“Everything psychic has a lower and a higher meaning, as in the profound saying of late classical mysticism: ‘Heaven above, Heaven below, stars above, stars below, all that is above also is below, know this and rejoice.’ Here we lay our finger on the secret symbolical significance of everything psychic.” (CW 5, para 77)
In the above passage, Jung is referencing a mystical text titled the Oedipus Aegyptiacus. Jung borrows from this text to express the tension of opposites within psyche life. The psyche has an urge, aim, a desire: part an expression of base instinct and part spiritual instinct. Fantasy holds the potential to express both of these instinctual urges.
Jung explains his point of view: the [Freudian] “sexual problem” is “only one half of the meaning, and the lower half at that. The other half is ideal creation as a substitute for real creation.” (CW 5, para 77) Here, Jung recognizes the spiritual instincts of the soul. Such instincts modify base instinctual urges into the spiritual through the creation of spiritual symbols and ‘ideals.’ Through spiritual symbols the soul expresses a capacity to dialectically integrate the tension of opposites within the Self.
It has been 101 years since Carl Jung wrote Symbols of Transformation. This work is now in the US Public Domain, and available on-line for all to read freely. It makes sense that our reading of Carl Jung should also occur in the public domain, so that an understanding can deepen and develop through conversation and community.
Life has shifted quite a bit in 101 years. In this time some things have changed and some have stayed constant. One thing that has changed is there is now a greater availability of ideas and perspectives. Western civilization has become more multicultural, and such a change brings with it a multiplicity of viewpoints and religions. Christianity is no longer dominant; instead, we see a variety of beliefs, mixing and melting together.
Carl Jung’s Volume 5 titled Symbols of Transformation (SoT) is one of Jung’s more difficult texts to read and understand. Many years after writing the text, Jung looked back and said:
“I have never felt happy about this book… It was written at top speed… There was no opportunity to let my thoughts mature. The whole thing came to me like a landslide that could not be stopped. The urgency that lay behind it became clear to me only later: it was an explosion of all those psychic contents which could find no room, no breathing-space, in the constricting atmosphere of Freudian psychology.” (Forward to 4th Edition of CW 5)
Here, Jung is speaking of a surge of energy that took place as he took freedom from Freud and “reductive causalism”: an “outmoded rationalism and scientific materialism of the nineteenth century” (p. xxiii, Forward to the Fourth Edition CW 5)
Descartes said, cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”…
Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan discusses the importance of the thought process that Descartes went through to get to his conclusive statement: “I think, therefore I am.” He explains that it is the act of doubting that leads to the conclusion that one is thinking: “by the virtue of the fact that I doubt, I am sure that I think”.4 Lacan tells us that a central theme in the thought of Sigmund Freud is also “doubt”. Lacan says:
“In a precisely similar way, Freud, when he doubts…he is assured that a thought is there, which is unconscious, which means that it reveals itself as absent. As soon as he comes to deal with others, it is to this place that he summons the I think through which the subject will reveal himself. In short, he is sure that this thought is there alone with I am, if I may put it like this, provided, and this is the leap, someone thinks in his place. [He continues his thought] It is here that the dissymmetry between Freud and Descartes is revealed. It is not in the initial method of certainty grounded on the subject. It stems from the fact that the subject is ‘at home’ in this field of the unconscious. It is because Freud declares the certainty of the unconscious that the progress by which he changed the world for us was made.” (Book XI)
While Descartes centers his inquiry on the subjectivity of the one who is thinking, Freud focuses on the deeper subjectivity emanating from the unconscious. In doing so he recognizes two distinct focal points of subjectivity: the ‘I am’ and ‘the subject.’ This subject within is a subjectivity that is larger and more vast than the speaking and thinking subject which declares “I am”. It is a subjectivity not directly accessible, but known only through dreams, free association and active imagination. It is the ‘subject of the unconscious.’ We might call this subjectivity ‘the Self.’
Carl Jung understood that dreams have both an objective and subjective level. That is, when we dream, we dream both about ourselves and our representations of the world. Jung discusses the objective level of the dream:
“I call every interpretation which equates the dream images with real objects an interpretation on the objective level… Interpretation on the objective level is analytic, because it breaks down the dream content into memory-complexes that refer to external situations. (CW 7, para. 131)
The subjective aspects reflects the dreamer. Jung continues:
“In contrast to this is the interpretation which refers every part of the dream and all the actors in it back to the dreamer himself. This I call interpretation on the subjective level…. Interpretation on the subjective level is synthetic, because it detaches the underlying memory-complexes from their external causes, regards them as tendencies or components of the subject, and reunites them with that subject.” (CW 7, para. 131)