Friday, September 25, 2009

Seek and Ye Shall Find

And for what, except for you, do I feel love?
Do I press the extremest book of the wisest man
Close to me, hidden in me day and night?
In the uncertain light of single, certain truth,
Equal in living changingness to the light
In which I meet you, in which we sit at rest,
For a moment in the central of our being,
The vivid transparence that you bring is peace.

Wallace Stevens

On an oppressively overcast morning in North Carolina, I seek and seek again for a subject (besides dissing popular social networking sites); I am answered, in the form of the phenomena of seeking and finding themselves. Dinah in a recent post at Shrink Rap, discussing the buzz over the pending publication of Jung's Red Book, wonders about the quasi-religious devotion of certain Jungians to their master. Specifically, she marvels, acknowledging a certain envy on her part, that some people come to feel that another human being has come up with the answers that matter in life.

There is fact and there is truth. Facts are the objectively verifiable states of affairs of history and science. Truth is a mode of living, whether individual or collective, that responds to deeply felt human needs. Fact is empirical; truth is subjective and spiritual. If needs change, truth may change as well, but facts won't. However, truth bears such conviction that it has a normative dimension; unlike, say, a mere preference for root beer, it cannot by its very nature be merely relative. Truth need not be totalitarian, but it stakes its claim and naturally seeks community. If I enjoy root beer, and it turns out that no one else on earth does, this fact may puzzle but not necessarily dismay me. But if I embrace moral, aesthetic, or spiritual truth that no one else in the world shares, I am made to feel sad and isolated. In contrast, if I am convinced of a fact that no one else in the world seems to see, I am made to feel mad.

Truth is another word for sensibility, whether individual or collective. Stephen Martin, the Jungian alluded to in Dinah's post, seems to have found in Jung's life and thought a corresponding truth and sensibility. Jung speaks to him as perhaps no one else does. This is an entirely different issue from the "evidence" (i.e. facts) that folks perennially try to muster to bolster the case for psychotherapy (often with an eye toward justifying reimbursement). This is not to say that psychotherapy can't have a factual dimension (e.g. exposure and response prevention may factually, on average, reduce symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder), but this is far afield from psychotherapy as mode of exploration and discovery.

The lucky ones, perhaps, are those who are so constituted as to find one Truth, or more realistically, a central Truth that towers over other truths as an effective spiritual colossus. That is what the conventionally religious achieve, as well as the figuratively religious, like Stephen Martin perhaps. Others must content themselves with myriad truths, like facets on a great gem whose center can only be imagined; undiscovered facets, and undiscovered gems, must be stipulated as well.

I have no Jung, no one human being or school of thought that organizes the world and my experience. Rather, I have many Jungs, men and women whose thoughts or creations I happen upon and think, "A century before I was born, this person knew me, anticipated me." This is truth by committee, albeit a transcendent committee of unherdable cats (truth is inescapably feline for me). I read somewhere that Bob Dylan once said that of his records Blonde on Blonde best captured a certain ineffable sound in his head; this was inseparable from his sensibility, from who he unavoidably was. I do not have primary creativity like that, so I must rely on others to evoke deeply shared experience.

So when people perpetually talk about great books or author lists, for me that really translates into a kind of personal pantheon of spiritual interlocutors, people--like me but vastly more creative and expressive--who could not help occupying at least part of the same truth. Among poets: Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Blake, Shakespeare. Among writers: Proust, Hardy, Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolkien, Loren Eiseley, Kafka. Among thinkers: Emerson, Thoreau, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche. Among painters: Kandinsky, Klee, Blake (again), Hopper, O'Keeffe, Brueghel. Among musicians: Beethoven, Schubert, Dylan, Neil Young. I tend to resist film, perhaps because I find that it colonizes consciousness too aggressively, but if I had to pick I would say Hitchcock, Woody Allen, and Stanely Kubrick.

And then there is the different need, for an actual, present, and living person who shares a sensibility, perhaps both reflected and refracted into a form only obliquely recognizable. Yes, there is that too.


Cheryl Fuller, Ph.D. said...

I consider myself a Jungian, not because I am devoted to the man or even to all of the methods of Jungian psychology, but because it forms a basic structure from which I try to understand what I encounter with my patients. I dare say that I and most Jungians I know are not especially distinguishable in observable ways in the way we work with patients from other varieties of therapists who work in depth.

I find The Red Book more interesting for the discussions it has already stimulated and will continue to stimulate in the Jungian world than I am in the book itself. But then again I am more interested in the application of Jung's ideas than I am in Jung.

I am pretty much allergic to true believers of all kinds. Maybe that makes me a failure as a Jungian. :::shrug:::

Anonymous said...

I don't think gravitating around a central truth or the idea that a central truth coalesces life experience into a unified whole is the best workable solution to existing meaningfully.

I quite like your metaphor about myriad truths being like facets of a gem; but I doubt that the great gem itself hides a central mega-truth worth spelunking through life for.

Life may in fact be the perpetual craft of cutting the raw gem, adding facet after facet after facet...well, until death which is the ultimate facet that collapses all the others....and truth eventually becomes fact.

Retriever said...

What about the notion that Michaelangelo (I think) had of the statue hidden within the stone. That the sculptor's efforts and skills unmask the "true" thing hidden beneath the surface? That the thing is there all along, waiting to be discovered. This allows both for the idea of something beautiful and wonderful at the heart of the world, and also for the possibility that we can really get it wrong....It would certainly explain much of the mess that the world is in now.