TYRE NICHOLS MEMORIAM

What Did I Do?

As people of color, we have come to ask that question with a sincerity that shows the depth of our heartbreak. The final word that was missing in that question, that Tyre Nichols repeatedly asked, as he approached his too-soon ended life, was the word wrong

He didn’t do anything wrong on that January night, because there was no way to be right.  He knew that in the blackness, once pulled by Memphis policemen from his car, only several yards from his home, his life could end, violently, and without any logical cause.  And it did. This is the terror, the anxiety of being Black in America.  This anxiety that is specific to those of us who carry the ancestral lineage of our Black and Brown Africanist ancestors, know too well the fear that can live in us as a culturally rational sense of knowing that our skin color puts us at life-threatening risks.  We call it now Black when ____________.

 Fill in the blank.

Once again, the emptiness, the blankness of the hole left in us, deepens as we witness another Black man brutally beaten almost to death on an urban landscape.  Death would come later for Tyre Nichols, in the hospital, where his family could only grieve as they looked at their loved son, brother, father.

We look in mournful wonderment questioning how anything this young man could have done to five Black policemen with guns would necessitate his being beaten, shoved up against a wall while arrived emergency ambulance services waited, walked around his battered body.  While they spoke with one another, talking amongst themselves—while he waited for care. While they waited for what?

The analytical space of sharing must hold much for those of us who bear witness and can tolerate recollection of the words and images that speak to the brutality of Black men being brutalized. We cannot turn our gaze away. The inner eye remembers Rodney King, Emmet Till all the others before and since them….Trayvon Martin.

Even if we do not watch television or listen to the news, the psychic, phenomenological field of our work welcomes the energy of the analysand into the room. It must hold whatever they bring.

Do we ourselves not feel the anxious pressure of others who breathe and must bear witness to their own archetypal grief?  The generations of our Africanist people?

We are those who welcome the wounded into our circle of soul and healing every week.  They don’t stay only in their analytical chairs but can visit us as we walk into the minutes and hours long after they have left.  They have brought with them their own deep cultural suffering that joins and is held by the arms of the analyst of color who truly does feel their pain. Who recognizes the anguish of the question.

What did I do (wrong)?

There is no answer to that question because there was nothing done by Tyre Nichols that could ever justify what happened to him or even perhaps save his life. His words of calm questioning contrasted with the cursing and enraged language directed at him by the five Black policemen seem like whispers now as he called to his mother.

 There is no rational or logical reasoning that has caused the death of people of color through the centuries. Much rationale has been offered including biblical verses. I believe there is a Racial Collective Understanding now, reinforced since the death of George Floyd, that the only logic is one of a consciousness of racism.  People of color have always been awake to the ancestral legacy of slavery and the brutality expressed against our bodies.  We know racism and its effects on the Africanist cultural body. 

More others are waking up. 

Internalized self-hatred does not stay closed within the self.  It too can show itself in the behaviors we witness on both a personal and professional level.  Is this not a part of self-analysis?  Must we not “analyze” our own inner psychological workings to train to become analysts? How does this work for an analyst in training who is an individual of color?  How can self-deprecation and self-hatred as a person of color live and be experienced in that space—how does it move towards healing?  Perhaps, a difficult question for us Africanist people, as we continue to bear the deepened sorrow of brutality upon the body of our kin by our kin.

Where do we put the questions? There would certainly be more than one or two, regarding intergenerational cultural pain and anguish, while being in those self-reflective moments, when there is only unrelenting introspective suffering.

Forever asking:  What did I do? This would seem to be one of the questions of our Africanist Archetypal Grief.

In moments, that January night on the sidewalk, Tyre Nichols would be recorded calling to his mother. 

Blessing

May you be blessed with remembering being held in the arms of your Mother

May you remember all that is Mother so that you may give this love to yourself in your next Life.

Fanny Brewster Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, Professor of Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and member analyst with PAJA. She is a multi-genre writer who has written about issues at the intersection of Jungian psychology and American culture. The Racial Complex:  A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race is her most recent book. (Routledge, 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/

A is for “Anxiety”: The New ABC’s: Thoughts of Ukraine

“A” is for “Anxiety,” “B” is for “Boredom”, “C” is for “Coping Mechanisms”
                  (Julia Suits, Cartoon, “Parent reads on the ABC’s,” published in the New Yorker, December 7, 2020)

I have been musing about living in a new reality, new for me, and for my children and grandchildren. How do I explain what is happening to them, when I am hardly able to explain it to myself? How do I understand the myth, or the hope of democracy in this world fading into the mist? Is there a new symbol, a new myth, an old myth, a trusted fairytale, a trickster figure that can emerge from the darkness of my psyche, our psyche, that can help me identify a new form, or, an old form re-configured for the future?

The events in the Ukraine spring unexpectedly to mind. Many of us of Jewish origin have heard our grandmothers or great grandmothers speak of the Pale. I know, in particular, my grandmother spoke of Kyiv, of the, pogroms, and the Cossacks who were particularly ferocious towards the Jews. She spoke most poignantly of her sister, an outspoken, writer of powerful seditious poetry, who felt compelled to jump out of a high window to her death to avoid impending rape and murder.

This is my grandmother’s story. It is the story that has taken the form of a haunting within me. It is a wound, an undefined darkness that is always threatening to catch up with me, rendering me terrified of my own words, and penetrating me with an indescribable dread. This story is now embodied in the form of panic and fear of self-expression that has permeated my family’s life, and at the same time coalesced my family’s extraordinary ambition. I know, also, that except for my grandmother’s ingenuity, stamina, and concentration, I would be one of those displaced, terrified by Putin’s recent moves, forever separated from having the space to know what I need to know to live.

