Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What is Jungian Psychology?: Exploring the Rhizome Under the Blossoms

I seem to be on a perpetual quest to develop an "elevator pitch" explanation of Jungian psychology yet I seem to fail abysmally at this task each attempt I make. (It's strange, perhaps, that one can be so dedicated to a form of scholarship and yet get so tongue tied when trying to explain the passion). To help ameliorate my aphasia, I've decided to start researching the ways in which other scholars and practitioners explain Jungian psychology and Jung's concepts, including, importantly, their relevance to the world.

This post is the first installment of this quest, with quotations from analyst June Singer's book Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung's Psychology (1972).

Singer expounded on an analogy from biology that Jung himself used, in order to explain how analytic psychology differs from others. The image they use is that of the rhizome.

In his autobiography, Jung wrote:
Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above the ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away--an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains. (Jung, MDR, p. 4)
In regards to this image, June Singer wrote:
Students in universities today engage too much in the contemplation and dissection of the blossom. Psychology courses insist that all that counts in man's behavior, which can be measured, predicted, conditioned and manipulated. I agree that behavior merits considerable concern. But I am with many thinking people today who are not altogether satisfied with studying what is, or to be more accurate, "what appears to be." . . . Both [the blossom and the rhizome] are necessary to the existence if the plant and its growth. But in today's hurried world, where the blossom is all to easily seen, enjoyed, and knocked off its stem when it begins to wither and decay, the rhizome is all too often overlooked. We forget that it carries the source of tomorrow's blossom. I admit that Jungian psychology may lay too much emphasis on the rhizome, and not enough on the blossom. . . .But just because institutional psychology has dealt with the observable phenomenon, and dealt with it relatively adequately within the limitations of its methods, it has not been necessary for Jung or Jungians to dwell overlong upon grounds that have been competently tended by others. Therefore . . . Jung's way. . . [stressed] the importance of the unconscious rather than of consciousness, the mysterious rather than the known, the mystical rather than the scientific, the creative rather than the productive, the religious rather than the profane, the meaning of love rather than the technique of sex. (p. xv-xvi)
For additional reading on Dr. Singer's exploration of Jung's work and its importance in today's world, I've quoted several more relevant paragraphs from her introduction below.
Thoughtful people are recognizing that Jung provides a bridge in our time between the scientific-intellectual aspects of life and the religious-nonrational aspects. Jung has faced the apparent dichotomy between abstraction and generalization on one side and the experience of immediate knowing on the other. Our culture, steeped in the principles of Aristotelian logic, finds it difficult to accept paradoxical thinking as valid. Too often it seems necessary to make a choice between the rationalistic-academic way of life or the anti-intellectual camp. Jung's greatness is in that he saw both of these as aspects of the same reality, as polar opposites on a single axis. (p. xi)
Jung's teachings have much to offer to the troubled world in this third of the twentieth century, and there are not nearly enough Jungian analysts to meet the need, the interest, the demand. . . Often when Jungian analysts have spoken out to the general public about the experience of the analytic way--the "way of individuation"--small groups of people have sprung up spontaneously to meet and discuss the words and work and the life of Jung, to try to understand all this in term of their own personal experience. . . . Jung [has] the capacity to touch something essential in the human soul which needs to be touched or needs to be healed, in order to be made whole. (p. xii)
Some of the best works on the psychology of Jung have been written by Jungian analysts, who have formulated the theoretical approach in terms of their own experiences--as therapists and as human beings--living in active relationship with the unconscious. It is understandably hard to get at Jung in any methodical way, And, where "methods" have been devised, they tend to schematize the abstractions at which Jung arrived, without maintaining the vitality of the flesh-and-blood experiences from which his theories were generalized. (p. xiii)
Drawing of human rhizome by Marc Ngui


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