Category Archives: jung

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.

Forming the Self

A few weeks ago I explored Lavinia and Nina in Mourning Becomes Electra and Strange Interlude. Originally I focused on how these characters attempt to rebuild or recreate themselves from and through others. They each have missing pieces, and they seek to fill in the gaps through misplaced concepts of love and loyalty. While Nina searches for narcissistic love, Lavina assimilates with those closest to her. I argued she fulfills the Electra complex, for which the play is named, through first loving her father, and then identifying in a most frightening way with her mother. While this is definitely there, and quite obvious, I missed another more subtle point.
In looking at numerous articles since, it seems no one has looked at Lavinia beyond the Electra complex. I, too, became distracted by the title and stopped short of further research, had it not been for an extremely helpful comment on the piece I wrote. In the comment he referenced looking at Lavinia in terms of Jungian individuation — something I had never thought of. It took a bit of time to figure it out as I have not read Jung in several years and only had a vague recollection of the concept. But after looking into it, it made perfect sense.
Jung at one point defined individuation as “becoming an ‘in-dividual,’ and, in so far as ‘individuality’ embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as ‘coming to selfhood,’ or ‘self-realization.’” For Lavinia, the “relations” to her “inmost self” is her relation to family. She cannot find herself outside of identifying with her mother; her inmost self does not exist.
Yet within this constant connection with the other she cannot form the self, which in Jungian terms is simultaneously independent and dependent of the other. It is independent as the self is formed, different and unique from anything else, in the purest terms of individuality. However, it is dependent as it relies on a universal unconscious that links the individual to everything. The individual is bred out of the collective, and inseparable from it.
Eugene Waith argues that the structure of Mourning Becomes Electra “is determined by a movement toward unmaksing, which is often a movement of the principle characters toward discovery of the stance they just take toward the fundamental problems of existence.” Once the mask is removed, for Lavinia there is nothing. Her mask is her identification with her mother, Christine. As she slowly begins embodying Christine’s appearance, and arguably her essence, Lavinia wears a mask of which she is not fully aware; Lavinia believes Christine to be the ideal she seeks, the completeness that she is denied, and in the process is completely consumed by the quest. I almost want to argue that she is unaware of the full extent of her actions, carrying out her mimicry without full knowledge of what she is doing.
Christine tells Lavinia that she was born of her “own body,” reminding her of the physical bond they share in which a part of Lavinia resides within Christine, and vice versa. For Lavinia to be able to reconstruct herself, she must obtain, or recapture, the part of herself from within Christine. The parts Lavinia does acquire are Christine’s physical appearance and mannerisms, as these are the only pieces available to her, and as Christine’s daughter it is not difficult to believe these traits already exist within Lavinia and must simply be flushed out. However this may not be done until after her father, Ezra, dies, because Lavinia first tries to identify with him.
Her appearance, movements and speech mimic Ezra’s, but she is also arguably unaware of these similarities. Once he is gone, a piece of herself also disappears, which she attempts to resurrect even further by reappropriating his role within the home. Just as she resembles Christine, she is also created in the image of Ezra, and his death signifies her severance with this likeness, so she attempts to recreate him as she becomes militant and demanding. She begins to oversee running the house, and even goes as far as commanding Orin, her brother. In this instance her relationship with Orin can be said to be the beginning of her assimilation with Christine, attempting to parent him and ultimately gain control over him. However, Christine’s relationship with Orin is based within nurture, laced with doting care and love, and bordering, if not directly transcending, into an incestuous affair. Lavinia does not encompass any of those traits, or at least not yet. She is strictly reenacting, and perhaps resurrecting Ezra, but only superficially. It does not take very long before she abandons the mimicry, as it does not allow her to fully connect with the other. She does not internalize the mannerisms she displays, and cannot capture the embedded emotions associated with these actions. In fact they serve to alienate her from both Orin, and more importantly Christine, thus further distancing herself from the ideal self she wishes to recreate. The play depends upon a constant realignment of the self with the other in an attempt to formulate the self.
Lavinia is made from Christine, and Ezra, related to Orin, and as the portraits throughout the house point out, she is a part of a greater whole. She is shaped by the past, by her experiences, and the collective experience of her surroundings. Yet within all of this, she is herself a unique existence, pulling from and contributing to this collective. Nevertheless she never consolidates the two. She remains too dependent upon others for forming the self, and thus only fulfills half of the process of individuation, seeking, but never forming the individual.