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,
Hello Chris. I don't go into the 'messiah-complex' per se, but there are references throughout--the Arthurian legend of Clinschor, the Sorcerer in Chapter 6; and vignettes about Torquemada and Hitler in Chapter 7, etc. While I'm not completely sure, but what it seems you are describing when speaking of the grandiose inflations after 'the shattering', is what Jung has termed the 'mana personality.' In his paper, "Relations of the Ego with the Unconscious" he speaks about the individual's confrontation with autonomous unconscious contents, where the ego has "taken on the 'mana' of the anima" and integrated it after a long process. The ego then becomes identified with an omnipotent mask, such as the guru, great man, shaman, healer, etc. While very powerful and numinous-feeling, it is a form of delusional inflation which the ego is too puny to bear, and will give way to collapse of that state. A deeper sense of balance between conscious and unconscious may occur later.
Your 'mountain of ideas' have much creativity to them, Chris, and deserve further development, continued working through and refinement. Stay with it!
In regards to your comments on the first quote that you bring up , Ken, the word "flattening" comes to mind. There is a great flattening of the self and the world and the soul and the world soul (done unconsciously within the narcissus pattern) when the default setting of a man is the deadly combination of religious literalism and scientific materialism. There is no opportunity to transcend narcissism as long as he views everyone and everything as a flat two-dimensional character -- which is a way for him to feel safe in his own process of ever-flattening himself out as he stomps out his shame. And that shame happens most often and most intensely in the process of being in intimate relationship, thus, like you said, there is a deadness that comes over those relationships as he shuts down and flattens out and does his best to flatten everything around him out -- through conquer, control, and colonization ... spreading the literalist and materialist world-view -- A flattening out of everything so that he can experience the "safe" world of sameness -- the death-conjunctio -- and so that no one can see his shadow (if/when they are made flat like him).
So, it is very hard for me to pick out quotes from the book because because so much of it jumps out at me -- especially the stuff that pertains (and almost all of it does) to my own painful journey through the narcissus pattern/blueprint which seems to have been the sole dominant pattern of my life -- until recently. As I have begun to fall through that pattern , though, through the inner-work , I have been finding myself in a more embracing open-ended pattern/story in which we all, I think, are always already in the middle of -- the Sophia story perhaps?. In being aware of that bigger ever-relational story (HerStory) -- a story which seems to encompass and allow for the narcissus story ( the shadow of the Christ story?) which I regularly fall back into -- there becomes a knowing now that there is a bigger pattern underneath the narcissus pattern "waiting" for me to drop into it. And that "dropping into it" only happens when I engage with life, with soul, and in more whole embodied way, consciously holding a safe space for inter-relatedness to live. In doing my best to remember that bigger story , HerStory, I don't spend as much time in the narcissus story without more readily taking a more compassionate view of the narcissus character -- which, of course, is really a compassion to self. In that actively expressed compassion the relational field opens up and I can't tell if it is me or soul who is expressing compassion to self and it doesn't matter because both are felt as a real and present and working together.
"Are there any passages that have gripped your heart and mind that you might like to share with us or discuss?"
Part One - Introduction (page 23)
"Anima -- the soul of man, the living essence and spirt of life within -- transcends all complexes, and can never be located in another person; it emerges instead through the discourse and endless process of engagement with life. When a man's ego becomes entrenched in the mother complex, however, he turns away in fear from the uncertainties of life, an action that prevents the deeper encounter of self with other. For a man to free his love from the kind of narcissism found in romantic yearnings he must struggle to free his anima from the erotically charged projections, infused with elements of the mother complex, that have permeated his early life. In so doing he exposes narcissism's illusions and his own disavowal of love."
This quote is especially powerful for me and seems to sum up the thrust of the whole book -- the essence of transcending narcissism being through a man's recovery of soul/anima (consciously recognizing it - through "shadow-work" most likely -- and honoring it through the lived process of learning to tend to the living relational field of life and the greater life/earth community -- inner and outer). In that relational field, which a man must co-creatively and artfully be engaged with/in in order to be ever-conscious of soul , the soul can fly freely and in her freedom she returns regularly offering gifts which induce a type of divine inspiration which inevitably bring him back with regularity into engagement and vulnerability.
