Category Archives: american gods

Applying the Case Study

In Jung’s The Personal and the Collective Unconscious he focuses on a case study of one of his patients. He first briefly explains the process of transference, and then proceeds to explain how he used this concept in an attempt to cure the woman of her apparent hysteria. She related her dreams and through transference would supposedly be cured. However, in her case, transference could not be concluded, so Jung stipulates that there was more to her dreams than the mere father representation, but rather a primordial God figure. There was nothing in the patient’s life to elicit this type of figure appearing in a dream, leading Jung to believe that certain figures, or archetypes, exist outside of the self, and collectively in society. Basically the woman’s life had no bearing on those dreams as they did not come from her, but from the collective out of which, she, the individual was bred. Her dream is not of the father figure, but rather the God figure inherited from society that takes root in her unconscious.

That last part I want to apply to American Gods. Gaiman creates this novel as a narrative of how different gods came to America, but also depicts what has happened to them since their first appearance, namely a deterioration in belief, a mixture of beliefs, and a rise of new gods that in many ways can be considered sacrilegious at best. The latter part is not of consequence here, but the depiction of these gods over time is.

Despite their hardships in maintaining worshipers, holidays, or rites, they have only mildly become distorted, meaning their true forms are still apparent and recognizable. One of the reasons behind this can be elucidated through the understanding of the collective unconscious as seen in Jung’s case study. Even though the gods were reportedly brought to America by individuals through personal worship centuries earlier, their images rely not on those particular people, or even their ancestors, but rather an archetypal form, unchanging in the human mind, or through human belief.

There are probably dozens of examples from the novel I could use to demonstrate this point, but I will briefly focus on Eostre, because I like her. Her outwardly appearance serves to assimilate her into the liberal culture of her surrounding (she takes residence in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco), but as she enters what Gaiman refers to as “backstage,” where gods embody their true selves, she is easily recognized for what she is (she has very little to do with Easter aside from the association with fertility through the idea of rebirth). Even her physique is unchanged backstage, relying on previous sketches of her that echo her first worshippers’ images.

And this is essentially true of all the gods in the novel. Regardless of what form they take physically, their real form remains unaltered by time, existing backstage in the same state as it did thousands of years before. These gods do not exist in individual belief, or rely on how any one person sees them, but rather on how they are perceived in the collective, an amalgamation of how everyone sees them. This concept exists in a loop. They are as they are because that is how they are seen, but they are seen as such because that is the way they are. Do you see?

None of the mortal characters in Gaiman’s novel would be any more prone to transference than Jung’s patient. None of them are coming to terms with issues within their lives, but rather issues that have plagued every life before them.

Ainsel

I am working on how I will teach American Gods. I am rereading Chapter 10.

How easy it is to reconstruct the self from nothing. Everything in this book is dependent upon previous knowledge of various myths, fairytales, biblical stories, etc. Every character fulfills the task they were bid to do in antiquity. Sometimes you are given names, other times just descriptions and it is up to you to figure out what is going on.

In this chapter the main character takes on the pseudonym Ainsel, relying on the Northumbrian fairytale of the same name (and a perfect parallel with the story of the meeting between Odysseus and Polyphemus). It would be an easy task to skip the inconsequential day to day of the chapter and head right into what Ainsel is there to do, completing the story as the townsfolk cry out against “no one”having done anything to them. But that would just create another parallel story, humorous as it may be.

The fascinating part is the way in which Ainsel creates himself. He is no one, but quickly builds his character and assimilates into the town. The mundane takes on a whole new importance. As he is telling his story (page 240), he reflects on how easily the narrative comes out, as he imprints his “history” onto a blank slate, one of the few characters in the novel that does not rely upon a loaded background, but rather fabricates himself as the story progresses and as he sees fit. He is given the chance to become that which he has always wanted, but could never before escape the reality of his life.

He tells the townspeople what they want to hear, and in the process creates the image of his true self. His real name is Shadow, derived from the Jungian shadow that encompasses the collective unconscious, much like he becomes everything to everyone in the town. Unlike for Freud, for Jung the shadow has the possibility to be either good or bad, even if usually leaning towards the negative. Shadow, in his real life is in fact mostly negative (despite all of his good intentions… but you know what they say about good intentions…). Here, as Ainsel, he can invert the self into the positive. And the Ainsel story becomes secondary. The focus is not on the outcome of this section where Ainsel, “no one” betrays and/or tricks those who trusted him, but rather on the lead up to the end, the process of becoming.

