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The Magus as Rebus

The Magus as Rebus


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Published by David Jones
An examination of John Fowles' The Magus, in light of the theories of Freud, Jung and Lacan.
An examination of John Fowles' The Magus, in light of the theories of Freud, Jung and Lacan.

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Published by: David Jones on Aug 16, 2009
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theories of the mind: assessed essay

Candidate Module Title Module Tutor Title MHRA Citation 6236 Words 316773 Theories of the Mind Tom Davis The Magus as Rebus: ‘Art as Institutionalised Illusion’

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’ March 2003

the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’
Woody Allen is quoted as saying that, were he given the option of living his life over again, he would do everything exactly the same apart from seeing the movie adaptation of The Magus (cited in Goosmann, 1999). This essay concerns itself only with the original novel, but the anecdote still powerfully demonstrates the way in which John Fowles’s story can confuse and subvert1. The Magus is built around a rebus: the ‘Godgame’ run by Maurice Conchis the old man. The game is a masque which highlights the psychological nature of Nicholas Urfe, the central protagonist. It intentionally plays with Freudian and Jungian imagery; Nicholas himself describes its pinnacle, his trial, as ‘Freudian jargon’ (539). The novel is therefore a pastiche of the dominance of psychoanalytic practice in Western thought. This essay contends, however, that at the margins of this consciously constructed (and therefore inauthentic) depiction of the unconscious an authentic unconscious voice breaks through. Lacanian analysis reveals important characteristics of Urfe’s psychic state from his linguistic patterns. Derived from such a stance, this essay’s central thesis is that Urfe suffers from a psychosis that is emblematic of masculinity-construction in the 1950s. The essay will first validate The Magus’s Freudian reading of itself, and then examine the way in which the novel is deliberately structured on Jungian lines. The use of Jungian archetypes will be investigated, followed by an examination of the ways in which Fowles engages with Jungian theory in order to critique it. Finally it will discuss The Magus in Lacanian terms. The Magus is not a straightforward text to psychoanalyse as it is written with a full knowledge of psychoanalytic2 theory and playfully engages with it. Nicholas’s ‘trial’ marks the most explicit use of such theories. Kidnapped and taken to a secret location he discovers that the ‘sadistic madmen’ (504) who have tormented him on the Greek island of Phraxos, and especially at Conchis’s house Bourani, are ‘an international group of psychologists’ in disguise (506). This chapter, 61, is oddly structured. It is based on a succession of lists from a catalogue of the disguised archetypal figures that enter the ‘court of injustice’ (498), through their underlying


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

identities as ‘humble scientists’ (505) to a list of Nicholas’s psychic tendencies. The list of scientists’ identities is an overwhelming diatribe of institutional positions: ‘I am Doctor Friedrich Kretschmer, formerly of Stuttgart, now director of the Institute of Experimental Psychology at the University of Idaho in America. On my right you have Doctor Maurice Conchis of the Sorbonne, whom you know . . . On his right, Doctor Mary Marcus, now of Edinburgh University, formerly of the William Alanson White Foundation in New York . . . On her right, Professor Mario Ciardi of Milan . . . beyond the box you have Doctor Joseph Harrison of my department at Idaho, and of whose brilliant study of characteristic urban Negro neurosis, Black and White Minds, you may have heard . . . Beyond him, Doctor Heinrich Mayer, at present working in Vienna. Beyond him, Madame Maurice Conchis, whom many of us know better as the gifted investigator of the effects of wartime traumata on refugee children. I speak, of course, of Doctor Annette Kazanian of the Chicago Institute . . . Beyond Madame Conchis, you see Privatdozent Thorvald Jorgensen of Aalborg University . . . Beyond him, you have Doctor Vanessa Maxwell’ (506-507) The degree to which psychoanalysis has penetrated the Ideological State Apparatus of Western existence is demonstrated by the sheer length of this list of institutions, around which these individuals have traversed. This is emphasised by the gaggle of ‘Austrian and Danish research students’ (506) who surround and observe the endeavour, eager to reproduce it. The psychoanalytic community has its own hierarchies and value systems, academic prestige taking over humanist morality: ‘we have had you, these last three days, under deep narcosis and the material we have obtained from you has proved most valuable, most valuable indeed’ (506-7)’. They detach themselves from the ‘real’ (external, empirical) world in a similar fashion to the dramatists with whom they are surrounded, the costume designers and stage managers and directors. As such they are fundamentally alienated from the immediate nature of Nicholas’s tormented psychic state. Their ostentatious performance is pierced by several instances of bathos. Psychoanalysis is betrayed by its own jargon in a comic moment. Nicholas gives his captors the V-sign, but an elderly German scientist confuses it with Winston Churchil’s ‘victory’ sign, causing Lily to explain the gesture: ‘The sign is a visual equivalent of some verbalisation like “Bugger you” or “Up your arse” . . . It is the upward movement that carries the signal, Doctor Kretschmer. Mr Churchill’s victory-sign was with the hand reversed and static. I mentioned it in connection with my paper on ‘Direct Anal-Erotic metaphor in Classical Literature’ . . . we may suppose a castration motive in the insult, a 3

