THE UNCONSCIOUS Freud and Jung
In the last chapter, I examined in detail the concept of 1layavijñ1na within the context of Yog1c1ra Buddhism as presented in the CWSL. I attempted to defend the viability of Yog1c1ra’s qualified idealist system and the indispensable role of 1layavijñ1na in that system. As we have seen, 1layavijñ1na is formulated to account for the continuity of our experience without resorting to any form of reification.
Given the subliminal nature of 1layavijñ1na, the concept appears to have a natural affinity with the notion of the unconscious as it has been developed in modern Western psychology, first by Freud and later Jung.1 In fact, some Buddhist scholars (e.g., Thomas Kochumuttom, 135) simply use the term “unconscious” when they try to explain 1layavijñ1na. There is an apparent advantage in doing so, namely rendering a complicated Buddhist concept comprehensible to a modern
audience. However, there are also serious problems that come with this practice. “Unconscious” as it is employed in modern psychology has been developed in a totally different cultural, historical, and philosophical milieu from 1layavijñ1na. In this chapter I will deal with the theoretical frameworks of Freud and Jung as they are related to their conceptualizations of the unconscious respectively, so that a comparison can be carried out between 1layavijñ1na and the unconscious when they are brought into a dialogical context in the chapters that follow.
However, without being distracted by the historical vicissitudes of his theory, for the purpose of this presentation we will be concerned with his theories of the unconscious in the two major systems that he established to explain human subjectivity; these are known as the topographical system and the structural system. The topographical system is laid out in Freud’s monumental work The Interpretation of Dreams, first published in late 1899, wherein the mind is
stratified into the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious. The structural system represents a major shift in Freud’s theoretical endeavor in the 1920s; it is best summarized in his last major theoretical work, The Ego and the Id, published in 1923, wherein the mind is structured into id, ego, and superego. Let us examine how the two systems are laid out by focusing primarily on these two works and drawing on relevant insights from his other writings.
The Interpretation of Dreamsis the foundational text of the movement of psychoanalysis launched by Freud. The significance of the work lies in its revolutionary way of interpreting patients’ dreams, which led to Freud’s “discovery” of the existence of a dynamic subliminal mental process;2 in Freud’s own words, “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (1965, 647, original italics). The central theme of this work is that a dream is a fulfillment of an unrecognized wish:
Dreams are psychical acts of as much significance as any others; their motive force is in every instance a wish seeking fulfillment; the fact of their not being recognizable as wishes and their many peculiarities and absurdities are due to the influence of the psychical censorship to which they have been subjected during the process of their formation; apart from the necessity of evading this censorship, other factors which have contributed to their formation are a necessity for the condensation of their psychical material, a regard for the possibility of its being represented in sensory images and—though not invariably—a demand that the structure of the dream shall have a rational and intelligible exterior. (572–573)
Here Freud is making three points crucial to the interpretation of dreams, namely, what a dream is, why its intended wish is not recognizable, and how it is formed. A dream is a fulfillment of a wish that is normally unrecognized by the dreamer herself. Its being unrecognizable is due to the psychic structure that is responsible for its formation, namely the censoring mechanism in the mind that prevents the wish from freely expressing itself. Therefore, the formation of a dream requires evasion of censorship in order for the wish to express itself, the condensation of an enormous amount of psychical material into a short dream time, the representability of the material in images, and the intelligibility of its structure.
What interests us most at this juncture is the second point: the censoring mechanism of our mental life. It paints the picture of a stratified human mind, thus making a subliminal mentality possible. To explain the formation of dreams as the fulfillment of an unrecognized wish, Freud needs to account for two things: why there is at a dream’s basis a wish and why it is unrecognized. To address the second issue, Freud proposes the following:
We may suppose that dreams are given their shape in individual human beings by the operation of two psychical forces (or we may describe them as currents or systems); and that one of these forces constructs the wish which is expressed by the dream, while the other exercises a censorship upon this dream-wish and, by the use of that censorship, forcibly brings about a distortion in the expression of the wish. It remains to enquire as to the nature of the power enjoyed by this second agency which enables it to exercise its censorship. (1965, 177)
Freud postulates two forces or systems within the human psyche, wish and censorship. Wish is the primary motivating force behind a dream, but because it is subject to critique by a censoring agent, the wish has to disguise itself to get around that critical agent. Consequently, there is always a distortion of the wish expressed in an adult’s dream.3 However, why does a dream have to express a wish in the first place? According to Freud, “the reason why dreams are invariably wish-fulfillments is that they are products of the system Ucs. [[[unconscious]]], whose activity knows no other aim than the fulfillment of wishes and which has at its command no other forces than wishful impulses” (607).
