The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap. - Novalis

Friday, July 30, 2010

Going Bugs

One way to trace the deep connections between our inner ecologies and the outer world is simply to notice what aspects of the natural world most hold our attention, most excite our passions. In the world of natural science for example, it is not by chance that some people become geologists, others physicists, and others biologists. And among biologists it is not by chance that some are attracted by lions and tigers and bears, others by insects, and some by plants, or worms or mushrooms. In my own case I can remember the moment when I was first suddenly and powerfully struck by the wonder of insects.  I was in the early stages of studying to be a physicist and helping my soon-to-be-wife collect insects for a course in applied entomology. It was probably a small chrysomelid beetle - something iridescent and utterly stunning. And even under the hand lens it opened up a world, and opened me to a world, that I had never really seen. Though I held to the idea of  becoming a theoretical physicist for some time it wasn't really my strength, and the biologists seemed to be having so much more fun. The beauty and overwhelming diversity of insects had wakened some deep wonder in me. As it turned out, historical circumstance and practical necessity dictated that the group of insects I was to study was not entirely freely chosen. And even among the insects, there are distinctions that resonate with something deep inside. Some people like lice, some people like flies... I would have been happy as a dipterist, or perhaps working on one of the aquatic insects. As it was I spent several years fairly happily studying the morphological complexities of the male flea [proof here]. In the end I do still wish it had been some other group.

Many years later I was surprised to find that I had suddenly and inexplicably become completely fascinated by geology - particularly, igneous petrology.  It is fairly clear to me now what this signaled, though it was wholly unconscious at the time. There is no doubt whatever that as your inner landscapes and inner ecologies change so do the aspects of the world to which you are drawn. The inner and the outer are profoundly connected and the exploration of those connections and resonances can be a life's work. Alchemists knew this, some scientists surely do, and so of course do poets.

One approach to all this can be found in the work of James Hillman. Here are some excerpts from his 1988 essay "Going Bugs." (Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, 1988. 40-72.) (borrowed from here):

"If the dream world is the return of the repressed (Freud), turning the face to us that we unconsciously turn to it (Jung), then it appears so stinging, buzzing and persecutory when our cultural consciousness treats our symptoms as vermin, our complexes as parasites. Yes, we want to rid ourselves of the underworld, using the nice white powder of destructive abstraction available from any pharmacy and/or physician, and in any session of ego-psychology. The source of the pharmacology fantasy and industry lies in the fear of going bugs. That we need an ecology movement, animal rights advocacy, and a world wildlife fund begins in our dreams.

Dreams show bugs have something to teach. They demonstrate the intentions of the natural mind, the undeviating faith of desire, and the urge to survive.

They bring the community consciousness of a swarm and hive, a Gemeinschaftsgefuehl, a cosmic sympathy, deeper than a social contract. They conjoin and enjoy the contrary elements of earth and air, show amazing capacities to conform and transform, and are resolute in their persistence to draw a dreamer out of the shelters of human habitation, the sheltering limits of human habits.

Our dreams recover what the world forgets. Forgotten pagan polytheism breeds in animal forms. In those animals are the ancient Gods: the Celtic horns and salmon, the Viking bears, the Egyptian pigs and river horses, crocodiles and cats, the Roman wolves and eagles, and Navaho be'gotcidi. The old Gods are still there in our dreams--those zoological cathedrals, where there is a mansion for the insects of Beelzebub and Mephistopheles. The animals may go on like Gods, alive and well and unforgotten, in the ikons of our dreams and in the vital obsessions of complexes and symptoms, the little bugs indestructible. Sing praise. Gaudeamus."

***

This essay apears, along with several other pertinent pieces in James Hillman, ANIMAL PRESENCES, Uniform Edition Vol. 9. - This volume includes the major Eranos lecture "The Animal Kingdom in the Human Dream," and Hillman's contributions to the out-of-print "bestiary" Dream Animals (with Margot McLean), as well as the essays "Going Bugs"; "Nature in the Doghouse"; "The Elephant in the Garden of Eden"; "Imagination is Bull"; and shorter interviews and penetrating conversations on the animal theme. From Spring Publications.

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