Thank you all for your interest in exploring the ever-present issue of narcissism in contemporary men and women today and its underlying impact upon romance and eros. And many thanks go to you, Bonnie, for providing this forum. These issues have had an impact upon me far longer than the ten years it took to write the book. As Jung has said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘all psychological theory is based on personal confession.’
Jung has been stalking me since I was eight. My synagogue on Pico Blvd. in West L.A. was just across the side street from a little building called “The Jung Institute.” The eight year old thought it was a Chinese dentist! Seriously. In high school and early college my friend Tom and I used to go over to his Uncle Hal’s home. ‘Uncle Hal’ was Hal Stone, former president of the L.A. Institute and originator of Voice Dialogue. My master’s thesis in 1974 led me to fieldwork among the Mayan healers and shamans of Guatemala, and the spiritist mediums of Brazil. My mentors at the time were Stanley Krippner, Alberto Villoldo, and Gordon Tappan at Sonoma State. Jung as many of you know, wrote his dissertation on mediumship practices which were all the rage around the turn of the 19th century among psychologists in Europe and America. When I returned to the United States I interned on a psych ward that conducted research with psychotic patients who were permitted to go through their processes without the use of medications. I conducted a dreamgroup on the ward and collected patient dreams that profoundly mirrored themes of death, rebirth and initiation that were common to the ritual practices in South America. Portions of my thesis revolved upon these themes.
These seminal experiences ‘marked’ me in a significant way, and set me on a course that has brought me to where I am today. I like to think of that early work as a ‘former life’, for I was infused in those early years with creative energies of the “puer aeturnus”—the eternal youth. Now, at 61 years of age the energies of the “Senex,” the old father, are part of a continuum of being that balance those youthful energies still alive within me. Through the emerging acceptance of my own finiteness and the sense of responsibility as a man and a father I have come to value what it means to place the other’s needs before my own, to be less preoccupied with grand inner truths and more cognizant of the relational sphere.
You will read about Emmanuel Levinas whose work was informed by the Holocaust and the enormous loss he suffered. Yet despite this, rather than succumbing to depression and ultimate suicide--like so many sensitive Jewish poets, artists and writers who survived the camps--Levinas and his philosophy exudes a life-affirming spirit, a vibrant poetic cadence of being—a being for the Other--an other whom he felt compelled to place before himself. As you will discover, this is the key to helping a man to find his way out of the labyrinth of narcissism, that insulates him from all threat, and destroys all links to anyone that might try to love him. It is often a result of trauma or loss or misfortune that ultimately shatter the illusions of the grandiose defenses and de-centers the narcissistic ego. It may lead to enormous pain and loss, but if endured, may awaken a man’s capacities to love.
The ancient stories of Eros and Psyche, and Narcissus and Echo are the templates that we use to describe the entrapment and the transcendence of these destructive aspects of narcissism in romance. I was gratified to read in earlier posts of readers’ interest in the Psyche and Eros tale. Because my book is written from the male perspective about men’s narcissism, I approach the myth in much the same way as von Franz, in her great work on The Golden Ass, to which the Psyche story is a part.
The book is long. Please try to stay with it as best you can. One month, both Bonnie and I agreed, is not enough time to absorb its many turns. For the sake of this book club, if you do not have time to read the whole book, read the introduction and the introductions to each of the three parts, as well as the concluding remarks at the end of the book. Many people really like the last chapter. Do what you can. Find the stories or dreams that fill its many pages that speak to you. As I have described in the introduction to the book club page, there are three themes arising from the book--men's narcissism beneath romantic fusion and their underlying fixation with the mother complex; denial of love through negation of the other and destructive narcissism; and transcendence of narcissistic defenses and the awakening of capacities to love.
The book is not lacking in clinical insights for men and women practitioners. But as John Beebe says in the blurb on the backcover, none of us as authentic relational beings can escape the pitfalls of the “fear-driven shadow of predation” that we encounter at some point in our long histories of love, loss and tragedy.
I look forward to hearing about your experience of Eros and the Shattering Gaze, and I invite any and all questions evoked from the reading.
By the way, if you still need to order the book, you can do so here.
With Kind Regards,
Thank you for the intro, Ken and thanks very much for agreeing to participate in this book club. I should be receiving my copy of your book any day now. I'm looking forward to diving in and participating here this month.
By the way, I just checked out an old cassette tape a few days ago from my local Jung library -- it's a talk given by Marie-Louise von Franz at the L.A. Jung Institute sometime in the mid 1970's I believe, on "confrontation with the collective unconscious". I only bring this up because you mentioned both the L.A. Institute and von Franz in your intro ... so it was a nice sign.
