THE 'GREGARIOUS ADVANCE OF INTELLECT': ROMANTICISM, PLATONISM & THE EVOLUTION OF WESTERN CONSCIOUSNESS
by Maureen B. Roberts, Ph.D.
Romanticism has always resisted definitive explanations of its core nature, endorsing instead a principle transcendent to reason as the ground of knowledge and existence. Jung, who once drily commented, "Thank God I am Jung, and not a Jungian", displays the same reluctance to subjugate intuitive understanding to analysis and systemisation. Here, then, is the essence of both Romanticism and Jungian psychology; at the heart of both is the lived dynamic of the human psyche, the transitional and changing self moving towards an ideal goal that inevitably eludes logic.
Jung's constant subjection to the reality of the psyche, his firm refusal to privilege logical straitjacketing over the intuitive, symbolic, mythic, and metaphoric resonates with the Romantics' relentless immersion in the lived moment. For Jung as well as for them, "nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced" (1) and until it is oriented to the inner reality of the psyche.
In what I would describe as this apologetic for a holistic approach to Romanticism, my aim is to show how Jung's basic ideas about the unity of knowledge and existence are in principle synonymous with those of the Platonic tradition, Romanticism, alchemy and Gnosticism. The basic premise of a psychodynamic interpretative approach is that certain texts and a poet's works as a whole represent a process of development which aims to reconcile the actual condition with a hypothetical distant ideal - an ideal which expansively incorporates both personal and universal dimensions. Romantic poetry in general - its sense of moving toward an elusive goal - involves a progressive tension and resolution between opposites which moves toward an individuated state of wholeness. This movement of becoming, in which the self is an unfolding process rather than a fixed identity, reveals the creative imagination to be synonymous with self-creation, for both artistic and psychic balance are made possible by the imagination; in the words of Keats: "That which is creative must create itself" (L 1:374, to J. A. Hessey, 8/10/1818).
It will be worthwhile, then, to explore some relevant premises of Romanticism and Jungian thought, partly in order to counterbalance certain biases which persist as unstated assumptions throughout Romantic criticism in general.
It is Jung's archetypal approach to literature, paralleling Romanticism's expansiveness from the personal toward the universal, that sharply marks off both from reductively personal or structural approaches and reveals certain basic intuitions to be common to both. A Jungian perspective, in other words, does not superimpose an "external" critique upon literature, but rather reaffirms what is explicit or implicit in Romanticism itself: the translucence of the universal in the individual, the interaction of a process of development with an ideal permanent identity.
Jung's psychological equivalent of the universal One, his hypothesis of the collective unconscious, underlies his approach to those forms of literature - of which Romanticism is exemplary - which arise when the poet's imagination connects to the universal psyche. Jung describes the collective unconscious or "objective psyche" as a level of psychic functioning deeper than the personal unconscious, whose contents and patterns of behaviour are not personally acquired in experience but are inborn.(2) In other words, the collective unconscious constitutes a universally present, suprapersonal substrate which expresses itself through consistently identifiable themes and symbols grounded in human history. Jung's concept of the archetype, as the psychic basis of myth and as an irrepresentable, formative principle of an instinctual nature, derives from his observation of the world-wide occurrence of the same patterns, images and motifs in mythic, religious, and symbolic literature.(3)
Accordingly, Jung's syncretism, as with that of the Romantic poets, is
grounded in the existence of the archetype as foundational to
philosophic, religious, and artistic thought. It is from just such an
archetypal perspective that Keats perceives how "Every department of
knowledge" is "calculated towards a great whole." (L 1:277, to J. H.
Reynolds, 3/5/1818). A few months earlier in a letter to J. H.
Reynolds, following his consideration of the collective wisdom
inherent in any particular portion of a literary text, the poet
elaborates further on the idea:
Keats' organic allegory here stresses both the instinctive nature of the archetype as well as - in the letter as a whole - its dual role in both the formation and interpretation of a literary text. In Keats' colourful delineation of the social function of the creative imagination, although each tree is distinctively individual, the forest is collectively one: within the "mould ethereal" of the collective unconscious the "Numberless points" of intersection, as universally encountered archetypes, manifest themselves as common themes, images and patterns of transformation.
It is the interaction between the collective and the individual - the paradoxical discovering nature of artistic inventiveness - which constitutes that "originality" derived from the sharing of the archetypal origin of all works whose mode of articulation is essentially mythic and radically symbolic. Through a Jungian approach to Romanticism, therefore, there is no question of doing injustice to its works by forcing them into a preconceived framework that privileges theory over detail, or the universal over the characteristically personal. Jung does not understate the unique achievement of the artistic individual. Through the interaction of the personal and the collective, the individual is not reduced to collective standards, but rather the collective is partially integrated through the distinctive originality of the individual artist.