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

desire to degrade and humiliate the male rival which would of course be finally identifiable with the relevant stage of infantile fixation and the accompanying phobias’ (507) The ridiculously formal register of academic discourse is offset by the incorporated colloquialisms ‘bugger you’ and ‘up your arse’. The reductive nature of vulgar Freud, in which everything is reduced to sexual imagery, is encapsulated in the satirical paper-title ‘Direct Anal-Erotic metaphor in Classical Literature’. The scientists seem too engrossed by their analyses to appreciate the true, devastating nature of their ‘game’. They have physically and psychologically tormented Nicholas for months, to a point at which they have illegally imprisoned and drugged him. He had, much earlier, ‘a sharp sense that the masque was running out of control’ (378). As such his reaction is reducible to straightforward anger, rather than a deep-rooted psychological motive such as ‘infantile fixation and the accompanying phobias’3. Nevertheless our major interest remains in the third list in Chapter 61, where the novel provides a psychoanalytic reading of its main protagonist. Despite Fowles’s Preface declaration that he was ‘deeply interested’ in Jung (6), the psychiatrists’ report on Nicholas is almost exclusively Freudian. Fowles has determinedly dismissed this scene as ‘a send up of psychology – I put in every piece of psychological jargon I could find’ (cited in Woodcock 1984, 49). However the psychiatrists’ analysis is, to say the least, compelling. It says that Urfe has an Oedipus complex, the separationanxiety of which is channelled into a repetition-compulsion4 to isolate himself. An example of every reported trait can be located earlier in the text5. The Magus’s ‘satiric’ use of Freud is almost entirely accurate. The problem is that it provides only a surface analysis; it has not presented anything ‘unconsious’, but simply expressed what Nicholas identifies with equal clarity himself. Before the report, Urfe has already noted his ‘obsessional adherence to such [paternal and especially military] regimes’ (509), that the psychologists describe. He reports that in his student-days ‘it suddenly struck me that just because I said with impunity things that would have apoplexed my dead father, I was still no less under his influence’ (17). He even imagines himself as ‘an Oedipus still searching for his destiny’ (157). The real significance of the deliberate ‘unconscious’ subtext of The Magus is less explicit, and does require some background knowledge of Jung. Jung describes the ‘central concept’ of his psychology (1995, 235) as the idea that all human beings should strive to achieve individuation6. Nicholas Urfe is clearly an unsatisfied human 4

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

being, as expressed in the opening paragraph: ‘I went to Oxford; and there I began to discover that I was not the person I wanted to be’ (15). His disastrous relationships with women all point to a self for whom individuation has become impossible due to a rejection of the feminine qualities of the psyche: his rejection of a soulmate in Alison, complete misdirection caused by blinding desire for Lily/Julie and the abandonment of his quasi-adoptive daughter Jo-Jo. The narrative pattern of The Magus, as Conradi rather grandiosely puts it ‘depicts the difficult customary voyage of the epic hero into an underworld in search of a knowledge both arcane and usable’ (1982, 42). This pattern supports the idea that Nicholas’s experiences are some kind of individuation process. He undergoes a figurative journey, beginning in Britain with its overbearing trappings of conscious, egoistic existence that is ‘customary and habitable and orientated’. It is a world based around ‘a steady job and a house in the suburbs’ (407). The journey to Greece is a journey into the unconscious. To reach the island, Conchis must cross the ocean. As Jung notes: ‘the sea is the symbol of the Collective unconscious, because unfathomed depths lie concealed beneath its reflecting surface’ (1974, 122)7. The Island is home to numinous, archetypal situations8. It serves a compensatory function like the unconscious, providing isolation for one who cannot deal with social existence. Nicholas comments that ‘the whole island seemed to feel this exodus from contemporary reality’ (55). This milieu presents the possibility of real change, demonstrating that ‘the unconscious is a process . . . the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the unconscious’ (Jung 1959, 235). Conchis deliberately structures his Godgame on Jungian lines, in the hope that Nicholas will project various archetypal figures onto the ‘visions’ that he presents. He is attempting to simulate, for Nicholas ‘these moments in the individual’s life, when the universal laws of human fate break in upon the purposes, expectations, and opinions of the personal consciousness . . . stations along the road of the individuation process’ (Jung 1974, 80). Conchis’s manufactured visions break the supposed ‘reality’ barrier between his personal stories of past experience, and Nicholas’s experiences on the island. When Conchis recalls his virtuous wartime love Lily, she seemingly appears – still in her twenties – accompanying Conchis’s harpsichord-playing that night. Prefiguring Conchis’s explanation of his most diabolical and life-defining act at the hands of the Nazis, the moment at which he passes the Rubicon, Nicholas is captured by a Nazi troop. The visions also break down the barrier between literature, 5

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

which for Jung taps into the same myths of the collective unconscious as dreams, and dreams themselves, which are ‘an autonomous and meaningful product of psychic activity’ (Jung 1974, 3). Both are (potentially) non-mimetic allegorical forms. They are intended to teach. Conchis is determined to give Nicholas the impression that the stories he is told or the discourses that he reads are breaking into his waking life, in order to demonstrate his masculine ego-centrism9. These visions have the quality of myth10, of following the artifices of fiction. As Urfe initially notes, overcome by the numinous quality of the appearance of Robert Foulkes, the Seventeenth Century author of a pamphlet he has read: ‘there came the strangest feeling . . . of having entered a myth; a knowledge of what it was like physically, moment by moment, to have been young and ancient’ (157) 11. Conchis is attempting to recreate the didactic quality of the dream, to ‘help us forward where our best [conscious] efforts have failed’ (Jung 1974, 84). He presents visions for Nicholas that are far more than mere ‘wish-fulfilment’, the Freudian definition of the dream from which Jung most diverges (see Jung 1974, 73). Instead they serve a compensatory function, ‘balancing and comparing different data or points of view so as to produce an adjustment or a rectification’ (1974, 75). The visions take the opposite stance to Nicholas’s one-sided conscious attitude, that the isolated individual is superior to the family structure and that the feminine exists only for male exploitation. Robert Foulkes is clearly a parable figure for Nicholas’s benefit. Foulke’s sexual impropriety (‘he had got a young girl with child, then murdered the child’ 140) leads to turmoil in the same way that Nicholas’s sexual desire defies any possibility of starting a family, of becoming individuated. It is a sign of his (rare) progress at the end of the novel that he does not prey upon young Jo-Jo, but nurtures her. The pornographic book that Conchis leaves in Nicholas’s room at Bourani, The Beauties of Nature, serves a similarly didactic function: There were long shots of breasts, shots of breasts of every material from every angle, and against all sorts of background, closer and closer, until the final picture was of nothing but breast, with one dark and much larger-than-natural nipple staring from the centre of the glossy page. It was much too obsessive to be erotic (101) This pseudo-Freudian depiction of unconscious desire, though it revolts Nicholas on a conscious level, encapsulates his own desire. He has regarded women simply as


