The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

Presentations: Barbara Knott


Barbara, here we go again. It's March ll, just before spring break, and I wanted to respond to some of the things you asked me about over the last couple of months, in no particular order, of course.

You observed a dichotomy that occurred last year in the middle of the media reporting of the deaths of Diana and Mother Teresa. Some people complained that Diana got most of the attention when, they said, another much more important person, Mother Teresa, had died. I agree with your comment that Diana was also really important, but I have another thought about that; namely, that both of them got too much attention. My teacher Stanley Hopper, after many years of long-term analysis, had a dream in which he was walking up a mountain. On his right, in the dream, was Mahatma Ghandi, and on his left was Albert Schweitzer. He felt that was probably a good sign that he was reaching the end of analysis. He told the dream to his analyst, an Adlerian in New Jersey, and the response was, "That's a lovely dream, but I would be happier if you were walking up the mountain yourself." And that's what I feel, too. We have Diana on the one side fulfilling our delight and expectations and joy of erotic love and adventure. We have Mother Teresa on the other side in spirituality. But when are we going to be ourselves?

Another subject you asked about was the e-mail Dave Barstow sent you about women in Afghanistan. In that e-mail someone had commented that we shouldn't judge such people who are doing these devastating things to women because it's a cultural matter. The person might have also said a religious matter, having to do with Islamic law. I think this is a very difficult issue. It has to do with how we respond to a Central African practice of cliterectomy and other practices of peoples and customs that we see as fundamentally immoral. I don't know what to do about that. It seems to me that you have to operate on two levels. We have to take our own stance for morality, but at a private level we have to say that our morality is always constituted ideologically, mythologically, and that there are many perspectives, and ours is not the only one.

I don't see why we can't, as Richard Rorty, the American pragmatist philosopher, has put it, why we can't be privately ironic and observe this cultural relativism, but publicly liberal and take a stand for what we believe is the good and morally true. I don't think there is any way to adjudicate logically the global tribalism with a liberal moral stance against cruelty to other human beings--no way to adjudicate that logically, but I think individuals can hold both perspectives: a private ironic stance and a public liberal moral stance.

You also sent along a rather amusing--or tragic perhaps--account of college freshmen of l998--a "now" perspective for older folks. That article could have been written in any year, from l0,000 years ago to the present. That simply has to do with historical mutability. I don't think the students I taught as freshmen at Syracuse University were in any way more challenged or lacking in understanding than any other freshman class. That simply has to do with the statement of Heraclitus that you can't put your foot in the same river twice. Everything changes. History flows. And as for the students that I taught who were freshmen, who could be my grandchildren, I think they are remarkable. They were very different from students I taught 15 years ago and the students I taught 30 years ago--that is to say, their parents and their grandparents--but I think they have the same questions of human meaning that I've run into since starting teaching in l963. They also have abilities that their parents and their grandparents never dreamed of, abilities that have come about because they are released from certain industrialist and nonglobal perspectives, abilities that are brought about by the computer revolution, I think.

On the other hand, you also asked me about something you were reminded of by Leonard Cohen's music, one of his songs from the 70s called "The Death of a Ladies' Man," in which the female in the song says, "The art of longing is over and is never coming back." That reminded you of an anecdote I had told you and indeed have written about, that had to do with the death of Eros in our culture. Yes, I think there is a repression of beauty in North American culture at the moment, perhaps having to do with the end of the millennium, and a repression of Eros and of thinking. I wrote about those three repressions in an article called "Animadversions" which had been a lecture at Notre Dame at the Festival of Archetypal Psychology in l992.

BK insert:

In Spring 54 (l993) David Miller speaks of "the fear, hatred, defense against, and fleeing from soul, especially the soul of world. We today seem to be experiencing a turning-against, in at least three forms: aversion to beauty, aversion to eros, and aversion to mind and its thinking ... not to mention fantasy, imagination, intuition, play, humor, and others of soul's domains ...." In the article, he says, "When therapists, teachers, clergy, and others in the so-called helping professions must constantly and compulsively be anxious and self-conscious about sexually abusing those with whom they work and play, when all male erections are potential rape, when every looking is a voyeurism, when there is no flirtation that is not harrassment, when all empathy is domination in an asymmetry of power--then eros is replaced by thanatos, turning toward the soul becomes precisely a turning against the love of soul. This is closure by way of totalism, totalitarianism, a fascism of eros."

