C. G. Jung and Philip K. Dick
By Josh Lind
This paper began as an attempt to understand Philip K. Dick’s 1969 science fiction novel Galactic Pot-Healer. In preparing a literature review it became clear that, although critics agree the novel is an exploration of Jungian psychology, none of these critics were willing to provide an in-depth Jungian analysis. Douglas A. Mackey, in his survey of Dick’s work, provides the best short analysis, but he only points out Jungian ideas in the novel, stopping short of an earnest consideration of their wider implications or how they may connect to Dick’s larger project. Most critics see the novel as a misguided curiosity rather than an effective work of art that exemplifies Dick’s social and philosophical vision. In fact, there have been no significant Jungian readings of any of Dick’s work – despite his documented knowledge of, and interest in, Jungian theory.
In spite of an initial lack of familiarity with Jung, I have set out in this paper to rectify this gap in the critical work on Dick. Because this paper represents an initial engagement with Jungian literary theory, I also see this as an opportunity to assess the value of Jungian literary criticism more broadly. While Freudian and post-Freudian psychoanalytic ideas have been legitimized as literary to some extent (e.g. represented in literary theory anthologies), Jungian concepts have not been as influential. This paper attempts to find the use-value of these concepts. In that spirit, the paper will conclude with a deeper look at Dick’s Galactic Pot-Healer as a case study in Jungian literary criticism. I will show how Dick employs Jungian psychoanalytic concepts in order to work through the protagonist’s – and perhaps his own – relationship to creativity and vocation. Dick dramatizes Jung’s ideas of personal transcendence in order to reveal their social importance. Through the protagonist’s psychological transformation, Dick valorizes creative labor and, by extension, advances a social vision in which personal and social well-being depend on free, non-exploited labor. My hope is that the reader will discover Jungian literary criticism’s potential and at the same time appreciate an otherwise under-valued Dick novel.
Psychoanalytic Concepts: Freud and Jung
In order to cogently dissect Galactic Pot-Healer from a Jungian perspective, it is necessary to provide a brief sketch of the Jungian concepts most clearly enacted in the novel. And, in order to understand Jung, one must lay out some basic psychoanalytic concepts, which necessarily entails a summary of Freud. Any brief summary of Freud is destined to seem reductive, but the general concepts can be derived quickly by outlining the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex is Freud’s most prevalent formulation, and arguably his most fruitful. Freud suggests that the male child desires his mother because she is the source of all his early satisfactions; however, his father prohibits this desire. Unable to act on his desire, the child represses it, keeping it in the unconscious mind. The male child can pass through the Oedipus complex by diverting his desire onto a different and more acceptable love object, but the psychological difficulty of repression lives on in the unconscious. Neuroses can develop if this process of diversion and rearticulation is dammed up during sexual development or otherwise experienced traumatically.
Freudian critics find this formulation useful because it tracks the subject’s desiring energy from inception, to prohibition, and ultimately to its modified release. Subjectivity, from this perspective, is a product of repressed desire. Rather than existing as merely a family drama, however, the Oedipus complex is often used metaphorically to understand sociopolitical issues. Repressive social systems, for example, can be understood in terms of how they make use of such subjectivities. In The Ego and the Id, Freud explains that one’s experience of repression is internalized in the creation of the individual superego, an internal ideal that enacts and enforces the repressions first of the father and then of society. For Freud, the antagonism between internalized prohibition and repressed desire causes the subject to feel guilt. Freud suggests that “the sense of guilt of mankind as a whole, which is the ultimate source of religion and morality, was acquired in the beginnings of history through the Oedipus complex” (Introduction 341). In this way, our entire ideological framework can be seen as replicating the original repression of desire experienced as a child.
