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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

The Cultural Conversation

Depth psychology has a long tradition of discussing culture. Freud, Jung and Hillman all wrote essays about culture. D. Bell (1999) writes “This dual quality, where psychoanalysis, Janus-like, looks both inwards to the workings of the mind and outwards to culture and society is not accidental but is central to what psychoanalysis is” (p. 2). The cultural relevance of psychoanalysis runs throughout Freud’s work in Totem and Taboo (1913/1975), The Future of an Illusion (1927/1962b), “Humor” (1927/1962a), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930/1962). Freud also created his own myth in Totem and Taboo. Freud explores art specifically in “The Moses of Michelangelo” (1914/1975) “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood” (1910/1975), and “The Theme of the Three Caskets” (1913/1962). Freud’s work, D. Bell continues, “generally speaking, illuminates the content of works of art and literature showing how they give expression to struggles and conflicts within our inner world” (p. 7).

Freud’s lecture on “the place of daydreams in the creative work of the imaginative writer, the Dichter . . . was also, aside from a few hints in the Interpretation of Dreams, the first to apply psychoanalytic ideas to culture” (Gay, 1998, pp. 306-7). Gay, in discussing this lecture, which was later published in 1908 as “Creative Writers and Daydreaming,” writes:

Freud took one of his characteristic acrobatic leaps connecting one range of human experience to another. Parallel-hunting is a dangerous sport, especially if it presses inferences beyond their capacity, but valid parallels may discover hitherto unknown relationships, and even better, unsuspected causal connections. Freud’s leap was of this last sort: every child at play, he argued, behaves like a Dichter “in that he creates his own world for himself, or more correctly put, transposes the things of his world into a new order that pleases him.” In playing, the child is very much in earnest, but he knows that what he makes is an invention: “The opposite of play is not seriousness, but reality.” The poet or novelist proceeds in very much the same way; he recognizes the fantasies he is elaborating to be fantasies, but that does not make them any less momentous than, say the child’s imaginary playmate. Children find play enjoyable, and since humans are most reluctant to forgo a pleasure they have once enjoyed, they find a substitute as adults. Instead of playing, they fantasize. (p. 307)

In “Creative Writers and Daydreaming” (Freud, 1908/1975), Freud links play, art, and bricolage (without using the term), when he speaks of transposing the things of his world into a new order.

In 1910, Freud told Jung “I am more and more penetrated by the conviction of the cultural value of YA” and “I could wish for a bright fellow to draw the justified consequences for philosophy and society from it.” Gay (1998) notes “the time to apply the discoveries of psychoanalysis outside the consulting room was at hand . . . the prospects for a psychoanalytic interpretation of culture made him [Freud] euphoric” (p. 310). Jung, Rank, and Abraham were enamored with cultural interpretation, and Gay relates “applied psychoanalysis was a cooperative venture almost from the start. Freud found this widespread interest agreeable, but he needed no urging from others to put culture on the couch” (p. 312). Freud has had an indelible impact on culture; Sigmund Freud and His Impact on the Modern World (Winer and Anderson, 2001) contains essays chronicling Freud’s impact on the humanistic studies: literary criticism (Emmett & Veeder, 2001); American cinema (Gabbard, 2001a); drama (Sander, 2001) and the visual arts (Trossman, 2001). The psychoanalytic journal Imago was dedicated from its inception mainly to the application of psychoanalysis to culture.

Melanie Klein used art to explain some of her theories, and wrote three papers with predominantly literary themes all dealing with the work of art itself and not with the author. D. Bell (1999) notes that Klein’s (1955) “On Identification” deals with projective identification using Julian Green’s novel If I were You; that Klein uses the Oresteia and Ravel’s opera, The Magic Flute to illustrate clinical phenomena in “Reflections on the Oresteia” (1963); and “Infantile Anxiety Situations as Reflected in a Work of Art and in the Creative Impulse” (1929) respectively (pp. 14-15).

Denney (2002) notes that Jung wrote about cultural phenomena, and cites such examples: on synchronicity (1951/1981, 1952/1981), Flying Saucers (1958/1970), and Psychology and Religion (1958/1989), James Joyce’s Ulysses (1934b/1978), Psychology and Literature (1950/1978) and Picasso (1934a/1978).

Jung also wrote about the relationship of poetry to analytic psychology (1931/1978) and conducted an extensive seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra from 1934-1939 (1988). Jung’s disciple, Erich Neumann (1959) wrote The Archetypal World of Henry Moore. Also many Jungian journals, such as SALT, Psychological Perspectives and Spring all address cultural issues.

