Monday, March 25, 2024


Reflections on Jung's "Answer to Job"

There is an account in fiction that might help us understand what Jung is getting at in his "Answer to Job." In considering this topic, we would do well to remember that when we talk about "God" that we are really talking about our images and ideas about God. GOD is precisely what we do not know because whatever the entity God is, that entity is far beyond our human understanding.

In our course [St. Louis Jung Society "Jung Readings"], we are grappling with our images of God, trying to make them conscious and, in doing so, trying to see if they fit our reality. Most of us received our personal God-image while we were very young. And for most of us, that God-image is like our eyeglasses, that is to say, simply something which we see the world through but of which we are usually unaware. That said, let me return to the fictional account that will serve as an example.

The example comes from Robertson Davies’ 
The Manticore, the second book in his Deptford Trilogy. David Staunton, a successful but very neurotic barrister from Toronto has suffered a mid-life crisis. His symptoms are so severe that he takes himself to Zurich where he enters analysis with Dr. Johanna von Haller. David suffers from a father-complex. He has been shaped, formed, and dominated by his father; and in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary, can only see his father in a positive light.

After about a year of analysis, working with dreams and gathering together the threads of his life story, David has developed a fuller and more complete picture of his father. He has a dream, biblical in style, which he reports to Dr. Von Haller.

"‘I dreamed I was standing on a plain, talking with my father. I was aware it was Father, though his face was turned away. He was very affectionate and simple in his manner, as I don’t think I ever knew him to be in his life. The odd thing was that I couldn’t really see his face. He wore an ordinary business suit. Then suddenly he turned from me and flew up into the air, and the astonishing thing was that as he rose, his trousers came down, and I saw his naked backside.’
‘And what are your associations?’

‘Well, obviously it’s the passage in Exodus where God promises Moses that he shall see Him, but must not see His face; and what Moses sees is God’s back parts. As a child I always thought it funny for God to show his rump. Funny, but also terribly real and true. Like those extraordinary people in the Bible who swore a solemn oath clutching one another’s testicles. But does it mean that I have seen the weakness, the shameful part of my father’s nature because . . . .?  I’ve done what I can with it, but nothing rings true.’

‘Of course not, because you have neglected one of the chief principles of what I have been able to tell you about the significance of dreams. That again is understandable, for when the dream is important and has something new to tell us, we often forget temporarily what we know to be true. But we have always agreed, haven’t we, that figures in dreams, whoever or whatever they may look like, are aspects of the dreamer? So who is this father with the obscured face and the naked buttocks?’

‘I suppose he is my idea of a father–of my own father?’

‘He is something we would have to talk about if you decided to go on to a deeper stage in the investigation of yourself. Because your real father, your historical father, the man whom you last saw lying so pitiably on the dock with his face obscured in filth, and then so disheveled in his coffin with his face destroyed by your stepmother’s ambitious meddling, is by no means the same thing as the archetype of fatherhood you carry in the depths of your being, and which comes from–well, for the present we won’t attempt to say where.’"
In this dialogue, Davies may have had in mind an interesting and controversial statement Jung makes:
"I look upon the receiving of the Holy Spirit as a highly revolutionary fact which cannot take place until the ambivalent nature of the Father is recognized." [Collected Works, Vol. 18, Para. 1551]

All of Davies’ 
Deptford Trilogy is an interesting read and in many ways a fine introduction to some basic concepts of Jungian Psychology. I selected this particular passage to help illuminate Jung’s Answer. The character David is not a religious man but he has an unconscious and very masculine God-image that has been mediated to him through his personal father and through other significant men in his life. The same is true also of his feminine God-image which was mediated to him through his personal mother and through other significant women, including his stepmother. For "God" in both these instances, you could simply substitute "Power" because it is these masculine and feminine power-images that have formed and shaped David’s worldview, that is to say, shaped how he sees the world and how he seems himself and his role in that world.

As long as his vision is truncated by a one-sided development, David necessarily holds a narrow and rather naive conscious view of himself and his world. His complexes around mother and father make him sensitive and prone to black moods and fits of anger. What he has repressed about both figures, the good and the bad, lies unconscious in his psyche and rises up to bite him in ways that eventually are debilitating. He cannot deal with his father’s cruel and controlling ways because he literally cannot see them. He cannot deal with his birth mother’s influence and power over him because he simply does not recognize them.

In his analysis, he is able to uncover aspects of his unconscious personality (also mediated to him through mother and father) that have bedeviled him for decades and to gain a certain degree of freedom from behaviors and compulsions that previously controlled him.

Of course, each of us is in some ways a "David Staunton." We each have had our worldview and our personality shaped and influenced by significant people in our history. We each are blind to certain influences and forces that are very real but fall outside our field of vision. The more completely we think we see, the more vast our blind spots.

The prevailing and unquestioned image of God that has been mediated for us is that of a loving, kind, benevolent, omniscient, all-powerful deity. No matter our personal experiences to the contrary, most of us cling to the prevailing God-image. Jung, in the essay we are studying, calls all these God-image assumptions into question. He does so in a way that was upsetting when he published this work in 1952 and is upsetting when we read this work still. We might do well to reflect on the question of WHY calling these God-images into question and examining them is so disturbing. After all, if Jung’s notions about the God-image are only ideas and theories, why do they upset?

Sunday, January 28, 2024

A Review

Rapture Encaged: The Suppression of the Feminine in Western Culture by Ruth Anthony El Saffar, Routledge, 1994.