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

sexual objects: ‘I didn’t collect conquests, but by the time I left Oxford I was a dozen girls away from virginity. I found my sexual success and the apparently ephemeral nature of love equally pleasing. It was like being good at golf, but despising the game’ (21). He has no intention of extending these relationships beyond physical flings: ‘I always made sure that the current victim knew, before she took her clothes off, the difference between coupling and marrying’ (21). As such, he is capable of expressing only Barthes’s ‘corps / body’ love-figure (1977, 71). He does not regard women as people but body-parts: ‘Her long hair was not quite blonde, but bleached almost to that colour’ (23), ‘Her hair was long’ (141), ‘She was wearing a wide-collared blueand-white striped dress, that left her arms bare. There was a bracelet above one elbow, and the skirt came down, narrowing at the bottom, almost to her ankles . . . her hair, her outline, the upright way she held herself’ (155). As such he is clearly ‘in the process of fetishizing a corpse’ (1977, 71). It is hardly surprising that Conchis tells him ‘you are sick. You live by death’ (439)12. In the Godgame, Conchis casts himself in the archetypal role of the ‘Wise Old Man’. From the first moment that Urfe encounters him he has the unhuman, numinous qualities of an archetype: ‘a man whose age was impossible to tell: perhaps sixty, perhaps seventy . . . the most striking thing about him was the intensity of his eyes; very dark brown, staring, with a simian penetration emphasized by the remarkably clear whites; eyes that seemed not quite human’ (79). He fulfils the precise role laid down by Jung, ‘representing’ true paternal knowledge which opposes the other discourses (the military, the education system) that Urfe has encountered in the adult world13. Conchis’s embodiment of past knowledge is symbolised by his horde of artworks, and his claim to Nicholas that ‘I have lived a great deal in other centuries’ (105). His stories are an analogue for the received wisdom of the collective unconscious. His anecdote of his war experiences with the Nazi Colonel Dietrich Wimmel draw a connection between Urfe’s individual relationship hang-ups and the psychological quirks that cause nations to go to war: War is a psychosis caused by an inability to see relationships. Our relationship with our fellow-men. Our relationship with our economic and historical situation. And above all our relationship to nothingness, to death’ (394)


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

The isolated Nicholas, it is implied, contains the latent masculine elements responsible for the greatest social atrocity in the world – the war events of Conchis’s story. The psychologists’ report identifies Conchis in the Wise Old Man’s guiding role. He is the good advice Nicholas did not take. Nicholas’s problems stem from ‘a very early identification of the father, or male, as separator – a role which Doctor Conchis adopted in the experiment’ (509). He is further identified in this guiding role as eponym of the novel itself, as explained by June/Rose: ‘There’s a card in the Tarot pack called the magus. The magician . . . conjuror’ (477). Conchis perpetuates the archetype with his costume at the trial, that of the ‘astrologer-magician’ (503) characteristic of the Wise Old Man: A man in a black cloak on which were various astrological and alchemical symbols in white. On his head he wore a hat with a peak a yard high and a wide nefarious brim; a kind of black neck-covering hung from behind it. Black gloves, and a long white staff surmounted by a circle, a snake with its tale in its mouth (501) The ‘alchemical symbols’ are a form of ancient knowledge that perpetually interested Jung. The ‘circle, a snake with its tale in its mouth’, meanwhile, is directly analogous to one of his case studies. Jung reports a dream in which ‘a snake describes a circle round the dreamer, who stands rooted to the ground like a tree’ (1974, 126). The circle is clearly a mandala, ‘an inner image, which is gradually built up through (active) imagination, at such times when psychic equilibrium is disturbed or when a thought cannot be found and must be sought for’ (1974, 171). This is the role that Conchis intends to play for Nicholas, he has created ‘a taboo area where he will be able to meet the unconscious’ and thus overcome Nicholas’s ‘insuperable desire to run away from the unconscious’ (1974, 127). So as Woodcock notes, ‘the book’s scheme is to bring Urfe to account for his exploitative attitudes by means of the masque and trial’ (1984, 47). This statement, however, fails to take into account the reader’s distaste towards Conchis’s actual methods. The serpent is also representative of the shadow, Satan in the garden of Eden, and this denotes Conchis’s other archetypal identity – the Trickster. The Godgame is a trick that Conchis, as puppeteer, never truly explains – at the very end of the novel the distinction between participants and non-participants remains unclear to both Nicholas and the reader, as do the parameters for where the


