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Paul Bishop, The Dionysian Self: C. G. Jung’s Reception of Friedrich Nietzsche

Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1995 / Reprint 2010. xvi + 411 pp. ISBN: 3-11-014709-2. $280 (cloth).

Reviewed by Adrian Del Caro

This reprinting of Paul Bishop’s 1995 doctoral dissertation is a welcome event in Nietzsche circles, and I hope it will be viewed with the gravity it deserves in Jung circles as well, since part of Bishop’s purpose is “to return Jung to a tradition of intellectual debate from which, very often thanks to his followers, he has been excluded” (1). The gain here redounds equally to Nietzsche and Jung readers, because specialists in the respective camps could use a better understanding of the intellectual-historical legacy assimilated by these thinkers. Jung’s background in Romantic Naturphilosophie (7), his perception of a “continuous tradition within German literature and philosophy” that runs through Romanticism and Idealism (138), his place within the “Romantic yearning for the return of Dionysos” as it is carried by Hölderlin, Schelling, Creuzer, the Schlegels, Goethe, and Bachofen (369-72), and his ultimate engagement with Nietzsche as the “apogee of post-Enlightenment thought” (378) position him as arguably the most consequential Nietzschean of the twentieth century, and if Jung himself is to be believed, the first successful Dionysian. Bishop demonstrates as clearly as anyone I have read that Nietzschean notions of the self are in fact notions of a Dionysian self, paradoxical as it sounds given that “self” is supposed to align with the Apollinian. Bishop’s elevation of Dionysian selfhood in Jung sheds light on the Dionysian contribution to modernity especially as it contributes to styles and notions of creativity. For those of us who have tried to elaborate on Nietzsche’s understanding of the “Dionysian philosopher,” Bishop’s approach imparts depth to Nietzsche’s project by reframing the discussion as “Dionysian self.”

The power of myth as represented by Goethe, Nietzsche, and Jung in particular had been well formulated by the Jungian Joseph Campbell, whose work on myths became widely known through the media of print and television (14).  The neo-Jungian James Hillman meanwhile “takes the figure of Dionysos to represent an act of psychic recuperation of lost powers and potential, now rendered available for use” (19). Hillman’s sense of the Dionysian aligns very closely with Goethe’s in Faust, which some regard as an experiment in rolling back misogyny and repositioning the corporeal and the spiritual with respect to the earth—for that matter Jung was better than anyone else in recognizing the kinship between Faust and Zarathustra as “extraverted” works. Bishop demonstrates the validity of the triad Goethe, Nietzsche, Jung, even as he qualifies Jung’s claims or aspirations to be a kind of “superior” or “successful” Nietzsche on the basis of a successful integration of the Dionysian (80). After all, Nietzsche had syphilis to contend with, unlike Goethe and Jung, and ultimately madness as well—for someone who virtually brought Dionysus back to life for moderns, these tragic qualifications are simultaneously a blessing and a curse. The centrality of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Jung to modern thought rests on a Dionysian foundation. Jung had to learn to accept the Dionysian as a positive force, as demonstrated in the negative view of Dionysus elaborated in Psychologische Typen (1921) as it shifts to positive in “Psychologie und Dichtung” (1930)—Bishop attributes this shift to Jung’s increased interest in the Dionysian based on seminars he gave between 1925 and 1936 (167). Moreover, the Dionysian foundation includes the Apollo-Dionysus polarity. Bishop explains how Goethe and Schelling worked with the terms “systole” and “diastole” as cosmological principles,  which Jung then adapted to psychological principles whereby “the process of diastole is associated with the extraverted standpoint, which subordinates the subject to the object” (140). Hence Zarathustra is an extraverted work according to Jung because it is diastolic in nature; he draws on Goethe here to formulate a method for discussing the psychological attributes of Apollo and Dionysus (140).