In chapter one - The Great Round - the bottom of page 34 and all of page 35 struck a chord with me ...
(from 3rd paragraph on page 35)
"She has gobbled him up, and his own psyche has become identified with the complex of the puer aeternus. The eternal youth longs to avoid the difficulties of life, whereas the mature consciousness, like Nietche's "tragic man" building sandcastles on the shore that he knows will one day be washed away, accepts the vicissitudes of life and learns to transcend the cycles of the Great Mother.
What the puer acts out in the world is a royal life, with little awareness of what lurks beneath, driving him" ...
I'm curious, Ken and others, about this part: "and learns transcend the cycles of the Great Mother". Does "transcending" in this case mean learning to fully accept the cycles of the Great Mother -- fully accepting and transmuting (through love and repentance and forgiveness)all the deep grief and sorrow that moves through and comes through those cycles of the Mother? So the cycles/seasons still move through the person with the mature consciousness but they pass through him instead of, in the case of the puer aeternus, finding himself falling into a fighting off the Great Mother's cycles (and abusive attitude/actions towards the Mother) -- a "clinging to the spring", fearing that all the other seasons mean a movement towards total annihilation and eternal death (a.k.a. separation from Mother). In this clinging to the fresh buds of youth (the unreality of the outer eternal spring) he denies the Father (time) and rejects him as Father represents the one who will separate the puer from Mother. In this rejection of the Father he is separating himself from the Wisdom that lives/happens/moves inside of a man when the divine Mother and Father and Child are in balance. And in that toxic shame, which comes about with the self-induced separation from Wisdom (the anima/soul) he abusively rejects Mother while he furiously clings to her for comfort and support and relief (which she will always be there with in one form or another).
I'd like to hear comments on what Ken wrote about in regards to the "royal life" that is lived out by the puer who is unaware what it is that "lurks beneath, driving him". I think it means that he is identified with being the (transcendent) King in his passion filled (and unconscious) desire to be the partner of the Queen/Mother, and so in his unconscious rage for not really being able to be that (since it is a transcendent thing) he embodies the dark abusive shadow side of the King (or is taken over by it) and thusly abuses the anima (his soul) and everything around him with his seething rage and hatred. Something like that. Any other ideas?
Hello Chris and All. Sorry for the long gap between my entries. I have enjoyed the unraveling of your thoughts around what I would simply describe as a man's work to transcend the mother complex, and the 'royal mess' he's in when he avoids it. The 'royal life' corresponds to the boy/man entrapped in the fantasy of fusion and idealization that keeps him above life and real relationships. You've pretty much offered valuable insights into the emotional field needing to be traversed, Chris.
For the last third of the month I hope the 'silent readers'--those who have not jumped in as of yet--could offer some questions or thoughts around "Part III--The Shattering Gaze", and the capacity to love.
We are coming to the end of our all-too-short month of discussion around 'Eros and the Shattering Gaze'. I regret not having more time to consider this last and most important area of the book--transcending of narcissistic states and the emergence of men's capacities to love. If there are any questions or concluding remarks I'd love to hear them and respond as best I can.
Also, for those who would like to keep in touch, my email is email@example.com. Also, the book website--www.kenkimmel.com--has additional information, reviews, excerpts, and a videotape lecture. I am told that in the near future Spring Journal and the San Francisco Jung Journal will be reviewing the book, so keep an eye out.
I am grateful to Bonnie for the opportunity to share my ideas with those of you contributing to the discussion or simply reading along, and hope that it has added something to your understanding and practice.
My very warmest regards to you all,
Ken, Thanks so much for offering up your email and for your willingness to continue to engage. You're right!--The month went far too fast, and I know many of us would have wished to slow time a little to be able to take better advantage of this precious opportunity to have your attention and presence. Of course, the piece about transcendence is the most critical and rewarding--so I hope everyone WILL take you up on your offer and we can continue to share the learning. Thanks so much for all!