Carl Jung: "Psychology and Literature"

Review of Carl Jung: “Psychology and Literature”

            “Psychology and Literature” is Carl Jung’s analysis of art, artists, and the creative process.   Jung justifies Psychology for studying literature because all thought and expression are derived from the human psyche.   Two significant points are immediately addressed, outlined and become the narrative for the remainder of the essay.  The first is the distinction between the artistic work itself and the life of the artist (217).  Jung describes two sets of analysis with one analyzing the “concrete artistic achievement” and the other analyzing the “living and creative human being” (217).   It is his position that although one can learn about the art from the artist, or vice versa, one cannot achieve full and conclusive answers about either.  Jung’s second point relates to the elusiveness of creativity itself.  His notions indicate that the creative act will “forever elude human understanding” (218), and that the creative act can be described by its manifestations, but can never be fully understood.
            Jung divides the work of art into two categories: The psychological and the visionary.   Psychological art “deals with materials drawn from the realm of human consciousness” (220).  It represents those things that are experienced and understood by the human psyche.  Day to day experiences, hopes, failures, and passions fall within this realm.  Visionary art is difficult to define because it is literally the unfamiliar.  Examples of visionary material include things that emote or quantify great spans of time separating us from pre-human time, or “A primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding” (221).    Jung will later use language suggesting that visionary art removes the individual from their artistic endeavors and creates something that touches humanity’s collective unconsciousness.    
            Jung reviews Freudian psychology and neurosis in his effort to remove the artist from their work.   Jung surmises that if the personal experience is primary, then the vision becomes secondary (223).  Further, the vision then becomes the manifestation of a neurotic state.  The vision is reduced to a causal function and the art, especially if it is disturbing, is attributed to the artist (223).   Jung refutes this notion as art carries its own merit.  Art communicates a message with or without the presence of the artist.  As such, Jung states we need to take the vision as equal to the experience, not as a secondary manifestation (224).
            Jung considers the vision as a “true symbolic expression … the expression of something existent in its own right, but imperfectly known” (224).   He intimates that our feelings help us understand the known, but it is our intuitions that point to “things unknown and hidden” (224), or things that are secret. With visions, people may intentionally hold them back if they become too predominant.  Visionary art tends to prompt deeper questions as to if there is something beyond our world, or the nature of god and our place in the universe, or even if there are “human needs that are dangerous and unavoidable?” (225).   It is not uncommon for people wanting to avoid these questions.
             Jung suggests that all people share residual primordial memories and experiences from the processes of evolution.  Much in the same way physical attributes are carried forward, so are attributes of the psyche.  He uses the term the collective unconscious to signify this notion and he suggests that it is a source of great poetry.  Jung is also specific, “The primordial experience is the source of his [the artists] creativeness; it cannot be fathomed, and therefore requires mythological imagery to give it form” (226).  The final summary of vision and visionary art is that it is difficult to identify.  The vision needs to be identified and analyzed separately from the artist.  The vision is tapping into the collective unconscious and those primordial experiences we all share but are unable to fully realize or explain.  It is also in these visions that artists are expressing ideas representing the whole of man rather than the self.
            Jung identifies that art should not be about the man, but the man speaking to the spirit and “heart of mankind” (229).  Jung is clear that if a piece of art is about an individual, then repression and neurosis should be reviewed.  It is his belief that the more one’s individual life enters a piece of work, the less artistic it becomes.  Jung notes the duality of man.  One side being the human with a personal life and the other is the impersonal possessing the creative process (229).  He also identifies the duality of the artist wanting security and happiness against their overwhelming needs to create (229).
            Jung concludes by comparing a great piece of art to a dream:  “It does not explain itself … and we must draw our own conclusions” (231).  Jung also uses the term participation mystique meaning the artist is creating and living as a member of the human race, rather than the individual, that is speaking to humanity.  A final interpretation of Jung’s work can be summarized that great art is comprised of intentional acts, tapping into the collective unconscious, and pushing the viewer to reflect and ponder on the great and ultimate questions.

Works Cited
Jung, Carl Gustav. “Psychology and Literature.” The Creative Process: A Symposium . Ed. Brewster Ghislen.  Berkeley: University of California Press. 1985. 217-232. Print.


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