My grandmother’s words about this were always in Russian. She never could bring herself to speak of it in Yiddish, her comfort language, the language of her intimate home, and never, never in English, as she would not allow these experiences to be translated forward, joining her new life to her old one.

I knew that we were from outside of Kyiv, as it came to me that Jews were not allowed to live within the city limits, but instead only allowed permanent residency in defined areas within the Pale. Ukraine in particular, was famously and infamously, violently anti-Semitic. However, now, moving beyond its ugly past, Ukraine has elected a Jewish man, Volodymyr Zelensky to be its president, and is clearly involved in seizing control of its own history. This moment in history, these events, would have been unbelievable to my grandmother.

My personal hauntings took on a new form when the president of Russia informed the world in an hour-long mesonic rant recently (February 2022) that he thinks “that Ukraine should not exist at all.” Thanks to promises of American protection, Ukraine has had the confidence to step away from Russia’s authoritarian shadow. Biden, while powerfully empathetic to this cause has of this date refused to offer substantial help. He has failed up to this point to pair diplomatic overtures with sufficiently powerful credible military pressure. For now, the Ukrainians are on their own. However, in my experience of this kind of moment, one is often and necessarily on one’s own.

It seems at this moment in time, the arc of Ukrainian history, and the history of the wandering Jew, wanting a homeland, and wanting to be free in that homeland, have actually coalesced for me, and, perhaps, for the Ukrainians. For centuries a sense of “Ukrainianness” developed as they too would not assimilate into the Russian Empire. According to Applebaum:

to say “I am Ukrainian” was once upon a time, a statement about status and social position as well as ethnicity. “I am Ukrainian” meant you were deliberately defining yourself against the nobility, against the ruling class, against the merchant class, against the urbanites. Later on, it would mean you were defining yourself against the Soviet Union…The Ukrainian identity was anti-elitist before anyone used the expression anti-elitist, often angry and anarchic…

Ukrainianness in this century has become intertwined with aspirations for democracy, for freedom, for rule of law, for integration in Europe.

Ukraine has elected a Trickster figure to lead the way—the Ukrainians have unanimously elected Volodymyr Zelensky, a total outsider, a Jewish actor born in eastern Ukraine who has no political experience. His only credential is the that he is famous for playing a downtrodden schoolteacher who rants against corruption, and wins.

In his comic narrative, Zelensky portrays extreme powerlessness. He is extreme in his self-effacing nature, pathetic in his lack of any of the social qualities, and connections that would allow him to do this, but he does it. He reverses the course of power, the powerless become powerful through an inner resource that emerges because their powerlessness is played out magnificently and humorously by the trickster who always knows how to turn the tables on those in power. This is the kind of narrative, and the kind of heroic character, that Ukrainians value the most.

Zelensky combines an unassuming nature, with the profound ability to articulate, and to reach to the inner struggle of each of us to manifest ourselves in an unjust world in better correspondence with our souls. He combines the ability to make his impact stronger through humorous unexpected twists. He combines this with embodied Ukrainian physical courage, and a bloodless determination when necessary. All of this seems to emerge from a natural and powerful anarchism.

With this, he redefines the image of the Jews, who for me, walked seemingly without a fight into the Warsaw Ghetto and forward to the death camps. Zelensky helps me squarely confront my own inter-generational dread of speaking out boldly, of acting boldly—a paralysis built up of many generations of the experience of inexplicable violence, loss and grief.

He is pictured in the news, with a gun on his shoulder, fighting, not announcing that he will have others fight. He seems to know and has accepted that he will be most likely “murdered” as a result of his willingness to head this insurrection.

Zelensky, speaking for his country has a spark, that may ignite the world to fight along with him. But this same spark will ignite Putin to escalate. He has a quiet fire that may ignite many fires. This is a very dangerous stance. But for me, his presence changes the image that has held me captive for a lifetime—the image of the wandering Jew who can’t find a safe home, always wandering, and always exposed to inexplicable and unpredictable violence. This Jew is often the object, rarely the subject. Through Zelensky, it may be possible for me to witness another side of this hidden character within me, perhaps hidden in the shadows, perhaps always there—an aspect that has often been silently murmured on the lips of many new generations of Jews since the Holocaust.

Zelensky speaks a bit for these generations. He said recently, while refusing an escorted escape for him out of the Ukraine: “I am here. We are not putting down arms. We will be defending our country, because our weapon is truth, and our truth is that this is our land, our country, our children, and we will defend all of this. That is, it. That’s all I wanted to tell you.”

It seems I might need this kind of actual and mythic trickster in order to continue with the business of being and becoming myself.

Reference:

Anne Applebaum, “Calamity Again,” The Atlantic, February 23, 2022.

Author:

Joan Golden-Alexis, PhD is a clinical psychologist and Jungian Analyst practicing in New York city. She is the Director of Training of the Philadelphia Jung Institute.

Our Historic Moment

by Fanny Brewster, Ph.D., MFA, LP, Jungian Analyst

We are beginning a historic new time in our American collective, welcoming a new president, a first African Asian American woman vice-president, with an electoral change that reinforces the strength of our American democracy.  This is important to me as an African American woman, a mother, and a descendent of African slaves.  All of these and more are relevant to my personal and professional life.  The politics of America, and the constant striving for social justice, have been and remain hallmarks of the life of America’s citizens of color.  We have depended on American laws and acts of justice–from the Abolitionist Movement to the Black Lives Matter Movement, to provide us with visions and acts of freedom for our bodies, our minds and hope for our future children of color.  The economic, political, and educational struggles of Africanist people lasted through four hundred years of slavery.  Our cultural lives have been marked through these centuries with an awareness of the struggle for survival, and the necessity of faith, tied to a belief in the resiliency of our cultural group.  This is a part of my American identity as an Africanist woman and my calling as a Jungian analyst.

