Friday, September 3, 2010

Depth psychology and the contemporary craft of simulation

Written for the students entering the Depth Psychology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Fall 2010

I want to compare and contrast two things, as a way to introduce our topic of depth psychology. Following the British psychoanalyst D.W.Winnicott, I will call them “dreaming” and “daydreaming,” or images with and without soul. We live today in an ocean of images: no other moment in the history of civilization has approached our facility in inventing, crafting, refining, and polishing pictures of things, what postmodernism calls “simulacra.” Think, for example, of what films have become in the past century, with the primitive “special effects” of the early days of motion pictures giving way to 3-D, animation, and especially to computerized digital manipulation of the images of virtually any and all creatures, times, places, worlds; even dreams, memories, and visions; and beyond the duplication of all these actualities extrapolation to what has not been and perhaps never will be. Yet, in spite of the enormous outpouring in the present day of images of our worlds and how they might develop, there seems to be less and less place for what Jung called symbols and archetypes, and Winnicott “dreams” and “imagination”; those emotionally-charged images and stories that intimate and sometimes make real a world beyond our own but also most deeply our own, a sacred realm where life can be lived creatively. Why is this?

I suggest that the plethora of images in our world is directly related to the general decline of imagination, and specifically to the devaluation of that psychology of imagination that we call depth psychology. You are entering one of the very few institutions in the world that value depth psychology. It is true that there are Jungian institutes, other schools of psychoanalysis, and a few academic programs that recognize the value of soul; but they are infinitely outweighed by the linear, literalistic, and soulless surfaces of much of what passes for culture in the contemporary world. Daydreaming fantasy, as Winnicott shows, is a dissociative and defensive activity that aims at hiding reality; it adds nothing to life, drains our energy rather than renewing it. Not that this is not recognized from time to time in our art, especially films—which after 100 years remain the premiere canvas on which psyche projects her insights. As an example, I would like to reflect on the recent film “Inception,” whose premise is that a near future technology would allow its possessor to enter and control the dreams of others. Of course these are no longer dreams, in Winnicott’s sense, but rather daydreams or fantasies without soul or depth, instruments of power and control motivated by the spirit of capitalism and self aggrandizement. “Inception” images for us the possibility of levels of dreams, dreams within dreams, and of a distortion of time such that a minute at one level equals hours in a deeper dream. The outward “spectacle” of dreams (to use Aristotle’s term) is brilliantly portrayed, but there is no sense of the mystery and depth of natural dreams. Instead, we are plunged into the tedium of being trapped in a (day)dream world where nothing new can ever happen. The protagonist of Inception, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is tempted to give in, as his wife had done, to the subtle blandishments of the spectacular—but finally banal—daydreams they had constructed in what felt to them like 50 years trapped in a third level dream. On returning to the real world she jumped to her death, thinking reality a dream. He rejected the daydream simulacrum of his wife pleading for him, too, to jump, and chose ordinary reality; paradoxically, because it was more real, deeper, than daydream. As he said to his wife’s image, recognizing that he had (re)created it, “You’re not good enough.” Real memories and authentic mourning are superior to mechanized fantasy.

This is the real issue facing depth psychology today. We are tempted by all the powers of our critical faculty to reject the imagination because we confuse it with the cheap daydreams of advertising and politics. The challenge is to show that there is something more in the imaginal world than the funhouse of the postmodern imaginary, where a bloated daydream world is dissected in irony but never transcended. Inception demonstrates again (as Jung and Hillman had shown long ago) that what passes for fantasy in much of our culture nowadays is only the old heroic ego warmed over, galvanized into a simulacrum of life like the vampires and zombies that inhabit today’s films. The good sense that rejects these phantoms of the surface—for instance in television like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report—is itself also a lingering contrail of the hero, though a much superior version of him. Cold, hard moral reason, like that shown by DiCaprio’s character in rejecting the will-o-the-wisp that pretends to be his wife is absolutely needed today, and so—in spite of a certain personal aversion to their style—I have to honor the spirit of Colbert and Stewart who aim at a purified comic intelligence capable of dueling with the bathos and chilly posturing of what Jung had already, in 1913, identified as “the spirit of these times.”