While the Oedipus complex has been subject to a host of critiques, Jung provides his own unique criticism. He argues that the Oedipus complex is not necessarily wrong, but that subjectivity cannot be reduced to this family drama. Freud’s mistake, in this sense, becomes one of omission rather than one of error per se. The image of the father’s restriction is so pervasive, from Jung’s perspective, that it threatens to obscure other operations of the psyche. Jung criticizes Freud’s “gloomy superego,” which “became a daemon who created a world of disappointments, illusions, and suffering” (Memories 201). Under Freud’s theory, the superego becomes a creator god who fashions an adversarial world based on restriction. Jung counteracts this construction using the Gnostic concept of a “higher god who gave to mankind the krater (mixing vessel), the vessel of spiritual transformation” (Memories 201). We will come back to this vessel during our discussion of Galactic Pot-Healer, but for now it is enough to suggest the expansive and liberating possibilities of this theological maneuver. Instead of a stern and vengeful god of ultimate authority and restriction, Jung posits a higher god and many possible manifestations of the human spirit. He argues that “a religion becomes inwardly impoverished when it loses or waters down its paradoxes; but their multiplication enriches because only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fulness of life” (Essential 265). Creation itself, or our entire relation to it, is radically changed using this formulation. The model of restriction is only one of a number of possible ways to conceive of the world.
Against Freud’s narrow vision, Jung develops the broader but more complicated notion of the collective unconscious in which a vast number of archetypes represent other possible permutations of psychic energy. Jung defines an archetype as a “typical mode of apprehension”; they are the “correlates” of our instincts (CW 8; 137-138). The Oedipal father is only one of a number of archetypes through which our instincts flow. Archetypes exist as the historical store of meaningful forms. Frequently discussed archetypes include the Trickster, the Anima/Animus, and the Wise Old Man (Hopcke 15). Individual objects, which work as symbols, can also be avenues to the collective unconscious. Dreams and literature can make use of archetypes in order to initiate communication between the conscious and unconscious. Contrary to Freud, Jung felt that this interplay between the conscious and unconscious was productive and meaningful: “I was never able to agree with Freud that the dream is a ‘façade’ behind which its meaning lies hidden—a meaning already known but maliciously, so to speak, withheld from consciousness” (Memories 161). Dreams, or the dream-like narratives produced by writers such as Dick, become opportunities for self-knowledge and growth.
The exploration of the unconscious leads to Jung’s concept of individuation. He writes that “the unconscious is a process, and […] the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious” (Memories 209). In this sense, the unconscious is connected to literary narratives because they each describe a person’s transformation after passing through experiences that lead to new conceptions. Jung argues that “[t]he aim of individuation is nothing less than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona on the one hand, and of the suggestive power of primordial images of the other” (CW 7; 174). This suggests a careful balance between conscious and unconscious thoughts, that we must access the unconscious, but work through it consciously. Individuals can attempt to activate this process by “consciously inducing a waking dream in order to experience the workings of one’s own unmediated fantasy life” (Dawson 264). In essence, Galactic Pot-Healer is just such a case of active imagination. As literary critics, we must bring to bear the knowledge of archetypal symbols in order to understand the sudden, in-rushing epiphanies that follow the contemplation of texts containing such archetypes or symbols. Jung insists that “knowledge of the symbols is indispensable, for it is in them that the union of conscious and unconscious contents is consummated. Out of this union emerge new situations and new conscious attitudes. I have therefore called the union of opposites the ‘transcendent function’” (Essential 226). As I have suggested, Dick gives us a text that employs certain of these loaded symbols in a complex narrative of transcendence. With these Jungian concepts in mind, we can turn to a closer examination of Dick’s challenging novel.
Because Galactic Pot-Healer is not in the American literary canon, or even the canon of well-regarded American science fiction novels, a brief plot summary is in order. The novel begins by describing a dystopian future, economically devastated by high inflation and scarce opportunities. The novel’s protagonist, Joe Fernwright, is a craftsman who repairs pottery. Although he gets by on the veterans’ dole, he does not receive any work orders to keep him busy and productive. Each day is empty and unrewarding. He accepts a mysterious offer from an alien, godlike figure called Glimmung to help raise a sunken cathedral from the bottom of an ocean on an alien planet. Joe travels with a team of other desperate craftsmen to Plowman’s Planet, where they discover that Glimmung is less powerful than first believed. The party nevertheless agrees to be incorporated into Glimmung, and together they attempt to raise the cathedral. After they fail, however, Joe separates from Glimmung, withdraws from the project, and tries to create his own pottery. The novel closes as he holds up his first completed pot, which he declares “awful” (§16; 177).
