Keeping the Anima Abstract

Aug. 12 Update — Read this if you’d like, there might be some interesting thoughts, but I’d just like the reader to know that I pretty much disown the theory that I’d embraced here. (This project is starting to take on elements of Nabokov’s Pale Fire.) I can’t really follow my own train of thought expressed throughout. What I can say now is: 1) I embraced anima theory as a way of coming to terms with painful emotions, so that’s fine, whatever works; 2) This idea that I need to access an anima to have creativity is absurd. I have ready access to creativity, I just need the right habits to keep developing it; 3) if anima is necessary to carry on a project such as this, what about other major endeavors I’ve taken on, including my daily workout routine? I seem to accomplish quite a bit without this fictional female ghost on my shoulder. I do enjoy my construction below that the lack of evidence of an anima is proof of its existence, though. How do you create a counterpoint to such reasoning?


I know all of this discussion about an anima can seem completely bizarre. In concrete terms, I might as well be blogging about the Loch Ness Monster at this point, because it is not about a living, breathing creature walking the earth and doing real non psychic harm.

But here’s the paradox of the anima — the fact that it is not a living, breathing creature is proof that it is real. My anima has been invented within me and I only recognized it when it was projected onto a human being. I sometimes get amused thinking about the contrast between my anima and the human involved.

This is no insult on that human, but I am completely sure that my anima is a far more fascinating, complex being to me than than that person or any person. The anima does not have to concern herself with the mundane realities of life involving work, family, juggling all of the insane demands we’ve taken on due to the Coronavirus, and managing real world relationships.

What my anima cares about — obsessively — is my individuation, wholeness and spiritual well being. It is her only reason for existing, to warn me when my actions are in conflict with this unconscious path she wants me to tread. This is precisely why it is never a good idea to mix up your anima with any real world relationship. No human being could ever play that role — or if she could, she would almost certainly go insane in the process.

According to Jung and anyone who follows his lead, I’m getting way ahead of myself by musing about my anima at this time because I have not done the “shadow work” that always comes first in the Jungian process. That’s fine, I expect that work to be fascinating and challenging in its own ways. If done correctly, I will probably uncover lots of things about myself, some of which I may feel comfortable sharing in this series, but a lot of it I probably won’t.

But I’m not going to anticipate that work, because my anima is top of mind for me now. And Jung believes it is healthy for someone who has a handle on the cognitive bases of anxiety and depression to observe his anima if that is the source of the current conflict. He wrote:

In these cases the unconscious must be given an opportunity to produce its fantasies … In cases of this sort the doctor should spare himself the useless trouble of delving still further into the causality; for, when a more or less exhaustive understanding is of no avail, the discovery of yet another little bit of causality will be of no avail either. The unconscious has simply gained an unassailable ascendancy; it wields an attractive force that can invalidate all conscious contents — in other words, it can withdraw libido from the conscious world and thereby produce a “depression.” But as a result of this we must, according to the law of energy, expect an accumulation of value — i.e., libido — in the unconscious …. That is why, in a case like this, we give the unconscious a chance to bring its fantasies to the surface …. The patient’s conscious world has become cold, empty, and grey; but his unconscious is activated, powerful and rich.

And then Jung concludes the thought with this very interesting bit:

But when we look deeper, we find that this unconcern of the unconscious has a meaning, indeed a purpose and a goal. There are psychic goals that lie beyond the conscious goals; in fact, they may even be inimical to them. But we find that the unconscious has an inimical or ruthless bearing towards the conscious only when the latter adopts a false or pretentious attitude.

This is fascinating to me because, as I have written on a couple of occasions during this series, my unconscious seems to become activated most fully when I feel a certain sense of inflation and begin to take victory laps for recent completed activities. My unconscious is observing these victories and, instead of waving the checkered flag of a conquered race, is throwing up the yellow caution flag — beware, these aren’t your real life goals. Do not make too much of these little wins.

That raises the question of what are the psychic goals behind the unconscious and why is my unconscious so unwilling to let my poor anima take a breather and maybe go on vacation for awhile. One goal, it seems obvious to me, is this project itself. There are numerous completely practical reasons for me to stop this project at any time including: 1) it drives certain people in my life crazy, 2) it doesn’t have a clearly defined goal like the original Montaigne project, 3) very few people on a daily basis read it, and 4) it arguably takes time away from other creative endeavors I could be pursuing.

