Archetypes of the Haunted Mind

 by Joe Andriano

Lecture delivered at UL Lafayette in April 2016

Note: Highlighted Passages and numbers refer to images in Slide Show (for which you will need Microsoft Power Point)

I. What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been [slide 2]

            I was supposed to be a scientist. As a science nerd in high school, I was inspired by two great teachers—one in physics and one in biology—so I headed to university in 1966 thinking I should be a biophysicist, majoring in one, minoring in the other--until my ineptitude in the lab (an accident with a pipette of nitric acid) and my incompetence in calculus Two coincided with my introduction, by my English professor David Erdman, to this guy-- William Blake [3], who, along with the Zeitgeist of the late sixties, seduced me away from the sciences and convinced me through the power of his poetry to major in English. I can’t say that I never looked back, though. Even though Blake had a beef against science and empiricism I was never convinced that Bacon, Newton, and Locke, Blake’s Unholy Trinity, constituted a kind of three-headed hellhound. What bothered him, of course, was the overemphasis on Reason in the Enlightenment [Urizen & Newton [4 & 5],]. All through college, I continued to do what I had done since I was ten, read as much science fact--and science fiction--as I could. For me in the late sixties and early seventies, Ursula Le Guin and Frank Herbert were every bit as visionary as William Blake, and Kurt Vonnegut and Harlan Ellison every bit as cautionary as he was concerning science and technology.

            But it was Blake who first taught me about the archetypes of human desire and fear that would become the major subjects of my research. I also read Charles Lamb’s essay “Witches and Other Night Fears” at that time:  “Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimaeras . . .” he wrote, “may reproduce themselves in the brain of superstition—but they were there before. They are transcripts, types—the archetypes are in us, and eternal.” H. P. Lovecraft famously wrote that our most primitive instinct is fear. What is feared the most becomes demonic. Take, for example, the father of all demons, archetype of evil, could it be Satan? . . . [Here he is dragging Ambrosio off to hell at the end of the infamous Gothic novel The Monk [6],]. But Satan isn’t always an embodiment of evil; in Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell [7], he represents energy, libido, desire.  And in Blake’s Job illustrations, Satan is God’s destructive spirit, that part of God who inflicts disease and spins up whirlwinds. [8,9,10]

Lamb suggested that there is something primordial about certain recurring monstrous figures, like Behemoth and Leviathan [11]-- to whom I’ll return later. Lamb’s idea simultaneously triggered an interest in Carl Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious and added fuel to my fascination (dating from pre-adolescence) with the macabre, with terror and horror, the Gothic and the grotesque. I headed to graduate school with visions of Blakean specters and Jungian shadows haunting my mind. Indeed that phrase in my title comes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Haunted Mind,” an 1835 sketch in which he describes hypnogogic hallucinations, sleep-waking dreams of fiends and demons like those in Job’s nightmare [12] –and of course Fuseli’s [13]But they reminded me more of the Counterpane chapter of Moby-Dick (which I first read in its entirety in graduate school) that made me fully perceive the link between sleep paralysis, a physical experience common to almost everyone, and night terrors, of which I had many as a child, a few as an adult. With Queequeg’s arm lovingly resting across his body in bed [14], Ishmael remembers an incident when he was a child sent to bed early as punishment. In the sunlit room he fell into a sleep-waking state “now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen; nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. . . . and the nameless, unimaginable silent form or phantom, to which the hand belonged seemed closely seated by my bedside. . . For what seemed ages . . . , I lay there frozen with the most awful fears. . .” His brain sends signals to his arm on the counterpane, but it does not respond. Ishmael is baffled by the experience, which he never forgets.  The weight of Queequeg’s arm triggered the memory of night terrors, but Ishmael realizes that the so-called savage, with his fiendish tattoos, has become his bosom friend. This chapter came to haunt my mind, to make me want to explore archetypes of the haunted mind in literature.

During the good old days of structuralism, Jungian criticism still had a fighting chance, but when the post-structuralists came along it fell out of fashion. That didn’t stop me, though; I had a theorist on my dissertation committee who coached me into a post-Jungian methodology. As an instructor here in the early 1980s I got to teach a class on ghost stories, and I noticed a particular type of haunting that seemed to recur obsessively in gothic, romantic, and decadent literature: a demonic female figure that seemed to be a sort of transgendered doppelganger haunting a male protagonist. I decided to examine these apparitions for signs of archetypes—especially primordial and numinous elements. I called the project Our Ladies of Darkness, pluralizing the figure in Thomas De Quincy’s Suspiria de Profundis (1845) whom he describes as an inner goddess likened to Cybele and Lilith, a daemonic instinctive force, defier of God who leads men downward to depths that must be acknowledged and explored.

