title (“Symbols of Transformation”), but it doesn’t hurt to keep this in mind. Thus, while the Miller fantasies (upon which Jung bases his book-length analysis) seem wholly egotistical—even self-aggrandizing in the way that Daniel Schreber’s (1903)[4] Memoirs of My Nervous Illness seems—Jung’s purpose remains more directed to understanding the mechanism or process of transformation that the fantasies exhibit. Thus, he writes (in a lengthy paragraph):

That the root-cause of the poem has been shown to be the love-episode [of Miller] is an explanation that does not amount to much at present, for the question of purpose still remains unsettled. Only the discovery of the purpose can provide a satisfactory answer to psychological questions. Were there not a secret purposiveness bound up with the supposedly devious path of the libido[5] or with the supposed repression, it I certain that such a process could not take place so easily, so naturally, and so spontaneously. Also, it would hardly occur so frequently in this form, or in some other like it. There is no doubt that this transformation of libido moves in the same direction as, broadly speaking, the cultural modification, conversion, or displacement of natural drives. It must be a well-trodden path which is so habitual that we hardly notice the conversion ourselves, if at all. Between the normal psychic transformation of instinctual drives and the present case there is, however, a certain different: we cannot rid ourselves of the suspicion that the critical experience—the singer [in Miller’s fantasies]—was assiduously overlooked; in other words, that there was a certain amount of “repression.” This latter term should really be used only when it is a voluntary act of which one cannot help being conscious. Nervous persons can successfully hide voluntary decisions of this kind from themselves up to a point, so that it looks as if the act of repression were completely unconscious. The context of associations provided by the author herself is so impressive that she must have felt this background in a fairly lively fashion, and must have therefore have transformed the situation through a more or less conscious act of repression (¶91, emphasis added, italics in original).[6]

Such repression in this sense would lead “to regressive reactivation of an earlier relationship or type of relatedness, in this case the reactivation of the father-imago” (¶92). Such activated unconscious contents then get projected; “they are either discovered in external objects, or are said to exist outside one’s own psyche” (¶92), generally without the individual having any awareness of this projection. Yes. And then, in contrast:

If, however, a projection like [Miller’s] hymn [of creation] came into being without an act of repression, i.e., unconsciously and spontaneously, then we are confronted with an entirely natural and automatic process of transformation. In that case the creator-god who emerges from the father-imago is no longer a product of repression or a substitute, but a natural and inevitable phenomenon. Natural transformations of this kind, without any semi-conscious elements of conflict, are to be found in all genuine acts of creation, artistic or otherwise.[7] … Just as in natural birth no repression is needed to bring or “project” a living creature into the world, so artistic and spiritual creation is a natural process even when the figure projected is divine. This is far from being always a religious, philosophical, or even a denominational question, but is a universal phenomenon which forms the basis of all our ideas of God, and these are so old that one cannot tell whether they are derived from a father-imago, or vice versa. (The same must be said of the mother-imago as well.) (¶93).

Jung’ argument here represents an and/both, not an either/or—and a logically necessary one at that, since in order to repress something in the first place an emergence must have occurred. Assuredly, he intends to contrast this emergent variety of transformation with the sort of explanation offered by Freud and the Freudian school, and it hardly seems objectionable to acknowledge in an attempt at psychological explanation at least two recognizable kinds of human experience, rather than shoehorning everything into a single mold. Jung allows cases of repression in Freud’s sense where they apply while also noting a case like Miller’s, where the emergence may less fruitfully described in terms of repression and more in terms of emergence, or transformation.

Part of what lies at the root of this concerns Jung’s objection to the blanket application of regression as infantile. Reacting passionately to the notion in a passage that should contextualize any remarks by critics of Jung who invoke wholesale critiques of his work over his use of the word ‘primitive’, he writes:

But one must certainly put a large question-mark after the assertion that myths spring from the “infantile” psychic life of the race. They are on the contrary the most mature product of that young humanity. Just as those first fishy ancestors of man, with their gill-slits, were not embryos, but fully developed creatures, so the myth-making and myth-inhabiting man was a grown reality and not a four-year-old child. Myth is certainly not an infantile phantasm, but one of the most important requisites of primitive life (¶29).