Obviously, in order to understand the point he is making here, I must first introduce what is known as the topographical system, which Freud sets up in Interpretation. In its famous Chapter Seven, Freud schematizes three systems in the human mind. This is the wellknown formula of unconscious, preconscious, and consciousness:
We will describe the last of the systems at the motor end as ‘the preconscious,’ to indicate that the excitatory processes occurring in it can enter consciousness without further impediment provided that certain other conditions are fulfilled:4 for instance, that they reach a certain degree of intensity, that the function which can only be described as ‘attention’ is distributed in a particular way, and so on. This is at the same time the system which holds the key to voluntary movement. We will describe the system that lies behind it as ‘the unconscious,’ because it has no access to consciousness except via the preconscious, in passing through which its excitatory process is obliged to submit to modifications. (1965, 579–580, original italics)
There are two ends in the psychical apparatus that Freud proposes earlier in the chapter, the perceptual end and the motor end. Consciousness stands at the perceptual end of the apparatus, receiving stimuli from the external world, hence it is referred to as Pcpt.-Cs. It is the link between the external world and the internal world. In the above passage, however, Freud’s focus is on the mechanism involved in the formation of a dream, what were formerly known as the critical and the criticized agents. Here they are reformulated into the preconscious system and the unconscious system. When used in the sense of a system, the
preconscious is simplified as Pcs. and the unconscious as Ucs. Both of them are defined by their relations to the system of consciousness, Pcpt.-Cs.5 Pcs. stands closer to consciousness than Ucs., and its content can become conscious without much difficulty provided the Pcs. contents have the necessary intensity or attention; Ucs. has no access to consciousness except through Pcs. As Freud puts it, Pcs. stands like a screen between Ucs. and Cs., and it holds the key to voluntary movement (579).
In his 1915 paper “The Unconscious,” Freud tries to portray the unconscious itself instead of through its relationship with consciousness. The unconscious is characterized by the following features: “exemption from mutual contradiction, primary process (mobility of cathexes),6 timelessness, and replacement of external by psychical reality” (1957, 187, original italics). Let us briefly examine these characteristics of the Ucs. On the first point of Ucs. being exempt from mutual contradiction, Freud says:
The nucleus of the Ucs. consists of instinctual representatives which seek to discharge their cathexis; that is to say, it consists of wishful impulses. These instinctual impulses are co-ordinate with one another, exist side by side without being influenced by one another, and are exempt from mutual contradiction. When two wishful impulses whose aims must appear to us incompatible become simultaneously active, the two impulses do not diminish each other or cancel each other out, but combine to form an intermediate aim, a compromise.
There are in this system no negation, no doubt, no degrees of certainty: all this is only introduced by the work of the censorship between the Ucs. and the Pcs. Negation is a substitute, at a higher level, for repression. In the Ucs. there are only contents, cathected with greater or lesser strength. (1957, 186) In other words, mutual contradiction is not even possible in the Ucs., because different impulses can exist side by side without canceling each other out. The introduction of any contradiction into the psyche is the work of a censoring mechanism that screens out the undesirable psychic contents. This means the Ucs. is an inclusive but chaotic system, as opposed to the exclusive system of consciousness wherein contradictions become possible when an order is imposed. On the second point, Freud argues:
The cathectic intensities [in the Ucs.] are much more mobile. By the process of displacement one idea may surrender to another its whole quota of cathexis; by the process of condensation it may appropriate the whole cathexis of several other ideas. I have proposed to regard these two processes as distinguishing marks of the so-called primary psychical process. (ibid., original italics)
Put simply, the unconscious follows the primary psychical process, which consists of two phases: that of displacement and of condensation. The phase of displacement is one in which the dream elements with high psychical value are stripped of their intensity while new values are created for elements with low psychical value, hence generating the difference between the dream-content (what is manifested in a dream) and the dream-thought (what remains latent in a dream) (Freud 1965, 342–343). Displacement is a chief method by which distortion in dreams is achieved (343) and an understanding of the distortion of a dream is critical in its effective interpretation. The process of condensation is evident when we take into consideration that “[d]reams are brief, meagre and laconic in comparison with the range and wealth of the dream-thoughts” (313). That is, the sheer gap between short dreams and their complex messages necessitates some sort of condensation in the formation of dreams.
The theory of condensation accounts for the fact that “the dream is not a faithful translation or a point-for-point projection of the dream-thoughts, but a highly incomplete and fragmentary version of them” (315).