M. H. Abrams thus misrepresents the paradoxical aim of both archetypal criticism and, by implication, Romantic poetry itself. Far from being, as Abrams claims, reductionist or eliminating the individuality of a work, an archetypal perspective stresses the unique realisation of the archetypal idea. Abrams is not justified in calling myth - the dramatic form of archetypal patterns - an "unartful" phenomenon allied to psychosis,(5) when its role is integral not only as a mode of imaginative thought, but also as a structural principle of the poetry of all the Romantics. His claim that the chief concern of the literary critic ought to be the particularity of a work is far from being reactionary to an archetypal perspective. Abrams sees a problem where a paradox is the solution, and wrongly - irrespective of the alleged invalidity of an archetypal approach - takes upon himself the prerogative of defining and therefore limiting the aims of literary criticism as though his own perspective were neutral. In regard to Romantic literature, Paul De Man is more to the point in stating that at its best Romanticism "encompasses the greatest degree of generality in an experience that never loses contact with the individual self in which it originates."(6)
When dealing with the connection between art and psychology, therefore, only that aspect of art which can be in Jung's words, "submitted to psychological scrutiny without violating its nature" can be dealt with; the "innermost essence" can never be explained,(7) since from an expansionist perspective it is ultimately transpersonal to both the artist and the interpreter. Viewed in this light, Freud's reductive approach to art, which seeks to confine its nature to the neurotic expression of repressed psychic contents, unweaves the rainbow of a creative autonomy which is grounded in the higher imperative of the collective. From an archetypal perspective, the poetic process is not restricted by conscious intent, rather the autonomy of the imagination, yielding to the creative impetus from the unconscious, synthesises the opposites of individual and universal.
Shelley endorses the characteristically Romantic understanding of the systolic-diastolic relation between the individual and the collective mind. In his polemical essay, A Defence of Poetry (1821), he laments the possibility of artists' deferral to utilitarian pragmatism whereby poets are "challenged to resign the civic crown to reasoners and mechanists. . . ."(8) He speaks of the "instinct and intuition of the poetical faculty" which as a power arising "from within" is able to "reanimate . . . the buried image of the past" (DP 239-40). A poet, he writes, "participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one. . . " (DP 219). Shelley's insight reflects that of Jung to whom the "instinct and intuition" of the creative imagination corresponds with the archetype, which as "unchangeable form" is the psychological paraphrase of the Platonic Form or Idea (ACU 4). A poem is therefore, in Shelley's words, "the image of life expressed in its eternal truth" and consists in the "creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature. . . . " Thus poetry "in developing new and wonderful applications of the eternal truth which it contains" contributes "episodes to that great poem, which all poets, like the co-operating thoughts of one great mind, have built up since the beginning of the world" (DP 222, 230). Furthermore, in terms of the collective unconscious existing as the universal matrix of creative potential, Shelley's statement that all "high poetry is infinite", being "as the first acorn which contained all oaks potentially", becomes psychologically comprehensible (DP 235). For Shelley such "high" poetry is the only valid kind because, in its transcendence of the rational limitations of the "calculating principle", it embraces a wider "circumference of knowledge" (DP 228, 238).
foresees Shelley's and Keats' avowal of the forms involved in the
imaginative synthesis of the eternal and the temporal, the ideal and
the real, the universal and the particular. Following his discussion
of the synthetic power of the imagination, which includes its ability
to reconcile the "general with the concrete", he paraphrases and
appropriates to the poetic imagination John Davies' alchemical
allegory of the soul:
To Coleridge the idea in its most exalted sense is the universal in the individual; like the archetype, the universal works through the imagination. Accordingly, the symbol, as the instinctive self-expression of the archetypal idea, incorporates the particular in the universal, the eternal in the finite.
Wordsworth correspondingly emphasises the ordering function of the
archetype. In The Prelude (1850) he depicts the imagination as
creative perception which brings into play the archetype as an
actively unifying idea that imposes meaning and coherence upon what -
to a merely factual mode of observation devoid of imaginative
perception - is lawless, purposeless confusion. Such incoherence,
In view of the ontological equivalence of the archetype and the Platonic Idea, it is not surprising that the rise of Romanticism coincides with a resurgence of the perennial rhizome of Platonic and Neoplatonic thought, if one regards Romanticism in general as a creative reconnection to the collective unconscious.
The idea of a spontaneous intellectual dialectic is certainly not uncommon in either Western or Eastern philosophical traditions and underscores the ideas of Plato, Blake and Yeats.(10) The ancient Chinese "law" of Tao postulates a universal unitary reality which manifests as an interacting duality of complementary reality principles common to both mind and Nature. The two poles of the Taoist "One", in which all opposites are reconciled, are not fundamentally concepts but rather intuited ideas which cannot be exhaustively defined. Nonetheless they are characterised by qualities peculiar to themselves. The "active" principle of "yang" corresponds to light, heaven, masculine, the creative power of thought, while "yin" implies dark, receptive, earth, the feminine. A similar correspondence exists in Jung's equating of the archetypal images of Sun and Moon with the dual principles of consciousness, "Logos" and "Eros." The two principles operate and interrelate on both an individual and a collective level. Individually, in accordance with Jung's contrasexual view of the psyche, Logos corresponds to the consciously dominant principle of the masculine psyche (with which I am exclusively concerned here), while Eros, the principle of relatedness, represents masculine unconscious femininity.(11) The interaction of these two principles on both the collective and individual level determines both the "spirit" of an age in terms of its conscious dominant, as well as the psychology of the individual in so far as this reflects the collective while simultaneously retaining its essential masculinity.
