A Discipline of Image

discipline iof image

When Jung equated image with psyche he was articulating something that is often difficult for many people to understand. When we observe from a point of view that holds that the universe is completely describable through the methods of the physical sciences, whose power is its vast ability to accumulate information, we unwittingly begin to reduce the range of means of inquiry at our disposal. As a result, entire aspects of our reality fall from view. While it is true that scientific methodology, as we currently envision it, appears to be universally applicable, it actually is not. Nor does its broad applicability indicate a capacity to entirely define experience. It merely illustrates that a certain aspects of observable phenomena may be illuminated, in part, through its means.

It is the tendency of any mode of inquiry to potentially have two levels of effect. On one level it serves to illuminate a range of understandings that correspond to its methods. Indeed, the extent of this illumination may extend almost infinitely along the lines of its dominant theme. But this very same mode, once it begins to assert itself as an exclusive path to understanding, becomes altered in the role that it plays within consciousness. It begins to exert an occluding effect. When this occurs what was at one level highly beneficial then becomes problematic. This is as true of our contemporary scientific means of establishing what we take to be truth, as it was for those that predated it. The almost exclusively materially oriented order that we now inhabit is transiting the very same trajectory as the religious order that it supplanted, unveiling a new dimension of the cosmos but in the process descending into a more dogmatic and oppressive phase of expression. This latter function does not occur by intent, but is a natural consequence of the tendency to universalize its form of understanding.

Looking more closely, one begins to see that while any approach to phenomena can extend itself almost infinitely along the lines of its own mode of understanding, it cannot actually come any closer to the reality comprehended by aspects of consciousness that lie outside its assumptive stance. An absurdity becomes apparent, for example, when religious assertions frame themselves in the same terms as scientific findings. The biblical dating of Genesis and the scientific calculation are not going to agree. They actually do not need to, they are born of different modes of consciousness that describe different phenomena and function in entirely different ways. Likewise, a good deal of hubris is evident when the scientist purports to have figured out the function and role of creative process and art, or declares, based upon physical evidence, that the mythic epics of days gone by are embarrassingly wrong. Such things, as science would presume the capacity to define according is dominant mode of understanding, actually have little to do with external calculations and cannot be at all defined by them. Myth, Image, and creative process, are not at all about the atomization of reality but rather its logical coherence from a specified context. Assertions to the contrary make the scientist look entirely silly to those with a deeper familiarity with their nature, for they reveal their functional reality, not through a detached consciousness, but rather by virtue of one capable of an immersion in them. They are predicated upon a different order of understanding whose truths are not literal in the scientific and material sense of the word. We will need to wait a very long time for the deconstructions of creative process to lead to the engineering of the new Bob Dylan, and we will need to see if the great technological society lasts anywhere as long as its mythically based predecessors did. Indeed, the shadow of the literalizing mentality of our time is now appearing and carries with it a heavy cost.

Jung’s assertion that the nature of the psyche was consonant with image was by no means a throw back to older times, even though it embraces the rich inheritance of faculties of ways of understanding that were bought by our predecessors through the arc of their living. It was actually a leap beyond the confining nature of the narrowing Western mind, a deficient phase of its existence with its hidden fundamentalism. It points to a re-embrace of the more broad mode of psyche whose nature includes within its form, not only the spirit of science, but the unfolding of a living reality made observable through bringing to bear multiple modes of understanding. Largely lost has been the awareness that the frame of consciousness itself, as well as its evolutionary potential, is carried forward by the flow of experience far more so than the accumulation of facts. This experience is not merely what may be reduced to collective consensus but includes the individual as a point of contact with its immediate reality. This was as true of the evolving homo-sapiens on the plains of what is now Africa some millions of years ago as it is today. The unfolding consciousness of humanity becomes transmuted and internalized as an image of nature within our consciousness and within our very bodies. Upon that image actually rests the fate of humanity. Its nature cannot be reduced to a single pole of its existence for it carries not only physical traits but also participates in a universe that is more than physical.

Jung’s observation was that this image was not only a living phenomenon with a unity and purpose of its own, but that it represented a constellated reality as opposed to a quantitatively and linearly determined one. It draws its functional nature from any and all sources, those that are known, and those as yet unknown, those from without, and those from within, and these give rise to its specific form just as nature has with the meeting of the individual being and the ever-changing environment. It is clear, by now, that the process of humanity being primarily affected by the environment has become inverted. Humanities internal nature, our internal image world, the myth in which we are collectively ensconced, so profoundly affects the environment that the evolution of our nature is likely to respond to conditions of our own making. A mentality whose core modes of grasping nature are based upon materiality, exteriority, and literalizing tendencies, is at a loss to grasp the significance of the relationship of the image world whose nature now so profoundly affects the shape of the environment. Sayyed Hossein Nasr points this out in a little book entitled Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man. “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.” A given point of view has no means to compensate for the effects of a reality that its mode is incapable of grasping. This reality is the reality of image, which by its very nature actually mediates what is internal and what exists without. We find no “Garden of Eden”, nor evidence of an “Expulsion”, unless we employ a map proper to the logic of those images.

At every turn it appears that a humanity possessed of a singular vision of truth by and by becomes highly destructive. Jung’s comment runs against the grain of an unconsciously determined monism, possessed by its own power, and yet entirely ignorant of the limitations of its mode of understanding. It is actually a discipline of image that permits the flow of pluralistic phenomena to coalesce into the flowing reality that in truth forms the continuity of our experience and establishes the foundations of the evolution of our beings and relationship to the cosmos. In so suggesting, Jung was pointing less to the revivification of an archaic notion than to a fundamental reality of nature, but one whose reality follows not simply the immutable laws of physical nature but rather the imagistic laws of the soul. For these laws transit what is internal and what is external, what is material and what is more than material. Today, more than ever, the rediscovery of this discipline, the discipline of image, presents to us as a critical task for we live in an era in which this poorly understood faculty will, in all probability, determine our fate.


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.

You can reach Mark at http://www.psychearts.org