Self-assertion and self-donation

Most of the material I edit, proofread or index doesn’t hold much intrinsic interest for me, frankly. Sometimes, though, I get to work on a book that really appeals to me. Lately I had this experience when I compiled an index for a book on Carl Jung and the medieval mystics who inspired him, and a couple of years ago I enjoyed indexing A.J. McGrath’s The Dark Ground of Spirit: Schelling and the Unconscious.

One passage of McGrath’s, referring to Jacob Boehme, expressed something that has often occurred to me: that we can’t be, and shouldn’t try to be, utterly selfless, caring only about others:

Boehme’s psychological point is simple enough to state: there is no alterity without ipseity, no self-donation without a latent self-assertion. This is not to say that love is selfish: self-assertion without self-donation is the essence of evil. But without the seed of selfishness, held in potency, not actualized, there would be no self to be overcome and given away.

‘[S]elf-assertion without self-donation is the essence of evil’ is pithy and very true, I think.

Another passage reminds me of a line (‘Art is a transparency of the veil’) that I put in the mouth of an abrasive pub landlord in a novel I wrote:

The secret to artistic creativity is the artist’s generosity to the unconscious: the artist keeps a light hold on the reins of consciousness and the veil that separates ordinary consciousness from “that unalterable identity, on which all existence is founded,” is momentarily lifted.

This is followed by a direct quote from Friedrich Schelling:

Just as the man of destiny does not execute what he wishes or intends, but rather what he is obliged to execute by an inscrutable fate, which governs him, so the artist, however deliberate he may be, seems nonetheless to be governed, in what is truly objective in his creation, by a power which separates him from all other men, and compels him to say or depict things which he does not fully understand himself, and whose meaning is infinite.

Some of what has been written by and about Jung (partly springing from the likes of Boehme and Schelling) seems to me to convey a richness and a ring of deep truth that is lacking in both the theistic and atheistic sides of the current futile argument between science and religion – an argument in which both sides are mistaken, in my view, in that they are disputing the (non-)existence of ‘the wrong kind of God’. I hope to come back to this.

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3 Comments

Filed under Literature, Psychology, Religion, Work

3 responses to “Self-assertion and self-donation

  1. Heady stuff Brendan but I warm to what you are saying and I hope to come back to this too! I’m not sure what is intended by “self donation” but will
    re-read to allow my thought processes to settle in. However, I do think what you are saying is akin to what is going on when I am ‘abstracted’ whilst playing piano, in that I am not consciously thinking of creating something but allowing myself to be immersed in some creative stream or ‘giving in’ to a power that unfetters my conscious – the result being music that I could never ‘construct’ from a cold piano stool! (I do miss the past exchanges between yourself and Cymbeline!)

    • Hello papaguinea, and thanks for this. ‘Self-donation’ is just giving of oneself, being generous and not focused entirely on personal gain. The kind of thing you do with your music, and no doubt in other areas of your life.

      Your description of playing the piano is similar to many other accounts of ‘flow’ whereby the logical, rational side of the mind takes a back seat, barriers break down and new creation comes about – through you rather than from you, perhaps.

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