The Creative Imagination: A Heretical Idea
By Paul Kugler, Ph.D.
“Image is psyche.”
The theme of our conference this weekend is creativity. This morning I would like to discuss how in the history of Western thought imagining and creativity slowly became interwoven, leading up to the origin of depth psychology.
The role of the creative imagination in therapeutic analysis has preoccupied me since the 1960’s. This interest, in part, grew out of the Spirit of the Time.
[Slide of 1960’s]
The 1960’s was a turbulent decade. It was a time of cultural and political change around the world. There were the civil rights movement and anti-war protests in the United States. There was the cultural revolution in China. And there were the utopian initiatives and dreams of social & cultural liberation in Latin America.
In the 1960’s the world was undergoing a profound transformation in cultural values. And in psychology and mental health, dramatic changes were underway as well.
[Slide of R.D.Laing]
In England, existential psychoanalysis and the anti-psychiatry movement began to transform our understanding of self and madness, developing new treatment models based on existential psychoanalysis and therapeutic communities. R D Laing and D. G. Cooper spearheaded a movement to bring together depth psychology and politics in the service of greater patients rights.
[Slide of Lacan]
In France, Jacques Lacan was in the process of re-introducing Freud to a new generation of clinicians with an ingenious re-reading of psychoanalysis through the lens of structural linguistics.
[Slide of Hillman]
And in Zürich, James Hillman began to revision Jungian psychology through a series of remarkable publications. Insearch, Suicide and the Soul, Myth of Analysis, Revisioning Psychology and Dream and the Underworld were all published in the 1960’s and 70’s. Hillman’s revisioning of Jungian psychology, developed out of an integration of classical Jungian psychology with contemporary phenomenology. Archetypal psychology re-emphasized the importance of psychic images in mental life.
[Slide of Cultural Revolutions 1960’s]
In the early 1970’s, many young Americans traveled to Europe in search of answers to questions raised by the cultural revolutions of the 1960’s. Some traveled to England to work with R. D. Laing, some traveled to Paris to study with Jacque Lacan, while others found their way to Zürich, to the Jung Institute and to James Hillman.
[Slide Zürich 1971]
I was part of that generation of young restless intellectuals, who turned to Europe for an outside perspective from which to better understand the American counter-culture of the 1960’s. In September of 1971, I arrived in Zürich and enrolled at the Jung Institute.
This photograph of the morning light of Zürich was taken in 1971 from the apartment where I lived as a student.
[Slide: Alchemy Seminar]
Before arriving in Zürich, I had already read Hillman’s work, especially his 1968 Eranos Lecture entitled “On Psychological Creativity,” and soon was invited to become a member of the private Monday evening seminar Hillman conducted at Spring House. During my first year in Zürich the topic of the seminar was Psychology and Alchemy.
[Slide: Satinover, Berry, Bosnak]
Some of the other original members of the seminar included Jeffery Satinover, Patricia Berry, Robbie Bosnak, and Raphael Lopez Pedraza.
While in Zürich I attended daily lectures at the Jung Institute, participated in Hillman’s private seminars on Monday evening, and worked full time at the Zürichberg Clinic. The Zürichberg Clinic is a private inpatient treatment center located about 10 minutes outside of Zürich. Tomorrow I will speak more about the Zürichburg Clinic.
What Jung, Hillman and the Zürichburg Clinic all shared in common was a deep sense of the importance of psychic images and creativity in mental life. At the beginning of the 20th century, both Freud and Jung struggled to understand the function of ‘psychic representation’ in the formation of human personality. Both men questioned how psychic images are related to self and reality, to identity, creativity and psychopathology?
[Slide: Imagining, Playing Self-consciousness]
Imagining is an essential part of everyday life. As young children we begin to imagine
long before learning to speak. Dreaming, writing, remembering, and even self-consciousness would be impossible without the ability to imagine. Depth psychology developed out of an attempt to explain the role imagining plays in personality formation and psychopathology.
To better grasp the significance of psychic images in mental life, we need to step back for a moment and take a look at how the concepts of psychic image and creativity have evolved and transformed in the history of Western thought.