This figural science fiction narrative is clearly open to a psychoanalytic reading. However, at its most basic, it is a novel about work. Joe Fernwright’s struggle is essentially about the hopelessness that accompanies the lack of meaningful work. From the novel’s first page, the reader is told about the difficulty Joe faces in vocational terms: “For seven months his bench had been bare. During those months he had thought many things. He had thought that he ought to give up and take some other line of work onto himself” (§1; 3). The complex psychological journey that follows is really an exploration of vocational crisis. In this journey we can see how Dick imagines labor and the psyche as inextricably connected. After a long psychological journey, the novel closes with Joe taking up a new vocation: creating pottery. This emphasis labor is confirmed by a narrative book-ended by considerations of labor, exhibiting a trajectory that takes Joe from non-work to work, pot healing to pot making, labor crisis to resolution. This fundamental comment on the novel (i.e. its interest in labor) is important to keep in mind during what is a symbolic – and symbolically strange – narrative. For Dick, the symbolic permutations through which characters move have both a material basis and material repercussions. Joe’s transformation at the end of this long psychological allegory represents a social transformation, one which finds Joe participating as a creator rather than an out-of-work repairer.
A crucial aspect of Dick’s social theory, however, is that the crisis of labor, and indeed any crisis, must be worked out psychologically. External resolution requires internal work. Joe first seeks escape from perpetual unfulfillment by taking part in ‘The Game.’ He suspects that he began playing The Game because it would satisfy a psychological need: “What do I really yearn for? he asked himself. That for which oral gratification is a surrogate. Something vast, he decided; he felt the primordial hunger gape, huge-jawed, as if to cannibalize everything around him. To place what was outside inside” (§1; 6). But the process through which this incorporation takes place occurs at the conscious, rational level. The game involves using a translating computer to translate phrases (such as book titles) into a foreign language, translating it back into the original language in garbled form, and then asking another player to decipher the original phrase. The Game is therefore merely an intellectual exercise. Although Joe feels it allows him to subsume the exterior unknown into the interior known, it actually just filters the temporarily unknown through an external interpretative system (language) to be understood by the conscious mind. In a Jungian sense, the act of deciphering deprives the unknown of its power to activate the unconscious.
In a way, Joe reverses the process needed to solve his dilemma. Rather than ‘placing the outside inside,’ he needs to bring the inside outside. The problem of this reversal is made clear when he cannot decipher another player’s title: “It rang no bell, no bell at all [….] In his mind no solution appeared. ‘I can’t make it out’” (§1; 9). He unwittingly names the problem with The Game: that the crucial part of the psyche, the unconscious, cannot find release. It is for the intellect along. When he finally realizes The Game has failed him, he reflects that, “through The Game our isolation is lanced and its body broken. We peep out, but what do we see, really? Mirror reflections of our own selves, our bloodless, feeble countenances” (§1; 10). These countenances do not reveal the self, as an integrated variety of psychological processes. They are merely masks. Joe finds only outlines of bodies, presentations of self that Jung calls personas:
The construction of a collectively suitable persona means a formidable concession to the external world, a genuine self-sacrifice which drives the ego straight into identification with the persona, so that people really do exist who believe they are what they pretend to be. The “soullessness” of such an attitude is, however, only apparent, for under no circumstances will the unconscious tolerate this shifting of the center of gravity. (CW 7; 193)
The mask, the ‘feeble countenance,’ conceals the full richness of the human self. Joe is ultimately unsatisfied with The Game because it does not allow him to let the inside out.
