Monday, November 29, 2010

Darrell Dobson - Aesthetic Experience and the Transformation of Self: The Mature Masculine

This talk/paper by Darrell Dobson was given at the 2004 International Conference: Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies in Newport, Rhode Island. I'm not a big fan of the Jungian approach to masculinity, especially the "archetypal masculinity" stuff by Moore and Gillette, among others, but this is still an interesting paper.

I like his premise of using self exploration - autobiographical self-study research - as a way to explore a topic. Obviously, a sample of one cannot be extended to men as a whole, but it does make for a unique perspective.
Aesthetic Experience and the Transformation of Self:
the Mature Masculine

Darrell Dobson
University of Toronto

In the last six months I have been immersing myself in aesthetic experiences, in both high art and popular culture, that are distinctly masculine. From the authors Ernest Hemingway and Michael Ondaatje, to the television series CSI and Law and Order, to the musicians Lou Reed and Dan Bern (an American folk singer I like to describe as a mix of Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan), I have recently been partaking in art made by the guys. This has been a new phenomenon in my life as for some time, my favourite musicians have been the American folk duo the Indigo Girls and the Canadian singers Sarah McLauglin and Jane Siberry, and my favourite novelist has been the Brit Iris Murdoch (before the movie, I might add).

As a piece of self-study, this paper is influenced by Bullough’s and Pinnegar’s “Guidelines for Quality in Autobiographical Forms of Self-Study Research.” These authors delineate how it is that self-study transcends purely personal relevance: “When the issue confronted by the self is shown to have relationship to and bearing on the context and ethos of a time, then self-study moves to research” (15). This paper is a first attempt to make some sense of a recent phenomenon in my life and research, and I offer it to you because I suspect this scenario does transcend merely personal relevance.

In their book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, The Jungian analyst Robert L. Moore and mythologist Douglas Gillette acknowledge that Western society has been deeply patriarchal for thousands of years and that patriarchy has been oppressive and abusive of the feminine characteristics and virtues and of actual women, a situation which still exists and still needs to change. They are concerned though that “in their radical critique of patriarchy, some feminists conclude that masculinity in its roots is essentially abusive.” Moore and Gillette counter this view by asserting that “patriarchy is not the expression of deep and rooted masculinity, for truly deep and rooted masculinity is not abusive: patriarchy is the expression of the immature masculine. It is the expression of boy psychology, and, in part, the shadow…of masculinity… Patriarchy in our view is an attack on masculinity in its fullness as well as feminity in its fullness.” They go on to assert that “what is missing is not, for the most part, what many depth psychologists assume is missing; that is, adequate connection with the inner feminine. In many cases, these men seeking help had been, and were continuing to be, overwhelmed by the feminine. What they were missing was an adequate connection to the deep and instinctual masculine energies, the potentials of mature masculinity. They were being blocked from connection to those potentials by patriarchy itself, and by the feminist critique upon what little masculinity they could still hold onto for themselves” (xviii). In order to redress this imbalance, Moore and Gillette go on to describe what they see as four archetypes of the mature masculine: the king, the warrior, the magician, and the lover.

We live amongst a frequently undifferentiated condemnation of the masculine. Movies, books, ideas, systems, and attitudes are frequently critiqued and dismissed solely on the grounds that they are masculine. We educated men, particularly those of us interested in the arts, have learned implicitly and explicitly that the means of not being patriarchal was to become more feminine, and we have in many ways been rewarded for doing so. This powerful social phenomenon was exacerbated for many men by growing up with either an absent or negative father energy, and the confluence of these trends has often led us to be complicit in the suspicion and condemnation of the masculine. Those of us who have been trying ardently throughout our lives to not be patriarchal, trying in so many ways not to be our fathers, in such a context, can find ourselves alienated from our own mature masculinity.