Psychoanalysis began from Eurocentric roots.  As a Jungian analyst, I have been taught American Jungian psychology with the elements of this Eurocentrism, including its influences of raciality and colonialism.  I believe that the movement of 21st century psychoanalysis, is to move us into a consciousness that acknowledges the pain of American racism, while creating a new voice of diversity and inclusion.  These must always be recognized, as they have so often been excluded, as a part of our training as professionals in the field of psychology.  The attention we give to racial diversity, inclusion and equity, provides more assurance that we as practitioners, can give our patients a deeper understanding of compassion and healing. In advancing the relationship between social justice and psychoanalysis, we must accept our historical beginnings, and commit to integrating the specialization of psychoanalysis through the acceptance of those traditionally designated as “Other”, due to skin color, culture or ethnicity. We as psychoanalysts are not separate from our American politics, and therefore social justice which must always speak to issues of American societal racism, and its elimination.  The consciousness of the American psyche bears the history of slavery and the potential for repair.  These have a presence that includes how we live psychologically–as citizens and psychoanalysts. 

We cannot separate the two because this is a time that calls us to be in humility for all that we have endured as American citizens of a racialized body politic, as we become even more conscious containers for healing racism, within our psychoanalytical clinical settings, as well as for the communities we serve. 

We embody all of our history–no matter how painful. In this moment, we must hold a vision and light for revealing and healing our racialized American shadow.

Fanny Brewster Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, Professor of Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and member analyst with PAJA. She is a multi-genre writer who has written about issues at the intersection of Jungian psychology and American culture. The Racial Complex:  A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race is her most recent book. (Routledge, 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/

A Jungian Look at: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D. (2020)


A depiction of  the punishment of Tantalus by Italian painter Gioacchino Assereto (1600-1649).

In the opening pages of Mary Trump’s book about her family, she describes a visit to the White House to celebrate the birthdays of her aunts: Maryanne, who is turning 80, and Elizabeth, who is turning 75.  It’s 2017 and the aunts’ younger brother is now the President of the United States.  The author shares her reflections on her last name, something that once was a source of pride but now is a reminder of her complicated family legacy.  Then she introduces the major players in her family but the one that stands out most in this book is her grandfather, the family patriarch.  The first memory she shares about him is when she stood before him as a 20-year-old asking permission to return to college.  He questions her decision, calling it “stupid” and suggesting she go to trade school and become a receptionist.  She holds her ground and insists she wants to return in order to get her degree.  Then she describes his response: “I must have said it with a hint of annoyance, because my grandfather narrowed his eyes and looked at me for a second as if reevaluating me.  The corner of his mouth lifted in a sneer, and he laughed. ‘That’s nasty,’ he said.  A few minutes later, the meeting broke up.” (p. 3)

Mary Trump is a psychologist and she appears to have spent plenty of time reflecting on of her family, since she lays out a very thorough anamnesis of her family’s difficulties that resulted in the death of her father at age 42 and the rise of her uncle’s fame.  At the center of this saga is her grandfather, Fred Trump, a self-made German immigrant who had no time and no tenderness for his five children.  The author describes her grandfather as rigid, callous, and controlling.  He spent six days a week at the office and did not believe that taking care of his five young children was his responsibility.  Since his wife was often ill, their care was left to a nanny or to the eldest sister; neither, of course, being able to provide the nurturing and care that would lead to a secure attachment and healthy personality.  In writing about those early years of her father’s siblings, the author applies her psychological understanding to show how the two youngest children (Donald and Robert) learned to never show neediness.  This lack of proper parenting explains the “not enough” of the books title.  The “too much” refers to the negative attention and stifling expectations placed on Freddy, the eldest son.  Reading his story is painful, especially as the author makes it clear that despite an early attempt to break away from his father, he was unable to do so psychologically.  After failing in his chosen career Freddy returned home to suffer more humiliation and defeat until his untimely death.

 From a Jungian perspective, the problem the author describes is negative father complex.  A complex refers to unconscious contents, usually resulting from childhood wounds or trauma, that develop around a common feeling tone.  A complex operates autonomously, outside of a person’s awareness, so that when it’s triggered, one’s actions follow a certain predictable pattern.  This becomes particularly problematic when the complex leads one to act in ways that are against one’s best interest or bring harm to others.  A negative complex indicates that the effect on the person was detrimental and it can take many forms.

By Mary’s description, Fred Trump was an autocrat and gave his approval only his children followed his rules.  When they didn’t, they were subject to being mocked and humiliated.  As the eldest son, Freddy was expected to work at the Trump Management office; however, he wanted to be a pilot.   Instead of supporting Freddy’s dream, his father criticized him, calling him “a glorified bus driver” and saying he was an embarrassment to his family.  Fred Sr. valued toughness, so he ridiculed any show of vulnerability and mocked his eldest son when he apologized for failing to intuit his father’s expectations.  Consequently, Freddy’s self-worth eroded over time and he was left with an overwhelming sense of shame and worthlessness.  Freddy’s desperation to get approval from his father persisted throughout his adult life so that his dream of being a pilot was sabotaged by his drinking. He returned home, a failure in his own eyes and in the eyes of his father.  This is one of the potential pitfalls of a negative father complex: the son has to follow the path set out for him by the father, even if the son’s abilities and temperament are not suited to the role the father expects him to play. 