Thanks for writing Chris. Yes in my first foray into the Jung Bookstore in LA when I was about 22, von Franz's book on the Puer Aeturnus literally jumped off the shelf at me. You know how it is. It's still jumping out at me!
Hi Ken. Thanks so much for kicking off the Book Club for April. I really appreciate how the many threads which you allude to in your introduction--shamanism, Jungian psychology, and the Holocaust, for example--all weave together to form the here and now and the chance for all of us to read your book and be informed (and transformed).
I'm particularly struck, in fact, by your description of the ""vibrant poetic cadence of being" which informed Levinas and allowed him to survive the Holocaust and which you suggest is the same element that can be so crucial to transcending narcissism as well. Having very recently returned from a trip to Berlin where I saw much historical documentation of the suffering effected there--both during the Holocaust as well from the Wall, it's easy to see how we as human beings can succumb all too easily to those complexes that possess us.
Transcending narcissism--or any complex that has the power to destroy our lives and our relationships--is hard work, but absolutely critical for the well-being of our selves, our loved ones, our culture--and those generations who come after us. By liberating ourselves, we also liberate them from carrying disenfranchised complexes, suffering, and grief that can be passed on unconsciously over generations. I'm very much looking forward to the month--as too short as it will certainly be. Thanks again for your willingness to tend this very special topic.
Thank you for sharing your insights, Bonnie. I have had such a difficult time trying to read Levinas's philosophy, (still do) until I realized his writing is like poetry--non-linear, and often irrational, but oh so moving. For example, on page 209 I describe the passage in Genesis where the wounded Jacob goes humbly before his brother to face him and beg forgiveness for long-past wrong-doings. He stands before him in his truth, revealed. His very life is now in his brother's hands.
Levinas writes, "There is human nakedness . . . it cries out the shame of its hidden misery, it cries out 'with a grieving heart' . . . it calls upon me from its weakness, without protection and without defense, from nakedness. But it also calls upon me from a strange authority--imperative, disarmed--the word of God and the verb in the human face. Face, already language before words . . ."
There are two classic stories that run through the book. One is the story of Jacob in the Old Testament, that I briefly described in the message above. The other is the Arthurian Legend of the Holy Grail, Parzival. Given that it's APRIL FOOL'S DAY, I thought it appropriate to turn to the part of the legend where Parzival's mother, who has shielded the young lad from the world, sends him off to the court of King Arthur dressed in the sackcloth of a fool. She hopes that the court will think him a simpleton and send him home unharmed. No such luck. Here is a passage on page 222 from the chapter, "Emergence of the Father", that speaks to the deeper meaning of the Fool.
"The King and the Fool are often cut from the same cloth. As Hinton writes, 'In the same way that humor breaks the ice in a stiff group, the Fool prevents the King from becomming trapped in senex sterility, or a ritual from becomming constrained and lifeless. The Fool brings the fertility of the darkness, the fringes, the paranormal.' . . . .
The King and the Fool lie in dynamic relation to one another. The King signifies the stabilty of known life at the center of consciousness and is the purveyor of established norms and attitudes. The Fool or jester is the link to the Great Unknown that, Hinton adds, 'deconstructs the certainty of the King,' often through insights disguised beneath pranks, bizarre humor, and foolishness."
I couldn't let today slip by without responding to this post -- without honoring the Fool that works in me and in us all. I sometimes feel blessed, and often cursed, for having such a strong Fool blueprint. We all have the "Fool blueprint" to greater or lesser degrees ... I just happen to have it on the "greater degree" end of the spectrum, I think. But I have the Fool to thank (honoring this day) for helping me to break through and beyond the narcissistic construct/pattern that so enveloped my life for so long (and still does , but to a much a lesser degree today due to my more regular welcoming of the Fool and his gift). I am able to see this thanks to your comment , Ken, so thank you!
The egoic conscious mind was so identified with the King (with the transcendent image) in subtle and not-so-subtle ways (in extremely narcissistic ways) that the Fool was often severely rejected and tamped down. And through this process of attempting to banish the Fool -- ashamed of the ever-present empty-headed Fool that I felt I was -- I was less able (or not at all) to have a sense of connection to Soul ... completely cut off from THE relationship that allows for relationship with others and with life (within and around) to flow naturally within a space of mutual thankfulness-filled recognition and participation.
