Tag Archives: Freud

Jung’s Influence on Deleuze and Guattari

This piece is an excerpt from Integration and Difference: Constructing a Mythical Dialectic (Routledge, June 2022).

Although it is not clear that Deleuze was simply and unambiguously a Jungian, he certainly engaged with Jung’s work in both affirmative and critical ways, writing in Difference and Repetition: “Was not one of the most important points of Jung’s theory already to be found here: the force of ‘questioning’ in the unconscious, the conception of the unconscious as an unconscious of ‘problems’ and ‘tasks’? Drawing out the consequences of this led Jung to the discovery of a process of differenciation more profound than the resulting oppositions.”[i] The concern with problems and integrative differenciation is central to Deleuze’s project in what many consider his magnum opus, and it is striking that Deleuze expresses such a strong affinity between his work and that of Jung, as Jung’s influence on Deleuze has not tended to be emphasized by scholars, though as Frida Beckman writes, “Deleuze’s discussions of the unconscious in Différence et répétition may make more sense when we read Jung into the equation.”[ii]

There are several passages in which Deleuze takes Jung’s side against Freud, who nominated Jung his “successor and crown prince”[iii] in 1910, and then excommunicated him around 1913 for his purported psychoanalytic heresies. One of the most revealing of these passages by Deleuze is in L’Abécédaire, recorded in 1988 as part of a long television interview that would only air after his death, in which he discusses “a text that I adore by Jung” concerning Jung’s dream of descent through successive subterranean strata, at the deepest layer of which Jung finds an ossuary, numerous bones that Freud insists on reducing to the unity of a death wish, as a primary example of the concepts of multiplicity and assemblage, “a kind of constructivism”[iv] which “keeps very heterogeneous elements together.”[v] Deleuze portrays Jung as understanding these concepts, contrary to Freud’s egregious misunderstanding, an instance that also finds brief mention in A Thousand Plateaus, where Deleuze and Guattari write that “Jung is in any event profounder than Freud.”[vi] Although Derrida, in a 2004 lecture, suggests that “Deleuze laughs at psychoanalysis, to me, sometimes, a little too quickly,” and he jokes that part of Deleuze’s “absolute originality in French” is “admiring Jung more than Freud,”[vii] it is Derrida himself who perhaps laughs too quickly in this case given the admiration for Jung expressed by Bergson, Bachelard, and Simondon. Deleuze also makes affirmative references to Jung in “From Sacher-Masoch to Masochism,”[viii] Nietzsche and Philosophy,[ix] and Dialogues II,[x] and with Guattari in Anti-Oedipus.[xi] It even seems possible that Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome is at least partially derived from Jung’s discussion of this concept in several texts,[xii] a possibility which Slavoj Žižek states as fact, but for which the evidence is not definitive, though it is highly suggestive. Žižek also writes that “there is a direct lineage from Jung to Anti-Oedipus,”[xiii] an insightful observation which he marshals as a criticism of both Deleuze and Jung in favor of Freud, though those of us who deeply admire all of these theorists may reframe it as an endorsement of what Barbara Jenkins describes as “a nascent ‘Jungian turn’ in Deleuzean and cultural studies.”[xiv]

