Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jung and the Novel - Alice's Masque

After The Magus by John Fowles, I think Alice's Masque and Chymical Wedding are two of the most brilliant books written from a psychological perspective similar to Jung's concepts of symbols, transformation, and individuation leading to an authentic self.  I was riveted with this novel, the impact of the swan, incredibly personal since it's been my totem animal since the 1970's.
Strong, complex and mysterious, Alice's Masque, first published in 1994,  is a compelling story which circles in and around itself capturing the reader in a depth experience. Clarke's language is lush and mysterious, dressed in the harshness of the Cornish coastline. I read this insightful  novel many years ago and it figures in the Top Ten books which changed my life deeply, I'm reading it again. Alice's Masque embraces the English fascination with the Middle Ages, knights and monks, ladies of queenly natures who, wise, by way of observation, when encountered, may summon a seeker to the inner quest, which proves more of a test than the outward journeys of the Crusades

And this was at the height of English post-modern fiction from the likes of Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, A.S. Byatt and more.
While Alice's Masque was first in the novels of transformation written by Clarke and has the same feel, it is in fact, quite a different story told in a different way.  It starts with three women at the seaside in Yorkshire, in a wild and beautiful area and the theme harkens back to the concept of the Courts of Love from the Middle Ages, when women were to judge for crimes against the heart. Seventy year old Alice, a weaver and astrologer taught Medieval Studies at the university level  before she shocked everyone her affair with a younger man so withdrew form society, first with her lover and then alone, where she becomes a well known artist and weaver.  I won't say much more because I hate to reveal plots.  As with movies, I want to be surprised at almost every curve and shift in a movie.
But I will say, this novel is quite different because as it's told from the viewpoint from Alice we have a rather unique perspective due to her age and experience. There are few boundaries in this novel, which can be cruel and brutal as often as it is touching and poignant.  And the blur of boundaries often takes place between reality, dreams and active imagination.
It's odd that while reading this book, someone sent me a link to Psychology Today and there was an article on the Highly Sensitive Persons  HSPs which has been researched a good bit over the past five or ten years.   This is a rather new typology, a subset of the introvert with slightly different characteristics.
A the recent article, Time Magazine: "The Power of (Shyness)" and High Sensitivity
first published in Time and then reprinted in Psychology Today which referenced an earlier  Psychology Today article,  "Sense and Sensibility,"  from 1969 you can see the research has been going on for a while.

"Ernest Hartmann, a psychiatrist at Tufts University best known for his dream research. Around the same time, he was solidifying the concept of boundaries as a dimension of personality and way of experiencing the world. Life, he observes, is made up of boundaries—between past and present, you and me, subject and object. And people differ in the way they embody and perceive boundaries.
In his schema, people with thin mental boundaries do not clearly separate the contents of consciousness, so that a fantasy life of daydreaming may bump right up against everyday reality. It's as if those with thin boundaries have porous shells that allow more of their environment to penetrate and "get" to them—and into their dreams, Hartmann's concept of the thin-boundaried seemed to suggest that there indeed exists a group of people who take in a whole lot more than others.

 Today, science is validating a group of people whose sensitivity surfaces in many domains of life. Attuned to subtleties of all kinds, they have a complex inner life and need time to process the constant flow of sensory data that is their inheritance. 
 Highly sensitive people are all around us. They make up about 20 percent of the population, and likely include equal numbers of men and women. All the available evidence suggests they are born and not made.

This description totally explains an elderly person of an HSPs nature.
 And I can attest to that myself being one. All my life, I've been told to get my head out of the clouds (I was in a fantasy almost all day through school and then through much of my failed marriage) but now I see there was no way I could.  It's just how I was genetically programmed from birth and further pushed by the death of my father when I was five. Once I started writing I mined that world on the other side of a very slim veil for poetry and novels but just within the past year, I've noticed my dream life now invades my awake life, without any active imagination on my own.  Images just break through, more often when I'm alone, reading, but they have nothing to do with the subject matter of the book.  It happens more often than not now, everyday and often I am able to participate in a dream and change it while I'm still asleep or half asleep.  It's often hard to tell, they seem the same world at times.
Much  of Alice's Masque is like this from the first shocking pivotal events, through a brutal crime on the beach, and a manhunt, to lovers testing, chasing, thwarting and hurting each other, when all they want to do is open up and be authentic. And there is one way, slowly revealed through a series of bizarre experiences and encounters.  Ultimately its a story about finding one's true self, no matter what the world expects. For HSPs, this can be quite difficult, especially for men.  Yet each character in this novel appears to be of this type especially the author who must be one himself  
More from Psychology Today,  "The Highly Sensitive Person has always been part of the human landscape. There's evidence that many creative types are highly sensitive, perceiving cultural currents long before they are manifest to the mainstream, able to take in the richness of small things others often miss.
This is an especially important book, take Fowles word on it, but also for those 20% (many who I imagine are readers) of the HSPs nature, it can be a revealing book which makes one feel less freaky, less out of touch, less isolated, especially in a time when nonfiction books such as Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, are finally educating the public on who we are.  Funny how this novel helped to "set the stage" in 1994. 

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