Another problem in this family was the differential treatment Fred bestowed on his sons.  The dynamics between Freddy, the eldest son, and Donald, the middle son, recall the archetypal themes of warring brothers where one is clearly preferred to the other.  As in the Biblical story of Cain and Able, one lives and the other dies.  There are also themes of the younger stealing the elder’s birthright, such as in the story of Jacob and Esau.  Jacob’s mother helps him fool the father, but in the Trump family, it is the mother’s neglect of her sons that creates a vacuum and increases the competition between the sons for favor from their father.   But it is the father’s role in setting up this unintended rivalry that twists the gut.  After his eldest son failed in securing a difficult business deal, he withdrew any but the merest financial support for Freddy and his family.  Consequently, they were denied an application for a house and lived in a drafty Trump owned apartment that was never repaired.  At about the same time, Donald was being driven around in a company car and earning profits from his father’s business deals despite not have contributed to them in any way.  The author points out the discrepancies in the arrangements between her parent’s divorce and Donald’s.  Her mother received $600 a month in alimony; Donald’s first wife signed a pre-nuptial agreement that included a bonus of $150,000, worth almost 21 years of what her mother received.  In this telling, it is clear that one son’s gain is the other’s loss, and this continues to the next generation when Freddy’s children realize that they were cut out of their father’s share of the inheritance.

The dynamics of the Trump family, as described by Mary Trump, are reminiscent of a Greek tragedy and brought to mind the tale of the doomed house of Atreus.  The trouble began with Tantalus who, as a friend of Zeus, was invited to the banquets on Mount Olympus.   Tantalus stole the food of the gods and fed it to humans.  Later, Tantalus invited the gods to a banquet.  In order to test them he cut up his son Pelops and added him to the stew.  The gods and goddesses were horrified and refused to eat it.  In the Trump family, it was the eldest son who was cut up and sacrificed while the middle son was given honey and nectar.  It did not end well for Tantalus. His kingdom was ruined, and he was strung from a fruit tree that leaned over a lake.  Every time he reached for the fruit, it would evade his grasp and when he bent to drink, the water would recede.  Although he was hungry and thirsty, he could neither eat nor drink.  In the Trump family Fred’s children were emotionally starved and, despite Fred’s wealth, many of them lived with a scarcity mentality.  The final chapters of this book describe the cursed cruelty of the Trump family, passed down through the generations.  A sad but tantalizing tale.

AUTHOR

Jeanne Creekmore, PhD.  is a Jungian Analyst in Washington D.C.  She has a degree in Clinical Psychology from the Union Institute and a Master’s Degree in art therapy from George Washington University.  jeannecreekmore@gmail.com https://www.dcpsychotherapy.com/psychotherapist_creekmore.html

Can We Speculate a Failure of Nerve?


Shadow stalks, trying to be included and understood …CW Jung
New Yorker Cartoon by Unidentified cartoonist

Virginia Woolf said that there is a spot the size of a shilling on the back of one’s head, which one can never see for oneself.  At present, I am wondering, if we have lost the essential energy to find a way to see that spot, or to get the help needed to see it. Perhaps, in these disruptive and unsettling times, it has become necessary to keep that spot unassailable. It is certainly possible that at this moment, the place that lies in the shadows at the edge of our personal and collective unconscious may remain in the dark due to a failure of nerve.

Without a doubt our nerves are frayed by the demands of the “Spirit of the Times” and the attempts of one tribe or another (even if it is our tribe) to intrusively define reality. This is particularly disheartening and disorienting when the proclamations of intention or of “truth” are profoundly, obviously, and compulsively unanchored to any moral compass. We are confronted daily with our too willing participation in the sins of society against humanity. The most horrendous of these is slavery, (racism of any kind) and for us, the sin is not experiencing this crime in the profoundly disorganizing, and reorganizing fashion necessary to fully understand our complicity in it, and what we have lost of our humanity as a result.

In our attempts to bring meaning to our current circumstances, a disconcerting symptom (or consequence) has emerged: this is settling for clichés and abstractions which are devoid of subtle affect and nuance. As a result, we are tossed between compelling and seductive spins on reality. “Cliché” is after all, “the thing we all try to escape,” in our life and in our work. The offense, of losing hold of the struggle, and succumbing to cliché, however, according to James Wood, “is not merely aesthetic or musical: it is epistemological—cliché blocks our apprehension of reality. In place of singularity, it substitutes commonality; in place of private oddity, it offers the shared obviousness,” and most importantly, for me, it intensifies a shared oblivion. (The New Yorker, 9/2020, p. 70). It appears there is much of value lost to psyche in this bland and often coy translation of external events, and our consequential unresponsiveness to what is most essential for us to understand.

It is most striking to me that as I try to place into words for myself and for my patients the collective, and political context in which we all live today, my words often “fail the novel, the specific just at this moment when it is most critical that they succeed. Is it too speculative to suggest a failure of…nerve here, (my nerve) as if the most burning material”… cannot be taken in, and metabolized, made translatable and enlarging? (Ibid, p.70) The moment is instead subtly soothed over, colored by the conventional gaze, which results in an innocuous abstract version of events. I begin to understand how dangerous it is, to be unwilling to pause, and to struggle to reconsider.

Such moments of disconnect (disassociation), momentarily slow the heartbeat for a few minutes, and then return us, like a good day of indulgences, to our original breathless state. Is the air less breathable, the fires on the west coast observably limiting the refreshing moment of a good deep breath? Or have I lost the ability to pause, to fully suffer the moment. I make excuses for myself as I am living in this time, and as easily defined by it as my friends and my patients. I make excuses for not continuing the unendurable struggle to keep informed of the powerful forces that threaten to define and hold my life captive, and above all to blind me to the captivity.

