What Does the Shadow Know?
Trauma, Transformation and Punk Rock (Part VII)
Originally published in Mental Contagion
In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more
Joy Division, “Shadowplay,” (1979)
[All lyrics taken from Deborah Curtis’ Touching From a Distance].
I never realised the lengths I’d have to go,
All the darkest corners of a sense I didn’t know...
Joy Division, “Twenty-four Hours,” (1980)
One of the recurring themes this column has explored is the attraction to various forms of darkness and how that can lead to change or transformation. This transformation can lead to the question: how can something change into its opposite? We are used to thinking in this culture that things exist as opposites and that opposites are not connected with one another, that they are distinct, different, and separate. We tend to have an allopathic approach to problems and crises in our lives, or, in other words, for a given problem, we apply its opposite. In order to get peace, we wage war. In order to get safety, we buy guns. In order to be happy, we shun sadness. In order to have well-being, we shun suffering. This is the path of opposition, and the risk is that it can entrench opposition and preclude transformation.
There is at least one other path, though, the homeopathic, or the application of like to cure like. This can be found in the phrase, “you need to fight fire with fire.” From a homeopathic perspective, the opposites are in relation with each other and “the way out is the way in.”
In Carl Jung’s theoretical system of psychological transformation, the first stage of therapy involves the confrontation with the Shadow Archetype. The Shadow can be thought of as literally a shadow of the conscious personality and the consciousness of the individual. Thus, it includes the
“sum of all personal and collective psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life and therefore coalesce into a relatively autonomous ‘splinter personality’ with contrary tendencies in the unconscious. The shadow behaves compensatorily to consciousness; hence its effects can be positive as well as negative,” Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 398-399, by Jung and Jaffé).
The shadow can be thought of as everything an individual (or culture) is, but does not want to acknowledge. The first step in therapy involves “owning” one’s Shadow, or, to put it more crudely, “owning one’s Shit.” Without acceptance of our dark side (that which is behind our vision) we will be unable to focus on ourselves and do the work of Individuation and move forward on the path of Self-hood.
When the Shadow is split off, it tends to get projected out on to others, and this is the basis for the principle of scapegoating. The unwanted aspects of self and society are projected on to the scapegoat, then when the scapegoat is driven off or destroyed, there is an illusion that one has purged oneself and society of its demons. This is also the basis of the observation that the reason we dislike a particular person is because they amplify a trait we ourselves possess, but would rather deny. Owning the Shadow is the first step that is necessary in order to have any degree of emotional objectivity toward ourselves/others. Without taking this step, we hopelessly entangle what belongs to self and what belongs to other.
Jung has described what he calls his own “Confrontation with the Unconscious,” in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections. This occurred after his break with Freud and included a period of 8 years in which he turned inward and observed the activities of the psyche through dreams, active imagination, and mandalas. This Confrontation begins with a Descent and an encounter with the Shadow.
“After the parting of ways with Freud, a period of inner uncertainty began for me. It would be no exaggeration to call it a state of disorientation. I felt totally suspended in mid-air, for I had not found by own footing...”
“One fantasy kept returning: there was something dead present, but it was still alive...”
“One of the greatest difficulties for me lay in dealing with my negative feelings. I was voluntarily submitting myself to emotions of which I could not really approve, and I was writing down fantasies which often struck me as nonsense, and toward which I had strong resistances. For as long as we do not understand their meaning, such fantasies are a diabolical mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous...In order to grasp the fantasies which were stirring in me ‘underground,’ I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them, as it were. I felt not only violent resistance to this, but a distinct fear. For I was afraid of losing command of myself and becoming prey to the fantasies - and as a psychiatrist I realized only too well what that meant. After prolonged hesitation, however, I saw that there was no other way out. I had to take the chance, had to try to gain power over them; for I realized that if I did not do so, I ran the risk of their gaining power over me...”
“Then I let myself drop. Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths. I could not fend off a feeling of panic,” (MDR, 170-179).
Like Dante, or Zarathustra, Jung begins his journey through a descent, illustrating that one must go down before one goes up. “Thus Zarathustra began to go under,” (Nietzsche, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, 122). And like Zarathustra and Jung, we can argue that Ian Curtis and Joy Division began to go under, into the depths of the underworld and the world of death and shadows.
I’ve seen the real atrocities,
Buried in the sand
Joy Division, “Ice Age,” (1977)
Guess your dreams always end.
They don’t rise up just descend
Joy Division, “Insight,” (1979)
To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you
Joy Division, “Shadowplay,” (1979)
Here are the young me, well where have they been?
We knocked on the doors of Hell’s darker chamber,
Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in,
We watched from the wings as the scenes were replaying,
We saw ourselves now as we never had seen.
