Friday, February 29, 2008


This is a wonderful masterpiece from the end of Monteverdi's life and in the last ten years it has received a little of the attention it so richly deserves. However I can confidently say that this French production, by William Christie and Les Arts Florissan, is the best of the lot. Direction, production, casting, staging, singing and musicianship are--in a word--perfect. This 2002 production which was also taken to the US, has already made stars out of the two Slavic principals: Mijana Mijanovich as Penelope and Kresemir Spicer as the eponymous hero. Mijana is majestically beautiful as the long suffering Penelope and Spicer (still apparently in his twenties) plays Ulysses with a burly grace. Both are voice perfect for the parts, but Spicer's smooth but emotionally charged tenor, is a voice of the rarest quality. Already, both leads are in great demand around the concert platforms and opera houses of the world--and this performance of Monteverdi's masterpiece is where it all began.

Humphrey Burton deserves great praise for his simple but compelling set: a kind of sandbox in which a single artifact or implement often indicates the place. For example, a large vase shows that we are in Ulysses' palace and a billowing piece of white cloth denotes a ship at sea. The tour-de-force is when Ulysses uses his bow to kill the suitors. Minerva (the goddess who always supports Ulysses and is known in Greek as Athena) takes his arrows from the bow and uses them to stab each of the suitors: a symbolic act magnificent in its simplicity and effectiveness.

Minor characters are portrayed excellently both in musical and dramatic terms and a special mention is due to the three actors who play Penelope's suitors: the bass appears to be blind, but is ingeniously led around the stage in a most subtle and convincing way, while the counter tenor is wonderful in his leering sarcasm. The French Minerva is also outstanding as both actor and singer.

People who are easily outraged may be offended by the nudity of the Prologue--though in the context of the symbolism (human frailty) it is entirely appropriate. Furthermore, the nudity is very tastefully done on a stage that is mostly dark.

I thoroughly recommend this renaissance masterpiece and can assure any lover of opera that with this DVD they are getting one of the very best opera productions currently on the market.

Below is a compilation of some memorable scenes from Youtube

Friday, February 22, 2008

Capsized on the Indian Ocean

I have just returned from a brief vacation in Sri Lanka that was supposed to be relaxing but, in one respect at least, turned out to be quite hair-raising: I nearly drowned! After a couple of days of swimming regularly in the Indian Ocean, I was offered the chance to go out on a fishing trip with a group of Sri Lankan fishermen. At first I hesitated, but then, as so often before, the thrill of a new experience asserted itself and I agreed. The boat itself was small but strong and had been fitted with a Suzuki motor at the back. The fishermen were a rowdy lot with a tendency to make excessive noise about not very much. It was necessary to steer the boat out from the beach before engaging the engine and, during this operation, one of the rougher looking men almost smacked me over the head with his heavy oar: not an auspicious start!

When we got out on to the ocean proper and began fishing, the day started to seem ideal. No land was in sight in any direction as the fishermen reeled out their strong nylon lines with colourful glass fish attached and lay back hoping for a catch. We slaked our thirst with water and coconut juice as the sun beat down on our unprotected skins. The fishermens' deep brown colour existed to give them more effective working time in the sun, but my own Nordic pinkness was defenseless against the harsh rays of the afternoon sun and, after a while, I began to burn: already I was aware that the afternoon's jaunt was not to pass by without exacting a price.

The fishermen were wildly fortunate and hooked a barracuda fish: these creatures are enormously strong and we needed to drag the resisting beast along in the wake of the boat for about 30 minutes before it finally weakened and could be reeled in. The man who had almost thumped me on the head with his oar (a truculent fellow if nature and phrenology provided any accurate indication) waited triumphantly with the hook and, when the barracuda emerged from the sea in a writhing mass of water, he plunged the hook expertly through it's body. Next he closed his hand around its gills, choking the life out of it, while another fisherman belted it on the head from behind with a strong stick. Soon the fish was dead and tossed into the bottom of the boat--from where several small fish were seen to float out of its dead body: the barracuda had been a pregnant mother.