In England there was certainly no "Romantic" movement as a consciously enforced creative innovation. Fundamentally Romanticism represented a reversion from the collective dominant of Logos, characteristic of the rational empiricism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, toward the feeling-oriented principle of an interrelated oneness of mind and Nature. The enantiodromian law of polarity, first formulated in Western thought by Heraclitus, a fifth century B.C. Ionian mystic of Ephesus, basically states, as does the law of Tao, that when one tendency reaches its maximum intensity a transition occurs to its minimum, which in turn precipitates the opposing tendency (A 43, 95, 225). The decay of one conscious dominant is usually accompanied by an irruption of chaos which on a social scale may involve such upheavals as war or revolutionary change. Accordingly, the French Revolution can be seen as symptomatic rather than causal of the transition of European consciousness from the Neoclassical to a Romantic bias. The Romantic age is characterised by an obsession with catastrophic change - a fact which William Hazlitt and other critics of the time stressed as being central to the spirit of the age. (12)
The earlier Neoclassical privileging of the rational, epitomised by Pope's declaration in Essay on Man that reason supersedes all other faculties, is characterised by a tendency toward the abstraction and objectification of both mind and Nature. The focus on the external, exemplified in the empiricism of Bacon, Locke, and Newton, was to be fervently denounced by Blake, who pronounced the harmony of all things within the unifying perception of imaginative vision. Romanticism, in which "Nature is Imagination itself"(13), represents in Rousseau's words a "return to Nature"(14), an orientation toward subjective universality as the felt or intuited fusion of inner and outer reality. Since the Romantic dominant of Eros represents the unconsciousness of the masculine psyche, Romanticism, involving the activation of unconscious aspects of psychic functioning, results in the characteristically Romantic tension between conscious and unconscious,which becomes imaged as Sun and Moon, light and dark, or represented by the "many" and the "one", thought and feeling, objective and subjective. The Neoclassical hypostasis of analytic reason, grounded in the assumption of an externally knowable cosmos, becomes displaced by the autonomous imagination as the identity of being and knowing within the absolute subjectivity of the self. Furthermore, the inertness of the Neoclassical deductive mode of thought reverts in Romanticism to a dynamic consciousness, since the Romantic reconnection to the unconscious reactivates the archetypal energy underlying symbolic and mythic forms of art.
The reversion from Neoclassicism to Romanticism, then, can be regarded in Blake's terms as a movement away from "reason" back to "energy", from the conscious ego to the interactive union of conscious and unconscious. Neoclassicism, therefore, is metaphorically "sunlit illumination", while the orientation of Romantic poetry is toward lunar imagery and its associated sense of the emotive fusion of separate identities. For Pope and Johnson, spatial orientation, as it was for Medieval Classical writers, yields a vertical perspective in which images concerned with the Sun and illumination are regarded as positive, while pain, death, darkness and irrationality are connected with an opposite negative pole.(15) Psychologically, of course, the implication is that Classical thinking, collectively biased toward consciousness, tends toward an antipathy to Eros, while Romanticism in general attributes a neutral equivalence of value to both the light and the dark, the conscious and unconscious facets of the self.
The laterality of perspective in Romanticism reflects what Wordsworth calls the "primal sympathy" which is diffused throughout mind and Nature. Poetically, the discriminatory analogy inherent in the predominance of simile in Neoclassical literature becomes superseded in Romanticism by metaphor and symbol as representative of the tendency to replace distinction by identity. While the Neoclassical thinker is self-divided through a discontinuity between subjective and objective, Romantic self-awareness, though conscious of the inner tension between opposites, retains an immediacy of knowledge within the sense of a universality of psyche transcendent to self and Nature. Seeing as a distancing idiom of perception gives way in Romanticism to more empathetic sensations that imply within each separate experience the "feeling for the whole".
The idea of a spontaneous collective reversion from one dominant of consciousness to another presupposes a cyclic dimension to the evolution of Western consciousness. Certain similarities can be seen to exist, for instance, between the alternation from Gothicism to Renaissance consciousness and in the reversion from Neoclassicism to Romanticism. The categorical orderedness and vertical orientation of Gothicism reverts to the energism and organicism of Renaissance art (A 95), whose accompanying revival of both the dynamics of Hellenistic thought and the unifying quality of Platonism anticipates its Romantic counterpart. It is legitimate, therefore, to regard the resurgence of Platonism accompanying the emergence of Romanticism as an acausal phenomenon expressive of a collective orientation toward the introspective and the unconscious.
