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Nov 13, 2017 |
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'Who is my Jung?' conference

We are happy to report back from the very successful ‘Who is my Jung?’ conference that was organised and hosted by the Association of Jungian Analysts to celebrate forty years since their foundation. Not only was the conference a success in itself - it was sold out, indeed oversubscribed - but there was a wealth of excellent papers, all given in a generous spirit which reflected AJA’s generous intention in bringing all five London Jungian training societies together. We are also very pleased that the papers will be published in a forthcoming Special Edition of this Journal.

In hoping to whet your appetite for that volume, we will shamelessly raid the talks for some of their highlights, with the caveat that, as always in such a brief report, we will fall far short of doing them justice.

After a warm welcome from the Chair of AJA, Arthur Niesser, Martin Stone, whose vision it has long been to bring all the training societies together in this way, gave the keynote address. Martin set the open, deep, and personal tone that was to be followed by so many of the speakers. We will limit ourselves to two quotes from him, the first of which could be said to be a guiding principle for the conference: “It is only through achieving a critical distance from Jung himself that we can really call ourselves Jungians”. And Dale Mathers (AJA) was shortly afterward to remind us that Jung has written so much that we can readily make Jung say what we want, using him to make our own discourse - Jung as a mythologem. After taking us through his enthusiasms for emergence, complexity theory and synchronicity, amongst other things, Martin concluded, memorably, that “on each spiral of the journey I realise how little I know, and I don’t even know what I don’t know”.

The next section of the day focused on the analytic relationship. Marilyn Matthew (BJAA/BPF) led us through an aesthetically rich account of her work with two patients, bringing out the alchemical metaphors, particularly in relation to water, and the acqua permanens - ‘the divine water that makes the dead living and the living dead’. This reviewer found himself sensing a still point in Marilyn’s work, to which he was powerfully drawn.

Dale, in his inimitable way (yes, there were finger puppets), put his thesis simply, telling us that all analytic theories are tropes, not facts, and that, as he said about Jung himself, they are mythologems. For him, analysis is simply “about the use and formation of symbols, that’s all we need”. Helen Morgan (BJAA/BPF) shared with us her conflicts about bridging two worlds, the psychoanalytic and the Jungian, linking that to personal experience and, tellingly, to her struggles with Jung - she mentioned his racism and his views on women. She declared herself ‘a critical friend’ of Jung. She left us with a quote from Jung, "The analyst must decide in every single case whether or not he is willing to stand by a human being on what may be a daring misadventure". Perhaps this echoes her own relationship with Jung himself?

After lunch, and we should add that the conference was held in the newly refurbished British Library Conference centre - an excellent venue - we turned to archetypes, spirituality and approaches to the numinous. Jules Cashford (AJA) took us into the collective unconscious, as it were, reminding us that Jung said that ‘myth was the language in which the collective unconscious spoke’, and quoted Meister Eckhardt, ‘When the soul wishes to experience something she throws an image in front of her and steps into it’. Her theme was ‘as above so below’, concluding that ‘we are the earth and the earth is us’ and, turning a quote from Jung, she left us with, “the world hangs by a thin thread and that thread is the psyche of the world”.

Warren Colman (SAP), in probably the most radical and challenging talk of the day, asked, “are archetypes essential?” and proceeded to explain why he had moved away from the concept, once seen as the sine qua non of being ‘a Jungian’. Warren then reaffirmed his Jungian credentials, telling us that for him numinous experience is a central and irrefutable part of being in the world, and it is this that archetypal theory was trying to explain. He ended, echoing Karl Marx, with the monumental, “Jungians of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your archetypes!”

Jim Fitzgerald’s (GAP, IGAP) touchingly humorous and personal talk was about the shadow, reminding us that attaining humanity is about wholeness, not perfection, and that “a great man allows his shadow to be seen”. He reminded us too, that Jung said that ‘long and difficult negotiations with the shadow will be unavoidable’ and also that we need to ‘heat up the opposites’, that ‘every real solution is only reached through suffering’, and that ‘conflicts are only resolved by bearing them’.

Ann Shearer (IGAP), explored Jung’s gnomic, “Thank God I’m not a Jungian!”, and placed us in the frame which asks of our patient’s struggles not “why”, but “what for?” or even “what if?”. Hers was a talk which exuded a warmth and humility, quoting Jung saying that the world is infinite and ungraspable, and that Jung’s aim was to bring about a psychic state where the patient can experiment with their own nature. She told us of a dream she’d had about Jung in which she felt he was telling her to “get on with it for herself … to find her own myth”.

The final section of the day was entitled, ‘Entering into the world of the other’. Mark Saban (IGAP) suggested we need to ‘ambiguate’ Jung’s writing, and introduced us to his two Jungs and therefrom two of his “mes” (selves), interrogating what happens when they meet, and asking “who is my me?”. Beyond his playful introduction however, was a very serious point: that we cannot understand the individual alone, and he explored the way that the introverted Jung, with whom we are all familiar, is something of a falsehood which disguises the very many real people - Sabina Spielrein, Maria Moltzer, Toni Wolff and Emma Jung (to name a few) - who played such indispensable roles in his life and work. He described the process by which they had been omitted, chillingly, as ‘erasure through interiorisation’.

Andrew Samuels (SAP) primarily interrogated the use and abuse of the idea of the other, asking whether, when we have a conference on the other, we are performing long overdue reparation, or whether we are engaging in liberal hypocrisy where we fail to challenge the power inequalities and barbarism of our Western world (or both). He questioned whether our fascination with the other can be patronising and a form of what Edward Said calls ‘Orientalism’, and he suggested that the salvation of the West does not lie in using the other for our healing, citing, for example, sweat lodges, borrowed from Native American culture.

Jan Wiener (SAP) finished the proceedings by exploring the way that otherness and ambivalence can function as a creative pathway. She generously shared her family experience of immigration and how that has affected her and her Jungian experience, appropriately quoting Philip Larkin who memorably said, “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth”. She left us with the question of whether we find an identity in the centre or by being different.

So, a rich smorgasbord of thoughts, images, challenges, symbols … Jungs, that amply meets Martin Stone's and AJA’s vision in bringing the London societies together and demonstrating that our differences enrich us rather than separate us. There was much support for further such convocations.

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