Eventually we turned for home and, after about half an hour, we came into sight of land. Everything seemed under control and was going to plan. As we came into the final approach to the beach, the fisherman responsible for the engine cut it off: in the same way that we'd needed to guide the boat out from the shore with oars, so it would be necessary to guide it back in manually. Perhaps two minutes after the engine had been cut off, I saw a huge wave coming towards the front of the boat and the thought struck me: "This wave is going to sink us!" As the huge wave struck the front of the boat, the keel came up and was swept over rather like a toy boat in a child's bath. Everything went dark as we were all bundled into the ocean and I remember thinking that I should stay within the circumference of the boat as any attempt to escape might result in my being hit on the head by the edge of the overturning boat. Fortunately, I was able to avoid this latter fate and, equally fortuitously, never found myself caught up in nets or hit by knives, dead fish, or other items as they tumbled out of the boat. When I came to the surface, I was some distance from the overturned fishing boat and saw that the Sri Lankans were all clinging to it with desperation. The tide was strong and in the wrong direction, so I could make no headway when I tried to swim towards the distant beach (or even try to make it across the twenty or so meters which separated me from the boat). I was being hit continuously by waves and after a while a thought came into my head: "You are in great danger and could easily die here, just a short distance from the boat and not too far from the beach" (where people could be seen shouting and pointing). Strangely, I had not considered the danger until that moment. Previously, I had been trying to think calmly and give myself the best chance of survival--but suddenly I was alone without any chance of imminent rescue. I knew that if I exhausted myself with a futile attempt to swim to land, then I would drown for sure. I had only so much energy and strength and I couldn't afford to waste it on abortive and failed efforts to reach land. As I considered this, I let myself sink down in the ocean a little--and to my utter relief, I found that my feet touched bottom! At the point where we'd been capsized, the ocean was just over six feet deep and, with this knowledge, I was able to swim, walk and eventually crawl to land. Just as I dragged myself on to the sands, a couple of strong Sri Lankan hands grasped me and pulled me the last few feet to safety. The Sri Lankan fishermen were still out in the ocean clinging to their boat as I made my way up to the motel where I was staying.

So everything turned out OK--but it had been a very close call. None of us had been wearing life jackets and there were no rescue boats or rescue teams in that secluded area of the coast. I thanked God for my deliverance and, on the advice of an old Sri Lankan man, went to a nearby mountainous area where several poor Sri Lankan families lived. There we distributed free rice and sugar, soap, toothpaste and jam to five destitute families: I had been saved and the least I could do was to thank the demiurge by feeding some of his less fortunate children.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jung and Ulysses

In 1932 Jung wrote a long essay on Joyce's novel "Ulysses" which had been published 10 years earlier. This critical essay shows certain neurotic--even schizophrenic--traits as, at least in the first part, Jung is clearly struggling against his own dislike of the novel; in the second part, he appears to find a way of looking at "Ulysses" that reconciles his strong antipathies with an appreciation of--what he takes to be--the unique quality of the novel. Certainly, this critical examination of one of the seminal works of literary modernism helps us to understand the ways in which Analytical Psychology might examine and criticise important and contemporary artistic works.

Jung begins his essay by informing us that: "...I read to page 135 with despair in my heart, falling asleep twice on the way. The incredible versatility of Joyce's style has a monotonous and hypnotic effect. Nothing comes to meet the reader, everything turns away from him, leaving him gaping after it. The book is always up and away, dissatisfied with itself, ironic, sardonic, virulent, contemptuous, sad, desparing, and bitter."

The contradictory nature of Jung's criticism is apparent from the very beginning. The book is so boring that Jung falls asleep twice! And yet it also has an "incredible versatility". In this first part of the essay, however, Jung finds far more to criticise than to warm to.

"...The whole work has the character of a worm cut in half, that can grow a new head or a new tail as required...This singular and uncanny characteristic of the Joycean mind shows that his work pertains to the class of cold-blooded animals and specifically to the worm family. If worms were gifted with literary powers they would write with the sympathetic nervous system for lack of a brain. I suspect that something of this kind has happened to Joyce, that here we have a case of visceral thinking with severe restrictions of cerebral activity and its confinement to the perceptual processes."

Jung admits that it is difficult for him to make head or tail of "Ulysses" and that he even tried reading it backwards without in any way altering his level of appreciation and insight (which in any case, presumably, was already fixed at zero!). Jung states that the nature and organisation of "Ulysses" would make him think its author schizophrenic if not for the absence of repetition which is so "typical of the schizophrenic mind". Eventually Jung throws his hands up in the air (metaphorically speaking) and openly declares his dislike.

