Archive for the ‘Reviews – nonfiction’ Category

Jung’s impact on our culture

30 November 2016

Jung in Effect: Jung's ideas in the wider worldJung in Effect: Jung’s ideas in the wider world by Annette Lowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthology looks at Carl Jung’s influence on society and culture: from creative writing, film analysis, spirituality and religion, through to marketing and public life.

In the Foreward David Tacey points out the pervasiveness of Jung’s ideas. For example, Jung developed the concepts of introversion and extroversion, of complexes like the “inferiority complex”; he originated what is now the Myer Briggs Type Indicator of personality. But as Tacey also points out, Jung himself is rarely mentioned, even within the professions of psychology or psychiatry. “Instead his major ideas have been relegated to small interest groups, to amateur societies and clubs, which do wonderful work in keeping the candle alive in dark times.”

Archetypes

One of Jung’s greatest impacts was in popularising the notion of archetypes. Annette Lowe discusses them in two chapters, on marketing and on creative writing.

According to the Jungian view of the world, we all draw on a collective unconscious, created in archaic times. This deep mental underpinning prepares us to pay particular attention to certain sorts of figures that keep cropping up throughout human history, in art and stories and in personal experience. When we encounter an archetypal figure they resonate deeply in our individual minds. Common archetypes include the Hero, the disruptive Trickster, the Mother, the Wise Old Man and the Crone. All have both positive and negative connotations. “The test of the vitality of an archetype”, Annette Lowe says, “is its endurance through time. So when we hear or read a myth or fairy tale, it resonates through to the archetypal layer of the psyche, and may also evoke our own feelings and associations.” She compares them to “templates” used to understand and organise our personal experiences. For example we may encounter the Mother in fairy tales as a wicked witch, or as a kindly tree that aids a heroine (my examples). Or, a picture of the Earth Mother or an encounter with a bossy librarian might set off the Mother archetype in our minds. And in any of these cases, we might also invest her with the longings, fears, anger or sense of well-being we received from our own mother.

Marketers, Lowe says, sometimes think that archetypes can be used to induce consumers to buy a product. This is largely mistaken, for while they can be used to make brands more memorable, they are not in themselves motivational. But archetypes have also been consciously employed, with more success, in movie series like the Terminator and Star Wars. We identify with an archetypal figure such as the Hero overcoming some formidable evil; the Hero might also represent our efforts to overcome some inner mental turmoil. The archetypal figure of the Divine Child can represent “hope and renewal”, “a future Redeemer”.

“Great writing”, Lowe adds, “has enough originality to bury the skeleton of the archetype-formula under enough contemporary ‘flesh’. The psychological pattern that the target audience unconsciously needs to see must be fully ‘clothed in modern dress’, as Jung says. Writing according to rules only produces great work if the writer also uses great originality.”

Elements of a real event that resonate with archetypes may be preserved and enveloped in mythic imagery, while personally specific elements fall away. Thus a real-life young man who fell from a cliff days before his wedding became, in folklore, the victim of a jealous fairy. This transformation took place within only 40 years, when the real events were recalled by people still alive, including his one-time fiancée.

Patrick White

David Tacey applies Jungian concepts to the literary analysis of Patrick White’s novels. “Each White book”, Tacey says, “is a variation upon a single myth relating to the figures of the Great Mother and her eternal youth. In every novel the same movement is established: the puer aeternus enters and is devoured by the mother-image.”

Many critics of White, Tacey says, “have claimed that the writer has made conscious use of Jung’s ideas and archetypes. This line of thought is entirely misdirected. White’s novels seem Jungian because the writer has in his own way drawn upon the deep unconscious and its archetypes.” It is not until the mid-1960s that White read Jung, and not until 1966 and that he tried to apply them in a novel, The Solid Mandala – only to misunderstand and misapply Jungian concepts. “I do not believe that White’s contact with Jung’s work was profitable: instead, it engendered confusion and presented a false lead to the critics. If anything it suggested that the author did not really understand his work, that the literary vision was autonomous and independent of his conscious intentions.”