[Slide: Margritte “The Human Condition”]
This image is by the surrealist painter, Rene Margritte. It is one of his most famous painting and shows an open window with an easel in front of it. The canvas on the easel bears a picture of the ocean and sky as seen through the window, and this picture playfully ‘over-laps’ the actual view. Margritte is exploring the “over-lap” between the world and a representation of the world. The play between image as copy and reality is located within Margritte’s painting entitled “The Human Condition.” Margritte explored the outer limits of representation in many of his paintings.
Plato is the first Western philosopher to make reference to image in relation to Reality. Images (eidõlon or eikõn) for Plato were viewed as located in the external world, not as interior ‘mental representations.’ Plato’s theory of image assumed an a priori ideal located in eternity,out of time.
[Slide: Modern art – chair]
For example, while there are many chairs in our everyday world, there is only one true ‘form’ or ideal of a chair. And this ideal is located in eternity. The various chairs in the physical world are simply reflections of the metaphysical ‘ideal.’
Images, on the other hand, Plato viewed as reproductions of the physical world, the material chair. For Plato images are copies of copies.
[Slide: Aristotle: - Shifted are of inquiry from metaphysical …]
Aristotle, Plato's student, developed a different theory of image by shifting his focus from the metaphysical to the psychological. Aristotle located image for the first time within the human condition and is in many respects the first psychologist. For Aristotle, images are a bridge between the inner world of the reason and the outer world of sensation.
[Slide: Plato & Aristotle]
For both Plato and Aristotle, imagining is mainly conceived of as a reproductive activity. Imagining is like a copy machine.
[Slide: copy machine]
Traces of Plato and Aristotle can be found in almost all subsequent Western theories of psychology. Either primacy is placed on an atemporal cognitive structure following Plato or primacy is placed on sensation following Aristotle, or there is a combination of the two as in Piaget's epigenetic model.
The common thread for both Plato and Aristotle is their view of image as a second-hand reflection of a more original source of creation located beyond the human condition.
[Slide: Concept of Creativity]
The modern concept of “Creativity” was not introduced until the 17th century. In ancient Greek, the word for ‘art is “techne.” It is the same root as in “technique” and “technology.” The ‘artist’ in ancient and Medieval times was known as an ‘artisan’ or a ‘craftsman’ who applied the rules of a craft, but did not practice freedom of expression.
[Slide: Medieval Onto-theology]
The Medieval understanding of imagining as represented by Augustine, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas still conformed to the reproductive model of Plato and Aristotle. Psychic image was still treated as a copy referring to a creator beyond itself. From the Medieval theological perspective images have their source in a divine god located outside the human condition.
[Slide: Jim Dine “The Green Suit”]
The painting we are looking at is by Jim Dine, an American artist. It is called “The Green Suit.” I would like to take a moment, to see how a writer of the Medieval period viewed psychic images. Richard of St. Victor, a twelfth-century writer, portrays images as ‘borrowed clothing,’ used to ‘dress-up rational ideas.’ Images are viewed as psychic ‘garments’ used to ‘suit-up’ reason and rational ideas, so as to make them more presentable to the general population. But, Richard of St. Victor is also very cautious with respect to what the mind might do with psychic images, its mental garments. He warns the reader that if they become too pleased with the images used to ‘dress up’ reason, then the image may adhere to reason like a ‘skin.’
[Slide: Foot / Shoe]
This painting is also by Margritte and it wonderfully captures the essence of the Medieval tension between image as artificial apparel and images as one’s authentic nature. Richard of St. Victor is cautioning the reader against mistaking ‘an artificial apparel,” a shoe, for their authentic being, their foot.
Why, we might ask, is this a problem? If we were living in Europe during the late middle ages, our deeper nature, our authentic being, would have been theologically conceived of as coming from God. Richard of St. Victor is warning us not to think that our unique nature comes from our psychic images. To do so, would be a form of heresy and threaten the very authority of the Catholic church.
[slide: Late Middle Ages text]
In Richard of St Victor’s cautionary concern, we begin to observe the emergence in Western thought of a growing uncertainly as to whether psychic images are only artificial and reproductive, or whether they are actually part of our genuine nature.
