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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, February 09, 2006

turning to evil

Well, I seem to have hit my own version of writer's block. I'm not sure that's really a correct diagnosis; it may just be acute not-feeling-like-it, or perhaps good old fear. I wake in the morning (early, early morning) with a heavy disinclination to push my project forward.

In such a mood, I find I must let myself do something else. This morning, over coffee, I keyed notes from a book I started reading yesterday afternoon: Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing by James Waller. As I started reading I was immediately impressed by Waller's writing, and saw more clearly what I feel are the deficiencies in my other recent purchase on evil, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Roy Baumeister. I decided to shelve the latter book, but before I did so I wrote a review for it on Amazon.com (you can check it out at the above link). I gave it three stars.

Why my sudden interest in evil? In some ways I don't want to say too much about this, since it leads me into talking about the thematic level of my work, which I hesitate to do. I think it's best for a writer not to say too much about the intended meaning of a work, so as not to prejudice readers. It could be a worse spoiler, in my opinion, than a plot spoiler. In fact, there are many problems of this kind in writing a blog: I want to talk about my work, but I don't want to say too much about it--a conflict of interest. My defense is that readers of my blog would logically be potential readers of my novel, and so it is for the benefit of their eventual enjoyment that I, so to say, pull my punches here, a bit.

So: evil. In Jung's view, as expressed in his Aion, a monograph on the archetype of the Self, the Age of Pisces has witnessed the unfolding and differentiation of this deepest and most central of the archetypes, which is indistinguishable from what he calls the "god-image" in us. Among the archetypes, the Self is that which most determines and controls our "individuation"--our development into who really are. The archetype itself, like all the Jungian archetypes, is inherently unconscious and cannot be made conscious. It manifests itself to consciousness via symbols--images and ideas that in one way or another express its paradoxical, unknowable nature. According to Jung, the symbol of the Self par excellence for Western man for the past 2,000 years has been Jesus Christ.

But Jesus, as a manifestation of God, is presented as all good--indeed as the personification of the good. Nonetheless evil still exists in the world, and Jung, writing this work just after World War Two, was convinced that humanity, certainly in the West, was experiencing ever starker and more forceful manifestations of its own dark side. He criticized Christian theology for its doctrine of the privatio boni--the view that evil has no positive existence of its own but is merely the absence of good, as dark is the absence of light. Jung felt that this doctrine presented a too-optimistic reading of the human soul and its potentials, with the consequence that the evil in our nature remains all the more unconscious, and therefore all the more dangerous when it erupts into manifestation.

In Aion Jung describes how the symbol of Christ developed in tandem with its evil twin, that of the Antichrist or Satan. In an important and real sense, Satan was born along with Jesus to carry the evil in the universe that would be no part of the light twin's nature, and Satan's symbolism has unfolded in dark counterpart to that of Christ in the succeeding two millenniums.

My overarching story is The Age of Pisces (Jung has many and well-argued reasons for equating this astrological age with the Christian aeon), and so the issues of evil and Satan are part of the basement of my work. So I tell myself that by reading these things, and keying notes from them, I am still advancing my cause.

My cause--but not my page-count.

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  • You could see aspects of the first book in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement and even now, to a certain degree. The "other" is always less than human. And it's always ordinary folks doing the killing. It's a very scary thought, but since I've seen it myself, I know it's true.
    The complexity of it, I am sure is beyond me.

    By Blogger none, at February 24, 2006 4:39 PM  

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