On the point of the timelessness of the Ucs., Freud states:
The processes of the system Ucs. are timeless; i.e. they are not ordered temporally, are not altered by the passage of time; they have no reference to time at all. Reference to time is bound up, once again, with the work of the system Cs. (1957, 187)
Temporality is the work of consciousness and it has no role to play in the unconscious. This is related to the first characteristic of the unconscious, namely that it is exempt from mutual contradiction; the law of non-contradiction can only be applied to an entity that is ordered by temporality because the same mental duration cannot be occupied simultaneously by contradictory ideas.
The Ucs. processes pay just as little regard to reality. They are subject to the pleasure principle; their fate depends only on how strong they are and on whether they fulfill the demands of the pleasureunpleasure regulation. (ibid., original italics)
That is to say, the Ucs. is not interested in pleasing the external world, but rather in pleasing itself. It does not follow what Freud calls the reality principle, as consciousness does, but rather the pleasure principle.
It quickly becomes obvious that Freud uses the term “unconscious” in two different senses, descriptive and dynamic (1965, 653). Both Ucs. and Pcs. are unconscious in the descriptive sense, which merely attributes a particular quality to a mental state that one is not immediately and presently aware of. However, only Ucs. is unconscious in the dynamic sense, which attributes a particular function to a mental state, although Freud does not use these terms when the topographical system was initially formulated in The Interpretation of Dreams.7 At this stage, the dynamic sense of the unconscious is equivalent to the
repressed. There is still a third sense of the unconscious, the systematic sense, as James Strachey points out in his introduction to The Ego and the Id: “This implied a topographical or structural division of the mind based on something more than function, a division into portions to which it was possible to attribute a number of differentiating characteristics and methods of operating” (Freud 1960, xxx). In other words, in its systematic sense, the unconscious is understood as a process itself, distinguished from consciousness and preconscious. The Ucs. is also unconscious in the systematic sense. Therefore, to go back to our question of why a dream has to do with a wish, it is because a dream is a product of the Ucs., whose single activity is to seek fulfillment of wishes. A dream and a wish are related to each other, almost by definition: “The state of sleep makes the formation of dreams possible because it reduces the power of the endopsychic censorship” (1965, 565, original italics).
However, in the course of his continuing clinical observation and theoretical deliberation, Freud became increasingly dissatisfied with the topographical system as it had been set up in Interpretation. The early 1920s witnessed a major theoretical shift by Freud, represented by his three works, Beyond the Pleasure Principlein 1920, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego in 1921, and The Ego and the Id in 1923. They established what is called his structural system (Gay 1988, 394). Because the last of the trio provides the best summary of his new system, my analysis will concentrate on this work. I will also draw on Freud’s New Introductory Lectures on PsychoAnalysis, which came soon after The Ego and the Id, in my discussion of the new system.
According to Freud himself, his unhappiness with the topographical system was twofold: the ambiguity of the word “unconscious” and two new clinical discoveries—unconscious ego resistance and an unconscious need for punishment (Macmillan 1997, 440).8 As we have seen previously, the term “unconscious” is used in three different senses in Freud’s writings prior to the 1920s: descriptive, dynamic, and systematic. The first refers to whatever is not immediately present to consciousness and is thus latent; the second to the repressed content that was previously in consciousness; and the third to the Ucs. in Freud’s topographical system. One can easily see the confusion engendered by this terminology.
The second difficulty has to do with two of Freud’s new clinical discoveries. Unconscious ego resistance was discovered in the clinical situation when a patient failed in the attempt to remove “the resistances which the ego displays against concerning itself with the repressed” (Freud 1960, 8). This inability is due to other resistance from the ego (not against the ego as in the first case), of which the patient is totally unaware:
We have come upon something in the ego itself which is also unconscious, which behaves exactly like the repressed—that is, which produces powerful effects without itself being conscious and which requires special work before it can be made conscious. (8–9)
The unconscious need for punishment is suggested when patients exhibit “negative therapeutic reaction,” that is, they “react inversely to the progress of treatment” (49). This is a special kind of resistance, more powerful than “narcissistic inaccessibility, a negative attitude towards the physician and clinging to the gain from illness” (50). Freud elaborates:
In the end we come to see that we are dealing with what may be called a ‘moral’ factor, a sense of guilt, which is finding its satisfaction in the illness and refuses to give up the punishment of suffering. . . . But as far as the patient is concerned this sense of guilt is dumb; it does not tell him he is guilty; he does not feel guilty, he feels ill. (ibid.)