Joe is plagued by psychological despair partly because, through this mask, he is like everyone else. He comprehends himself as undifferentiated. The internal process of transformation comprising Galactic Pot-Healer begins with a need to identify the full self. Joe must first emerge from amongst the undifferentiated mass of humanity that surrounds him on Earth. While reflecting on his dead-end existence, he realizes that he is part of the problem: “After all, he, too, was a part of the planetwide Party apparatus, the network of tendrils which had penetrated and then in loving convulsion clasped them in a hug of death as great as the entire world” (§1; 4). The ‘hug of death’ represents both the dangers of communism (in which all comrades become one) and the lack of psychological energy that causes one to stand apart. With a lyricism too often overlooked by critics, Dick writes: “Along the sidewalks of the city the vast animallike gasping entity which was the mass of Cleveland’s unemployed—and unemployable—gathered and stood, stood and waited, waited and fused together into a lump both unstable and sad” (§4; 33). Joe must work against the slow entropy of the self in this fusing process. He tries not only to find work, but to find the self through work. In Jungian terms, he seeks individuation.
Individuation, according to Jung, is not the concretizing of the ego as a rational center, nor is it the perfection of the persona as a presentation of self. Instead it is “the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual,’ that is, a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole’” (Essential 212). In this sense, individuation requires one to engage the unconscious. Jung argues that, “[i]f unconscious processes exist at all, they must surely belong to the totality of the individual” (Essential 212). As he despairs about the lack of work, Joe’s unconscious makes itself known to him. Although the events of the novel are presented as objective events that really occur, critics are united in reading these events as psychological allegories. The unconscious appears when Glimmung first contacts him. Glimmung is the first of a series of archetypes that Joe works through in order to come to terms with the unconscious. Any candid reader of the novel must admit that Glimmung is an erratic figure whose variable characterization destabilizes readers’ expectations so severely that the novel threatens to fall apart or turn into a confusing throw-away. Some commentators have naturally had this reaction. But in a way, this fungible characterization suits Dick’s purposes. The unconscious is unknowable in any direct, intellectual sense and has much to reveal to us. Glimmung is a mutable figure who takes on a shifting array of archetypal roles. Jung himself points out how the “harmonizing of conscious and unconscious data […] cannot be indicated in the form of a recipe. It is an irrational life-process” (Essential 226).
Glimmung is by turns the Trickster, the Wise Old Man, and the Shadow. As manifestations of the Trickster, Glimmung communicates with Joe by written messages left in his toilet tank (§2; 18), a voice from an “ancient wind-up Victrola” (§4; 42), and through Glimmung’s personal secretary (§10; 99). Like the unconscious more generally, he persists in making himself known, but he does so in quirky, humorous ways. The novel is littered with jokes, which themselves work by disrupting conscious expectations. The Trickster is known for subversion and for breaking social rules. For example, Glimmung asks Joe: “Why didn’t you go to a nearby museum and break a number of their pots anonymously…and you would have got their business” (§4; 41). Exposure to this archetype allows Joe to imagine life outside certain social strictures. This aspect of his psyche, the breaker of conventions, is perhaps the most important in allowing Joe change his vocation, a vocation given to him by the expectations of society. In fact, the first line of the novel is, “His father had been a pot-healer before him” (§1; 3). This concern is repeated at the end of the novel when he is contemplating the change in vocations. He says, “But […] my father was a pot-healer before me,” to which another member of the team replies, “Observe the success of Glimmung’s aspirations. Emulate him” (§16; 176). Glimmung’s goal of raising the cathedral subverts convention and works against the status quo.
These aspirations also lead to another archetypal aspect represented by Glimmung: the Wise Old Man. Glimmung is described as “the light who exposed the soul and all its decayed parts” (§5; 47). Through this archetype, Glimmung is a comforting figure who appears to dispense knowledge and wisdom. He allows Joe access to those parts of his psyche long submerged in the unconscious. He appears as the conduit to a world of exploration, a newfound epistemological process, an invitation. The meaning of Glimmung’s offer is made explicit when Joe is told: “Do you understand what the Raising will mean for you? Everything that has been latent, has been potential, in you—all of it will become actualized” (§5; 49). The change from potential to kinetic energy staves off the decay or entropy that threatens the underwater world of the unconscious.
