Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tom Singer on Lifting the Veil

On Lifting the Veil

by Thomas Singer, MD

In her chapter “The Symbol of the Veil,” Jane Kamerling writes in this book of her seeing an Arab woman standing alone on top of a hill as night approached in the desert forty-five years ago: “Hidden under the robes that concealed her body was a world unknown to me.” This becomes the central, symbolic image of the authors’ quest of Lifting the Veil. Many meanings of this multivalent and potent symbol emerge in the journey to unveil to Westerners the foreign world of Arab Muslims. There is one potential, perhaps unintended, meaning of “Lifting the Veil” that occurred to me while reading this unique study. Could it be that the title of the book also boomerangs back onto the long veiled Jungian tradition of only looking at the world through our own very particular point of view—which is frequently quite blind and deaf to what is happening around us?

The point that I want to underline in this preface is that our own Jungian veil is being lifted in this book and others like it that are beginning to appear in our literature. This veil is our longstanding attitude toward the outer, collective world. Burned by his disastrous experience of speaking out on the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and his ill timed foray into discussing the still intriguing notion of national character, Jung and his followers for the next fifty years or so remained relatively quiet, perhaps even in retreat from, political, social, and cultural issues in favor of a primary, introverted focus on the individual and the individuation process. Most commentary about more collective matters used the theory of archetypes to explain what was happening in the psyche of the world. Over time, it has become rather tiring to me to see in our tradition how most collective events are reduced to or interpreted as some appearance of the Shadow or the Self or the Hero or the Feminine. The mention of archetypal patterns in collective life has begun to sound to me as if we can’t stop building our own theoretical Walmarts on the outskirts of increasingly homogenized urban and rural landscapes. As with globalization itself, the Jungian vocabulary for describing the world has become less and less meaningful as the particularity of place, landscape, history, economics, ethnicity, and every other distinguishing cultural characteristic gets ignored or glossed over in our universalizing, archetypal constructs.

This book reverses that trend by taking into account those levels of the psyche that Jung himself had outlined in a 1926 diagram of the psyche in which he displayed an almost geological/evolutionary vision of the psyche. At the very top of the diagram was the tiny ego, embedded in the family. In successive layers of the psyche as it plunged underwater, Jung indicated ever deepening realms in the following order: clans, nations, large groups (European man for example), primate ancestors, animal ancestors in general, and, at the very bottom of the human psyche lay the “central fire.”

The vast middle range of the psyche which included everything between clans and large groups that Jung himself diagrammed in 1926 was mostly ignored by those next generations of Jungians who followed in his footsteps. Their emphasis has been on the individual above and/or the archetypal realm in the lower depths which presumably emanate out of the “central fire.” I believe it is fair to say that the Jungians have mostly veiled themselves from taking into full consideration the reality and importance of the social, political, and cultural dimensions of the psyche as it resides in individuals, clans, tribes, nations, and the world.

This book is not only making an effort to unveil the world of Arab Muslims to the Western world, it is participating in the unveiling of Jungians and the Jungian point of view to a much broader way of understanding the psyche of individuals and groups. It takes into account the vicissitudes of place, history, culture, and all those forces that shape the psyche of the collective and the individual.

If Jung was right that the human race hangs by the thin thread of the human psyche, exploring and understanding the cultural or social level of the psyche in all its complexities and differences is an essential undertaking in making that thread a little stronger. Our misadventures in the Middle East bare ample evidence to how costly it can be when we fail to understand how different Americans and other westerners are from much of the world. This book takes a big step in the direction of exploring and understanding these essential levels of the human psyche and I salute Jane Kamerling and Fred Gustafson for their effort at “lifting the veil.”

Lifting the Veil will begin shipping on May 15, 2012
Advanced Orders Welcomed

Thomas Singer, M.D. is a Jungian Diplomate Analyst with the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, California. He currently serves as Editor of the Analytical Psychology and Contemporary Culture Series for Spring Journal Books and his new contributions in that series appear in Psyche and the City: A Soul's Guide to the Modern Metropolis, Ancient Greece, Modern Psyche and Placing Psyche: Exploring Cultural Complexes in Australia.                                   

Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including 
Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting-Edge Fiction, Poetry, 
and a growing list of alternative titles. 

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