The Tarot

Joan Snedden offers a chapter on the Tarot. After contrasting them to the familiar pack of cards (they are not entirely dissimilar) she matches the Tarot suits to “the four functions of Jung’s theory of types… Cups can be related to feeling, wands to intuition, swords to thinking, and coins to sensation” as well as to Water, Fire, Air and Earth.

People sometimes try to persuade us of the Tarot’s authenticity and power by asserting ancient origins to it. In fact, Sneddon says, there is no evidence of Tarot packs before the late Middle Ages. The Tarot’s real claim to antiquity and power lies in its ability to activate archetypal images of the collective unconscious, into which we then project individual personal meanings. She takes us through possible meanings for each of the picture cards, such as The Magician and the Fool, and suggests that the order of the picture cards can represent a meaningful personal journey.

I Ching and synchronicity

Jung, says Annette Lowe, “was largely responsible for making the I Ching known to the Western world.” It is a text used for divination. “The questioner throws three coins together, six times, and notes how many ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ are shown on the coins after each throw. The questioner looks up the result in a table which indicates the relevant reading to be consulted.” Its value is not as a mere trigger for our personal reflections, like a Rorschach inkblot. It connects us to something beyond ourselves.

There is “a synchronistic correspondence” between the psychic state of the questioner and the answer provided by the book. Synchronicity is a “meaningful coincidence”. Lowe quotes an example provided by Marie-Louise von Franz, a Jungian psychologist and scholar: “if I bought a blue frock and, by mistake, the shop delivered a black one on the day one of my near relatives died, this would be a meaningful coincidence. The two events are not causally related, but they are connected by the symbolic meaning that our society gives to the colour black.” It is not simply that the purchaser assigns a personal meaning to the black dress drawn from society’s conventional link between “black” and death. Jung’s approach is spiritualistic and religious, and sees the human world of language and culture as being connected to wider, external patterns of meaning. Lowe says: “if the individual mind does not shape a synchronicity, what does? Archetypal energies have influenced matter, and perhaps events in time as well, to create a synchronicity. Archetypal activity has the capacity to affect both psyche and matter.” She finds support for this approach in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Jung and Christianity

The Rev. Andrew Boyle writes on decades of experiences in the Uniting Church of Australia. He sees Jung’s worldview as a way out of the impasse in which the Christian Church finds itself, when confronted with the mysterious and the sacred in religious metaphor.

Boyle suggests that literal interpretations of the Bible’s mythological symbolism forces two untenable choices on us. Those who adhere to a scientific worldview shy away from such material in embarrassment. Christians who take this line find no more nourishment from Christian ritual than do atheists. Meanwhile, evangelicals and fundamentalists present Bible stories as facts.

Jung, Boyle tells us, recognised this problem but took a different approach to it. “He came to see that the psyche is developed and transformed by the relationship of the unconscious contents of the psyche with the ego. In individual life this is manifested in dreams and fantasies; in collective life through religious systems and their symbolic expressions.” Religious symbolism and ritual can therefore connect us more deeply to ourselves, to collective humanity, and to that which lies beyond. Jung said: “I have constantly revolved in my mind the question of the symbolism of the unconscious to Christianity as well as to the other religions. Not only do I leave the door open for the Christian message, but I consider it of central importance for Western man. It needs, however, to be seen in a new light.”

Other material

John Noack discusses Jung’s approach towards films, and his influence on film makers such as Federico Fellini. Noack also looks briefly at alternative approaches to film, and there is further discussion on the nature and role of archetypes.

Dodi Rose describes how a person with dementia was able to help others and get the most out of life, working in a supportive environment as a volunteer guide in a major art gallery. Rose’s account is framed within the Jungian concepts of individuation and the Self.

Other chapters go further into issues such as spirituality, homeopathy, astrology, and the Myer Briggs Indictor. There is a description of Jung’s role in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, while other chapters cover icons such as David Bowie, Herman Hesse and Jackson Pollock.

This anthology has given me a handle on ideas that I’ve heard about but never understood. It is not just for true believers: people who don’t adhere to Jung’s worldview will still find much of interest.

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The Many Coloured Land

25 April 2012

THE MANY-COLOURED LAND: A Return to IrelandTHE MANY-COLOURED LAND: A Return to Ireland by Christopher J. Koch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Culture and its erosion, along with poetic sensibility, are examined through descriptions of Ireland, the author’s family history and his experience of the Irish heritage in Australia.