DM interview continued:

But also I sense a death of humor. There's plenty of wit around, as witness some of the very clever e-mail pieces you have sent, playing with words and so on: plenty of intelligence but very little thinking and little humor of an authentic sort. I wrote about that in my piece on the death of the clown in Spring 58 (l995).

BK insert:

In "The Death of the Clown: A loss of Wits in the Postmodern Moment," David Miller presents the argument that comedy and humor are abused by activist criticisms in which there is no "play" or "flow." The connection between comedy and intellectual freedom is crucial, he implies. "The death of the clown (at least in some sense of the word) makes authentic education difficult." The suggestion is that "political correctness" kills the clown by robbing humor of its dialectical flow between what is "puffed up" and what is "deflated." He concludes this article with a personal dream: "I had a dream in l975. I had had a breakdown. My clown had died. The dream came the night before I was seeing my therapist for the last time. In the dream my analyst and I were standing under an eave of an old building. There was a lot of dark, heavy metal on the ground. He said to me: 'Your homework, while you are away from me, is to make a mobile of the heavy metal, the dark solidified stuff, but make it in the mode of Alexander Calder, playful, balanced, light. Make it move and float.' At my session the next day, after I had told the dream, my analyst said, 'The dream says it all. There is nothing else to say.' He let me go."

Since l975 David Miller has followed the instruction of his dream therapist to make mobiles of heavy solidified stuff, mobiles that move and float. That highly serious but ultimately playful process is perhaps the essence of his success as a speaker. I'd like to return to his lecture of June l999 at Pacifica where, toward the conclusion of his carefully drawn thesis that living soulfully in the world requires not one hand (as in "on the one hand") but two (as in "on the other hand"). He takes note of the piece-character of our reality, looking at Picasso's painting Guernica for its expression. The pieces include a bull which he calls a "symbol of facism" and a naked light bulb which, he says, indicates "that god is dead and that the only light comes from naked technology and science." He refers to Guernica as "a piece of soul because it shows the soul of pieces ... soulfully."

Continuing his reflections on the "two hands" of the heavy paradox that he has in this lecture presented in pieces, floating them playfully for our consideration, he says, "My work is to study old dead myths in relation to our live world, which is also dead. My worry is that when the gods go away, they don't really leave. My wager is that they go underground and that they return as demons." He then brings to this weighty suggestion a contemporary image that he spoke about in the tapes to me, a surprising connection between old dead myths and the present culture: "A mythology is sort of like a computer program running in the background, like the antivirus, a program on my computer. I don't see it. It only surfaces when something goes wrong. Littleton, Kosovo: the return of the repressed." He draws from Rilke, Heidegger, and Derrida who refer to mythology in such a way as can be translated "traces of the gods." One important work today, Miller says, is "to track the traces of the gods who have fled, to trace those tracks in the here and now."

He ends this lecture with an alchemical image derived from the poet A. R. Ammons who describes the movement of the gods from aura into matter where they take on shape and color and where they walk with us until their restlessness, their "overinvestment," leads them to withdraw into aura once again, having communicated to us something of the sky, leaving their shadows or traces behind. The image is one of circulation, the process by which spirit and matter partake one of the other. Miller's concluding comment is this: "The gods may well have communicated something of the sky to us, but they also still astonish us with fear, not only for the damage that they do in Kosovo and Colorado, but also for the havoc they wreak in a person's heart and soul. It is because I am afraid of the lively dead gods that I study and teach mythology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. I do it because I have two hands and not one."

DM interview continued:

The thing that concerns me at the moment is the repression of thinking. A distinction is made in German by Martin Heidegger in a book called Gelassenheit. It means "letting be," and it's a word of an old Christian mystic. It suggests a spiritual stance, but for Heidegger, it's a philosophical stance. He distinguishes calculative thinking from meditative thinking. That's the English translation, but the translations are very close. Calculative thinking is das rechnende Denken, and the word rechner in German means computer or calculator, so that's calculative thinking. I think most people in the United States think thinking is that, that it's figuring stuff out, calculating something so that it comes to a productive end in a utilitarian or puritan fashion. So thinking is working a New York Times crossword puzzle.