Portrayal of trauma and degeneration,
The sorrows we suffered and never were free
Joy Division, “Decades,” (1980)
Curtis’ lyrics fill the band’s music with themes of descent, darkness, suffering. At times there is a sense of a search, a quest, or a dark revelation, as in “Take my hand and I’ll show you what was and will be,” (“Atrocity Exhibition,” 1980) or again, “God in his wisdom took you by the hand, God in his wisdom made you understand,” (“Colony,” 1980). In this sense, Curtis, like Jung, is an explorer of the Unconscious, through the techniques of despair and hopelessness, he disconnects from the world and begins his descent, commenting like a tour guide as he watches the Shadowplay in the darkness.
A major theme in Curtis’ lyrics are the shortcomings or inferior aspects of the self. He explores the limits of psychic endurance and self-esteem. He steps over, from the “normal” position of the preservation of the ego and the distortions of narcissism designed to make one feel better about themselves, and into the distortions of despair and desolation from which there is no hope of escape. To follow Curtis, we must move from narcissism to nihilism.
All my failings exposed
Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” (1980)
I can see life getting harder...
I can’t see it getting better...
Emotionally a scapegoat,
I can’t see it getting better...
Hollow now, I’m burned out
Joy Division, “The Sound of Music,” (1979)
Mother I tried please believe me,
I’m doing the best that I can.
I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through,
I’m ashamed of the person I am
Joy Division, “Isolation,” (1980)
Soulless and bent on destruction,
A struggle between right and wrong...
Beyond all this good is the terror...
Existence well what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can
Joy Division, “Heart and Soul,” (1980)
In addition to exposing all of his own, individual failings, Curtis also documents a panorama of collective human ugliness. He travels far and wide, deep and dark, and describes Nazis who “drank and killed to pass the time,” (“Walked in Line,” 1978); “night filled with bloodsport and pain,” (“Day of the Lords,” 1979); “Heroes, idols cracked like ice,” (“Autosuggestion,” 1979); and the “horrors of a faraway place...mass murder on a scale you’ve never seen,” (“Atrocity Exhibition,” 1980). Curtis passes through the Personal Shadow of faults and weaknesses to the Collective Shadow and immerses himself in the sins of mankind. He witnesses the inversion of wrong and right and the triumph of darkness over light.
I traveled far and wide through many different times,
What did you see there?
I saw the saints with their toys...
I saw all knowledge destroyed...
The power and glory of sin...
The blood of Christ on their skins...
I saw the one-sided trials...
I saw the tears as they cried
Joy Division, “Wilderness, (1979)
All of these encounters with the dark side of the self and culture can easily be viewed from this Jungian perspective of an encounter with the Shadow and the beginning of the descent into the Unconscious. For Jung, this was a necessary first step toward the development of the Self. What is dark must first be “seen” and accepted before it can be illuminated and transformed. The shadow is akin to the base lead that through alchemy can be transformed into gold. However, this is not simply a matter of playful fantasy for Jung, this encounter with the Shadow can destroy as well as transform, and one of the primary dangers he describes at this point is that of over-identification with the Shadow.
While the Shadow must be accepted as part of the personality and humanity, it is incorrect to reduce everything down to the Shadow. Jung’s view of the Self includes the Shadow, but also various other elements or Archetypes, such as the Animus (Masculine), the Anima (Feminine), the Mother, the Trickster, and the Wise Old Man, to name a few. All of these psychic elements have a negative and positive side, just like the Shadow. This leads to the odd alchemy of the psyche that often results in the transformation of the negative that is accepted into something oddly similar, but no longer deadly. This is tricky business, as Jung warns if,
“we do not partially succumb, nothing of this apparent evil enters into us, and no regeneration or healing can take place...If we succumb completely, then the contents expressed by the inner voice act as so many devils, and a catastrophe ensues. But if we succumb only in part, and if by self-assertion the ego can save itself from being completely swallowed, then it can assimilate the voice, and we realize that the evil was, after all, only a semblance of evil, but in reality a bringer of healing and illumination,” (Jung, “The Development of Personality,” CW 17, cited in Storr, The Essential Jung, 208-209).
One of Jung’s primary examples of identification with the Shadow and subsequent tragedy is Friedrich Nietzsche and his alter-ego, Zarathustra, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Jung ran an ongoing seminar on this book from 1934-1939, which can be read in Jung’s Seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. We will now turn to some of Jung’s discussion from this text (the abridged edition). Here he cautions that to confront the shadow is to confront “the fact of one’s own negation....[and that] the shadow is so strong that you can be honestly in doubt as to what you really are,” (Jung, 108). In the confrontation with the Shadow, there is a period of utter confusion as to what is self, Shadow, and Self. Or in other words what is ego-consciousness, what is that which negates ego, and what is that which is both ego and non-ego. It is this moment which is of critical importance.
“Naturally, it is impossible to realize the collective unconscious without being entirely dismembered or devoured, unless you have help, some strong link which fastens you down to reality so that you never forget you are a human individual like other individuals. For as soon as you touch the collective unconscious you have an inflation-it is unavoidable-and then you soar into space, disappear into a cloud, become a being beyond human proportions...[and this is what Jung claims happened to Zarathustra/Nietzsche]...his head swells up and he becomes a sort of balloon; one is no longer sure of his identity, whether he is a god or a demon or a devil, a ghost or a madman or a genius,” (Jung, 131-133).