II. Our Ladies of Darkness [15]

            I analyzed fantastic texts with parallel haunting scenarios from France, England, Ireland, Germany and the U.S. Over and over again the haunting female demon, ghost, or vampire appears as a projection from the haunted man’s unconscious. Here are two of the texts I interpreted [16,17].   I eventually arrived at the thesis that these Gothic tales express what Melville (in a different context) called the horror of the half-known life: that polarized masculinity and repression of what Jung called the anima, or feminine soul in men, resulted in disastrous personal consequences ranging from neurosis to psychosis, and from suicide to murder. Perceiving the feminine, however defined, as Other, transforms anima from angel to demon. Which is she here? [Munch’s Vampire [18, 19]] Some reviewers criticized the book for being ahistorical, with its emphasis on primordial archetypes like the Great Mother  [20:Harry Clarke’s illustration] And perhaps looking back I didn’t make it clear enough that when this archetype appears she inevitably shares in the historical moment. Take Hester Prynne (who isn’t in the book) for example: Hawthorne likens her to the Image of Divine Maternity, and her name evokes Astarte, the scarlet A  both Angel and Aprhrodite—all archetypes—but she is also a rebellious Puritan woman way ahead of her time, explicitly compared to Ann Hutchinson, that great heretic banished from Massachusetts Bay. To focus on archetypal aspects is not to deny historical or political elements, it is simply to shift the emphasis to the synchronic. I almost said “universal.”

To take an example from the book, 19th century female vampires like Lucy in Dracula  [21] are obviously embodiments of men’s fear of the New Woman, both her formidable intellect and her assertive sexuality. But the hysterical need of the men to stake Lucy is a direct result of their failure to empathize with the other sex, which can only be accomplished by not seeing them as Other. The Jungian calls this integration of anima. As Walt Whitman made even clearer, the human soul is only pure, or whole, when it is androgynous. If the repressed is not recovered and integrated it returns as a demon; the fusion now becomes grotesque [22--Manuel Gervasini’s "Usher"]

III. Immortal Monster [23]

            I abandoned my post-Jungian methodology in the mid 1990s, as I found myself returning to the sciences, keeping up with the great popularizers Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins and others, thinking more and more about crosscurrents between science and art, teaching courses that I hoped bridged the gap between the so-called two cultures. I have always loved to point students to Whitman’s great line in Song of Myself, “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,” which astronomers now tell us is literally true; or Emerson’s assertion that matter is not substance but phenomenon. Such intuitive leaps have always inspired me to make connections between literature and science.

My research in the 90s now turned more to how science and scientific ideas play out in literary and popular texts. One article I wrote at this time was on Thomas Pynchon’s use of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem in Gravity’s Rainbow. But then I found a way to link my love of Herman Melville with my interest in biology, specifically evolution. I wrote an article on Moby-Dick that showed how Melville, through his persona Ishmael, dismantles the old hierarchic Ladder of Being, rejecting 19th century racism and speciesism, even anticipating the worldview of modern science, substituting a bushy tree of life for the old rotten ladder. In many ways the white whale is a Janus figure dragging along with those old ropes and harpoons all the ancient supernatural baggage of Leviathan the primordial dragon [24]—here in Gustave Doré’s 1865 engraving, being defeated by Jehovah—while also appearing as a highly evolved intelligent mammal [25]l able to outwit his hunters. Melville makes him a monster (using the word repeatedly), but not an evil one—even though Ahab thinks him so. I began to realize that Moby Dick is a new kind of monster even as he harks back to one of the oldest.