This is another sign of the function of the unconscious portion of the ego. Accordingly, the terminological difficulty with the unconscious and ego, together with the two discoveries, motivates Freud to give up his topographical system:
It had thus become apparent that, alike as regards ‘the unconscious’ and as regards ‘the ego,’ the criterion of consciousness was no longer helpful in building up a structural picture of the mind. Freud accordingly abandoned the use of consciousness in this capacity: ‘being conscious’ was henceforward to be regarded simply as a quality which might or might not be attached to a mental state. The old ‘descriptive’ sense of the term was in fact all that remained. (1960, xxxii)9
At this point, Freud attempts to differentiate mental regions from mental quality. His earlier difficulty arose, at least partially, out of the confusion between the two. Consequently, he makes the categories of the topographical system—preconscious, and especially conscious and unconscious—qualities of what is mental and proceeds to set up a new structural system more clearly defined in terms of mental regions; this is the well-known formula of id, ego, and superego to which I will now turn.10
Ego is a mental entity that “starts out . . . from the system Pcpt. [[[perception]]], which is its nucleus, and begins by embracing the Pcs., which is adjacent to the mnemic residues” (16); “the other part of the mind, into which this entity extends and which behaves as though it were Ucs.,” (17) is called id. Put differently, ego and id are two continuous compartments of a mental entity, predicated by different qualities, the former by conscious and unconscious qualities and the latter simply by what is unconscious.
It is easy to see that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world through the medium of the Pcpt.-Cs.; in a sense it is an extension of the surfacedifferentiation. Moreover, the ego seeks to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavours to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id. For the ego, perception plays the part which in the id falls to instinct. (1960, 18–19)
The claim that the ego is part of the id is not only to reiterate the continuity between id and ego, but also to claim that the ego grows out of the id or that the id is the ground of the ego. This marks a fundamental shift in Freud’s conceptualization of the unconscious. Previously, the unconscious was deemed an epiphenomenon of consciousness because the genesis of the former is the result of the repressive function of the latter. However, to view the ego as an entity that grows out of the id means that the unconscious (the id) is more than what was peviously conscious and that the unconscious is not just the result of repression, forgetting, and neglecting, which are egocentered activities.
The influence of the external world via perception is decisive in the genesis of the ego. In fact, what perception is to the ego is what instinct is to the id. Consequently, the ego serves as a mediator between the external world and the id. The ego follows the reality principle whereas the id follows the pleasure principle (Freud 1960, 19). The reality principle refers to the way by which ego brings about order and structure in consciousness. By contrast, the id, ruled by instincts, follows the pleasure principle. Ego is an organized and coherent substructure within the mind, resulting from contact with the external world via perception:
Another factor, besides the influence of the system Pcpt., seems to have played a part in bringing about the formation of the ego and its differentiation from the id. A person’s own body, and above all its surface, is a place from which both external and internal perceptions may spring. . . . The ego is first and foremost a bodily ego; it is not merely a surface entity, but is itself the projection of a surface. (19–20) The ego’s bodily nature is related to its first characteristic in that it is an extension of the surface-differentiation and such surface-differentiation proceeds from the body; the ego is first and foremost an embodied ego. Only the ego with a body can make a clear demarcation between what belongs to an individual and what does not. The concepts of id and superego are explained at length in Freud’s New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, and my discussion of them will draw on this work and The Ego and the Id. The id is “the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, . . . and can be described only as a contrast to the ego” (Freud 1964, 91). In contradistinction to the ego, the id is chaotic, instinctual, and pleasureseeking. Logic does not apply to its functioning and contrary impulses can exist side by side without contradicting each other as they do in the ego. There is no passage of time. Temporality as an a priori form governing ego activities has no role with regard to the id. It does not abide by any moral law, and exercises no value judgments.11 In a word, the id is what the ego is not. The id can be viewed as a reformulation of the Ucs. in the topographical system.