"Yes, I admit I feel have been made a fool of. The book would not meet me half way, nothing in it made the least attempt to be agreeable, and that always gives the reader an irritating sense of inferiority. Obviously, I have so much of the Philistine in my blood that I am naive enough to suppose that a book wants to tell me something, to be understood--a sad case of mythological anthropomorphism projected on to the book!...One should never rub the reader's nose into his own stupidity, but that is just what "Ulysses" does...All those ungovernable forces that welled up in Nietzsche's Dionysian exuberance and flooded his intellect have burst forth in undiluted form in modern man. Even the darkest passages in the second part of "Faust", even "Zarathustra" and, indeed, "Ecce Homo", try in one way or another to recommend themselves to the public. But it is only modern man who has succeeded in creating an art in reverse, a backside of art that makes no attempt to be ingratiating, that tells us just where we get off, speaking with the same rebellious contrariness that had made itself disturbingly felt in those precursors of the moderns (not forgetting Holderlin) who had already started to topple the old ideals".

Oddly, this admission of dislike seems to give Jung a new approach to the novel. Perhaps Joyce is the Arch- destroyer of outmoded values which cannot be tinkered with, but only blasted away with seismic intensity?

"From the causal point of view Joyce is a victim of Roman Catholic authoritarianism, but considered teleologically he is a reformer who for the present is satisfied with negation, a Protestant nourished by his own protests. Atrophy of feeling is a characteristic of modern man and always shows itself as a reaction when there is too much feeling around, and in particular too much false feeling. From the lack of feeling in "Ulysses" we may infer a hideous sentimentality in the age that produced it. But are we really so sentimental today?...there is a good deal of evidence to show that we actually are involved in a sentimentality hoax of gigantic proportions. Think of the lamentable role of popular sentiment in wartime! Think of our so-called humanitarianism! The psychiatrist knows only too well how each of us becomes the helpless but not pitiable victim of his own sentiments. Sentimentality is the superstructure erected upon brutality...It is therefore quite comprehensible that a prophet should arise to teach our culture a compensatory lack of feeling. Prophets are always disagreeable and usually have bad manners, but it is said they occasionally hit the nail on the head. There are, as we know, major and minor prophets, and history will decide to which of them Joyce belongs. Like every true prophet, the artist is the unwitting mouthpiece of the psychic secrets of his time, and is often as unconscious as a sleep walker...'Ulysses' is a 'document humain' of our time and, what is more, it harbours a secret. It can release the spiritually bound, and its coldness can freeze all sentimentality--and even normal feeling--to the marrow. But these salutary effects do not exhaust its powers...There is life in it, and life is never exclusively evil and wants to be an eye of the moon, a consciousness detached from the object, in thrall neither to the gods nor to sensuality, and bound neither by love nor hate, neither by conviction nor by prejudice 'Ulysses' does not preach this but practices it--detachment of consciousness is the goal that shimmers through the fog of this book. This, surely, is its real secret, the secret of a new cosmic consciousness..."

Now, Jung seems pleased to have discovered a new and fertile line of investigation. "Ulysses" exists in order to rid man of his sentimentality and medieval superstition. From the wreckage of Joyce's destructive prose a new and modern "zeitgeist" will emerge that is appropriate for a new man with a new destiny. Joyce uses the power of the collective unconscious--as Goethe and Nietzsche did before him--to confront man with some necessary new truths: the new can only blossom when the old has been put to the sword! To this extent, Joyce in "Ulysses" is involved in a similar act of purification as Goethe in "Faust" and Nietzsche in "Thus Spake Zarathustra". He is the scatological prophet of a new age. He is John the Baptist come to prepare the way.

