Foreword | September 01, 2010
The Red Book, a collection of writings written by Carl Jung over a period of sixteen years, was recently published by Norton, inspiring a revival of interest in the Swiss co-founder of psychoanalysis. Jung began composing the book after breaking with Freud, at a time when he was undergoing a mental crisis. He spent the next few years in relative isolation, formalizing what some would later see as a more humanistic version of depth psychology. Some of the ideas he came up with during this period have now become commonplace terms in psychology, as well as broadly used cultural and poetic notions: the concept of the introvert and extrovert as basic personality types, the anima and animus-forces within us represented by the opposite sex which, if embraced, can lead to higher awareness. Jung came up with the hypothesis of archetypes, or instinctual patterns of perception and behavior that are shared by humankind. He also formalized the idea of the “shadow” element within the mind, a hidden or dark side of the ego, our undeveloped or inferior side, which can isolate and harm us if we fail to recognize and understand it.
While Jung gave a name to an amoral and potentially “dark” side of the mind, the idea is of course as old as dragons, devils and demons. The pulp fiction, comic-book series and radio show The Shadow became an often-imitated model for popular dramatizations of “what evil lurks in the hearts of men” and the trickster figure who fights against it. Several of the contributors to this issue explore different corners of the dark or destructive forces in human nature.
Christopher Wall’s essay “Look Down, Don’t Look Down” describes a rash of suicides during the 2003-04 school year at New York University, where Wall had taken a job. He writes about the phenomenon of suicide contagion in the broader context of a narrative about individual susceptibility to group influence, both the beneficial kind and the destructive kind. Thomas Larsen’s “The Saddest Music Ever Written” describes Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings; it is a compelling portrait of a sublime piece of music that has been used for every occasion from the radio announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death to commemorations of the victims of September 11. Michael White’s “The Bard of the Bottle” is an unapologetic and moving memoir of White’s friendship with poet and fellow drinker Tom McAfee.
Kristine Somerville’s feature on Francesca Woodman describes Woodman’s fragile, evocative photographs, often set in crumbling, abandoned houses or barren surroundings. Woodman’s remarkable body of work vividly juxtaposes a world of dreams and reality, appearance and disappearance. Woodman’s is a story made all the more poignant by her mysterious suicide at age twenty-two.
Susan Ford’s story “Of Questionable Provenance” takes the form of a reminiscence by a rare-books dealer about a flirtatious friendship with an accomplished but mysterious fellow art conoisseur-a friendship with a surprising and unsettling discovery at the end. Tien-Yi Lee’s “How I Came to Love You Like a Brother” is set in New York City, the heart of the melting pot, where a young woman of a Chinese immigrant family tells the tale of her sister Lucia’s marriage to an ambitious, older Israeli immigrant, Yonah, owner of an organic-foods store. Lee’s story is partly about how an unlikely sense of family can develop in the aftermath of tragedy or trial. “Florida Lives” is Dionne Irving’s grim tale of a debt- and drug-distressed husband and wife who leave San Francisco for job opportunities and a fresh start in Florida. There the couple’s superior attitude toward their working-class neighbors proves ironic in light of their own pathetic lives, which are spiraling out of control.
The poets in this issue show how the reality we see can be as distorted, slanted, or ephemeral. In Danielle Deulen’s poem “Corrida de Toros” a contemplation of stars leads to the reflection that each of us is inhabited by the violence of the cosmos and by the light and darkness we make in our own lives. Whether evoking the exhausted masses in “Revolution” or the haunting ideas of a French psychoanalyst in “Lacan at the Carousel,” Deulen shows, too, how our bodies and past actions create historical shapes and shadows that point to where we are now.
In his poem “Love Song with Ruin,” Paul Guest’s speaker tells us that it is “Important, I think, /to accept the testimony of a shadow.” Guest’s poems are amiable, deeply felt, full of conversational gusto, yet also strikingly alert. Several of them concern our negotiations with the shadow. Maureen Seaton’s persona poems explore the self as someone or something else. Seaton implies with humor and pathos that the self is both continuously made anew and continuously a shadow of what it once was.
Brian Beglin talks with novelist and short-story writer Aimee Bender about an unlikely kind of shadow in their discussion of her latest novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Bender’s child protagonist, nine-year-old Rose Edelstein, is burdened with the ability to discern people’s emotions, down to the most hidden ones, from food they’ve prepared. On the question of what we don’t know about ourselves-a question that preoccupies Bender-the author says, “No one is aware of what they’re feeling every moment, all the time. You don’t know, and then you realize there’s something lurking under the surface that affects how you are in the world.”
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