We see in this, then, how the use of the term infantile itself represents an illegitimate or usurping gesture of power that manifests elsewhere in the Occidental world in all of its orientalist ways.[8]

At this point in his exposition, Jung alludes only sporadically to his notion of complexes. He notes that the myth-image (he says “God-image”) appears to one’s consciousness as autonomous, so that we will never determine “whether the [myth]-image is created or whether it creates itself” (¶95).[9] Either way, once autonomously present:

In the psychological sense this means that complexes weighing on the soul are consciously transferred to the [myth]-image. This, it should be noted, is the direct opposite of an act of repression, where the complexes are handed over to an unconscious authority, inasmuch as one prefers to forget them (¶95).

Taking nothing away from this—and in part because Jung has yet in the original writing of this work to articulate completely his notion of archetypes, which would stand here in place of “God-image” or “myth-image”—still the autonomy of the myth-image partly links it to the notion of complexes in the first place. Here, the difference—still not fully drawn—obtains between the autonomy of archetypal material (“directly” from the unconscious) and the autonomy of complexes, which occupy consciousness. As he noted in (1911)[10] “On the Doctrine of Complexes,”:

This points also to the complex and its association material having a remarkable independence in the hierarchy of the psyche, so that one may compare the complex to revolting vassals in an empire. Researches have shown this independence is based upon an intense emotional tone, that is, the value of the affective elements of the complex, because the “affect” occupies in the constitution of the psyche a very independent place, and may easily break through the self-control and self-intention of the individual. For this property of the complex I have introduced the term autonomy.

I conceive the complex to be a collection of imaginings, which, in consequence of this autonomy, is relatively independent of the central control of the consciousness, and at any moment liable to bend or cross the intentions of the individual (¶1352).

Thus, both archetypes and complexes might bend or cross the intentions of the individual, and this in fact provides an explanation for the (conscious) act of repression itself as Freud conceives it. In his association experiments, Jung noted errors of memory that resulted from complexes. In other words, that part of consciousness the participants designated as an “I” found itself temporarily bent or crossed by another intention that thus bracketed off ego-consciousness awareness of it and so generated errors of memory. Jung notes how one may sometimes use hypnosis as a work-around for this, because material seemingly blocked to access for non-hypnotized subjects becomes (readily) accessible under hypnosis.

Two paragraphs I’d like to keep around:

It is, if you like, shameful and degrading that the more exalted longings of humanity, which alone make us what we are, should be so directly connected with an all-too-human passion. One is therefore inclined, despite the undeniability of the facts, to dispute the connection [in Miller’s fantasies]. What? A helmsman with bronzed skin and black mustachios, and the loftiest ideas of religion? Impossible! We do not doubt the incommensurability of these two objects, but one thing at least they have in common: both are the object of a passionate desire, and it remains to be seen whether the nature of the object alters the quality of the libido, or whether it is the same desire in both cases, i.e., the same emotional process. It is not at all certain psychologically—to use a banal comparison—whether appetite as such has anything to do with the quality of the object desired. Outwardly, of course, it is of some importance which object is desired, but inwardly,  it is at least as important to know what kind of desire it is. Desire can be instinctual, compulsive, uninhibited, uncontrolled, greedy, irrational, sensual, etc., or it may be rational, considered, controlled, co-ordinated, adapted, ethical, reflective, and so on. As regards its psychological evaluation the how is more important than the whatsi duo faciunt idem, non est idem [if two do the same thing, it is not the same](¶125, italics in original).[11]

If one worships God, sun, or fire … one is worshipping intensity and power, in other words the phenomenon of psychic energy as such, the libido. Every force an every phenomenon is a special form of energy. Form is both an image and a mode of manifestation. It expresses two things: the energy which takes shape in it, and the medium in which this energy appears. On the one hand one can say that energy creates its own image, and on the other hand that the character of the medium forms it into a definite form. One man will derive the idea of God from the sun, another will maintain that it is the numinous feelings it arouses which give the sun its godlike significance. The former, by attitude and temperament, believes more in the causal nexus of the environment, the latter more in the spontaneity of psychic experience. I fear it is the old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. For all that, I incline to the view that in this particular case the psychoenergic phenomenon not only takes precedence, but explains far more than the hypothesis of the causal primacy of the environment (¶128)