The superego is an agency in the mind that observes, judges, and punishes the ego (74). It is derived from a transformation of the child’s earliest object-cathexes—referring to the investment of libido made by a child in an object or its internal representation (e.g., a parent in the case of the Oedipus complex)—into an identification with that object, namely the parental authority:
The differentiation of the superego from the ego is no matter of chance; it represents the most important characteristic of the development both of the individual and of the species; indeed, by giving permanent expression to the influence of the parents it perpetuates the existence of the factors to which it owes its origin. (Freud, 1960, 31)
In other words, the superego is the internalization of parental authority acquired later in life. The tension between the superego and the ego gives rise to the conscience (Freud 1964, 76). What is the relationship among the three domains of the mind? Phylogenetically, the differentia
tion of the ego from the id is prior to the separation of the superego from the ego (99). This means that the id is the most primitive of the three, and when it comes into contact with the external world the ego is born as a buffer zone between the instinctual id and the external world. As we have seen, this is a significant revision of Freud’s earlier view, which seems more or less to equate the unconscious with the repressed because in that view consciousness, without which there is no repression to begin with, has to be phylogenetically prior to the unconscious. The role of the superego is to help the ego grapple with the conflict between the id and the external world by internalizing inhibiting parental authority into a moral agent within the individual mind. Therefore, it is clear that the ego simultaneously serves three “masters” as it were: the external world, the superego, and the id (Freud 1960, 58; 1964, 97). This means that the ego is receptive to all of the three forces from both within and without the mind.
“What distinguishes the ego from the id quite especially is a tendency to synthesis in its contents, to a combination and unification in its mental processes which are totally lacking in the id” (1964, 95). The ego’s synthetic function is what brings about order in consciousness. The most fundamental orders are temporality and spatiality, both of which are forms of perception, which is the origin of consciousness (Pcpt.-Cs.) in Freud’s topographical system. This synthetic function of the ego is indicative of its following the reality principle. Freud here may have the Kantian scheme in mind. He does not invalidate the Kantian system but rather delegates its validity to the function of the ego, which is only a (tiny) portion of the human mind. Because space and time are the forms of perceptual consciousness of the ego, the ego is rendered closer to the external world than to the internal world, which only follows the pleasure principle. This is evident in the following remark made by Freud:
By setting up this ego ideal, the ego has mastered the Oedipus complex and at the same time placed itself in subjection to the id. Whereas the ego is essentially the representative of the external world, of reality, the super-ego stands in contrast to it as the representative of the internal world, of the id. (1960, 32)
The superego represents the id whereas the ego represents the external world. On the one hand, the superego helps the ego master the Oedipus complex through identification with the parental authority; on the other hand it is the means by which the ego is subjected to the power of the id. The contents of the id can penetrate into the ego through two paths, directly or by way of the superego (58). “The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it” (17). There is no valve, as it were, between the ego and the id. Moreover,
[t]he super-ego merges into the id; indeed as heir to the Oedipus complex it has intimate relations with the id; it is more remote than the ego from the perceptual system. The id has intercourse with the external world only through the ego. (Freud 1964, 98)
This means that the id can have access to the ego through the superego. Through the superego the ego is able to master the id. Freud’s theory of the unconscious has been challenged on many fronts, one of which was especially noteworthy because it came from within the psychoanalytic movement that Freud founded. This was the challenge posed by Carl Jung, who was once a close associate of Freud and in fact, his heir designate. In many ways, Jung’s theory of the unconscious is both a challenge to and a development of Freud’s. Jung’s Theory of the Unconscious
In this section I will focus on Jung’s development and critique of Freud’s theory of the unconscious.12 My discussion will be based upon Jung’s mature theory, and I will not go into the details of its development.13 According to Jolande Jacobi, Jung’s psychological theory consists of two parts: “(1) the structure of the psyche and (2) the laws of the psychic processes and forces” (1973, 1). Because the structure of the psyche is relevant to my discussion, I will focus on this aspect of Jung’s psychology.
By consciousness I understand the relation of psychic contents to the ego, in so far as this relation is perceived as such by the ego. Relations to the ego that are not perceived as such are unconscious. (1971, 421)
For all its appearance of unity, it [the ego] is obviously a highly composite factor. It is made up of images recorded from the sense-functions that transmit stimuli both from within and from without, and furthermore of an immense accumulation of images of past processes. All these multifarious components need a powerful cohesive force to hold them together, and this we have already recognized as a property of consciousness. Consciousness therefore seems to be the necessary precondition for the ego. Yet without the ego, consciousness is unthinkable. This apparent contradiction may perhaps be resolved by regarding the ego, too, as a reflection not of one but of very many processes and their interplay—in fact, of all those processes and contents that make up ego-
consciousness. Their diversity does indeed form a unity, because their relation to consciousness acts as a sort of gravitational force drawing the various parts together, towards what might be called a virtual centre. For this reason I do not speak simply of the ego, but of an ego-complex, on the proven assumption that the ego, having a fluctuating composition, is changeable and therefore cannot be simply the ego. (1969a, 323–324)15
This preceding passage is concerned with two crucial points regarding the ego: its existence as a composite and its relationship with consciousness. First, there is a clear tension between the apparent unity and the actual composite nature of the ego for Jung. He concurs with Freud on the idea that ego consists of images transmitted from both within and without the mind as well as from its own past experience. Consequently, the ego cannot be a singular self-contained entity, but rather has a fluctuating composition. In other words, the ego is a changing entity.