The next step in understanding my recent predilection for the highbrow detective stories of Michael Innes leads me to Carl Jung, who in addition to addressing the symbolic nature of dreams, neuroses, myths, rituals and religions, writes directly about the arts in The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature, where he considers the artistic process and the social role of art in depth. He writes much less on the individual role of aesthetic experience, the topic I am interested in here.

In her book on Peter Pan, Ann Yeoman, “We may turn to art to learn better how to create and continually recreate ourselves and to remember that the fully and consciously lived life is a life of deeply committed symbolic action” (119). This is a very compelling idea. Individual aesthetic response represents a process of self-revelation in the life of individuals. Personal responses to art function in a similar way and with a similar purpose as responses to other manifestations of the unconscious mind, like dreams, fairy tales, myths and rituals. Jung wrote, “A great work of art is like a dream” (SMAL 104), and he said, “[W]hen an archetypal situation occurs we suddenly feel an extraordinary sense of release, as though transported, or caught up by an overwhelming power…That is the secret of great art, and of its effect upon us” (82). The charged nature of aesthetic response signifies that the aesthetic experience reveals important psychological information. The fact that one has a charged aesthetic response is a signifier that there is an aspect of the art object or experience that triggers the individual’s psychology and that one ought to consciously reflect on this object or experience. It carries some import; it seeks to bring vital knowledge to an individual’s consciousness. One should note and reflect on the aesthetic response and approach it in the manner of approaching a dream in Jungian psychology.

Aesthetic response is not predictable nor is it guaranteed to be repeatable. Other individuals will not necessarily have a charged aesthetic response even when encountering the same art object or art experience. So, afterwards, one can reflect, Why did I find that experience or object to be beautiful, moving, or disturbing? Why does it stay with me? Why am I drawn to or repelled by that painting, dance, music, or poem? Other people did not and do not necessarily have the same experience. Why did those visual, musical, or literary representations affect me here and now? If one encounters the same art object or art experience at another time, one may or may not have the same or even a similar experience. One’s psychological position may be different, and so the unconscious does not necessarily attach a charge to the experience in the same way. The nature of aesthetic response is dependent on one’s current psychological position.

I do not want to present a view of aesthetic response that is interpreted merely as therapy, which might connote that an individual is ill and needs rectification. Jung is clear that the unconscious mind and its representations are part of a normal psychological state (MS 20); they are not merely important for the neurotic or psychotic or even the socially or personally maladjusted. Creating and responding to manifestations of the unconscious is a healthy part of normal psychological development. To do so is a means of knowing oneself and living a more holistic, balanced life. Aesthetic experience then can serve as a means of metamorphosis.

I can now consider the role that my interest in Hemingway, Dan Bern and CSI is seeking to play in my personal development, which brings me back to Moore and Gillette and their four archetypes of the mature masculine: the king, warrior, magician, and lover. In an original contribution to Jungian theory, they suggest that each of these archetypes has a bi-polar shadow, one characterized by an active stance, the other by a passive stance. They write, “An Ego that does not properly access an archetype will be possessed by that archetype’s shadow and left oscillating between the shadow’s two poles” (King Within 44). The mature King is good and generative, he comes close to being God in his masculine form in every man; he underlies and includes the rest of the archetypes in perfect balance (49). Two of his important functions include ordering and the providing of fertility and blessing (52). The immature masculine aspect of the king energy can be seen in its active manifestation as the Tyrant, who is not creative and generative, only destructive (63). He exploits and abuses others and is ruthless, merciless and without feeling when he is pursuing what he thinks is his own self-interest (64). The passive aspect of the Shadow King can be seen in the Weakling Prince formed when the baby boy’s grandiosity and gloriousness are attacked from the beginning and drop off into the unconscious for safekeeping (70).

