Through a Jungian Lens

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What is Modern Man?

with 12 comments

I took an early walk this morning through the countryside as the tide was too high for a decent beach-side walk.  As usual, I took a number of photos which featured either birds or lizards which are plentiful in the area.   I noticed this fence post which I knew instantly would be the photo I wanted for today’s post.  As you can see, the post has been broken and therefore does not actually perform as a support for the fence.  It has broken away from the collective, figuratively.  Yet, it is still connected.

As I listen and think about what the journey of individuation is about, there is a tendency to assume that it is only about the self and not also about community.  Well, like this photo suggests, there are ties to community that cling regardless of how desperate one becomes in carving out one’s “unique” place in the world.  As long as one is in the world, one is connected regardless of how thin the thread is that serves as connection.

I have decided to give Dourley and his essay a rest and will shift focus back to C.G. Jung and his book, Modern Man in Search of Soul, in particular I will focus on chapter ten, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man.  I invite you to click on the blue link at the end of the quote which begins my wandering through the chapter.

“The spiritual problem of modern man is one of those questions which are so much a part of the age we live in that we cannot see them in the proper perspective.  Modern man is an entirely new phenomenon; a modern problem is one which has just arisen and whose answer still lies in the future.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

Modern man.  This is an idea that seems to be appropriate for us who live in “modern times.”  Yet, C.G. Jung doesn’t hold that men and women who live in these modern times are to be thought of as “modern.”

“I must say that the man we call modern, the man who is aware of the immediate present, is by no means the average man.  He is rather the man who stands upon a peak, or at the very edge of the world, the abyss of the future before him, above the heavens, and below him the whole of mankind with a history that disappears in primeval mists.  The modern man – or, let’s say again, the man of the immediate present – is rarely met with, for he must be conscious to a superlative degree.  Since to be wholly of the present means to be fully conscious of one’s existence as a man, it requires the most intensive and extensive consciousness, with a minimum of unconsciousness.  It must be clearly understood that the mere fact of living in the present does not make a man modern, for in that case everyone at present alive would be so.  He alone is modern who is fully conscious of the present.” (Jung, The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Modern Man in Search of Soul, 1933)

I guess this leaves me out as I know that there is much yet that is unconscious within me.  I react too often with heat, the activation of complexes, which come out of nowhere and have yet to be understood.  Like most people, I am plodding forward but at a snail’s pace with many stops along the way to smell the flowers, cough up dust and perhaps share a beverage with others I bump into along the way.  As I read this, I immediately thought of Zarathustra.  And, in thinking of Zarathustra I became a bit despondent as I have serious doubts that I could ever attain such a level of consciousness.

Like the broken post, I am held in place with my own invisible barbed wire to the personal and collective unconscious, connecting me to the culture and the communities in which I find myself.  Still, I can recognize this and in doing so, I have hopes that I am headed in the right direction.


12 Responses

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  1. I think that the glory of it all is the modern man MUST and will reinvent himself, and modern woman is prepared to wait for it to happen!


    March 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    • I cannot discern whether this comment if based on a misunderstanding of Jung’s use of the term “man,” given the context, or if it is a sexist comment. Please clarify.


      March 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm

      • Correction to a typo: “if based,” should be “is based.”


        March 22, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    • LOL! I am sure that my better half would agree with you.

      Robert G. Longpré

      March 22, 2010 at 5:59 pm

  2. It is based on a play on words, in that we all must redefine ourselves or we become unconscious. Every generation looks back and feels that the harder we try, the harder it is to find that individuation.

    It is Common Era practice to use [human]kind when reproducing such texts.


    March 22, 2010 at 5:22 pm

  3. How interesting!!! Can you provide me site where I can read these “Common Era practice” items? If I am going re-write history I guess I need to learn the rules.


    March 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    • We don’t need to live history, we need to live in the present moment, reading history, with all the knowledge and understanding with which we have been graced, by reading those with a point of view and a position in the present moment, with all the facts and information at hand.


      March 23, 2010 at 7:15 am

      • Sorry for seeming so dense here. But you can help me understand what you are attempting to articulate perhaps if provide some of “the facts and information at hand.” What facts and information are you referring to?


        March 23, 2010 at 9:15 am

  4. After living apart for almost forty years, I have recently (2 years) moved back to the city of my birth and am now living in the midst of my family of origin. Talk about being held in place by barbed wire connections. It has been both frustrating (because they feel a need to ‘fix’ me so that I appear to be more like them) and a learning process as well(finding a way to turn frustration into celebration). So, I agree with you Robert, I can see it and therefore hope I am still headed in the right direction.



    March 22, 2010 at 7:51 pm

  5. It seems that the greatest asset for those who might want to be that “modern” person who is fully consciious and in the present, and realizes that they are not completely is the awareness of their condition. That awareness provides the foundation for our hopes in heading in the right direction. Nice post and commentary, Robert and others. Thank you all.


    March 23, 2010 at 8:36 am

  6. Robert,

    I read “The spiritual problem of modern man” and in one reading would not assume to understand everything Jung was saying. Yet it and your post had some power in clarifying for me, my journey.

    I have found a beter understanding of myself, when I define those connections, those threads that tie me to culture and community.

    I was wondering about your sentence; “Like the broken post, I am held in place with my own invisible barbed wire to the personal and collective unconscious, connecting me to the culture and the communities in which I find myself.” Is your goal, complete disconnection from the personal and collective unconscious?


    finding my way

    March 23, 2010 at 9:50 am

    • Hi FMW, my goal is simply to become as conscious as possible. I don’t have any goal of disconnecting either from the unconscious or the community. Thanks for your comments.

      Robert G. Longpré

      March 23, 2010 at 10:12 am

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