MODERN MAN IN SEARCH OF A SOUL – THE POET
Creativeness, like the freedom of the will, contains a secret. The psychologist can describe both these manifestations as processes, but he can find no solution of the philosophical problems they offer. Creative man is a riddle that we may try to answer in various ways, but always in vain, a truth that has not prevented modern phychology from turning now and again to the question of the artist and his art. Freud thought that he had found a key in is procedure of deriving the work of art from the personal experiences of the artist. It is true that certain possibilities lay in this direction, for it was conceivable that a work of art, no less than a neurosis, might be traced back to those knots in psychic life that we call the complexes. It was Freud’s great discovery that neuroses have a casual origin in the psychic realm-that they take their rise from emotional states and from real or imagined childhood experiences. Certain of his followers, like Rank and Stekel, have taken up related lines of enquiry and have achieved important results. It is undeniable that the poet’s psychic disposition permeates his work root and branch. Nor is there anything new in the statement that personal factors largely influence is and in what curious ways it comes to expression.
Freud takes the neurosis as a substitute for a direct means of gratification. He therefore regards it as something inappropriate-a mistake, a dodge, an excuse, a voluntary blindness. To him it is essentially a shortcoming that should never have been. Sice a neurosis, to all appearences, is nothing but a disturbance that is all the more irritating because it is without sense or meaning, few people will venture to say a good word for it. And a work of art is brought into questionable proximity with the neurosis when it is taken as something which can be analysed in terms of the poet’s repressions. In a sense it finds itself in good company, for religion and philosophy are regarded in the same ligth by Freudian psychology. No objection can be raised if it is admitted that this approach amounts to nothing more than the elucidation of those personal determinants without which a work of art is unthinkable. But should the claim be made that such an analysis accounts for the work of art itself, then a categorical denial is called for. The personal idiosyncrasies that creep into a work of art are not essential; in fact, the more we have to cope with these peculiarities, the less is it a question of art. What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart of the poet as man to the spirit and heart of mankind. The personal aspects is a limitation-and even a sin-in the realm of art. When a form of “art” is primarily personal it deserves to be treated as if it were a neurosis. There may be some validity in the idea held by the Freudian scholl that artists without exception are narcissistic-by which is meant that they are undeveloped persons with infantile and auto-erotic traits. The statement is only valid, however, for the artist as a person, and has nothing to do with the man as an artist. In is capacity of artist he is neither auto-erotic, nor hetero-erotic, nor erotic in any sense. He is objective and impersonal-even inhuman-for as an artist he is his work, and not a human being.
Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory aptitudes. On the one side he is a human being with a personal life, while on the other side he is an impersonal, creative process. Since as a human being he may be sound and morbid, we must look at his psychic make-up to find the determinants of his personality. But we can only understand him is is capacity of artist by looking at his creative achievement. We should make a sad mistake if we tried to explain the mode of life of an English gentleman, a Prussian officer, or a cardinal in terms of personal factors. The gentleman, the officer and the cleric function as such in a impersonal rôle, and their psychic make-up is qualified by a peculiar objectivity. We must grant that the artist does not function in a official capacity-the very opposite is nearer the truth. He nevertheless resembles the types I have named in one respect, for the specifically artistic disposition involves an overweight of collective psychic life as against the personal. Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes though him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is “man” in a higher sense-he is “collective man”-one who carries and shapes the unconcious, psychic life of mankind. To preform this difficult office it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being.
All this beig so, it is not strange that the artist is an especially interesting case for the psychologist who uses an analytical method. The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts, for two forces are at war within him-one the one hand the common human longing for happiness, satisfaction and security in life, and on the other a ruthless passion for cration which may go so far as to override every personal desire. The lives of artists are as a rule so highly unsatisfactory-not to say tragic-because of their inferiority on the human and personal side, and not because of a sinister dispensation. There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of the creative fire. It is as though each of us were endowed at birth with a certain capital of energy. The strongest force in our make-up will seize and all but monopolize this energy, leaving so little over that nothing of value can come of it. In this way the creative force can drain the human impulses to such a degree that the personal ego must developed all sorts of bad qualities-ruthlessness, selfishness and vanity (so-called “auto-erotism”)-and even every kind of vice, in order to maintain the spark of life and to keep itself from being wholly bereft. The auto-erotism of artist resembles that of illegitimate or negleted children who from their tenderest years must protect themeselfs from the destructive influence of people who have no love to give them-who dveloped bad qualities for tht very purpose and later maintain an invincible egocentrism by remaining all their lives infantile and helpless or by actively offending against the moral code or the law. How can we doubt that it is art that explains the artist, and not the insufficiencies and conflits of is personal life? These are nothing but the regrettable resultus of the fact that he is an artist-that is to say, a man who from his very birth has been called to a grater task than the ordinary mortal. A special ability means a heavy expenditure of energy in a particular direction, with a consequent drain from some other side of life.
