Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Convulsive Power of the Dreaming Mind

Not only is it no accident that a Jung stand-in pushed Captain America into the ether just before Kirby's return, it may have even been intentional on the part of the writer, Marv Wolfman. 

The 70s were a pretty dreary decade, but it didn't lack for pop intellectualism. Marvel was full of writers who came in from the counter-culture, and a smart cookie like Marv Wolfman may well have realized that Kirby's obsession with the gods resonated with Jung's work. 

Captain America was about to embark on a 22-issue descent in the depths, a Jung-like 'night sea journey' into prophecy, conspiracy and visionary madness. Free-falling over the skies of Manhattan would be the least of Cap's problems.

When I was writing Our Gods Wear Spandex, I hadn't read up on my Jung for some time. But when I was promoting the book it suddenly hit me: my book was pure Jung in its approach. I was analyzing readers' motivations for being drawn towards superhero comics, and broke the myriad characters down into a handful of mythic archetypes. I had integrated Jungian thought to the point it became unconscious.

When you look into how dream-driven artists like Jack Kirby or Chris Carter create fiction that becomes the world's reality, you are smack-dab square in Jung Country, where internal thoughts become external reality. 

Dont ask me to explain it, but when you delve into this line of thinking and make it your own, sooner or later things start to happen- synchronicity, coincidence, manifestation. And eventually you live in a tangibly numinous world, whether you are awake or not.

Jung and New York are intimately linked in my mind since I immersed myself in his teachings when I was working in the world famous obelisk known as the Empire State Building, doing designs for kiddie togs.

The ESB may well be the inspiration for much of the pre-9/11 plane-skyscraper symbolism we see, having been the site of such an event in 1945. I remember being evacuated from the ESB after the first WTC bombing, and having some plainclothes guy give my co-workers and I a 'routine' lecture on 'fire safety' during the Gulf War.

 I lost touch with Jung when people like Scott Peck and Thomas Moore were watering him down, making his very challenging work safe for middle-aged housewives. Or maybe it was because there were other ideas I wanted to explore. I'm not certain yet.

While working on the Silver Star series, I had an astonishingly vivid nightmare of being trapped in Manhattan during a 9/11-like scenario. Only this one was a 'dirty' bomb that arrived by way of a cruise missile. 

 My friends and I watched it zoom overhead as we lunched in Bryant Park. People were bursting into radioactive flames all around me. SWAT teams were on the streets preventing people from leaving the city, because we were all contaminated. I couldn't get a signal on my cell phone so I couldn't call my wife and tell her I was all right.

 And at one point I was chased by an armored cop down a staircase. It was real as life - I woke up with my heart pounding, drenched in sweat.

So no one can tell me the dreaming mind is trivial or unimportant. Some of humanity's greatest achievements have been born there. I think in many ways modern society's contempt for the Unconscious is at the root of its malaise. When desires or fears go unanalyzed they metastasize and distort our personalities. A state which some people seem to aspire to.

If there is one thing I am trying to do with the Secret Sun, it is to add my two cents to the cultural conversation. What I would like to ultimately see is artists and writers digging deeper into their inner reality and creating better art as a result. All art is the manifestation of inner reality in one way or another, and our inner reality is a hell of a lot deeper and profound than our present popular culture would have you believe.

Not so long ago, I felt like I was walking into a dream when I stepped into a movie theatre. Good or bad, it had an immersive effect. Nowadays I mostly feel like I wandered into an accounting seminar. My wife and I love to watch movies in bed, but I feel as if anything new we rent from the video store is going to be medicore by definition. 

We recently watched Superbad- a well-regarded comedy written by an actor I like very much named Seth Rogen- and we couldn't wait for it to end about halfway through. There were so many absurd crowd-pleasing bits in the film I was taken completely out of the narrative. And once you step outside that, you're basically left with a bunch of people running around pretending to be someone else and reciting lines written by someone else. And that was one of the better recent films we've rented.

The magic is totally gone from our cinema -hell, our mass media- and what's left stinks of desperation. Most of today's producers and writers and actors seem to care about nothing but the opening weekend gross. Hollywood has always looked down on the rest of the world, but never before has the contempt felt so overt. And the rest of the world is returning the favor by finding other things to do with their leisure time.

Mark my words; people will continue to lose interest in film or theatre or TV or novels unless someone can figure out how to recapture that dream reality again. And as culture goes, so goes the society. Culture is a barometer of a people, and our culture is telling us that the Bush years have ripped out our collective soul and replaced it with narcissism, cynicism and despair.

Were he alive today, Jung would look at this nation and instantly recognize it was on its own night sea journey.


And don't forget the all-night 90s lotus party over at SHRR.