Myself am Hell

Jung3 I haven’t written here for a long time because I’ve been busy, both outwardly and inwardly, and haven’t had the discipline to delve into my various unhappinesses, those usual suspects, and write about them, even though I know writing about this stuff actually helps me see it a little more clearly, for a while. It’s just a lot of work, wading through it, and I haven’t made much progress recently. And I don’t want to be tedious . . .

. . . what to do for work, if I can find a way to make art that feels truly honest and self-generated, whether I have the necessary boldness to keep pursuing that goal, whether I even still want to be an artist, should we buy that old house or is it a terrible investment, is now is the right time to start trying to have a baby (or at least not the most inopportune time), would having a child make all of this impossibly more difficult, or impossible and wonderful in a way I can’t yet imagine, or just make it all matter a whole lot less . . .

So I’m dodging the whole sloppy bullet for the moment, and writing about something else entirely. The one year anniversary of this blog is coming up, and I didn’t want the silence to stretch on for too long.

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I was really taken with the recent NY Times magazine article about Carl Jung’s big red book. I don’t know a lot about Jungian psychology, except that dreams are considered very important, offering clues to the deeper aspects of one’s psyche. And I’ve never been one for dreams, really. I seldom remember mine. And is there anything tedious than listening to someone else describe theirs?

So Jung went through a mid-life crisis of some kind,

. . . characterized variously as a creative illness, a descent into the underworld, a bout with insanity, a narcissistic self-deification, a transcendence, a midlife breakdown and an inner disturbance mirroring the upheaval of World War I. Whatever the case, in 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia.” He later would compare this period of his life — this “confrontation with the unconscious,” as he called it — to a mescaline experiment. He described his visions as coming in an “incessant stream.” He likened them to rocks falling on his head, to thunderstorms, to molten lava. “I often had to cling to the table,” he recalled, “so as not to fall apart.”

Had he been a psychiatric patient, Jung might well have been told he had a nervous disorder and encouraged to ignore the circus going on in his head. But as a psychiatrist, and one with a decidedly maverick streak, he tried instead to tear down the wall between his rational self and his psyche. For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him. Between appointments with patients, after dinner with his wife and children, whenever there was a spare hour or two, Jung sat in a book-lined office on the second floor of his home and actually induced hallucinations — what he called “active imaginations.” “In order to grasp the fantasies which were stirring in me ‘underground,’ ” Jung wrote later in his book “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” “I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them.” He found himself in a liminal place, as full of creative abundance as it was of potential ruin, believing it to be the same borderlands traveled by both lunatics and great artists.

Jung recorded it all. First taking notes in a series of small, black journals, he then expounded upon and analyzed his fantasies, writing in a regal, prophetic tone in the big red-leather book. The book detailed an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through his own mind, a vaguely Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a curious, shifting dreamscape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and with richly hued, staggeringly detailed paintings.

The Times had some images of the paintings in his book (which I've used in this post), and I thought they were incredible. And that night, after reading the article, I had one of the most frightening dreams of my life. I wrote it down soon after waking, before the details sank bank into the mist. So I hope you’ll forgive me, if you find other people’s dreams as boring as I do, for sharing it here. It left a mark on me in a way that no other dream has.

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I was evil. I had murdered two people and ripped them apart and eaten bits of them. I had mucked about with their bones and flesh in the most sickening way imaginable. In my dream I was both reading a novel about a character who had done this, and somehow I had also actually done it in real life. A little confusing. A police dragnet was closing in. I heard they had found a glove with traces of paint on it (the kind I wear when painting), and also, a dirty hankie. I knew I was doomed, they would find me by the DNA evidence on the hankie, and the circumstantial evidence of my nitrile painting glove. I went to my parents house to see if they could fix it, make me feel better, absolve me, return me to my childhood innocence. My father was there, and he started telling me how he was feeling a bit depressed about his upcoming trip to India.

There was a man with whom he didn’t get along, but had to contend with. There was a picture of this man on the wall. He had ridiculous long ears, like a donkey, except that they both faced the same way; one was twisted around and attached incorrectly to his head. He looked both ridiculous and sinister. I confessed my crime to my father in sheer desperation because I was physically sick over what I had done, but also about the inevitability of being arrested. I wanted to be caught, and yet also wanted terribly to escape, with the panic of any hunted quarry. Above all I wanted relief from my guilt, from the horror of my own actions. And there was none to be had.

I woke up to the early morning darkness, Dave’s untroubled back, and the sound of rain. Slipping thankfully back into my own skin with unspeakable relief. It wasn’t real, it was only a dream . . . It was clear to me in that moment in a way I never even stop to consider, because my conscious mind says, with perhaps misplaced confidence, that I would never commit such a crime, that my own innocence and peace of mind is the most valuable thing I possess. I understood, deep in my bones and gut, the words Satan says in Milton’s Paradise Lost:

Me miserable! which way shall I fly Infinite wrath, and infinite despair? Which way I fly is Hell; my self am Hell; And in the lowest deep a lower deep Still threatning to devour me opens wide, To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav'n. O then at last relent: is there no place Left for Repentance, none for Pardon left?

(Paradise Lost, Book IV, 73-82)

As I lay there, it was remarkable to watch the shrinking of the dream, from all-encompassing, from one end of my horizon to the other, from there is no other world but this to a swiftly fading memory, like an unthinkably gigantic balloon that has been popped, and as the air that kept it aloft whistles out it shrivels down to a few soft rubber fragments in your hand that you look to with awe to try and recreate the power it had over you.

What does it mean to have a dream in which you plunge the depths of the human soul’s potential for defilement? I can see that my father looms large, that I still turned to him for absolution. Even while in the dream he was trying to tell me that he’s just a man, with his own problems, his own issues, that he cannot fix my life for me. And what does it mean that I was going to be caught by the evidence of my own painty glove?

The funny thing is, now I can’t remember who the men were that I killed. Or even why. Just that I had done it.

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