Sep 26, 2007

Meaning Of Life Part V


Clearly, man's embeddedness in nature is over. But since the meaning of "meaning" is nothing else but in-ness, it is obvious why the last two centuries had a sense of alienation and nihilism. As Jung stated, to experience a loss of meaning, the "soul has become lonely; it is extra ecclesiam and in a state of no salvation." The soul is likewise extra naturam. With this insight we have returned in our discussion to, and provided an underpinning for, Jung's initial diagnosis, "No, evidently we no longer have any myth."
The days of man's in-ness, his total containment in Nature, have come to an end. The loss of meaning has resulted in mankind's constant questioning after it. It is futile because the situation has changed.

Giegerich contends there are two opposing positions we can take. One can either defend the past mythological age, standing against all who attack it, or one can accept the new situation we find ourselves in and learn from it.
By longing for "meaning," the first option defends, to be sure, the old sense of in-ness, i.e., the in-ness in the former situation, but therefore has to renounce what it actually most desires, in-ness as an actual reality, which, however, today would be the in-ness in the utterly new psychological situation of being extra ecclesiam et naturam and not the in-ness of old. Either way, a loss is unavoidable.
One can easily see the quandary we moderns are in.

This first option reminds me of a group like the fundamentalist Christians, who fight tooth and nail to preserve what they believe is the original truth of Christ. It is interesting to note that they do this while rejecting all symbolism and metaphor found in the scriptures in lieu of a literal interpretation.

Giegerich claims the second option is today's reality. History is
the soul's alchemical retort, and we collectively are the prime matter in this hermetically sealed retort and are transported through one phase of history's alchemical opus after the other, each time finding ourselves in an entirely new world situation.

The first option, a negative interpretation of the fundamental change from myth and metaphysics to modernity, does not work. So much has become clear. We have to turn to the second option, that is to say, to let ourselves be placed by the soul's process into the situation that is. It must teach us how to interpret our situation.
Alembic image above: © Robert M.Place: The Ace of Vessels card from Robert M. Place‘s dynamic The Alchemical Tarot: Renewed.

Sep 25, 2007

Meaning Of Life Part IV


The search for meaning, according to Giegerich, is self-contradictory:
The search for meaning is in truth, but secretly, the longing for a state of in-ness, but since the question about the worth and meaning of life has existence as a whole in its field of vision, it inevitably positions us outside and vis-a-vis life. The search for meaning unwittingly has to construe that which it desires to be the logic or syntax of life as a semantic content, as a kind of doctrine of wisdom or a creed or ideology, ultimately as a commodity. This is why today meaning exists in the plural of numerous competing meanings put up for sale on a large "meaning market" by a whole "meaning industry", and why we are in the position of customers who have to make their decisions and choices about these "meanings." Even if we "buy" a certain meaning and immure ourselves in it, nothing can undo the fact that it is a secondary acquisition and that our in-ness in it, if it comes to exist at all, is like that in a house that we ourselves built or rented, not that kind of a priori and irrevocable in-ness that was actually sought.
Let's examine Giegerich's term, "in-ness," a little closer. As was previously stated, Giegerich compares in-ness to that state in which a fish has its existence in water. It is totally contained in its world and this is its meaning for existence. It doesn't need to question it; it just is.
Meaning, where it indeed exists, is first of all an implicit fact of existence, its a priori. It can never be the answer to a question; it is, conversely, an unquestioned and unquestionable certainty that predates any possible questioning. It is the groundedness of existence, a sense of embeddedness in life, of containment in the world--perhaps we could even say of in-ness as the logic of existence as such. Meaning exists if the meaning of life is as self-evident as the in-ness in water is for fish.
Humans, prior to the end of the mythological age, were totally immersed in their world. Their myths, legends, and religions were not offered as answers to questions concerning the meaning of life. Rather, they were emanations of human thought that factually expressed human experience as totally contained, totally immersed in Nature.

There were different ways of expressing in-ness. One was expressed imaginally through the creation of myths; another was through metaphysics, utilizing human reason. These modes of thought
were the self-expression in consciousness of the meaning
that was.
The end of in-ness, as we have discussed, came sometime in the nineteenth century, according to Giegerich. I can't help but think this was somehow meant to be. It is as if our evolution on this planet demanded that we shift our mode of existence for some unknown reason. Admitedlly, the shift has resulted in much pain and suffering for mankind. Just the psychological toll alone has been tremendous, not to mention the death and mayhem caused by various totalitarian ideologues who claimed to have solved the riddle of life.