In the first paragraph, I appreciate the pluralism of Jung’s view. Specifically, he strives to contextualize not only Freud’s monological assertion about the telos of libido or desire as an unnecessarily singular view of the matter but also that desire itself may manifest in a plurality of forms, i.e., rational and irrational forms—hence the significant assertion, “if two do the same thing, it is not the same”. This sort of pluralism or multiplicity of view—this stance that has at least a carrying capacity of two—manifests again in the second paragraph, where Jung distinguishes between those who “derive the idea of God from the sun, [while] another will maintain that it is the numinous feelings it arouses which give the sun its godlike significance” (¶128). This makes for an early, likely still not fully formulated, distinction between extraverts and introverts, but I find more striking the assertion that “If one worships God, sun, or fire … one is worshipping intensity and power, in other words the phenomenon of psychic energy as such, the libido” (¶128).

Of course, this description itself already contains the “outward” or “inward” question that Jung addresses later in the paragraph in the two types; I mean, the first part of the sentence asserting that to worship the sun means worshipping intensity and power accepts an extraverted (environmental) view of the matter, but then the sentence hinges to an introverted view by locating that intensity and power in psychic energy as such. And just as Jung acknowledges the incommensurability, in ¶125, between the more exalted longings of humanity and an all-too-human passion, so also does any dispute about the “ultimate source” of this intensity and power between an extraverted “environmentalist” and an introverted “cognitivist” come to an impasse on incommensurable and indeterminable grounds as well. At this point, I recall how Jung elsewhere describes the difference between the extraverted psychic orientation and the introverted one as “fundamentally irritating”. We should find remarkable that he can acknowledge two points of view at all, even as his own “phenomenological” point of view shapes his discourse.

Somewhere Jung avers that any psychological theorist’s description of psychology amounts to a description of his own—an observation Freud, Adler, Sullivan, Reich, Rogers, Maslow, &c., never admit or at the most pay only  kind of insubstantial lip service to.  And yet, since we all can only speak from an embodied position,[12] to pretend we do not denotes one of the most misleading and I’d say dangerous positions we can take. Recognizing the impossibility of not speaking as an embodied individual, our ethical choice then becomes not “speaking the truth” but “recognizing the actualities of other people’s points of view”. Jung can, given the primary psychological orientation of his temperament, speak only as a phenomenologist, but despite that unavoidable fact he can and does at the same time acknowledge other incommensurable, even if sometimes fundamentally irritating, orientations.

One need not trivialize this as claiming “we all are individuals” or “ we all have subjective truths”. That sort of psychological sleight-of-hand rests on an assumption that Truth (with a capital T) actually exists and that we all, in our various ways, submit to it and ultimately agree on it, at least as far as its existence goes. The phenomenological position—as also the position of radical constructivism, which represents an articulation of and  defense against the encroachment of so-called ‘scientific realism” into the epistemological discourse of the world—locates any such Truth only in the fact that we, as human beings, coexist with other human beings, as well also other creatures in the world, and the “creature” of the environment itself. Hence, I say again, our ethical choice then becomes not “speaking the truth” but “recognizing the actualities of other people’s points of view”. This means that any attempt to “speak the truth” amounts to an immoral gesture. If, by contrast, I offer my description of human experience in whatever terms I do, this invites you (even requires you, because our ethical center rests in the recognition of the presence of other human beings, other creatures, and the creature of the environment) to further elaborate that description, even if “elaborate” in this case means to “take it up” in the form I offered it as.

So as far as the idea “believers make liars” goes, we see then this involves a confusion of domains, because belief never concerns true or false while lying does (as truth or falsehood). Jung (1956)[13] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[14] If I offer you a description of human experience, not as something true, to believe it substitutes for your own missing empirical verification; it denotes your at least partial acknowledgment, perhaps consent even, that such a description warrants use and application in the social world.