The opening chapters cover Koch’s background and early life in Tasmania. One of his maternal great-great-grandmothers was of patrician Ascendancy stock (he will ultimately find whose old family home in ruins, while its name has been given to a new housing estate). Another was a convict: he recounts her passage to and spirited life in the new country, speculating on the unknown details. In the next section, he tells how the harsh legacy of Irish Catholicism flavoured the schooling in life he received from the Christian Brothers. But he was also in touch with his Protestant heritage, and at university discovered the stories of gentlemanly Irish rebels exiled to Tasmania after 1848.

He visited Ireland in his youth, but the book is mainly about his subsequent trip, in mature years, with a musician friend in the year 2000.

By this stage we have already encountered his aversion to manufactured mass culture – the “torment of piped music on buses” being a case in point. But it is most clearly epitomised by the pathetic scene with obese children during a stop-over in Dubai. “The enclosed suburban shopping malls of the West have evolved and flowered on the equator into whole hermetic citadels”, a “machine-chilled hive” that “resounds with American pop music, piped through loud-speakers: here as everywhere on earth… the inescapable accompaniment to life in a public space”.

Dublin on his first trip in the 1950s had been a place of “strange echoing lanes that ran into the dark nineteenth century… urchins in braces and waistcoats and quiet, mysterious little bars” – filled with the spirt of James Joyce, even though this books were frowned on and hard to obtain. In today’s city, he discovers that James Joyce features everywhere – in cardboard cutouts, displays with Ulysses maps of Dublin: a “tourist logo” in a city which his spirit no longer inhabits.

Traditional Ireland, especially in the west, is a besieged bastion against such cultural impoverishment. People in traditional west Ireland pubs “simply sing when the spirit moves them, and are listened to respectfully. This is how it must have been once in England and Australia, until somewhere in the mid-nineteenth century. Then it was lost, as the oral culture was lost.” Such singing in an Australian bar lounge “would cause laughter or embarrassment or both.”

Ireland also borders, at many points, on Faery. Sometimes even in Dublin itself. “The tide is out; black flats of mud extend below the wall, and the seagulls wheel and squabble there… birds that always seem the same birds, birds that exist outside Time.”

“High, very high, Atlantic gulls wheel in the air above the ridge, and their cold, hungry cries come down to me… here are the territories of the Sidhe. Looking ahead up the road I recognise them immediately.” Certain landscapes seen in Tasmania were “its heralds: its distant, imperfect variations… Now, here is the true rise, and its grass grows with an uncanny tinge of gold… Ireland has a legendary frontier. There, where the real world ends, the four other worlds begin: the world of the Sidhe, the Many-Coloured Land, the Land of Wonder, and the Land of Promise. Here at Howth, I have come to the no-man’s-land between. I know better, though, than to try and cross it.”

But TV radio and IT seal this frontier, offering in instead “the knowledge and pseudo-knowledge and vices and despair of Dublin, London and New York. And the Danaan voices fade.”

“This post-Christian era in the West, despite its desertion of rationalism and its automatic reverence for alien religions, is not one that’s open to Faery, as Yeats and his circle were; as Keats was, and Coleridge, and Shakespeare. The idea of Faery has become absurd: an infantile whimsy, of little interest even to the juveniles of the computer age, who are preoccupied instead by pseudo-legendary warriors fighting and maiming in those screen-bound computer games… Legend, exploited and reinvented in the animation studios Hollywood and Tokyo, is supremely fashionable, and makes money. But not Faery; not those spirits in trees and streams and hills that the Greeks knew, and the Elizabethans, and even the Victorians.” Faery is linked to Beauty, which “as a grail to be pursued is a notion that’s absent from the West’s postmodern salons, and even from poetry, since Beauty and studied irony make poor companions”.

Sidhe is Gaelic for both ‘faery’ and ‘wind’. He quotes Yeats:

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.