What, then, apart from the collective reversion toward the unconscious feminine Eros, accounts for the distinctive self-awareness of Romantic poetry? The coexistence of a second evolutionary principle of consciousness must be postulated to account for the characteristically Romantic emphasis upon the individual. The basic psychological law involved here is that consciousness arises out of unconsciousness (MC 97; SM 97). An advance in consciousness generates a corresponding introjection of projected psychic contents, in accord with the basic Jungian premise that everything unconscious is projected. Thus when unconscious projection sufficiently decreases, psychic energy flows back inwards, heightening consciousness and accentuating the personal self which then becomes the focus of consciousness (A 256). In this connection, in his discussion of the shift in consciousness in English literature in general, C. S. Lewis remarks upon the "movement of internalisation . . . in which the psychological history of the West has so largely consisted."(16)
To understand the collective phenomenon of Romanticism as a particular stage in the artistic evolution of European consciousness requires an appreciation of the distinctive psychology arising from the reactivation of the collective unconscious and the simultaneous internalisation of psychic energy: archetypal subjectivism thus becomes the psychological essence of Romanticism.
It is worth mentioning parenthetically here the anomalous nature of Blake's relative absence of self-consciousness in connection with the personal subjectivism of Romanticism in general. Blake's self-distancing in most of his prophetic works is certainly at odds with the often anguished narcissism of Romanticism and reflects the distinction made by Jung between the "visionary" and "personalistic" modes of literary creativity (SM 89). The visionary mode - to which Jung assigns Blake and Dante (SM 91) - derives its archetypal material from the relative impersonality of the collective unconscious, whereas the personalistic mode is grounded in subjective individual experiences, emotions, and passions derived from the psychic foreground of life. Since the boundary between the personal and collective is, however, fluid rather than rigidly dividing, the personal in most Romantic poetry interacts to some extent with the archetypal. Keats, for instance, progresses toward an increasingly visionary consciousness while simultaneously maintaining a personal perspective, a development which results in the archetypal self-consciousness of his later works, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion.
Philosophically, the shift from an objective to a subjective basis of knowledge is evident in the German idealism of Kant, Schelling and Fichte, in which the hypostasis of the "absolute self", anticipated by Leibniz, becomes the epistemological mode of Romanticism. In English philosophy of the early eighteenth century an identical movement occurs away from the passive, empirical sensationalism of Locke toward Berkeley's theories of perception proclaiming the abolition of objective certainty and corresponding apotheosis of the creative imagination.
In summary, the coexistence of an intensification of self-consciousness and an introverted reconnection to the collective unconscious gives rise to the characteristically Romantic self-conscious tension of opposites. Romanticism thus involves a re-experience of the collective unconscious at a new level of awareness. Accordingly, archetypal ideas which previously were projected become relatively internalised. Religion thereby tends to be displaced from the realm of conscious belief and reasoned ideology toward an imaginative experience of the divine within or - pushed to its ultimate conclusion - as the absolute self.
who eventually comes to realise consciously the coincidence of the
archetypes of the divine and the self, understands the evolution of
consciousness as the progressive introjection of psychic contents
leading to intensified self-awareness. In a letter of November, 1817,
he discusses the partaking of "this old Wine of Heaven" which as "the
redigestion of our most ethereal Musings on Earth" recognises in an
individual experience its archetypal "Prototype" (L 1:185-86, to
Benjamin Bailey, 22/11/1817). In an 1818 letter to Reynolds, Keats,
comparing Wordsworth to Milton, judges Wordsworth to be "deeper than
Milton" in that he is able to "think into the human heart", an ability
which Keats regards as dependent "more upon the general and gregarious
advance of intellect than individual greatness of Mind. . . ." He
sonnet to Haydon, after alluding to Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt, and Haydon
himself as "Great spirits" who "now on earth are sojourning", Keats
Since Romanticism represents a developmental stage in the evolution of Western artistic consciousness, to judge its psychology by contemporary norms is unjust. Because all developmental stages are transitional, evaluations of Romanticism presuming the superiority of an objective stance are as transitory and relative as all others. Indeed, those who criticise Romanticism as psychologically defective or immature are often all too willing to discredit the idea of universal values on similarly "enlightened" grounds. Ross Woodman correctly evaluates Romanticism as a relative failure to withdraw psychic projections, yet confusingly relates this to a corresponding lack of rational, scientific objectivity. He then erroneously equates the "myth" of objectivity with Jung's analytical psychology, which he distortingly refers to as "scientific method", thereby misrepresenting Jung's holism which, transcending objectivity, premises the oneness of matter and psyche.(18) Our own age, in spite of what Woodman implies, is hardly free of projection. Romanticism, in other words, fulfils the psychic potential of its time.
The resurgence of Platonism and Neoplatonism accompanying the rise of Romanticism implies the experience of Neoplatonic principles on a new level of consciousness. Essential to Neoplatonism is the assumption of an a priori structure of knowledge grounded in archetypal forms and directed toward a unification of the ultimate principle of "the One" with the diverse phenomena of "the Many". In order to appreciate the psychological correspondence between Jungian thought, Romanticism, and Neoplatonism, then, it is essential to understand how the metaphysics of Neoplatonism is translated into the psychodynamics of the self.
