• Michael Martin

The Conjunction of Opposites and the Technological Colonization of the Human Person

The Marriage of Sol and Luna

Lately I’ve been revisiting a couple of old friends: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg (in particular his film adaptation of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal) and Carl Gustav Jung. As I wrote in my last blog, Syberberg makes use of Jung’s notion of the coniunctio oppositorum (the integration of the anima for men, the animus for women) in Parsifal by having a boy of about fifteen play the title character in the first half of the film and a young woman play him in the second half. So I rewatched his Parsifal and reread Jung on the anima/animus and the marriage of opposites. As a result, I am nearly absolutely convinced that modern technology and medicine (aided in no small part by the internet and social media) have plunged great swaths of Western (and Western-influenced) civilization into various degrees of open pathology. We have been colonized by technology, brothers and sisters: a conquest that is ongoing and promises to continue for a good long while.

Of course, no one wants to admit such a thing—maybe other people are in such a state, but never ourselves. None of us thinks we are influenced by advertising and political speech, but we're sure lots of other people are. Engineered consent (“brainwashing” to you and me) is something that happens to other people. People on the internet, those whackos on 4Chan and Reddit, may have been co-opted by evil, but not me! Perhaps this is why Syberberg turns to Jung in his Parsifal. As a German (born in 1935), he knew all too well the dangers of mass movements (the film to some degree functions as at least an attempt at catharsis of the Third Reich and the Germanic folk soul). Jung’s concept of individuation (and the integration of opposites that accompanies it) had much to say to a soul and country broken by National Socialism. Interestingly, Jung observes that such pathologies are never found in so-called “primitive cultures,” that is, cultures with a living relationship to nature and the world of the spirit. They have nothing to be neurotic about. As he explains,

It is after all only a tiny fraction of humanity, living mainly on that thickly populated peninsula of Asia which juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, and calling themselves “cultured,” who, because they lack all contact with nature, have hit upon the idea that religion is a peculiar kind of mental disturbance of undiscoverable purport. Viewed from a comfortable distance, say from central Africa or Tibet, it would certainly look as if this fraction had projected its own unconscious mental derangements upon nations still possessed of healthy instincts.[1]

It would seem that, since 1928 when Jung wrote these words, the condition has metastasized throughout the world—or at least to anyplace where you can get Wi-Fi.

The two Parsifals (Michael Kutter and Karin Krick) from Syberberg's 'Parsifal'

For Jung, the integration of the self, individuation, was a difficult process of self-knowledge, arduous and, at times, terrifying (there's a reason it has been compared to the hero's journey). Indeed, this idea of self-knowledge (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) was recognized as an essential step in initiation into Greek mystery religions, an idea central to any religious way of being. Such a journey, properly undertaken, would last a lifetime.

It is a tragedy that Jung’s thought has, for the most part, fallen out of favor, for he has much to say to us concerning the integration of the masculine and feminine within each of us. We still see evidence of the struggle to achieve this integration, but all too often this is interpreted not as a problem of the soul and disquiet of the spirit, but as something that can be addressed through medical and pharmacological interventions. But, honestly, we don’t have time for individuation, so we have short-circuited the process, reducing it to an entirely emotional—and then physical—simulacra of the union of opposites. Jung’s diagnosis, though written ninety years ago, preserves its immediacy:

A woman possessed by the animus is always in danger of losing her femininity, her adapted feminine persona, just as a man in like circumstances runs the risk of effeminacy. These psychic changes of sex are due entirely to the fact that a function which belongs inside has been turned outside. The reason for this perversion is clearly the failure to give adequate recognition to an inner world which stands autonomously opposed to the outer world, and makes just as serious demands on our capacity for adaptation.[2]

In a civilization increasingly isolated from the natural world and simultaneously estranged from the spiritual (what Jung called the inner) world, we should not act surprised by the state in which we find ourselves. It is the task of sophiology to repair these distortions and bring us back into accord with the Real.

[1] C.G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, Vol. 7 of The Collected Works, trans. R.F.C. Hull, 2nd ed (Princeton: Bollingen, 1966), 204–05.

[2] Ibid., 209.

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