Friday, May 14, 2010


On Sunday I wandered into the Hammer Museum hoping to find someone to play ping pong with. Where the table usually was now is a public nap opportunity. The fellow with a beard, belly, and ink splattered shirt hanging in tatters outside his pants explains to me what's happening, and invites me to the poetry reading in the museum cloak room in about an hour. He doesn't want to play ping pong. I hold up my right hand, displaying my own quantity of ink stains. A fountain pen, and bicycle, two things if you have them together in your life leave a mark, I explain. The poet says bikes and pens are both good things. Too good to give either up, I agree. He has to go. Go nap? Yes.

The ping pong table has been moved around the corner, and I do find someone to play with. But that is only the first part of the afternoon's program. I next am one of the two person audience to the two person alternating reading of a Peruvian surrealist poem in the museum cloakroom. Then there was another public lecture on Carl Jung's Red Book. On one side, a rabbi from a near-by temple, a sort of media star in his own right, book, newspaper, magazine writer and presence on TV, and on the other side a Jungian psychiatrist, English and a lot older.

And unlike the last public display, this time the two speakers do try a bit to talk with each other. The Jungian answers the questions of the rabbi, but it doesn't look like he thinks anything good will come from it. The rabbi perhaps thinks the same, only he relishes polemic for its own sake. He raises several questions: is Jungian psychology a new religion, is it superior or inferior to other religions, does it make its adherents better or worse, does it encourage the vanity of power madness by locating god within us?

The psychiatrist patiently answers: Jung speaks about the soul, so yes, his ideas can be described as religious; they seems to help some people, some not; they also speak about what is in us that hinders us from being good and god-like.

The question of whether this new religion is true is not raised. The rabbi, asked whether Jewish doctrine makes its adherents better or worse, responds that its interpretation changes with the times, what draws people to Judaism is not doctrine but feeling at home in the community held together by traditions. The Jungian said there wasn't unanimity in the psychological community.

So a lot of answers. Religion is a community, sometimes. It might make people better or worse than they'd be without it. God can be said to be within us, or on our side, without necessarily leading to mania. The show is over, but we have to answer for ourselves the questions left hanging, especially what kind of religion is Jungian psychology?

Religion tries to link together what happens within ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, with what we see happening outside, and what we know of what goes on there. In Jung's variation, there are forms in our minds, ways of thinking and feeling, that correspond to what is in the world: there is a collective unconscious that actually moves history, so that our personal histories universally take on the shape of myth, when we let it, that is. Psychology teaches us a way to do this.

On the other hand, as the rabbi pointed out, the Jewish religion says the world is fundamentally unknowable, god too, and ourselves as well since we're made in god's image. All we can do is follow rules, creatively interpreted, to adapt to our changing world.

The rabbi said there is a connection between Jung's approval of the Nazis, his stated dislike of the "mistaken" Jewish religion, and his psychology. Jews are waiting for the messiah, and until he comes they must fend for themselves in the world in which they find themselves. Jung's world is all settled in advance, soul stories and world myth aligned in accord with settled forms. The world of things has its soul too, is fundamentally of the same nature as ourselves.

There is a paradox here. The world of things does not look like it has a soul. In our own imagination we can rearrange our memories, fantasize about the future. When we try the same with the things we see around us, nothing happens. The things don't respond. No matter what our theories say, the world is not like us.

Last night I watched a video on the Internet that interprets string theory like this: There are the usual three dimensions. Add time, you get the fourth dimension. And then, because our world could have been made differently, you get the dimension of all those alternative ways the would could have been made. And add the dimension of their separate histories in time. Then you can consider that there are other possible universes our world could be in relation to. And add the dimension of their histories in time. And they too could have their alternatives. With their histories in time. All that somehow adds up to ten dimensions.

I don't know about you, but it is awful suspicious to get up to ten dimensions and have to stop there. In Zeno's paradox, a flying arrow never gets to its target because we imagine it half way there, then half of the remaining distance, then half of that, etc. There can be an infinite number of imagined positions reached. Our talk can be endless, there is no limit to the minuteness with which we can divide distance. But an infinite amount of talk does not translate to an infinite time necessary to reach the target.

We can divide our lives into an infinite number of possible stories or myths, but infinity of possible description does not translate into real immortality. It only seems like it. Despite all the talk of ten dimensions, all the alternative variants of all the other possible universes are imagined within our familiar three dimensions.

It seems like we are acting on the world when we describe it as formed by myth and archetypes. In other words, we have given to ourselves a world in which it seems like what we can do in our imaginations is identical with what happens in the world. If we find the right story in our imagination, the world will execute it for us.

I was politely informed that the next two listeners were waiting to take their seats in the wardrobe closet, sitting under the ushers uniform jackets on their hangers. Two poets and two listeners are not much, but the total number of poets and listeners is infinite out there in the religious dimensions of the world.