"'Ulysses' is the creator-god in Joyce, a true demiurge who has freed himself from entanglement in the physical and mental world and contemplates them with detached consciousness. He is for Joyce what Faust was for Goethe, or Zarathustra for Nietzsche. He is the higher self who returns to his divine home after blind entanglement in samsara. In the whole book no Ulysses appears; the book itself is Ulysses, a microcosm of James Joyce, the world of the self and the self of the world in one. Ulysses can return home only when he has turned his back on the world of mind and matter. This is surely the message underlying that sixteenth day of June, 1904, the everyday of everyman, on which persons of no importance restlessly do and say things without beginning or aim--a shadowy picture, dreamlike, infernal, sardonic, negative, ugly, devilish, but true. A picture that could give one bad dreams or induce the mood of a cosmic Ash Wednesday, such as the Creator might have felt on August 1, 1914. After the optimism of the seventh day of creation the demiurge must have found it pretty difficult in 1914 to identify himself with his handiwork...There is so little feeling in 'Ulysses' that it must be very pleasing to all aesthetes. But let us assume that the consciousness of 'Ulysses' is not a moon but an ego that possesses judgment, understanding, and a feeling heart. Then the long road through the 18 chapters would not only hold no delights but would be a road to Calvary; and the wanderer, overcome by so much suffering and folly, would sink down at nightfall into the arms of the Great Mother who signifies the beginning and end of life. Under the cynicism of 'Ulysses' there is hidden a great compassion; he knows the sufferings of a world that is neither beautiful nor good and, worse still, rolls on without hope through the eternally repeated everyday, dragging with it man's consciousness in an idiot dance through the hours, months, years. Ulysses has dared to take the step that leads to the detachment of consciousness from the object; he has freed himself from attachment, entanglement, and delusion, and can therefore turn homeward."

This is a purple passage of high flown appreciation indeed! By this time it appears that Jung's earlier scepticism and dislike have been entirely swept aside by new insights and ideas--and this is confirmed in the paragraph that follows:

"It seems to me now that all that is negative in Joyce's work, all that is cold-blooded, bizarre and banal, grotesque and devilish, is a positive virtue for which it deserves praise. Joyce's inexpressibly rich and myriad-faceted language unfolds itself in passages that creep along tapeworm fashion, terribly boring and monotonous, but the very boredom and monotony of it attain an epic grandeur that makes the book a 'Mahabharata' of the world's futility and squalour...the truth of Tertullian's dictum: 'anima naturaliter christiana'. Ulysses shows himself a conscientious Antichrist and thereby proves that his Catholicism still holds together. He is not only a Christian but--still higher title to fame--a Buddhist, Shivaist, and a Gnostic".

Jung finishes his essay by returning to the question he had posed earlier: "Who is Ulysses?"

"Doubtless he is a symbol of what makes up the totality, the oneness, of all the single appearances...Mr. Bloom, Stephen, Mrs. Bloom, and the rest, including Mr. Joyce. Try to imagine a being who is not a mere colourless conglomerate soul composed of an indefinite number of ill-assorted and antagonistic individual souls, but consists also of houses, street-processions, churches, the Liffey, several brothels, and a crumpled note on its way to the sea--and yet possesses a perceiving and registering consciousness!. Such a monstrosity drives one to speculation, especially as one can prove nothing anyway and has to fall back on conjecture. I must confess that I suspect Ulysses of being a more comprehensive self who is the subject of all the objects on the glass slide, a being who acts as if he were Mr. Bloom or a printing shop or a crumpled note, but actually is the 'dark hidden father' of his specimens".

As with Goethe before him (suggests Jung), Joyce finishes his personal oddysey by putting his faith in the 'Eternal Feminine' who can show the male animus the new path he must follow--and also, in the process, help him to give it meaning:

"O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibralter as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes"

Jung's essay finishes with the following panegyric:

"O Ulysses, you are truly a devotional book for the object-besotted, object-ridden white man! You are a spiritual exercise an ascetic discipline, an agonising ritual, an arcane procedure, eighteen alchemical alembics piled on top of one another, where amid acids, poisonous fumes, and fire and ice, the homunculus of a new, universal consciousness is distilled!...Penelope need no longer weave her never-ending garment; she now takes her ease in the gardens of the earth, for her husband is home again, all his wanderings over. A world has passed away, and is made new".

Later in 1932, Jung wrote a letter to Joyce about his earlier essay on "Ulysses".

James Joyce Esq.
Hotel Elite,

Dear Sir,

Your Ulysses has presented the world such an upsetting psychological problem that repeatedly I have been called in as a supposed authority on psychological matters.

