My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is a fabulous resource for my Jungian Psychology research paper on the shadow. It explores various components of the shadow in a very accessible manner. Bly offers essentially what I would call a great dialogue on the shadow, interspersed with his poetry. One chapter is even an interview between Bly and his editor Booth. I really feel like I just sat down with these two men and listened to a beautiful conversation about this complex idea. I call it complex primarily because the shadow maintains such a negative connotation, but it is not necessarily always that way. As Booth stated, “it is not something destructive in its very essence” (60).
In the first part, Bly discusses “Problems in the Ark,” and really shares the most poetry here, giving us images of the polarization of lightness and darkness. In second part, “The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us,” Bly dissects the human shadow. Essentially, we are born as a full 360 ball of energy. But we slowly start putting things away in our “bag” to receive positive attention from our parents; what they don’t like gets buried in our bag. We carry on in this manner through high school, now putting the things our peers don’t like in our bag. By our early 20’s, Bly says we only have a sliver of that original ball. Then after a decade or so, we’re ready to dig into our bag and pull it all back out. While all this is going on, we also start projecting (another thing which is not always inherently bad). Then we’re carrying out things we’ve buried in relationships with parents, children, spouses, friends. If our projection is strong enough, the other person is ultimately forced into wearing that mask. It’s a complicated business! And my mind is stuck right now in the thought of the many images and ideas we live with consciously and subconsciously. I’m back to thinking first about perception, and how our reality is what we experience. Throw in that that at the same time we are receiving projections and giving projects, and the self is becoming an even more complicated thing for me to wrap my mind around.
In the third part, Bly discusses “Five Stages in Exiling, Hunting, and Retrieving the Shadow.” First we project, but then something starts to rattle and there’s a disconnect. In the third stage we seek to repair the rattle, and what I see going on is justification, a way of working with the disconnect that is incomplete. In the fourth stage, we come to feel diminished. However many ways we’ve projected ourselves, given away a part of ourselves, those are all ways we now feel diminished. The most interesting commentary here is that Bly said when you share this feeling of diminishment with a friend, the last thing that friend should do is try to cheer you up. I guess this really spoke to me, because I’m always trying to bring everyone sunshine (a nick-name I’ve earned by many). Finally, in the fifth stage, we retrieve that very thing we originally threw out or projected. And then we eat it. We can do this by giving the thing language, or perhaps first with working with it through images or art. And why should we do this? Because “every bit of energy that we don’t actively engage with language or art of floating somewhere in the air . . . No one should make you feel guilty for not keeping a journal, or creating art, but such activity helps the whole world” (bold mine) (43). Here’s the thing about these stages: they can be going on all at once, and they continually reoccur. Also, as Bly really discussed in the second part, the shadow isn’t just personal; there is also a communal shadow and a national shadow, which means we also must deal with the communal projections and the national projections.
In part four, we have the great interview with Booth and Bly. The first key note is that hatred is something that can help us get at our shadows. Who or what is it that really gets us riled up? What is it that you are despising? It’s something in yourself you have buried. Booth questions Bly about the “negative connotations and associations with evil” that are present in the shadow, where Bly explains that evil is separate, but the dark imagery of the shadow can get confused with it. Yet, in fact, “a person who absorbs the shadow becomes not dark, but light and playful” (54). Ultimately, “The shadow energies seem to be a part of the human psyche, a part of its 30-degree nature, and the shadow energies becomes destructive only when they are ignored” (59).
In the fifth and final part, Bly discusses “Wallace Stevens and Dr. Jekyll,” claiming that “[a]ll literature, both of the primitive and the modern peoples, can be thought of as creations by the ‘dark side’ to enable it to rise up from the earth and join the sunlit consciousness again” (63). Bly discusses the shadow-side of Dr. Jekyll, and how we see stories where the shadow side rises and ultimately fails. The discussion also examines a handful of modern poems, and here’s the one I found the most significant (by Wallace Stevens):
Twenty men crossing a bridge,
Into a village,
Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges,
Into twenty villages,
Or one man
Crossing a single bridge into a village.
Comes back to what I was thinking about perception and the unique experiences we all have, no matter how many are sharing that experience with us.
Bly leaves us with this reflection:
“If the shadow’s gifts are not acted upon, it evidently retreats and returns to the earth. It gives the writer or person ten or fifteen years to change his life, in response to the amazing visions the shadow has brought him – that change may involve only a deepening of the interior marriage of male and female within the man or woman – but if that does not happen, the shadow goes back down, abandoning him, and the last state of that man is evidently worse than the first” (80-81).
And this is just a touch of the ideas offered in this small text. I will mention one more small idea that spoke to me personally:
“Our culture teaches us from early infancy to split and polarize dark and light . . . some admire the left-thinking, poorly-lit side, and that group one can associate with the mother, if one wants to, and mythologically with the Great Moth. Most artists, poets, and musicians belong to the second group and love intuition, music, the feminine, owl and the ocean. The right-thinking group loves action, commerce and Empire” (10).
I never really gave this much thought before, but I’m clearly a left-thinker. I hadn’t really considered myself an artist, but I suppose being a writer places me in the category. My jaw just dropped though when I first read this passage and it defined me so well! I always follow my intuition. One of my favorite things on this planet is live music. I’m definitely in touch with my feminine side. I even collect figures of owls. And, most importantly, to me at least, is the ocean. The wonderful, beautiful, deep, endless ocean with all its creatures and magnificent power. As far back as I can remember, I have always loved sitting in the sand gazing at the waves. I’ve never cared to go to the beach during the summer because it’s filled with people, clutter and noise. But cool winter nights? The ocean exists by itself, and it always fills me with serenity.