JUNG'S BIRTHDAY OBSERVED IN GOTHAM
I always find it meaningful to reflect upon the life and work of Carl Jung, especially on his birthday, July 26, 1875. In particular, I was thinking about the way in which he recovered usage of the word "soul" and brought it back to public life with multi-layered meanings.
This is not to say, of course, that the word ever disappeared from view completely. It certainly retained a prominent place within evangelical Christianity but was used there in a moralistic way, implying something to be saved or lost depending upon what one believed about God, Jesus, the Bible, as well as "the way of salvation."
Then, too, the word "soul" came to be associated with certain food, music, and even places. In our general conversations we referred to soul food or soul music, and we suggested that certain places -- cities, regions, buildings -- had soul. We could never say specifically what that meant.
Even Albert Schweitzer, the great 20th century philosopher, theologian, musician, physician, and humanitarian acknowledged that he could not define the word but knew it pointed toward something very important. This is what he says:
No one can give a definition of the soul. But we know what it feels like.
The soul is the sense of something higher than ourselves, something
that stirs in us thoughts, hopes, and aspirations which go out to the
world of goodness, truth and beauty. The soul is a burning desire to
breathe in this world of light and never to lose it -- to remain children
(See this quotation and others at www.goodreads.com)
We recognize the reality that Schweitzer is trying to describe. We realize that what he says is not only true but worthy of our life and its pursuits, earning our efforts and time in service to it.
For that very reason, I think the work of Carl Jung is so important to us. He opens our minds to consider "soul" in its many dimensions, all of those dimensions noted for the commonality of one specific quality: depth. We would no doubt expect this from someone whose vocation is depth psychology, but Jung's sense of "depth" itself is colored by a richness of meaning in the dynamics he discovered within the human personality.
For example, he traces a route to the soul by focusing on what he terms soul-image. In a woman, one image of soul is that of a mysterious man who may appear in her dreams; for a man, the soul-image may come as the unknown woman. Notice how these soul-images in dreams are observed in waking life, with variations in appearance, of course, but with such energy and passion that we refer to our beloved as "soul-mate." (See Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 7, pp. 190 ff)
In other words, there is something like an autonomous personality in our depths, another person quite separate from my ego's perception of itself. This "person" calls me to the highest aspirations of my being. It is not to be confused with the "voice" of conscience or the "voice" of my darker angel who would encourage my excessive indulgences, or the voices of those individuals who have shared my life and whose words still "ring in my ears." No, this voice of the soul is "closer" to me and engages me with what I can only describe as a sense of deep meaningfulness. We know it is down in some core or center of our being. We know it has its own needs, values, and qualities that are of the utmost significance for us. To lose this "soul," or not realize it in some conscious way within our existence on this earth, is to betray our life itself.
We know also that our soul serves as a "gateway" to the deeper concerns of our life. To serve soul is to consider the conflicts that regularly arise from the depths. Drawing from the centuries-ealier work of the alchemists, Jung came to see that a major work of the soul is to contend with the many opposites appearing within the short span of our life. Some of the major pairs of these opposites are good and evil, instinct and spirit, "heart" and "head" this vocation or that vacation, this relationship or that relationship, this life style or that life style, etc. Daily we struggle with these or other choices facing us with weighty consequences. These inner conflicts were referred to by the old alchemists as the "affliction of the soul," which if not faced consciously lead to symptoms like depression or anxiety on the intrapsychic level, and unhealthy cities, states, and countries on the social level. (Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 14, p. 473)
An example of the "city gone bad" is Gotham in "The Dark Knight Rises," Christopher Nolan's conclusion to his Batman trilogy. "Gotham" is home to Bruce Wayne, billionaire and philanthropist, whose alter-ego is Batman. It is also a city fragmented into the many extremes of its opposites, notably the rich and the poor, the investment bankers and the under-paid or unemployed, the terrorist and the surveillance state, those who want to make changes from within and those who want to demolish the existing structures, those who want to use their wealth to assist others and those who want to hoard their fortunes.
Nolan's film portrays these fragmenting polarities very dramatically and effectively. He likewise shows us the brooding, soul-full conflict of Bruce Wayne/Batman as he painfully makes his way through the agonizing choices facing him on each side. Bruce Wayne is a wealthy businessman with major investments. He wants to use his profits to support deserving charities but has to contend with a contentious Board of Directors, many of whom do not share his values. Bruce Wayne is also Batman who has to decide if he can rise again to combat crime when his spirit has been so bruised by people who turned against him, and his failing body has endured one battle too many in his previous assaults on crime.
The soul-searching of Bruce Wayne/Batman and the angst of a city totally divided within its fragmenting opposites sets the stage for a portrayal of "Gotham" that could be "anywhere" USA -- or the world for that matter. As such, Gotham serves as a symbol for the fragmentation within our society today.
The movie's theme is made all the more poignant by the shooting in Colorado, during a late-night showing of this film, followed by political maneuverings once again on the topics of violence, murder, and gun control. Particularly prescient in the movie is the scene where Batman blocks a gun in the hand of "Catwoman" with the words, "No guns, no killing." Later, when she uses a gun to prevent the antagonist from killing Batman, she says she is not sure she agrees with his idea of no guns.
Such are the divisions today in our world. And so is the soul-wrenching search within conscious people to come to some accommodation of the extremes that plague our land and flood our souls. That is where it begins, in our souls, and where it must be resolved. For, again, as Jung reminds us:
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not
made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when
the individual .. does not become conscious of his opposite, the
world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposing
(Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 9 ii, par. 126)