I read Rapture Encaged, The Suppression of the Feminine in Western Culture when it was first published in the spring of 1994. Impressed with the author's ability to articulate questions that had lived wordlessly in me for some time, I reread the book at that time more carefully. My third reading, done for this review, reinforced my initial opinion that this is an important work, a work that synthesizes psychological theories about women, modern feminist theory, and historical perspective on the place of women in Western culture. Rapture Encaged is one of those rare and wonderful finds--a "living" text that engages the reader in such a way that both text and reader are changed and in-formed in the engagement.

In this slender volume, Ruth Anthony El Saffar explores key questions about women's psychology: (1) Is there "an authentic female vision that patriarchal cultures, from the Greeks to the present day, have systematically sought to deny and expunge?" (2) "Can we say that there is a feminine essence that is not the result of cultural conditions, or conversely, can we say that cultural conditioning is not an expression of essential human nature?" (3) Are there "available models for living out a full feminine identity" in patriarchal culture? In everyday parlance men might echo Freud's oft-asked question, "What do women want?" Or women, "Why can't I have the kind of relationship I have with my women friends with my husband, lover, co-worker, etc.?" And all of us must ask why, in a country overflowing with bounty, we cannot access the nurturing capacities of mother and father for care of children who live in poverty. Clearly we have much to gain from a deeper understanding of the role of cultural conditioning in defining who we are, how we live, and how we relate.

El Saffar asks and explores her questions in a scholarly, intellectual fashion. Her use of the autobiography of an illiterate seventeen-century Spanish nun, Isabel de la Cruz (coupled with the historical context she provides) as a highly-polished mirror to reflect twentieth-century life, is nothing short of brilliant. She gives us an Archimedean Point sufficiently grounded in historical perspective and distant enough that we can use it for an exploration of "the feminine" and "the masculine" today. Most clearly she explains how power imbalances continue to cripple men and women as we seek to live in life frames defined too narrowly by our patriarchal culture.

The author shows us the inadequacies of psychological theories that stress autonomy and independence when she states: "It is not enough for women simply to be in 'right relations' with the masculine. For the masculine, as it has been layered into the psyche over generations of patriarchal power, has a deadening effect on the expression of feminine power that allows neither men nor women to cultivate soul, or connection with the female aspects of the godhead."

She also shows us the ways in which women, if they adopt men's theories about human development, find themselves in a double bind. "The woman who functions in culture is inevitably one separated from the mother, and therefore split off from her source of power. What power she does acquire comes from her role as relational to a man, on whom she depends for her name, her success, her money, her well-being?"

Indeed, a woman's experiential reality may be quite different from that of a a man, but as long as she submits to a man's frame of reference for her experience, she will never trust her own process. Her understanding of self, her very being, then depends upon reflection from a man. His is "solar" consciousness; hers "lunar" consciousness. His life is defined by activity; hers by passivity. Anyone who has reflected sufficiently upon his/her own reality, recognizes how narrow and limiting, how patently untrue, such notions are. Yet they persist. My conjecture is that a lot of women's perceived passivity is simply a defensive maneuver to avoid pejorative and inadequate labels.

If language is the house of being, the language of a man's experience, if essentially different from a woman's, can never touch her where she lives, let alone help her come home to herself. To be labeled "animus-possessed" or "fused with the mother" for disagreeing with a frame that doesn't fit is a further negation of her selfhood. These terms may express something of a man's experience of woman, but what do they tell a woman about herself?

How different, for example, are the experiences of Isabel and Jung. ". . . unlike the Jung of the confrontation with the unconscious, Isabel did not experience God's power as terrifying, because her encounter with the unconscious was not precipitated by the sudden irruption of loss into an otherwise extraordinarily successful life . . . Rather she sought in the unconscious a place of refuge from her unremitting experience of failure in the world."

One way I have found for engaging this book (the way that convinced me it is a living text) is to select one of the author's finely-tuned sentences and reflect on it. For example, "It took me many years to realize that Jung's 'feminine' was yet another captivated and diminished expression of women, one that is nothing more than a reflection of the male psyche."

I don't believe it is helpful to women's cause to blame Jung for what he was unable to do precisely because of his male psyche. Rather it is time that we women expxress for ourselves out of the female psyche the essence of the feminine. Further, we must do so with the intellectual rigor that El Saffar demonstrates. A Jungian analyst herself, she obviously values Jung's work highly but is unabashedly frank in challenging his ideas when she finds him wide of the mark, misogynistic, or simply out-dated.

What better definition of a Jungian analysis can we find than the words this author uses to describe the process of Isabel's telling her life story: ". . . Isabel, who through the dictating of her autobiography had an opportunity to experience herself mirrored, for the first time ever, in the outer world. Through the process of co-creating her autobiography, Isabel was able to see herself take shape as a whole being, with a history, a purpose, and value."

El Saffar's book is brilliantly written, quietly but firmly persuasive, and enormously engaging. However, it ends abruptly. She does not adequately answer the questions she raises. The reader is left with a feeling of incompleteness. The book needs a final concluding chapter. I feel frustration at what is left unsaid, unasked, unanswered. I found myself asking questions like: And so, where to from here? What is the current state of theorizing about women's psychology? Who is doing it? Why, as women, do we shrink from the task? Do we women use the power imbalance, real and crippling as it is, partially as an excuse for not accepting full responsibility for the development of our own uniquely feminine psychology? Why can't we more fully reflect goddess energy and values in our culture?

The book is cut too short. Tragically, so was the life of the author. Ruth Anthony El Saffar died of cancer at age 52 on March 28, 1994, one week before Rapture Encaged was released.

[This review was first published in The Round Table Review, September/October 1998, V. 6, No. 1.]