Friday, 17 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 8. The puer aeternus theory: introduction

Marie-Louise von Franz with Dieter Baumann (left) and Jose Zavala
photo: BEPJoseZavala
The theory that T. E. Lawrence was an example of the Jungian Puer Aeternus (Eternal Boy, the female equivalent being Puella...) is very believable. This is a variety of the child archetype which we can see as representing one of the stages of life, but the puer aeternus is stuck and does not progress to the other stages (which are also represented by archetypes). This is a very complicated subject and first we have to understand the nature of an archetype. It manifests itself as a mythological figure when it becomes perceived by the consciousness to any degree, but in the unconscious, where it resides, there can be no mental picture as all mental pictures are subjective and conscious. It can be understood, somewhat, as a potential, an energy pattern which can deliver the images and significances that might be understood by the consciousness.  Mythology, itself, is the precursor to psychology: Unconscious patterns of energy can present conscious images that then can acquire a narrative. As these mental pictures are a product of the unconscious, as it it were, they do not constantly and easily present themselves to us and often require considerable interpretation when they do. They can also be manifested in certain altered states of consciousness through drugs, extreme physical suffering or the shaman's practices which might include the previous two as well.

The best study of the puer aeternus was undertaken by Marie-Louise von Franz  and is published as The Problem of the Puer Aeternus, Inner City Books, Toronto, 2000, (part of the series:Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts) It is a transcript, with bibliography and index of a series of lectures delivered by Marie-Louise von Franz at the Jung Institute, Zurich in the winter of 1959-60. The lectures covered two works of fiction and their authors: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and The Kingdom without Space by Bruno Goetz (Das Reich ohne Raum).

Jung wrote of the puer aeternus and its associations in a number of his works but Marie-Louise von Franze not only gathers these together in a single study, but gives far more detail and analysis. I think it likely that one her main inspirations for the lectures was the following passage by Jung:
"He is, as it were, only a dream of the mother, an ideal which she soon takes back into herself, as we can see from the Near Eastern “son-gods” like Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, and Christ. Mistletoe was also a sovereign remedy against barrenness. (118) In Gaul, it was only after offering sacrifice that the Druid was allowed, amid solemn ceremonies, to climb the sacred oak and cut the ritual branch of mistletoe. That which grows on the tree is the child (pl. XXXIX), or oneself in renewed and rejuvenated form; and that is precisely what one cannot have, because the incest prohibition forbids it. We are told that the mistletoe which killed Baldur was “too young”; hence this clinging parasite could be interpreted as the “child of the tree.” But as the tree signifies the origin in the sense of the mother, it represents the source of life, of that magical life-force whose yearly renewal was celebrated in primitive times by the homage paid to a divine son, a puer aeternus. The graceful Baldur is such a figure. This type is granted only a fleeting existence, because he is never anything but an anticipation of something desired and hoped for. This is so literally true that a certain type of “mother’s son” actually exhibits all the characteristics of the flower-like, youthful god, and even dies an early death. (119)"
"(118) Hence, in England, the custom of hanging mistletoe at Christmas. For mistletoe as the wand of life, see Aigremont, Volkserotik und Pflanzenwelt, II, p. 36."
"(119) There is a beautiful description of the puer aeternus in an exquisite little book by the airman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince. My impression that the author had a personal mother-complex was amply confirmed from firsthand information."
Jung, C. G.. Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 5: Symbols of Transformation (Kindle Locations 5140-5150). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
I highly recommend that you read Maarten Schilde's online article: The Boyish Side of T. E. Lawrence before Monday's post as it not only summarizes the theory very well, but presents some of the problems with it. Have a mature weekend.

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