Gaiman, in writing this section, writes a story within a story. In researching the main character’s taken name (as by now in the novel it has become obvious that without name research very little makes sense), a new avenue opens up where narratives collide creating a far more intricate web of histories. There is a third narrative also taking place here. Can you figure out which one?

Syllabus 1

I am working on my syllabuses. At first it was unbelievably overwhelming. I couldn’t figure out which book to use for what class, or how many books to use, etc. After the initial panic I decided it would be best if I focused on one course at a time. This is my reading list so far (which I intend to read in the following order):

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A World of Ideas (ed. Lee A. Jacobus) – an anthology
The Personal and the Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung (Jacobus)
The Allegory of the Cave by Plato (Jacobus)
Morality as Anti Nature by Friedrich Nietzsche (Jacobus)
The Origin of Civil Society by Jean Jacques Rousseau (Jacobus)
The Four Idols by Francis Bacon (Jacobus)
Why the Rich are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer by Robert Reich (Jacobus)
Masculinity by Germaine Greer (Jacobus)
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (I need to find an electronic copy of this)

While it might appear that the anthology is my primary text, it is really Gaiman’s novel that will be the main focus, with the remaining excerpts and short pieces all centering on how they relate to American Gods, and in multiple cases, to each other.

Gaiman’s novel is a commentary on modern American society, however his poignant observations can easily apply to all societies and civilizations; even as he sardonically criticizes the American lifestyle, he delves even deeper into the timeless realm of overall human nature.

From here I want to go into Jung and identify archetypes – which are easily spotted in the novel. I figured this would be an easy introduction to Jung, and provide a different way of looking at the characters.

Then I want to draw a parallel between the ways in which Gaiman portrays his citizens and Plato’s Cave allegory. The passivity most of them express when their ways are not only threatened but completely overturned is the same kind of acquiescence those in the cave exhibit. Who is the philosopher?

While it appears that Gaiman favors the old gods over the new, modern and ┬ámaterialistic gods, upon closer reading it seems his commentary is against any blind faith that robs people of free will, and quite in line with Nietzsche’s notion that life ends where “the kingdom of God beings,” and in American Gods, this kingdom is modern day America.

Nevertheless, when asked to fight against this unrighteousness, this usurpation of basic freedoms, everyone in the novel refuses. The reasoning behind this docile behavior is best depicted by Rousseau’s ideas of the social contract that can be traced within The Origin of Civil Society – people believe society functions best when certain personal rights are willingly abjured. They are partly right, in that conflict is avoided, safety is begotten, and peace prevails. But at what price? And what happens over time as more and more basic rights are forfeited?

Yet people don’t see things as they should, they don’t see the light in the cave, because there are several hindrances to understanding basic human nature, which Bacon outlines quite nicely in his Four Idols.

Bacon’s idea that most people don’t actually wish to think too deeply, or analyze their surroundings, including their lot in life, ties in with Reich’s theory of why the disparity between the haves and the have nots is constantly growing. The side stories within American Gods espouses this disproportion of socioeconomic status, providing a glimpse into the reasons for its existence and perpetuation.

Lastly, the last two excerpts to be read will be used to better understand character motivation, namely of Shadow, Wednesday, and the ever present Laura, looking at why they stand in for every man and woman, and how basic human nature along with social indoctrination propels them into the actions they take. I also want to compare and contrast the concept of masculinity between Shadow and Wednesday, along with the feminine equivalent of Laura and The Queen of Sheba. How do their respective roles pigeonhole them into the parts they play? Who adheres to the societal norms? And what are the consequences?

Next week I will be meeting with two English professors (who actually know what they are doing), to go over all of this, and gage the feasibility/coherence of my thought process and reading choices.

As for the assignments, I am unaware of the quantity I should assign for this type of class. Right now I am thinking two short papers (4-6 pages), and one long research paper (6-8 pages), but I feel that may be a bit much. I don’t know. This is all yet to be determined.

In the meantime I will be working on the next syllabus.