November 18, 2023

❏ Notes to Self 007 - Substituting Reality

It’s been seven or eight months since I wrote anything serious towards A Song of Reworlding, but the energy around it seems to be picking up again. Or at least the universe is providing an impetus to push my thinking a little bit further.

I randomly picked up Jung’s autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, and Reflections,” on a trip to North Carolina. It was on the bedside table and I couldn’t sleep and seemed like a reasonable use of extra time and wow I wasn’t wrong. More on that later, but the relevant ideas I want to capture in this note come from Chapter 4, “Psychiatric Activities.” Jung was remarkably unique in how deeply he considered the entirety of a person, seeking understanding through a consideration of how stories reveal psychic fragments and the role the lyrical imagery of the unconscious plays, holding clues to healing and wholeness.

Jung’s peers reduced their patients to symptoms and pathologies. They didn’t seem to care much for what people had to say or the details of their lives. Freud couldn’t even stand to listen to women he considered ugly. The whole structure of diagnoses revealed the intellectual and materialist approach driven by scientific ways of understanding. And Jung saw the damaging effects of materialist science and modernity not just in the field he worked in, but on the psyche itself. Reflecting on the frailty of the modern psyche, specifically certain types perhaps more afflicted by the needs of modern life:

“If they had lived in a period and in a milieu in which man was still linked by myth with the world of the ancestors, and thus with nature truly experienced and not merely seen from the outside.” He continues, “I am speaking of those tho cannot tolerate the loss of myth and who can neither find a way to to a merely exterior world, to the world as seen by science, nor rest satisfied with an intellectual juggling with words, which has nothing whatsoever to do with wisdom (p. 172).”

(Note to self: come back to myth and link this up with Gebser.)

Andrew Feenberg’s Instrumentalization Theory is the most complete understanding I have come across when it comes to the technological foundations of deworlding. But I think Jung has more sensitivity to the origins of cognitive and intellectual deworlding. Feenberg is interested in the functional constitution of technical objects and subects and his work grounds the theory through examples of technological objects. Jung begins at a deeper level - the loss of the mythic and the subsequent shift to a more material world. This shift placed us outside of a world we had always lived among and with, and from the outside we found ourselves in a position to reinforce our separateness through the creation of technological objects.

Jung was frequently baffled by his peers who navigated their professional work through purely intellectual approaches. With such a limited perspective they lacked the experience of numinous archetypes that reveal deeper truths, truths essential to healing. He writes,

“this is where those perilous aberrations begin, the first of which is the attempt to dominate everything by intellect. This serves the secret purpose of placing both doctor and patient at a safe distance from the archetypal effect and thus from real experience, and of substituting for psychic reality an apparently secure, artificial, but merely two-dimensional conceptual world in which reality of life is well covered up by so-called clear concepts. Experience is stripped of its substance, and instead mere names are substituted, which are henceforth put in the place of reality. No one has any obligations to a concept; that is what is so agreeable about conceptuality - it promises protection from experience. The spirit does not dwell in concepts, but in deeds and in facts. Words butter no parsnips; nevertheless, this futile procedure is repeated ad infinitum (p. 173).”

Bayo Akomolafe is poetically attuned to how concepts are used to freeze the world into a knowable and false structure. From a recent essay, “Black Lives Matter, But to whom? Why We Need a Politics of Exile in a Time of Troubling Stuckness, (Part I):”

“When we begin trusting that we’ve figured it all out, that our descriptions of ‘facts’ are confident reflections of the way the world really is, we become frozen and impervious to the movement of things. The world is not a simple archive of things that happened, but is a creative, orgasmic dancing with itself, experimenting with im/possibilities.”

Reflecting on the matrix of imperial capture, Akomolafe points to the slave ship as the origins of deworlding:

“Despite the cold stare of history, black bodies (and their slavers) didn’t leave the slave ships for the plantation. They didn’t disembark. The last slave ship didn’t disappear into the backwaters of ignominious times. When it arrived the shore, it became the shore. It turned. It became the organelles of computational capitalism and its hidden algorithms of bodily reproduction. It became our hegemonic monocultures of mind that orbit around the fetish of the citizen-subject, the dissociated self of modern civilization.”

The corollary here is that to reworld ourselves, we have to leave the slave ship for an animist-cosmovision that enables us to live our experiences fully and directly, connecting us to the mythopoetic landscapes that are our birthright.

Jung speaks of the way concepts substitute the mystery of pyschic reality with the solid knowingness of the intellect. I read overlaps with Akomolafe's articulation of the logic of Whiteness:

“a dissociative performance that hijacks the event and makes it subservient to the privileged body, which is itself tautological: in other words, it reduces agonistic tensions, patterns, and embodied movements to pre-figured entities with already stable identities and properties – demanding names, location, and firm histories.”

The hegemonic dominance of this demanding worldview feels inescapable. But when I hear Akomolafe’s call to fugitivity something in me responds that feels alive at the invitation, excited by the permission to remain illegible to our current algorithmic arrangement. When we seek to be understood by dominant systems we reduce the dynamic contours of our secret and deep knowing into flat, two-dimensional space. Legibility begets complicity. To be illegible, to fugitively reconnect with myth and animist-cosomovisions, may yet be the path to reworlding.