In 1956’s “Bergson’s Concept of Difference,” Deleuze writes that “there are no accidents in the life of the psyche,”[xv] perhaps implicitly correlating the nuances of Bergsonian duration with Jungian synchronicity, a subtle correlation which finds further elaboration in 1966’s Bergsonism and 1983’s Cinema 1. In 1969’s The Logic of Sense, Deleuze explicitly employs the term “synchronicity,” and significant portions of that book seem to be explorations of something very much like Jungian archetypes, a term which Deleuze affirmatively employs in 1964’s Proust and Signs,[xvi] as well as the subtle kind of formal causation characteristic of the late Jungian conception of synchronicity in other terms. Deleuze indirectly defines synchronicity as a form of resonant correspondence that is not merely a linear logical series operating in terms of the causes and effects of efficient causation, while Jung, in the subtitle of Synchronicity, defines it as “an acausal connecting principle,” having two decades earlier explicitly equated synchronicity with transversality,[xvii] a concept employed by Deleuze and Guattari in both volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Deleuze takes up these definitions later in The Logic of Sense, in relation to the Stoics and Leibniz, in his discussion of “alogical incompatibilities and noncausal correspondences,” of which he writes that “astrology was perhaps the first important attempt to establish a theory,” as this ancient mode of thought posits a persistent formal, as opposed to efficient, causal (or perhaps quasi-causal, or even acausal) correspondence between the movements of the heavens and events in the human domain. And similarly, as he writes in a 1970 essay: “In a sense, humankind renews its ties with a destiny that can be read in the planets and stars. Planetary thought is not unifying: it implies hidden depths in space, an extension of deep universes, incommensurate distances and proximities, non-exact numbers, an essential opening of our system, a whole fiction-philosophy.”[xviii]

Deleuze and Guattari’s 1975 book, Kafka, differs not only with the Jungian conception of archetypes, and with Jung’s early method of free association, at least in relation to Kafka’s work, but with other concepts Deleuze asserts in both earlier and later texts[xix] (the symbolic, mythology, the imagination, phantasms[xx]), so that one must recall that Deleuze, perhaps especially with the impish Guattari, eschewed consistency in favor of attempts to think in new ways, Deleuze commenting in 1973 that “neither Guattari nor myself are very attached to the pursuit or even the coherence of what we write.”[xxi] But it is significant that these attempts are enacted in relation to Jung, not in a mere rejection, but in the guise of multiply affirmed admirers of Jung who critique the precursor that they nevertheless deem more profound than Freud. This critique is not a mere denouncement, but rather takes seriously Jung’s concepts, even when Deleuze and Guattari seem to portray them too narrowly, seeking to go beyond a classic archetypal conception (a project also undertaken by James Hillman, based on Jung’s later work) by building upon the differentiations this conception affords, much as Deleuze, in Difference and Repetition, enacts an overturning of Plato through the appropriation of certain moments in Plato’s own texts. In fact, it might be suggested that Deleuze’s primary philosophical allegiance is ultimately to Nietzsche because, more than any other figure before Deleuze, Nietzsche was always forging beyond existing categories of thought to create novel conceptions exceeding any systematizing enclosures, though neither Nietzsche nor Deleuze can be understood as simply rejecting the past, but rather as pushing the concepts and language of the past to their limits, willfully transgressing and dissolving existing boundaries in order to open space for novel conceptions. But this transgressive dissolution does not require us to reject all previous categories in favor of the ones that Deleuze, both with and without Guattari, cavalierly constructs and then often carelessly casts aside in the very next book, but rather allows us to employ existing categories and concepts, including those constructed by Deleuze, with a light, even ironic touch as pragmatic tools for novel creation, tools whose refinement and extension these transgressions afford, enabling their employment in the fabrication of new conceptual tools allowing further creation. The irreverence that Deleuze directs toward his precursors, undoubtedly including Jung, cuts both ways, as this irreverence can be directed toward Deleuze himself, whom one can profoundly admire while cavalierly—though still rigorously—selecting among his sometimes conflicting and even incoherent conceptions to achieve the greatest possible efficacy in further attempted creations.