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

game starts and ends. It is unnecessarily cruel. Urfe is injured during the ‘visions’ several times, though Conchis claims ‘This was not intended. At least you will accept that’ (403). The game regards Urfe as a ‘subject’ rather than a human being, ripe for analysis but ‘without subsidiary interest’ (508). Fowles has placed analytic psychology under its own lens, and ascribed it a negative role – one that takes Urfe’s latent shadow and makes it manifest (albeit so that he can work through it). Female characters also transgress between archetypal roles. The Lily/Julie/Doctor Vanessa Maxwell figure is a Hetaira anima14, a potential sexual companion/soul sister (Jung 1959, 252) who is a superlative ‘beautiful young lady’ (466). Nicholas elaborates upon this superlative quality: ‘I thought of myself as a connoisseur of girls’ good looks; and I knew that this was one to judge all others by’ (169). He tells her that ‘You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen’ (484). Lily is closer to the sphere of Conchis’s artworks than to the other characters that Nicholas encounters, and he describes her as such: ‘the Boticelli face; grey-violet eyes’ (155). By projecting this particular anima Urfe demonstrates his masculine ego-centrism, regarding her as an object like that ‘extinct Lawrentian woman of the past, the woman inferior to man in everything but that one great power of female dark mystery and beauty’ (242). She is introduced as a mystery for both Nicholas and the reader, using the classic romance figure of the lost ‘elbow-length woman’s glove’ (89)15, which Nicholas finds on the beach after he gets the impression that somebody has been watching him. He is in love with an imago16. This trait is demonstrated by Lily/Julie’s shifting identity from Conchis’s lover (Lily) to an actress (Julie) to a psychologist (Dr Vanessa Maxwell). This culminates in her cold revelation, after Nicholas has finally (seemingly) caught up with desire by having sex with her, that ‘my name isn’t Julie, Nicholas’ (488). She embodies Jung’s conviction that ‘the insinuations of the anima . . . can utterly destroy a man’ (Jaffé 212), by seducing Nicholas away from Alison. Urfe tells Alison about her when they meet, attempting to reconcile, in Athens. Her response is a (supposed) suicide. Lily/Julie can therefore be seen as a form of the archetypal ‘fatal woman’ who tempts Nicholas in order to divert him from his path (Jung 1959, 334). In the shift from Lily to Julie to Doctor Vanessa, this woman shifts positions in Jung’s triad of female roles, the Kore (Maiden, Mother, Hecate) (Jung 1959, 142). Where she was an anima, a maiden (incorporating maternal elements according to the psychologists report) she is now Hecate, the destructive female who 9

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

repulses him: ‘nothing could justify Lily’s behaviour’ (511). This new role is indicated, ironically, by her costume at the trial, of a ‘traditional English witch’ (500) with the familiar of a ‘dead, stuffed’ black-and-white-cat. Her twin sister, Rose/June, claims when confessing to Nicholas that ‘this is where my witchcraft stops’ (481). By constrast, Alison is clearly his true soulmate, a woman whose importance lies not in the realm of myth but in her ability to fulfil Nicholas’s individuation in the real world. He even discovers that her name means ‘without madness’ (453). Unlike Nicholas, she does not view her life in terms of some grand narrative, and sees sexual relations not in terms of heightened mythology but straightforward biological desire: ‘There was a nice Israeli boy, we were just kissing. It was a party, that was all’ (26). She is overwhelmingly real, a contrast to the virginal image that Lily/Julie later presents: ‘She had candid grey eyes, the only innocent things in a corrupt face, as if circumstances, not nature, had forced her to be hard’ (24). Alison is able to identify the nature of Nicholas’s psychological problems, and does so in a cathartic outpouring: All that mystery balls. You think I fall for that? There’s some girl on your island and you want to lay her. That’s all. But of course that’s nasty, that’s crude. So you tart it up. As usual. Tart it up so it makes you seem the innocent one, the great intellectual who must have his experience. Always both ways. Always cake and eat it. Always–(235) As the novel progresses, Nicholas does make some realisations about the way in which he has treated her: ‘All right. I treated Alison very badly. I’m a born cad, a swine, whatever you want’ (627). Most lucidly, he notes that ‘My monstrous crime was Adam’s, the oldest and most vicious of all male selfishness: to have imposed the role I needed from Alison on her real self’ (515). He is thus, potentially, able to recall the projection, to regard Alison not as a projection of his own personal hang-ups but a true human being. Alison is vital to Nicholas’s individuation; so much so that, as Acheson has noted, her name exists as an anagram within ‘Nicholas’ (1998, 31). In the closing image of a ‘frozen present tense’ (656) Fowles presents a potential of individuated self, which includes ‘an anagram made flesh’ (656). Nicholas says that he will ‘never be more than half a human being without her’ (656). However, The Magus is not simply an explication of Jungian theory – it engages with it on a critical level. Nicholas’s impression of a ‘collective unconscious’, on which everything is derived from Greek myths and other elemental stories, is