[Slide: Body / bathing suit]
At the end of the Middle Ages, we witness the Human Psyche beginning to question whether psychic images are secondary, reproductive and artificial, or whether, in fact, psychic images are a part of our authentic nature!
[Slide; Metaphysical Order of Past 2000 years…]
As the concept of image evolves in Western thought, it begins to bring a growing instability to the intermediary position it has been forced to occupy for the past 2000 years. The metaphysical order coming down from Plato and Aristotle has assumed certain primordial dualities. The most fundamental dualities are: Inner and outer, mind and body, reason and sensation, spirit and matter.
Up until this point in Western history image has always been ‘sandwiched’ between these opposites. As we move out of the Middle Ages towards the dawning of Renaissance humanism, a few figures just on the margins of Western thought, begin to radically revise our notions of image and creativity.
[Slide of Copernicus world]
Copernicus revolutionized Renaissance cosmology by inverting our relation to the solar system. Traditional astronomy taught that the sun circles around the earth. Copernicus turned cosmology upside down by demonstrating that the reverse is true. The earth circles around the sun.
[Slide: Alchemists on the Margins of Western Thought]
Paracelsus, Ficino, Bruno and other Alchemists writing during this time, began to create their own revolution in philosophy and psychology. They did so by reversing the primary terms in our traditional theories of knowledge.
[Slide: Paracelsus asks: "What else is…"]
Alchemists and other hermetic philosophers of the 16th century were beginning to intuit the presence of a ‘sun’ within the human universe. They were beginning to discern an inner light capable of originary and creative powers. Paracelsus extended Copernicus’ revolution to the inner world of psychology. Paracelsus wrote: "What else is imagination, if not the inner sun." In other words, instead of reason being the center of the inner world, Paracelsus begins to suggest that imagination is at the center of our psychological universe. And furthermore, this inner ‘sun’, the imagination, is capable of producing a special kind of light.
[Slide: Bruno – text]
Giordano Bruno, a 16th century Hermetic philosopher, dramatically revised the traditional reproductive view of image with his theory of the infinite universe. He did so by suggesting that there are infinite universes and that the inner universe also has a “sun” capable creating images and enlightenment. This “sun” is at the center of the human condition. These ideas were so radical in relation to the theological doctrines of the time that Bruno was condemned as a heretic by the Catholic Church.
Bruno's punishment for placing the creative imagination at the center of the human condition, was to be burnt alive at the stake! Several more centuries would need to pass before it would be safe enough to introduce into mainstream Western thought the idea of imagining as central to creativity and human nature.
Up to this point in Western history, the act of creation had been attributed only to an agency beyond the human condition. This is a typical Medieval portrait of Christ. Noticed how it is not signed by the artist in the lower right corner. This is because the act of creation of the painting is not attributed to an individual, but to god. Bruno and other hermetic philosophers of the 15th and 16th centuries began to develop the heretical idea of locating the agency responsible for creativity within the human imagination. It would still be, however, another 150 years, before main stream Western thought would be prepared to safely transform its notion of image in relation to creativity and human nature.
Before we leave the alchemists and hermetic philosophers of the 16th century I want to note that over 1/3 of all of Jung’s writings was on alchemy and the role of imagination in human psychology.
As we move out of the Renaissance and into the Age of Reason, we see Descartes, followed by Locke, Berkley, and Hume laying the groundwork for what would become British empiricism. These English philosophers worked to create a new view of the mind based on reason and logic.
[Slide: The Age of Reason]
To do this, these English philosophers slowly did away with appeals to any form of metaphysical or transcendental scaffolding to support their theory of knowledge. The British empiricists wanted to do away with any transcendent first principles, such as Platonic ideals or god in their theory of knowledge. Instead, they wanted to begin with the mind as a “blank slate.”
[Slide of Locke]
Locke introduced the metaphor of the ‘tabula rasa’ to describe the baby’s mind. Experiences and sensations are inscribed on this blank slate as the child develops. Locke’s “tabula rasa” model of the mind dominated the Age of Reason. And Hume’s “laws of association” further attempted to account for all human understanding without recourse to transcendent metaphysical principles.
