Monday, July 30, 2012

Apocalyptic affect: The cultural complex in a selfless world

 A workshop in New Orleans, August 2012
Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies (JSSS)

End-of-the-world fantasies herald—or manifest—profound changes in psyche. The year 2000 was the occasion for a millenarian fantasy that still, twelve years later, seems unresolved. Reasons for its longevity are not hard to find: Y2K proved more than a scary dream, as a series of all-too-real catastrophes have plagued society and the planet ever since. To pass some of the more devastating in review: for the United States, two unconventional wars followed the 9-11 destruction of the New York twin towers, the largest oil spill ever spoiled the Gulf of Mexico, and a massive economic collapse now in its fourth year destroyed hope, especially of the young and poor. For the world as a whole, two massive tsunamis and a nuclear catastrophe were added to the specter of global warming and melting of the polar ice caps, which is already flooding low-lying island countries and threatening millions of people. What is the relationship of these events to the collective consciousness of the present moment, the “spirit of these times” as Jung characterized the Zeitgeist of pre-World War I Europe in his Red Book?

 This workshop will approach our current predicament symbolically, viewing it as a “cultural complex,” Kimbles' and Singer’s term for the specific psychological pattern—generally unconscious—that rules a culture at a given moment.   Although scarcely new in his time, the situation we face was most succinctly diagnosed in Nietzsche’s dictum that “God is dead,” and His demise lies behind both the ongoing terror of the millennium and its converse, the narcissistic fantasy of indefinite human potential and even physical immortality. The psychic loss of God—which leaves us wandering in an abyss of unmeaning without Him—also brings the end of “sacred time” (Eliade).  Henceforth (symbolically post-2000), immersion in the chaos of profane “history” gives rise to a multi-layered structure of anguish, denial, inflation, and narcissistic rage. Jung said that “The fundamental question for Man is whether he is related to something infinite or not.”  For modern humans, this relationship is strained to the breaking point; the other pole of our ego-self axis has been stripped away and the ego flies off into space, on the one hand asserting an inflated autonomy and individualism (a manic defense), while underneath experiencing anguish and rage at the divine failure. This is the cultural complex of the present moment in the West, the spirit of this time. Both inflation and resentment deny the reality of God’s absence, and avoid the descent into the depths that might give hope of renewal.

We suggest that the synchronistic eruption of social and planetary disasters during the past fifteen years may be compensating this failure and pushing us to go deeper. This workshop will try to respond by imagining a therapeutic intervention in culture, as we seek to penetrate the ego’s defenses and to identify the green shoots of renewal already poking up from the cinders. Participants are invited to present dreams that may reference apocalypse or God in absentia or renaissance, and to join in the imagination of healing.

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