Tuesday, May 30, 2017

“Jung in Larger Context”: A Review of Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung: A Collaboration, by Nan Savage Healy

 (Los Angeles: Tiberius Press, 2017). ISBN: 978-0-9981128-0-0 (paperback)

In the interest of Disclosure, I served as the editor for this book. That said, and keeping in mind the relationship of editors like Maxwell Perkins with their writers (in his case, no less than Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and, somewhat synchronistically—to use Jung’s term—Thomas Wolfe), this should not preclude a fair review. Indeed, editors are reviewing books all the time. The difference is, they have the opportunity to provide different eyes to the author’s work before the fact, as opposed to reviewers, who do so after the fact (although I have done a number of pre-publication reviews that precipitated changes before publication).
But enough of that. I agreed to the editing contract for the same reason that I am now reviewing Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung—Nan Savage Healy’s detailed and insightful exploration of Jung’s unsung and nearly obliterated collaborator shines a powerful light on Jung, whom I, like others, practically deified as I have made my own journey through Jungian staples such as Archetypes, Dreams, the Shadow, and Myths.
I have reviewed many books by Jungian psychologists (e.g., Lawrence Staples and Erel Shalit) and have read many of Jung’s books. His work is an essential part of my own in Storytelling and I put him right up there with Joseph Campbell as one of the giants whose shoulders I stand upon.
An essential question that I have struggled with in the nearly three years that have elapsed since I first heard from Nan with a request to edit this book is this: Has my estimation of Jung decreased, increased, or stayed the same as I have learned about his relationship with Toni Wolff, who first met Jung as a patient and soon became a Lover, Muse, and Collaborator? I would say, after careful, continued reflection: all and none of the above.
My reasoning for this answer serves as the basis of this review, as I am sure that many of the reviews written by Jungian analysts and various historians and academics of Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung cover the nuts and bolts of the psychology and the finer points of who came up with what theory, who wrote which part of each book or essay, and who we really owe the credit to. This review is perhaps more personal, which may help this outstanding book to reach an audience segment it might otherwise miss.
Make no mistake—this is a work of deep academic excellence. The notes take up 52 pages, and the acknowledgments illuminate the depth and width of the resources—human and documentary—that Healy pursued to bring this book to fruition. She spoke with descendents of Wolff and Jung and went where the winds of inquiry took her. There is plenty of synchronicity at work, from her first stumbling upon an essay by Toni Wolff up through the book’s completion and I can tell you that I edited the book not once, but twice (and I understand considerable work was done after the fact while adding the 101 images that bring the words to life and give the reader a different kind of insight into Wolff and Jung), all the result of Healy’s commitment to tell Toni Wolff’s story as best as she can.
Toni Wolff’s story is very much inextricable from Jung’s, and from men’s in general. Coming from a wealthy household, college was not a proper option for her—and her lack of a degree was something she continually worked to overcome. After the death of her father and the subsequent responsibility she took for the family’s well-being and finances, she sought therapy from Jung (who took his own father’s death hard as well), and he instantly saw her genius. At the time she was a poet and very much in tune with her dreams. As she moved from patient to lover, muse, and collaborator, Toni abandoned poetry, focusing on the more concrete world of psychology. In fairness to Jung, he always regretted her leaving her poetry behind.
