Jung’s theory of Individuation and its Relationship to the African Concept of Self and Consciousness

This is an excerpt from my final paper for Theories of Personality class…

 

Introduction

This paper was to focus on Jung’s theory of Individuation as it is presented in the textbook Personality and Personal Growth (Frager & Fadiman, 2005) and how it relates to the African concept of self and consciousness in the essay African-Centered Conceptualizations of Self and Consciousness: The Akan Model (Grills, 2002) However, in doing research for the paper, the emphasis has changed slightly. The focus on the Akan culture has been reduced and more attention will be given to the definition of Self from Western, transpersonal and African perspective. I have chosen this as my topic for a number of reasons, including my own personal journey and, my research interest in the role of culture in identity development and self-actualization. I am specifically interested in how people of African descent (in America) can use African cultural traditions to develop – self. My interest in Jung is in part due to similarities I found in his theories with African-centered thought. My focus on the Akan people of Ghana is, like Grills, due to their well-documented cosmology (p. 76).

Overview

In describing the Akan conceptualization of the person and consciousness, states Grills that, “Culture provides an important lens through which an understanding of human psychological and social functioning can be attained…An African epistemology emphasizes an affective-cognitive synthesis as a way of knowing reality” (Grills, 2002, p. 76). In the book Personality and Personal Growth, Frager and Fadiman quote Carl Jung’s definition of individuality as follows: “Individuation means becoming a single, homogeneous being, and, insofar as ‘individuality’ embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as ‘coming to selfhood’ or ‘self-realization’ (Jung, 1928b, p. 171)”.

As I mentioned in the introduction, I came across three additional reference sources, the first is an essay titled, Clinical Implications of Cultural Difference: The Referential Versus the Indexical Self, by Hope Landrine (Landrine, 1992). I am including it because Dr. Grills refers to it several times. For example, “Landrine (1992) argues that the alternative concept of the self, known to many sociocentric ethnocultural groups, is the indexical self. Here, the self ‘is perceived as constituted or ‘indexed’ by the contextual features of social interaction in diverse situations’ (Gaines, 1982)” (p. 75).

The second is from one of my favorite books, The African Unconscious: Roots of Ancient Mysticism and Modern Psychology (Bynum, 1999),whichincludes several mentions of Freud and Jung. In the chapter titled, Oldawan: The Ancient Soul, Bynum states, “Rooted in anthropology, biology, history, and genetics, the mysterious ocean that is human consciousness is at bottom collective, luminous, and genotypically African in its genesis.” (Bynum, 1999, p. 78). Bynum continues,

The present-day implication of this, of course, is that beneath the wealth of contents in our shared or multicultural unconscious the primordial essence and genetic roots of our African dynamism dwells. Jung felt this deeper racial memory as his bedrock memory, and it unfolded with him a great peace and sense of unity between all the peoples of his planet. (p. 79)

I am, by no means a Jungian scholar (although I plan to continue my studies), for me this statement confirms the sense of African essence in Jung’s work. Lastly, in the book Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Jung, Dell, & Baynes, 2011) Jung has much to say about what he refers to as the “primitive man”. For example, he talks about how they (the primitive) understand the psyche:

These indications may serve to show how primitive man experienced the psyche. To him the psyche appears as the source of life, the prime mover, a ghost-like presence which has objective reality. Therefore the primitive knows how to converse with his soul; it becomes vocal within him because it is not he himself and his consciousness. To primitive man the psyche is not, as it is to us, the epitome of all that is subjective and subject to the will; on the contrary, it is something objective, contained in itself, and living its own life. (p. 182)

Bynum states, Jung “left Europe several times” in part due to Jung’s interest in non-European male epistemology, “Without wishing to be irreverent, I cannot refrain from confronting the Professor of Psychology with the mentality of women, of the Chinese, and of Australian Negroes. Our psychology must embrace all life, otherwise we simply remain enclosed in the Middle Ages” (Jung et al., 2011, p. 86). Bynum continues, “many times he mentioned the uncanny experiences he had and the sense of some bottomless primordial memory underneath and foundationalizing his recent, emergent European memory” (p. 79).

Defining the Self and Consciousness

The concept of self is not universal. In this section I will explore the Western, African and Jungian notion of self and consciousness. Langrine offers two definition of the self, the Western (referential) and African (indexical). Again, here is an excerpt from her essay Clinical implications of cultural differences: The referential versus the indexical self,

The referential self of Western culture is construed as an autonomous entity defined by its distinctiveness and separateness from the natural and social world. …In other words, the referential self is presumed to be a free agent – to be an agent that does what it wishes. Thereby, the self has rights – the right to privacy, autonomy, and to be protected from intrusions from others being foremost among these. …Self-awareness, self-criticism, self-consciousness, self-reflection, self-determination, self-actualization, self-fulfillment, and self-change are all possible, permissible, and, indeed expected in Western psychotherapy. (pp. 403-404)

Langrine continues, and states that among other things, for the African,

The self (for lack of any other term) is not discrete, bounded, fully separate, or unique. Rather, to the extent that one is or has a self at all, this self is seen as constituted by social interactions, contexts, and relationships. The self is created and re-created in interactions and contexts, and exists only in and through these. (p. 406)

Griils states that the “Akan thinker contends that the universe is composed of visible and invisible beings, it is doubtful whether he implies that these aspects of existence are two distinctly separate categories, as the Western notion of dualism would suggest” (p. 77).

She continues, “the Akan thinker conceives of these two not as distinct realms but as two points on a continuum, constantly interacting with each other” (p. 77).

In reading Jung’s observations of the so-called primitive man (which seems to be his term for African descended people), it appears that he too had noticed the blurring of the line of spirit and soul,

These indications may serve to show how primitive man experienced the psyche. To him the psyche appears as the source of life, the prime mover, a ghost-like presence which has objective reality. Therefore the primitive knows how to converse with his soul; it becomes vocal within him because it is not he himself and his consciousness. To primitive man the psyche is not, as it is to us, the epitome of all that is subjective and subject to the will; on the contrary, it is something objective, contained in itself, and living its own life. (Jung et al., 2011, p. 182)

Frager and Fadiman offer this interpretation of Jung’s personality archetype,

The self is the archetype of centeredness. It is the union of the conscious and the unconscious that embodies the harmony and balance of the various opposing elements of the psyche. The self directs the functioning of the whole psyche in an integrated way. According to Jung, ‘[C]onscious and unconscious are not necessarily in opposition to one another, but complement one another to from a totality, which is the self’(1928b, p. 175) (Frager & Fadiman, 2005, p. 72)

I find their definition aligns with what Grills calls “an African epistemology [that] emphasizes an affective-cognitive synthesis as a way of knowing reality” (p. 76). This knowing provides a broad sense of the world – beyond the constructs of space/time and has a spiritual base.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s