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Life Arts

Can Deliberate Human Destructiveness Be Staved Off? (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 10, 2015: Each day's news reports seem to bring various forms of deliberate human destructiveness to our attention -- at times involving American foreign ventures. But we cannot realistically hope to see an end to deliberate human destructiveness in the near future.

Nevertheless, we should note one man's view of how we might stave off deliberate human destructiveness inasmuch as this may be possible.

In his book RETURN OF THE GODDESS (1982), Edward C. Whitmont, M.D. (1912-1998), joins C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), as another herald of the Age of Aquarius.

As the title of Whitmont's book indicates, he also joins certain women authors as another herald of the return of the Goddess in contemporary Western culture.

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However, as a herald of both the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and the return of the Goddess, he is deeply motivated by and concerned about the dark history of Western culture in the twentieth century -- as exemplified in the actual destructiveness of World War I, World War II, and the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the possible suicidal destructiveness of a nuclear holocaust.

Whitmont was the only child in his Jewish family in Austria. Around the age of four or five, and up to the age of fifteen or sixteen, he became deeply involved with music, especially with the music of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), he reports (page xi). Whitmont says, "I knew the scores of THE RING and PARSIFAL practically by heart" (page xi). Of course Wagner's PARSIFAL is based on the medieval Quest for the Holy Grail legends, which include the Fisher King and the Waste Land.

Yes, the American poet T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) recycled the Fisher King and the Waste Land in his famous poem "The Waste Land" (1922).

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Many American college students have read the anonymous medieval work know as SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, which Whitmont discusses in his discussion of the Arthurian legends (pages 168-178). Provided that you're in the right mood for it, this is a very charming story. Whitmont finds this story instructive. He uses it almost as an allegory for understanding how we should proceed in our personal lives when we experience the rise of the alluring archetypal feminine in our psyches. Whitman credits Gawain with successfully undergoing "his ordeal of transformation by responsibly and consciously playing with what ordinarily and traditionally is forbidden" (page 248). But this medieval story is not the kind of heady stuff Wagner concocted in PARSIFAL.

Jung's independently wealthy wife Emma (1882-1955; married 1903) started an ambitious scholarly study of the medieval Grail legends, but she died before she could complete it. As a result, Jung asked Marie-Louise von Franz (1915-1998) to complete his wife's work. Their completed work was published as THE GRAIL LEGEND, 2nd ed., translated by Andrea Dykes (1970; orig. German ed., 1960). In his extensive discussion of the Grail legends, Whitmont cites their book, among other sources.

In any event, Whitmont says, "I had first come in contact with Nazism at the age of seventeen. . . . In 1938, at the age of twenty-six, I emigrated from Austria to America to escape from the Nazis. By the quota system, I, having been born in Vienna, could leave, but my parents, who were originally from Poland, could not. They were murdered in the Nazi gas chambers" (pages xii-xiii).

Now, in the book SNOW AND STEEL: THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE, 1944-45 (2015, pages 125-130), the military historian Peter Caddick-Adams points out that Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) loved Wagner. To help us understand what prompted Hitler to engage the American forces in the foggy Ardennes forests, Caddick-Adams discusses ten of Wagner's famous works. Wagner's works are heady stuff.

Of course Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) at one time loved Wagner's music, but then later in his life, he changed his mind about Wagner. In any event, a debased version of Nietzsche's anticipated superman (or overman) contributed to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. So the destructive totalitarian state under Hitler's rule that arose in Germany was powered by a heady mix of propaganda and resentment (directed mostly at the treaty at the end of World War I).

As everybody knows, Hitler and the Nazis are infamous for scapegoating the Jews. Whitmont discusses scapegoating extensively (most notably in the chapter on "The Scapegoat," pages 105-120). He connects scapegoating with projections of "shadow" stuff.

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In the two big books titled NIETZSCHE'S ZARATHUSTRA: NOTES OF THE SEMINAR GIVEN IN 1934-1939 BY C. G. JUNG, edited by James L. Jarrett (1988), Jung discusses the ominous rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, Wagner's music, the Quest for the Holy Grail legends, Nietzsche's superman (or overman), and the possible emergence of the Age of Aquarius, among other things.

In the United States after 1938, Whitmont says that he engaged in "a lot of restless seeking of 'the answers' in the various spiritual and intellectual currents" (page xiii). In the process, he "became settled domestically, financially and professionally, and somewhat contained in the inertia of the practice of medicine" (page xiii). But he had an active dream life, and through his dreams he eventually came to encounter the archetypal feminine in his psyche -- the topic of his book RETURN OF THE GODDESS (1982).

Whitmont says that he describes some of his own dreams, but without identifying them as his dreams, in his book THE SYMBOLIC QUEST: BASIC CONCEPTS IN [JUNGIAN] ANALYTICAL PSYCHOLOGY (1969; revised edition, 1991).

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell
Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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