Friday, September 9, 2011

C.G. Jung - Hermeneutics and the Irreducibility of Phantasy

"The phantasy . . . is the creative soil for everything that has ever brought development to humanity. The phantasy as a psychological function has a peculiar non-reducible value of its own, whose roots are in both the conscious and the unconscious contents, and in what is collective as well as in what is individual.

But whence comes the bad reputation of the phantasy? It owes that reputation chiefly to the circumstance that it ought not to be taken literally. It is worthless if understood concretistically. If we understand semiotically, as Freud does, it is interesting from the scientific standpoint. But if it be understood hermeneutically, as an actual symbol, it provides us with the cue that we need in order to develop our life in harmony with ourselves.

For the significance of a symbol is not that it is a disguised indication of something that is generally known1 but that it is an endeavour to elucidate by analogy what is as yet completely unknown and only in the process of formation. The phantasy represents to us that which is just developing under the form of a more or less apposite analogy. By analytical reduction to something universally known, we destroy the actual value of the symbol; but it is appropriate to its value and meaning to give it a hermeneutical interpretation.

The essence of hermeneutics — an art that was formerly much practised — consists in adding more analogies to that already given by the symbol: in the first place, subjective analogies given by the patient as they occur to him; and in the second place, objective analogies provided by the analyst out of his general knowledge. The initial symbol is much enlarged and enriched by this procedure, the result being a highly complex and many-sided picture, which may now be reduced to tertia comparationis. Thence result certain psychological lines of development of an individual as well as collective nature. No science upon earth could prove the accuracy of these lines; on the contrary, rationalism could very easily prove that they are wrong. But these lines vindicate their validity by their value for life. The chief thing in practical treatment is that people should get a hold of their own life, not that the principle of their life should be provable or ‘right’." (pp. 468-169)

C.G. Jung (1916/1920) ‘The conception of the unconscious’. In Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology, London: Ballière, Tindall & Cox.

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