Jung was familiar with Plato yet does not extend the correspondence between his own thought and Plato's beyond an acknowledgment of the psychological equivalence of the Idea and the archetype. An examination of Plato's Theory of Forms reveals this evaluation to be appropriate. The Form is not content, but rather the possibility of content as an "ideal pattern" or standard to which particular behaviours and entities approximate. As unrepresentable and unifying principles, the Forms are the objects of knowledge, which is regarded as innate.(19)
From 1946 onward Jung distinguishes between the archetype per se - the irrepresentable formative principle - and its manifestation as archetypal image, idea, or behavioural pattern.(20) The archetype, in other words, like the Platonic Form, can emerge dynamically as well as imagistically. In Platonism the ultimate aim of knowledge or goal of consciousness is the supreme Form, the Good (Plato 323), which Plato equates in the Phaedrus and Symposium with Beauty. Indeed, the search for Beauty in the Symposium and the quest for the Good in the Republic are different ways of depicting the same philosophic process.
The simile of the Sun in the Republic is thus an apt comparison with the Form of Beauty, since the Sun is a well-known symbol of consciousness.(21) Furthermore, the apprehension of the Form of Beauty is a unifying gesture which resolves internal conflict such that increasing inner harmony is equivalent to greater essential Beauty (Plato 444). The Good, then, in Plato's words, "is the end of all endeavour, the object on which every heart is set, whose existence it divines, though it finds it difficult to grasp just what it is. . ." (Plato 304). Clearly, in psychological terms, the Form of Beauty or the Good corresponds to an archetype of central and ultimate importance, the realisation of which is the goal of consciousness - the outcome of an instinctive drive toward wholeness through the resolution of psychic disharmony.
In Neoplatonic thought the Plotinian "One" contains the resolution of all opposites into a unity which is both immanent in and transcendent to all phenomena. The One forms the basis of the Neoplatonic idea of self-certainty in that as the atemporal self-reflection of Intellect it is the principle of an absolute reflection or absolute subjectivity. Thus self-affirmation directs thought to the operation of the One within itself, which unites its inherent plurality - a principle later echoed by Schelling's idea of a self-affirming identity and Hegel's description of the intellect as a totality mediated to itself and dialectically constitutional of itself through the movement of the "idea" in and toward itself.(22) These key principles are the philosophic equivalents of the central concept of Jungian psychology, the individuation process, which is the psychodynamic synthesis of the Many into the One - the unified self.
The self as the central archetype and the goal of consciousness corresponds to the transcendence of the One of Beauty; paradoxically, the self is also the totality of the personality and as such - again as the One - is immanent in all psychic functioning. In other words, the total personality does not coincide with consciousness, but is a unity - a centre and circumference whose empirical symbols of wholeness are indistinguishable from those of the God archetype (A 5, 31). The archetype of the self as the central principle of order supraordinate to the ego co-ordinates a homeostasis which moves toward an undivided or "in-dividuated" state of oneness through the balance and synthesis of psychic opposites. This centripetal process transforms the ego-oriented psyche through displacing the ego from the centre of consciousness and setting up another goal of consciousness, the paradoxical self, which psychologically is a union of the basic opposites of conscious and unconscious (A 268). In essence this recentring constitutes the realisation of personal individuality, which exists unconsciously a priori, but needs to be consciously differentiated if the individual is to be distinguished from both the ego and the collective.(23)
The self-motivated goal of the individuation process, then, is the conscious realisation of the self, which being perpetually latent not only activates and orders its own realisation but is also anticipated in the form of symbols of unity which represent the resolution of opposing forces into One. Thus as in Neoplatonic thought the Many are resolved through self-reflective synthesis into the One, so psychic opposites become individuated into and through the self. As the One is both immanent in and transcendent to the process of becoming, so the self is simultaneously the impetus, mediator, and goal of the individuation process.
In the thought of Plotinus, the alleged founder of Neoplatonism, a distinction is in fact made between the One and the Forms corresponding to the distinction between Beauty, God, or the One as the ultimate goal of dialectical ascent and the archetypes as ideal Forms to which finite particulars approximate.(24) In other words, the One is in some sense beyond the Forms, while simultaneously the Forms exist as aspects of eternal Being (Rist 22-23). The One is thus the origin of Forms in the same way as the self as the whole of the psyche is the origin of the archetypes. This apparent paradox is understandable in view of the essential nature of the Forms, whose dual aspects of finitude and infinitude simultaneously partake of sameness and otherness, of unity and multiplicity (Rist 32). Likewise, the archetype is realised as a diversity of content, while remaining - as an aspect of the collective unconscious - a stable principle of form. In summary, the One of Beauty is therefore simultaneously archetypal Form as the self is the central archetype of unity, and beyond Form as the self is the circumferential whole transcending the individual archetypes.
Through an examination of the "Platonic Philosopher's Creed" as set out by the English Platonist, Thomas Taylor - a contemporary of the Romantic poets - the same principles emerge. The first transcendent cause, "the one", the "principle of principles", is that which "produces many principles proximately from itself" as "parts to the whole." Thus "all beings proceed from and are comprehended in the first being" which is "prior to all."(25) Furthermore, the Platonic Forms, as with the Jungian archetypes, possess a uniting, perfecting, and connecting power as inherent formative predispositions (Raine and Harper 440).
