Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Soul Exists As Language: Introduction to Giegerich's Use of the Term "Soul"

    We moderns have no right to the term soul... Human existence is... only finite and a product of biological evolution... There is no room for the term soul. Of the original body-soul pair, only its one side, the body, has remained. ...
    The word psychology, properly translated, means “logos [account] of the soul.” The use of “psyche” instead of “soul” is a new import into scientific language, an artificial and abstract technical term and is clearly inspired by the wish that arose during the 19th century to avoid the traditional word and to cleanse psychology from all the above-mentioned metaphysical, religious overtones and feeling associations and implications of this word: to sterilize psychology. Or, to put it positively, it is inspired by the wish to get the subject of psychology a priori
into a scientific, positivistic straightjacket. [ Giegerich, Wolfgang. What is Soul? pp. 15-16 ]
    What ultimately had made psychology so attractive to many people at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century is the (of course usually unacknowledged, if not systematically denied) promise of learning the secret of the soul. The desire to get to know and understand the soul is the secret driving motivation behind the existence of the whole field, even if the field itself avoided the word soul. It amounts to a deception and self-deception to pretend that what people wanted to know through psychology was the dry facts established through tests, statistical evaluation of opinion polls, and experiments. ...
    Inasmuch as psychology is a
modern field of study and as such is grounded on the truth of modernity, it inevitably starts out as a psychology without ‘soul’. How then can the notion of soul come back into a field into whose very definition soul-lessness is built, and come back into it precisely as its root metaphor? ... But conversely: how can we want to do psychology if we have renounced the notion of the soul? ...
    One might want to see this terrible dilemma as our Scylla and Charybdis. But that image would suggest that we would have to try and see how to get somehow through these two monsters in between them, in other words, how to avoid them. But sneaking past them is precisely not the solution. Rather, we have to give both of them their due. They are not monsters, not dangers to be avoided by us, but our teachers, helpers. Precisely in their simultaneity--and Scylla Charybdis always appear together--that is, in their negating each other, they show us the way.
    The “psychology without soul” prevents us from ontologizing the soul as an existing mysterious entity. The soul must not be positivized. It does not exist. But this does not at all mean that it is simply nothing, a word to be struck off from our vocabulary. Paradoxically, the argumentation of Fr. A. Lange [ that psychology should be without soul ] itself stays stuck in the metaphysical, ontologizing mode of thinking that it wants to depart from. That he has to eliminate the soul altogether indicates the fact that he unwittingly [shares] the metaphysical belief in the soul as a substance. The only difference between metaphysics and Lange’s position is that the former affirms the idea of a substantial soul, while the latter denies it. It is as a matter of course that for us the soul is not a positive fact, an entity, or substance. As long as you view it as a positively existing entity, you have to dismiss it. ... To be sure, by having rid himself of the object of metaphysics, his thinking is no longer metaphysical. But because he only negated the metaphysical object while retaining the thinking in terms of thing-like entities, his thinking has become positivistic. ...

If, however, the negation is allowed to go all the way... the logic of the metaphysical substance then suffers a sublimation, distillation, a determinate negation, rather than its wholesale annihilation (elimination). The soul, instead of being dismissed, has in itself become logically negative. This is the effect and achievement of our Charybdis.
Therefore, let me here stress this once more, ... we do not conceive [the soul] as a thing-like object, a natural being or essence, a metaphysical substance, an entity, “the ghost in the machine.” It is not set up by us as a subject and invisible agent or stage director behind the scene. Nor is it viewed as a component or compartment of man and as having a substrate (such as the body, the human organism). We do not even say, “there is such a thing as soul,” “soul exists.” The use of the definite article (our speaking of “the soul”) must therefore not be taken literally. It seems to imply that a factual existence of the soul is posited and that it is set up as a substance. We must therefore always keep in mind that the talk of “the soul” is figurative speech, merely part of the rhetoric of psychology. It is a mythologizing, almost personifying, manner of speaking. When using it, we always have to imagine quotation marks around the expression. This means that we are required to think when we use the phrase, have to use it thinkingly, in other words, we must not fall for the seductive force of the mythological personification. If we took it literally and nailed it down to what it says, the wording “the soul” would be incorrect, even illegitimate. We use it it nonetheless because we are speaking, expressing ourselves, in language, and because the use of nouns conforms to the structure of our language... It would be far too cumbersome to always express oneself correctly here (psycho-politically correct), because this would make an unidiomatic use of language or constant qualifications and warning necessary. Political correctness always wants to solve the problems it finds externally and mechanically, by substituting “correct” names for “bad” ones. An exchange of labels. Psychology, by contrast, must put the burden of “correctness” on the mind, its having to provide the proper understanding for the same old names it uses, thereby following the ways of language itself which has always put new wine (new meanings) into old bottles (old words).
The gift to us of the idea of a psychology without soul is that it protects us from ontologizing or reifying the soul as a second entity besides the body. And conversely, the gift to us of our Scylla, i.e., the old metaphysical notion of the soul, is that it allows us to preserve the phenomenon that we as psychologists are truly interested in, namely the notion of soul with (1) its sense of value, importance, indispensability, (2) with its sense of mystery and otherworldliness (even if of course only a metaphorical otherworldliness), (3) with the fact that it makes a claim on us, immediately involving our subjectivity, our deepest essence, and (4) as something without substrate and not identical with any functions of the biological organism...
    If we take both our Scylla and our Charybdis together, we arrive at the idea of a logically negative autonomous or objective soul, where “negative,” on the one hand, and “autonomous or objective,” on the other hand, seem contradictory. Jung’s and alchemy’s idea that the major “part” of the soul is outside the body can now be understood to mean for our modern psychology that its notion of soul has logically cut itself loose from, and made itself totally independent of, the traditional body-soul pair and thus also from/of the human being as substrate personality altogether. Soul has become sui generis [ Giegerich. What is Soul? pp. 20-25 ]

   The soul exists only in language, but it does exist there! The structure of language is such that whenever we use language as thought (as opposed to communication), for instance, in religious ritual, in the creation of art, when we study psychology, etc.--there, we discover the work of the soul.
    However, Giegerich goes on to explain, as soon as the ego takes charge, soul-work ends. In the past, this problem did not come up, because “ego” is a modern construction. For pre-modern man, the concept of “ego” was unnecessary because individual identity was inseparable from ritualistic life, whether religious or tribal. They took for granted that certain behaviors (specifically rituals) arise communally. Not so for modern humanity. We look inside first for all explanations of behavior, whether it’s to the brain through “learned behavior” or “repressed complexes”, or “unconscious archetypes.” Trapped by our inward-looking, ego-centered bias, we are oblivious to the work of the soul.
    The work of the soul goes on, whether we see it or not. Giegerich points to neurosis (soul from below) and the process of economic globalization (soul from above) as the most visible manifestations of soul today.

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