Jung’s (1964) final essay, “Approaching the Unconscious,” was published in 1964 after Jung’s death as the introductory essay in Man and His Symbols. This book, which Jung edited (and after his death von Franz) uses over five hundred pictures of art through the ages, from cave paintings at Lascaux to Godzilla in order to illustrate Jung’s ideas. The book also contains an article by Aniella Jaffé (1964) on “Symbolism in the Visual Arts,” which mentions Max Ernst, and shows some of his artwork.

Hillman puts civilization on the couch as a client and although he acknowledges that Freud and Jung saw the problem previously, they looked to the individual to change civilization. Hillman believes the whole world is sick and that we cannot put it right by only following Jung’s “rainmaker model,” that is, working on ourselves to make it right. Hillman remarks “and you can’t put this right by having a good therapeutic dialogue or finding deeper meanings. It’s not about meaning anymore; it’s about survival” (Hillman, 1983c, p. 131). The Cartesian world view, which separated inside and outside, has created incredible isolation and tremendous destruction. In his essay on Anima Mundi, Hillman seeks to return soul to the world, to see the world as ensouled:

I think the only way we can get at the soul of the object is to think of it as a form or as a shape or as a face, an image, and it displays its own image, its imagination. So it has a subjectivity . . . I am not anthropomorphizing. Its more like a thing is a phenomenological presentation, with a depth, a complexity, a purpose, a world of relations, with a memory, a history—so it is also a subjectivity . . . . it’s an aesthetic appreciation of how things present themselves and that therefore they are in some way formed, ensouled, and are speaking to imagination. This way of looking is a combination of the Neoplatonic anima mundi and pop art; that even a beer can or a freight car or a street sign has an image and speaks of itself beyond being a dead throwaway object. (p. 133)

The writings of Romanyshyn and Goodchild have been most influential for me, especially Romanyshyn’s essays “The Dreambody and Cyberspace” and “The Despotic Eye and Its Shadow” from the book Ways of the Heart (Romanyshyn, 2002), and his discussion of linear perspective in Technology as Symptom and Dream (Romanyshyn, 1989). Goodchild’s (2001) Eros and Chaos addresses such cultural phenomena as synchronicity, UFO’s, and Lady Diana.

The writings of Romanyshyn and Goodchild have been most influential for me, especially Romanyshyn’s essays “The Dreambody and Cyberspace” and “The Despotic Eye and Its Shadow” from the book Ways of the Heart (Romanyshyn, 2002), and his discussion of linear perspective in Technology as Symptom and Dream (Romanyshyn, 1989). Goodchild’s (2001) Eros and Chaos addresses such cultural phenomena as synchronicity, UFO’s, and Lady Diana.

In The Art of the Essay, Fiedler (1969) explains that popular culture has been a standard subject of the genre of essay and she devotes an entire section of her book to it. Popular culture has also played an important role in the discoveries of depth psychology as D. Bell (1999) relates: “many of the main findings of psychoanalysis were as much discovered from a study of the ordinary phenomena of everyday life such as dreams, parapraxes (i.e. bungled actions), and jokes as they were from the symptoms of neurotic patients” (p. 3).

Kittelson (1998) says that some of our liveliest energies as a society are contained in popular culture and that through them we can “discover information, patterns and propensities that express the psyche, the soul, the deep places of meaning in the culture” (p. 1). The cultural psyche reveals itself most prevalently and vividly through the images and dreams of popular culture:

If we can notice and engage with the images and “dreams” of the culture, pleasant and unpleasant, we can learn a great deal more about ourselves . . . . Wherever cultural fantasy shows itself, that is, in the media and the arts, in fads, in regional and national events, we discover surprises, delights, and sometimes shocks. (p. 5, 6)

Popular culture can also help us access the transpersonal. Grof uses art, movies, and music to help explicate his cartography of the psyche (Grof & Tarnas, 2002, seminar); and the music suggested for use in holotropic breathwork includes many selections from movie soundtracks (Sparks, 2003, seminar; 2004b, cassette). [link to GTT] In the “Kaleidoscope of Culture” section of this dissertation three pieces of popular culture are used to see play’s transpersonal or archetypal dimensions: Chicago (Marshall, 2002, motion picture), Disneyland, and Mary Poppins (Stevenson, 1964, motion picture).


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