Ulysses proved to be an exceedingly hard nut and it has forced my mind not only to most unusual efforts, but also to rather extravagant peregrinations (speaking from the standpoint of a scientist). Your book as a whole has given me no end of trouble and I was brooding over it for about 3 years until I succeeded to put myself into it. But I must tell you that I'm profoundly grateful to yourself as well as to your gigantic opus, because I learned a great deal from it. I shall probably never be quite sure whether I did enjoy it, because it meant too much grinding of nerves and of grey matter. I also don't know whether you will enjoy what I have written about Ulysses because I couldn't help telling the world how much I was bored, how I grumbled, how I cursed and how I admired. The 40 pages of non stop run in the end is a string of veritable psychological peaches. I suppose the devil's grandmother knows so much about the real psychology of a woman. I didn't.

Well I just try to recommend my little essay to you, as an amusing attempt of a perfect stranger who went astray in the labyrinth of your Ulysses and happened to get out of it again by sheer good luck. At all events you may gather from my article what Ulysses has done to a supposedly balanced psychologist.

With the expression of my deepest appreciation, I remain, dear Sir,

Yours faithfully,

C.G Jung

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Freud and Jung on Art

It is not widely appreciated just how negative Freud's view of art and artists tended to be. In his essay on Leonardo Da Vinci, Freud thought he had explained the work of art by deriving it from the personal experience of the artist. As Jung has commented, this was one possible approach as it was possible that the work of art might be traced back (like a neurosis) to a complex of the author's. However, the problem is that a neurosis is seen in wholly negative terms by the Freudian school. It is something "inauthentic", "a mistake", "a subterfuge", an inability to face facts, "something that should never have been": it is the mind's counter-productive attempt to not face up to some disagreeable fact about a person's past. Therefore, when the Freudian school attempts to derive the work of art from the artist's repressions, it is very close to defining artistic products as neuroses: things that really shouldn't exist at all. As a consequence, Freud's opinion was that all artists are undeveloped personalities with narcissistic and marked infantile autoerotic traits. In layman's language, this means that Freud suspected most artists of being closet homosexuals who hadn't received enough affection from their mothers in early childhood.

Jung castigates Freud and his school for this reductionist view. The fact that Freud wants to interpret all works of art as the result of the artist's inner neuroses demonstrates, for Jung, Freud's own lack of culture and philosophical training (a point that Jung was frequently to make about his erstwhile colleague). For Jung, Freud's essential error was to connect the finished artistic product too closely with the creating artist. It might be true, he argued, that artists due to their sensitive natures often have more neuroses than the average person. However, the poor state of their conscious personality is often due to the effort they expend on their creations which, at least in a true artist, takes on an existence beyond the life of the artist himself. Jung advances his own theory that each person is born only with a certain amount of psychic energy and that the energy which the ordinary person puts into his life, usually goes into the art of the artist. In his personal life he develops ways of getting by psychically which expend the least amounts of energy--and this can often lead to deceitfulness, cowardice, simple egotism and neuroses. Effectively, he sacrifices his psychic energy to the better part of him, the creating artist.

For Jung, art was essentially of two types: psychological and visionary. Perhaps it is best to quote him directly on this (though in the following passages Jung is dealing ONLY with poetic creation):

"The psychological mode works with materials drawn from man's conscious life--with crucial experiences, powerful emotions, suffering, passion, the stuff of human fate in general. All this is assimilated by the psyche of the poet, raised from the commonplace to the level of poetic experience, and expressed with a power of conviction that gives us a greater depth of human insight by making us vividly aware of those everyday happenings which we tend to evade or to overlook because we perceive them only dully or with a feeling of discomfort. The raw material of this kind of creation is derived from the contents of man's consciousness, from his eternally repeated joys and sorrows, but clarified and transfigured by the poet. There is no work left for the psychologist to do--unless perhaps we expect him to explain why Faust fell in love with Gretchen, or why Gretchen was driven to murder her child. Such themes constitute the lot of mankind...No obscurity surrounds them, for they fully explain themselves in their own terms...The gulf that separates the first from the second part of Faust marks the difference between the psychological and the visionary modes of artistic creation. Here everything is reversed. The experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression is no longer familiar. It is somehing strange that derives its existence from the hinterland of man's mind, as if it had emerged from the abyss of prehuman ages, or from a super-human world of contrasting light and darkness. It is a primordial experience which surpasses man's understanding and to which in his weakness he may easily succumb."

