The Jungian Revelation: The “Unconsciousness” and Inspiration

In Carl Jung’s influential essay “Approaching the unconscious,” found in the larger work Man and his Symbols, Jung defines cryptomnesia or “concealed recollection” in relationship to a passage in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra:

“I myself found a fascinating example of this in Nietzsche’s book Thus Spake Zarathustra, where the author reproduces almost word for word an incident reported in a ship’s log for the year 1686. By sheer chance I had read this seaman’s yarn in a book published about 1835 (half a century before Nietzsche wrote); and when I found the similar passage in Thus Spake Zarathustra , I was struck by its peculiar style, which was different from Nietzsche’s usual language… I wrote to his sister who was still alive, and she confirmed that she and her brother had in fact read the book together when he was 11 years old. I think, from the context, it is inconceivable that Nietzsche had any idea that he was plagiarizing this story. I believe that fifty years later it had unexpectedly slipped into focus in his conscious mind.” (37)

Jung is exploring the relationship between our “conscious” and “unconscious” knowledge. As part of a psychological model that includes the “unconscious” as an objective component of what it means to be human, Jung believes that our attentional focus can only perceive a certain amount of what our cognition is experiencing, the “conscious” part, and that thoughts can “slip” into our conscious experience without our realizing of it. In addition to cryptomnesia, he defines dreams as the primary mode of communication between the “unconscious” and “conscious,” stating:

“The British author Robert Louis Stevenson had spent years looking for a story that would fit his “strong sense of man’s double being,” when the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was suddenly revealed to him in a dream.” (38)

A dream, an “unconscious” crytpomnesia, and the “muse”? What I am most interested in, is if these are synonyms. I don’t think that it would be too much to posit that Jung believed the “muse” of old was the inspiriting “unconscious;” thrusting a new connection, absurd synthesis, or in the case of Nietzsche, an unknown regurgitation of a former story into the passionate fervor of an author. How much artistic plagiarism is intentional? How much is malevolent? How much is our rearticulating of themes found from the dawn of literature explicit plagiarism opposed to unintentional association?

If in poetry, there is a sentiment to “stop being logical,” I am curious if this decommissioning of focus on the executive functions of conscious experience has been the means for individuals to try and let “unconscious” associations flow forth and rearticulate the world in a dreamy, dare I say, poetic sense.

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