Jung’s Blake part 1: Psychological Types

Many readers have discerned an affinity between Jung and Blake. There are books offering Jungian readings of Blake, and others comparing their work. But so far as I can discover no-one has put together and discussed Jung’s own remarks on Blake, so I thought I might as well this myself. It should not be a very big task, as there are only three or four Jung texts in which Blake is mentioned, and none of these are very extended discussions. I’ll devote a blog post to each of these.

Jung first refers to Blake in his book Psychological Types, published in 1921. Much of the book is devoted to his distinction between the extroverted and introverted personalities. The extravert’s “fate is determined by the objects of his interest, while in [the introvert] it is determined more by the his own inner self, by the subject.” One theme is that the extravert becomes a slave to external things.

Jung traces a tradition in poetry and in religious writings that points to a cure for this disease: A sort of worship of the self, or of the soul, yielding self-sufficient strength in the face of external conditions. Jung describes this state (of bliss or ecstasy) by quoting The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Energy is Eternal Delight.” (In Blake these words are spoken by the ‘Voice of the Devil’, an important detail but one which Jung does not mention).

Later in the same book Jung refers again to the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake distinguishes between the ‘Prolific’ and the ‘Devouring’, and Jung thinks of these categories as corresponding to the extraverted and the introverted respectively. The key passage is as follows:

one portion of being is the Prolific, the other Devouring …

These two classes of men are always upon earth, & they should be enemies: whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence.

Religion is an endeavour to reconcile the two.

But in quoting these words, Jung omits the words “& they should be enemies: whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence.” The unwary reader may think Blake is praising religion for reconciling the two.

Why associate the Prolific and the extroverted? A clue is in a strange diversion, later in Psychological Types, into what we would now call evolutionary psychology. Jung distinguishes two “modes of adaptation”, by which we means precisely biological adaptation. An animal can adapt by procreating quickly, even within a short lifespan; or by conserving energy and living a longer life even with less frequent procreation. This is supposed to be the foundation for the two psychological types. The extroverted personality is associated with the first adaptive mode; and here Jung mentions Blake again: this mode is indeed “prolific”.

Jung has unfortunately got Blake rather wrong here. The Prolific, the sources of energy and activity, are precisely not prisoners of external reality. On the contrary, they are its creators. Their acts of imagination have shaped reality. Their imaginative acts, we might even say, stem from the unconscious, which is the domain of Jung’s introvert. If anything it is the ‘Devourer’ who is the prisoner.

Secondly, religion’s calming and pacifying effect is deprecated by Blake and not praised. Its effect is not therapeutic, as Jung envisages, but limiting and restrictive, and even destructive of the creative imagination.

The next remark is in the essay “Psychology and literature”, which we’ll turn to in the next post.

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