Hello Neumann

The ascent toward consciousness is unnatural

Steampunk homeless shelter.
  • Steampunk homeless shelter.

I did a very strange thing this week. I went to the library and checked out a book.

Hello Newman

From <em>Seinfeld</em>

From Seinfeld

First let me say that the not-so-new Central Library Branch is a distinct failure, except for the theater. That’s quite nice. The whole thing feels as if it was designed by a devotee of steampunk culture. Nothing about the building feels as if it supports learnedness. I had initially intended to read at the library but quickly abandoned such thoughts and longed to wash my hands.

I was at the library to get a book which I believe will support my view of said library and its architecture. However, there isn’t enough space to get into all of that now. The book is The Origins and History of Consciousness by Erich Neumann.

Neumann was devoted to Carl Jung’s work and furthered the Swiss master’s work on mythological archetypes, depth psychology, and the collective consciousness. I had read the first 56 pages of the book as a free sample on my iPad but balked at the $50+ price for the ebook version. Neither did I want to wait for a more reasonably priced print version to arrive.

Early on in this seminal work, Neumann identifies the problem which I believe classical music is facing and has been facing for as long as there has been classical music. Neumann contends that the vast epoch of pre-consciousness is the natural state of humanity.

  • “...The desire to remain unconscious, is a fundamental human trait. Yet even this is a false formulation, since it starts from consciousness as though that were the natural and self-evident thing. But fixation in unconsciousness...cannot be called a desire to remain unconscious, on the contrary, *that* is the natural thing....The ascent toward consciousness is the ‘unnatural’ thing in nature.”

To summarize, tending toward unconscious behavior is the overwhelming trait of humanity. It acts as gravity upon the collective consciousness of the species. Every now and then a rocket such as Bach or Mozart reaches escape velocity and defies the gravitational pull of the unconscious. It blasts out into the unknown and brings back a vision of what our lives could be.

Does this or does this not explain why it is difficult to get a significant number of people to participate in classical music and the humanities in a meaningful way? There is a general desire in most of humanity to explore the arts, to explore opera, to explore consciousness but the gravity of the unconscious keeps pulling us back to the mundane. As Beavis and Butthead once said, “Fire, fire, fire.”

Neumann’s assertion makes the accomplishments of the great masters even more astounding than mere genius. They are overcoming how many hundreds of thousands of years of unconscious humanity?

“...Being oneself is still a wearisome and painful experience...” says Neumann. Is he wrong? The last person I’ve wanted to be for most of my life is myself. I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. What do we most admire in an artist of great stature? We admire that they know who they are and remain true to themselves.

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