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

revealed to be a by-product of a very particular class consciousness: one based upon an Oxbridge-style education, the army and canonical literature. ‘Unconscious’ visions are provided for Nicholas by Conchis, whose classical education mirrors his own. This is demonstrated by his horde of art works which, like Nicholas’s brilliant future poetic career, transpire to be false. Conchis’s visions of satyrs and anima figures would not affect Alison, the ‘vulgar’ Australian, in the same way as they do Nicholas. Indeed, the cultural product that most moves her, to Nicholas’s disapproval, is the cinema (34). Equally, Jungian archetypes are broken down for Nicholas in the Godgame’s ‘disintoxication’. Lily/Julie, the supposedly ‘virginal’ anima, appears in a pornographic film (as ‘Lady Jane, a depraved young aristocrat’, 523). She proceeds to have sex with a black man in front of him. The archetype, or at least the archetype as projection, has been devalued. Like Northop Frye, we must conclude that the idea of a collective unconscious, of ‘elemental patterns in the human psyche’, is an ‘unnecessary hypothesis’ (cited in Abrams 1999, 13). Jung, like the initial stages of the Godgame, has not tapped into a ‘universal’ system17, but is simply perpetuating the idea that the myths behind his own middle-class ideology are elemental and transcultural. Fowles’s critical engagement with Jung even has a biographical angle. It examines criticisms of psychoanalysts as elevated mystics, and questions the very nature of following one, great, theoretical patriarch. Conchis’s dilemma at the hands of the Nazis – to collude with them and survive, or to remain free and die – echoes Jung’s own biography, as explained in his Essays on Contemporary Events. Although in far less immediate danger than Conchis, Jung chose to work with the Nazis by taking on the Presidency of the General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, based in Germany (1946, vii). For him the war was an instance of mass shadow-projection: ‘the first outbreak of epidemic insanity, an irruption of the unconscious into what seemed to be a tolerably well-ordered world’ (1946, 68). Conchis’s Godgame, in this sense, is not so different from World War Two. It is a socially-imposed psychosis (it instils ‘hallucinogentic’ visions) that disorientate and traumatise the participant, led by a sole patriarch. Fowles is unafraid of making these darker connotations explicit. Nicholas detects, in the ‘court of injustice’ of his trial, an ‘alarming Ku Klux Klan ambience’ (498).


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

Conchis is, however, overdetermined18. He makes the opposite decision to Jung, and by doing so proves Jung’s own theories. When given the choice between clubbing three rebels to death in order to preserve the lives of eighty hostages, he makes a Jungian realisation: ‘I was the only person left in that square who had the freedom left to choose, and . . . the annunciation and defence of that freedom was more important than common sense, self preservation’ (434). As Jung notes: ‘without freedom there can be no morality’ (1946, 76) and so the old man is absolved from making a moral decision. Conchis refuses to kill the rebels. He remains free. He has allowed eighty people to die by not sacrificing three, but has not committed murder himself and, most importantly, has maintained his own volition. He therefore makes the correct choice between the collective and the individual, a choice that almost seems to contradict the value that Jung places in the collective unconscious: The collective man threatens to stifle the individual man, on whose sense of responsibility everything valuable in mankind ultimately depends’. The mass is always anonymous and always irresponsible. So-called leaders are the inevitable symptoms of a mass movement’ (76-77) Conchis shares this sentiment. He concludes that Colonel Wimmel is mad and therefore absolved, so ‘the real evil, the real monstrosity in the situation lay in the other Germans, those less-than-mad lieutenants and corporals and privates who stood silently there watching’ (433). Conchis therefore both follows Jung’s views and shares his position (‘I was a doctor . . . my enemy was human suffering’), articulating a powerful account of the Nazis as the ultimate collective shadow: One of the great fallacies of our time is that the Nazis rose to power because they imposed order on chaos. Precisely the opposite is true – they were successful because they imposed chaos on order. They tore up the commandments, they denied the super-ego, what you will. They said, “You may persecute the minority, you may kill, you may torture, you may couple and breed without love”. They offered humanity all its great temptations. Nothing is true. Everything is permitted (428) The Magus is a Jungian exemplum determined to ruin itself. The majority of readers have encountered the novel in the form of the ‘revised edition’ of 1976. This contains a rather odd foreword, in which Fowles dismisses his own text by siding with his reviewers and their ‘justified criticisms of excess, over-complexity and artificiality’ (9). He also refers to ‘the obvious influence of Jung, whose theories deeply interested me at the time’ (6). That he concedes Jung’s influence in a 12

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

preliminary paratext means that a reader with any knowledge of Jung cannot help but interpret The Magus as a Jungian exemplum. By doing so Fowles appears to be attempting to disable the novel’s potential to induce an impression of intangible but significant undertones, of connections being made of which we are not fully aware. The unconscious is explained away before we reach the first page. Fowles seems to share the impression of many European post-Freudians: that there is something intrinsically false and deceptive about Jung’s formulation of the unconscious. It is an illusory game analogous to Conchis’s Godgame. In order to locate an authentic unconscious voice in a novel about inauthentic unconsciousness, then, it is necessary to follow Althusser’s advice: We have to return to Freud to return to the maturity of Freudian theory, not to its childhood but to its mature age, which is its true youth – we have to come back to Freud beyond theoretical infantilism, the lapse back into childhood, in which a whole (and above all American) sector of contemporary psychoanalysis delights in the advantages of its surrenders (Mehlman trans 1996, 19) He is talking about Lacan’s ‘return to Freud’. At first glance, the idea that Urfe has an Oedipus complex carries onto a Lacanian level. His Nom-du-Pére (see Fink 1997, 81), literally embodied by his father, is a powerful ‘Non!’ that is fundamentally linguistic, expressing the conventional language-relations ascribed by the Symbolic. Urfe says that: in lieu of an intellect [his father] had accumulated an armoury of capitalized key-words like Discipline and Tradition and Responsibility. If I ever dared – and I seldom did – to argue with him, he would produce one of these totem words and cosh me with it, as no doubt in similar circumstances he quelled his subalterns (15) So Urfe finds his pre-Oedipal desire thwarted, figuratively coshed, by language. His life seems orientated from the anchoring point of the ‘castration anxiety’ of Symbolic relations. Urfe perversely ‘liked [in his parents] the things they didn’t want to be liked for’ (16) and appears to be characteristic of an Oedipal type determined to defy the Other’s wishes: ‘they would sooner live their whole lives in opposition to the demands made and the ideals fostered by the parental Other than let anything they do serve that Other’ (1997, 34). Hence Urfe abandons the Army in favour of education and the arts. He expresses desire in a conventional fashion, attempting to push beyond the Symbolic, beyond language, using contradiction. He describes Alison, a site of 13