Fairness is a key strength of this book. It would be easy for Healy to put it all on Jung, to portray him as an unethical doctor who preyed on his female patients (there were others besides Toni), ignoring the dangers of Transference for his own selfish reasons. But she does not. Indeed, the primary reason Jung does not diminish as a thinker, writer, and artist in my estimation through this journey is because Nan Savage Healy Humanizes Jung, illuminating his Quests for answers in the deep void of symbolism and the subconscious, a Quest he inspired me to take nearly two decades ago.
In line with his Humanness is Jung’s recognition of the Shadow and the warring aspects of one’s personality. I have called my own warring halves Joe and Joey since college, a realization I came to intuitively in a moment of shamanic crisis—it was not until a decade later, listening to Michael York’s masterful reading of Memories, Dreams, Reflections that I began to understand what was at work through Jung’s own experiences. It truly changed my life. Since that time, I have worked through theatre, storytelling, shamanic studies, and voracious reading and diligent spiritual practice to get to know my Shadow and integrate the two halves of my personality. To this day, Treaties are broken and the war ensues again. Studying the Liber Novus and Black Books and undertaking similar projects of my own keeps the casualties down and treaties ever renegotiated. Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung has been invaluable to that process (see pp. 68 and 74–77).
The one area where I am most suspect of Jung’s motivations begins to be explored in depth in chapter 5, “Spiritual Wife.” Some of Toni’s most important contributions to psychology stem from an essay she wrote called “Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche,” in which she outlines four structural forms for the “chief perspectives of women” (p. 90): Hetaira, Medial, Amazon, and Maternal. Space does not allow me to define and explicate them… and I could not do better than Healy in doing so. For my purposes here, it is enough to say that the Medial operates akin to a Muse for the creative man, while the Maternal is self-explanatory. Here is where it gets complex. Jung did not believe that one woman could be both his Muse and the head of his household—his wife Emma served in the role of the latter, raising their children and overseeing the home, while Toni served as the Medial. One might bleed this down into the vulgar Madonna and Whore, but that is impossible to do while absorbing Healy’s portrait of Toni.
Perhaps I am lucky (as was Joe Campbell with Jean Erdman, although they did not have children)—my own wife has been both for me (the Medial is a “prophetess and psychic seer,” p. 90; fittingly, my wife is a psychic medium) and so, for me, Jung’s thesis looks more like Convenience than Truth. This dual role in one woman, I should say in fairness, can at times be destructive when we consider Jackson Pollock’s muse and wife, Lee Krasner or Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes, although destructive marriages for artists and poets are not all that unusual. In the case of Jung, Toni, and Emma, this triangle, which went on for decades, was awkward and painful for Emma and Toni both.
There is no doubt that Toni shepherded Jung through dark nights of the soul at her own peril. At one point, she was determined to marry him, a notion that Jung rejected out of hand. It could be said that this tumultuous relationship led Toni Wolff to pay the ultimate price: death by broken heart.
Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung, like a good analyst, operates on many levels. Healy covers the history of analytical psychology, from the main ideas to the Clubs and gathering places funded by wealthy American heiresses as well as illuminating the key phases of Jung’s career through the contributions of and disagreements with Toni Wolff. For instance, Toni had no use for Alchemy, and Jung took on another Medial in order to push that segment of his work forward.
The man who built towers like Bollingen out of stone as well as scientific and mythological towers out of sheer intellect and depth journeying was complex and suitably human for the tasks at hand. Toni Wolff was indispensible to the process. Nan Savage Healy mediates between the two with the effortless grace that only comes from years of committed toil.
We should all be thankful that she stumbled upon that essay by Wolff those many years ago.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

