For many years — since the early 90s — I have been slowly reading through Jung’s works related to alchemy: Psychology & Alchemy, Alchemical Studies, and Mysterium Coniunctionis, and also Aion.
The bulk of my reading has happened in the last ten or twelve years, with a final push in the last two years or so. Amid other digressions, distractions, and divagations, I found myself closing in, at last, on the last forty pages of Mysterium Coniunctionis. I finally finished it yesterday.
This spring and summer, as a way of thinking out loud about Jung’s thesis (that alchemists were dreaming awake and therefore unknowingly describing the contents of their own inner psychological landscape, and exploring the archetype of the self), I plan to go back and walk through all four books, reviewing the passages I’ve marked, and then post selected passages with my annotations here.
In the back of your mind is this little room, and in that litle room is this guy, and that guy, if you read lots of poems all the time, that guy will learn everything about poetry, about form, and shape, and when you make your poems, that guy will take care of all the technical details. All you have to do is write those poems. But that guy, you got to feed that guy plenty of material all the time, or else that guy will start raising a ruckus in the back of your head, and you’ll think you’re going crazy. It’s only because you’re not keeping that guy busy, you know. And that’s true — believe me.
Facts & Opinions
“You can argue opinions, but you can’t argue facts.”
This may, under some limited set of circumstances, be a true statement, but it assumes that a fact is something that we would all agree on if only we were sufficiently informed.
But facts are a byproduct of context. Facts are not discrete packets of truth, sharply defined and clearly demarcated from their surroundings. And a fact which we an all agree upon is the most useless and least interesting fact of all.
Another problem is that it sets up a polarity: it implies that facts and opinions are all there is, that they are the only two states of, well, I guess I’ll call it reality. But what of perceptions? You could, I suppose, say a perception is a form of opinion — but just because I can find many people to confirm what I perceive, and once we all agree and reach a consensus, then it’s a fact, right? Well…
Lastly, the statement sounds as though facts are more important than opinions; that facts finish the argument. But all too often, they begin the argument. Facts are often the least interesting thing a person can talk or argue about.
Durs Grünbein, The Vocation of Poetry:
I might even go so far as to say that poetry is in large part born from the desire to start over as often as possible.
Steering by compass, from tree to tree, post to post — all the way across a continent, one poem at a time. And if you are navigating to several destinations, all on a circuit, a cycle — seasonal rhythms, braiding themselves in and out — then you do not arrive and you do not depart. You continue.
Hannah Arendt, via:
Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.
When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.
Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one’s mental equilibrium. It is your window on time’s infinity. Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.
J.A. Baker, The Peregrine:
To be recognized and accepted by a peregrine you must wear the same clothes, travel by the same way, perform actions in the same order. Like all birds, it fears the unpredictable. Enter and leave the same fields at the same time each day, soothe the hawk from its wildness by a ritual of behavior as invariable as its own. Hood the glare of the eyes, hide the white tremor of the hands, shade the stark reflecting face, assume the stillness of a tree. A peregrine fears nothing he can see clearly and far off. Approach him from across open ground with a steady unfaltering movement. Let your shape grow in size but do not alter its outline. Never hide yourself unless concealment is complete. Be alone. Shun the furtive oddity of man, cringe from the hostile eyes of farms. Learn to fear. To share fear is the greatest bond of all. The hunter must have the quivering intensity of an arrow thudding into a tree. Yesterday is dim and monochrome. A week ago you were not born. Persist, endure, follow, watch.
On Creative Longevity
It seems that two qualities are necessary if a great artist is to remain creative to the end of a long life; he must on the one hand retain an abnormally keen awareness of life, he must never grow complacent, never be content with life, must always demand the impossible and when he cannot have it, must despair. The burden of the mystery must be with him day and night. […]
[The artist] must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy. Many lesser poets have it only in their youth; some even of the greatest lose it in middle life. Wordsworth lost the courage to despair and with it his poetic power. But more often the dynamic tensions are so powerful that they destroy the man before he reaches maturity.
–Humphrey Trevelyan, from his introduction to the 1949 edition of Goethe’s autobiography, Truth and Fantasy from My Life
(via and via)
This may be the first week I finish only one book, if that. In fact, this may be a zero books week.
I’m pushing slowly through several longer things while trying to get to the end of a few shorter ones. But I’ve been fighting a cold, and I haven’t been able to focus on much more than my binge-rewatch of The Wire.
Guard the Mysteries!
Constantly reveal them!