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

desire, as ‘innocent-corrupt, coarse-fine, an expert novice’ (28). If this Oedipal scheme provided a full analysis, Urfe’s paternal metaphor could be depicted thus19:

Nicholas Urfe


The Paternal Function: The Father: ‘not really up to his job’ Victorian Discourse: ‘the grotesquely elongated shadow’ Spurious Family History: ‘wishful tradition’ The army: ‘queasy’ The British Public School System

However, the actual linguistic patterns of Urfe’s discourse reveal a very different psychic state: he has always rejected this paternal function (hence his perpetual distaste towards and disengagement with the discourses listed above), it has been foreclosed, and thus psychotic structures have been set in place 20. When his parents die he is, as he literally describes himself, ‘free’ (16). As Fink notes, ‘the absence of the paternal function is the single most important criterion to consider in diagnosing an individual as psychotic’ (1997, 79)21. Since Lacan insists that a subject must either have taken on the paternal function once and permanently or not at all and never (see Fink 1997, 82), it must be concluded that even when his father was present, Urfe rejected his symbolic function. As he comments, his parents were ‘mere providers’ (16). He has refused to become inculcated into the Victorian discourse embodied by his father: ‘I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow . . . of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria’ (15). Urfe displays many psychotic characteristics. Immediately preceding his aborted suicide-attempt, before he meets Conchis, he embodies the characteristic sensation of the end of the world encountered immediately preceding a psychotic


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

break (Leader 1995, 108): ‘I was hopelessly unhappy in those last few days before the Christmas holidays. I began to loathe the school irrationally: the way it worked and the way it was planted, blind and prisonlike, in the heart of the divine landscape’ (56). This potential break is triggered by the catalyst of a promotion, a change in his symbolic status in the world, when he becomes a teacher, responsible for ‘massproduced middle class boys’ (18). His guiltless amoral behaviour towards women represents a ‘lack of control over the drives’ (Fink 1997, 97); his repeatedly slapping women who upset him demonstrates that ‘even slight provocation can lead the psychotic to engage in seriously punishing behaviour’ (1997, 97). He even has some homosexual tendencies (identified by Fink as a potential sign that no Oedipal triangle has formed, in which the subject can orientate himself, 1997, 98), as identified not only in the psychologists’ report but also in his own narrative: Much more tempting were some of the boys, possessors of an olive grace and a sharp individuality that made them very different from their stereotyped English private school equivalents . . . I had Gide-like moments, but they were not reciprocated, for nowhere is pederasty more abominated than in bourgeois Greece (57) In a bone fide sense Urfe does not have hallucinations, the most notorious sign of psychosis. However, as Fink notes, ‘hallucination is not a criterion of psychosis: its presence does not constitute definitive proof that the patient is psychotic, nor does its absence constitute definitive proof that the patient is not’ (1997, 83). In this sense, The Magus could be read as an investigation of the presence of psychotic structures in analysands that do not suffer from full-blown psychotic symptoms (see Leader 1995, 167). All this, however, throws up intriguing questions about the status of the ‘visions’ that Conchis provides for Nicholas. Nicholas always interprets them as part of a masque, as a staged game rather than reality: ‘suddenly the humour, the absurd, touching poetry of the whole thing, made me smile. It must be some elaborate joke of Conchis’s, mounted for my exclusive benefit; and as a subtle test of my own humour, tact and intelligence’ (134). As such he follows the remit of the neurotic rather than the psychotic, believing in the vision but not believing it (Fink 1997, 83). In this sense the ‘visions’ seem to tie in with Rose/June the psychologists’ description of the Godgame: Maurice’s lifelong special field has been the nature of the delusional symptoms of insanity . . . Psychiatry is getting more and more interested in the other side of 15

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

the coin – why people are sane, why they won’t accept delusions and fantasies as real. Obviously it’s very difficult to explore that if you tell your sane guineapig, your very sane guinea-pig in this case, that everything he’s going to be told is an attempt to delude him (477) Yet Urfe cannot be ‘very sane . . . in this case’, as Conchis’s visions do successfully fulfil the role of psychotic delusions – they replace the Nom-du-Pére Urfe lacks, and work by a very stringent logic. They are even provided by a father figure, a magus. Like Alison, Conchis is demonstrated as a site of desire, beyond language, by contradiction. Nicholas has ‘met this unmeetable man’ (76). Urfe faces the lack of a signifier and consequently the lack of a signification. These ‘delusions’ provide the missing signifier and give meaning to the world (see Leader 1995, 109). Conchis provides Urfe with an ego-ideal22, an orientation to judge himself against, as an alternative to the alienating image in which the world is, as he notes before his attempted suicide ‘like something outside a vacuum’ (61). As he sits waiting to kill himself he feels that ‘all the time I felt I was being watched, that I was not alone, that I was putting on an act for the benefit of someone’ (62). He encounters Conchis within a chapter. Urfe, like any psychotic ‘has the sense of being possessed by a language that speaks as if it were coming not from inside but outside’ (Fink 1997, 87), as demonstrated by his artificial construction of a particular Self, that of an existentialist with a ‘solitary heart’ (21) designed solely in order to seduce women. Conchis attempts to overcome the fictionality of all discourse, the inadequacy of words. He does not read novels, because: ‘Words are for truth. For facts. Not fiction’ (96). As such he is imitating the maternal phallus, providing the orientating desire that can only be located in the Symbolic, and as such brings meaning to the world. Nicholas’s distorted entry into the Symbolic has lead to a distorted relationship in the knot 23 between the three orders. Conchis’s visions on the island link together elements of the imaginary, the body image (they efface the subjectivity between Nicholas and Conchis, by making Nicholas re-enact scenes from Conchis’s so-called life), the linguistic (the afformentioned maternal phallus) and the real, the extreme sexual excitement (with Lily/Julie) and pain (Nicholas’s injuries) that the Godgame provides. As such they demonstrate the peculiar sinthome24 of the psychotic. A question remains, however, over how Nicholas Urfe has reached adulthood minus the Symbolic, without suffering a psychotic break. This is attributable to a form