Ideas are also the basis of an innate self-knowledge, through the
Platonic doctrine of anamnesis, acquired knowledge is the recovery of
what was once possessed in a precarnate existence in the realm of
Forms, an assumption which underlies Wordsworth's claim in
"Intimations of Immortality" that:
The psychological equivalent of this is the anamnesis of the individuation process - the "re-collection" of the self from its latent condition of unconsciousness leading to its restoration as the outcome of conscious development. The self as an entelechy thus unites a hypothetical, ideal state of individuated oneness with the developmental process of becoming. In other words, as eternal Being is to temporal becoming, as the principle of Beauty is to the dialectical ascent toward it, so is the ideal to the actual, the individuated self to the individuating self. As with Keats' "poetical Character" - which he likewise distinguishes from the fixed identity of the ego (L 1:386, to Richard Woodhouse, 27/10/1818) - the Neoplatonic One is "everything and nothing" in that it is discursively encircled by the via negativa of a negatively capable knowledge which defines through exclusion rather than through a positive resolution into conceptual form.(26)
This paradoxical "unknowing knowing" as a self-affirming principle has significant repercussions when considering Keats' negatively capable approach to knowledge and poetic creativity in general. Just as significantly, the correspondence between the process of individuation and the Neoplatonic ascent from the Many to the One allows for an appreciation of the psychological significance of the tension between the real and the ideal in Romanticism.
Like Plato, Plotinus - according to Thomas Taylor - equates Beauty with the ultimate unifying principle of the Good. Thus Beauty is evident in the reduction of the many into one (Raine and Harper 144, 147). In relation to Keats, then, the correspondence of Beauty with the self which is both immanent in and transcendent to the individuation process becomes important when considering the psychological significance of "beauty", which through Keats' instinctive Platonism is not merely an aesthetic ideal, but is revealed on another level as the tension between the transitory "beauty that must die" and the ideal "eternal Being, the Principle of Beauty" (L 1:266, to J. H. Reynolds, 9/4/1818). As Keats' own understanding of the significance of beauty deepens, it becomes in Hyperion metonymic of consciousness, reflecting Keats' growing reconciliation to the developmental process of change, which as a gradual increase in beauty becomes synonymous with an individual and collective growth of consciousness.
Jungian individuation offers a basis for understanding the connection between Neoplatonism and Romanticism. Conversely, the Romantic synthetic quest for unity, viewed as psychological imperative rather than mere philosophic speculation, dramatises the individuation process. To my mind the Romantic imagination and the Jungian self as the dynamic struggle to unify are - phenomenologically at least - indistinguishable. At the very least one can speak of the imagination as a function of the self; at most they are functionally equivalent as a unifying mode of consciousness.
In view of the Romantic, Neoplatonic, and Jungian emphasis upon the innate grounds of knowledge and poetic inspiration, it is worth revealing how the basic Jungian attitude types operate in Romantic criticism as biases or unstated assumptions which run contrary to the attitudinal bias of Romanticism itself.
An appreciation of the distinction between the two basic attitude types of extraversion and introversion sheds light on the correspondence between Neoplatonism and Romanticism. As fundamentally opposing orientations of consciousness these two types, which manifest as dominant tendencies individually and collectively, are characterised by differences in relation to the object corresponding to differing directions of psychic energy.(27) Extraversion, therefore, as a "positive" response to the object is oriented outwardly and values the object in and for itself. In other words, it emphasises facts rather than feelings or ideas. For the introvert, on the other hand, the focus of interest and energy is displaced from the object to the subject, which evaluates the object solely in terms of its personal relevance or meaning. Thus rational empiricism, for instance, can be viewed as collective extraversion, while Romantic subjectivism can be seen as a collectively introverted bias.
The philosopher William James proposes a comparison similar to Jung's in describing two types, the "rationalist" and the "empiricist". The rationalist, whose thinking is holistic, universal, and monistically uniting is oriented by feeling and a devotion to absolute ideas, "rationalist" being equated here with "idealist." This is clearly the Romantic temperamental bias. The empiricist, on the other hand, inclines toward fact, analysis, and sensationalism which are represented by concretistic thinking. In James' words: "The history of philosophy is . . . that of a certain clash of human temperaments. . . ." Temperament gives a "stronger bias" than more strictly objective premises" in that it "loads the evidence" in one direction or another.(28)
From the perspective of extraverted empiricism the introverted idea, therefore, is reductively an epiphenomenon abstracted from experience, rather than an innate predisposition of the collective psyche (PT 304). As Jung points out, our own age of concretistic empiricism is a legacy of the Enlightenment (PT 307), which in view of the notion of a collective dialectic represents a reversion from the Romantic emphasis upon the unconscious to a consciousness-dominated thinking.