[Slide of Hume]
The mind was now conceived of as based upon reason. For something to be ‘true’ or ‘real’ it had to be logically consistent. Hume, however, was ultimately unable to establish a firm ground for his theory of knowledge outside of logic itself. He was unable to reconcile his laws of association governing mental images and ideas with reason and the physical world.
[Slide of Margritte window]
Hume concluded that if the ‘world’ we know is a collection of images and ideas without any transcendent foundations, then all we can use to establish our sense of reality are subjective fictions, foundationless images. Like this surrealist painting by Magritte, in Hume’s theory of knowledge images and ideas are written on the tabula rasa, and internally held together by logic. But, they are not grounded in any transcendent foundations, neither physical, nor metaphysical.
The window glass on the right in Margritte’s painting is like the tabula rasa, images held together by logic and reason, but not connected to any transcendent foundation. Ultimately Hume is lost in a solipsistic world of foundationless images and ideas.
Near the end of his life, Hume lamented: “We have therefore, no choice but betwixt a false reason and none at all. For my part I know not what ought to be done in the present case.”
It is in this state of unfounded subjectivism that we find Western thought at the end of the Age of Reason. And it is in this skeptical atmosphere, that 18th century philosophy prepares for a revolution in the theory of mental images.
[Slide: 1775-1825: Political Revolutions in America and France]
Revolution was in the air; political revolutions were taking place in America and in France. And in Germany, Kant was setting the stage for a philosophical revolution!
[Slide of Kant]
In 1781, Kant stunned his colleagues by proclaiming the process of imagining (Einbildungskraft) to be the indispensable precondition for all knowledge. In the first edition of his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant demonstrated that both reason and sensation, the two primary terms in most theories of knowledge up through the age of Reason,
were produced, not reproduced, by imagining.
[Slide: Kant’s Revolution]
Kant's revolution turned on two important points. First, he re-conceived the process of imagining as both productive and reproductive; and secondly, he located his synthetic categories and their process of imagining transcendent to reason. But, and this is the important point, he locates them within the human condition. Platonic metaphysics had located the originary principle in a transcendental realm, beyond the human condition. While medieval theology, located it in a transcendental god. Kant, struggling with Hume’s skepticism which resulted from dispensing with all transcendental foundations, established a new transcendent ground. This time, however, the transcendent ground was located within the human psyche itself, but it was located transcendent to reason. Or today, in psychology we would say, the new transcendent ground was located within the human psyche, but transcendent to the ego. Kant referred to this new ground as the “transcendental imagination.” Two hundred years earlier, a similar view of psychic images had led to Bruno being burnt alive at the stake.
Kant's extraordinary critique of pure reason turned the relationship between reason and imagination upside down. Kant was able to demonstrate that pure reason could not arrive at the objects of experience except through the finite limits established by imagining. Simply put: Kant demonstrated that imagining is the indispensable precondition for all knowledge. With Kant mental image ceases to be viewed as a copy, or a copy of a copy, and now assumes the role of origin and creator of meaning, as well as of our sense of reality. Images create our consciousness which provides the illumination of our world.
[SLIDE: Shift in Metaphor from Mirror to Lantern]
Where image had previously been approached through the metaphor of a mirror reflecting the world, Kantian metaphysics re-conceived of imagining through the new metaphor of the magic lantern. The process of imagining provides the illumination, the consciousness, for our knowledge of the world.
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, in many respects, marks the end of the Age of Reason.
[Slide: Liberation of Image: England & France]
The psychological revolution created by the first edition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, spawned powerful new movements in 19th century art and philosophy. In England, the new romanticism celebrated the liberation of image in the works of Blake, Shelly, Byron, Coleridge, and Keats. The celebration continued, as well, in France through the works of Baudelaire, Hugo, and Nerval. And towards the end of the 19th century, one hundred years after Kant, another transformation in our concept of image was about to occur.
In the late 1890’s, Freud began to explore the recesses of the human mind through an analysis of psychic images. Dreams, fantasies, and memories were all carefully examined
in an attempt to understand how ‘mental representation’ is involved in our sense of self and reality, personality development and symptom formation.