“I’d always imagined that the Irish bogs would be dreary,” he writes. “The reverse is true. They’re very beautiful; or rather, they’re beautiful if your spirit is of a kind to be drawn by open, lonely moorland or by waste places that retreat into inscrutable distance. Such places resonate with a high, single note of mystery: a singing that’s only just audible, like wind in a wire. Their melancholy quiet is filled with waiting; with the nearby presence of something remarkable, just beyond the reach of the eye and the mind. Here on the edge of the boglands, I understand why a knowledge of the Otherworld was always so strong among the Irish.” But it is “now in danger of being lost – withered and stunted by the rays of our video machines, and the babble of the global culture.”

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Understanding Women’s Magazines

22 May 2011

Anna Gough-Yates, Understanding Women’s Magazines: Publishing, Markets and Readerships, London and New York: Routledge 2003. 190 pp.

The author explains the rise of the ‘glossies’, the magazines for young professional women that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Cosmopolitan, Cleo and Marie Claire.

This slim book (190 pages) stands out for the breadth and depth of its content, and the freshness of its approach. I think it has useful things to say about the magazine industry, women’s place in society, and how culture and economic life interact and shape each other.

The author reviews the existing, mainly feminist literature on women’s magazines – influenced, in successive phases, by left-liberals, Althusserians, Gramscians and postmodernists – and notes that research in this field is weighted heavily toward textual analysis related to female magazine readers. Then she strikes out in an almost unexplored direction. Through a close scrutiny of the trade press covering Britain’s magazine she examines how the commercial players themselves understood and debated shifts in the industry. Their discussions are interpreted against the backdrop of the changes to economic life, culture and business management in Britain and the Western world.

She argues that the first half of the Twentieth Century was dominated by ‘Fordist’ production, in which profit was sought via economies of scale and via mass standardised production, but by the 1960s it was giving way to niche marketing and profit-making through close links to the customer’s desires.

The turn to niche markets swept aside crude demographic categorisation of consumers, towards attention to their motivations, and eventually, their lifestyle. Young professional women became targeted as a market segment with high levels of disposable income.

Once market research turned the corner into lifestyle research it became hugely important. From focus groups and other techniques a picture emerged of women as increasingly aware of and tolerantly cynical towards advertising techniques. Women also showed a desire for art, glamour and aesthetic pleasure in advertisements, feeding a trend toward high production values.

The author also paints a broader cultural and political backdrop, including the rise of a narcissistic, style-conscious and hedonistic consumerism amongst professional layers and the middle class. Within the workplace, meanwhile, changes in technology, industrial relations and the political climate combined to focus attention on the worker as an individual. Not only is their skill set a selling point in the labour market, but their personal ‘identity’ can become aligned with the company in a way that helps the business connect with customers – thus young women employed by magazines could be encouraged to take their corporate loyalty home to view themselves and their female flatmates as a means to ‘keep close’ to their target buyer and her fluid, volatile mindset.

Above all, the editor of the woman’s magazine become the crucial mediator between customer, advertiser and publisher: she traded off her ability to sense the mood of her customer. In this way the editor also mediated between the economy and culture. Even small shifts in young women’s mind-set could translate into staggering rises or falls in magazine sales. Cultural savvy had an immediate cash value.

The tradition from the mindset of mass production to customer focus was anything but smooth. Stiff traditions, misconceptions, and prejudices sailed on until they smashed into commercial imperatives. British market researchers were initially reluctant to turn from demographic statistics to lifestyle clustering ‘and what they saw as its lack of specificity and “unscientific” stress on subjectivity’; the manufacturers and their advertising agencies only grudgingly abandoned the notion of the housewife in her headscarf. Understanding the rise young professional woman, emerging into adulthood after the rise of feminism, also had to make its way through the ‘testosterone-charged’ atmosphere of the advertising agencies.

Coolly avoiding judgement throughout, the book goes beyond both narrowly commercial agendas and also the ideologies entrenched in academia, to delve beneath the surface of society and dig up real knowledge.

Colour and b+w illustrations present key magazine covers.

An addendum to the book notes the rise of celebrity culture.

The author’s argument was updated in ‘What do women want? Women, Social Change and the UK Magazine Market’, Information, Society and Justice Vol. 1 No 1, December 2007, pp 17-32.