Posts Tagged ‘Jungian psychology’

Liz Greene: Relating

September 14, 2021

     Most people who know me probably wouldn’t imagine I was interested in astrology. But I have been, since my student years, thanks to a couple of people who opened my eyes to its rather more serious side, its insights into personality, personal development and relationships with others, as opposed to the coffee-time vague predictions about the day to come to be found in various tabloid newspapers. And then there is the link with Jungian psychology, which has also fascinated me since I came across it, round about the same time in my life, some forty or so years ago.

I’m not very good at retaining all the details linked to planets and influences, and have mainly seen astrology as an aid to understanding things about myself and the ways in which I look at and interact with others and the world. It’s been filed away at the back of my awareness for a long time, but along with revisiting other things at this stage where I seem moved to be taking stock of various aspects of my life, I returned to this book which I first read so many years ago.

Liz Greene’s book is as useful to me now as a work of synthesis between the astrological, the spiritual and the psychological as it was all those years ago when I first encountered it. There was so much depth, yet also common sense in how she presents psychology and the potentials revealed in a person’s birth chart, and the planetary influences in that chart. Here are clues to assist the quest for self-knowledge and self-understanding, added to many other things… it’s a different approach, and a valid and useful one, I have found over time.

Looking back on my life as I re-read, I was able to make greater sense of various things that had happened to me, and also made enlightening connections between key events, decisions I made, and people who influenced me in different ways at particular points in my life. These realisations confirmed for me that there is a validity in this different paradigm; for someone as rational as I am, this was interesting. It also confirms, through, that an individual’s journey of self-discovery can be long, slow and hard.

And now, I have found myself wondering once more, where free will is in all this…

Hermann Hesse: Narziss and Goldmund

July 1, 2021

     Well, there’s still The Glass Bead Game (if I can face it) which many reckon is the magnum opus, but I think for me Narziss and Goldmund has always been Hermann Hesse’s very best novel. I’ve just re-read it for the fourth time, I think, and with a considerable reluctance, because of the powerful responses it has always awakened in me. Here, Hesse addresses fully and openly the duality of human nature, those urges which can draw us subconsciously or consciously in widely different directions, and which lead the thoughtful on to reflection about the nature of their own personality and psyche…

Hesse does well, I think, to set this novel back in mediaeval times rather than in his own era; this distance suggests a permanence to those traits he is exploring, ie they do not just belong to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century when psychology was in its infancy, yet making great strides in understanding what makes us tick, and how we work. True, we are back in a more religious era, but then, I suppose we are talking about the soul, for want of a better word. And there is clearly some biographical significance to the cloister of Mariabronn, which has featured in several earlier novels.

At one level it’s a straightforward story of two men, who become lifelong friends, the one initially a novice teacher at the monastery, the other a student. Very different in character – opposites or complementary depending on how you choose to view them – the bond is very deep, survives separations and challenges; the teacher, a monk, remains forever in the cloister, the student realises that this is not to be his place, and he must engage with the world. The teacher is a man of ideas, thought, the intellect, the pupil is in tune with the beauty and variety and diversity of the world. From this summary it may appear superficially rather trite, a roman à thèse perhaps, yet there is a quality to the friendship, and the two men’s perceptions of the world as presented by Hesse which I have always found very powerful and gripping, and the canvas of lived life and vanishing time, with eternity at the end, never fails to move me.

Narziss (the teacher, whose name intrigues me, and whose realisations and admissions at the very end of the story are powerful and sobering) recognises Goldmund as the other part of himself, in Jungian terms. The teacher looks inward, an intellectual, a thinker; he never leaves the monastery to which he commits his life, eventually becoming its abbot. Goldmund’s memories of his mother are missing: who is she, and why has he blotted her out? Narziss starts his friend on the road to self-discovery; Goldmund leaves the school and friend behind – it’s almost as if he has moved past him – and becomes a vagabond, revelling in the external pleasures of life, and his attractiveness to women. Despite their great closeness, the parting of the friends’ ways is both sad and inevitable, as they have exhausted the possibilities of this stage of their lives.