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

of ‘imitation’ (Fink: ‘thanks to imitation, a psychotic can learn to speak the way other people speak, 1997, 91)25 that can be depicted thus:

Nicholas Urfe


Urfe’s Imitated Paternal Function: • • • • The Heroes of Existential Novels Lord Byron D.H. Lawrence The Myths of Classical Antiquity

Fink notes, in a case study, that ‘prolific “literary” production’ is an extremely common feature in psychosis’ (1997, 104). Urfe has constructed a false Nom-du-Pére from the ‘literary’-textual discourses he has read. He rejects the discourse of his parents in favour of literature: ‘I thought D.H. Lawrence the greatest human being of the century; my parents certainly never read Lawrence, and had probably never heard of him’ (16). As first-person narrator, Urfe appears to have progressed beyond some of these viewpoints, and is therefore able to pinpoint the way in which he has textuallyconstructed himself: ‘we didn’t understand that the heroes, or anti-heroes, of the French existentialist novels we read were not supposed to be realistic’ (17). He does not, however, realise that his literary-discourse has remained embedded in his speech. He regards his sexual feelings towards young boys only on the grounds of Gide and Arnold, surprised at the re-orientation caused by the island itself: ‘it made conventional English notions of what was moral and immoral ridiculous’ (57). Urfe’s very desire to retreat from a successful relationship to isolate himself on Phraxos can be seen as an attempt to actively disprove John Donne’s infamous maxim: ‘No man is an island’ (1624, 333). Nicholas (melo)dramatises his time on the island before Conchis even appears, based on his literary-character self-image: ‘for the second time that day I felt like Robinson Crusoe’ (70). This detaches him from the exterior world.


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

While his Greek pupils want to learn the vocabulary for practical things, such as car mechanics, in English, Urfe only wants to teach them poetry26. Urfe can only regard relationships by the terms of high art. Conchis shows him a particularly striking Bonnard and he reports: ‘I was remembering Alison, Alison wandering about the flat naked, singing like a child’ (97). This painting demonstrates the orientating function that art holds for Nicholas, pre-Conchis, as the maternal phallus, as it is ‘giving the whole of existence a reason’ (97). Ironically, the next work of art encountered is a photograph of Lily/Julie. This sequence defines in macrocosm Urfe’s desire-shift across the novel from (imitated) poetic desire to the (psychoticcompensatory) desire for Lily/Julie. Nicholas (presumably narrating from a more enlightened proleptic point) identifies his demand for literary success as an ‘onanistic literary picture of myself I caressed up out of reality’ which ‘began to dominate my life’ (57). This culminates at his time at Oxford: ‘I got a third class degree and a firstclass illusion: that I was a poet’ (17). The onset of psychosis exposes this imitated Nom-du-Pére: But then, one bleak March Sunday, the scales dropped from my eyes. I read the Greek poems and saw them for what they were: undergraduate pieces, without rhythm, without structure, their banalities or perception clumsily concealed under an impasto of lush rhetoric . . . The truth rushed down on me like a burying avalanche. I was not a poet . . . Poetry had always seemed something I could turn to in need – an emergency exit, a lifebuoy, as well as a justification. Now I was in the sea, and the lifebuoy had sunk, like leed. It was an effort not to cry tears of self-pity (57-58) Desire has been located and consequently shifts to Lily/Julie. It is an act of dialecticalisation, in a fashion similar to the entry into analysis which, unknowingly as part of Conchis’s Godgame Nicholas is actually experiencing. Nicholas is ‘free to say “Well, yes, I want that; on second thought, I don’t really; come to think of it, what I really want is . . .” ’ (Fink 1997, 26). Desire has been set free from demand. The strongest indicator of Nicholas’s psychosis lies in evidence of the Symbolic’s failure to overwrite the Imaginary27 (Fink 1997, 87). As Fink notes ‘its absence leaves one with a precarious sense of self, a self-image that is liable to deflate or evaporate at certain critical moments’ (1997, 89). His relation with others is primarily imaginary, that is, one based upon rivalry. This illuminates his feeling that ‘I had in some indefinable way won’ when he leaves Alison. Nicholas is too aware of his alienation from himself, of the way in which his existence as the ‘I’ of his utterances


