Jung’s drame intérieur

In the 1935 preface to the second edition of a 1916 paper, Jung noted that:

The present essay (…) is (…) the expression of a long-standing endeavour to grasp and — at least in its essential features — to depict the strange character and course of that drame intérieur, the transformation process of the unconscious psyche. This idea of the independence of the unconscious, which distinguishes my views so radically from those of Freud, came to me as far back as 1902…(CW7, 123)

In a slightly earlier piece from 1932, Jung used this same phrase of a drame intérieur in an essay on Picasso:

The descent into ancient times has been associated ever since Homer’s day with the Nekyia. (…) Seldom or never have I had a patient who did not go back to neolithic art forms or revel in evocations of Dionysian orgies. [Picasso’s] Harlequin wanders like Faust through all these forms, though sometimes nothing betrays his presence but his wine, his lute, or the bright lozenges of his jester’s costume. And what does he learn on his wild journey through man’s millennial history? What quintessence will he distill from this accumulation of rubbish and decay, from these half-born or aborted possibilities of form and colour? What symbol will appear as the final cause and meaning of all this? In view of the dazzling versatility of Picasso, one hardly dares to hazard a guess, so for the present I would rather speak of what I have found in my patients’ material. The Nekyia is no aimless and purely destructive fall into the abyss, but a meaningful katabasis eis antron, a descent into the cave of initiation and secret knowledge. The journey through the psychic history of mankind has as its object the restoration of the whole man (…) This man stands opposed to the man of the present, because he is the one who ever is as he was,1 whereas the other is what he is only for the moment. With my patients, accordingly, the katabasis and katalysis are followed by a recognition of the bipolarity of human nature and of the necessity of [an encounter with] conflicting pairs of opposites. After the symbols of madness experienced during the period of disintegration there follow images which represent the coming together of the opposites: light/dark, above/below, white/black, male/female, etc. (…) This state of things in the psychic development of a patient is neither the end nor the goal. It represents only [the stage of] a broadening of his outlook, which now embraces the whole of man’s moral, bestial, and spiritual nature without as yet shaping it into a living unity.  Picasso’s drame intérieur has developed up to this last point before the dénouement. (CW15, 139-140)

McLuhan began to read Jung along with Freud and Adler in the 1930’s in Cambridge. He does not seem to have used the phrase le drame intérieur himself, but le paysage intérieur appears very frequently in his writings in both French and English2 — most prominently as the title of the 1969 collection of his essays in criticism, The Interior Landscape. And recourse to ‘drama’ and the ‘dramatic’ is, of course, even more common in his work.

McLuhan traced the attempt to specify the interior world of the psyche to nineteenth century France:

The first Romantics sought to recover the oral tradition of the ballad form as part of their program of moderating the extreme development of the picturesque. Yet, their use of the outer landscape as a means of defining and expressing emotion gave further stress to visual continuity and perspective. It led inevitably to the isolation of single emotions and single feelings as the basis of organizing  a work of art. It was only with the second Romantic Movement (Baudelaire and after) that the artist emancipated the Western world from the uniformities and specialisms of outer visual space by a sudden shift to what [the French physiologist] Claude Bernard called “le milieu intérior“. It is strange indeed that both poetry and medicine shifted their attention from outer to inner at the same time. T.S. Eliot’s familiar opening lines of Prufrock capture both of these events [of the first and second Romantic Movements]:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table.
The first line leads to the cult of the romantic landscape, and the second to the precise activities of the surgeon exploring the interior of the patient.3

As cited above, Jung asked in this context: “What quintessence will [Picasso] distill from this accumulation of rubbish and decay, from these half-born or aborted possibilities of form and colour?” Comparatively, McLuhan saw the contemporary world as reduced to garbage4 and over and over again cited Yeats:

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

McLuhan repeatedly cited these lines from Yeats’ The Circus Animals’ Desertion (1938) in his late texts: in Take Today, in ‘Man as the Medium’ (the introduction to his 1975 commentary on Sorel Etrog’s film, Spiral) and, especially, in From Cliché to Archetype where they are cited twice, along with the first lines of this poem:

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

No specification of human being or of being itself can ignore “the foul rag-and-bone shop” the “broken man” unaccountably represents within the universe of being. On the one hand, this is a proofstone against which any attempt to formulate any prported truth of these must be tried. No sleight of hand can add lipstick to this pig. On the other, since their truth would inescapably infold this “mound of refuse”, the stunning wonder would be that even this, even the stench and horror trailed along by us, would be enfolded in that strange “quintessence”. More yet, as Yeats discerned, it would even turn out that this “mound of refuse” equally embraced that  “quintessence” as the place “where all the ladders start”. There would thus be a double infolding, Dante’s “forma universal di questo nodo”…5

  1. Jung repeatedly has recourse to the plurality of time in this passage. He begins by referring to “the descent into ancient times” and to “man’s millennial history”. Then the contrast between “the whole man” and the split “man of the present” is described as the difference between “the one who ever is as he was” and “the other (who) is what he is only for the moment”. Time as times is the great path marker followed in the twentieth century by Einstein, Husserl, Jung, Heidegger and others, including Innis and McLuhan, in the attempt to understand the possibility of truth — and only so the truth of human beings and their surrounding cosmos.
  2. McLuhan usually translated le paysage intérieur as the interior landscape, but in ‘Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry’ from 1951 he has “le paysage interieur or the psychological landscape”.
  3. ‘Discontinuity and Communication in Literature’, in P. R. Leon, ed, Problèmes de L’Analyse Textuelle, Problems of Textual Analysis, 1971, 189-199. This was a lecture given by McLuhan at University College, UT, on Nov 21, 1970.
  4. For references and discussion, see Planet polluto, garbage apocalypse.
  5. The modern human being is defined by the inability to believe in such truth. In the decision between our own importance, even if only negative, and what would be the strangest and most marvelous power of being itself, we insist on us.