In A Thousand Plateaus, composed over the subsequent decade, the figure of Professor Challenger—who is apparently an embodiment of the assemblage of Deleuze and Guattari based on a character by Arthur Conan Doyle—is giving an obscure and difficult lecture which seems partially designed to prune back the audience (and perhaps those reading about this oddly hallucinatory presentation) to the few steadfast die-hards willing to expend the extraordinary effort required to comprehend these esoteric domains, so that “the only ones left were the mathematicians, accustomed to other follies, along with a few astrologers, archaeologists, and scattered individuals.” In the same book, Deleuze and Guattari describe Jung’s approach as “integrating” any given animal image found in dream or myth “into its archetypal series,” though they express dissatisfaction with this construction, seeking further to deterritorialize Jung’s theory, which they clearly find great value in along with the Jungian approach of Bachelard in Lautréamont (about which Hillman also wrote), and of Simondon in Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information. “We sorcerers,” they write, can discern that “there is still room for something else, something more secret, more subterranean” constituted in a becoming beyond the “progress or regress along a series,” an overcoming which they associate with “the whole structuralist critique of the series.” However, later in the same text, they quote H.P. Lovecraft’s evocation of an ascendance through n-dimensions “up to the dizzy and reachless heights of archetypal infinity” in their description of the “plane of consistency” (as opposed to the “plane of development”) which is the locus of becomings “written like sorcerers’ drawings” on that immanent plane, “the ultimate Door providing a way out” or, alternately, “the gates of the Cosmos.”[xxii]

Deleuze and Guattari critique the archetypes as “processes of spiritual reterritorialization”[xxiii] or “intrinsic qualities,” instead advocating a conception in which “cosmic forces” or “expressive qualities” (which are concretely symbolic,[xxiv] and “fictional” like the infinitesimal) are real but nonactual formal causes characterized by their function in specific assemblages of becoming, nomadic paths enacting a vital autonomy for which particular effectuations are derivative points, so that the trajectory is primary and the series derived from it secondary. However, this conception is already prefigured in the later work of Jung, where he tends to express the archetypes as cosmic dynamisms rather than as merely intrinsic psychological categories, as he tended to define them in his earlier work, though he remained ambivalent about their ontological status.[xxv] Rather than merely rejecting Jung’s archetypal theory, Deleuze and Guattari, like many Jungians, can be conceived as having refined that theory, rendering it more subtle and general by suggesting that the locus of becoming is not found primarily in the linear, sedentary series of chronological development, but in temporally nonlinear “transformational series” across orders ascending through increasing degrees of freedom. They suggest that the integration of differentiated n-dimensional archetypal series is the conceptual construction characteristic of the infinitesimal version of the integral calculus, and thus that the differentiating metaphysical integration correlated with the calculus specifically integrates these nonlinear and nonlocal archetypal series of diachronic and synchronic resonances, an expression intimately coextensive with the mode of relation characteristic of Jung’s late expression of synchronicity, approaching the always-receding transcendental archetypal potencies in their multiplicitous singularity.[xxvi]

While these discussions of Jung’s work are profound, they require a Sherlock Holmesian reading of subtle clues to decipher, a recognition that Deleuze implicitly sanctions, writing that “a book of philosophy should be in part a very particular species of detective novel,” with hints leading the reader to revelations of ultimately complex networks of intertwined relations that were formerly occluded.[xxvii] Deleuze, with and without Guattari, often only evokes these realms of thought, teasing the reader with references to Jung and his work in ways that cannot easily be pinned down, that remain elusive. One suspects the reason for this coyness is that, although Deleuze clearly found great value in Jung’s work, he also understood that Jungian thought has enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the main streams of academia, as Jung brilliantly and profoundly explored domains that were often “beyond the scientific pale,”[xxviii] as Anthony Stevens writes, for the dominant spheres of the twentieth century academy. Additionally, as Jon Mills observes, the fact that Jung has been studied much less by philosophers than Freud “may be in part due to the fact that while Freud was intent on systematizing his theories, Jung was not,” and that “Jung often disparaged philosophy in his writing while exalting religion, despite the fact that much of his corpus involves direct engagement with ancient, Gnostic, medieval, modern, Continental, and Eastern philosophical texts.”[xxix] However, this situation currently bears signs of a rapid shift, and the increased recognition of Deleuze’s extended, though complex, engagement with Jung may help to carry the Swiss psychologist from the liminal frontiers of thought, where he remains the undisputed king, into the central nodes of academic discourse where Freud has long presided, at least in the humanities. In fact, Deleuze explores most of the same uncharted domains as Jung, though Deleuze’s writing is so obscure, while still extremely distinct, that only those who are paying very close attention, and in many cases who are already familiar with Jungian thought, will discern the deep resonances between these theorists. One suspects that this was a subtle and purposive strategy by Deleuze, which has been extraordinarily efficacious in allowing his work to occupy a central place in continental thought, while also allowing him to engage with relatively marginal Jungian concepts, winking at the Jungian cognoscenti while this aspect of his work generally escapes the notice of those who unquestioningly accept the overly hasty dismissal of Jung largely instigated by Freud. Furthermore, Deleuze seems implicitly to have understood Hillman’s admonition that “Freud and Jung are psychological mas­ters, not that we may follow them in becoming Freudian and Jungian, but that we may follow them in becoming psychological,”[xxx] though of course the same can also be said about following Deleuze and Guattari as philosophical and psychological masters.