[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] Jung, C. G. (1976). Symbols of transformation: an analysis of the prelude to a case of schizophrenia. (Collected Works Vol. 3, 2d ed., trans. RFC Hull). Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. i–xxx, 1–567.

[3] Originally published in 1912 and heavily revised by Jung by 1952.

[4] Schreber, DP (1955). Memoirs of my nervous illness (trans. I MacAlpine & RA Hunter). London: W. Dawson.

[5] In the previous paragraph, he notes, “There are no ‘purposeless’ psychic processes; that is to say, it is a hypothesis of the greatest heuristic value that the psyche is essentially purposive and directed” (¶90). We see here also the expressly phenomenological point of view he takes. He does not at all insist that one must accept the phrase “there are no ‘purposeless’ psychic process” as true; rather, as a hypothesize explanatory process, he fins more value and more therapeutic results when one assumes this.

[6] This book in general marks a decisive break with Freud, which Jung provides a number of arguments for, but perhaps most “in one place” here:

It is evident that by this is meant not  physical, but  psychological cosmogony. The world comes into being when man discovers it. But he only discovers it when he sacrifices his containment in the primal mother, the original stet of unconsciousness. What drives him towards this discovery is conceived by Freud as the “incest barrier.” The incest prohibition blocks the infantile longing for the mother and forces the libido along the path of life’s biological aim. The libido, driven back from the mother by the incest prohibition, seeks a sexual object in Place of the forbidden mother. Here the terms “incest prohibition,” “mother,” etc. re used metaphorically, and it is in this sense that we have to interpret Freud’s paradoxical dictum: “To being with we knew only sexual objects.” This statement is not much more than a sexual allegory, as when one speaks of male and female electrical connections, screws, etc. All it does is to read the partial truths of the adult into infantile conditions which are totally different. Freud’s view is incorrect if we take it literally, for it would be truer to say that at a still earlier stage we knew nothing but nourishing breasts. The fact that the infant finds pleasure in sucking does not prove that it is a sexual pleasure, for pleasure can have many different sources. Presumably the caterpillar finds quite as much pleasure in eating, even though caterpillars possess no sexual function whatever and the food instinct is something quite different from the sex instinct, quite unconcerned about what a later sexual stage may make of these earlier activities. Kissing, for instance, derives far more from the act of nutrition than from sexuality. Moreover, the so-called “incest barrier” is an exceedingly doubtful hypothesis (admirable as it is for describing certain neurotic condition), because it is a product of culture which nobody invented and which grew up naturally on the basis of complex biological necessities connected with the development of “marriage classes.” The main purpose of these is not to prevent incest but to meet the social danger of endogamy by instituting the “cross-cousin marriage.” The typical marriage with the daughter of the maternal uncle is actually implemented by the same libido which could equally well possess the mother or the sister. So it is not a question of avoiding incest … but of the social necessity of spreading the family organisation throughout the whole tribe.

Therefore it cannot have been the incest-taboo that forced mankind out of the original psychic state of non-differentiation. On the contrary, it was the evolutionary instinct peculiar to man, which distinguishes him so radically from all other animals and forced upon him countless taboos, among them the incest-taboo. Against this “other urge” the animal in us fights with all his instinctive conservatism and misoneism—hatred of novelty—which are the two outstanding features of the primitive and feebly conscious individual. Our mania for progress represents the inevitable morbid compensation.

