I’m enjoying my voyage through Carl Jung more than I expected. Jung’s writing is firmly in the tradition of Augustine, Emerson, Nietzsche, William James and, yes, Montaigne. It seems to me that writers of this type are drawn to different pegs for their ideas based on the accepted means of intellectual discourse in their time. For Augustine, theology was the accepted form for such thought. Montaigne exists in a transition point between theology and philosophy. The path from Emerson to Nietzsche to James sees the increasing influence of psychology slowly taking over for philosophy, to the point that when Jung writes, philosophy was no longer a vehicle for an examination of an individual ethos.
Nietzsche lays this out explicitly in “Beyond Good and Evil:”
It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of — namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown.
Augustine proved that this autobiography can also apply to theology and Jung later demonstrates how it can help create a psychological system. That last point may seem troubling on the surface — how can a system with scientific roots be based on individual experience? Jung argues persuasively that a subjective view of every individual is the only way to begin to understand a psyche. Take too scientific an approach and you merely average a range of human beings, you don’t discover one.
Which brings us to that most unique aspect of every human — ironically, because it’s based on our animal instincts, the shadow. It exists in all of us due to the simple fact that we have biological bodies and are, as much as we sometimes like to deny it, animals that walk the earth. Jung writes:
A dim premonition tells us that we cannot be whole without this negative side, that we have a body which, like all bodies, casts a shadow, and if we deny this body we cease to be three-dimensional and become flat and without substance. Yet this body is a beast with a beast’s soul, an organism that gives unquestioning obedience to instinct. To unite oneself with this shadow is to say yes to instinct, to that formidable dynamism lurking in the background. From this the ascetic morality of Christianity wishes to free us, but at the risk of disorganizing man’s animal nature at the deepest level.
This raises all of the fundamental issues of morality that humanity has dealt with for thousands of years via philosophy, religion and socialization. We are constantly checking to see if and how consciousness can be expanded to diminish this shadow a little more. It leads to the creation of sins, laws and social customs. But while these socializing actions help us create our personae in the world, they also send our shadows deeper behind us — and perhaps it even more likely that antisocial behavior will spring from us.
Jung uses Nietzsche as a case study in this. Nietzsche’s philosophy is very much based on the predominance of the ego and the need for human to transcend what we understand of our humanity. He does this while denying the validity of religious and especially Christian morality as creating a false good/evil dichotomy that leads us to say “no” to life over and over.
Jung points out, however, that to make this quest for a “yes saying” life work, Nietzsche ends up resorting in his personal life to a massive set of negations:
When we scrutinize his life with this aim in view we are bound to admit that Nietzsche lived beyond instinct, in the lofty heights of heroic sublimity– heights that he could maintain only with the help of the most meticulous diet, a carefully selected climate, and many aids to sleep — until the tension shattered his brain. He talked of yea-saying and lived the nay. His loathing for man, for the human animal that lived by instinct, was too great. Despite everything, he could not swallow the toad he so often dream of and which he fear had to be swallowed.
There’s this interesting line of thought that Jung adopts — which was also pronounced by William James — that Nietzsche’s philosophy drove him insane. This is an opinion rendered by two men who weren’t just theoretical psychologists, they were clinicians. To me, it’s rather shocking that both of them overlooked all of the physiological evidence of the time that Nietzsche’s madness was caused by syphilis. The idea that Ideas can lead to madness is, frankly, insane.
But before I get to my own theory of Nietzsche, I want to complete Jung’s point about the shadow. Jung has a really interesting analysis of Nietzsche’s conclusions about morality:
He who seriously criticizes the basic attitudes of Christianity also forfeits the protection which these bestow upon him. He delivers himself up unresistingly to the animal psyche. That is the moment of Dionysian frenzy, the overwhelming manifestation of the “blond beast,” which seizes the unsuspecting soul with nameless shudderings. The seizure transforms him into a hero or into a godless being, a superhuman entity. He rightly feels himself “six thousand feet beyond good and evil.”
To Jung, Nietzsche basically puts himself at the mercy of his shadow by denying the viability of Christian morality and adopting no ethos in its place. This leads to massive ego inflation and a belief that he has discovered a secret ability to conjure the overman. But Jung then delivers this beautiful piece of analysis taking apart Nietzsche’s inflation bit by bit:
The psychological observer knows this state as “identification with the shadow,” a phenomenon which occurs with great regularity at such moments of collision with the unconscious. The only thing that helps here is cautious self-criticism. Firstly and before all else, it is exceedingly unlikely that one has just discovered a world-shattering truth, for such things happen extremely seldom in the world’s history. Secondly, one must carefully inquire whether something similar might not have happened elsewhere– for instance Nietzsche, as a philologist, could have adduced a few obvious classical parallels which would certainly have calmed his mind. Third, one must reflect that a Dionysian experience may well be nothing more than a relapse into a pagan form of religion, so that in reality nothing new is discovered and the same story only repeats itself from the beginning. Fourthly, one cannot avoid foreseeing that this joyful intensification of mood to heroic and godlike heights is dead certain to be followed by an equally deep plunge into the abyss. These considerations would put one in a position of advantage: the whole extravaganza could then be reduced to the proportions of a somewhat exhausting mountaineering expedition, to which succeed the eternal commonplaces of day. Just as every stream seeks the valley and the broad river that hastens towards the flatlands, so life not only flows along in commonplaces, but makes everything else commonplace. The uncommon, if it is not to end in catastrophe, may steal in alongside the commonplace, but not often. If heroism becomes chronic, it ends in a cramp, and the cramp leads to catastrophe or to neurosis or both.
I think my Cognitive Behavioral therapist would be very impressed with Jung here. He brings Nietzsche safely back to earth and allows his readers a chance to take in some of his more lofty thoughts with some grounding and safety. In the process, he shows what the shadow can do to us if it is allowed to just ravage the countryside.
I want to make two more points here. The first is that I disagree with the broad point made by both Jung and James about Nietzsche. I do not believe that his philosophy drove his behavior, which in turn drove him insane. Rather, I suspect that Nietzsche was driven to an ego/rational approach to life because he lived a difficult, stunted emotional life.
I fully understand Nietzsche’s approach to regulating his lifestyle and looking for an ego-based basis for affirming life, because I have lived a life where I have been consistently punished for honestly expressing my emotions. It’s been my experience that people will let you do or say anything on an intellectual basis and will even forgive actions that seem purely driven by instinct. But state your feelings to someone in a way that makes them uncomfortable and they will brutalize you for it.
To me, Nietzsche the person who had difficulties forming strong, lasting bonds with people naturally became the self-overcoming believer in the overman, Amor Fati and even Will to Power. What other choice did he feel safe taking? My final word on this: beware of those who encourage you to express those repressed feelings, because they have the greatest power to do the most lasting damage for the feelings they encourage to come out.
My final point is to return this to yesterday’s essay about the anima. After completing it, I worried that I had written myself into a corner and had defanged the anima to the point that it was indistinguishable from the shadow. But I now see that my new definition can hold up fine. The shadow is the part of human instinct that sits below our socialization. It makes no real demand on us other that to acknowledge its existence and to, from time to time, acknowledge that it can help us be a better defined human being.