But Heidegger says there is another kind of thinking that is more important philosophically and always has been. That is das besinnlichen Nachdenken. Besinnlichen means "meaningful," so it's reflective, musing. That's what thinking really is in the deepest sense. Everybody does it, but it has certain rules to it, certain archetypal structures. By thinking that all thinking is the former type, people de-mean this latter type. Jungians say thinking is for thinking types, but everybody, no matter what their typology in the Jungian sense, does this second kind of thinking, the reflective thinking. That's the important thing, and it is being repressed at the moment. It's either trivialized into opinion, as Plato said, or it is trivialized in another way into New Age spirituality. So I am more and more thinking that I need to talk about thinking and rehabilitate this deeper kind that we all engage in. We are all thinkers in that sense, as Aristotle and Plato properly observed.

You asked me about my notion of "counting" in the Apocalypse piece.

BK insert:

The reference here is to a chapter in a book called Facing Apocalypse (l987), based on lectures given at a conference at Salve Regina College.

DM interview continued:

People who join cults, you observed, seem never to have counted or to have been counted by family, community, government, and world. You asked me to comment some more on the connection between counting numbers and counting psychologically, and the role of imagining. In the sense I was using it, counting does not refer to something social or ego developmental. That is to say, it's not that I haven't been counted by family, community, government, world, that I didn't count earlier in my developmental life or was abused or victimized or marginalized or ideologically repressed, consciously or unconsciously. That's not what I was after. What I was after is something that is more psychologically fundamental and archetypal; namely, that there is a piece of me, I suspect, no matter what has happened to me in relation to family, community, government and world, no matter what has happened to me in terms of external circumstance and social construction, that feels it doesn't count. I can be the most successful person in the world. I know people who are incredibly functional, incredibly successful, and feel they don't count. It's a psychological feeling that doesn't necessarily go with external circumstances, either presently or in my past, developmentally. That's the aspect of the self whose button gets pushed when something is imagined to be coming to an end or when there are ending fantasies, as in the end of the millennium. The social matters need to be addressed. I mentioned liberal public attitudes earlier. They need to be addressed, and I am strongly active in that regard. But even if they are addressed, even if they are solved, there will still be this other factor I imagine that exists and will be a danger.

I like to think of this as a program running in the background. You know, my computer has on it this antivirus program, a "program running in the background." I don't see it in my graphic interface. I don't see it on my computer screen most of the time. It only pops out if something goes wrong. It's a program running in the background, and it's supposed to protect me against viruses in e-mail and in disks and so on. Now, I think we all have programs running in the background and they pop out when something goes wrong, and they don't always--here's where the analogy fails--protect us against bugs, viruses in our psychological and social life, but they sometimes create problems for us. It's those programs running in the background that I think education should address, education being the making conscious of what are otherwise unconscious structures of our reality.

BK insert:

A question to David Miller for further elucidation of this point: When you call the question "Do I count?" a "program running in the background" of our lives, are you referring to something mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 4 of your book Christs? "The ideas of theology, with their lurking archetypal images, are as dangerous as drugs. They infect our social relationships and our psychology. They give form to our perspectives. The danger is all the greater because the function of theology in everyday life is often unconscious." I reminded David that in a weekend workshop he and James Hillman did at Wainwright House in Rye, N. Y. on "Shadows of Christianity," that one of the "shadows" he mentioned had to do with perfection, the expectation that Christians must be perfect. His response: "You properly have spotted a connection between Chapter 4 in Christs, "program running in the background," and the Wainwright House session with Hillman. I hadn't made this connection, but I can see it now that you have made it. It is clear that you know my work better than I do!"

DM interview continued:

Barbara, you asked about family values and the present state of Christianity; that is, the rigidity with which the nation holds to family values as a cry against all sorts of things: crimes, drugs, sexual expression, etc. About the present state of Christianity, I just have no idea. I guess, finally, I'm very little interested in institutional religion. I'm more interested in what I call the programs running in the background; that is, the hidden theologisms, the shadows of Christianism, the ways that the institutional forms of religion and practices of religion are psychopathogenetic; that is, creating of sickness. They create psychological pathologies leading to shame, guilt, and anxiety. That may relate to family values. The family values discussion, when it comes up, always implies "certain" family values, usually the family of middle class or upper middle class white bourgeois protestant Christian Eurocentric people--and patriarchal, of course. The discussions of family values need historical and global perspective. What about the family values of lower class people in Sicily or lower class people in Hong Kong or south of the equator? South of the equator hardly exists in our imagination. Everything is north of the equator, we think. South of it is sort of an underworld. You go down there, and everything is turned upside down. Not only the seasons reverse, but views of family and everything else are turned topsy turvy. It's sort of the underworld of the imagination and the thinking of the northern hemisphere. So I think a good historical study globally of families would do a lot to complicate and enrich our view of families and family values and make it impossible to use family values as a rallying cry.

