Monday, 2 December 2013

ABC blog: J

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J is for Jung. Yes, Carl Gustav Jung, the psychoanalyst. While I am not particularly enthusiastic about Freud in literary studies, Jungian theory has inspired many interesting interpretations, especially of fairy tales. As usual with me, I don't value theories that can only be applied to specific kinds of texts. Anyone can find symbols and archetypes in fairy tales. I am much more fascinated by the possibility of using Jung's idea of individuation in discussion of seemingly realistic texts. Jung would of course say that there is no such thing as a realistic text. For Jungians, literature is about interiority. All external events in fiction are projections of internal events, and all fictional characters are various parts of self. Individuation, in Jungian model, has three stages. The first is harmony, the initial unconsciousness when the child has not yet realised that selfhood is complex. Most children's books don't go beyond this stage. In different theoretical frameworks we speak of the prelapsarian stage, the innocense, the utopia. In the second stage, the conscious enters, and with it chaos, splitting, despair. Most mainstream literature deals with this stage. From it, we may long to go back to the unconscious, but we cannot, because once fallen we cannot go back to the prelapsarian; once experienced, we cannot go back to innocent; but some children's literature insists that we can. Back to security, back to utopia – but what's the point? What we need is to reconcile the unconscious and the conscious, become whole again, but with greater wisdom. Children's literature cannot go that far because then it wouldn't be children's literature, but it can point toward the goal and even offer temporary reconciliation. I find this an interesting way of looking at literature, and as long as you don't mix in the anima and the shadow, silver and gold, and the Wise Old Man and other stuff that you can always find in any text if you are looking for it – it works and can be combined with other theories that explore a child's trajectory toward adulthood. In From Mythic to Linear, I combined Jung with Propp, Bakhtin and Frye, which shows how radically different theories of fiction actually are quite similar when it comes to big questions.

J is also for Diana Wynne Jones who is one of greatest contemporary writers of fantasy.

J is also for James Joyce and his only children's book The Cat and the Devil that I have written about.

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