Jung goes on to make his point that the second, or visionary mode of artistic production, entails the poet's unconscious ability to show and interpret the collective unconscious of his time with all its fearsome images and pointers to destruction. Jung states his belief that in his revealing of the collective unconscious, the poet may temporarily suffer from neurotic or psychotic states--but the revelation is made for the spiritual welfare of his fellow man. Some critics may say that the artist is merely disguising his own phobias when he has recourse to unfathomable imagery. Jung answers them in the following way:

"There is no ground for the assumption that the normal, human experience in the first part of Faust is repudiated or concealed in the second, or that Goethe was normal when he wrote Part 1 but in a neurotic state of mind when he wrote Part II...In works of art of this nature--and we must never confuse them with the artist as a person--it cannot be doubted that the vision is a genuine primordial experience, no matter what the rationalists may say. It is not something derived or secondary, it is not symptomatic of something else, it is a true symbol--that is, an expression for something real but unknown...If we disregard for a moment the possibility that Faust was compensatory to Goethe's conscious attitude, the question that arises is this: in what relation does it stand to the conscious outlook of his time, and can this relation also be regarded as compensatory? Great poetry draws its strength from the life of mankind, and we completely miss its meaning if we try to derive it from personal factors. Whenever the collective unconscious becomes a living experience and is brought to bear on the conscious outlook of an age, this event is a creative act which is of importance for a whole epoch. A work of art is produced that may truthfully be called a message to generations of men...After three centuries of religious schism and the scientific discovery of the world, Goethe paints a picture of the megalomania that threatens the Faustian man and attempts to redeem the inhumanity of this figure by uniting him with the Eternal Feminine, the material Sophia. She is the highest manifestation of the anima, stripped of the pagan savagery of the nymph Polia. But this compensation of Faust's inhumanity had no lasting effect, for Nietzsche, after proclaiming the death of God, announces the birth of the Superman, who in turn is doomed to destruction...Each of these poets speak with the voice of thousands and tens of thousands, foretelling changes in the conscious outlook of his time."

Finally, Jung summarises his view of art and the artist--and cocks yet another snoop at Freud in the process:

"This re-immersion in the state of participation mystique is the secret of artistic creation and of the effect which great art has upon us, for at that level of experience it is no longer the weal or woe of the individual that counts, but the life of the collective. That is why every great work of art is objective and impersonal, and yet profoundly moving. And that is also why the personal life of the artist is at most a help or a hindrance, but is never essential to his creative task. He may go the way of the Philistine, a good citizen, a fool, or a criminal. His personal career may be interesting and inevitable, but it does not explain his art".

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Notes Towards the Creation of a Literary Theory

Story-telling, poetry, song, have existed as long as man has had language. Why is this so we might pertinently ask? The answer, I believe, is simple enough. In earlier ages, most of man’s time and effort was taken up with practical matters such as hunting, war, tribal manoeuvrings, family quarrels, love-making and child-bearing and rearing. It was necessary to record the great moments of success as well as the failures in order to learn and improve (or sometimes merely to stand still!). Naturally, the successes were exaggerated and the failures portrayed as great tragedies of the tribe. Whose job was it to keep these important events alive? Of course, it was the poet-player who was entrusted with this task. For example, it was poets of the oral tradition who were the first to sing of Troy and the Greek expedition there to repatriate the abducted Helen. These stories were passed down from one generation of poets to the next and, in their transferral, the stories became ever more embellished and more perfectly shaped to their essential purpose of making the Greeks proud of their forefathers and their history. However, the element of pure entertainment was present too in an age when men had fewer pleasures with which to while away the time. Tales of mighty heroes gave the present warriors of the tribe great men to emulate from the past, while famous stories of Achilles’ wrath and the wiliness of Ulysses no doubt fascinated and delighted the listening Greeks on cold winter nights.

