Jung as Gardener (for a Bit)

Having just finished Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, I’ll offer you one of the more insignificant tidbits therein, which stayed with me all the same. For the good doctor, “[t]he earthly manifestation of ‘God’s world’ began with the realm of plants, as a kind of direct communication from it.” In no way would he agree with my own assertions about the dark, malevolent underside of rooted, growing things, because contrary to being freaked out by, say, sunflowers and kudzu, Herr Jung took comfort in flora, assuming they had “no intent of their own.”* Hah!

Can't believe I was able to look at this picture from Nasha Planeta long enough to post it.

Can’t believe I was able to look at this picture from Nasha Planeta long enough to post it.

I’m sure my favorite theorist of the psyche would understand, though, or be curious about, the fact that I’m often convinced of plants’ possession of will, even if in an imaginative sort of way. About their being endowed indeed with something like intention, and one that in no way bodes well for humans. The Life of Pi didn’t do much for me overall, but I still vividly remember and shudder at the little section about the mammal-eating island, the trees of which bore pieces of fruit that when unpeeled, were really just individually wrapped human teeth around which the plant life had gathered to suck sustenance. If you’ve ever looked into the face of a sunflower– and I try not to– you can’t help but get the eerie sense that it knows everything about you, and is waiting for the right moment to strike, maybe with those horror-show leaves growing on its alarmingly sturdy stalk. And a field of them? It’s easy to believe that all those down-turned heads would slowly swivel en masse toward their next victim, keeping an eye on the target’s every move.

In spite of my differences with Jung (the main one being, I think, his inability to see beyond cultural constructions of gender), I adore the guy’s stuff, especially his refusal to excise the reality of mystery from a scientific worldview. I also love that I still, even after delving into a good amount of his work over the years, can’t really figure him out, in terms of what the unconscious, archetypes, and so forth, really mean to him, concretely, as independently and truly existing entities. That low-grade puzzlement in itself may not be a bad thing, for me or for Jung as he may have been during his lifetime; after all, with the right kinds of uncertainty, mystery seems to be a welcome element, and imagination stands its ground in the construction of one’s own, very real world. I wouldn’t go as far as saying all this means that plants, for example, do have some sort of actual, secret spirit that lets them do all sorts of odd things when we’re not looking– but it’s nice to know that in Jung’s world, my wariness of leafy greens might at least say something, and maybe even something non-ridiculous, even significant, about what’s going on in my own bizarre surroundings.

 

* C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, revised edition, ed. Aniela Jaffé, transl. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 67.

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