I am reminded of how reality's pendulum swings from side to side, continuously. Do we strive to return to in-ness? I say, Live life as it is and do not strive at all. Live life to the fullest! Forget about meaning. The question is moot. Carpe diem!

Sep 16, 2007

Meaning Of Life Part III


In this third installment of commentary on Giegerich's fascinating essay, The End of Meaning and the Birth of Man, I will discuss Giegerich's contention that, prior to the nineteenth century, mankind was in no position to question life's meaning. The nineteenth century brought a shift in being that placed man in a position to view life as if from outside life.
...existence as such had become a vis-a-vis, as it were, which is the opposite of in-ness. Man now for the first time had a position to the world per se. The question of meaning is the mark of the modern period after the conclusion of the age of metaphysics at the beginning of the 19th century.
What occurred in the nineteenth century that brought such a "radical change in man's being-in-the-world?"

Giegerich is saying that the end of man's mythological mode of existence ended with the nineteenth century. Prior to this, humanity was fundamentally enmeshed in Nature, or "absolute in-ness," as Giegerich calls it.
Man experienced himself primarily as a thread in the fabric of nature, without any arbitrary volition of his own (Heino Gehrts). Even where man interfered with nature, such as when tilling the soil, erecting a house, or, above all, in his sacrificial killings, these human interventions were, in a sense, decidedly not his own doings, doings, metaphysically speaking, on his own responsibility, but rather reenactments of exemplary acts originally performed by gods.
Giegerich enumerates five characteristics of this mode of existence:

1) All thinking and experience was handed down from the elders of past generations

2) There was no sense of individuality. All had their substance in the family, tribe, clan, etc. The person was merely an emanation of the group consciousness.

3) There was an inescapable dependence on Nature. Man was at its mercy.

4) People were resigned and submissive to the fate they had been handed.

5) People were devoted to something metaphysically larger than themselves.

An entire book could be written about the end of absolute in-ness, but here is the gist of it: the rise of egocentric man occurred in the nineteenth century. The "I" replaced Nature as the center of existence. By the time of Nietzsche, God was dead, and scientific positivism was the predominant mode of thinking. And, as if a portent of the twentieth century, Nietzsche was plunged into hopeless insanity. The Age Of Despair had commenced. It would not be long before over sixty million people would die in the bloodiest war in human history.

Meaning Of Life Part II


Giegerich claims that myth, religion, and metaphysics were never explicit answers to the question, "What is the meaning of life?" Rather, he says
they were merely the concrete articulation or formulation, in imaginal form, and, in the case of metaphysics, the explication, in the mode of thought, of the form of the factually existing in-ness in, or groundedness of, existence at each historical locus respectively. The tales of myth, the religious practices, doctrines, or dogmas, the elaborate systems of metaphysics, spelled out in different modes the logic that factually governed a people's lived life. They were the self-expression in consciousness of the meaning that was.
He returns back to his metaphor of the fish in water to say,
Just as fish could never seriously question the meaningfulness of being in water, so from the age of myth through the end of the age of metaphysics, i.e., through the time of Hegel and Schelling, man could not possibly have in all earnest raised the question "Is Life Worth Living?" as a real, more than merely rhetorical, question.
Again, this brings to mind the notion of wu-wei. If we are letting life flow as it must without interfering, we have absolutely no need of questioning life as to its meaning. We are here.

We have been thrown into this world, not of our choosing, or at least it seems that way. Perhaps we actually did choose our lives according to our portion of fate, as in the Myth Of Er, recounted by Socrates in Plato's Republic, but have no memory of it, having passed through the Plain Of Lethe (forgetting) before entering this world.

Nevertheless, it is futile to ask the ego to supply an answer to the meaning of life. A fish would not ask one of its gills why it is in the water and not living on land! So, it is just as preposterous to think we, in our egocentricity and preoccupation with external things, should attempt to dispel the mysteries of life.

Meaning Of Life Part I


As time permits, I will begin posting comments on an essay by Wolfgang Giegerich called The End Of Meaning And The Birth Of Man.

