“I think that I have like, faltered, you know, as a human. My message isn’t perfectly defined.”
— Kanye West
“I think that I have like, faltered, you know, as a human. My message isn’t perfectly defined.”
— Kanye West
I thought I was done with Carl, but this last bit of his book (save the “Retrospect” or epilogue) is really quite beautiful. I would like to commit it to memory but that is not likely given the current state of my brain’s writing mechanism; saving it here to find again in the future is the next best thing. (Note to readers or future selves: ignore the Latin terms and big words, and try to focus on the essence of the thing. It is a bit long but worth it.)
At this point the fact forces itself on my attention that beside the field of reflection there is another equally broad if not broader area in which rational understanding and rational modes of representation find scarcely anything they are able to grasp. This is the realm of Eros. In classical times, when such things were properly understood, Eros was considered a god whose divinity transcended our human limits, and who therefore could neither be comprehended nor represented in any way. I might, as many before me have attempted to, venture an approach to this daimon, whose range of activity extends from the endless spaces of the heavens to the dark abysses of hell; but I falter before the task of finding the language which might adequately express the incalculable paradoxes of love. Eros is a kosmogonos, a creator and father-mother of all higher consciousness. I sometimes feel that Paul’s words — “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love” — might well be the first condition of all cognition and the quintessence of divinity itself. Whatever the learned interpretation may be of the sentence “God is love,” the words affirm the complexio oppositorum of the Godhead. In my medical experience as well as my own life I have again and again been faced with the mystery of love, and have never been able to explain what it is. Like Job, I had to “lay me hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will now answer.” (Job 40:4 f.) Here is the greatest and smallest, the remotest and nearest, the highest and lowest, and we cannot discuss one side of it without also discussing the other. No language is adequate to this paradox. Whatever one can say, no words express the whole. To speak of partial aspects is always too much or too little, for only the whole is meaningful. Love “bears all things” and “endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). These words say all there is to be said; nothing can be added to them. For we are in the deepest sense the victims and the instruments of cosmogonic “love.” I put the word in quotation marks to indicate that I do not use it in its connotations of desiring, preferring, favoring, wishing, and similar feelings, but as something superior to the individual, a unified and undivided whole. Being a part, man cannot grasp the whole. He is at its mercy. He may assent to it, or rebel against it; but he is always caught up by it and enclosed within it. He is dependent upon it and sustained by it. Love is his light and his darkness, whose end he cannot see. “Love ceases not” — whether he speaks with the “tongues of angels,” or with scientific exactitude traces the life of the cell down to its uttermost source. Man can try to name love, showering upon it all the names at his command, and still he will involve himself in endless self-deceptions. If he possesses a grain of wisdom, he will lay down his arms and name the unknown by the more unknown, ignotum por ignotius — that is, by the name of God. That is a confession of his subjection, his imperfection, and his dependence; but at the same time a testimony to his freedom to choose between truth and error.
This kind of speaks for itself.
As a rule…the individual is so unconscious that he altogether fails to see his own potentialities for decision. Instead he is constantly and anxiously looking around for external rules and regulations which can guide him in his perplexity. Aside from general human inadequacy, a good deal of the blame for this rests with education, which promulgates the old generalizations and says nothing about the secrets of private experience. Thus, every effort is made to teach idealistic beliefs or conduct which people know in their hearts they can never live up to, and such ideals are preached by officials who know that they themselves have never lived up to those high standards and never will. What is more, nobody ever questions the value of this kind of teaching.
Therefore the individual who wishes to have an answer to the problem of evil, as it is posed today, has need, first and foremost, of self-knowledge, that is, the utmost possible knowledge of his own wholeness. He must know relentlessly how much good he can do, and what crimes he is capable of, and must beware of regarding one as real and the other as illusion. Both are elements within his nature, and both are bound to come to light in him, should he wish — as he ought — to live without self-deception or self-delusion.
I wanted to make note of this passage from Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections for a couple of reasons. First off because it is such a deft and lucid treatment of one of the Big Questions. And also because it sums up my own views on the subject so neatly that now I needn’t bother writing them down. Thank you Carl!