What, then, of Jung’s other force, the “spirit of the depths”? Where is it to be found in a culture where a film on dreaming never touches on Jung, or even Freud, and describes the deepest levels of the psyche as “limbo”? I hope that over the course of this quarter the answer may become a little clearer.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What is World Two?

I began this work with the conviction (based on experience) that there are great moments in life, epiphanies or recognitions of an absolute character in which there is no sense of lack or incompletion. After the fact, as the epiphany fades into memory, we draw a line between these exceptional moments (which I am calling World Two) and ordinary reality (World One). Where does this line fall? How do we decide what counts as a great, self validated moment? With the Buddhists and Hindus I would acknowledge that even apparently worldly moments of satisfaction (Freudian “drive reductions” like eating and sex) are outside the realm of suffering, and so are not part of World One. But they also do not seem to fall within cultural, which I have termed “World Three” moments, because they do not seek, point to, celebrate or even reach satisfaction, but already are that. But perhaps we are missing something here. World Three is not just culture (the movement from World One to World Two) but can also include the descent of god into the world, i.e., the “avatara” (Sanskrit ava = “down” + tr = “cross”) event, where the movement is reversed, going from World Two to World One. Spontaneous eruptions of World Two in orgasm, mystical experience, big dreams, even the explosion of chocolate on the tongue, can be understood this way, as visitations from the divine to the earthly level. It is as if World Two, though complete in itself, contains “arrows” that point either to or from it to World One, with the arrows themselves being World Three.

I reading the books of David Lawrence, I have been wondering where rationality lies. It seems clear that reason cannot belong to World Two, the realm of bliss and fulfillment, because there is a movement in it, a tension or need for completion. If it needs completion, even if it tends in its inmost essence toward completion, reason cannot be complete. On the other hand, David Lawrence (and the Indian tantric philosopher Abhinavagupta whom Lawrence studies) have shown that reason does lead to World Two. This what Lawrence means by “transcendental argument.” My previous inquiry into Samkhya and Yoga has found that the higher (sattvika) buddhi, “insight” that distinguishes the subtlest aspects of prakrti (“nature”) from purusa (“consciousness”), lies in a paradoxical realm, the region I have called World Three, where World One suffering reaches an asymptote or limit in which it realizes its otherness from World Two and for that very reason becomes more and more like World Two, without limit. It would appear that rationality must be essentially the same thing as buddhi. So understood, rationality is an arrow from World One to World Two.

But buddhi has also been understood as the spontaneous appearance in this world of the divine. This is what happens when the guru appears to the disciple, as in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna reveals himself to Arjuna, or when Bodhidharma travels from India to China bringing Buddhism. Buddhi thus conceived would be a gift from World Two as much as it is the highest achievement of World One. It lives on the border, as I have discussed before, but the movement is from above to below as well as from below to above. The otherness experienced in highest buddhi (in the direction World One to World Two) is also experienced in the avatara phenomenon, but now in the feeling of “visitation,” the sense that this experience of satisfaction somehow is different from other moments, that it is a time out of time, a holiday from ordinary reality. The World Two-ness of World Two, what makes it a second reality, might therefore be the sense that it has descended into this mundane reality from above, or below, in some way from outside.

This suggests that the secondness of World Two might lie in its being this other aspect of World Three, i.e., in its having a special sort of relatedness to World One, a relationship of fulfillment and completion. Going in one direction, we feel fulfillment arising in our ordinary life. Moving in the other direction, we feel fullness overcoming ordinary life from outside, as if from the future. The first case could be called “works,” the second “grace.” Now reason appears to reside primarily in the first sort of World Three process, the buddhi that more and more clearly glimpses consciousness in the course of diligent meditation and careful discrimination. Could it be that there is a second sort of “reason,” a flash of insight from World Two? An example might be the “thought” that came to me in 1965 that “Everything is empty.” Seconds later, this thought ignited, exploded, and annihilated my world. That is, it produced a World Two moment. But before the World Two there was a World Three moment of something like reason. And that “reason” seemed to come from the future, from the enlightenment that followed, more than it came from any rational process in my past life.

This line of thought suggests that I should be asking whether this sort of divine as guru process is present in Abhinava, or in Yoga.