[i] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) 317n17.

[ii] Frida Beckman, Gilles Deleuze (London: Reaktion Books, 2017) 23; Christian McMillan, “Jung and Deleuze: Enchanted Openings to the Other: A Philosophical Contribution,” International Journal of Jungian Studies 10 no. 3 (2018): 185.

[iii] Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung, The Freud/Jung Letters (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994) 104.

[iv] Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet. L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, avec Claire Parnet, 1996. https://deleuze.cla.purdue.edu/sites/default/files/pdf/lectures/en/ABCMsRevised-NotesComplete051120_1.pdf 47-48 21.

[v] Gilles Deleuze, Two Regimes of Madness (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007) 179.

[vi] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 241.

[vii] Jacques Derrida, “Gilles Deleuze: On Forgiveness,” European Graduate School Video Lectures 2/11, 2004. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_r-gr3ccik&list=PLDD498CDE04B51C2D

[viii] Gilles Deleuze, “From Sacher-Masoch to Masochism.” Angelaki 9, no. 1 (2004): 128-30, 132-33.

[ix] Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006) 116, 212n8.

[x] Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues, 80.

[xi] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983) 46, 162, 278.

[xii] C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956) xxiv; Alchemical Studies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967) 90, 195; Memories, Dreams, Reflections (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 4; Roderick Main, Christian McMillan, and David Henderson, eds. Jung, Deleuze, and the Problematic Whole (New York: Routledge, 2020) 4.

[xiii] Slavoj Žižek, “Notes on a Debate ‘From Within the People,’” Criticism 46 no. 4 (2004): 662-63.

[xiv] Barbara Jenkins, Eros and Economy (New York: Routledge, 2017) 5.

[xv] Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2004) 36.

[xvi] Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004) 47, 67.

[xvii] C. G. Jung, Visions (London: Routledge, 1998) 340.

[xviii] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (London: Athalone Press, 1990) 120, 170-71; McMillan, “Jung,” 190, 193; Deleuze, Desert, 157; Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2 (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1989) 202.

[xix] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) 7.

[xx] See for example Deleuze, Difference, 17, 61, 76, 126.

[xxi] Deleuze, Desert, 278.

[xxii] Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand, 43, 57, 235, 237, 250-51, 333.

[xxiii] Deleuze, Kafka, 13.

[xxiv] Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997) 48.

[xxv] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche (New York: Viking, 2006) 57.

[xxvi] Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand, 306, 322-23, 380, 398, 420, 507.

[xxvii] Deleuze, Difference, xx.

[xxviii] Anthony Stevens, Jung: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) 1.

[xxix] Jon Mills, ed. Jung and Philosophy (New York: Routledge, 2019) 1.

[xxx] James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper & Row, 1975) xii.

