Growing up through falling apart
Review by Roy MacSkimmingof The Survival Papers: Anatomy of a Midlife Crisis (title 35; $25), and Dear Gladys: The Survival Papers, Book 2 (title 37; $25) by Daryl Sharp, in The Toronto Star, August 1989.
To discover what Jung was driving at, we can plough through all 20 volumes of the Princeton University Press edition of his collected works—a heavy trip indeed—or we can read The Survival Papers.
In these two short but extraordinarily pithy volumes, Daryl Sharp has fashioned an introduction to Jung’s thought that is infinitely fresher and more readable than a conventional beginner’s guide.
Sharp brings Jung’s ideas into limpid and meaningful focus by showing them at work in the successful treatment of a specific midlife crisis. The patient: a fictionalized but fairly typical guy called Norman, who arrives one day in Sharp’s consulting room so distraught he immediately spills tea on his pants.
Norman is married to Nancy. Norman sincerely believes he and Nancy have a good marriage, a solid middle-class family life. He can’t conceive of existence without her and the kids. So why is he falling part—”on his knees,” as Sharp puts it?
The only encouraging thing about Norman’s dilemma is that he’s asking that very question. According to The Survival Papers, hitting a midlife crisis is as normal as apple pie and potentially a lot healthier, for it provides the stimulus to find meaning in what would otherwise be pointless suffering. And surviving the crisis is a matter of asking the right questions.
Norman is stuck in a serious conflict between his illusions and his reality. He loves Nancy, idealizes their romantic past. Yet in the here and now, she’s cold and dismissive toward him, while keeping him on the hook emotionally. She babies him and has a lover on the side. Norman has lovers too, mostly on his sales trips away from home, but they mean little compared to his obsession with what Nancy thinks and feels about him. He lets her define his worth, submitting helplessly to the rewards and punishments she metes out. No wonder he’s miserable.
It’s tempting to dismiss Norman as a spineless yuppie wimp, not worthy of a walk-on in thirtysomething. But Sharp won’t let us get away with such condescension. Even Norman is capable of growing up. With the aid of his dreams, those messengers from the unconscious, he can get beyond his persona, meet his anima, shake hands with his shadow, withdraw his projections, do battle with his mother complex and accomplish all the other tasks on the hero’s journey. Poor old Norman, after all, is Everyman.
Sometimes, though, we fear he won’t pull through. The highs and lows of Norman’s journey toward individuation are the stuff of drama, his territorial gains and retreats on the battlefield of self-knowledge a form of trench warfare against an invisible and cunning enemy.
Sharp wears his learning lightly and with self-deprecating humor. To illustrate the personality type that Jung called intuitive, for instance, and simultaneously to show the difference between introversion and extraversion, Sharp gives us this description of his friend Arnold:
“Arnold is always coming up with something new. The Arnolds of this world, if introverted, build better mousetraps. As extraverts, they sell them to cats.”
In following Norman’s process, Sharp succeeds marvelously in doing something few of his psychoanalytic colleagues would care or dare to: demystifying the profession. He readily admits he doesn’t have all the answers for Norman and only serves as a guide in suggesting where to look for them. By acknowledging his own humanity—frankly identifying with Norman’s traumas, because he’s been there too—Sharp undercuts the awe in which people hold their therapists.
On Divination and Synchronicity
Review by Mary Williams of On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance, by Marie-Louise von Franz (title 3; $25), in The Journal of Analytical Psychology, Fall 2001.
In this series of lectures the author calls on ancient divination practices of primitives, on the use of oracles in ancient Greece and elsewhere, but particularly on Chinese thinking, to show how modem mathematics and quantum physics have sophisticated such ideas, and, of course, Jung with his theory of synchronicity.
Following her interest in numerology, von Franz shows how most methods of divination depend on the archetypal nature of the natural integers. She discusses the patterns made with them, as in geomancy, astrology, the I Ching, etc., and the appropriate time which isolates the living moment in which the apparent miracle occurs, that is, when an outside event coincides with the inner meaning.
Attention is also given to divinatory techniques which do not depend on number as, for instance, throwing bones or entrails on the ground and reading tea leaves. I agree with the author’s experience that such chaotic patterns are catalysts to help crystallize what the person already knows intuitively.
The reader is then introduced to the collective unconscious as a field of force in which the archetypes are the excited points in it. The network of relationships between archetypes points to the meaningful connections between them. The order of revelation in time is also crucial, and may account for precognitive experiences. The unconscious mind knows which archetype is constellated, and the outcome.
This short book has a big range, its scholarship mediated by its clarity of style and the progression of the lectures. A fine introduction to the subject, as we would expect from this author.