Melville calls the sperm whale Leviathan over and over again in the novel—not unusual at the time. While Moby Dick is seen as supernatural evil by Ahab, Ishmael eventually frees his mind of Ahab’s pollution and sees the whale as Nature’s grandest creation. Leviathan has always been ambiguous: In Hebrew mythology, Leviathan is on the one hand the greatest of the sea-monsters God created (Psalm 104), and on the other a demonic chaos-monster, adversary to God [26] (Psalm 74; see Beal 25–27). Leviathan is the archetype of ambiguous monstrosity. The bible does not consistently envision him as evil. Sometimes he is even a metaphor for God himself, as when He answers Job out of the whirlwind: “Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?” (Job 40: 25). Can you, in other words, grasp the deity with your puny human mind?  God deliberately draws parallels between Himself and Leviathan: “None is so fierce that dare stir him up; / Who then is able to stand before Me?” (Job 41: 2–3).
         Explicitly and emphatically described as a fire-breathing dragon (Job 41: 11–13), Leviathan is a sublime creature in both Job and Psalm 104: 26, where he is seen sporting in the waters. Psalm 74, in contrast, was written (as Timothy Beal (26) explains), in a time of political and theological crisis—the invasion of Jerusalem by Babylonians in 587 BCE. The psalmist begs God to destroy Babylon as he destroyed Leviathan the chaos monster (Beal 27–30). Biblical texts, of course, often use monsters to symbolize enemy nations, but in Job the monster symbolizes God himself. The result is what Noel Carroll called “category jamming” (194): so many contradictory elements comprise the monster that we cannot get a complete picture of it; it is ultimately unrepresentable (Beal 52). As Herman Melville also pointed out in Moby-Dick (1851), “the great Leviathan is that one creature in the world that must remain unpainted to the last” (228). He is both satanic and deific (like Ahab, Moby Dick’s doppelganger, both godlike and ungodly). As monster, Leviathan creates and revels in chaos; as god, he creates order and grandeur.  Which role dominates depends on the perceiver’s view of the great beast and what it symbolizes. In Moby-Dick, the White Whale can evoke horror, terror, worship or wonder. Melville calls him an immortal monster.

I began to seek him and his counterpart Behemoth in monstrous texts after Moby-Dick, studying diverse monsters and monsterologists, even as I pored over books on human evolution. Eventually my thesis developed: fantastic beast monsters often appear, in modern literature and film, as images of human anxiety over having evolved from mammals and ape-like creatures. We’re still haunted by the past as in Gothic and ghost stories, but now it’s the past of our species, predating history; but the monsters appear in fictive narratives to remind us of who and what we once were and in some ways still are. I found, though, that creatures like King Kong . . . Gardner’s Grendel . . . and H.G.Wells’s Beast-Folk of the Island of Doctor Moreau [27] . . . are used not only metaphorically to explore the Beast within ourselves, but also metonymically to explore the Beast nearby—on the evolutionary tree. Instead of supernatural female demons like Matilda in The Monk, I turned to “demonic males[28] in the evolutionary sense described by primatologists Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson. I still viewed monsters as archetypes, though, numinous figures that actually show us (as the etymology of monster implies)—and not always by contrast—what it means to be human.

            One reviewer of the book was amused at how unabashedly I juxtaposed highbrow texts like Moby-Dick and Grendel with popular fiction like Benchley’s Jaws and Beast and B-movies like The Creature from the Black Lagoon. In fact he marveled at how low I was willing to go: King Kong Lives, Orca, and the Brando version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Well, I never was a member of the old school that thinks only texts of “high literary merit” are worthy of interpretation and analysis, especially when investigating social and cultural issues. My unwillingness to make distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow art may be traceable to my youth; my introduction to many great books was Classics Illustrated  comics in the 1950s.[29]

IV. Nature Red in Tooth, Claw and Tentacle [30]

Everything scholarly or critical I’ve written since Immortal Monster has been, well, on monsters, and on Moby-Dick. I’d like to end the Last Lecture with excerpts from the last paper I presented at a conference: “Nature Red in Tooth, Claw, and Tentacle: Two Contemporary Artists’ Interpretations of Moby-Dick.” . . .

It is not at all unusual for modern artists to become obsessed with Moby-Dick, painting piece after piece until the fever passes--as Elizabeth Schultz amply demonstrated in her monumental study Unpainted to the Last: Moby-Dick and Twentieth-Century American Art[31] [Here are four examples of such obsessed artists—Rockwell Kent [32] . . . Gilbert Wilson [33] . . . Robert DelTredici [34] . . .  and my favorite, Vali Myers,[35 ]

One artist she did study, Mark Milloff, and one she did not, George Klauba [36], continued the trend in the 21st century. They interpret Moby-Dick in the context of a question more vexed now than it was in 1851, just before Darwin: what is humanity’s “place” in Nature? Are we different in kind from other animals (called “brutes” in Melville’s day), or are we upright talking apes, omnivorous bipeds who slaughter herbivorous quadrupeds, as Melville sees us at the end of chapter 65, the human animal competing for top predator among all predators? Milloff and Klauba, in their rich, overt symbolism, albeit expressed in completely different styles, implicitly answer this question. While Milloff emphasizes the struggle for survival in a chaotic environment dominated by chance, waste and pain [37--from "The Grand Armada"], Klauba finds some solace in the nobility of the individual who reveres all life, or who has become the victim of human depredation. Both artists, inspired by Melville, find continuity between human and animal. And both share what Susan Kalter, in her ecocritical article on the novel, has called Melville’s “ceto-centric” vision: one that dismantles the Ladder of Being, tips the Scale of Nature toward the whale.