Perhaps the most consequential adaptation of Dionysian and Nietzschean material occurs in Jung’s response to the problem of religion signified by the death of God. Depending on where one picks up the thread of Jung’s reception of Nietzsche (and Bishop’s book is thorough and reliable in tracing this course), readers will be puzzled by Jung’s insistence that Nietzsche represented a pathological character, and by Jung’s eagerness to come to the defense of religion. Bishop does a good job of explaining these Jungian concerns, claiming that Jung constructs a “Dionysian Self which, through the dialectic of consciousness and the Unconscious, permits the Ego to die and be reborn anew” (17). This is a compelling formulation of the problem when we consider that Dionysus is the eternally resurrecting god, and that both Goethe and Nietzsche pack their respective masterpieces with birthing metaphors and their respective protagonists undergo rebirth (cf. also p. 72, where Bishop discusses Rose Pfeffer’s early recognition in 1972 that Goethe and Nietzsche both rely on transcendent metaphors despite their aversion to metaphysics). Nor was Jung ready to accept Nietzsche’s conclusion that Dionysus must oppose Christ: “Jung evolves a programme which will transform the Crucified back into the god of the grape, thereby releasing hitherto inhibited powers of vitality” (64). Jung’s most important book, Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (1912), can be regarded as his Faustian “descent into the depths of the soul,” and the “return of the libido to an unconscious source of new psychological life” (94). Once more Bishop picks up the thread of this basically romantic preoccupation with rebirth and renewal, by explaining how Hölderlin referred to Dionysos as “den kommenden Gott” (the coming god, 94). Of course at this juncture Bishop should have referred to Hölderlin’s great elegy “Brod und Wein,” which features both Dionysus and Christ in precisely the synergy that later captivated Jung, although he does a bit later refer to “Patmos” in this context (101). The enormous energy and interest Jung summoned for creating a role for religion as a response to Nietzsche’s claim that God is dead is summarized thusly: “As early as 1912, then, Jung had set his post-Nietzschean agenda for the transformation of faith into a secular, psychological religion” (107). As mentioned above, “Dionysian self” parallels “Dionysian philosophizing,” and whereas Nietzsche transformed faith into Dionysian philosophy, Jung would apply that same energy to a “psychological religion.”

Jung’s break with Freud was strongly motivated, according to Bishop, by his increasing immersion in the matrix of mythological associations prompted by Nietzsche’s opening of the Dionysian portal, first in Birth of Tragedy then more powerfully and authentically in Zarathustra. Nietzsche did not speak of his journey to Dionysus as a katabasis at the time of Birth of Tragedy, but quite notably he opened his Zarathustra by depicting the hero’s katabasis, literally his “going under,” and I believe Jung found the example of katabasis to be compelling in the case of both Goethe and Nietzsche. Bishop reveals how in a letter to Freud, Jung divulges that he was making an intellectual descent to the realm of the Mothers, elaborating all the problems produced by the libido-occupied mother imago; he is “hidden” (Jung’s term; ostensibly because of the dangers involved in visiting the Mothers) in this effort by a katabasis into the realm of the Mothers (66). Jung began to reject the incest-based dimension of this going-down, this katabasis, reinterpreting it instead “as a return to a non-sexual Mother, symbolizing the Unconscious, and this was the message of Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido” (67). Thus it was on this decisive point of departure from Freud that Jung quoted Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in a letter to Freud, explaining in the name and words of Nietzsche’s prophet: “One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil” (67). Other modernist writers who were contemporaries of Jung made their own descent into the Dionysian underworld, among them Conrad, Eliot, and Thomas Mann (175). But while Jung clearly used Nietzsche as part of his critique of Freudian psychoanalysis, he began to view both Nietzsche and Freud as too materialistic in their psychology, to the point where he, Jung, viewed Nietzsche’s “spectacular failure to negotiate with Dionysos” as pointing the way to his own “more successful accommodation with the Dionysian Unconscious” (193). The seminar on Zarathustra from the 1930s demonstrates that “Jung was able to relate almost every significant point in Nietzsche’s philosophy to a corresponding idea in his Analytical Psychology,” with the result that both by using Nietzsche to leverage a break from Freud, then by leveraging the break from Freud to break from Nietzsche, Jung acquired his alternative method (296-7, 364).