Over time, through some shadow-work (which I was tricked into doing!) with a few other shadowy trickster Fool-ish characters, I was able to observe, with shame, how incredibly rigid and strict/restricting and lonely and isolated I had become ... and how I secretly felt "holier than thou" (was egoicly identified with the King rather than egoicly embracing the role of the simple servant tending to the sacred space where the royal couple comes together and renews/consummates their marriage again and again). So I get to be on clean-up crew. Hey, I'm just happy to have work in these tough times! This "lowly work" was unthinkable when I was so wrapped up and completely lost in the narcissism pattern. It was "King or bust" for me. It was ME who was supposed to be married to the Queen and have lots of great sex. Yikes. The Fool was happy to oblige on the "bust" part.
Of course I still find myself wrapped up in that pattern all of the time -- many times a day -- but there is a part of me that deeply honors the Fool now, for it was the Fool that brought me to the edge (and over it) enough times that I finally bowed down and humbly made peace (was given the instructions, by grace, to make peace) with the anima -- my Soul (which seems to be in secret cahoots with the Fool!). In that peace, each time that I make it, I fall again and again through the narcissus pattern into a new relational landscape, from which I handle and tend to the wound from a different place -- a place of more actively-expressed love and sorrow and grief and repentance and forgiveness ... replacing the shame with tender loving and fiercely protective care -- a more feminine-rich kind of care.
(btw, I'm still tapping my foot , slightly impatiently, ... waiting for "Eros and the Shattering Gaze" to arrive at the bookstore that I ordered it from) . My wife, who works at the bookstore, informed me that it may take a while. Aye. I guess I'll brush up on the Parzival myth and the story of Jacob in the meantime. ;)
Thank you Chris, for your personal and 'richly lived' insights. I think you understand at a deep level, despite your relative years, what it means to encounter the 'shattering gaze.'
Just got the book yesterday ... finally.
I'm diggin in!
The cover resonates with me because it was on the Big Island, Hawaii -- the land of Madame Pele -- where I first (as an adult) encountered the "shattering gaze" and was sent onto a path that would connect to the path of individuation.
You intuited my deep and lasting connection to the Big Island, Chris. Over the period of 1981-1992 I conducted a yearly 'dreamwork intensive' there. The book cover was a joint creation of my wife, who found the two images, and my publisher, Mel Matthews, who brought them together. It's like an active imagination: Amplifying the image reveals Eros, the divine son encased in stone within mother-earth, subjected to the 'burn wound' of "Pele's" transforming fire, flowing into the 'darkness of his heart' . . .
[little off subject] Hi! I got my book today. I was a bit disappointed in my cover. It says "JavaFX 2.0." :/ The text looks fine though. fyi M
Hello Ken, I am so sorry that I am just now getting some time to ask some questions. I work as a Jungian psychotherapist. I find the description of the Eros' split 'between his mother and his lover" to be the perfect metaphor for what I have observed for over 15 years. I realize that I've actually 'noticed' this since before I had language for it.
In the early 90s I started using the term whore/madonna split (which I think you use somewhere) when working with puers. I thought I understood this, but now I'm not so sure. Can you please clarify what you meant when you wrote "he forces each woman to be as a mother to him, although they play out opposite roles?" I never thought of them as both being different aspects of mother. I do think of them as different aspects of the feminine, but separate when it comes to sons.
Thank you so much for your time. nance
Thank you writing Nance. I will try to respond to your very thoughtful question. Simply put, a mother can be both the nurturing anchor as well as the seductive goddess to her adoring or needy son. The quote you cited originates from a mythological context where the love goddess Venus/Aphrodite is both lover as well as mother to her son, Cupid/Eros. In the mother's role to her baby boy, she is all things to him--including nurturing and seductive. (For example, see LaPlanche on p. 202 of 'Eros') So, carrying on into youth and adulthood, the same split in the mother imago appears in the man's projections onto his objects of need and desire, both with wife and 'other woman'. In this way he 'appropriates' each one to play out their roles that reflect the split in his own psyche. A more contemporary view of anima that I will paraphrase from the glossary (p. 265) may help further. The anima comprises the 'essence' of the man that transcends the complexes. Originally it is "contra-sexual because it is usually discovered through the force of eros in projection or relationship. Because the mother is the first love of our lives, the anima is initially contaminated by elements of the mother complex . . . . " (my italics) In von Franz's view in The Golden Ass, it is the task of men to differentiate the anima from the maternal, and men languishing in this split state are unable to do so.
Another distinction may help to clarify. The man's so-called 'feminine' self-states emerge largely from a maternal origin, whereas in Toni Wolff's schemata the Mother in a woman's psyche comprises only one quadrant of the mandala. This suggests the obvious: that Women's 'feminine' is far more complex and differentiated.