Freud’s incest theory describes certain fantasies that company the regression of libido and re especially characteristic of the personal unconscious as found in hysterical patients. Up to  point they are infantile-sexual fantasies which show very clearly just where the hysterical attitude is defective n why it is so incongruous. They reveal the shadow. Obviously the language used by this compensation will be dramatic and exaggerated. The theory derived from it exactly matches the hysterical attitude that causes the patient to be neurotic One should not, therefore, take this mode of expression quite as seriously as Freud himself took it. It is just as unconvincing as the ostensibly sexual traumata of hysterics. The neurotic sexual theory is further discomfited by the fact that the last act of the drama consists in a return to the mother’s body. This is usually effected not through the natural channels but through the mouth, through being devoured and swallowed, thereby giving rise to an even more infantile theory which has been elaborated by Otto Rank. All these allegories are mere make-shifts. The real point is that the regression goes back to the deeper layer of the nutritive function, which is interior to sexuality, and there clothes itself in the experiences of infancy. In other words, the sexual language of regression changes, on retreating still further back, into metaphors derived from the nutritive and digestive functions, an which cannot be taken as anything more than a façon  de parler. The so-called Oedipus complex with its famous incest tendency changes at this level into a “Jonah-and-the-Whale” complex, which has any number of variants, for instance the witch who eats children, the wolf, the ogre, the dragon, and so on. Fear of incest turns into fear of being devoured by the mother. The regressing libido apparently desexualizes itself by retreating back step by step to the presexual stage of earliest infancy. Even there it does not make a halt, but in a manner of speaking continues right back to the intra-uterine, pre-natal condition and, leaving the sphere of personal psychology altogether, irrupts into the collective psyche where Jonah saw the “mysteries” (“représentations collectives”) in the whale’s belly. The libido thus reaches a kind of inchoate condition in which, like Theseus and Peirithous on their journey to the underworld, it may easily stick fast. But it can also tear itself loose from the maternal embrace and return to the surface with new possibilities of life.

What actually happens in these incest and womb fantasies is that the libido immerses itself in the unconscious, thereby provoking infantile reactions, affects, opinions and attitudes form the personal sphere, but at the same time activating collective images (archetypes) which have a compensatory and curative meaning such as has always pertained to the myth. Freud makes his theory of neurosis—so admirably suited to the nature of neurotics—much too dependent on the neurotic ideas from which precisely the patients suffer. This leads to the pretence (which suits the neurotic down to the ground) that the causa efficiens of his neurosis lies in the remote past. In reality the neurosis is manufactured anew every day, with the help of a false attitude that consists in the neurotic’s thinking and feeling as he does and justifying it by his theory of neurosis (¶652–5).

[7] Jung interrupts his exposition to acknowledge a qualifier here: “But to the degree that [such projections not arising from repression] are causally connected with an act of repression they are coloured by complexes which neurotically distort them and stamp them as ersatz products. With a little experience it would not be difficult to determine their origin by their character, and to see how far their genealogy is the result of repression” (¶93).

[8] I do not suggest that Jung wholly transcended the discourse of his time.  If he still refers to “young humanity,’ this problem nevertheless gets offset by his ability to recognize the fully formed authenticity of such young  humanity (and so also, in principle, in children).

[9] In a “process with a teleological orientation in which the cause anticipates the goal” (¶60).

[10] Jung, CG (1911). On the doctrine of complexes. In CG Jung (1981). Experimental researches. (Vol. 2, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. L. Stein & D. Riviere), pp. 598–604 . Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[11] As Carus (1899)* notes, regarding the sense of this phrase:

A Latin proverb says: “Si duo faciunt idem, non est idem” (if two do the same thing, it is not the same thing); and this is true not only of individuals, but also of nations and of religions. It is a habit common among all classes of people to condone the faults of their own kind but to be severe with those of others. The oracles of Delphi were divine to a Greek mind, but they were of diabolical origin according to the judgment of Christians. Jesus was a magician in the eyes of the pagans, while the Christians worshipped him as the son of God, and a man who performed miracles (262–3).

*Carus, P. (1899). A history of the devil and the idea of evil from the earliest times to the present day. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company

[12] To state this more precisely: between the competing hypotheses that (1) we speak from embodied positions and (2) we do not speak from embodied positions, we can only assume as a hypothesis the second position, contrary to ever instance of waking empirical actuality in our lives, and for this reason makes for a more dubious an less adequately fit description of human experience. It also leads almost by necessity—in the same way that capitalism requires poverty to function—to social violence and injustice. Not that the first hypothesis automatically avoids this, of course, but it provides a way to avoid “fast-tracking” the commission of such social violence an injustice, whether we (as a culture) elect to take that opportunity to avoid it or not.

[13] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[14] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

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