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William James, Sigmund Freud, and Analysis vs. Synthesis in Academic Discourse

380px-WilliamJames_JosiahRoyce_ca1910_Harvard

I’ve been having a fascinating conversation with Dr. Andreas Sommer of Cambridge University (http://forbiddenhistories.wordpress.com/) in the comments of my earlier post “Affect and Rationality in William James” about whether Freud’s concept of “the return of the repressed” can viably be marshaled in relation to James’ ideas. I think Dr. Sommer is right that his approach as an historian is probably different from my approach as a philosopher and cultural theorist with a doctorate in English. But I also think he’s perpetuating a fallacy that’s fairly pervasive in contemporary academia, exemplified by the poststructuralist “incredulity towards metanarratives,” imposing an excessively critical analysis of conceptual wholes into their constituent parts. This primarily critical mode seems to miss the proverbial forest for the trees, which I believe is fundamentally counter to the integrative character of James’ philosophy. Indeed, James addresses this very issue extensively in his work. For instance, he writes in Pragmatism:

The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. . . . Theories thus become instruments, not answers to enigmas, in which we can rest.  We don’t lie back upon them, we move forward, and, on occasion, make nature over again by their aid. Pragmatism unstiffens all our theories, limbers them up and sets each one at work. . . . New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions. It marries old opinion to new fact. . . . ‘To be true’ means only to perform this marriage-function. . . . Loosely speaking, and in general, it may be said that all things cohere and adhere to each other somehow, and that the universe exists practically in reticulated or concatenated forms which make of it a continuous or ‘integrated’ affair. . . . Everything makes strongly for the view that our world is incompletely unified teleologically and is still trying to get its unification better organized. (18-54)

The theoretical mode James consistently articulates is one in which diverse, and often contradictory theories, modes of thought, and thinkers can be brought into relation, their “metaphysical disputes” “settled” by the pragmatic “marriage-function,” which strives to unify, integrate, and reconcile seemingly incommensurable entities. This integrative impulse seems eminently applicable to the relation between the ideas of Freud and James himself, who, in the larger cultural context in which they are embedded, are more alike than they are different, not least in that they both spent their lives attempting to understand the same subject: the human mind in relation to the world.

Henri Bergson (with whom James was friends) also addresses the frequent modern academic preference for analysis over synthesis in Creative Evolution (to which James intended to write a laudatory preface for the English edition before he died):

Intellect therefore instinctively selects in a given situation whatever is like something already known; it seeks this out, in order that it may apply its principle that ‘like produces like.’ . . . Like ordinary knowledge, in dealing with things science is concerned only with the aspect of repetition. Though the whole be original, science will always manage to analyze it into elements or aspects which are approximately a reproduction of the past. Science can work only on what is supposed to repeat itself—that is to say, on what is withdrawn, by hypothesis, from the action of real time. Anything that is irreducible and irreversible in the successive moments of a history eludes science. To get a notion of this irreducibility and irreversibility, we must break with scientific habits which are adapted to the fundamental requirements of thought, we must do violence to the mind, go counter to the natural bent of the intellect. But that is just the function of philosophy. (24-25)

The mode of thought that Dr. Sommer is employing in apparently denying the possibility of finding complementary conceptual elements in James and Freud seems to me essentially complicit with the methods of reductive materialist science, which continue implicitly to dominate the humanities despite frequent protestations to the contrary. While I think the kind of critical, historical contextualization Dr. Sommer prefers is valid in its own right, it oversteps its domain of validity when it denies the impulse to produce emergent wholes through the synthesis of different thinkers’ ideas.

This pragmatic approach is concisely expressed by John Stuart Mill (whom James thought would have been a leader of pragmatism had he still been alive) in his essay “Coleridge”:

All students of man and society who possess that first requisite for so difficult a study, a due sense of its difficulties, are aware that the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies, past or present, in social philosophy, both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.

