The Descent of the Soul: katabasis and depth psychology

Call for papers – EXTENSION OF DEADLINE to beginning December 2018

Summer 2019 – conference date 5-6th July 2018

Jung regarded the Nekyia as a ‘meaningful katabasis …a descent into the cave of initiation and secret knowledge (CW5). He saw this as an appropriate model for deep self-descent toward healing. Famously he allowed himself to drop deep within the Self during a time of near-psychosis, and encountered the archetypal figures who formed crucial elements of his psychology: the old man, the hero, anima and animus. Included in this insight is acknowledgment of the paradoxical idea of one of his often cited sources, Heraclitus: descent and ascent are the same.

From Poe to Nietzsche, the self has always presented as an ‘abysmal’ problem as it was also for the ancients: the self is a dilemma to be resolved in confronting the risks of staring into the depths, exposing oneself to the risks, and moving on, possibly to acceptance …

Seneca advises ‘…[that even the bravest of men go] blind with dizziness if he looks down on an immense depth (vastem altitudinem) when standing on this brink (in crepidine eius) (57.4)

‘So cast, the brink of life begins to resemble the brink of nothingness … and the point is that the destitution of the self is not an aberration: it is one of the commonest ways in which subjects are formed in antiquity. Self-destitution paradoxically is a finely honed technique of the self, a practice that produces, literally constitutes – the self.’ (Porter, Foucault Studies 2017).

Using these insights as a springboard we want to explore the formation of self as a look into the abyss: as Poe proposed in ‘The Imp of the Perverse’ staring into the abyss was dangerous because it looked back at you. Nietzsche attests to this in more dire terms in Beyond Good and Evil. Yet Seneca would scoff at fear of this examination of the self; the momentous problem of self-formation was an ethical imperative.

And in his essay about the collective unconscious, projection of universal anxieties that the ‘rumours’ of flying saucers attest to, Jung quotes Goethe’s Faust: ‘Then to the depths!/I could as well say height:/It’s all the same.’

The achievement of the Self is a life-long endeavour involving confrontations or engagements to dissolve elements of projection that split the self into dissociated fragments. It could be argued that fragments or multiplicity is also what Jung meant by Self. This has been a considered motif since ancient times, in many cultures. During this conference the different modes of self-formation, as problem, or rather as self-fashioning endeavour/process or one of discovery can be seen through depth psychology’s enterprise as a therapy to heal the soul, or the self.

We are looking for papers exploring the abyss, and how it constitutes and heals the Self, or does not. Papers will be accepted that explore aspects of this problematic of descent/ascent into the depths within the frame of analytical and all theoretical orientations of depth psychology and archaic thought. Please present a proposal by beginning of December 2018 of approx. 300 words to AND to – both, please.

With great pleasure we announce that poet Ruth Padel (KingsCollege, London) will read from her new book.

5th July (+ tentatively also 6th July) 2019: Freud Museum, Hampstead London

Leslie Gardner (University of Essex), Richard Seaford (University of Exeter), Paul Bishop (University of Glasgow), Terence Dawson, Singapore, Ben Pestell (University of Essex), Mark Saban (University of Essex), Catriona Miller (Glasgow Caledonian University), Alan Cardew (University of Essex)


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