Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jung and the Novel - Pilgrim

I've already reviewed two novels which either feature Jung as an actual character or have underlying Jungian themes.  When I set out to write Shaman Circus, my conscious intention was not to highlight the Jungian concepts which guide my life, but my subconscious had a different idea and now looking back, I employed Jungian though a good bit.  That was probably due to the books which most inspired me to be a writer but also to change my life.  Namely The Magus by John Fowles and both Alice's Masque and The Chymical Wedding by Lindsay Clarke.  
I read The Magus while in my 20's during the late 1960's, and it was and still functions as the most powerful novel on both my writing and life.  At the time I'd never heard of Jung and didn't find him until later when I studied astrology, thanks to Jungian astrologer, Liz Greene, but now Jung is a constant companion on my inner journey and the changes I make in my outer life.  So I, must thank the novelists who have the insight to offer this ticket to those seekers, who may not choose the literal psychological path but prefer their lessons in the form of stories (as Jung, knowing his own love for stories, approves).
 I've already reviewed Powder Dreams (2011) by David Nanney and The Water Theatre, (2010) by Lindsay Clarke and plan to review the following books over the course of the next few months.  Luckily for me in my voracious appetite for Jungian styled novels, the list keeps growing. The books I plan to review (at this moment, I'll add more as I find them, range in settings all over the world and in time periods which go back centuries (as in Pilgrim), through the the era of the post-modern novel and psychological literature up until the current day.
Here they are but not in the order with which I'll review them: The Magus, (1965) Alice's Masque,(1994)  The Chymical Wedding,(1989) Lemprierre's Dictionary (1992) by Lawrence Norfolk, Pilgrim (2001) by Timothy Findley  The World is Made of Glass, (1987) by  Morris West, The Game (1992) by A.S. Byatt, The Interpretation of a Murder 2007 (by Jed Rubenfeld.  

And now onto Pilgrim by Timothy Findley published in 2010. What a beguiling tale and Findley has a lot more confidence than I suspect I'll ever have in that he actually features Jung as one of the main characters and what fun it is, even as it's a lesson in personal hopes, failures, regressions, and ultimate growth.  I would love to be in therapy with y Jung even more now, as Findley presents the young psychiatrist as a complex character, at times earthy and peasant like, at others full of compassion and then also as the abstract mystical thinker combined with the sleuth of the mind that we've come to expect from Jung's own biography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections.  
And an even more of an uncanny gift in Pilgrim, is the main character, a mute giant, an elegant man both brilliant and refined, who is admitted to the Burgh√∂lzli Psychiatric Clinic in Zurich where Jung is just starting out on his career.  A mysterious woman, one of the two white ghosts, as Pilgrim's nurses aid in the hospital will describe them, descends upon the Clinic like the wrath and pleading of angels indeed, hauling her ailing friend, a tall man with wings, into the clinic begging for an audience with Jung and pleading with him to heal her friend.
Findley is one of the most elegant authors I've ever read and is the foremost author in Canada.  His prose, pebbled with insights, cultural, historical, and art references, augmented by brilliant metaphor and descriptions is so splendidly balanced with action, that the reader is mesmerized. The characters are so finely and intricately developed that one is held in a state of awe as each chapter unfolds, and their dialogue which can run the gamut form poignant to sarcastic all on the same page allows the reader to participate as if they are present, but overwhelmed by all they experience can't yet speak until after a period of debriefing the myriad webs and knots and tangles.  Part literary tour de force, part mystery, we are captivated and stumped by this Pilgrim, who must be immortal to have experienced such diverse lives and explains them not in conversation, but in a diary his friend, Sybil Quartermain shares and which Jung passes on to his wife Emma to read and interpret and Jung tries, often unsuccessfully, to deal with his patient, and other patients suffering from dementia praecox, as schizophrenia was called at the time, while at the same time encountering his own inner demons.
 There are many beautiful metaphors in Pilgrim, but one, threaded throughout the entire book, illuminates the paradox of a delicate but dangerous bittersweet hope, that of the butterfly, the symbol for the goddess Psyche. For me, in Pilgrim, never has the human psyche been more fully portrayed, explaining the various stages of human spiritual growth and transformation, which Jung knew so well having experienced it in his descent to the subconscious in the days of The Red Book. Especially poignant is the connection the pupa stage, where the caterpillar, while it must discover its true nature in its secret hideout, must helplessly remain without any defense against the cruelty of  the predators and even the nature of the  world, in order to grow into the being it was meant to be all along.  And the next stage, emergence, when the pupa disintegrates all around the new creature, leaving it highly exposed and uncertain, still wet, feeling naked and alone with its hard to understand new skin, if lucky may live long enough to unfurl its wings and become authentic, a stunning aerial creature of much muchness, the closest we can be to angels on earth, and what we were ultimately meant to be, if only we dare. 

What a work of art this novel is. 

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