Due to this composite nature, there is a need to hold the different components together and place them into a coherent structure. However, for Jung, this is the function of the ego as well as of consciousness. Therefore, the ideas of the ego and consciousness seem to presuppose each other, hence creating the dilemma of how to differentiate the two, if this is possible at all. If they cannot be differentiated, what is the point of postulating two concepts with completely identical definitions? This is the second issue addressed in the above passage. Jung is fully aware of the predicament here, and he suggests a
solution by rendering the ego as the interplay of all the processes that are underway in consciousness. This point is made clearer in Jung’s rather succinct definition in Psychological Types: “By ego I understand a complex of ideas which constitutes the centre of my field of consciousness and appears to possess a high degree of continuity and identity” (1971, 425).16 Put differently, ego is the center of the field of consciousness that is well structured and organized, generating the sense of continuity and identity in an individual: “There can be no consciousness when there is no one to say: ‘I am conscious’” (Jung 1969a, 283).
There is one more important point in the above passage, namely the ego is an ego-complex.17 This is crucial in differentiating the concept of ego from the concept of consciousness in Jung’s theory. Because the complex in Jung’s scheme has its origin in the unconscious, let us examine this concept by first looking into Jung’s theory of the unconscious.
As we have seen previously, Jung understands the unconscious as a psychic process whose relationship with the ego is not perceived by the latter as such (1971, 421). The unconscious for Jung has two dimensions, personal and collective: The personal unconscious consists firstly of all those contents that became unconscious either beca
use they lost their intensity and were forgotten or because consciousness was withdrawn from them (repression), and secondly of contents, some of them sense-impressions, which never had sufficient intensity to reach consciousness but have somehow entered the psyche. The collective unconscious, however, as the ancestral heritage of possibilities of representation, is not individual but common to all men, and perhaps even to all animals, and is the true basis of the individual psyche. (1969b, 153–154)18
To put it briefly, the personal unconscious includes forgotten or repressed conscious materials and residues of sense-impressions.19 The collective unconscious is not related to the experience of the individual but is rather the totality of inherited possibilities of representation and the basis of the individual psyche.
Eventually, Jung concludes that the personal unconscious consists of feeling-toned complexes (1969a, 42) and the collective unconscious instincts and archetypes (1969b, 133–134). A complex is defined by Jung as the phenomenon of the “feeling-toned groups of representations” in the unconscious (Jacobi 1959, 6), which are of “an intrapsychic nature and originate in a realm which is beyond the objective control of the conscious mind and which manifests itself only when the threshold of attention is lowered” (7).20 In other words, a complex is a psychic phenomenon originated in the personal unconscious and manifested in the consciousness when the attention level is lowered. The keys to understanding the concept of a complex are its uncontrollability by the conscious mind and its origin in the unconscious:
According to Jung’s definition every complex consists primarily of a “nuclear element,” a vehicle of meaning, which is beyond the realm of the conscious will, unconscious and uncontrollable; and secondarily, of a number of associations connected with the nuclear element, stemming in part from innate personal disposition and in part from individual experiences conditioned by the environment. (8–9)
A complex has a nuclear center and a number of associations with it. The core of a complex has a high degree of autonomy and independence from the ego whereas its associated elements are more receptive to influence from the outside world via the ego. To be aware of a complex, as in the case of its manifestation in consciousness, does not alter its effects, and the only way to dissolve it is to discharge its energy through emotional assimilation.21
As we have seen, in Jung’s view the ego is a complex, the egocomplex. It is one among many complexes in the psyche: “[I]nasmuch as the ego is only the centre of my field of consciousness, it is not identical with the totality of my psyche, being merely one complex among other complexes” (Jung 1971, 425). Because a complex has its origin in the personal unconscious, this means that the ego qua complex is rooted in the personal unconscious. That is, the ego originates in the personal unconscious. However, because a complex intrudes into the realm of consciousness when the level of consciousness is lowered, can the same be said
of the ego-complex? If so, that would be tantamount to saying that the ego as a complex is an intrusion into the consciousness; this position cannot be held in Jung’s psychology because the ego is the very condition of consciousness. The origin of this apparent contradiction can be traced to Jung himself; he randomly tosses around ideas as he goes along without giving consistent definitions of his concepts.22 If we are to solve the above dilemma, we have to claim that the ego must be a special kind of complex. One possibility is to interpret the ego as an organizing principle of consciousness, and as such the center of consciousness, providing a coherent structure of continuity and identity to consciousness. This organizing principle is itself unconscious even though that which it holds together is conscious. This means that the ego is itself only a structure; the psychic contents become conscious when structured by the ego, but the ego itself remains concealed. Hence both the unconscious nature of the ego as a complex and the conscious nature of the ego as the precondition of consciousness can be accommodated. Consequently, the psyche is turned into a master complex system, consisting of various complexes, of which the ego is one. The ego-complex is apparently the most powerful among its peers, and its structuring activity gives birth to the field of consciousness of which it is the center.