But to quote Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I go on.”

This is a form of creativity that I understand and can control. A novel is as alien to me as writing an opera or designing a video game. I can do this with a certain level of ease that the the Taoists would consider non-action — I don’t really have to plan ahead much each day in coming up with a post, these things basically write themselves. I consider it a gift that I can do that, so I might as well enjoy it.

The real work on this project is doing the daily reading to make the posts meaningful, which was a central component of the original Montaigne project. But now I’m getting too deeply into the sausage-making of the project and need to get back to the text.

What Jung is arguing is that if your psyche is one-sidedly intellectual and rational — and if it wasn’t already, doing a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy certainly added to my heady toolbox — then it becomes necessary to activate the world of feeling via the unconscious:

He cannot de-intellectualize himself and make himself dependent on another function, e.g., feeling, for the very simple reason that he has not got it. The unconscious has it. Therefore we have no alternative but to hand over the leadership to the unconscious and give it the opportunity of becoming a conscious content in the form of fantasies. If, formerly, my patient clung to his intellectual world and defended himself with rationalizations against what he regarded as his illness, he must now yield himself up to it entirely, and when a fit of depression comes upon him, he must no longer force himself to some kind of work in order to forget, but must accept his depression and give it a hearing.

I should point out that depression is not a predominant feeling for me right now — but what Jung writes here is very useful to me nonetheless. The unease that I’m feeling is a lot of the emotional work I’ve done in the past year receding and my rational defenses against it hardening. Looking at it from this frame, it seems completely understandable and, in an odd way, even healthy. The real emotional work that I need to do is in my unconscious and the previous cognitive-based improvement on the emotional side were inevitably going to have limited success without doing this deeper work.

But now we get to the hard part, which is letting go of the projections that brought the anima into the open in the first place. I describe this process as making the anima abstract. Jung’s translator calls this avoiding “concretization,” which I think is an awful word and I refuse to use it. But the description here is very useful nonetheless:

But first the tendency to concretization must be overcome; in other words, we must not take the fantasies literally when we approach the question of interpreting them. While we are in the grip of the actual experience, the fantasies cannot be taken literally enough. But when it comes to understanding them, we must on no account mistake the semblance, the fantasy-image as such, for the operative process underlying it. The semblance is not the thing itself, but only its expression.

This again raises some internal chuckling for me when I remember the times the human who I projected my anima upon tried to make sense of the quasi-religious significance I was placing on the relationship. Having seen me as a highly rational person up to that point, the effect must have been jarring and perhaps even a bit frightening. But to me, the whole process made complete sense. I created religion-like rituals to the relationship, including giving up coffee for tea, that had no rational basis, but made complete sense in the frame of worshipping an anima.

My problem at that time was that I was still trying to fit that relationship into the frame of transference, which even Jung continued to adopt as a way of explaining analyst/analysand relationships. In my case, transference just wasn’t the issue. I was not reliving a past attachment experience, I was enlivening my unconscious through a vessel who happened to be a credible projection of those feelings.

The way out of all of this is individuation — an acceptance of the anima messages and a reframing of the Nietzschean self-overcoming ethos focused on deep seated desires, not the passing fancies of the ego. I’ll let Jung close this one out:

When a man can say of his states and actions, “As I am, so I act,” he can be at one with himself, even though it be difficult, and he can accept responsibility for himself even though he struggles against it. We must recognize that nothing is more difficult to bear with than oneself. (“You sought the heaviest burden, and found yourself,” said Nietzsche.) Yet even this most difficult of achievements becomes possible if we can distinguish ourselves from the unconscious contents …. For these reasons individuation is indispensable for certain people, not only as a therapeutic necessity, but as a high ideal, an idea of the best we can do …. The idea at the bottom of this ideal is that right action comes from right thinking, and that there is no cure and no improving the world that does not begin with the individual himself. To put the matter drastically: the man who is pauper or parasite will never solve the social question.

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