Dr. Sommer seems to want to reify the “controversy” between James and Freud as metaphysically fundamental. I agree that Freud and James were very different thinkers, a point I allude to when I write that “James perhaps goes farther than Freud,” particularly in that James affirmed the validity of formal and final causation in addition to material and efficient causation, whereas Freud was a materialist, only affirming the latter two causal modes. However, I believe that critical negation (which Alfred North Whitehead terms “the peak of mentality”) of the possibility of synthesis, as Dr. Sommer seems to call for, should be relegated back to its appropriate place in the scholarly armamentarium, so that we can again begin to see apparently disparate modes of thought as complementary “in what they affirm.” In fact, as James asserts in a footnote to The Varieties of Religious Experience (444), this “inextricably mixed” quality of all kinds of “distinctions” was the predominant mode of thought prior to the seventeenth century. While I agree that critical, analytical, historical contextualization is a vitally necessary and important activity, one that has required the last few centuries for its individuation, this impulse is only half of a dialectical process. As Whitehead (who calls James “that adorable genius”) writes in Adventures of Ideas:

The difference between the two, namely the Hellenic and the Hellenistic types of mentality, may be roughly described as that between speculation and scholarship. For progress, both are necessary.  But, in fact, on the stage of history they are apt to appear as antagonists. Speculation, by entertaining alternative theories, is superficially skeptical, disturbing to established modes of prejudice. But it obtains its urge from a deep ultimate faith, that through and through the nature of things is penetrable by reason. Scholarship, by its strict attention to accepted methodologies, is superficially conservative of belief. But its tone of mind leans towards a fundamental negation. For scholars the reasonable topics in the world are penned in isolated regions, this subject-matter or that subject-matter. (108)

Despite Dr. Sommer’s assertion that “it’s of course fine that you make it your task to synthesize ideas,” he appears to contradict this affirmation in the rest of his response. He seems, along with much of current academia, to take an essentially Hellenistic rather than Hellenic approach to the production of knowledge, almost purely scholarly and analytic rather than speculative and synthetic. While I fully acknowledge the validity of tracing the direct influence on James of less well-remembered figures like Frederic W. H. MyersThéodore Flournoy, and Pierre Janet, I prefer a mode of thought which synthesizes the scholarly and speculative modes, asserting that, because James and Freud were perhaps the two primary psychologists who mediated the founding of psychology as a viable discipline, it is not only our right, but even our duty given a century of perspective, to bring their respective positive content into relation if we hope to generate novel understanding. Rather than a “forced marriage,” as Dr. Sommer terms it, I see this activity as a hieros gamos, a “sacred marriage” of opposites for the conception of discursive transformation via teleological concrescence.

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Affect and Rationality in William James

WilliamJames

William James writes in his Varieties of Religious Experience: “Each emotion obeys a logic of its own, and makes deductions which no other logic can draw. Piety and charity live in a different universe from worldly lusts and fears, and form another centre of energy altogether” (Varieties 298). James suggests that affective knowing, the focus on emotional or bodily information for the interpretation of experience, seems to illuminate domains that are inaccessible to the usual connotations of the word “logic,” as opposed to the more expansive derivation of the “Logos” of Greek philosophy in which sense James appears to be employing the term. As he describes it, being “inside” certain affective modes, including those accompanying rationality, constructs bodily experience of the world in radically different ways, forming different energetic centers that fundamentally color one’s perception of the world. Indeed, as James writes in Pragmatism: “The philosophy which is so important in each of us is not a technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what life honestly and deeply means.  It is only partly got from books; it is our individual way of just seeing and feeling the total push and pressure of the cosmos” (Pragmatism 1). James contends that bodily experience is prior to any theoretical system that one may hold. As he makes clear, affective intuition determines the type of philosophy that one is drawn to, though because of the pervasive repression of feeling modes in favor of rational thought in modernity, this knowledge is often unconsciously acted out as if we are driven primarily by rational considerations.