In this connection, we find Jacobi claiming that “complex actually constitutes the structure of the psyche” (1959, 25). That is, because the ego is one of the complexes and the personal unconscious is constituted by complexes, complexes become the structure of an individual psyche.23 Because it is only a structure, a complex can take on a content that is either personal or collective. This means that the individual psychic structure constituted by complexes is private, whereas its content can be either personal or collective, as Jacobi points out:
If a “nodal point” [the nuclear element of a complex] is enriched only by mythical or universal human material, we may speak of a complex originating in the realm of the collective unconscious; but if individually acquired material is superimposed on it, i.e., if it appears in the cloak of a personally conditioned conflict, then we may speak of a complex originating in the domain of the personal unconscious. (25, original italics)
This is how Jung connects the personal unconscious with the collective unconscious. There is indeed a kinship between the concepts of the complex and the archetype that are constitutive of the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious, respectively, as Jacobi observes (30). Therefore it is appropriate for us now to turn to the concept of the collective unconscious, which is one of Jung’s most seminal and controversial theories.
In Jung’s clinical observations, he discerned that there is a dimension in the psyche that is not acquired through personal experience (1969b, 42). It is universally distributed and inherited in the psyche and is most vividly manifested in the mythologies and religions of the world. This non-personal dimension of the psyche is what Jung calls the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious consists of two aspects, instinct and archetype. Let us begin with Jung’s concept of instinct:
[I]nstincts are impersonal, universally distributed, hereditary factors of a dynamic or motivating character. . . . Moreover, the instincts are not vague and indefinite by nature, but are specifically formed motive forces which, long before there is any consciousness, and in spite of any degree of consciousness later on, pursue their inherent goals. (43)24
Here instincts are characterized by their universality, hereditariness, and dynamism. More interestingly, Jung suggests here that instinctual forces are teleological, orienting themselves toward some inherent goals. However, a question naturally arises: What goals are the instinctual forces pursuing and what is the mechanism in such a pursuit? It is with these questions in mind that Jung makes the following remarks:
I regard the characteristic compulsiveness of instinct as an ectopsychic factor. None the less, it is psychologically important because it leads to the formation of structures or patterns which may be regarded as determinants of human behaviour. Under these circumstances the immediate determining factor is not the ectopsychic instinct but the structure resulting from the interaction of instinct and the psychic situation of the moment. The determining factor would thus be a modified instinct. . . . Instinct as an ectopsychic factor would play the role of a stimulus merely, while instinct as a psychic phenomenon would be an assimilation of this stimulus to a preexistent psychic pattern [italics added]. A name is needed for this process. I should term it psychization. Thus, what we call instinct offhand would be a datum already psychized, but of ectopsychic origin. (1969a, 115, original italics unless noted)25
It is clear that Jung’s concept of instinct has a distinct somatic character to it, and it is through what he calls a “psychization” process that the original compulsiveness of instinct is modified. Hence, Jung differentiates two kinds of instinct: the original one, which is ectopsychic or somatic in origin, and the modified one resulting from psychization. The original instinct is somatic but the modified one becomes structured and patterned through the psychization
process. According to Jung, the modified—hence structured—instinct is determinative of behavior. Consequently, Jung uses the term “instinct” in its psychized sense while acknowledging its ectopsychic or somatic origin. Or in Jung’s words: “In the last analysis, instincts are ectopsychic determinants” (1969a, 118). He lists five main groups of instincts: hunger, sexuality, activity, reflection, and creativity. The order in which Jung lists them suggests that the instincts are hierarchical from the natural to the cultural:
The psychized instinct forfeits its uniqueness to a certain extent, at times actually losing its most essential characteristic—compulsiveness. It is no longer an ectopsychic, unequivocal fact, but has become instead a modification conditioned by its encounter with a psychic datum. As a determining factor, instinct is variable and therefore lends itself to different applications. Whatever the nature of the psyche may be, it is endowed with an extraordinary capacity for variation and transformation. (115–116)
Instinctual forces pursue their inherent goals through the psychization process, which transforms somatic forces to psychic ones. The possibility of the transformation of instincts lies in their empowerment by the libido, or psychic energy. Libido is a concept Jung takes over from Freud, but he significantly expands it. The Freudian libido is sexual energy whereas the Jungian libido is psychic energy. To reduce psychic energy to sexual energy is characteristic of
