In this next installment of examining James Hillman’s book, Anima, and Anatomy of a Personified Notion, we look at the notion of Ego, and especially its relation to Jung’s idea of the Conscious, as he understood these terms. Ego, as an idea, concept or definition, has been with us for a very long time and has a complex history of both usage and meaning. Perhaps this is fitting for a word that takes on the impossible task of serving as a single referent for the total sum of who we are.
For Jung, ego was sometimes used to refer to the conscious self, but not always, and especially not in his discussion of the soul’s movement toward Individuation, or Wholeness. Hillman says:
The ego as base of consciousness has always been an anachronistic part of analytical psychology. It is a historical truth that our Western tradition has identified ego with consciousness… But this part of Jung’s thought does not sit well with either his notion of psychic reality or his therapeutic goals of psychic consciousness. What brings cure is archetypal consciousness (mediated by the anima as we know from other passages), and his notion of consciousness is definitely not based upon ego.
Here he quotes Jung:
It is as though, at the climax of the illness, the destructive powers were converted into healing forces. This is brought about by the archetypes awaking to independent life and taking over the guidance of the psychic personality, thus supplanting the ego with its fertile willing and striving… the psyche has awakened to spontaneous activity….something that is not his ego and is therefore beyond the reach of his personal will. He has regained access to the sources of psychic life, and this marks the beginning of the cure. (CW 11, 534)
Hillman continues examining the notions of ego, consciousness and their relationship to anima and animus. He notes definitions by Bachelard and Onians that see anima as the reflective navigator of consciousness, and animus as the possessive owner of it. He then brings us back to Jung’s idea of the relativization of the ego to consciousness, a very important idea for what Hillman calls archetypal consciousness.
The ‘relativization of the ego,” that work and that goal of the fantasy of individuation, is made possible, however, from the beginning if we shift our conception of the base of consciousness from ego to anima archetype, from I to soul. Then one realizes from the very beginning (a priori and by definition) that the ego and all its developmental fantasies were never, even at the start, the fundament of consciousness, because consciousness refers to a process more to do with images than will, with reflection rather than control, with reflective insight into, rather than manipulation of, ‘objective reality.’
This, I believe, expresses the heart of Hillman’s insights into Jung’s brilliant work. Perhaps if the images that consciousness continually streams are too quickly interpreted by that historical aggregate we call ‘I’; dismissed, ignored, or entirely off the radar of our awareness, we are left with whatever the aggregate, habit of self has the capacity for, leaving no possibilty for the awareness that anything lies beneath the stream of consciousness, or that there even is a stream, and especially not one of our own making.
An unrelativized ego becomes both the possessor and the possessed, habitually literalizing one’s stream of consciousness into objects that one understands, controls, and that in turn, control the entire state of being of a person’s waking, conscious, experience.
By contrast, an animated, soulful experience of waking states challenges all tempts to possess one’s conscious experience, becoming more aware through time and practice that all ideas and moods are subject to archetypal influence. Just as we cannot lay claim to that which beats our heart, we cannot lay sole claim to the source of our thoughts, ideas or feelings that stream into awareness as pure, raw images.
10 thoughts on ““I” is an Aggregate”
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I’m reminded of what Nietzsche wrote (a paraphrase): When you begin a proposition with “I”, you’ve started with the greatest assumption of all.
Love that Evan!
Btw, still reading your book. Gotta take it in small chunks. Very trippy!
Thanks for the note. Hope your summer is going well.
I had to laugh at your reply to Jim when you wrote, “Every time I feel an opinion coming on that feels really good, I cringe.” Gosh I can relate to that, and yet I think it’s this time in my life (yes, mine! hah – animus) where I need to express more than ever from a sense of an “aggregate I,” especially in terms of finding my writer’s voice – the “main” one. I’d like to insert here that I love your title.
