Friday, June 24, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 12

The Tension of Opposites


A good and healthy energy obtains when there is a healthy tension of opposites.  The old chestnut, which is often quoted, is very true, that is that one can never know the good unless one knows its polar opposite, that is evil.  One cannot know what love is unless one tastes somewhat of its contrary in hate.  We can never know what black is unless we truly realise what white is, and so on a so forth.  This healthy tension of opposites has long been known and long been held up as a value culturally over the years.

Some Jungian Insights:

What adds to the problem of evil is each individual's lack of true or real knowledge of his/her own soul.  Some of us are not aware at all of the Shadow at work in the psyche, while others are in denial of this reality completely.  Universally almost humankind believes that it is merely what its consciousness knows of itself.  In other words once again human beings are living a one-dimensional life, namely merely a conscious one and are forgetting about or actively denying even, that we have an unconscious level to our psyche too.  As Jung says in his short wonderful classic The Undiscovered Self (Routledge, 1958, 2010)  - we are duplex, not simplex creatures.  The level of evil in the world all boils down to humanity's failure to take on board this duplex nature of his psyche which is at once Conscious and Unconscious, Rational and Irrational, Head and Heart, Thinking and Feeling, Head and Gut - call this the principle of opposites that I have described above, if you wish.  Real self-knowledge means that one sets about integrating the two poles by keeping them in a healthy tension as it were.  Jung argues that humankind adds stupidity to his iniquity when s/he regards himself/herself as harmless or innocent.  None of us is harmless and none of us is innocent.

Jung spoke about the individuation of the person or psyche while Anthony Storr spoke about the integration of the Self.  Jung maintained that each person had to integrate not alone his/her Shadow but all the subpersonalities that abounded in the unconscious, first by making them conscious and then accepting them as a way to integration.  For example I, Tim Quinlan have many subpersonalities: Me the Expert, Me the Teacher, Me the Professional, Me the Speaker/Lecturer, Me the All-Knowing Ego, Me the Depressive, Me the Broken One, Me the Survivor, Me the Guilty One, and so on and so forth.  I also wear all the appropriate masks that go with each of these subpersonalities which I have learnt to bring to consciousness and frequently ask myself a question like "Which mask am I wearing now?" "Which role am I playing?" "Where is the real me, the integrated me, the individuated me?  Such questions allow me to become ever more and more aware and conscious of myself, of who I might possibly be, of who I am.  And so I believe that this is an insight from Jung, that it is through awareness of all of these possible subpersonalities and the integration of them that I become whole.  I strive never to let one or other of them rule the roost as it were.

Back to Professor Levine:

Gaslamp, Phonnix Park, 2008
Professor Levine continues in a somewhat similar vein to this healthy tension of opposites that I have outlined above at some length.  When he talks about images and primal images and the painful search for such images he contends that every image has both a pathology and a sacredness, a bad an a good aspect and both of them have to be accepted and integrated in the image.  Utopian fantasies of the psyche, that is that the psyche is in a state of pristine perfection is lop-sided to say the least.  It is as it were a twisted truth or heresy if I may be permitted to use this rather traditional theological and churchy term.  Likewise dystopian fantasies of the psyche, that it is a cesspit of primal drives and suppressed and repressed instincts, is also a twisted or one-sided truth or heresy.  Utopia and Dystopia are a tension of polar opposites, the two sides of the one coin as it were.  In like manner the Sacredness and Pathology of an image are also two sides of the one coin.  To return to Levine's own words will be instructive here:

Thus an adequate theory of interpretation would have to leave room for the sacred dimension of the image as well as for its pathology.  Here the critique of image abuse is particularly appropriate.  Anyone who has felt a numinous power ion his or her artistic imagery only to have it reductively interpreted as nothing but a piece of pathology can testify to the pain caused by the abuse of the image.  But conversely we all have experienced the joy of recognition when someone correctly names our image and recognizes it for  its upward flight of the spirit...
For depth psychology to attend to the fullness of the image, it must supplement the psychoanalytic interpretation that goes downward and backward with a psychosynthetic one pointing forward and upward.  Psychopathology must be integrated with an image of healing... We need to develop a dialectical conception of interpretation which can take account of these conflicting tendencies.  Otherwise our imaginative capacity is stunted; we live in either too narrow or too broad a perspective, seeing only pathology or only health everywhere.  The psyche contains both; and it contains them in an intimate unity, so that one is found only through the other. (Poiesis, pp. 72-73)

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