The sensualist Goldmund follows his whims, travelling freely: he is a true wanderer, like the heroes of some of Hesse’s earlier novels. Eventually, following another call, having seen a carved statue which moves him greatly, he apprentices himself to a woodcarver and produces a couple of masterworks before the call of freedom sets him back on the road. But there is a great artist in him, and throughout the book a heightened attuned-ness to the world around him and its inherent beauty – even in the world of the plague and death, through which he passes. And he ages, learns, becomes wiser, in a different way and a different world from that of his cloistered friend. The fixed and the wanderer become clearly two sides of a personality.

I found an irony in that it was often the call of solitude that drew Goldmund away from periods of fixedness, as a lover, a road-companion, a woodcarver’s apprentice: just like his friend. Throughout, there is a strong distaste for the ordinary, the bourgeois, the comfortable, just as there was in the Harry Haller character in Steppenwolf.

Goldmund is haunted by the apparent futility of life and existence: where is the meaning? What survives of us? He yearns to leave something of permanence behind – which he will, his carvings – and yet, in working to create, he must leave what he sees as living behind.

There are two reunions of the friends, when Goldmund is changed, older and wiser, and when he is dying. I find it very hard reading these encounters. The two men, mentally and spiritually inseparable despite years apart and the great difference between their lives, nevertheless fully understand each other. I found myself wondering why so much of the story was Goldmund’s: he is he one who must travel and explore and change. And yet, it is his friend who learns something incredibly powerful as Goldmund dies: he understands what it means to love…

As I re-read Hesse at this later stage in life, I’m in awe of his wisdom at the same time as I perceive the hidden simplicity of his message (if that makes sense). Hesse’s style here is so much slower, more lyrical, more reflective. I can see him reaching the height of his creativity, approaching to the end of a journey of a kind, which began with his earliest writings.

Hermann Hesse: Steppenwolf

June 21, 2021

     Back to my re-visiting of the novels of Hermann Hesse, and this one which was all the rage in my student/hippy days such a long time ago…

Autobiographical again? The hero is called Harry Haller, after all. A man lost and oppressed by bourgeois convention, a Mr Normal and his shadow, in Jungian terms, an endless wanderer and seeker who feels that suicide is the only way out of his perceived dilemma of being unable to square the circle, and reconcile being endlessly pulled in two different directions. Haller echoes and parallels some of the heroes of Hesse’s earlier novels, and their dilemmas, but here they are much more sharply focused, more central. It starts off as a treatise on the Steppenwolf, Haller’s name for his darker self, and feels like a manifesto, or an apologia for his condition. This part felt rambling, dated, tedious and self-indulgent this time around.

But Haller is turned away from his sourness, bitterness, mockery and self-loathing by a woman – Hermine – whom he meets in a bar. A hermaphrodite (Herman!), she humanises the misanthrope through a series of drug-like experiences and encounters, opening him up to a new world of self-exploration and self-knowledge, as well as leading him to accept that there are other people, like himself, who do not fit into the conventional world, and who therefore make a new and different one for themselves in which they can flourish.

Partly this is a novel that reflects some of the strangeness of the interwar years – it was published in 1927 – and partly it reflects Hesse’s lifelong interest in Jungian psychology (the two were contemporaries) which explores the duality of our human psyches, and, for me, is recounted most clearly and fully in the beautiful and haunting Narziss and Goldmund, which I hope to re-read next. And although there are all those connections with his earlier novels, here is a much greater depth, maturity and intensity to the writing. I now have a much clearer sense of the unity of Hesse’s oeuvre, and, I suppose, his sense that one’s entire life is a journey, a search for meaning, a notion that speaks to my own condition. There is a sense of the vastness of humans’ potential once one dares to look beyond the limits one has imposed/ had imposed on oneself.

I found myself reflecting on myself and how I’ve changed as I’ve aged; as students we raved about how brilliant this book was, the idea of being great, notable, different… not sliding into being part of the mainstream of life. And yet, this is what happened to most of us; although I never forgot or rejected those hippy days, I followed – happily – the conventional path of career, family, mortgage and have only in retirement felt able to pick up some of those earlier, left-aside threads of my life. Curious, and now more understandable to me at least, that I laid these books aside when I did, and have now returned to them, with a new and different sense of appreciation…

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