In another example of Dick’s insistence on the primacy of vocation, Joe only gains access to the unconscious through a massive labor project. He begins his psychological journey by accepting Glimmung’s mysterious offer to plumb the depths of the sea on Plowman’s Planet. Dick perhaps chooses the name Plowman’s Planet from William Langland’s Piers Plowman, the medieval English theological allegory that traces the protagonist’s mystical dreams. Like Langland’s enigmatic poem, Dick’s novel is concerned with the soul’s well-being, which may, in the Jungian context, be called the self’s transcendence. The robot on Plowman’s Planet explains the metaphysical implications of the project, calling the underwater world “an oceanic grave” that “will kill all of us unless the cathedral can be raised” (§10; 101). The robot continues, saying “[i]t is you and others like you who will forestall the decay process by your abilities and work” (§10; 101). The psychological work of entering the depths of the unconscious may be rewarded by solving Joe’s vocational dilemma – and his life – by allowing him to work through his despair.
Once Joe enters the ocean, however, Glimmung’s nature begins to change. He becomes the Shadow, a Black Glimmung. When Joe descends into the sea, called Mare Nostrum or ‘Our Ocean,’ each living thing is doubled, and he discovers the dark half of everything. It is explained to him this way: “As with antimatter; you can talk about it but you can’t really imagine what the words mean. There are Glimmungs and there are Black Glimmungs. Always on a one-to-one ratio. Each individual Glimmung has his counterpart, his opaque Doppelgänger. Sooner or later, during his life, he must kill his Black counterpart, or it will kill him” (§11; 113). As he floats next to the hulking and terrible Black Glimmung, Joe encounters his own dead and decaying body, who warns him about Glimmung. This warning admits of the dangers associated with a too long a plummet into the unconscious.
The corpse exposes the paradox in Dick’s work, based on Jung’s admission of the same paradox: one must release the Shadow to see the light. The corpse explains: “Until you come here and release me I am caught in the totality of time” (§11; 116). The dead exist as the dead until released; the Shadow exists as the Shadow until released. When the Black Glimmung is released, he engages Glimmung in mortal combat in the depths. While this struggle is presented as a battle to the death, the paradoxical insight of Jung’s theory is that this tension of opposites is crucial to psychic well-being: “Seen from the one-sided point of view of the conscious attitude, the shadow is an inferior component of the personality and is consequently repressed through intensive resistance. But the repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible” (CW 7; 53-54). Dick retains this productive tension by refusing a victor in the struggle between Glimmung and the Black Glimmung. Glimmung lives on as an active part of Joe’s psyche.
The productive tension of Glimmung with Black Glimmung (i.e. Joe activating the archetypes of his unconscious) leads to the creation of Joe’s first pot. Our attention falls upon the pot, or vessel, as the symbol of transcendence. The pot is the final image of the novel, one toward which the novel works through all its twists and turns, the culmination of Joe’s difficult journey. Jung explains that the vessel is a symbol that represents the womb and its function of creation and gestation (CW 5; 203). Throughout human history, the pot has reflected the concept of containing and protecting precious substances. But the pot is more than just a sign. For Jung the process of symbolization is more significant than mere metaphorical substitution. Jung posits two types of thinking, which can be differentiated in terms of their mode of moving; one is a ‘directed’ thinking, while the other moves less as a result of conscious thought and is instead moved by the unconscious: “Symbols are not allegories and not signs: they are images of contents which for the most part transcend consciousness” (CW 5; 77). A symbol is a productive and deeply embedded element of the collective unconscious. A symbol becomes an active force in the psyche.