When human/animal identities merge in literature and art, the result spans a range from the grotesque to the beautiful. Animal characteristics, especially in Klauba, who produced a series of portraits of the novel’s principal characters as birdmen, don’t necessarily brutalize or bestialize the human; on the contrary, they may grace the human, adding aquiline dignity and elegance, but only if the character is noble and sympathetic like Ishmael [38] . . . Queequeg [39]. . . Daggoo [40]. . . and Tashtego [41].  The obsessed, the inhumane, those in whom the inner shark is not “well-governed” by the inner angel (Fleece’s sermon), appear as grotesques. Here, for example, is Fedallah [42]. Ahab, as a tragic figure, is more complicated. He’s noble, but also obsessed, willing to sacrifice others to accomplish his demonic revenge [43].

Unlike Klauba, most of Milloff’s men do not dominate his pictures—for him, as Schultz points out ( 240–41), the struggle for survival takes center stage. His wide, crowded canvases downplay the individual and the heroic (with the notable exception of Queegueg) as they represent various species in conflict, competing for dominance in the sea. Since the sea is not the environment to which humans have adapted over the millennia, they are most often the losers. When butchering whales, they have to fight off sharks, even as they contend with the shark within themselves. [“Stripping the Whale[44]notice the teeth on the Pequod’s gunwale.]

Melville’s theme of human animality tends to undercut the meme, long-established in Western culture, that other animals are lower than humans on the scale of nature, or Ladder of Being. To behave like an animal, according to the meme, is to lower oneself. And of course the hierarchic notion tends toward racism: so-called races of color were assumed to be lower than white people on the Ladder—closer to animals. Melville vividly demonstrates not only that all humans of whatever color equally act like and as animals, but also that other animals are not necessarily lower than humans. He denies both racism and speciesism, insisting that the whale is the greater being. It is not brute strength that enables Moby Dick to destroy Ahab and the Pequod: it is superior intelligence. In each of the three climactic chase chapters, he outwits his hunters.

Melville investigates all the visions and versions of Nature from the Judeo-Christian view that Nature was created for Man’s use, to the Enlightenment Deist notion that Nature provides the basis for human morality, to the transcendentalist idealism that has Nature generated by spirit—not only God’s, but humanity’s as well, for we are part of God. But the vision of Nature most crucial to Moby-Dick as we read it now is the modern scientific view of Nature as universe to be explored, understood, all its creatures studied. When Ishmael presents himself as natural historian, he deliberately begins with the unscientific notion, already outmoded since 1778, that the whale is a fish. It soon becomes clear that this old mis-classification(predating Linnaeus) is the whaleman’s view: since he works in a fishery, he catches fish. But then Ishmael lets the whale evolve into a mammal—by the time we get to the Grand Armada chapter with its “leviathan amours in the deep” and its descriptions of nursing mother whales, he has left the fish idea behind. Not only are whales mammals, he decides, but they are the most dominant mammals on earth. The clash between Ahab’s crew and Moby Dick becomes a clash between hunters. The hunted whale is a hunter of squid. All creatures prey on one another, whether in “the universal cannibalism of the sea” or the “horrible vulturism of earth.”

If we think of the animal as being both a metonym and a metaphor, we can make better sense of how the beast is represented in art. As metonym, it is nearby, it is contiguous to us, and in the Darwinian view, continuous with us—we are cousins to the beasts. As metaphor, the animal stands for some aspect of ourselves. One may argue that the metaphorical is only possible because (at least unconsciously) we recognize kinship, continuity and contiguity. Before Darwin, animal metaphors were largely degrading; to call a man a brute was to insult him. Once evolution is viewed largely as a blind process working through natural selection, hierarchy becomes problematic. At the very least, it needs to be redefined. Many late nineteenth-century scientists nonetheless clung to the myths of white supremacy and human superiority—both of which Melville debunks. . . .