What I have to tell about the hereafter, and about life after death, consists entirely of memories, of images in which I have lived and of thoughts which have buffeted me. These memories in a way also underlie my works; for the latter are fundamentally nothing but attempts, ever renewed, to give an answer to the question of the interplay between the “here” and the “hereafter.” You I have never written expressly about a life after death; for then I would have had to document my ideas, and I have no way of doing that. Be that as it may, I would like to state my ideas now.
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Lately I have been reading Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, a strange hybrid autobiography that was partly dictated and partly written by its subject. Jung was, as my friend James would say, a stony critter; for someone nominally in a branch of the sciences, he was guided to a surprising degree by his dreams and visions. And these make up a large part of the book, going on sometimes for pages at a time; Jung dreamt on a large scale and in baroque detail.
But perhaps my favorite part of the book is the one that deals with Jung’s travels, which unsurprisingly often take on a dreamlike quality. I was particularly struck by this passage concerning a trip to Africa:
From Nairobi we used a small Ford to visit the Athi Plains, a great game preserve. From a low hill in this broad savanna a magnificent prospect opened out to us. To the very brink of the horizon we saw gigantic herds of animals: gazelle, antelope, gnu, zebra, warthog, and so on. Grazing, heads nodding, the herds moved forward like slow rivers. There was scarcely any sound save the melancholy cry of a bird of prey. This was the stillness of the eternal beginning, the world as it had always been, in a state of non-being; for until then no one had been present to know that it was this world. I walked away from my companions until I had put them out of sight, and savored the feeling of being entirely alone. There I was now, the first human being to recognize that this was the world, but who did not know that in this moment he had first really created it.
There the cosmic meaning of consciousness became overwhelmingly clear to me. “What nature leaves imperfect, the art perfects,” say the alchemists. Man, I, in an invisible act of creation put the stamp of perfection on the world by giving it objective existence. This act we usually ascribe to the Creator alone, without considering that in so doing we view life as a machine calculated down to the last detail, which, along with the human psyche, runs on senselessly, obeying foreknown and predetermined rules. In such a cheerless clockwork fantasy there is no drama of man, world, and God; there is no “new day” leading to “new shores,” but only the dreariness of calculated processes. My old Pueblo friend came to mind. He thought that the raison d’être of his pueblo had been to help his father, the sun, to cross the sky each day. I had envied him for the fullness of meaning in that belief, and had been looking about without hope for a myth of our own. Now I knew what it was, and knew even more: that man is indispensable for the completion of creation; that, in fact, he himself is the second creator of the world, who alone has given to the world its objective existence — without which, unheard, unseen, silently eating, giving birth, dying, heads nodding through hundreds of millions of years, it would have gone on in the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end. Human consciousness created objective existence and meaning, and man found his indispensable place in the great process of being.
I’m not 100% sure I agree…but it’s something to think about, isn’t it?
Andy on change:
People do tend to avoid new realities; they’d rather just add details to the old ones. It’s a simple as that.
Andy on boredom:
I’ve been quoted a lot as saying, “I like boring things.” Well, I said it and I meant it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not bored by them. Of course, what I think is boring must not be the same as what other people think is [boring], since I could never stand to watch all the most popular action shows on TV, because they’re essentially the same plots and the same shots and the same cuts over and over again. Apparently, most people love watching the same basic thing, as long as the details are different. But I’m just the opposite: if I’m going to sit and watch the same thing I saw the night before, I don’t want it to be essentially the same — I want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.
“There’s no such thing as a bad mood, only the wrong music.”
The Book of Opaque Wisdom
One of my Christmas presents was a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a somewhat intimidating tome that I am tackling on sheer momentum after successfully conquering Anna Karenina over the last few months. Confidence is high but this is exactly the sort of book I start with great enthusiasm and get bogged down in after 95 pages, not unlike Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, currently propping up a window in my bedroom.
12 pages in I mostly feel like I’m following what Kahneman (a Nobel prize winner in economics who is very fond of the word “heuristics”) is saying. But whether I go the distance or not, here is a sentence that I loved and that seems worth remembering for its own sake:
When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.
“Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.”