A moment, most striking in this context, occurred when working with a couple who are gratified at the success of their efforts at building a place of reflection in a marriage, a relationship that began with outrageous and unmonitored reactivity to one another. This place of reactivity has, surprisingly to them, been replaced by a place of informing compassion. This space has allowed them to build generative structures, both internally and externally in their marriage and their life.

Yet, they feel, magnetically held by a stultifying context. In fact, unable to discern this force with any objectivity they feel that they can muster only limited movement. They describe this movement in place as iterative, compulsive and annihilating of any perceived movement at the surface. They acknowledge that we are living in a context, a collective moment that needs to be further understood. This knowledge appears to be an important first step towards an awareness of an inner force that profoundly limits their autonomy.

Linda, 83, forced to shelter in place, in solitude, has a dream. With her dream, the “Spirit of the Depths,” offers her a possibility that is both refreshing and informing. It is easy to overlook that the “Spirit of the Depths” not only relates to the personal psyche, but to what is unconscious that lies in the collective and cultural as well. She reveals her dream:

I was going to be in a play. The time for the play was practically upon us—I hadn’t seen the script, and then someone handed me the script. I immediately started reading it and studying it. My friend Charlie was also in the play, is in the same situation. And now reading his part. We are thinking we are going to memorize it because we are starting soon. I have got to do it because it needs to be done. …Something to do with this time, the times, the pandemic, something unusual has to be done—I have to do it.

It seems, these problematic times gives Linda a new access to her personal mandate. The “Spirit of the Depths,” has given her access to a part of herself that is very different from the persona and the ego. “Someone” handed her the script, that allows her ego to act in tandem with the shadow (animus), and allows the unlived aspects of her life to emerge. She experiences this with an urgency, and she seems to know intuitively that being handed the script demands her performance. She accepts the powerful and fated necessity of the mandate. She accepts that it is the time to act.

I have seen the mandate that has become accessible for Linda emerging in me, and in friends and patients. In these times it appears we either begin to manifest some openness to what we have not readily seen as fateful patterns in ourselves, or we sink into stultifying complacency. It appears that the play is thrust upon us, and this includes the implicit mandate, “I’ve got to do it because it needs to be done.”

Accessing this moment takes a bit of nerve, but when I witness the accessing of this in myself and others, it seems to flow through each of us with as much necessity as the river flows to the sea.

AUTHOR

Joan Golden-Alexis, PHD is a clinical psychologist, a Jungian analyst, and couple and family therapist located in New York City. She is a senior training analyst at the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, and Director of Training at the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts. She writes on art, psyche, and the intersection of psychoanalysis and the political. drjoangolden@gmail.com

Reverie: All That We Can Hold

What the Silence Says

I know that you think you already know but –

Wait

Longer than that.

even longer than that.

​​Marie Howe, Magdalene: Poems

Now there really are many spaces in between. 

Between the memories of not-that-long-ago missing family that has transitioned.

Between the remembrance of walking into a room and what is forgotten in a moment’s slice of time.  The sought for object gone.

Between the small anxiety of trying to remember last night’s dream image and being startled (again) into realizing that the death numbers of those who have died from the pandemic has not waited. 

It keeps growing each day. Somewhere.

There is a silence in which I walk feeling my way along. Masked. Covered. Bubbled.

Uncertain.  

I sometimes think that I’m waiting. Not like at 42nd Street, hot July day, for the 4 train. Knowing it will come. More like watching clouds float across Caribbean waters. 

They move like something unexpected. 

Uncertain.

This is the word we use now. Uncertain.  All the conversations about what we knew for the future have almost stopped.  There is a silence here. It meets us in that space where we might consider nothingness. It can feel like the uselessness of the self just before falling into giving up. Letting go.

We can still hold on though once we recover from the blankness of the space between.

Dissociation.

We can hold on to hope that things will change once we recover. Once we get the remedy.  The vaccine.

Some of us can hold on to our rage at such malicious incompetency that has allowed so many to die.

Then the silence returns and we hold all that we can.

Fanny Brewster Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, Professor of Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and member analyst with PAJA. She is a multi-genre writer who has written about issues at the intersection of Jungian psychology and American culture. The Racial Complex:  A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race is her most recent book. (Routledge, 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/

AN AMERICAN THING

Christopher Weyant, The New Yorker, June 19, 2015

Two years after the Parkland shootings, the children of a Miami middle school created a magazine entitled First Shot. Some of the students, involved in the magazine, wrote the following poem, and on the two-year anniversary of the shootings (February 14, 2020) sent it out to all the members of the House and the Senate. The accompanying letter stated that 130 children have been killed in school shootings, and they are hoping that their representatives in congress will feel “sad enough” to do something about it. I ask, along with these middle-schoolers, who exist much closer to the pulse of what is possible, than I do, “Will they feel sad enough, or even sad at all?”

First Shots      

Children walk out the door hands raised as in praise.

Men still talk in suits and ties

While they watch, the future dies.

I don’t want to be first shot.

The middle-schoolers, make it clear that “hands raised as in praise” in a scene involving gun violence, are hands raised in abject surrender. It is heart-wrenching to witness this poignant gesture, depicting  the children surrendering, not only to the other youths, who wish to do them violence, but to the myopia of their forefathers, who “talk” and “watch” as the “future dies.” According to the children, these forefathers, dressed in the uniforms of power and wisdom, have lost their feeling for the children, for the future, and for the possible. We, the witnesses, of the moment, are obliged to suffer the voices of these children falling mute, their song extinguished, or reduced to speaking in between the voices of the things already established.