While these were new and puzzling questions for psychiatry, the problem of imagining was by no means new to the history of Western thought.
[Slide of Freud]
In the early years of depth psychology, Freud expanded our understanding of the human psyche through his analysis of sexuality and desire, Oedipal dynamics, the theory of drives and id psychology.
[Slide of Jung]
Jung’s clinical research and therapeutic analysis focused less on the role of desire and sexuality in human relationships, and more on the role of psychic images in mental life.
[Slide of Productive & Reproductive]
Jung viewed imagining as the very ground of psychic life. In January of 1929, Jung wrote the following in a letter: “I am indeed convinced that creative imagination is the only primordial phenomenon accessible to us, the real Ground of the psyche, the only immediate reality.” In this passage we can clearly hear echoes of Kant’s formulations.
[Slide of quote: This is not a cigar]
One hundred years earlier Kant had revolutionized philosophy by establishing imagining as a transcendent ground within the human condition. Kant's categories provided the a priori structures necessary for reason itself.
[Slide of Jung quote “One could also describe these forms…]
Jung further developed the implications of Kant’s critique in the realm of depth psychology by positing archetypes as the a priori categories of the human psyche. Jung writes: “One could also describe these forms as categories analogous to the logical categories….Only, in the case of our "forms," we are not dealing with categories of reason but categories of the imagination”.
[Slide: Theory of Archetypes]
Jung extended Kant’s critique of pure reason to an analysis of the finitude of the human psyche. Jung’s theory of archetypes, the categories of the human psyche, shifts the psychological inquiry from the objects of experience to an analysis of our modes of knowing them.
This is another painting by Margritte. The painting reminds the viewer of the difference between the finger pointing towards the moon and the moon itself. Jung shifted the focus of analysis from the moon, to the finger pointing towards the moon, to the phenomenal world of psychic images. In analysis, we do not analyze the literal parents, but the parential imagos. The theoretical difference between Freud and Jung
developed over the epistemological ‘object’ of choice. Where Freud emphasizes the primacy of drives, Jung focuses on psychic images and the outer limits of human knowledge and representation.
[SLIDE: Psychic image as bridge…]
The psyche and its capacity to create images, Jung locates as a mediating agency between the inner and outer world. Jung writes: "…Idea and thing come together, however, in the human psyche, which holds the balance between them….What indeed is reality if it is not a reality in ourselves….? Living reality is the product neither of the …behavior of things nor of the …idea … but rather a combination of both…”
By shifting the analytic focus from sexuality to psychic image, Jung formulated a radically new understanding of psychic reality. Jung writes: "The psyche creates reality every day. The only expression I can use for this activity is fantasy... It is, pre-eminently...(a) creative activity1…The inner and outer worlds of an individual come together in psychic images, giving the person a vital sense of a living connection to both worlds. Fantasy it was and ever is which fashions the bridge between the irreconcilable claims of subject and object."2 The experience of reality is a product of the psyche's capacity to imagine and is the very ‘essence’ of being human.
(SLIDE of Margritte painting)
This painting is also by Margritte. It is a wonderful depiction of the outer limits of knowledge. This is the place where consciousness crosses over from the known into the unknown.
Psychic images are like this bridge. They point beyond themselves to both the everyday events of the world around us, as well as to the deeper recesses of the mind and metaphysics. Psychic images seem to signify something that consciousness cannot quite grasp, the as yet unknown depths, transcendent to subjectivity. And this depth is to be found in both the outer and the inner worlds. What psychic images signify, however, cannot precisely be determined, either by appeal to a difference or to a universal.
While the significance of the image cannot be precisely defined, what it can do is to appeal to a special kind of knowing. And that special kind of knowing cannot be designated a priori.
Perhaps the most important function psychic images perform is to aid in transcending conscious knowledge. Psychic images point to the unthought thought and the unfelt feeling that lies just beyond the outer limits of human consciousness. Psychic images provide a bridge to the sublime, pointing towards something as yet unknown and as yet uncreated.