You also asked me about the state of psychotherapy. I am as perplexed about that as I am about Christianity and politics. On the one hand, the world has become psychologized; that is, everybody thinks psychologically, ads on television show the influence of Freud, and so on. And we have a mental health culture, by and large, I would think. On the other hand, it's like nobody got the point. I'm very much with Hillman and Ventura in their book l00 Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse. But instead of going away from psychotherapy altogether, I think we need to go into it at the same time. Psychotherapy has become counseling in the United States; it has become ego psychology. The move to object relations and other forms of therapy has a way of obscuring the original insights of Freud, Jung, Adler, Rank and others who wrote mainly about the unconscious. The unconscious means that there is always something other, that there is always another side. Freud called it fundamental ambivalence. Jung called the self a complexio oppositorum, a complex of opposites. That means that almost anything I say, think, feel or intuit is wrong. Or to put it less provocatively, anything I think, say, sense or intuit has another side or could be looked at another way. That's what I meant by private irony earlier. One learns that in a long-term analysis.

But I don't think people are getting that today in therapy. They are getting counseling. There is a lot of talk about soul, but there is no soulfulness. Thomas More [author of Care of the Soul and other books about soul-making] knows that. I heard him say it on the CBS Morning Show. So the point would be that soul is a popular topic, but it's as if people are reading these books and precisely by its having become popular, people imagine soul is being dealt with and honored, but that is precisely a defense against honoring it. It's a way of avoiding it, too. When something becomes popular, it becomes unconscious.

One of the things I've noticed about people who are in therapy or even among therapists is that they seem to know a lot. The notion of the unconscious and the experience of unconsciousness and the otherness of one's self and the otherness of the other person: that experience should lead not to knowledge but to humility, epistemological humility, and by that I mean I have to be humble about anything I know. My experience in teaching therapists is that their education has been too successful--they think they know something--whereas, it seems to me, it should have the opposite effect.

Jung said at the end of his life, "Everybody knows things. I alone am clouded." And he wrote to a woman in Toronto--Maud Oaks--and said that early on, he had to lie and tell people he knew things. Now, he said, "I am an old man, and I can tell you I don't know who I am. I know nothing at all." That is very much like Socrates, for whom education performed that same function, or like Nicholas of Cusa who first was ignorant (ignorantia) and then was learned (docta), and then he learned more, and he entered a state he called docta ignorantia (learned ignorance). That is, he knew that he didn't know things. Soul, Meister Eckhart, a Christian mystic, said, is a modifier, not a noun. I think by making it into a noun we have become less soulful. Soul is a modifying word. It goes with soul food, soul music, but there is no such thing as "the soul." There is soulfulness. And that is what I find lacking.

Finally, you asked about my father and mother, both of whom died about the time this interview was originally held. You asked about my early religious training. I remember some years ago, maybe twenty years now, returning to my parents' home in Maryland. I was there over a weekend. My father was preaching that Sunday. I have long since stopped going to church regularly. But because my father was preaching and because it's what my parents did, I went along to church. I was astonished, absolutely astonished listening to my father's sermon. The lexicon, the vocabulary, the words, all were words that I would not use, but what I was astonished at was how incredibly the perspective that my father was talking about resonated with me. I would have used psychological language, mythological language, philosophical language, and particularly a postmodern discourse and idiom. Nonetheless, it seemed to me we were saying the same sorts of things. It was astonishing to me because it gave me the feeling that everything I know, I had already learned from my father. He would have said, not from him but from the religious and spiritual tradition in which he worked; namely, that of a leftwing reformation pietistic tradition, the Church of the Brethren, but with a very strong liberal social gospel ring. The pietism now has transformed itself I think in my life into psychological insight and a sense for beauty and for joy and for humor and for eros, whereas before these had more pious names, but the impulse was just the same. So I have the feeling I am not doing anything new; I am just doing it in different language.