Giegerich is a German Jungian analyst. The following short bio is from his book, The Soul's Logical Life:

After university studies in the field of literature in Germany and the United States and an assistant professorship at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, N.J.), Wolfgang Giegerich trained in analytical psychology at the C.G. Jung Institute in Stuttgart, Germany. He works as a psychotherapist and training analyst in private practice near Munich. He has lectured and published internationally. His books include Atombome und Seele und Drachenkampf (both Raben-Reihe, Zürich), Animus-Psychologie and Tötungen. Gewalt aus der Seele: Versuch über Ursprung und Geschichte des Bewußtseins (both Peter Lang, Frankfurt et al.).
The subtitle of the essay is, An Essay About The State Reached in the History Of Consciousness And An Analysis of C.G. Jung's Psychology Project.
Giegerich begins with comments concerning Jung's interest in the question regarding the meaning of life. Europe, at that time, had already struggled with nihilism for at least a century prior to Jung. So, it was nothing new when Jung began writing about man's aloneness, "where in the cold light of consciousness, the blank barrenness of the world reaches to the very stars" (CW 9). What was novel in Jung's discourse was his idea that man's loss of a myth was the cause of his neurosis. Where Jung and myself would differ, however, is that he believed mankind required a meaningful answer to life's riddle. In my post entitled, So-Called Meaning Of Life, I argue it is only the human ego that requires an answer to this question. The drive for meaning is a product of ratiocination, empowered by an egocentric mindset. In all actuality, a rationalized answer to life's innate mystery cannot be found. Life must be mysterious for it to be worth living.

But, I would agree with Jung in that he saw the loss of mythology and the gods as being disastrous to the human condition.

Giegerich notices an inherent contradiction in Jung's comments on meaning:
One might think that the diagnosed loss of meaning is the cause, the search for meaning the result; further, that the loss of meaning is the "illness" while the sought-for meaning would be the cure. But "loss of meaning" and "search for meaning" have to be seen, rather, as the two sides of the same coin. Just as it is the sense of loss of meaning that creates a craving for meaning, so it is the idea of the dire need of a higher meaning that makes real life appear intolerably banal and "nothing but," merely "maya compared with that one thing, that your life is mean-ingful" (Jung, 1939, p. 630). The more you long for meaning, the more banal life gets; the more banal you feel life to be, the more you will say, with Jung, "My whole being was seeking for something still unknown which might confer meaning upon the banality of life" (Jaffe, 1989, p. 165). There are not two phenomena here but only one. The search for meaning is the opposite of itself. It is what turns reality into that very senselessness that it intends to overcome; it is itself that symptom or illness the cure of which it claims to be. The longing for meaning is deluded about itself.
In essence, the search for meaning is like a dog chasing it's tail.

Giegerich goes on to explain that
Meaning is not an entity that could be had, not a creed, a doctrine, a worldview, also not something like the fairytale treasure hard to attain. It is not semantic, not a content. Meaning, where it indeed exists, is first of all an implicit fact of existence, its a priori. It can never be the answer to a question; it is, conversely, an unquestioned and unquestionable certainty that predates any possible questioning. It is the groundedness of existence, a sense of embeddedness in life, of containment in the world--perhaps we could even say of in-ness as the logic of existence as such. Meaning exists if the meaning of life is as self-evident as the in-ness in water is for fish.
This has the ring of truth. I know in my life, thinking and searching for meaning these last thirty years, I've always ran up against a brick wall. Now I know why. The more I searched, the more I descended into a slimy black pit of despair.

I decided sometime ago that the only meaning to my life was just simply to live it, in the moment, in the Now, and try to practice the Taoist principle of wu-wei, "action without action", or "the art of letting-be."

Each human being is a river. All are unique with their own set of subtle fluctuations. These are caused by the distinct psychic topographies inherent in each one, just as each river has varying topographies that effect its flow. The water needs to flow unimpeded. When it becomes dammed up, there is the potential for disaster.

There will always be subtle fluctuations, but these are good. They make life interesting, give it character and mystery. But, most importantly, the energy needs to flow. The meandering stream must continue to wind its way through the land, unhindered.
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance (From Burnt Norton, by T.S. Eliot).

The Giegerich Project

I am going to begin a new project on this blog. We'll see how it goes. This is a new author for me. I am very unfamiliar with his work. I know that he is an archetypal psychologist and has been very influential in that field.

As time permits, I will begin posting comments on an essay by Wolfgang Giegerich called The End Of Meaning And The Birth Of Man.

Giegerich is a German Jungian analyst. The following short bio is from his book, The Soul's Logical Life:
After university studies in the field of literature in Germany and the United States and an assistant professorship at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, N.J.), Wolfgang Giegerich trained in analytical psychology at the C.G. Jung Institute in Stuttgart, Germany. He works as a psychotherapist and training analyst in private practice near Munich. He has lectured and published internationally. His books include Atombome und Seele und Drachenkampf (both Raben-Reihe, Zürich), Animus-Psychologie and Tötungen. Gewalt aus der Seele: Versuch über Ursprung und Geschichte des Bewußtseins (both Peter Lang, Frankfurt et al.).
The subtitle of the essay is, An Essay About The State Reached in the History Of Consciousness And An Analysis of C.G. Jung's Psychology Project.

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