Of course Jung with his concept of the anima, a female principle representing the soul especially in men, would have been sympathetic to Goethe’s portrayal of the Mothers in Faust, while Nietzsche famously had nothing but contempt for Goethe’s concept of the Eternal Feminine. But Jung made a mistake in claiming that the anima was absent from Nietzsche and Zarathustra, and that it was effectively purged or displaced by the concept of the superhuman (318). In fact, Nietzsche’s anima, to use Jung’s term, is very much alive throughout Zarathustra in the figure of the disguised Ariadne, as I have argued at various times throughout the last three decades. Bishop understands that “Woman represents the chthonic energies and subterranean forces of Dionysos,” and that “Jung drew attention to the traditional function of Woman as a representation of the dark side of life” (319), but he misses the opportunity to point out the limitations of Jung’s claim that the anima is lacking in Nietzsche. It would be more accurate to claim that Nietzsche suppressed the feminine, in himself and in the Dionysian, and then try to reconstruct the basis on which Nietzsche felt compelled to practice this seductive, disguised, ironic (masked) suppression of the feminine—but neither Jung nor Bishop venture into this rough terrain. Similarly, when Bishop discusses the significance of the phallus to Jung’s understanding of Dionysus, and points to a passage in Twilight of the Idols that Jung had highlighted in his copy, he likewise gives short shrift to Nietzsche’s relative silence on the phallus—another aspect of the Dionysian which Nietzsche suppresses. We must recall that it is a highly selective Dionysus whom Nietzsche introduces, one for instance who is not generally appreciated as a woman’s god. At other times, and really for the most part, Bishop is very perceptive indeed in sorting out the threads of Nietzsche’s masked discourse on the feminine, for instance where he suggests that Jung may have been inspired to make his own descent to the Mothers not directly by Goethe, but first through Nietzsche’s mediation of Goethe (171-2). This in turn suggests, as I continue to argue, that Nietzsche saw himself in competition with Goethe in the matter of the feminine and the Dionysian, not unlike Jung felt himself to be in competition with Nietzsche in matters of the Dionysian.

There are several points on which Jung and Nietzsche clearly differ. First, Nietzsche would not have accepted Jung’s verdict that he, Nietzsche, represented a failed Dionysian (80), though arguably he would have been tickled by Jung’s adaptation of the Dionysian philosophizing into “psychological religion.” Nor would Nietzsche have accepted Jung’s insistence on a single, Kantian morality existing in each of us a priori (134). For Nietzsche, there are many possible moralities, and the Kantian is not a particularly effective one from the standpoint of selfhood and selfishness. Jung also needed to give both Goethe and Nietzsche certain Teutonic dimensions with which the two thinkers might disagree, arguing that it is inconceivable that a non-German could write Faust and Zarathustra (169). These are works of world literature, works of universal poetry in the highest sense, and subsuming them under “Teutonic” because they happen to have been written in German seems a bit of a stretch, notwithstanding their common genesis in theoretical romanticism. Jung was also quite critical of the superhuman, failing to see anything positive in the concept (234-5), despite Nietzsche’s credible achievements in linking the concept to the meaning of the earth—for all his talk of katabasis, instinct, and libido, Jung was too metaphysical for an appreciation of Nietzsche’s ecological proclivities. On a related note, Jung ascribed a second persona to Dionysus, namely Wotan, thereby subscribing to the Förster-Nietzsche-Wagner vision of Nietzsche studies. Jung may have needed the presence of this Germanic war-god to justify his own stance on Germany’s debacle in WW II. Bishop wisely distances himself from Jung on this point too: “It is highly ironic therefore, that Nietzsche should have been misused by the National Socialists, and that Jung should have risked complicity with that abuse, apparently unable to combat the tenets of reactionary, pagan politics—Dionysos in the Wotanist mode” (379).

This is a richly documented, mature and reliable treatment of Jung’s debt to Nietzsche, rendered even more valuable by Bishop’s access to Jung’s library, where he transcribed Jung’s annotations, his superior use of sources in German and English, and his correction of often faulty translations of Jung’s works. The book entails far more than I am able to show here, and I marvel at the quality of this dissertation—it has to be among the very finest titles to have appeared in the venerable Monographien und Texte zur Nietzsche-Forschung.

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