Kant defines the "idea" as that "whose object is not to be found in experience" since it contains as an ordering principle the "archetype of all practical employment of reason. . . ."(29) Such a view is equivalent to Jung's notion of the archetype as the unconscious determinant behind conscious ideas and imagery. Romantic introversion activates the archetype through its inward orientation toward the imagination, which unites the diversity of experience into the archetypal idea as the guiding principle of comprehension. The introverted attitude is normally oriented by the inborn psychic structure whose basic content is the archetype as the primal mode of instinctive apprehension (PT 376).
summarises the distinction between extraverted factualism and the
introverted bias toward archetypal thinking in relation to James'
typology as follows:
The inward-oriented epistemology of Platonism, characterised by a negative relation to the object, can be regarded as introverted, as opposed to the Aristotelian positive relation to the object. An equivalent understanding is evident in Coleridge's belief that every person is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian.(30) Furthermore he believes it impossible for either type to become the other. Coleridge's criterion of classification is similar to Jung's in that he sees Aristotle as an extravert who judges "by the Senses", forms logical conceptions and is thus the "parent of Science",while with Plato "Ideas are constitutive in themselves" as "Living, Inborn, Essential Truths." (31)
The Neoplatonic principle of absolute subjectivity as the direct apprehension of the One survives in the idealism of Kant, Schelling, and Fichte, with which Coleridge strongly identified. Thomas Taylor stresses the introverted orientation of knowledge through the inner eye's imaginative perception of the Ideas. One must, he emphasises, reside in and trust solely to the "divine self" for knowledge in disregard of objective certainty (Raine and Harper 157-58). The Neoplatonic "divine self" as the basis of self-conscious reflection thus serves the same function as the Romantic imagination and the Kantian "absolute self" as the subjective identity of knowledge and being. Coleridge, as a strongly introverted thinker, therefore endorses as an absolute principle the Platonic axiom: "Truth is the correlative of Being" (BL 1:142).(32) Kant similarly speaks of a "transcendental substratum" to reason as "the idea of one total reality", and of ultimate "Being" as "the substratum of the greatest possible unity of experience" from which is deduced "the presence of a corresponding archetypal reason responsible for the all-embracing systematic unity of nature."(33)
Coleridge restates Schelling's understanding of the absolute self through distinguishing between "notional understanding" and the immediate intuition upon which "all the certainty of our knowledge depends. . ." (BL 1:243). The philosophic postulate: "Know thyself", as the basis of Socratic and Platonic thought, thus reflects the self's capacity to perceive intuitively and reiterate consciously the laws of Nature and mind which are equivalent to the archetypes themselves (BL 1:252). These thoughts lead Coleridge to the thesis that all "truth is either mediate, that is derived from other truth or truths; or immediate and original", the latter being "absolute" (BL 1:265). The ultimate principle of absolute knowledge, "self-grounded" and "known by its own light", must, in conclusion, be the self-conscious identity of being and knowing (BL 1:268).
In relation to Romantic criticism, an obvious point to be deduced here is that - hypothetically at least - one can be a Platonist without knowing it. If one's temperamental bias is in the direction of innate intuition, rather than toward the extraversion of knowledge as externally derived, the similarities of thought between any two individuals will tend to be interpreted as parallel intuitions into the same "transcendent substratum" rather than as the influence of one individual upon another. Throughout Romantic criticism in general, however, the emphasis is most commonly placed upon acquired knowledge.
The extraverted bias of regarding what is personally known as acquired overdetermines the role of influence at the expense of what is intuitively perceived. In terms of Romanticism, the faintly ironic point here is that a predominantly extraverted form of criticism is consistently applied to a mode of thinking which is itself strongly introverted. It has been common throughout history, therefore, to regard Plato as the "prophet of poetic truth"(34), while Aristotelian objectivism survives in the sensationalism of Locke and the empiricists.
If one is willing impartially - and at least hypothetically - to ascribe an equal credibility to Coleridge, Schelling, Kant, Plato and Jung's points of view, the attempt to prove the derived acquisition of Plato's ideas reflects in itself an extraverted bias which is at most logically inconsistent; certainly from an introverted perspective it is unwarranted if one is prepared to acknowledge the equal validity of a temperamental bias in the direction of innate understanding.
A good example of the extraverted bias in criticism is the simplistic suggestion that the Romantic poets found the idea of opposites in books (35), rather than experienced them as innate principles of personal development. While it would be foolish to doubt the all too obvious derivative nature of the majority of Coleridge's philosophical ideas, it is far more difficult to ascribe a learned knowledge - particularly of alchemy, the symbolism of which is ubiquitous in Endymion in particular - to Keats. Attempts to prove that Keats was consciously influenced by Thomas Taylor are inconclusive and therefore not only unconvincing, but from a Neoplatonic perspective superfluous.(36) The claim that the Romantic poets learned the symbolic language of mythology from Taylor is counteracted by the equally valid introverted perspective which regards mythic consciousness as the innate disposition of the collective unconscious. Likewise, the causalistic or "influential" bias which attributes to Taylor the transformation of English poetry from Augustan rationalism to Romantic Platonism, disregards the possibility of a natural dialectical reversal from extraversion to introversion. (37)
It would of course be equally biased to deny the influence of Taylor, particularly upon Coleridge, Shelley, and Blake (Raine and Harper 3, 36, 158). One of the aims of a Jungian approach to Romanticism is to counterbalance the critical bias toward extraversion, not to deny the validity of acquired knowledge. Thus while there is ample evidence that Keats was familiar with Plato, the suggestion that his Platonic cast of thought is instinctive is equally valid.(38)
Ultimately - except in indisputable cases - one cannot of course either prove or disprove conscious influence, since that is a matter of unstated prior assumptions, but it is worthwhile from a psychological perspective at least to draw attention to an unacknowledged bias prevalent in Romantic criticism (and on a broader scale in Western culture) in general (PT 375-77). If we bear in mind C. S. Lewis's maxim that it is the theory which determines what we observe, we can begin with the presupposition of conscious influence, or with an introverted orientation toward the hypothesis of a collective unconscious, such that evidence can subsequently be gathered for either. In summary, one critic who attempts to "prove" the influence of Erasmus Darwin on Keats (for which there is no evidence) nonetheless admits that "if two poets write in similar vein, the latter may be indebted to the former, or it may be that both were drinking from the same stream of ideas."(39) The extended metaphor concluding this quote aptly images the hypothesis of a subterranean stream of archetypal forms which arises autonomously into consciousness.
