Thursday, June 23, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 11

Freud and Jung at a Conference - early 1900s
It all boils down to Images

There are always conundrums encountered when we seek to understand what life is about (philosophy) and further ones when we consider what the psyche or personality are about too (philosophy of mind/psychology).  When we were children my father, RIP, used always love taunting us with conundrums like "which comes first the chicken or the egg?"  In like manner I have always been baffled as to whether images or words come first in the development of the child.  Images I should imagine as they seem more primal, though I do not have the psychological background to give a cogent scientific reason.  However, be these conundrums as they may, one can only agree with Professor Levine that there can be no unmediated access to the psyche or mind, that mental life is essentially imaginal (it works in and through and with images).  Hence reality - whatever indeed that may be - is also mediated through images (through our perceptive organs or senses).  Let me return to the learned professor's own words here:

One of Carl Gustave Jung's Mandalas

One can speak here, following James Hillman, of "befriending" the image, of entering into a relationship with it, even loving it.  Then interpretation itself becomes an erotic act.  One has to love the image, become close to it, accept it on its own terms, let it speak in its own voice.  It is not necessary to substitute a cognitive meaning for an image; in fact the image will hide from all attempts to enter it cognitively. (Poiesis, p. 69)
One cannot escape the Freudian tenor of the above passage, nor can one avoid the erotic imagery in the words, i.e., "to enter it" is exactly the same in meaning as "penetrate it" where the "it" refers to the image.  Now I have long been a lover of Freud, so these comments are not meant to be in any way negative, merely highlighting Professor Levine's approach to therapy.  He repeats himself again further on in this page - and the reiteration is worth it as it is a seminal point in Levine's way of doing therapy - by adverting to the fact that the founder of psychoanalysis made a major discovery in his understanding that every image has a depth, and that his therapy proceeded along the lines of deepening the image, staying with it to put it another way until the image leads us back to its very origin in primal images.

Now, such depth psychology is a painful process and a lot of the images thrown up can be riddled with pain, angst and suffering.  Such images belong to "fantasies which express the primordial images of the suffering of the soul." (Ibid., p.70)  Levine continues by asking the legitimate question as to whether psychoanalysis is adequate enough a framework for the interpretation of imagery in art therapy.  He believes that it is, provided that it employs an imaginal methodology, "to the extent to which it can recognize itself in the field of the imagination and give up its pretence of belonging to a superior realm of cognition." (Ibid., p. 71)

Thankfully, for this reader at least, he goes on to the developments and understandings of the psyche as found in the work of Jung and Hillman both of whom I have discussed many times in these pages.  While Freud looked upon the unconscious as a veritable cess-pit of repressed desires (an image and description given by Dr. Anthony Storr and one which I find very evocative)  Jung and Hillman saw it as so very much more with many positive images and archetypes there as well as all that serious, repressed sexual stuff.  It's not that these two great interpreters of Freud threw out the baby with the bathwater at all.  They expanded on and added to Freud.  Without the foundational work of the great pioneer and father of psychoanalysis our knowledge of the psyche in its unconscious dimension would be much less well developed than it is today, to say the least.

In tracing the images back to their primal sources, there will be suffering indeed, and yet it is through that very painful process that "the cure of the soul" lies, if I may use a very old and well-used expression.  Again in the words of Levine: "The image that leads us backward and downward to the suffering psyche also leads us upward and forward to its healing." (Ibid., p. 71)  I very much like our learned professor's contention that Freud's scientism prevented him from seeing the whole picture and from grasping the fullness or panorama (both my terms) of the imaginal life.  To this extent the founder's theory of psychoanalysis was restricted to a very negative and narrow imaginal take on the psyche (the cess-pit as suggested by Storr) whereas Jung and his successors saw that there was also "a tendency toward hope and joy, towards imaginative perfection and harmony.  Here Jung's image of self as a mandala is helpful; the psyche represents itself not only through images of suffering but also through images of salvation." (Ibid., p. 71)

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