The voices ignored are the sounds of the emergence of the new. Jung terms this openness to the future, the emergence of the child archetype, which according to him heralds the “Divine Child.” The “Divine Child” surfacing in our dreams, or in our lives, fosters “the liberation from imprisonment” by the frozen and inert aspects of our psyche, and “the liberation and strength in advancement.” (Black Book 7, pp.76-70, The Red Book) This wise energy supplies the telos for the individuation process both personally and collectively.

Ferenczi, calls this intuition for, or whiff of the future, the “Wise Baby.” For Ferenczi, dreaming of the “Wise Baby” is dreaming of the child who, having been extremely and often traumatized, has acquired, highly acute sensitivities, intuitions, and wisdom beyond his years. Dreaming of the “Wise Baby” announces the potential within the dreamer for this kind of wisdom. (Ferenczi, 1923, p. 349)

For both Jung and Ferenczi, in the poem above, the voice of the child archetype, or the voice of the “Wise Baby,” are reduced to the shadows, and eradicated of their power to transform our vision of the future. Ignoring the child, ignoring what the children have to say, we close our ears and eyes to the possible, and allow the future to be a carbon copy of the past.

According to Levinas, “fecundity is the property of the child.” (Quoted in Critchley, 2015, p. 102). It is through the fecundity of the child, through the dynamic of the child archetype, as expressed through the force of their fears, their hopes, and the power of their song that stale repetition ceases.

Viewing change in this way, it appears the dynamics of the child archetype, has the potential to create a different sense of time, one that is transformative and creative. One can imagine that through the refreshing, and creative energy of the child archetype, monotonous, and iterative time is dislodged.  Instead, the child archetype introduces a time that moves creatively through a multiplicity of transforming acts, where each of the following acts resolves the preceding one, and opens, and anticipates the next. Through this transformational time, there is a rupture in stagnating continuity. This is a rupture that at the same time is a linking, a “continuation across that rupture.” (Ibid., 107) Living in “transformational time” created by our connection with the child, and through the child archetype, can bring us into a renewed and renewing light of day, where the novel is a welcome companion.

References:

Story reported on NPR, on February 14, 2020, from WRLM by Jessica Bakerman

Critchley, Simon, 2015. The Problem with Levinas. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Ferenczi, S. (1923/1994). “The Dream of the Clever Baby”. In Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis. (J. I. Suttie, Trans.) London: Karnac Books.

Jung, C. G. The Red Book. 2009. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Author

Joan Golden-Alexis, PHD is a clinical psychologist, a Jungian analyst, and couple and family therapist located in New York City. She is a senior training analyst at the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, and the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association of New York. She writes on art, psyche, and the intersection of psychoanalysis and the political. (drjoangolden@gmail.com)

A DAY IN AUGUST

a visit by spirit

He came just before dawn
my first companion in chains
the father of four sons
who died
exhaling his last fevered breath
onto my back
now he returns
breathing softly onto my worn flesh
he whispers in my ear
words I cannot understand
but  I know it is him
telling me of the pain
the joy of leaving his body
the apprehension of giving up life.
I listen intently
to know what my life
could be on another journey
a different kind of journey.


He does not touch me
will not touch me
unless I say
yes,
take me.


Pushed forward
by the cradle rock of the ship,
leaning,
I smell him
not as when we were chained brothers
with the pungency of vomit,
bloody sweat sticking to our salt bodies,
but different.


Slight guava scent after first morning rain.


I am tempted to touch him,
let him take me


beyond where my captured body lay
but a great fear grabs me.


Squeezes my heart.
Holds my breath.
I cannot release, free myself.


And so he leaves me with my fear
and the terror of this life.

From, Journey: The Middle Passage, Psychological Perspectives, v. 59, Issue 4

A Day in August

 Four hundred years ago the White Lion arrived in Hampton, Virginia,following it’s ocean voyage from Britain.  This ship’s arrival and its occupants were to contribute to the creation of an American society that combined all that many of us hold dear, and paradoxically that which many of us have the strongest desire to change.  Aboard the White Lion were twenty-plus enslaved Africans stolen from Angola. These men and women, were the ancestors of African Americans who were sold throughout Southern states, building an economically strong plantation system that amassed wealth for white America.

 Many of us who seek change in our American social system wish to increase social justice.  This type of justice points to a history of slavery and racism in the early American colonies and through four hundred years of social injustice.  Injustice that included not only economic suffering, but also immense psychological and mental trauma. 

It is difficult to separate Africanist suffering into strands of economic, gender, educational.  These and more are so evenly braided together—from our American Constitution, to our contemporary education system.  Not one place of our American society and psyche has been untouched by the arrival of the White Lion Africans who came ashore that day in August.

Engaging the psychological work of healing intergenerational trauma, recognizing  cultural complexes,  understanding archetypal DNA and epigenetics involved in attachment theory, related to the African Holocaust, binds us. All of us—as Americans.  There is often a wish, perhaps as an aspect of a racial complex, to forget, create amnesia regarding those first African American ancestors.  However, it rests with all of us who live today to remember them as creating the path for millions who followed.  Their journey was one of suffering, as was that of their descendants.  My writing is to remember and honor those first Angolan Africans stolen and brought to America. It is to remember them with love and compassion because their path has been our path, and we have not yet finished the journey. 