Both Milloff and Klauba reflect Darwinian views of Nature, albeit in different ways. I’d like to focus on each artist’s illustration of a specific scene in the novel, from “The Chase—Second Day,” when Moby Dick rams Ahab’s whaleboat from below, sending it airborne so that it “seemed drawn up towards Heaven by invisible wires,--as arrow-like, shooting perpendicularly from the sea, the White Whale dashed its broad forehead against its bottom and sent it, turning over and over, into the air; till it fell again—gunwale downwards—and Ahab and his men struggled out from under it, like seals from a sea-side cave” (488).  Note how the simile likens men to other mammals, the prey of whales. This was a carefully crafted attack that involved the whale’s conscious and quite successful attempt to tangle up all the boats in their own lines. He does this through “untraceable evolutions,” twisting and turning: “. . . the White Whale so crossed and recrossed, and in a thousand ways entangled the slack of the three lines now fast to him,” that he creates a dangerous chaos of loose harpoons and lances that threaten the crew. They have to cut him free, and that’s when he dives, preparing to make his torpedo run at Ahab’s boat. Melville refers to the mess of lines and bristling barbs as “a sight more savage than the embattled teeth of sharks.” And when the men are attempting to get their boats back in order, they have to fight off the sharks: “ . . . little Flask bobbed up and down like an empty vial, twitching his legs upwards to escape the dreaded jaws . . . .” (488)

Milloff’s painting, “Drawn Up towards Heaven by Invisible Wires[45] is one of the last in his Moby-Dick series (2003). The huge pastel on paper (12’ X 8’), certainly captures the chaotic mayhem caused by the whale, whose battering ram of a head emerges from the sea, his lower jaw painted out of proportion to make the White Whale the fist of the savage sea. The Pequod sails precariously tilting toward the frame, with one figure standing on deck, arms outstretched in alarm.

Milloff is suggesting that all the animals are either in league with the whale or are indifferent to the plight of the men. Numerous seabirds fly all over the place, reminding us that only the men are in danger, for they are out of their element. Ahab’s boat is at top center, and he himself hangs on to the airborne boat for dear life, tangled up in whale-lines. Ahab is holding his harpoon uselessly between two fingers, and it is pointed away from the whale.

The only shark is white belly up at the bottom, appearing to be no threat to anyone—he literally pales beneath the power of Moby Dick. The men are falling, floating, swimming, clutching—all the tools supposed to reflect superior intelligence, the weapons crafted for superior hunting, all wrecked or rendered useless. If you look from the helpless ghostlike figure in the water, then move your gaze across the scene, you encounter faces engulfed, disembodied; then you see the glowing, glowering eye of the triumphant whale.

Milloff shares Melville’s cetocentric perspective. The eye of the whale dominates the picture, and the whale itself is too grand to be fully depicted. In Klauba’s version of the passage [46] (2004; acrylic on panel, 18” X 14.5”), Moby Dick is known only by his impact; he himself is not in the picture, but the scene represented is a result of his wrath. A hole (not in the novel) gapes in the bottom of the boat, with Ahab falling out of the boat, his bird head not looking so fierce now, but vulnerable as a baby, his hand just out of reach of his harpoon. As in Milloff, the oars are suspended in the air, useless in this element; the birds soar all around the tumbling men, who have lost both hats and harpoons. By keeping the sea off frame, Klauba implies that the stricken boat is indeed among the clouds, even higher than two of the birds, and situating it diagonally with water streaming from it, he suggests an ironic resemblance to a breaching whale. Moby Dick has indeed just breached in defiance, before the men lowered their boats. Now a broken boat breaches in pale, unwilled imitation and utter defeat. The men may have the heads of birds, reminding us of their animal nature, but instead of outspread wings they have outspread hands and flailing arms, reminding us, as does Milloff, that they do not belong in either sea or sky; they may “seem drawn up towards Heaven,” but they don’t belong there in either sense of the word, as Ahab made abundantly clear when he baptized his harpoon in the name of the devil. He has created his own hell, damning and dooming his crew in the process.

Both of these 21st-century artists seize upon one of the most modern aspects of Moby-Dick, which they recognize as a key text in the paradigm shift that would accelerate with Darwin. Humans are part of Nature, not separate from it. We participate in the struggle for existence among species. In Melville’s sea, we are the invasive species, the whale is our prey. In Milloff, as he himself wrote, “Man never wins,” even when he is butchering his prey, because, as Klauba also demonstrates, he is prey to his own nature [47].

On the whole, Milloff’s vision is more unrelentingly grotesque, physical and bloody. While some of Klauba’s portraits are clearly qrotesques, he seeks out the beautiful and sympathetic. Even though he gives us tooth, claw, and tentacle, he also re-envisions the novel’s spiritual, mystical, and metaphysical power, preserving both the natural history and the supernatural mystery of Leviathan. [Klauba's "The Spirit Spout" [48]].