The pot Joe makes is just such an image. It is the activation of his integrated psyche, the product of his individuation. It sets free the psychic energy dammed up when he was unable to work on Earth. The pot is the embodiment, the sensualization, of psychic transformation. But, as the text points out, the pot is “awful” (§16; 177). This is more than just Dick’s wry sense of humor. Instead, it is actually an ambiguous, suggestive statement. On one level, the pot is a failure. Joe is disappointed by his substandard workmanship. But this can be read positively in two related ways. First, the pot is merely a first expression. Any individual pot he makes can only be an enactment of his self – even his transcendent, integrated self – at a given moment. The pot can never fully express the self. Joe’s creative process brings forth not just the pot, but the very active principle of transformation. Joe’s psychological journey into the symbolic ocean of the unconscious produces a pot draws upon the archetype of the vessel as an object of continual creation. Despite the ‘awfulness’ of the pot, the reader understand that Joe now has access to the power of creation and, by extension, the power of self creation. Rather than a tale of discovery, Galactic Pot-Healer gives the reader an example of creation and transformation, a labor that produces the self as a dynamic union of conscious mind and unconscious instinct.
Second, the pot is ‘awful,’ an object that inspires awe. It is a sublime object that is simultaneously greater than him, but also somehow his own product. It joins matter and form, conscious and unconscious, and therefore reflects what Jung referred to as the coniunctio, the joining of opposites (Hopcke 124). Jung saw this as the highest function of psychoanalysis. And it is what the coniunctio makes possible that allows for such a positive reading of Dick’s ending: “Using his strong thumbs he began to dig in to the lump, meanwhile, with his fingers, drawing the lump into something high. And virtually symmetric. Higher and higher the mound grew, and deeper and deeper his thumbs sank into it, hollowing out the center” (§16; 176). The opposites of higher and deeper reflect the psychoanalytic process of plumbing the depths of the unconscious in order for the self to rise ever higher. The pot is a vessel that can hold and transport other substances. It is therefore a generative object that makes other processes possible. Primary among these is the creation of life. While discussing the connection of vessel and womb, Jung makes reference to two world myths in which children spring from pots (CW 5; 203). But what is critical for Galactic Pot-Healer is that Joe’s own life springs from the pot – a pot he can only make after the difficult journey into the unconscious.
Galactic Pot-Healer is a complicated psychological allegory that uses Jungian mechanisms to tell a story of personal transcendence. As a result of Joe’s journey, he has found a vocation that allows him to exercise the energy of his complete self. After all the difficulties along the way, one character says to Joe: “We did a good job; we did what we came here for. We should rejoice” (§16; 175). The proximity of ‘we did a good job’ to ‘we should rejoice’ suggests the salvational possibilities of a type of labor that allows one to recreate the self. Dick valorizes creativity from a Jungian psychological perspective, exemplifying Jung’s concept of the integrated self:
“[T]he ego cannot help discovering that the afflux of unconscious contents has vitalized the personality, enriched it and created a figure that somehow dwarfs the ego in scope and intensity [….] In this way the will, as disposable energy, gradually subordinates itself to the stronger factor, namely to the new totality-figure I call the self” (CW 8; 224).
This transcendent figure is generated by social needs and has social effects. What began as a blockage caused by an economically demoralizing situation finds release through the archetypes of the collective unconscious, leading to the symbol of transformation: the vessel which represents the self and the creative labor through which the self is made.
Jungian psychology has clear interpretive value in analyzing Galactic Pot-Healer, but the question still remains whether it is more widely applicable. To me it seems likely that texts in which a character develops significantly as a result of difficult challenges may be profitably read through a Jungian lens. As exemplified in Dick’s novel, difficulties often involve a disintegration and reintegration of the protagonist. In the disintegrated position, characters come into contact with aspects of themselves which can be said to be archetypal. Recognizing and activating these internal aspects, especially those which become dammed up, becomes a crucial part of developing the integrated self. Galactic Pot-Healer pays special attention to the symbolism of this process, but it could be argued that other texts which conceal these processes are even more in need of this type of analysis.
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 While Dick was politically liberal, he distrusted any form of social organization able to systematically dehumanize individuals.