Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Accessing C. G. Jung 6(a). The contextual archaeology of symbols

Armorican Celtic coin, Series Xn, with a
head showing a lyre symbol on the cheek
Because of its complexity, this will be a multi-part article -- one post each weekday.

At the beginning of this series, I said that Man and his Symbols appeared to be the first book that most people purchased about Jungian psychology. I then offered a couple of alternatives that I feel would be a better choice. One of the reasons for my not recommending Man and his Symbols is that the information is not always reliable. I can illustrate this point with a diagram that appears in the article, Symbolism in the visual arts, by Aniela Jaffé. First, download the PDF article. It might take a few minutes, so be patient. Next, scroll down to the diagram that appears opposite page 301. The photographs and drawings are accompanied by the following caption;
"Right, Roman coins used in places progressively further away from Rome. On the last coin (farthest from the controlling centre), the face has disintegrated. This strangely corresponds to the psychic disintegration that such drugs such as LSD-25 can induce.Below, drawings done by an artist who took this drug in a test held in Germany in 1951. The drawings become more abstract as conscious control is overcome by the unconscious."
The best thing that could be said about any part of the information given in this caption is that it is debateable. Some of it is utterly wrong. Let's deal with it all in order. First of all, none of the coins are Roman. The first coin is Greek. It is a gold stater of the type first issued by Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great). From the photograph, and that only the obverse is shown, I cannot tell its exact variety  From the style of the head, I would guess that it is a Macedonian issue, perhaps minted at Pella. It might well be a posthumous issue and some of these were minted after the death of Alexander. Gold staters of this type were minted at many places from Europe to Asia Minor. The design is prototypical to many Celtic coins, first in gold, and later in other, baser, alloys. The second coin (and all the rest) is Celtic, a large-flan type of the Ambiani (around Amiens, France) dating to the late 2nd to early 1st cent BC. The third coin is a Celtic gold stater (Class V) of the Parisii tribe, who gave their name to Paris, and is from that area. It dates ca. 70-60 BC. The last two are in the Belgic style, but I cannot easily attribute then from the photographs. These types were issued from northern Gaul toBritain between the 1st centuries BC/AD. The changes in the designs are due, not to the distances between any places, but to the date of the coins. Rome is completely irrelevant. An earlier class (1a) of the Parisii coin can be seen here which is of the same period of the Ambiani coin.

Next, any controlling centre for the Celtic coins will reside within the territory of the issuing tribe, and the changes to the prototypical image have nothing to do with disintegration, neither artist nor psychic. The idea that these images have devolved in any way suggests that the artists were increasingly unable to attain the Greek artistic ideals represented in the prototypes. In actual fact, the transitions are more evolutionary and the artists have gradually been able to express Celtic styles and symbology while retaining the subject matter of the prototype. In the later period, identification with the prototype became less important and the designs were greatly simplified.It's original importance was because Celtic troops were paid with coin of the Philip types in the Italian campaigns (mostly against the Romans) and the copied type became a status symbol that hearkened back to that heroic time in Celtic history before the Romans sent them packing back to Gaul.

For the part about the drawings, following onward from the disintegration issues, let us light a couple of joss sticks, see if we have any old macramé pot hangers and bead necklaces in the attic, listen to some sitar music and talk of LSD-25. But perhaps we should go a little earlier than this, as the German experiment was conducted in 1951. I have chosen the Handbook for the Therapeutic use of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide-25 Individual and Group Procedures, 1959, - D.B. Blewett, Ph.D. & N. Chwelos, M.D. While this publication dates eight years later than the German experiment, there is enough in it that dates earlier than the experiment to reveal the flaws in the caption statement. Most importantly, it was well-known that the effects of LSD-25 were variable, subject to subject, so it is a pity that we do not know what the artist was actually experiencing while drawing. I would have asked him or her and then recorded the responses. Perhaps, the artist was merely playing with abstraction in a conscious, and not unconscious, manner: I can see some very possible influences in these drawings that might include Braque, Miro, and Kandinsky to mention just a few possibilities. It would appear that the artist had attended an art-school and had some familiarity with other 20th century art. Then we should, in a postmodern manner, look at the text relative to the time that the book was written: social disintegration was a great concern of that time -- is it that which was being given a convenient Jungian veneer? Was this a conscious decision of the caption writer, or was it the effect of a meme? We cannot answer these questions with the information that has been given us. About all that we can do with this diagram, with a good degree of certainty, is to say that it is bunk!

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