Not bad psychology. To use on a fucking idiot.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Unholy Bible: Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by June Singer, introduction by M Esther Harding; re-issued as Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict Between Reason and Imagination [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library], part of the Jung on the Hudson Books series. (Amusingly, I have both versions at the Reading Room, each purchased separately, at different times, thinking they were different books. Obviously, the topic sustains its appeal to me!)
Singer’s “Psychological Interpretation of William Blake” is for the most part a Jungian sermon that takes Blake’s prophetic works as its scripture. Sometimes she just rambles off into outright theologizing in that distinctive Jungian fashion. Nor does she avoid the scientism and occasional outright materialistic philosophy to which the Jungian discourse is prone. At times, Singer’s chief concern seems to be whether or not Blake was a good Jungian. But even so, The Unholy Bible is a fairly diligent and perceptive study of Blake’s mature work.
Following a quick but useful biographical preliminary, the largest section of the book is Singer’s analysis of The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, which is quite thorough. Her attention to the symbolic value of the pictorial elements of the plates is especially welcome. She traces some principal themes in the Proverbs of Hell, and offers careful consideration of the Memorable Fancies.
The book could have used more proofreading. The erroneous transcriptions from Blake’s plates are particularly galling. (See 137, 142, e.g.) And here’s an author’s blunder: She reverses the symbolic attribution of the sheep and the goats relative to Blake’s context! (141)
The later sections of the book treat Blake’s prophecies which are the “unholy Bible.” These are viewed from a wider angle than The Marriage, and with some success.
The final two chapters seemed relatively disposable to me. “Sources of Creative Activity” hagiographizes Jung and defends Blake against charges of insanity and mysticism — the latter subject to an evidently narrow, yet largely implicit definition. The two pages of “The Symbol” extol “the slender filament which reaches from our world to the Infinite” (247), if you care for that sort of thing.
For diehard Jungians, there’s probably no better book on Blake. For general readers unfamiliar with Blake’s work, this might not be an optimal introduction, because of its tendency to confuse interpretations of Blake’s writing with assertions of Jungian doctrine. But I did enjoy reading it, and I learned some things along the way.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Ghost in the Machine: The Urge to Self-Destruction: A Psychological and Evolutionary Study of Modern Man’s Predicament [Amazon, Bookshop, Abebooks, Publisher, Local Library] by Arthur Koestler.
Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine is offered as a somewhat downbeat counterpart to his immediately previous book The Act of Creation, which I have not read. It is, however, startlingly similar to Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Although Bateson is putatively the more scientifically highbrow of the two authors, Koestler covers almost all of the ground that Bateson does with respect to systems theory, morphogenesis, and evolution, but provides much additional reflection on psychology and politics. Also, Koestler’s style is more accessible. Where Bateson offers a generalization of Russell’s theory of logical types to discuss interrelationships among systems, Koestler uses the hoarier and more approachable nomenclature of hierarchy. Koestler is also considerate enough to provide a few paragraphs of review at the end of each chapter.
In this book, the author sets out to antagonize the mechanistic paradigm of science, and in particular its expression in psychology’s behaviorist school and its progeny. He offers in contrast his theory of “Open Hierarchical Systems” (O.H.S.), which he also codifies in an appendix. He also discusses the importance of what he calls paedomorphosis (163 ff), which commends itself particularly to the attention of those who recognize the Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child. There is even a convenient iconic encoding of the O.H.S. concepts: “the tree, the candle and the helmsman,… the two faces of Janus … and the mathematical symbol of the infinite” (220-1).
The final section of the book is certainly the most provocative. In some ways, it is rather dated, having been written in the throes of the Cold War. But the predicaments that Koestler tries to address — the age-old patterns of human societies regressing into repressive ignorance and tribal conflicts superseding human identity, along with the anxieties of today’s “air-conditioned nightmare” (327) and the approach of human populations and power to a vertical asymptote (the latterly-dubbed “singularity”) — have hardly been resolved. He suggests that these may be symptoms of defective neuroanatomy, and rather than allowing our species to be scrapped so that some other post-primate might develop a more coordinated brain and more enduring societies, he proposes that humans should develop and apply the psychopharmacopoeia needed to produce homo sapiens from homo maniacus (339).