I also want to bring up the notion of healthy ‘ego’ and to quote Jung, “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” Perhaps you can also aid with putting his quote into context for me because I certainly consider you as specializing in his works (Jung) as well as commentary on his works (Hillman +). I do have some reading background loosely related to these areas (especially in my reading from my early twenties, about 15 years or so ago, and in terms of whatever I could learn outside of the ivory tower about esoteric ideas, the same well from which Jung had drawn – including the Secret of the Golden Flower which I cannot decode for sanity’s sake!), and more broadly; I find it difficult to discuss without agreeing on the terminology somewhat. Maybe after years of my current training in Traditional East Asian Medicine, will I be able to return to fundamental literature and tackle a theoretical understanding for consciousness (or even during this process, who knows, really?)
What exactly IS Jung’s take on ego? From what I understand, Jung’s life was full of transformation, as he underwent some deep explorations in consciousness. I’d image his aggregate ‘soul’ is what ‘we see’ when we read his works. Do you think that his body of work, taken as a whole, expresses what (and is this Hillman?) states here so well, “From the beginning if we shift our conception of the base of consciousness from ego to anima archetype, from I to soul. Then one realizes from the very beginning (a priori and by definition) that the ego and all its developmental fantasies were never, even at the start, the fundament of consciousness, because consciousness refers to a process more to do with images than will, with reflection rather than control, with reflective insight into, rather than manipulation of, ‘objective reality.’” I tend to agree with this idea that the soul is a receptive vehicle or receptacle for processing the collective… or something like that 🙂 I hope some of my musings in response to your article were – at least in part – containing a touch of coherency (or at least lending itself to some form of it for you to partake), for the sake of discussion. I love that you keep bringing your articles to us. Thank you. I truly appreciate the ability to process through these ideas even if I cannot make them “front and center.”
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Thanks for leaving your reflections here.
“I find it difficult to discuss without agreeing on the terminology somewhat.” Same here. Conceptual language, which Jung often used, tends to be difficult for me as it doesn’t easily reveal an image of anything. What is an ego anyway? There’s little agreement on the meaning of the word because itis used in very different contexts by different people.
Jung’s writings are varied, and his later writings often contradict his earlier stuff. I think this is actually a good thing, as it displays the seasons of his life and the moods of his soul. As Hillman points out in his book on Anima, Jung would sometimes see Jung’s definition of ego as the conscious self, and sometimes see it as a part of the conscious self. For myself, I don’t often use conceptual language as a true believer in their veracity or even their usefulness. So, yes, I agree, Jung’s life was full of transformation, that is one of the joys of reading him.
I found Jung through reading Alan Watts when still in my early 20’s. I have spent some time going East at different times in my life, but Hillman does such a great job of revealing our Western roots in a way that many moderns have ceased doing, I find him a delight. There’s a lot of disdain for the West, as if all evil could come from only one culture. What is often overlooked is that the West has one of the largest bodies of works, both intellectual and historical, so there is PLENTY to critique because the West’s journey has been recorded so often and so well.
I am most grateful Ka, for your comments and your love and support for what I bring here.
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Lovely write, Debra.
Thank you Chris! Hope you’re having a fantastic summer.
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Debra: Thank you so much — I hope you’re doing well, my friend 🙂
This statement, if accepted, rocks the rational world to it’s core. “…[W]e cannot lay sole claim to the source of our thoughts, ideas or feelings that stream into awareness as pure, raw images.” This contradicts the Protestant view of Ggod being expressed through us by our efforts. What is does for me is reiterate that concept that I am just a small part of a big “thing.”
If I accept a collective unconscious, which I am seeing more and more of, then I have to say that I am a part of it and not an outside observer of it. Frightening concept, because it challenges my premise that I create my power and reality. For me this goes right back to the sentence I quoted of yours above.
Awe full work Deb!
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Thanks Jim! Yes, agreed, it’s frightening, and raises a lot of questions that are diffiuclt to answer. Jung knew this, and saw how much psychological danger and damage there is because we exist within a collective conscious and an even bigger ocean of unconsciousness, which is the source of all possibilities, but can never be fully known, let alone integrated.
Everytime I feel an opinion coming on that feels really good, I cringe. 🙂
Thanks for the note.