Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part fourteen

Carl Jung
"The introvert’s attitude is an abstracting one; at bottom, he is always intent on withdrawing libido from the object, as though he had to prevent the object from gaining power over him. The extravert, on the contrary, has a positive relation to the object. He affirms its importance to such an extent that his subjective attitude is constantly related to and oriented by the object. The object can never have enough value for him, and its importance must always be increased."

Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 6: Psychological Types (p. 330). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Anyone whose familiarity with psychological terms is limited to the popular or the Freudian might get the wrong (and a bizarre) impression from the first sentence in Jung's quote. In Jungian psychology, libido means all types of mental energy and sexual energy is not even dominant. As a classic introvert, I thought that I should stress this definition at the outset! We face another problem with the popular conceptions of introverts and extraverts: people who know me well often see me as an extravert because although my dominant function is introverted intuition, my auxiliary function is extraverted feeling. I certainly do not come across to people, in person, as the shy type one mostly associates with the introvert. Another set of Jungian terms that can cause confusion are rational and irrational. Most people might think the first to be well-adjusted and the second to be crazy. In Jungian terms, rational has more to do with thinking and irrational more to do with feeling. Thus love and art are irrational and science and mathematics are rational. Music is the most extraverted and rational of the arts because of its mathematical structures.
Inspiration is irrational; building something is rational. Of course, nothing will ever get built unless someone is inspired to make that so. By and large, most well-adjusted people have aspects of both the irrational and the rational and the greatest people of all have an almost perfect balance, although there is almost always a preference toward one or the other. Perfect balance and harmony is the essence of the Tao, or the Buddhist state of being free from both fear and desire. All worth striving toward, but you will not achieve such on a weekend retreat; by reading a book; or by paying $100,000 to some cult! In depth psychology greater balance is achieved through individuation (Jung) or self-actualization  (Maslow).

Thirty-plus years years of reading Jung has made me fairly comfortable with his terminology, but I could hardly expect anyone to feel the same after reading the above paragraph. Ironically, Jungian terminology is not intuitive. It was Emilio Valli, in a discussion group he ran about mythology, who gave me a far better frame of reference to express some of my ideas. Some questions can have a Zen-like effect and one he posed about Mythos and Logos did just that.I will always be grateful for it because I started to run with it and formulated a theory whereby individuals and societies can be found somewhere on a scale which runs from Mythos to Logos (or vice versa, the order is immaterial). Sadly, the site that hosts such discussion succumbed into adopting the practice of "likes" so pretty well anything that got posted became a monologue that people responded to only by clicking the "like" button. Discussion groups are almost dead; everyone has become a "consumer". Welcome to the 21st century Dark Age. In the context of this topic, Mythos refers to art, theory, concepts, mythology etc. and Logos refers to the material, recording of data, strict practices and guidelines.

As a subject, archaeology has a bit of a split-personality: excavational archaeology is very much on the logos (extravert) side and the subject, itself, leans to that side because it is concerned with material remains. It is easy to see that someone who expresses an interest in the "mysteries of the past" (Mythos) might also be drawn to it, but they would be most likely to favour its theoretical side. Someone who believes that the only possible historical truth lies in physical evidence (Logos) would be attracted to its excavational or material-analytical side. A strong interest in art and mythology (Mythos) is rather rare among archaeologists and most archaeological writing is in the form of excavation reports (Logos). Thus the subject, itself, is overwhelmingly Logos (extraverted and materialistic).The object is of primary importance and that object is an archaeological site. The site, itself, generates thoughts of protection because of its importance to the extravert. Whenever religious content is detected at the site, the subject is blanketed with the word "ritual" because a rite is an action carried out with material objects (action= energy, objects= matter). You never see ritual described in philosophical terms within excavation reports. In fact, any description at all is most often lacking. It becomes a "black-box" with the label "ritual" and the box is never opened.  Art is viewed with suspicion and a functional purpose for it is often assumed (as with "display" or "status").

Prehistoric archaeology, especially, depicts the physical "creature" aspect of Man: food, tools, burial practices etc. Prehistoric art is always viewed from the viewpoint of its reception and never from its creation. This is why I wrote my series The Palaeolithic artist which completely breaks new ground by getting inside the mind of the artist. This was also experienced by Picasso, and it changed his direction in art, but he refused to discuss it with anyone past his initial statement: "After Altamira, all is decadence".

Early Celtic art is very much neglected in archaeology and there is much nonsense written about it by those who have little experience in the subject. But those who wish to follow it by reading its few central archaeological writers will be standing on the shoulders of giants.

Tomorrow: pre-Roman Celtic society.

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