Dr. Fanny Brewster is a Jungian member analyst with PAJA,  Professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and the author of The Racial Complex:  A Jungian Perspective on Culture and Race. (Routledge 2019). Dr. Brewster is available through her website, www.fannybrewster.allyou.net/

CANYONS OF THE SOUL

It often seems not to occur to the contemporary citizen that the ecological crisis that we now face is, in fact, the symptom of the success of a one sidedness of our vision of the world. Armed as we are with the illusion that our rationality represents, most of all, the path to a better existence, that we are becoming a more just, peaceful, and reasonable people, we miss the fact that incrementally the discrete benefits that we have attained at one level of experience are paid for at another. The late Biologist Brian Goodwin, in a little book called, Nature’s Due, observed the following.

“The process of continuous growth that our politicians and economists offer as a path to happiness and fulfillment is in fact a policy of conflict resolution that continually transfers our debt to nature, whose bounty we are living from and systematically destroying.”

 (Goodwin, 2007, p.161)

Central to Goodwin’s observation is a level of unconsciousness on the part of humanity of any means through which the fate of individual could actually be felt as intimately tied to that of nature. The core reason for this is that with the arising of scientific thought and its power, all other modes of existing in the world, and relating to it were not simply eclipsed, but actually negated. Problematic, for this perspective, was the lack of any understanding that that the former forms of awareness that seemed suddenly illegitimate were not addressing the same problems of existence as the one that supposedly supplanted them. The mythological mind, as well as the magical and the archaic, served very different functions, and addressed very different aspects of experience. Most problematic of all, the exclusively outward gaze of the rational mind cast into shadow the inner world of humanity, an inner world whose nature was the very thing driving our actions in the physical world. Sayyed Hossein Nasr states this point beautifully.

“For a humanity turned towards outwardness, by the very process of modernization, it is not easy to see that the blight wrought upon the environment is in reality an externalization of the destitution of the inner state of the soul of that humanity whose actions are responsible for the ecological crisis.”

  (Nasr, 1997, p. 3)

Ralph Waldo Emerson also expressed a very similar view.

“The problem of restoring to the world original and eternal beauty is solved by the redemption of the soul. The ruin, or the blank, that we see when we look at nature is in our own eye. The axis of vision is not coincident with the axis of things, and so they appear not transparent but opaque. The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken and in heaps is because man is disunited with himself.” 

(Emerson, “Nature”1941, p.114)

All around us today there is a cry to wake up to the climatological crisis. At issue is the fact that we must act differently from now on. While not wishing, in any way, to speak against such a move, my experiences as an analyst tells me that this will likely not be enough. Our attitudes towards the interior universe, with which we all participate, will, in the long run, likely matter far more than our outward gestures.  This is so because in spite of what our society has taught us, the universe of magical consciousness, and of mythic consciousness, forms that still exist within us, served us well. They tethered us meaningfully to the nature around us and rendered visible and relatable the universe within us. Theirs was not a project of domination of nature, but of participation and relatedness with it. It is not a more rational world that we need. It is a more connected one. The problems of our time will likely not be solved by the amassing of information about the material order, but rather through a coming to terms with the one aspect of nature that we understand hardly at all, our own inner nature.

To the modern, the old forms of awareness, those forms which tied human consciousness intimately to the cosmos, represent merely quaint, ill conceived, and unsuccessful, means to manipulate the world. This perspective merely illustrates how trapped within a given perspective we actually are. Rene Guenon wrote;

“Modern civilization appears in history as a veritable anomaly: of all known civilizations, it is the only one to have developed in a purely material direction, and the only one not based on any principle of a higher order. This material development, already underway for several centuries now, and continuing at an ever accelerating pace, has been accompanied by an intellectual regression for which it is unable to compensate.”

(Guenon, “Symbols of Sacred Science”.2004, p. 2 )

The irony of all of this is that, drunk on the power to manipulate nature, humanity has, by virtue of dissociation from nature, nearly succeeded in destroying itself. Psychology, for its part, has participated in this process as theologian Jurgen Moltmann pointed out.

“Any therapy is directed towards health. But health is a norm which changes with history and is conditioned by society. If in todays society health means ‘the capability to work and the capability for enjoyment’, as Freud could put it, and this concept of heath even dominates psychotherapy, the Christian interpretation of the human situation must nevertheless also question the compulsive idolatry which the concepts of production and consumption introduce into this definition, and develop another form of humanity. Suffering in a superficial, activist, apathetic and therefor dehumanized society can be a sign of spiritual health.

  (Moltmann, “The Crucified God”, 1974, pp. 314-315.)

The irony of much of this is simply that the means to establish our connections back to nature were never really lost. Those forms of awareness, which evolved as meeting places between man and nature, and of which we are the inheritors, never left us. Additionally, the purported superiority of rational thought was itself a myth. To be sure rational thought is indeed, in it’s own way, quite superior. In the realm of manipulating matter for humanities presumed advantage, it is unsurpassed. But the problem lies in its tendency to assume a role of power over all meaning, a role that is logically impossible. Like many other things ascendant, it has became a basis for a societal belief system and has sought to extend its purview infinitely, something it could only achieved through the denial of the existence of anything it could not account for. And like all things that seek dominance and define the world according to a given view, a shift occurs so that they go from being a means to extend humanities relationship with nature, to something that begins to obscure. That is what Emerson told us above.

Poet William Stafford, drawing in part from his Native American roots, offers the following simple poem.

                                              These are some canyons

                                              we might use again

                                              sometime.  

What Stafford points to may be literally come to pass. Humanity, if it survives at all, may find itself once again returning to the shelters that nature once provided for us. But I have in mind another reading of Stafford. That such canyons have always been within us,in the inner landscape of the soul. There to offer shelter from everything we have wanted to see as progress but only served to draw us away from ourseleves.

