Mikhail Vrubel, The Demon
Where there is light, there must be shadow, and where there is shadow there must be light. There is no shadow without light and no light without shadow. Karl Jung said this about ‘the Shadow’ in one of his books: ‘It is as evil as we are positive… the more desperately we try to be good and wonderful and perfect, the more the Shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive… The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends to hell and becomes the devil. For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.
Haruki Murakami, 1q84
I came across this quote yesterday, while reading Haruki Murakami’s novel, which is excellent by the way but very long (1000 pages) taking forever to finish. Still, I am savouring it and taking so much in. Jung’s quote that the Japanese author uses here comes from the book Visions: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1930-1934 by C.G. Jung.
In the Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, edited by Andrew Samuels and others, we can read that the shadow is all that a person does not want to be. It is a primitive worthless and inferior part of our nature. As an archetype the shadow is autonomous, potent and inextricable from the Psyche. It has to be consciously acknowledged and integrated because otherwise it will haunt us and we will always see it outside as a projection.
With all due respect, I find Samuel’s definition lacking because he seems to value the shadow very negatively and he emphasizes its destructive force too much. My understanding of the shadow is that it is a part of the personality which is incompatible with what we believe ourselves to be, with the chosen attitude towards ourselves. Here is what Jung wrote about the shadow in Aion:
If it has been believed hitherto that the human shadow was the source of all evil, it can now be ascertained on closer investigation that the unconscious man, that is, his shadow, does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.
And this is why I like returning to the source and reading Jung himself instead of Jungians or other commentators. This last quote made me think of Anthony Soprano, played by the magnificent James Gandolfini, who passed away a few days ago. His conscious attitude was that of a gangster and as a gangster he was expected to be ruthless and evil. But his shadow was a gentle giant, a kind-hearted and warm being. What drew me to that TV series was precisely this duality, this inner split within this character. The dreams that he tells his therapist often reveal his need to achieve wholeness by integrating the softer, feminine side of his nature, which he does not acknowledge consciously because he is compelled to play a strong Italian macho mobster. He cherishes and feed ducks that visit his swimming pool and once he has a dream about them:
I had a dream last night. My belly-button was a phillips head screw, and I’m workin’ unscrewin’ it, and when I get it unscrewed, my penis falls off.
You know, I pick it up. And I’m holdin’ it and I’m runnin’ around lookin’ for the guy who used to work on my lincoln, when I drove lincolns, so he can put it back on. And, I’m holdin’ it up, and this bird swoops down and grabs it in its beak and flies off with it.
You can watch a 2-minute clip on youtube, where he tells the dream:
I believe the dream shows his fear that if he opens up to his emotions (the belly) he will lose his masculinity (the penis).
What The Sopranos series showed to me was that we all walk a very fine line between good and evil, between the light and the shadow parts of our nature. I think if any redemption were possible it would have to do with trying to be more accepting of ourselves and of the truth that we are all fallible, imperfect beings striving towards light.
As another memorable quote from 1q84 goes:
In this world, there is no absolute good, no absolute evil,” the man said. “Good and evil are not fixed, stable entities, but are continually trading places. A good may be transformed into an evil in the next second. And vice versa. Such was the way of the world that Dostoevsky depicted in The Brothers Karamazov. The most important thing is to maintain the balance between the constantly moving good and evil. If you lean too much in either direction, it becomes difficult to maintain actual morals. Indeed, balance itself is the good.
Charles-Paul Landon, Daedalus and Icarus