Dreams of Totality

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Montreal Jung Society Review: Reading this essay I felt I was in the presence of something momentous….courageous and brilliant

Sometimes, Sherry Salman, writes,

“…the voice of the mythopoetic mind is hard to hear through the din and uproar. That’s when psychopomps materialize.” She notes that psychology has always had psychopomps: images, fantasies and actual persons that have guided us through the mythopoetic mind. “Experiencing a renewed sense of wholeness often requires the intervention of a psychopomp—a word deriving from the Greek for “soul conductor,” meaning a guide for souls on their way to the underworld …A psychopomp, or someone who carries that projection, opens a doorway and takes us toward a renewed sense of totality in which prior ambivalence is resolved.” (102-3)

Taking a few liberties, I cannot resist casting Sherry Salman as the sort of psychopomp we need today. Reading this essay, I felt I was in the presence of something momentous. Page after page, my neck hairs tingled at her insights on subjects including psychology, religion, politics, sexuality, pornography, globalization, corporate capitalism, the environment and, not least, social media and the World Wide Web. The world needs this essay and its plea for imagination and empathy.

No doubt Dr. Salman is familiar with dreamwork. She’s a psychoanalyst, author, editor, teacher and speaker who lives in the Hudson Valley, and a founding member and the first president of the Jungian Psychoanalytical Association of New York, an educational community of Jungian analysts and scholars. But there is scarcely anything about dreams in the ordinary sense in Dreams of Totality. Salman is writing about the dreams in the world around us.

“The integrative and constructive process …—what I refer to here as dreaming of totality—is one of the ways our imagination creates and imposes coherence on our experience and helps us to adapt to changes in ourselves and in our changing environment. Whether it be in nostalgia for a fantasized golden age, or in the search for a missing other who will make us complete, or as a dream of globalization or a wired-in consciousness that will unite humanity—the imagination seems to work to make things whole.” ( 3)

For Salman, dreams of totality are a sort of archetypal structure. Like classic Jungian archetypes, dreams of totality can be positive and creative or negative and destructive—yes, even totalitarian. For Salman, totality is a pharmakon—the term comes from Socrates and Plato through Jacques Derrida—that can be both panacea and poison. Her book explores the interplay between the two in life and society.

Sentences early in the book seemed to me to offer remarkable insight on the Charter of Quebec Values, being debated in the Quebec legislature as I write this review:

“When … humanity’s dreams of totality have become totalitarian, they have destroyed many more people and civilizations than any plague or epidemic in human history. … As national boundaries and identities have become radically destabilized … fears of immigration—of contamination by the disenfranchised—proliferate in reaction. With the collapse of traditional boundaries and centers comes the creeping paranoia that the enemy is now anywhere and everywhere, a “fact” that seems self-evident to us both in our fantasies and the realities of globalization and life on the virtual frontier. … As the boundaries between cultures and between selves become more fluid, hard and fixed centers of psyche, nationalism, and dogma form in reaction. These compensatory dreams of totality arise in the forms of fundamentalisms … These encapsulated and idealized religious and cultural dogmas defend sacred and literalized texts, aiming to purify contaminating influences. The twenty-first-century twist comes into play when the media culture magnifies these fundamentalisms into full-blown spectacles.” (4-5)

I doubt that Salman is familiar with the details of the debate on such elevating topics as whether Quebec public servants should be permitted to wear hijabs. And I would not want to be misinterpreted as suggesting that she thinks the problem is primarily on the side of the religiously committed. She offers some trenchant criticism, for example, of the New Atheism of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens:

“Regrettably, what the New Atheism seems to have in common with its archenemy fundamentalism is its one-eyed claim on truth. Both the New Atheism and fundamentalisms adopt the position that god is something anthropomorphic and literal. Neither group pays much attention to other traditions about god, such as mysticism, which move toward the experiential and psychological dimensions of the god-image, or to the philosophical conceptions of, for example, Buddhism—all of which tilts the religious rhetoric toward the less literalized perspective.” (80)

Religion is only one of the fields where she explores the interplay between poison and panacea. She pays at least as much attention to issues in psychotherapy and to political and social issues, for instance. The fifteen pages of the penultimate chapter, largely about the Web, virtuality and “the ethics of transgression” are courageous and brilliant. I could write a whole review about that chapter. The last chapter offers some guidelines—some of them in the form of pithy imperatives that read like aphorisms by some Jungian latter-day Benjamin Franklin. I hope people take them to heart and memorize them. I hope they go viral. Allow me a few sentences:

“Staying ethical means staying grounded in empathy and imagination; that is the source of our contemporary discipline and stability. But to get to that ground we have to exercise our imaginal projections for all we’re worth, handle all sides of the pharmakon of totality with care. “(193)

And the last sentences of the book:

“The interstices, the places between, are where psyche is still alive and thriving. Wandering around these places, we still tell stories about ourselves and our dreams of totality. It’s just easier to see through them, and that’s a very good thing. As the gyres get wider and wider, and as we go with them, keep looking for the shards and sparks of life. Look underneath the destruction of symbolic forms for the fragments left over after dreams of totality have been destroyed, merely restored, or cleverly manufactured. Look for them emerging at the edges of your imagination. In all the confusion, in all the new places, slipping through the loose connections, there’s another story already being told.” (196)

Keep telling it, Sherry Salman! Keep telling it!

    —–Harvey Shepherd, Newsletter, The C.G. Jung Society of Montreal

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