James suggests that educated people in the modern West often think that we believe things for rational reasons when, in fact, we almost always use rationality as an instrument for justifying what we feel for, as he writes, “our passions or our mystical intuitions fix our beliefs beforehand.” He continues, philosophy “finds arguments for our conviction, for indeed it has to find them. It amplifies and defines our faith, and dignifies it and lends it words and plausibility. It hardly ever engenders it; it cannot now secure it” (Varieties 391-92). Although this view might appear anti-intellectual at first glance, to even undercut the very basis of reason, this does not appear to be James’ intention.  Rather, James demonstrates that intellectual rationality is but one way of knowing the world applicable to certain domains of experience more than others, and that, for complex historical reasons, the West has, for the last few centuries, pervasively and systematically privileged “logical reason” over what he terms “feeling” and “intuition.” As James notes: “Until the seventeenth century this mode of thought prevailed” (Varieties 443-44), particularly until the widespread acceptance of the Cartesian equation of thought with human being in general as codified in the cogito: “I think, therefore I am.” However, before Descartes and the epochal shift in philosophy that he enacted and represented, “such distinctions . . . between the impersonal and the personal aspects of existence, were hardly suspected or conceived” (Varieties 443-44). Thus, James suggests that the domains accessible to intellect and affect were not yet individuated in premodernity as they are in the experience of late modernity, visible in the radical Kantian separation of subject and object, which assumes that one can never directly perceive the world outside of oneself, so the only way to obtain real knowledge is through mathematics, formal logic, and empirical testing.

Contrary to this Cartesian-Kantian conclusion, the foundation on which the privileging of scientific rationality rests, James contends that intellectual rationality is but one valid and productive way of constructing experience and, thus, of knowing the world. This approach refocuses attention on bodily experience which, as James suggests, can provide just as much real information as rationality, though of a radically different kind. However, while modernity has often constructed these two epistemological domains as fundamentally discontinuous and incommensurable, James posits that, just as they were combined in premodernity in a generally naïve, unconscious way, it seems that the way to attain a more complete understanding of lived experience lies in the intentional integration of these experiential domains. And this integration appears to be constituted primarily in a consciousness of where one’s attention is directed, and of which mode one emphasizes at any given moment. James writes:

Now however fixed these elements of reality may be, we still have a certain freedom in our dealing with them. Take our sensations. That they are is undoubtedly beyond our control; but which we attend to, note, and make emphatic in our conclusions depends on our own interests; and, according as we lay the emphasis here or there, quite different formulations of truth result. We read the same facts differently (Pragmatism 94-5).

Ultimately, James sees freedom not as a triumph of rationality over mute feeling as the case has often been constructed in modernity, but as the freedom to emphasize whichever domains of process one finds most appropriate to illuminate one’s experience at any particular moment. Thus, by becoming conscious of repressed bodily knowledge, one becomes more able to participate in the “formulation” of “truth” than if one is conscious only of one’s verbal, conceptual rationality, but unconsciously driven by one’s neuroses: the non-verbal affective and intuitive modes of engagement returning as compensatory Freudian symptoms. “Experience, as we know,” James writes, “has ways of boiling over, and making us correct our present formulas” (Pragmatism 86), a statement that bears a strong resemblance to Freud’s description of the process through which neurotic symptoms are produced. However, James perhaps goes farther than Freud to see these symptoms as impelling the psyche towards greater integration rather than simply cathexis, which Freud describes as leading to regression, anti-cathexis, or sublimation, none of which seem to have the potential for the psychic conciliation that James implies. According to James, by paying attention to intimate bodily feelings and not just to rational logic, one can apparently participate in what James would later term a “radical empiricism.” James writes:

Our acts, our turning-places, where we seem to ourselves to make ourselves and grow, are the parts of the world to which we are closest, the parts of which our knowledge is the most intimate and complete. Why should we not take them at their face-value?  Why may they not be the actual turning-places and growing-places which they seem to be, of the world—why not the workshop of being, where we catch fact in the making, so that nowhere may the world grow in any other kind of way than this? (Pragmatism 111).

In James’ view, attention to intimate experience is the primary locus for the growth and transformation, not only of the individual, but of the world, for the deepest premises that we hold about the nature of reality fundamentally condition the type of meaning that we can elicit from immediate experience. In turn, the meaning that we cull from the raw data of our senses determines what kind of world we collectively co-create.

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