In that conclusion, he ends up pitting himself against Aldous Huxley, but the conflict between their respective pharmacological futurisms is not nearly as clear-cut as Koestler seems to make it out to be. “The psycho-pharmacist cannot add to the faculties of the brain — but he can, at best eliminate obstructions and blockages which impede their proper use,” writes Koestler (335). I’m not sure that Huxley would disagree. Koestler dismisses “mystic insights” as being alien to the human psychic constitution, rather than the product of its proper exercise. I suppose Koestler would be disappointed to find that 21st-century psychiatry has indeed greatly developed psychopharmacology, but with an emphasis on individual pathologies still rooted in a mechanistic behaviorism in organicist drag.
In any case, I enjoyed this book at least as much on a second reading, even as it has become more dated. It made an excellent sequel to my re-read of the Bateson volume, and the next title in this eccentric curriculum will be a jump forward to Jeremy Narby’s The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge.
“Fairy tales seem to be innocent stories, yet they contain profound lessons for those who would dive deep into their waters of meaning. In this book, Marie-Louise von Franz uncovers some of the important lessons concealed in tales from around the world, drawing on the wealth of her knowledge of folklore, her experience as a psychoanalyst and a collaborator with Jung, and her great personal wisdom. Among the many topics discussed in relation to the dark side of life and human psychology, both individual and collective, are:
· How different aspects of the “shadow”—all the affects and attitudes that are unconscious to the ego personality—are personified in the giants and monsters, ghosts, and demons, evil kings and wicked witches of fairy tales
· How problems of the shadow manifest differently in men and women
· What fairy tales say about the kinds of behavior and attitudes that invite evil
· How Jung’s technique of Active imagination can be used to overcome overwhelming negative emotions
· How ghost stories and superstitions reflect the psychology of grieving
· What fairy tales advise us about whether to struggle against evil or turn the other cheek ” — back cover
Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict Between Reason and Imagination by June Singer, introduced by M Esther Harding part of the Jung on the Hudson book series, a 2000 paperback from Nicholas-Hays, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
Amusingly, I also have a previous version of this same book, which I purchased on a separate occasion, but that has a different, more provocative, title and from another publisher: The Unholy Bible: Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious by June Singer, introduced by M Esther Harding, a 1986 paperback from Sigo Press, is also part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“More than ever, the time is ripe for June Singer’s penetrating commentary on William Blake’s work. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. For even the most devout literary scholars and art historians, much of Blake’s mystical visions and writing are perplexing. With his pen and brush, he gave birth to mythological figures and fantastic metaphors. Singer shows us that Blake was actually tapping into the collective unconscious and giving form and voice to primordial psychological energies, or archetypes, that he experienced in his inner and outer world. Blake’s writing and art was his personal dialogue between God and his own inner self—a reconciliation of duality—in which we can find clues to contemporary issues.
In the 18th century, Blake was a pioneer in finding, nurturing, and celebrating his personal connection with the divine, a search that still appeals to people who are coming to terms with the contemporary struggle between science and spirituality—the conflict between reality and imagination. With clarity and wisdom, Singer examines the images and words in each plate of Blake’s work, applying in her analysis the concepts that C. G. Jung advanced in his psychological theories. There is no more perfect lens with which to look at Blake’s work than that of Jung’s concept of the archetypes, the process of individuation, and the mysterium coniunctionis, in which consciousness and the unconscious are united.
This edition includes a new preface by Jung [sic!] Springer and a reproduction of 24 pages from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” — back cover
The Archetype of Initiation: Sacred Space, Ritual Process, and Personal Transformation, lectures and essays by Robert L Moore, edited by Max J Havlick Jr, a 2001 paperback published through Xlibris, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“This book urges contemporary healers to utilize premodern tribal principles of sacred space and ritual process long considered lost or inaccessible to modern culture. Properly prepared ‘ritual elders’ can guide people through ritual steps from (a) the challenge of a life-crisis, into (b) sacred space and time for needed reorganization, and then into (c) a newly transformed personal and social world. These steps derive from key concepts in the scholarship of Arnold van Gennep, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, and Victor Turner, reformulated with new insights from extensive field research and psychoanalytic practice.” — back cover
Archetypal Imagination: Glimpses of the Gods in Life and Art by Noel Cobb, introduced by Thomas Moore, part of the Studies in Imagination edited in collaboration with the Institute for the Study of Imagination, a 1992 paperback from Lindisfarne Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“This unique book is about freeing psychology’s poetic imagination from the dead weight of unconscious assumptions about the soul. Whether we think of the soul scientifically or medically, behaviorally or in terms of inner development, all of us are used to thinking of it in an individual context, as something personal. In this book, however, we are asked to consider psychology from a truly transpersonal perspective as a cultural, universal-human phenomenon.