“Not Your Grandma’s Tao”: A Review of The Tao of Cool, by William Douglas Horden

(Ithaca, NY: Delok Publishing, 2017). ISBN: 978-1544629834 (paperback)

“You’re not cool, you’re chilly. And chilly ain’t never been cool.” [George Carlin, from one of his HBO specials]
You best get ready—this isn’t your (normal? regular?) traditional review. I am not even sure, after reading The Tao of Cool, that a review is even a COOL thing to do, nontraditional or not. Nothing about this book, which is [loosely] (as in, shares a common word in the title and the same number of chapter-poems) based on the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu is presented in an expected way. For instance, the subtitle is on the back of the book, and reads: “Deconstructing the Tao Te Ching [:] from the Notebooks of Snafu Trismegistus [,] Bodhisattva of Universal Cool.”
Now, (normally) I would question such a statement. In one of my other lives as an academic editor, at least once a year I edit papers from a writer who promotes himself as a “thought leader.” That always makes me cringe. But, in this case, Bodhisattva of Universal Cool sort of elegantly, exactly sums it up.
As I sat down to read The Tao of Cool [perhaps it’s even better standing up… a problematic psoas muscle kept me from testing this idea], my academic side dutifully pulled my copy of the Tao Te Ching, translated by D. C. Lau. Turns out, synchroserendipitously, that I had read it exactly 13 years ago. Cool, I thought.
Perhaps not so much.
What is a deconstruction, anyway? I am not going to pull a definition from some online dictionary, because I am now cooler than that. I’ve done my share of deconstruction, which, to be of any value, involves some kind of re-construction. But isn’t that what authors (cool ones anyway) always do? Everything is through a lens, through experience, just like the actor.
And that seems to be the coolest, most hipikat [definition on p. 9 of the Introduction] way to engage with The Tao of Cool. The deconstruction came and went in the sublime Darkness of the writer’s toil—what we get between the covers is pure Light.
Horden pulls no punches in the Introduction. He tells it like he sees it. “It” being a, well, scathing survey of the politico-social landscape. He says that the book has taken “twenty years to ripen” (p. 5), which seems to be the requisite time for any novice to become a master—and it takes a master to produce a work like this. Perhaps the Introduction is a good litmus test to see if you are cool enough to withstand the barrage of wisdom that takes the uncool and melts it into oblivion. If you can’t get through the first 10 pages, read something else, as Horden says (better than I) on page 1.
I have to say, prior to reading the 81 chapters, I thought I was pretty cool. But when one reads, in chapter 6: “Only the profoundly Uncool talk about spirituality/religion/and the sacredness of everything” (p. 18) I had to question where I was on this particular scale. The more I progress, the less I talk, but talk I still do.
For those inclined to make a comparison between The Tao of Cool and Lao Tzu’s text, try chapter 10. Then, really, just put Lao Tzu away. Flipping back and forth, line by line, is the opposite of Cool.
Chapter 15 and some subsequent chapters brought to mind what the Beats were doing with words and mind-jazz decades ago (“The Uncool is muzak./The Cool is Jazz,” p. 88). Lines like “Dig./True hipkats are so far gone they’re already on their way back” (p. 27) recall Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Corso. If anyone was channeling hipikat outside of the actual jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, it was them. Difference is, the Beats were chasing story down a highway full of traps—they were ultimately consigned forever to a town called Uncoolsville when the rhythm-car spit-spit and blam-blammed amid their own frailties and distractions. Jim Morrison was on the right track for awhile as well, especially with his poetry: “The Cool is always having a near-death experience” (chapter 25) but he ultimately kept going. Same with Hunter S Thompson, who came to mind during my read of chapter 41. Before we judge any of these would be hipikats too harshly, however, it seems that especially Kerouac and his buddy Neil Cassady weren’t too far off the mark, as chapter 45 tells us: “Joyriding is better than anything else” (p. 57) and the whole group—especially in this case, Corso—got close considering “A healthy fascination with death is hipper/than an unhealthy fascination with life” (p. 62). Maybe Tom Waits is a hipikat. If he is, he’s too Cool to say.
If I have any hope of being Cool, even for a moment, I had better leave it here, and give Snafu Trismegistus, the Bodhisattva of Cool, the (nearly) last word:
“Setting your watch to geological time takes astronomical Cool” (p. 52).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

