musings on Self-realization in the light of psychoanalysis … by Jennifer Lilla PhD
In Freud’s earliest work titled ‘A Project for a Scientific Psychology,’ Freud’ speaks of the “unassimilable portion, the thing” in realtionship to infant development. Freud saw that the from birth the ego is in relationship to the unassimilable nature of being (also known as Das Ding p.423). For Freud, this ‘thing’ is the ‘unassimilable portion’ of the mother’s breast, experienced when the infant is nursing.
Here is Freud’s story: the infant looks at the breast straight on and sees a nipple. Then, the infant looks at the breast from the side and sees the side profile of the nipple. Then, the infant looks from another side and sees, yet again, another image of the breast and nipple. These images of the breast and nipple are each different; calling on the psyche to integrate them into one whole object representation of the mother as other.
This integration of multiple perspectives is a very difficult task, in part because of the intensity of the wish for the breast. The ego develops in relation to what can be ‘known’ from experience, as ‘attributes’ and internal object representations. But there is always an ‘unassimilable portion, the thing.’
For Freud, the ‘unassimilable’ is the fundamental ‘thing’ that we each must come to terms with. In many ways working through this problem seems to have been his own ‘analysis,’ setting the stage for his subsequent work. Jacques Lacan took up this drive to know, as did Melanie Klein, and Wilfred Bion, each in their own unique way. One could say that Hegel and Kant influenced them all. Nonetheless, Carl Jung too spirals around the ‘unassimilable.’
Right from the beginning of Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung address the ‘unknown’ and the ‘hidden’ (CW 5, para. 4- 5) Jung brings insight to the ‘unassimilable’ by saying that it is ‘assimilable,’ to some degree. Or at least that the instincts of the living soul, if healthy, guide us on a journey toward greater and greater assimilation of the ‘unassimilable.’ The life instincts of the soul are toward greater realization, both as object realization and Self-realization.
Our instinctual, libidinal nature drives us to integrate opposing views of the object, taking us into deeper and deeper levels of self/other integration. The soul’s instinct is that of ‘Affirmation—uniting—Eros.’ We seek to know the other and in doing so hold the potential to realize the nature of the Self. The highest realization is Self-realization: a knowing of the unknown, a seeing of the unseen. This is the place and space of uniting self and object representation: what is ‘unassimilable’ in the other is the ‘unassimilable’ in me.
Life is determined by modes and forms of such seeking of realization. A life is the manifestation of a particular way a being seeks and strives toward a realization of the nature of the ‘unassimilable.’ Life seeks fulfillment, a goal:
“Life is teleology par excellence; it is the intrinsic striving towards a goal, and the living organism is a system of directed aims which seek to fulfill themselves.” (Carl Jung, CW 8, par. 798)
The word teleology is from Greek telos ‘end’ + -logia. The word denotes a branch of philosophy that deals with the ‘ends’ or a final cause. Living souls seek ‘to fulfill themselves.’ Jung spoke periodically about Teleology. In the Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925, Jung speaks in detail about his views on teleology. Here, Jung is expressing an insight into teleology in terms of the direction and purpose of libido. I will quote the paragraph in full:
“The expression ‘ambitendency’ is a way of denominating the contradictory nature of energy. There is no potential without opposites, and therefore one has ambitendency… The libido [has] direction, and it can be said of any function that it has a purposive nature. Of course, the well-known prejudice against this viewpoint that has existed in biology has to do with the confusion of teleology with purpose. Teleology says there is an aim toward which everything is tending, but such an aim could not exist without presupposing a mind that is leading us to a definite goal, an untenable viewpoint for us. However, processes can show purposive character without having to do with a preconceived goal, and all biological processes are purposive. The essence of the nervous system is purposive since it acts like a central telegraph office for coordinating all parts of the body. All the suitable nervous reflexes are gathered in the brain. Coming back to the original point about ambitendency. Energy is not split in itself, it is the pairs of opposites and also undivided–in other words, it presents a paradox” (p. 86).
Our instincts, in the form of libido, appear to have a somewhat purposive character. This purposive character is expressed through the ambitendency of the libidinal energy, always expressing itself in archetypal pairs of opposites. The larger movement of libido is dialectically integrating though this ambitendency, as it seeks to assimilate the ‘unassimilable’.
The dialectical movements of psychic life involves a process in which opposites integrate into new syntheses. Upon integration a horizon of knowing emerges, bringing with it new oppositions. We seek to assimilate the unassimilable. The unassimilable is both ‘the thing’ that gives rise to a primordial tension, as well as a horizon toward which we are instinctively drawn.
In spiritual terms, we are driven toward the ‘unassimilable’ unknown of God. The ‘unassimilable is expressed in the first relations to the personal Mother and in the archetypal mother as well: in the empty space off the primordial womb. In psychoanalytic terms, we are perturbed and stimulated by the ‘unassimilable’ in the parental couple.
…..instinct is purposive. It works properly only under certain conditions, and as soon as it gets out of tune with these conditions it threatens the destruction of the species. (p. 86)
The soul seeks its natural path, a path towards creative dialectical integration, always aiming toward the ‘unassimilable portion’. The integration of opposites allows us to hold more complex awareness through dialectical modes of thinking. It is the creative synthesis through transformation of symbols that is so significant for both the living soul and our species at large. With this we are able to face and integrate the most complex tasks and tensions of being human, such as the ones that we are now facing as a collective culture. This capacity for assimilation and integration of the unknown is fundamentally a capacity of the living soul.
Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925 by C.G. Jung,
edited by William McGuire
Jennifer Lilla MA, PhD