Reading these essays we are taught to look at the world as the record of the soul’s struggles to awaken, as the soul’s poetry. From this point of view, the true basis of the mind is poetic. Beauty, love, and creativity are as much instincts of the soul as sexuality or hunger. Thus these essays praise the value and nobility of the imagination, and instead of the usual masters of psychology the exemplars here are the artists and mystics of the Western tradition, Dante, Rumi, Rilke, Munch, Lorca, Schumann, Tarkovsky.” — back cover
Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America by Louis Menand.
The Metaphysical Club of Menand’s title was a small, fairly short-lived conversation society organized by Chauncey Wright in 1872 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with members including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James, and Charles Pierce, among others. Menand represents this coterie as the seedbed of the American philosophical school of pragmatism, and uses it for a point of orientation in tracing the intellectual formation and accomplishments of pragmatists James, Pierce, and John Dewey. Along with Holmes, who despite his distaste for the label “pragmatism,” shared in much of the intellectual innovation of his erstwhile club colleagues, these men were “the first modern thinkers in the United States,” according to Menand’s account. (pp. xi, 432-3) This phase of American thinking germinated during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, flowered in the first decade of the twentieth, and persisted until the middle of the twentieth century—a span punctuated by the Civil War at one end and the Cold War at the other.
The Metaphysical Club offers an imposing tangle of vivid biographies, in order to repeatedly demonstrate how the “modern” perspectives of the pragmatists and their peers differed from their immediate predecessors: the “modernizing” generation of their parents and teachers. Intellectual biographies of the pragmatists’ fathers serve as points of comparison and contrast, rather than contributing causes of their sons’ careers. The Cambridge-based Saturday Club of Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Agassiz and their associates (including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) helps to make this comparison concrete. The signal event that divided these two generations was the Civil War. And Menand suggests that a driving principle of their thought was “fear of violence,” a fear instilled by the Civil War and activated by economic and social conflict in the 1890s (p. 373).
Menand’s description of the intellectual mode of the pragmatists emphasizes their attention to liberty and tolerance, unity of thought and action, contextualism, and a refutation of natural essences. At the same time, he remarks the extent to which thinkers like Holmes and Dewey were actually quite alien to the standards usually at issue in characterizing “liberal” thought. They were hostile to individualism, scientific instrumentalism, and laissez-faire economics. Their typical tendency was to discuss complex phenomena as differentiated wholes, rather than combinations of reified elements. Menand also shows how the philosophical “pluralism” coined by William James was significantly different than its later mutation as cultural pluralism.
With his chosen cast of characters, Menand is able to explore the expression of the pragmatist viewpoint in the diverse fields of law, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, statistics, and education. At the same time, he provides an account of a key phase in the professionalization of the academy. He details the beginnings of graduate education in the US, the founding of several key universities, the establishment of AUUP and key juridical precedents for the intellectual freedom of academic professionals. [via]
“Greek culture has long been identified with the triumph of rationalism. The role of primitive and irrational forces in Greek society has been largely glossed over or neglected even when it was obviously touched on by the Greeks themselves. In this volume, armed with analytical weapons of modern anthropology and psychology, Professor Dodds asks, ‘Why should we attribute to the ancient Greeks an immunity from ‘primitive’ modes of thought which we do not find in any society open to our direct observation?'” — back cover
Crowley’s Apprentice: The life and Ideas of Israel Regardie by Gerald Suster, the 1990 paperback from Samuel Weiser, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“Dr Israel Regardie was one of the most complex and fascinating personalities of the esoteric revival. In this new biography, Gerald Suster, a close friend and disciple of Regardie’s, brings together his life and ideas in a thoughtful and knowing way.
The esoteric revival began with the establishment of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the 1890’s. Regardie became Aleister Crowley’s secretary in 1928 and by 1932 he had become an esoteric writer and philosopher in his own right. Over the years Regardie moved away from the Order of the Golden Dawn into fields of alchemy and psychology, eventually achieving a brilliant reconciliation of psychology and his earlier esoteric ideas.
This study of Regardie illuminates his original and courageous thinking, as well as explores the evolution of one of this century’s greatest thinkers.”
The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.