At this point of confused identification with the Shadow (an element of the collective unconscious) one can become identified with either extreme of Shadow or Anti-Shadow. In Nietzsche’s case, Zarathustra becomes like a god-man and swells to a point that is unsustainable for a human individual. Perhaps in Curtis’ case (or at least his lyrical persona), he identified solely with the Shadow, no longer was he a human being with both positive and negative qualities, but now only the darkest, the bleakest, he looks “beyond the day at hand, there’s nothing there at all,” (“Twenty-four Hours,” 1980).
For Jung, the fact that all individuals are connected by having access to the collective unconscious means that ideas cannot only be “psychologically” transferred, but that they can actually activate and manifest contents from the collective unconscious. “You can of course, infect people by inflation, can cause a sort of mental contagion; people are often inflated and they have an equally inflating influence on other people. Also the contrary is true: when a person is too small for his size he can have a deflating effect upon others...So where there is inflation there is also the contrary; where there is the heat of the spirit there is also the coldness,” (Jung, 282). With this quote, we have not only managed to establish Jung as the possible originator of the term “mental contagion” (on June, 9th, 1937), but we have also found Jung’s solution to why people could be attracted to the bleak despair of Joy Division, and how that attraction could lead to the opposite emotion of a kind of elation, or perhaps even to a unification of these opposites into a peaceful acceptance. As with Bataille, transformation occurs not by changing something from what it is into what it is not, but rather, transformation occurs because the opposites are in some way related or connected. In this sense, to have an emotion X is to have the possibility of also having the emotion that is considered the opposite of X.
To return to our examination of Curtis’ lyrical persona in the context of the Jungian Shadow, first we have the descent into the unconscious, the elaboration of the negatives of the personal shadow, the travel through the dimensions of the negative collective shadow. From this perspective, we can wonder if Curtis identifies or is inflated with the Shadow at this point.
I’ve got the spirit, lose the feeling, let it out somehow...
I’ve got the spirit, but lose the feeling,
I’ve got the spirit, but lose the feeling
Joy Division, “Disorder,” (1979)
Where will it end? Where will it end?
Where will it end? Where will it end?
Joy Division “Day of the Lords,” (1979)
Over each mistakes were made.
I took the blame.
Directionless so plain to see,
A loaded gun won’t set you free.
So you say
Joy Division, “New Dawn Fades,” (1979)
Two ways to choose,
On a razor’s edge...
If I can’t break out now, the time just won’t come...
Something must break now,
This life isn’t mine,
Something must break now,
Waiting for the time,
Something must break
Joy Division, “Something Must Break, (1980)
And, finally, the last prophetic line of the last prophetic song (released posthumously after Curtis’ death by hanging:
Cord stretches tight then it breaks,
Someday we will die in your dreams,
How I wish we were here with you now
Joy Division, “In a Lonely Place,” (1980)
In the above quoted lyrics, several themes are apparent: numbness or loss of feeling, or life not belonging to self (separation from self); possession by the spirit (shadow); impending violence or self-destruction (gun, cord, something breaking); and finally the forced choice of an either/or. These elements could be taken as examples of identification with the Shadow, rather than what Jung considers to be the way out of identification (or partially succumbing), which must be followed by a form of transcending identity from wholly shadow to recognizing the Shadow as one of the many elements or characteristics that make up the Self. This is a somewhat difficult concept to follow. First, the shadow is seen as “out there,” belonging to someone else. Then this is recognized as a projection of oneself, which leads to a depressive position. The next step is in recognizing the universal nature of the shadow as being related to oneself.
Jung states that “the shadow ought to be personified in order to be discriminated. As long as you feel it as having no form or particular personality, it is always partially identical with you; in other words, you are unable to make enough difference between that object and yourself...but when you say, this is I and that is the shadow, you personify the shadow, and so you make a clean cut between the two, between yourself and that other, and inasmuch as you can do that, you have detached the shadow from the collective unconscious,” (Jung, 333-334).
Using this schema, we can hypothesize that Curtis failed to detach from the Shadow, or failed to dis-identify with his lyrical persona, and thus in the Shadow play, acted out his own death, “knowing no more.” The complicated question that remains is could it have been otherwise?
A slightly less complicated question is could others (the audience, the listener, the rest of the band) follow in his footsteps, but have a different outcome? Perhaps to be able to identify with Curtis’ archetypal explorations of the Shadow, but then at the end of the record to say, well, he killed himself, and then to recognize him as an embodiment of the Shadow, perhaps that can allow a detachment of the shadow “from the collective unconscious,” and that allows you to go on.
“The three days’ descent into hell during death describes the sinking of the vanished value into the unconscious, where, by conquering the power of darkness, it establishes a new order, and then rises up to heaven again, that is attains supreme clarity of consciousness,” (Jung, Psychology and Religion, CW 11, cited in Storr, 249).
Oh up down turn around
Please don’t let me hit the ground,
Tonight I think I’ll walk alone,
I’ll find my soul a silent home
New Order, “Temptation,” (1982)