The Warrior archetype has mostly been seen in his shadow forms and so people are often understandably uncomfortable with it, particularly women who have often been the victims of the immature active aspect of this archetype, the Sadist (74). The mature warrior is the active energy that moves one forward in life. It is the source of the energy that empowers one to actually do that which needs to be done, to move out of a defensive position about life’s tasks and problems and to take action (79), and is characterized by an alertness and presence of mind. The Sadist is the active shadow stance, hurting others, and the Masochist is the passive shadow stance, seemingly a pushover or whipped puppy, hurting oneself (94).

The Magician is the knower and the master of technology. In his mature manifestations, he is the shaman, the ritual elder. All knowledge that takes specialized training to acquire is the providence of Magician energy (98). The active shadow magician is the Manipulator, a sorcerer’s apprentice who has not mastered his technologies or himself and who reeks havoc. Think of the effect of our technologies on the world’s environment to see his work. The passive shadow Magician is the Denying Innocent One, who leaves us feeling manipulated but is slippery and difficult to challenge or pin down.

The Lover brings the masculine world of eros and is needed to balance and alleviate the other archetypes. He is the healthy embodiment of sensuous pleasure in the world and of the body without shame. He is the aesthetic sensibilities and the means of relatedness. In his active shadow he is the Addicted Lover and in his passive shadow he is the Impotent Lover.

In a synthesis of a Jungian perspective on aesthetic experience and Moore’s and Gillette’s explication of the mature masculine, I have discovered a context within which I can understand my recent experiences with high art and popular culture. They have served as a means of personal development and transformation in a manner similar to that of dreams. My interest in them reveals a compensatory drive from my unconscious and since both I and the art objects are also imbued with the imbalances of the collective unconscious, they also speak to a larger social relevance. My surreptitious attraction to action movies is really about my need for the mature Warrior energy in my own life, in which this energy is likely to be passive, and this need is shared by a present and historic culture dominated by the shadow warrior in his active stance, the Sadist. My secret affection for CSI and Law and Order (the original series of both, I should add) is really about a need to further integrate the mature Magician archetype, an imbalance again shared by the collective as evidenced in our facility for destroying our homelands with our technologies. The Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, whom you might remember as the author of the novel The English Patient, from which the movie with Ralph Fienne and Juliette Binoche was made, appeals to the mature lover in me, particularly in his novel In the Skin of the Lion, a poetic and sensuous work full of beauty and suffering, which I highly recommend. That there is a collective need for the mature lover can be seen in the continued reports that the predominant use of the internet remains searches for pornography, an aspect of the Addicted lover. My forays into some Tales of King Arthur arise because of a longing to further integrate a mature King energy in my own life; an imbalance again reflected in the collective mores, for which of our contemporary leaders, regional, national, or international might be considered to be drawing on the archetype of the mature King, generative and good? We suspect the field is occupied almost entirely by tyrants and weakling princes, but must remember that the shame cannot be projected onto one man, party, or country.

Ghandi declared that we must be the change we want to see in the world, and such is the personal path of the mature masculine. We must not simply project blame for the immature masculine onto others and do nothing ourselves, and so I take seriously my burgeoning inclinations in the high and low arts as a message from my unconscious about the life giving potential and growth to be found in further integrating the aspects of the mature masculine in my life.

According to Jung,
By giving [the archetypal image] shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. Therein lies the social significance of art: it is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present. People and times, like individuals, have their own characteristics and attitudes…very many psychic elements that could play their part in life are denied the right to exist because they are incompatible with the general attitude…Here the artist’s relative lack of adaptation turns out to his advantage; it enables him to follow his own yearnings far from the beaten path, and to discover what it is that would meet the unconscious needs of his age. Thus, just as the one-sidedness of the individual’s conscious attitude is corrected by reactions from the unconscious, so art represents a process of self-regulation in the life of nations and epochs.

I have been so bold as to think you might be interested in my recent reading, viewing, and listening habits because I suspect that I have been interested in art that represents just such “a process of self-regulation,” as it is obvious that our epoch and nations desperately require the energy of the mature masculine. Thank you for your kind attention.

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