“I” is an Aggregate

Terminology, concepts, definitions; these subtle attributes of our understanding seem somewhat neglected and confused in our culture. One of the joys for me of studying both Jung’s Analytical Psychology and Hillman’s notion of Archetypal Psychology, is to participate in an ongoing conversation of the fundaments of human nature.

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.’

Poem of the Soul - The flight of the soul. Courtesy of Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon - Public Domain

Poem of the Soul – The flight of the soul. Courtesy of Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon – Public Domain

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.