Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Self, the Not Self, and the Animus

I've been traveling all night to reach the coast of new found land
To meet the girl from my dream... she's not there
I sit down by the sea at the coast of new found land
and I dream... I dream... about leaving.
-Seabound, "Avalost [vox]"

There's a young lady of my acquaintance who has been seeing visions of a mysterious stranger. She's been having romantic troubles of late, not thrilled with the avenues for companionship open to her. More and more, her mind has been turning to these thoughts of the mysterious stranger who will come and sweep her off her feet. Obviously, the plot of every Harlequin romance novel ever written. The bodice rippers wouldn't sell if there weren't a market, and with that market an undercurrent of something in our collective imagination.
So who is this mysterious stranger? He has no face, no name, few discernible attributes. His form is in shadow, his mien enigmatic. What little we do know of him is exotic somehow; foreign and unusual. Is he perhaps Jung's animus given form in the imagination?
`The mysterious stranger is the Other, the Not Self. Where the Self is known, the Not Self is mysterious. Where the physical features of the Self are familiar, a daily observation, the Not Self is foreign and exotic looking. The thoughts, desires, and motives of the Self are known, intimately familiar; the Not Self's thoughts are unknown. The Not Self has few apparent limitations, while the Self's shortcomings and vices are deplorably known. The Not Self is everything the Self is not.
All this mystery allows the Not Self endless possibilities of being. The known exists as one thing only, the unknown can exist in an endless plenum of possibilities. The unknown is also endless. Whenever we meet someone new, they are unknown. Being unknown, they can be anything. Slowly, as they reveal themselves, their endless possibilities reduce themselves to one actuality. The Not Self, being unphysical, being an archetypical ideal, will never allow itself to be reduced from possibilities to actuality.
Because the Not Self can be everything, without ever being anything, it never disappoints. We spend years trying to realize the Not Self in other people, with each never quite managing to rise to the level we seek. In time, perhaps, we learn to settle with someone who matches our ideal of the Not Self as closely as we can find. Otherwise, we might spend most of our lives in pursuit of the ideal of the Not Self.
In Carl Jung's theories, the Animus represent the eternal male principle, as the anima represents the female principle.. The anima/us is the first of the unconscious archetypes that the maturing mind confronts, the principle by which the self is molded. The Self defines itself in opposition to the anima/us who is the Other, the opposing principle. Confrontation with the anima/us is perhaps one of the most important processes for defining the self; the eternal hum of yin and yang. The journey of the Self – the Campbellian hero's journey, if you will – is the eternal pursuit of the Other, the anima/us. The anima/us is sought after, but never caught; never defined, never demarcated. the Self seeks completion through the Other, as neither Self nor Other is complete without its counterpart.
In this case, the idealized, mysterious Not Self that is the center of romantic fantasy is a manifestation of the animus. The sense of mystery and the unknown is the counterpart to then known, rationalized Self; the pursuit of the Not Self is the pursuit of the animus. It is the quest for completion.


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