Meaning Of Life Part I

Meaning Of Life Part I


As time permits, I will begin posting comments on an essay by Wolfgang Giegerich called The End Of Meaning And The Birth Of Man.

Giegerich is a German Jungian analyst. The following short bio is from his book, The Soul’s Logical Life:

After university studies in the field of literature in Germany and the United States and an assistant professorship at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, N.J.), Wolfgang Giegerich trained in analytical psychology at the C.G. Jung Institute in Stuttgart, Germany. He works as a psychotherapist and training analyst in private practice near Munich. He has lectured and published internationally. His books include Atombome und Seele und Drachenkampf (both Raben-Reihe, Zürich), Animus-Psychologie and Tötungen. Gewalt aus der Seele: Versuch über Ursprung und Geschichte des Bewußtseins (both Peter Lang, Frankfurt et al.).

The subtitle of the essay is, An Essay About The State Reached in the History Of Consciousness And An Analysis of C.G. Jung’s Psychology Project.
Giegerich begins with comments concerning Jung’s interest in the question regarding the meaning of life. Europe, at that time, had already struggled with nihilism for at least a century prior to Jung. So, it was nothing new when Jung began writing about man’s aloneness, “where in the cold light of consciousness, the blank barrenness of the world reaches to the very stars” (CW 9). What was novel in Jung’s discourse was his idea that man’s loss of a myth was the cause of his neurosis. Where Jung and myself would differ, however, is that he believed mankind required a meaningful answer to life’s riddle. In my post entitled, So-Called Meaning Of Life, I argue it is only the human ego that requires an answer to this question. The drive for meaning is a product of ratiocination, empowered by an egocentric mindset. In all actuality, a rationalized answer to life’s innate mystery cannot be found. Life must be mysterious for it to be worth living.

But, I would agree with Jung in that he saw the loss of mythology and the gods as being disastrous to the human condition.

Giegerich notices an inherent contradiction in Jung’s comments on meaning:

One might think that the diagnosed loss of meaning is the cause, the search for meaning the result; further, that the loss of meaning is the “illness” while the sought-for meaning would be the cure. But “loss of meaning” and “search for meaning” have to be seen, rather, as the two sides of the same coin. Just as it is the sense of loss of meaning that creates a craving for meaning, so it is the idea of the dire need of a higher meaning that makes real life appear intolerably banal and “nothing but,” merely “maya compared with that one thing, that your life is mean-ingful” (Jung, 1939, p. 630). The more you long for meaning, the more banal life gets; the more banal you feel life to be, the more you will say, with Jung, “My whole being was seeking for something still unknown which might confer meaning upon the banality of life” (Jaffe, 1989, p. 165). There are not two phenomena here but only one. The search for meaning is the opposite of itself. It is what turns reality into that very senselessness that it intends to overcome; it is itself that symptom or illness the cure of which it claims to be. The longing for meaning is deluded about itself.

In essence, the search for meaning is like a dog chasing it’s tail.

Giegerich goes on to explain that

Meaning is not an entity that could be had, not a creed, a doctrine, a worldview, also not something like the fairytale treasure hard to attain. It is not semantic, not a content. Meaning, where it indeed exists, is first of all an implicit fact of existence, its a priori. It can never be the answer to a question; it is, conversely, an unquestioned and unquestionable certainty that predates any possible questioning. It is the groundedness of existence, a sense of embeddedness in life, of containment in the world–perhaps we could even say of in-ness as the logic of existence as such. Meaning exists if the meaning of life is as self-evident as the in-ness in water is for fish.

This has the ring of truth. I know in my life, thinking and searching for meaning these last thirty years, I’ve always ran up against a brick wall. Now I know why. The more I searched, the more I descended into a slimy black pit of despair.

I decided sometime ago that the only meaning to my life was just simply to live it, in the moment, in the Now, and try to practice the Taoist principle of wu-wei, “action without action”, or “the art of letting-be.”

Each human being is a river. All are unique with their own set of subtle fluctuations. These are caused by the distinct psychic topographies inherent in each one, just as each river has varying topographies that effect its flow. The water needs to flow unimpeded. When it becomes dammed up, there is the potential for disaster.

There will always be subtle fluctuations, but these are good. They make life interesting, give it character and mystery. But, most importantly, the energy needs to flow. The meandering stream must continue to wind its way through the land, unhindered.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance (From Burnt Norton, by T.S. Eliot).

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One thought on “Meaning Of Life Part I

  1. This commentary seems to be about a discussion of ultimate meaning, and as might relate to humanity as a whole. Of course, the vast majority of human beings find altogether functional, if smaller, meanings in their short lives and this really hasn't changed that much over time. While some people will not find any sufficiency in such small or partial or simplistic meanings, most people do and will.

    So as with most western philosophy there is a tendency for philosophy to reflect the special concerns and perspectives of a class of humans who are philosophers. Much as in the West, art has progressively become that which is meant by that word to those who feel themselves to be members of the class artist. This does seem to be in keeping with the western focus on individualistic consciousness and self-exploration and definition, but may represent perspectives with somewhat limited generalizability (which is fine, but should be recognized perhaps).

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