From the beginning then the poet’s stories served a variety of functions: on one level, they were entertainment pure and simple. However, they were also far more than this, recording the history of the tribe and its moments of greatest success and tragedy for posterity (of particular importance for societies to which the discipline of history was as yet unknown). Also, these stories had a moral purpose, giving the warriors of the tribe great men from the past who they could try to emulate in the present. Of course, modern man has in many ways grown beyond the simple life of primitive men and his artistic and literary constructions have become correspondingly more complex--though I believe every significant work of real literary merit still includes unconscious and millennia old archetypes from the collective unconscious of all mankind. I would suggest that from time immemorial, great poets and artists have been particularly sensitive to the images or archetypes that existed and still exist within man’s “collective unconscious”--a concept made famous by the Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung. We have no evidence that the collective unconscious exists, but it is a reasonable hypothesis that explains many otherwise inexplicable phenomena, such as that of “synchronicity”--another Jungian idea. Frequently we find that things seem to come together in a meaningful way that is neither causal nor teleological. For example, a person may dream of the death of a close relative and wake up the next day to find that a close relative has indeed died. On the surface this seems like a supernatural occurrence and scientists and most psychologists would aggressively explain the happening as a mere coincidence. Jung, however, insisted that these moments were an effect of the collective unconscious: below personal consciousness and personal unconsciousness lay the realm of the collective unconscious, filled with archetypes, that we all shared together (such as “Mother”, “Father”, “Death”, “the Shadow”, etc.). It may appear to us that we are separate from the rest of humanity, but this collective pool of meaningful images and shared experience shows that we are all really linked together (the concept is similar to the “Atman” of Hindu thought). Consequently, when an occurrence concerns us closely, this collective unconscious can throw up strange and inexplicable knowledge due to our inter-relatedness.

I believe these ideas can be profitably applied to the understanding of literature--and Jung himself wrote a superlative essay on the meaning of Joyce’s “Ulysses” (which I find myself reading and re-reading in the hope of discovering new and important insights). However, in the construction of a useful literary theory, we are somewhat like magpies taking something that is useful from all over. For this reason, I would suggest that the extensive work done in the 20th century on linguistic semiotics should not be forgotten, but also incorporated into our theory as and when it should prove useful. In particular, semiotics studies the structure of narrative and this will often be of fundamental importance in the explanation of a literary work. Other denser works need more attention to be paid to deeper structures (such as archetypes), but a clear and consistent picture of how a work of art functions from a narrative point of view, will be important for most literary works--even poems. Of course, the narrative may be broken up, elliptical, concentrated on a single moment, or interminably drawn out (like “Ulysses”)--but it is usually of great importance.

Naturally, the “theme” or “meaning” of a literary work is vital too in most cases. This consideration is closely connected to didactic content (where it is present) and ethical stance. All this is most important and the critic should be able to call on a vast personal knowledge of human history, anthropology, culture, tradition, comparative religion, philosophy and science in order to elucidate meanings and purports that in some cases may be conscious and in others below consciousness--or even unconscious. Perhaps more so than in any other intellectual field, the literary critic must be prepared to cross academic boundaries in order to throw light upon the important (and sometimes unimportant!) writings of our age. The critic should also have a flexible and non dogmatic mind that is able to trace those lines of convergence in the modern age that might lead towards something new for the future.

The best critics will certainly try to avoid that barren concentration on character analysis that has typified so many forms of past criticism. To what point should I psychoanalyse Hamlet or J. Alfred Prufrock when these are merely single and incomplete examples of the writer’s creative mind? Obliquely, I may learn a little about the author’s wider intentions and major themes by looking at characterisation; but mostly by obstinately concentrating on a mere part of the author’s structure--while neglecting the rest--I will put myself in a situation where I am probably unable to see the wood for the trees. Of course, characterisation, in its place, is one important aspect of a literary structure’s quality--as is also standard of dialogue, reality of place and situation, etc. However, all these phenomena are only a part of the author’s overall creation of a semiotic structure and the whole is very definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Naturally, we should give serious consideration to all these other factors and, if the author writes well and creates with felicity, then we will usually find high levels of competence in all these areas. However, in the final analysis, it is the literary work in its totality that the artist has created--and it is surely this totality that is usually most in need of explication!

These have been just a few early notes towards the creation of a literary criticism that I myself can feel at home with. Tentatively, I would like to call it “Analytical Semiotics”--thereby giving a nod to Jung’s “Analytical Psychology” as well as making a direct reference to semiotics based linguistics.