AUTHOR

Mark Dean, MFA, MA, ATR-BC, LPC is a Certified Jungian Analyst and an art psychotherapist with credentials as a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor (PA) with nearly twenty years’ experience. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Arcadia University since 1990. Previous work experience includes providing addiction treatment at the Charter Fairmount Institute, Clinical Case Management for the Adult Day Program, and serving as the Clinical Coordination of the Geriatric Outpatient Programs at Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment as well as his private practice. His volunteer work includes providing clinical intervention with violent and displaced youths in the Violence Postvention Program and at The Northern Home for Children in Philadelphia. Mr. Dean has been the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Award for Artistic Excellence and has twice received the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Award. Prior to his graduate training as an art psychotherapist, Mr. Dean was a professional artist. His work is featured in several prominent private and public, national, and international collections. Mark can be reached at markdean2@me.com.

FECKLESS FAIRYTALE FATHERS

Everyone knows about terrible mothers in fairytales – and they were originally mothers. The Brothers Grimm spun them into stepmothers, feeling that multiple instances of mothers who envied, betrayed, and abandoned their daughters would be too grim for public consumption. (They may also have considered the likely negative impact on sales.) Happily, stepmothers were safe to hate, and their eventual defeat could be all the more celebrated.

As a child I was hazily aware of peculiar family dynamics in fairytales, but what with fiery lakes, magic mountains, and mean stepmothers, a disappeared dad was almost beyond my capacity to notice. I got to thinking about this because my friend Audrey recently told me she hadn’t allowed her sons to read fairytales when they were young. “Too many weak fathers,” she said. “I didn’t want my boys learning that women would compensate for their failings.” I thought of Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Beauty and the Beast, and Rumpelstiltskin, well-known tales that come readily to mind. There are more such tales but I think I’ve made my point.

Cinderella and Snow White had tuned-out dads. After their starter wives died, they acquired new ones as easily as buying a new appliance. Household order now restored, these lords of their respective manors whisked themselves off to—somewhere. Perhaps these fathers were too dissociated–or just disinterested–to notice their daughters’ abuse, much less their collusion in it.

Other dads were surprisingly witless wimps. When Rapunzel’s old man got caught stealing the greens his pregnant wife craved – doubtless the start of the kale craze – he agreed to hand over their baby after birth as payment. In Hansel and Gretel’s even more food-deprived home, dad ditched his kids in the forest—twice—because even though he felt bad about it, his wife insisted, so what could he do?

The third group of failed fathers skipped any pretense of blamelessness and out-and-out sacrificed their daughters to save themselves. Beauty’s father allowed her (she insisted!) to live with the Beast so he wouldn’t have to. The father of the nameless maiden in Rumpelstiltskin set her up for life in a dungeon or decapitation (take your pick) by telling the king she could spin straw into gold. The father of The Girl Without Hands – a lesser-known tale for grisly reasons — chopped off her hands after making a deal with the devil.

Now I know that from a Jungian point of view, all the characters in a fairytale represent various aspects of an individual psyche: we all have an inner maiden, witch, prince and so on. From that point of view, each of the tales I’ve cited can be viewed as a depiction of the psychological development of the feminine. These heroines snap out of their innocence complex to overcome their negative father complex. Then the contra-sexual inner opposites unite, which means each she marries a princely he, and happily-ever-after wholeness is achieved.

No child—and few parents, for that matter–read fairytales this way. I had worked my way around the library corner from the syrupy Peter Rabbit, Raggedy Ann and Mother West Wind tales to the juice and justice of fairytales. Here, fish and frogs talked, mile-high beanstalks sprang up overnight, and forests were places of mystery and surprise. I was thrilled.

The heroines who inspired me were the ones who sacrificed themselves for others. I could–would!–love the Beast, or silently knit sweaters out of nettles to save my six swan brothers (and nobly ignore my bleeding fingers). I would take on the tasks required to rescue Tam Lin from the Queen of the Fairies, though having to hold hot coals gave me pause.

I can acknowledge the logic and merit of Audrey’s injunction against fairytales. If her sons might have learned that they wouldn’t be accountable for missing backbones, daughters like me learned that love was often defined as unstinting and selfless service. But I also absorbed a felt recognition of a truth that hadn’t risen to consciousness: feckless fathers and mean mothers are a reality. Heads up, kids —you’ve been told, this story is old, and you’re not alone.

If the heroines I loved were self-sacrificing, they were also radically persevering – and/or brave, clever, and incredibly good. If these girls (and they were girls) were overlooked, neglected or abused, neither had they been steeped in cultural gender norms. They didn’t learn what they were not supposed to do, so Cinderella took off for the ball, Rapunzel hopped into bed with the prince, and the miller’s daughter faced down Rumpelstiltskin. Harsh circumstances forced them to find individual solutions, which even today is not a bad idea.

We tend to idealize parental love and paint childhood in pastels despite what any therapist (or your next-door neighbor) can tell you about family shadow. Or trauma. Fairytales dive right into the dark side. Whether our situation then or now is merely unfair or unspeakably awful, fairytales tell us that given the givens, we’d better get real and get going. Even if we don’t live happily ever after (spoiler alert: we won’t) we can live authentically, learn a lot, and climb hand-over-hand into wholeness.

Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst and Licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Cape Cod, MA. She can be reached at www.DeborahCStewart.com  She is a member of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, where she co-chairs and teaches in the training seminar. She is an active member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and participates in other professional organizations. She is co-creator and contributor to This Jungian Life podcast at www.ThisJungianLife.com. She has a special interest in trauma and is the author of Encounters with Monsters: The Significance of Non-Human Images of Trauma in the Psyche.