Month: May 2015

Carl Jung’s “Psychology of the Unconscious” and the Value of Primary Texts


Jung’s seminal work is a treatise on the universal unconscious manifestations of the human libido, in religion, in art, and -most importantly- in religion and myth. Is there any reason for someone who is not involved in the study of the history of psychology to read a primary text like this, a (possibly) pseudo-scientific examination of the mind of mankind that is over one hundred years old, predating the wealth of information the modern age has provided us through fMRI scans and contemporary neurology? I would argue that there is.

Jung always strove to be considered a scientist, but his obsession with the study of mythology, the convergence of Eastern and Western philosophy, literature, and all manner of spiritualism (astrology, myth, alchemy) led many to construct a more mystical persona. Neither of these do him justice -Jung is, above all, a voracious student of the common truth behind the  stories Humanity tells itself. As such, his observations are not of a kind that is rendered obsolete by modern medicine. His driven inquisition into the greater mysteries revealed by the inescapably religious nature of storytelling man is just as important to consider in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. The man would have a wonderful time deconstructing the recent preoccupation with superhero movies…

As to the nature of reading primary texts, I have to admit that they occupy their own niche. Without a knowledge of the framework that has come to be built around his ideas (which includes everything from Joseph Campbell to our widespread cultural adaptation of the idea of “memes” from evolutionary biology) the primary text itself has a hard time standing on it’s own in 2015. Context is everything. At the same time, so much of modern thought can be traced back to the work of Jung, it seems to me that any reasonably intelligent person who is even remotely well-read or observant will find plenty in this book to grab onto.

Recommendation: Read it if you like the idea of knowing where so many of your schemas for understanding the world have come from, and if you don’t mind a few archaisms (and be sure to look up Onanism if you don’t already know what that means).


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On Posting Regularly

cartoon me

I’m sure some of you have noticed that I’ve been posting a little less, and with a little less regularity. Fear not.

I have every intention of continuing to publish my thoughts on the things I read and on the things I make, and on the process of sharing the things I make with others. I’ll be publishing at least once every Sunday night, and then as many times as I can during the week, depending on work, other writing/music projects, and my personal life.

Writing about the things I read has made me a better and a more voracious reader. Thanks you for following and listening to my thoughts.

Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon”, and Why You Should Read Good Genre Fiction

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Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” is one of those books that has its fingerprints over everything. In the same way that Melville’s turns of phrase have trickled down to every novelist of the 20th and 21st centuries, the situations and machinations of Sam Spade have guided the development of everything in our culture that touched -even secondhand- the world of detective noir.

It’s a different kind of reading experience when one is reading -for the first time- one of the seminal and highly influential cultural touchstones. Having an understanding of and a familiarity with a work’s derivatives and spiritual heirs might not let me see the work in an impartial light, but it doesn’t detract from the work’s strength -if anything, it underscores it. To be sure, this also means that the bar gets set rather high. Fortunately, this little book clears that bar without any apparent effort.

“The Maltese Falcon” is genre and it’s an artifact of its own time, but none of these out to be seen as strikes against it for a 21-century reader. The prose is solid, full of incredibly efficient and clever deployments of language, and Hammett can sketch a fully-dimensional (albeit often an over-the-top) character in only a few sentences, fleshing them out wonderfully through the continuing action. On the subject of plot, Hammett needs no defense by me. The story is compelling and the pacing is second to none. It’s a shame that so many authors of a “literary” pedigree neglect this aspect of narrative.


Recommendation: Read it. Read outside of your comfortable norm. Read good genre fiction. Read old genre fiction that holds up well.


Reading Log: Stephen Fry’s ‘Moab is my Washpot’ and the Balance of Authenticity and the Curated Self

Stephen Fry has a very “created” persona. He’s the public-school smartass all grown up, always funny and always a little bit quicker than everyone else in the room. It’s a kind of applied intellectualism that makes his panel show QI so much fun and it juxtaposes nicely with the absurd in his earlier work (like The Black Adder). Stephen wears many hats, and while I found his (loosely autobiographical) debut novel ‘The Liar’ rather flawed, it was still a good read. ‘Moab’ is an altogether superior book.

Fry’s show-off intellectualism runs throughout, but it’s been tempered and contextualized by the process of recollection and reflection. His arrogance is self-aware, and his self-decrepitation never veers into false modesty. The British schoolboy memoir has certainly been done before, but it’s not a genre I’m especially familiar with, and as such I’ll refrain from commenting on this book’s place within that particular dialogue. What I will say is that it’s a damn funny book about a very likeable character, and the early arc of Fry’s life is a compelling story told exceptionally well. It isn’t going to get at any great truths of the human condition, but it isn’t trying to. It’s just a fun read that breezes by wonderfully without any insult to the reader’s intelligence.

Recommendation: Read it. It’s funny as hell and only too clever in the right sort of way.


Moab Is My Washpot
by Stephen Fry
Powells.com

Reading Log: ‘Barrelhouse 13: Comedy’ or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ephemeral

I have a hard time with pop culture. Specifically, I have a hard time with intellectually rigorous examination of pop culture, because it always seems like too much thought is being given to far too weak a nexus. Shit starts to feel over-examined and nothing interesting comes of it. This complaint is at least partially horseshit, though, because some of the things I love most are deconstructions of pop culture (Watchmen, all my standup comic memoirs, all my rock-nerd books). Point is, I’m really sensitive about this kind of shit, and Barrelhouse asks everyone they interview what their favorite Patrick Swayze movie is.

My pretentious nervousness was clearly misplaced. Barrelhouse killed it. All the stories in here were great. The poetry was fantastic. It was a unique issue with a single editor, (not their usual editorial format) but from what I can gather by reading their website and the work published their, Issue 13 is nothing unusual. Great stuff.

I often find myself railing against pop culture artifacts within my own writing. I find them ephemeral and distracting, staking a story to a particular time and place without reason. This is probably borne out of the terribly narcissistic assumption that people will be reading my shit in 90 years and I don’t want to seem anachronistic, but… damn. Maybe it’s OK to mention a band name or the internet every now and then.

Recommendation: Buy it. From Barrelhouse. Support indie lit mags! Or we’ll get you when you fall asleep.

http://www.barrelhousemag.com/#!store/c1uba

Reading Log: April Recap

April was a great month for reading. I knocked out thirteen titles, all very diverse (graphic novels, male and female authors, works in translation, nonfiction,  anthologies, etc.). Beyond the ones I finished, I’ve started some longer ones that I’m looking forward to wrapping up soon (the Norton Critical anthology of Chekov’s short stories, and Egger’s ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’, to name two). April was great, and I’m gonna keep my steam up for May.