Jung and Poetic Creativity (Bite-Sized Study Guide)

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ON THE SOURCE OF POETIC CREATIVITY

Jung’s primary interest was psychology, but believed that art was a suitable subject to address, as he saw it another ‘human activity deriving from psychic motives’[1]. His crucial distinction between the ‘personal unconscious’[2] and the ‘collective unconscious’[3] leads him to describe these two parts as totally different elements of the psyche, each with its own function, processes and language.

The personal unconscious is the subjective feelings, thoughts and experiences each individual accumulates throughout the course of their life. The collective unconscious, however, is not the result of individual experience: it consists of pre-existing, ‘primordial images’[4], created at the beginning of consciousness. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of ‘complexes’[5], the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of these acquired, universal images, referred to as ‘archetypes’[6].

He defined archetypes as ‘a priori, in born forms’[7] of intuitive thought and expression, accessible by all and directly connected to the ‘fundamental experiences and universal rites of passage’[8] each individual goes through in the process of their life (like reaching maturity, or facing your own mortality in old age).

Jung accredited archetypes as the source of human creativity. He advances this further, declaring that the creative process has a life and will of its own, achieving its aim ‘without the assistance of human consciousness’[9] and ‘quite regardless of the personal fate of the man who is its vehicle’[10]. This is the reason he gave for the symbolic qualities of poetry, expressing the belief that creative freedom is merely ‘an illusion’[11]. The recurrence of identifiable ‘core images’[12] and ‘foundational stories’[13] within the world’s diverse range of literary traditions is therefore attributed to the intervention of outside inspiration.

This was a direct challenge of Freud’s thinking. Jung’s near-Platonic description of ‘irrepresentable’[14] archetypes in control of the creative process conflicts with Freud’s view of creativity. Freud believed that art is the product of the personal unconscious expressing repressed conflicts and desires, but Jung dismissed this notion of ‘art as a neurosis’[15] and ‘[each] artist as a narcissist’[16], believing that the process went much deeper and wider than the range of personal consciousness is able to. Jung advises that only by questioning the ‘primordial image [lying] behind the imagery of art’[17] are we able to locate the source of human creativity.

 


 

[1] Carl Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg990

[2] C.G. Jung, ‘Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious’, in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (second edition), ed. by H. Read, trans. by R.F.C. Hull (London: Routledge, 1990), pg3

[3] Jung, ‘Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious’, pg3

[4] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg988

[5] C.G. Jung, ‘The Concept of the Collective Unconscious’, in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (second edition), ed. by H. Read, trans. by R.F.C. Hull (London: Routledge, 1990), pg42

[6] Jung, ‘Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious’, pg5

[7] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg988

[8] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg988

[9] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, pg997

[10] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to poetry, pg996

[11] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to poetry, pg996

[12] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg989

[13] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg989

[14] Leitch, ‘Carl Gustav Jung’, pg988

[15] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, pg991

[16] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, pg992

[17] Jung, ‘On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry’, pg1000

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