It makes no difference wheter the poet knows that is work is begotten, grows and matures with him, or wheter he supposes that by taking thought he produces it out of the void. His opinion of the matter does not change the fact that his own work outgrows him as a child its mother. The creative process has feminine quality, and the crative work arises from unconscious depths-we might say, from the realm of the mothers. Whenever the creative force predominates, human life is ruled and moulded by the unconscious as against the active will, and the counscious ego is swept along on a subterranean current, being nothing more than a helpless observer of events. The work in process becomes the poet’s fate and determines his psychic development. It is not Goethe who creates Faust, but Faust which creates Goethe. And what is Faust but a symbol? By this I do not mean an allegory that points to something all to familiar, but an expression that stands for something not clearly known and yet profoundly alive. Here it is something that lives in the soul of every German, and that Goethe has helped to bring to birth. Could we conceive of anyone but a German writing Faust or Also Sprach Zarathustra? Both play upon something that reverberates in the German soul-a “primordial image”, as Jacob Burckhardt once called it- the figure of a physician or teacher of mankind. The archetypal image of the wise man, the saviour or redeemer, lies buried and dormant in man’s unsonscious since the dawn of culture; it is awakened whenever the times are out of joint and a human society is committed to a serious error. When people go astray they feel the need of a guide or teatcher or even of the physician. These primordial images are numerous, but do not appear in the dreams of individuals or in works of art until they are called into being by the waywardeness of the general outlooks. When conscious life is characterized by one-sidedness and by a false attitude, then they are activated-one might say, “instinctively”-and come to light in the dreams of individuals and the visions of artists and seers, thus restoring the psychic equilibrium of the epoch.
In this way the work of the poet comes to meet the spiritual need of the society in which he lives, and for this reason his work means more to him than his personal fate, whether he is aware of this or not. Being essentially the instrument for his work, he is subordinate to it, and we have no reason for expecting him to interpret it for us. He as done the best that in him lies in giving it form, and he must leave the interpretation to others and to the future. A great work of art is like a dream; for all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is never unequivocal. A dream never says: “You ought,” or: “This is the truth.” It presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow, and we must draw our own conclusions. If a person has a nightmare, it means either that he is too much given to fear, or else that he is too exempt from it; and if he dreams of the old wise man it may mean that he is too pedagogical, as also that he stands in need of a teacher. In a subtle way both meanings come to the same thing, as we perceive when we are able to let the work of art act upon us as it acted upon the artist. To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to shape us as it once shaped him. Then we understand the nature of his experience. We see that he has drawn upon the healing and redeeming forces of the collective psyche that underlies consciousness whit its isolation and its painful errors; that he has penetrated to that matrix of live in which all men are embedded, which imparts a common rhythm to all human existence, and allows the individual to communicate his feeling and his striving to mankind as a whole.
The secret of artistic creation and of the effectiveness of art is to be found in a return to the state of participation mystique-to that level of experience at which it is man who lives, and not the individual, and at which the weal or woe of the single human being does not count, but only human existence. This is why every great work of art is objective and impersonal, but none the less profoundly moves us each and all. And this is also why the personal life of the poet cannot be held essential to his art-but at most a help or a hindrance to his creative task. He may go the way of a Philistine, a good citizen, a neurotic, a fool or a criminal. His personal career may be inevitable and interesting, but it does not explain the poet.
C. G. Jung in Modern Man in Search of a Soul – Psychology and Literature