Freud’s reductionist approach. Jung needs a neutral form of energy in the psyche to make the transformation of instinctual forces possible. The goals of such a transformation are what Jung refers to as “the preexistent psychic patterns” in the passage cited above, and they are what he later calls “archetypes.” Jung’s concept of archetype, as essential as it is in his psychological framework, is so difficult to define and so full of ambiguities and contradictions that the best way to approach it is by “talking around” it, as Jacobi suggests (1959, 31). Hence, we find Jung saying:
Archetypes are, by definition, factors and motifs that arrange the psychic elements into certain images, characterized as archetypal, but in such a way that they can be recognized only from the effect they produce. They exist preconsciously, and presumably they form the structural dominants of the psyche in general. . . . As a priori conditioning factors they represent a special psychological instance of the biological ‘pattern of behavior,’ which gives all things their specific qualities. (Quoted in Jacobi 1959, 31, original italics)
There are several points that interest us here. First, archetypes are essentially a priori forms in the unconscious. They “are not disseminated only by tradition, language, and migration, but . . . they can realise spontaneously, at any time, at any place, and without any outside influence” (Jung 1969b, 79). They are pre-existent forms not developed individually, but inherited.
The second point is related to the first one. Because Jung emphatically insists that archetypes are only formal and are empty of contents, archetypes per se can never be known as such, and they can only be recognized through the effects they produce. The effects that archetypes produce are what Jung calls
archetypal images. Therefore, he draws a distinction between an archetype per se and an archetypal image. By making such a distinction, Jung hopes to achieve two goals: retaining the hereditary nature of archetypes and accounting for the inevitable differences in our experience of the same archetypes from individual to individual and from group to group. That is, only archetypes are inherited; archetypal images, which are what we actually experience in encountering archetypes, vary among individuals as well as groups.26
As for the origin of archetypes, Jung’s position is not consistent. On the one hand, he states that such a question is essentially unanswerable because it is ontological: “Whether this psychic structure and its elements, the archetypes, ever ‘originated’ at all is a metaphysical question and therefore unanswerable” (1969b, 101). On the other hand, however, he refutes his own position with the following remark:
There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life. Endless repetition has engraved these experiences into our psychic constitution, not in the form of images filled with content, but at first only as forms without content,representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action. (48, original italics)
Jung is rather explicit that the origin of archetypes is the repetitive experience of some typical situations in life that engrave the forms of those experiences into our psychic constitution. Here we see another instance of his fluctuating stance between idealist and empiricist positions, although this can be resolved by resorting to the difference between the archetype, which is formal and inherited, and the archetypal representation, which is empirical and acculturated.27
According to Jung, instincts and archetypes determine each other: “Instincts are typical modes of action” (1969a, 135, original italics); “Archetypes are typical modes of apprehension” (137, original italics); “[T]he archetypes are simply the forms which the instincts assume” (157). However, the archetype
gradually takes over the role previously assigned to the instinct. Jung eventually comes to the view that it is the archetypes that are constitutive of the collective unconscious (1969a, 42; 1969b, 4), making archetypes the forms “representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action” (1969b, 48, italics added). In other words, the concept of instinct is subsumed under the concept of archetype: “the archetype consists of both—form and energy” (102).
To sum up, Jung structures the psyche into three realms: consciousness, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious. Consciousness is the realm organized by the ego, which itself originates from the personal unconscious as a complex. This means that the ego is the link between consciousness and the unconscious. The personal unconscious is constituted by complexes, which are private forms in the psyche that can take on a content that is either private or collective in
its origin. The collective unconscious is constituted by inherited archetypes/instincts, but we can only experience archetypal images, the materialized archetypes as it were, in encountering the collective unconscious. Hence archetypal images become the link between the personal and the collective.
After this brief examination of Freud’s and Jung’s theories of the unconscious, I will reintroduce Xuan Zang into the discussion. By bringing the theories of all three into a new dialogical context I hope to clarify their differences and examine why they exist and how they are accomplished among the three formulations of the subliminal consciousness. These are the issues I will deal with in the next two chapters.