Barbara, I hope this is useful in some way and that you can make head or tail out of it. Again, I thank you so much for your patience with me. It's taken a long time for me to get back to you. And I thank you for your perdurance, and for your interest in my work, I am most grateful.

BK concluding remarks:

As David was on his way out of the country for three weeks that would include his regular summer lectures at the Jung Institute in Zurich, we had one more exchange on July 29. I asked for more examples of the "ideas we are walking around in" today. In other words, what are our myths?

He answered, "What comes to mind is consumerism as happiness and the'bottom line' as the judgment of value. Money is our god."

A week later, while I was wrapping up my introduction, another news report struck me as a vivid illustration of what we'd been talking about. A middle-aged chemist turned day-trader in Atlanta, Georgia, over a period of two days killed twelve people: his wife and two children, and nine business associates in Atlanta's high finance area of Buckhead. Then he killed himself.

News reporters said that he may have lost as much as $450,000 gambling on Internet stocks. The money came from an insurance settlement on the death of his first wife four days after he had taken out an insurance policy on her worth $600,000. He was a suspect in her murder but was never arrested. He was also suspected of having dipped into his children's trust fund for additional money to play the market.

According to the report, this person killed his second wife one evening and his children the next. He laid each child out with a toy and a note that began "I give you..." Then he wrote the letter "To Whom it May Concern," in which the following statements appear:

I have come to hate this life in the system of things.

I have come to have no hope.

I know that Jehovah will take care of all of them in the next life.

If Jehovah is willing I would like to see them all again in the resurrection. To have a second chance.

I have juxtaposed the statements because together they reveal a man in a deadly conflict that involved the personal and cultural worship of money and the expectation that, once he had destroyed the system he had come to hate by shooting as many as he could of those who had, he said, "greedily sought" his destruction, Jehovah would redeem him.

In this case we have a staggering cluster of images related to the themes David has been discussing: money as the new god, consumerism as happiness, the lure of the computer, the question, Do I count? When the new money god proves false, the distressed man returns to Jehovah. He enacts the Abraham-Isaac myth without the benefit of a restraining angel. This story feels not so much like "my god against your god" as "my god against my god." And given in the aftermath of reports was the image of a supply of Prozac capsules, along with extra guns and ammunition, in the van where he killed himself.

In a world where rage threatens all security, what is one to do? How is one to smile? David Miller often plays with a line from e.e. cummings: "A myth is as good as a smile." It's a good pun. I like to think it means that the smile--the play across the face--the play of humor, the play of true wit, the play of erotic connection, is a blessing that comes from studying the myths, studying the old dead ones and the new ones, increasing range and depth, rehabilitating humor and eros and imagination so that we are not wasted by the deadly seriousness, the prudery, the greed, and the brutality that dominate so much of our culture.

DAVID MILLER's updated bio and website URL:

David L. Miller is Watson-Ledden Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University and is a retired Core Faculty Member at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. Since 1963, Dr. Miller has worked at the intersections of religions and mythologies, literature and literary theory, and depth psychology. He has taught at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, and in the clinical programs at Pacifica Graduate Institute in California, as well as having given seminars in Jung training programs in Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Kyoto. In 2002, Dr. Miller was elected to be an Affiliate Member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, and in 2004 he was made an honorary member of the International Association of Analytical Psychology.

Dr. Miller is a frequent lecturer to civic, religious, and educational groups in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. He was a member of the Eranos Circle in Ascona, Switzerland, from 1975 to 1988, and he lectured at the Eranos Conferences nine times during that period. Dr. Miller is the author of more than one hundred articles and book chapters, as well as five books. The books include: Gods and Games: Towards a Theology of Play (1970, 1973); The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses (1974, 1981, also in French, Italian, and Japanese editions); Christs: Archetypal Images in Christian Theology (1981, 2005); Three Faces of God: Traces of the Trinity in Literature and Life (1986, 2005); and Hells and Holy Ghosts: A Theopoetics of Christian Belief (1989, 2004). Dr. Miller is also the editor of two additional books: Interpretation: The Poetry of Meaning (1967) and Jung and the Interpretation of the Bible (1995). For more information, see the website:

Copyright, 2012. Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved