This paper actually reworks some of the ideas in an earlier paper I wrote here
called "Cyberspace: Shadow of the Cultural Imagination?" It was
inspired by a meeting between my class at Pacifica Graduate Institute and James
Reprinted by Permission of Cliff Bostock from:
"The persons I engage with in dreams are neither representations
(simulacra) of their living selves nor parts of myself. They are shadow images
that fill archetypal roles; they are personae, masks, in the hollow of which is
a numen." -- James Hillman (1979, p. 60)
"Are the gods bytes?"
--A comment on the "ContraDiogenes"
site of the World Wide Web.
Do the gods occupy cyberspace? Can soul be constructed in virtual reality?
In this paper my intention is to make a few observations about images and
cyberspace (or virtual reality) from the perspective of archetypal psychology.
My curiosity about this subject is personal and intellectual.
I have inhabited cyberspace over 10 years but have long been aware of a kind
of self-reproach for my participation in the medium - similar, I think, to the
kind of embarrassment people often bring to their television viewing. At the
same time, I have been irritated by what I've come to call "archetypal
Luddites," psychologists, particularly Jungians, who dismiss the medium as
another soul-destroying inflection of technology. Over the years, I have myself
waffled between the extremes - internet junkie and Luddite. I journey into
cyberspace and then flee it, condemning it with every breath, for months at a
time…always returning. Ultimately, the tension has led me to the question of
what I am resisting in my habitation of cyberspace, which I would like to define
psychologically at the outset as a world of mechanically generated images.
In some ways, this paper represents recanting of some of my own positions -
or at least an effort to situate myself with more clarity in cyberspace. It is
also an effort to establish some kind of rapprochement between cyber thinking
and the archetypal imagination. This is important to me because among the
archetypal Luddites seems to be James Hillman himself. I have heard him dismiss
cyberspace in public talks.
The quality of images
The dismissal of cyberspace by so many archetypal psychologists intrigues me
because, as I said, the medium is purely imagistic and, according to the
Hillmanian view, images are the foundation of psyche. Of course, images have
varying character. Images can be degraded in their representation and,
certainly, the images in cyberspace vary wildly in that respect. But one does
not dismiss all art on the basis of bad painting.
A little background in Hillman's orientation to images is necessary here
before proceeding to anything like an archetypal overview of cyberspace.
For Hillman, a "good" image actually has nothing to do with formal
aesthetics. It is one that temporarily arrests the movement of psychic process
and, like an alchemical drawing, expresses in metaphorical language a
personification that can be psychologized, "seen through" to its
ideational or archetypal/mythological significance. It opens to the numinous.
"Stick to the image!" he repeatedly warns us, quoting the dictum of
Rafael Lopez-Pedraza that has become central to Archetypal Psychology. Whether
in dream, in fantasy or in the gazing at art, he told us in class, we must not
symbolize the image but respect its particularity.
The image, according to Hillman, is inhabited in its depths by a god and has
telos. The image's movement expresses the telos, a kind of manifestation of the
god within, and it is followed, not interpreted, with varying skill in the
analytical process. Origins are beside the point, he told our class at Pacifica.
He writes that the image, although it is a snapshot of a personally inflected
archetypal process, is not static. He quotes Ezra Pound: "…the image is
more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with
energy….a vortex, from which and through which and into which, ideas are
constantly rushing." ( 1989, p. 264)
Borrowing Freud's word "dreamwork," Hillman compares the creation
of dream images to the work of a bricoleur (1979, p. 127), a cobbling together
in the psyche of the images, expressions of archetypal process, that are
actually the construction of soul. He extends this analogy to all images.
And while this process is one of the psyche, it is an interiorizing process,
not a strictly interior one in the sense that it orginates and is contained
there. The image or its seed is interiorized by the personal psyche (of the
dreamer, the painter, the fantasizer) and worked (or played with) but its numen
arises and reopens to the world. The numen belongs, in fact, to anima mundi, the
soul of the world, according to Hillman, and thus, following Keats, we construct
not just personal soul but world soul, which by the definition of its
construction here is shifting and forever changing. (This is highly reminiscent
of Jung's statements after his encounters at Taos.)
This latter observation about the shifting quality of world soul is
important. It is a point of significant departure for Hillman from the Platonic
point of view, which includes Henry Corbin's theorizing of the mundus imaginalis.
In this view the telos of images is to recover their genesis in the realm of
ideal imaginal forms. Hillman rejects that origins-preoccupied point of view but
the nominalist one as well (1975, p. 8). For him, world soul is adverbial and
verbal. The longing is more important than its object. Since the image, the
picture of soul, is a vortex in its function, so must the soul be.
This is, of course, a postmodern view - but one that oddly grounds itself
linguistically in the Platonic tradition. The leap from the Platonic to the
postmodern and back again is nothing he denies: "I have spent 30 years at
dismemberment…the pearls not the rope. Dionysos the Loosener. It's not
logical, yet it's true." (1989, p. 61).
This self-contented leap from paradigm to paradigm, this Dionysian loosening
without thought to the inconsistency and the chaos, nevertheless has resulted in
volumes of revelations that really do open upon the numinous. And this process
brings to mind the words of an earlier thinker, Marshall McLuhan: "The
medium is the message." In other words, the image's arising is more
important than its content. The "ah-ha" or the gasp on its viewing is
what opens us to the numen, not a deciphering of symbolic meanings or even a
fixed metaphorical referent. This in fact - the gasp, the sound of arrest - is
what signifies an authentic image.
Marshall McLuhan and the body
On the surface, everything that Hillman values seems to be true of
cyberspace. There, through hyperlinks, images arise and morph. Some images, if
not the majority, are certainly banal and do not arrest us for any longer than
it takes to click on the next link. Still, one often clicks on an image that is
like the vortex Pound describes: a center through which pours all manner of
But more to the point, the lived experience of browsing is different from the
penetration of its individual images - just as the act of stepping into a dream
as a total gestalt is different from the encounter with its individual images.
(And the appearance of cartoon-like images in postmodern dreams is surely
ubiquitous.) Multiplied over time, the viewing of images in a session of
"browsing" the World Wide Web produces an experience of fascination
that is like a virtual or digital poeisis. The imagination is seized and in
browsing, the metamorphic movement through imaginal space (telos of the mouse),
mood is altered, meanings are constellated, experience is affected. This can
involve sinking into a world of visual, aural and written images. It is very
much like Hillman's "seeing through."
The fact that these images are mechanically generated seems to be at the
heart of many critics' objections - as though soul is banished from technology.
In Marshall McLuhan's seminal writing about electronic media, prior to the
advent of the internet as global phenomenon, we find some explicit statements
about the differences in images that arise in dream or fantasy and in electronic
media. They help explain the profusion of banality in cyberspace, constituting a
kind of apologia, but may be an answer to the usual critique.
McLuhan wrote, with Wilfred Watson, a little known book, now out of print,
called _From Cliché to Archetype_ (partially excerpted in McLuhan 1995). It is
a book of essays in which the media philosopher examines Jung and the cultural
imagination. McLuhan observes, writing about the effect of television and other
electronic media, two main effects. One is disembodiment. In this view, the
cyber inhabitant has forsaken his body. He travels through space and time
without a body. McLuhan generalized this to the culture:
As electric media proliferate, whole societies at a time become discarnate,
detached from mere bodily or physical 'reality' and relieved of any allegiance
to or a sense of responsibility for it...The alteration of human identity by new
service environments of information has left whole populations without personal
or community values..." (McLuhan, p. 379).
The assumption here, obviously, is that values (and feelings!) arise in
sensory experience of the real world. One experiences the ecology and thus has
some sense of responsibility for it. To cut oneself off from that is, to his
mind, to affect the sense of responsibility. However, McLuhan is operating
without any kind of meta-process other than media. For him, there is no soul to
extend itself, even redemptively, into media. Interestingly, Robert Sardello,
one of Hillman's early influences shares the same concerns and has written at
length about them (1992, 1995). In Sardello's view, technology can be ensouled
but he insists on the withdrawal of "salvational fantasies" for the
same reason: that technology disembodies us. One suspects that Hillman himself
shares this point of view, since, as indicated above, his revelations are
nonrational. His recent writing and his participation in the mythopoetic men's
movement point to an increasing consideration of the sensory body and
My response to this is that it simply ignores what is. Technology, as McLuhan
noted too, does not just disembody us. It extends (and accelerates) the body,
even as it produces the experience of disembodiment. In pedestrian ways this is
experienced as a lack of emotional inflection in the absence of vocal tone and
physical gesture in cyber chatting. People often "misread" one
But the very suppression of these sensory cues, to say nothing of a very
superficial anonymity, also heightens vulnerability and intimacy. Thus the
constant stories like the recent one of the sailor who disclosed his
homosexuality in cyberspace, resulting in his discharge from the Navy. Eros
drenches every corner of cyberspace. It is filled with millions of erotic
self-portraits of ordinary people - something that probably is unique in
history. Romances, platonic and sexual, are conducted in cyberspace. "Cybersex"
and "virtual sex" describe new styles of lovemaking. For the average
person, this is what cyberspace concerns.
I find this fascinating in light of Hillman's repeated statements that
Aphrodite brings the world forms, its images, into existence. It is Aphrodite's
touch that ensouls . And so it is not the purely sexual that is significant in
this consideration, but that the erotic, as image-production, is erupting and
birthing itself in cyberspace. Thus it is not that cyberspace disembodies us.
Instead, it gives rise to a new imaginal body: the cyberbody, as erotic as our
In the view of many ecologists, the planet has already passed the point when
its health can be fully recovered. Thus, it occurs to me that the body that is
birthing itself in cyberspace may in part represent destiny: a kind of cyborg
that fuses machine with body. Although we demonize this notion in our nostalgia
for a healthy planet, it may be our only chance of survival. Further, several
scholars, including Pierre Levy (1997) and Jennifer Cobb (1998) wonder if a
collective and self-reflective intelligence - god or the anima mundi? - isn't
embodying itself in cyberspace. Cobb imagines cyberspace as the evolution of
Teilhard de Chardin's metasynthesis of mind and matter into a collective
intelligence. Levy imagines something like the Islamic collective mind
documented by Corbin, but with less fixed forms.
If archetypal psychology does not turn its lens upon the cyberbody, it may
well be turning its back on the future. The numen hidden in the hollow of the
cyber persona may be our collective daimon attempting incarnation.
McLuhan and the archetypal imagination
Let us say that the cyberbody represents the future. Let us even agree that
the process of occupying cyberspace, browsing, may be more important than the
contents viewed because something "other" is constellated in the
imagination: a new form of the vortex. (And I stress that it is the dialogic
property of the experience - not the image itself - that constellates the new
form. Thus the argument that the images are generated by another intelligence in
the first place is irrelevant. So are the images arising in the collective
psyche and interiorized by the dream ego.)
But we are still left with the nagging reality of cyberspace's actual
imagistic banality. This is a genuine concern. When you consider that McLuhan
was primarily writing about television and you look at its wasteland of cliches,
it is hard to reconcile oneself to the idea that the archetypal is arising
there, no matter how much you dwell on process instead of content - the medium
rather than the particular message.
McLuhan, alas, does little to relieve us of our anxieties in this respect but
he certainly prefigures the way popular culture and the fine arts have been
conflated in the postmodern critic's evaluation. (See Camille Paglia, blazing a
dubious trail to what one would have to call "Jungian
In McLuhan's reading of the archetypes, they actually are cliches. He sees
them, like Hillman as inhabited by gods. But he calls them imagistic cliches of
desacralized tribal gods. The archetypes, he writes, are personifications
understood in their own cultures to have valid moral and spiritual exegeses. But
over time they become desacralized, as they were in Greece. Then they are
retrieved by, say, the Romans, and later still, by Renaissance-era scholars and
In this process, he writes, these images become increasingly reductive, until
they become cliché-like in their content as well as their appearance. This, he
says, is the process of media. On the other hand, he says, the image-as-cliché
retains its archetypal ground.
In fact, he argues, an image cannot retain its archetypal ground unless it
becomes a cliché understandable to the culture to which it has moved.
(Obviously, media move images across cultures.) He writes: "Is it not
natural than, as any form becomes environmental…it should select as 'content'
the most common and vulgar…of materials…As any form becomes environmental,
it tends to be soporific. That is why its content must also become innocuous in
order to match the effects of the medium." (p. 338).
In McLuhan's view, it is job of the artist - and we might say of the depth
psychologist - to reveal the dialect between old and emerging forms, to keep the
numinous meaning from sinking into cyberspace's unconscious. (The medium has
enormous shadow. Thus the Heaven's Gate cyber cult was able to announce its
suicide three weeks in advance and never be taken seriously.)
Although this attention to banal images may offend the proponents of classic
formal aesthetics, it again seems to be the future of culture - not just in
cyberspace but wherever ideas are being discussed in deconstructive ways. I
count it as another of Hillman's odd paradigmatic leaps that he seems on the one
hand to insist on seeing through to the beauty of soul's pathologizing nature in
personal symptomology, even though most symptoms now can be reduced to diagnosis
(a kind of cliché). But he is less willing to penetrate the oddity of cliches
as pathology in the culture.
Finally, I offer alchemy and Goethe's own image of what may be occurring in
cyberspace: the emergence of the homunculus, a personified manifestation of the
philosopher's stone, a union of the organic and the inorganic. Is this so
different from the cyborg of contemporary imagining in virtual reality?
Of that small creature constellated in the moment of Faust's brief coniunctio,
Edinger writes: "the homunculus signifes the birth of the conscious
realization of the autonomous psyche. In dreams it may appear as a doll or
statue which comes to life, representing the ego's dawning awareness of a second
psychic center, the Self" (p. 62).
Perhaps the Self is indeed demanding incarnation in cyberspace. How can we
not stick to its image, too?
Bostock, Cliff (1996) "Cyberspace: Shadow of the Cultural
Cobb, Jennifer (1998). Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World.
New York: Crown.
Edginger, Edward (1990) Goethe's Faust: Notes for a Jungian
Commentary.Toronto: Inner City Books.
Hillman, James (1979). The Dream and The Underworld. New York: Harper and
Hillman, James (1989). "Responses." In David Ray Griffin (ed.),
Archetypal Process. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Hillman, James (1975). Revisioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins.
Levy, Pierre (1995). L'intelligence collective: Pour une anthropologie du
cyberspace. Paris: Editions La Decouverte.
McLuhan, Marshall (1995). Essential McLuhan. Erick McLuhan and Frank
Zingrone,eds. New York: Harper Collins.
Sardello, Robert (1992). Facing the World with Soul: The Reimagination of
Modern Life. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press.
Sardello, Robert (1995). Love and the Soul: Creating a Future for the Earth.
New York: Harper Collins.
Be sure to see ~all~ of the Soulworks Site by Cliff Bostock http://www.soulworks.net/
This site embodies the both the irreverence of the digital generation and the
soulfulness of psyberspace.
From the Soulworks site:
Soulwork is not psychotherapy, although it has evolved partly out of a broad
cultural dissatisfaction with therapy. It is a kind of work that restores
"psyche" to its original meaning as "soul."
The January 1997 issue of the Utne Reader was largely devoted to the
evolution of this new approach to learning and personal growth. "A new
artistic and spiritual movement has evolved so far beyond...therapy," says
the magazine, "that it needs its own name." Maureen O'Hara, former
president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, suggests "soulcraft,"
"psychopoetics" and "the existential arts." We have chosen
Soulwork, although it is a growing cultural movement typified by James
Hillman, Thomas Moore and Marion Woodman (just to name three), has ancient
roots. The Greeks, the Sufis and the shamans of indigenous cultures all
practiced a kind of oracular knowing through the use of the imagination. Carl
Jung amplified this by his process of active imagination. Others since Jung have
added bodywork, so that material gleaned in the field of the imagination is
firmly grounded and resonates completely in the here and now.
Soulwork, in short, is the art of living soulfully, from a place of deep
imagination - but in a fully embodied way, so that you can make a difference in
the way you actually conduct your life.
Practically speaking, in soulwork we access the deep imagination - which has
been variously called the "archetypal field," the "spirit,"
the "soul" - through specific assignments and exercises, including
breathwork. This work often involves writing, art, music and movement. It is
available individually and in ongoing groups and workshops.
An important component of this work is that it attempts to help you cultivate
soul in the world. It views the inhibitions and blocks to personal growth as
more than personal symptoms but as symptoms of the world in which we live. When
we access the deep imagination, we are accessing anima mundi, the soul of the
world, itself. In that deep place, we find our purpose in being here.
Cliff Bostock, MA, 404-525-4774 (Atlanta), offers this work independently and
through his association with SoulWorks LLC.