“The Reader as Mediator”: A Review of Rupert M. Loydell’s Dear Mary

 (Bristol, UK: Shearsman Books, 2017), ISBN-13: 978-1-84861-519-9
Dear Mary, Rupert M. Loydell’s twentieth collection of poetry, is a series of meditations on the Virgin Mary and the circumstances of her miraculous conception. True to form, Loydell, a painter as well as poet, approaches the mystery through the dual lens of words and images. And one does not have to be raised Catholic like myself to appreciate the large number of images available to us that take as their subject Mary’s receiving of the news from the angel Gabriel and her subsequent life as mother of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Indeed, “the appearance/of the angel,” as Loydell says in the poem “A Process of Discovery”: “the event/the moment/as pregnant/as the Madonna” (18). With this encounter heavily weighted from the onset, Loydell explores the crafting of the image, as in “Colour by Numbers,” although he does not take the elitist angle of painting as something only for the highly trained—especially with religious matters as its subject—but something for everyone, something as simple as a color by numbers painting, which you can “take… to the next level” (26). This is more Bob Ross than Old Masters, and refreshingly so.
In the poem “Cimabue” he writes: “everything in Italy/is a love letter to God” (28) a statement that recalls to me the atmosphere and impact of the art in the Martin McDonagh film In Bruges. Even the lowest and bleakest of souls are not immune to such pervasive and powerful displays of Holy, Heavenly art. The next poem, “Hidden,” continues and expands this theme: “There are hidden angels/everywhere in Tuscany./If you find one keep quiet/and speak of it only to yourself/let meaning turn to whisper” (29).
Given that the Angel and Mary are the lead characters in Dear Mary’s narrative, we have to ask who or what serves as the Mediator between the Spirit and the Flesh. The very act of the Immaculate Conception (real or metaphorical) elevates Mary to near-Spirit, but she is still (and importantly) Flesh. Loydell’s poems and the vast array of paintings out in the world serve as Mediators, but the Reader must function as Mediator as well. I left the  Catholic Church at 21 to become the Mediator of my own experience, rather than relying on priests, nuns, and long-gone prophets.
“How to Say It” uses the Painter as Mediator: “He does not know how to say it,/how to talk about the moment/he has been asked to paint,/so he simply colours the story in” (39). Loydell leaves ample space in his poems for the Reader to do the same.
Let us not confuse “simple” for “easy” here. On some level, even the Writer “colours the story in” with a transcendent element beyond words, if the angels/Muses are kind and the artist remains open to the experience, as Mary was. Extending this metaphor, the Inspiration fills the artist’s vessel like the Savior fills Mary Mater’s womb.
From pages 51 to 59 is a multi-part poem titled “Shadow Tryptych” (“after Francis Bacon”), a rich tapestry of insight on the Vision and Voice of the artist. It sits at the exact midpoint of the collection and serves appropriately as the central Furnace and Core of Dear Mary.
A highlight of the collection is “Alien Abduction.” The nexus of angels/demons and aliens is inescapable to ponder, and Loydell’s well-informed but tongue-and-cheek take will get you smiling while you think.
“How Grey Became” takes us back to color, and keeps you thinking. Loydell writes: “The colour grey is preferred by people who are indecisive;/grey is also the colour of evasion and non-commitment.” He then goes on to say: “Grey is the colour of intellect, knowledge, and wisdom” (65). This latter interpretation is the one I tend to favor. It’s a proposition put forth even further in the Live song “The Beauty of Grey.” As I exist day after day mourning the death of Complexity, I wish there was more grey. More mix. More middle. Given that, perhaps both interpretations work.
“Out of the Picture” is about none other than Joseph. My namesake. The biblical character I have most pondered in my life. Loydell gives him a voice too long in coming. Talk about Complexity…
A more modern take on Mary and Gabriel is “Surveillance System Annunciation.” What if it all was recorded. Would it clarify or even further muddle?
The collection is bookended by two essential pieces.  First is the Preface by Dr. Jim Harris, who is the Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford. I highly recommend taking the time to read it, even if it means reading it after the fact so that your own experiences of the poems are not colored by his insights, sound as they are. 
The collection ends with a Notes section, which illuminates the source material and inspiration for various poems (for instance, “Dear Mary” is assembled from the song lyrics of 11 musical artists and other texts).

Like Catholicism itself, the sources and inspirations that make up Dear Mary are myriad, and the Mystery is left to the Reader as Mediator to ponder.