Approaching literature from an archetypal perspective, one in a sense reads "behind" the text as much as discloses archetypal patterns, themes, images and ideas. The majority of archetypal criticism, a prime example being Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism (40), has until now focused upon the (non-Jungian) archetype as a static principle of textual structure and patterns of imagery - a perspective which has undervalued the Jungian archetype's dynamic aspect as a formative and transformative agent behind the creative process. For while the archetypes do manifest themselves as definite symbols or figures, just as importantly they underlie those patterns of action which constitute the prospective movement of the literary text. Equally, they underlie the creative synthesis of categories of existence which are logically distinct.
If one approaches literary criticism in terms of the placement and displacement of meaning, the archetype as transcendent to an objective-subjective distinction thus forms the basis of a psychological deconstruction of reader, author, and text-oriented criticism in that an exclusive emphasis upon either ignores the a priori presence of the archetype in all psychic functioning.
Since the emergence of New Criticism, literary and critical movements have consistently attempted to supersede Romantic ideas by substituting an anti-romantic or neo-realist bias for an idealism which is falsely represented as either mere wishful thinking, or plain naivete. As I hope has become clear, the psychological essence of Romanticism belies such a simplistic evaluation and exposes in consequence the one-sidedness of critical perspectives which inscribe textual meaning within structural, social, personal, or linguistic bounds. The "objective fallacy" of structuralism, for instance, through viewing the text as a closed system, can be regarded in Terry Eagleton's words as "the dupe of an alienated theory of scientific practice,"(41) which surviving as a legacy of Cartesian dualism, privileges the analytic compartmentalisation of knowledge over a unified perspective of meaning in which the archetype exists as a symbiotic principle behind all psychic functioning.
The mythic idiom of Romanticism expresses the synchronicity of mind and Nature. Since myth, symbol, and metaphor are the natural language of the archetypes, a predominance of symbolic rather than conceptual thought exists in all Romantic poetry. Jung stresses the importance of the symbol in what he calls the "transcendent function", which through effecting a union of conscious and unconscious allows for a transition from one conscious attitude to another (SDP 69,73; ACU 289). The archetypes of transformation, essential to attitudinal shift (ACU 38), are often expressed through metaphor, which depicts the interconversion of differing, often complementary perspectives through an inability to identify solely with one state of mind. Such an undecidability, which modulates between two psychic possibilities, lies at the heart of Keats' best Odes, for example, in which the text becomes self-contesting through the attempt to unite two seemingly opposing attitudes. The archetypes, in other words, can alter a conscious attitude as well as cause it to revert to its opposite (Jacobi 42). Thus the poetic process derives its transformative and transcendent impulse from the energy of the archetype operating through the innate drive toward an ultimate freedom from the opposites. The dynamic polarity of thought in the poetry of Keats - the sometimes extreme oscillation from one conscious attitude to another - can therefore in certain instances be read behind the text as the manifestation of the polar nature of the archetype, which in the individuation process moves toward an acknowledgment of the functional equivalence of both poles (ACU 36).
Within Keats' distinctive mode of creativity the autonomy of the archetype is unrestrained by the restrictive interference of a conceptualising ego. When the fixed, one-sided tendency of conscious rationality is superseded by a paradoxical awareness which is able to embrace the "light and shade", the "high and low" of all psychic opposites, the individuation process remains unimpeded. It is this particular psychic temperament which Keats of all the Romantic poets best exemplifies.
Through Keats' prodigiously rapid creative development - through the self-creation of the artistic self - the tension of the opposites comes to be experienced with a strenuous vitality and the self, yielding to the metamorphic drive of the archetype, is transformed at a rate and to a degree unattainable by a more rationally restrained temperament. Keats' poetic development follows patterns which mythically, alchemically, and metaphorically depict the individuation process. Within these lines of development the real interacts with the ideal, the personal merges with the universal, formation proceeds via transformation, repose interacts with the tension of conflict, and the developing self anticipates an individuated finality which remains perpetually elusive.
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Keats, The Letters of John Keats, 1814-1821, ed. Hyder Edward
Rollins, 2 vols. (London: Cambridge UP, 1958) 2:81 (to George and
Georgiana Keats, 19/3/1819). Subsequent references are to this
edition, abbreviated in the text as L and identified by recipient and
date. Keats' erratic spelling and punctuation will be retained.
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