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

is alienated from the ‘I’ that actually speaks (see Belsey 2002, 59). He is too aware of the inscription of ideology in the subject, of the way in which his parents are interpellated by Victorian and army discourses and of the way in which the Symbolic has brought him into existence before he was even born: ‘I lacked the parents and ancestors I needed’ (15). Lemaire notes that: ‘the normal man makes his discourse the signifier of his own being, and if he speaks of things, he differentiates them from himself . . . he seeks to render his ego identical to his subjectivity, which is mediated through language’ (1970, 237). As Urfe has come to distrust language, he equally comes to distrust the linguistic construction of the ego, and thus his own subjectivity28. Words, for him, are ultimately meaningless. By distrusting the ego he suffers a crisis of representation: ‘this unflawed natural world became intimidating. I seemed to have no place in it, I could not use it and I was not made for it’ (56). As a result, ‘I felt myself filled with nothingness; with something more than the old physical and social loneliness – a metaphorical sense of being marooned. It was something almost tangible, like cancer or tuberculosis’ (58). Nicholas does not care enough about the falsifying image to lead a meaningful existence. His ‘self’ is simply a manipulative toy, decentred in space, as exemplified in his seduction ‘technique’: ‘I made a show of unpredictability, cynicism and indifference. Then, like a conjurer with his white rabbit, I produced the solitary heart’ (21). In this sense the dramaturgical function of human actions in the Godgame, the constant reference to people playing roles and changing their parts (from Lily to Julie to Doctor Vanessa Maxwell to pornographic actress), are naturalised as the type of behaviour that, on some level, is engaged in by every human being. But - and here lies the final twist - though Nicholas has located the falsely reified mirror-image, for him there is nothing but another image behind the original gaze. He is a textual creation, and as such has no real ‘unconscious’, existing only in the ‘I’ of his first person enunciations. He unintentionally refers to this when he tells Alison that ‘This experience. It’s like being halfway though a book. I can’t just throw it in the dustbin’ (312). In the same vein Conchis’s greatest paper, ‘a lecture on art as institutuionalised illusion’ (479) is also a metafictional conceit. The novel, and the reader, are part of their own Godgame, as all literature presents this type of illusion. In this sense The Magus presents a reading that is beyond the ‘applied psychoanalysis’ that Lacan


candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

detested, which reduces the text to the expression of a mere psychological symptom (Rabaté 2001, 4), but constitutes an investigation of textuality itself. In conclusion, the deliberate Freudian and Jungian elements of The Magus do give way at their margins to depict a form of Lacanian psychosis in the central character.


Sources Cited
Acheson, James 1998 John Fowles Hampshire and London: Macmillan Abrams, M.H. 1999 A Glossary Of Literary Terms: Seventh Edition Orlando: Hardcourt Brace College Althusser, Louis 1993, Mehlman ed. 1996 Corpet, Oliver and Matheron, François trans. and introd. Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan New York: Columbia Univ. Press Barthes, Roland 1977 trans. Howard, Richard 1990 trans. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments Penguin (Jonathan Cape 1979) England: Penguin Belsey, Catherine 2002 Critical Practice (2nd ed) Cornwall: Routledge Brontë, Charlotte 1847 Mason, Michael ed. and intro. 1996 Jane Eyre Suffolk: Penguin Classics Brontë, Emily 1847 Nestor, Pauline ed. and intro. 1995 Wuthering Heights Suffolk: Penguin Classics Conradi, Peter 1982 Contemporary Writers: John Fowles London: Methuen Donne, John 1624 ‘Devotions upon Emergent Occasions’ Meditation 17 in Carey, John ed. and into. 2000 John Donne: Major Works Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press: Fink, Bruce 1995 The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance Harvard Univ. Press: United Kingdom Fink, Bruce 1997 A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique United Kingdom: Harvard Univ. Press Fowles, John 1977 The Magus Great Britain: Vintage Freud, Sigmund 1915-17 trans. Strachey, James trans. 1991 1. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis England: Penguin Goosmann, Bob 1999 ‘John Fowles the Website’, http://www.fowlesbooks.com/movie.html (16 March 2003) Jung, C.G. 1946 Samuel, Andrew trans and foreword Essays on Contemporary Events: Reflections on Nazi Germany (1946 Rascher & Cie : Zurich) London: Ark/Routledge Jung, C.G. 1959 trans Hull, F.C. The Archetypes And The Collective Unconscious London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd Jung, C.G. 1974 trans Hull, R.F.C. 1982 with Raine, Kathleen foreword 2002 Dreams London: Routledge Classics

candidate 316773 theories of the mind assessed essay: the magus as rebus: ‘art as institutionalised illusion’

Jung, C.G. 1928 trans. Baynes H.G. and C.F. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology: I. The Unconscious in the Normal and Pathological Mind II The Relation of the Ego to the Unconscious: London: Baillière, Tindall and Cox Leader, Darian and Groves, Judy 1995 Introducing Lacan Cambridge: Icon Lemaire, Anika 1970 Macey, David trans. 1977 Jacques Lacan Norfolk: Routledge and Kegan Paul Rabaté, Jean-Michael 2001 Translations: Jacques Lacan: Psychoanalysis and the Subject of Literature Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Woodcock, Bruce 1984 Male Mythology: John Fowles and Masculinity Sussex: Harvester Press Woodcock, George ed Hardy, Thomas 1985 The Return Of The Native (1878) London: Penguin




As Conradi points out ‘it is as impossible to hold [The Magus’s] various illusory and mutually hostile fictional planes in a single comprehensible perspective as it is to separate them’ (1982, 42).

For the sake of simplicity, throughout this essay ‘psychoanalytic theory’ and ‘psychoanalysis’ are used as an umbrella term to describe the work of Freud, Jung and Lacan, even though Jung retracted the term in favour of ‘analytic psychology’.

Fowles is interested in analytical psychology as a science. His narrative represents an investigation into the nature of what happens when this science follows what Althusser defines as science’s fundamental precepts: as in any authentic constituted science, the practice is not the absolute of the science but a theoretically subordinated moment, the moment at which the theory become method (technique) enters into theoretical contact (knowledge) or practical contact (therapy) with its own object (the unconscious) (Mehlman trans 1996, 18) So Fowles is interested in the nature of the practice of Jung’s theories. The world of the novel is that which Althusser designates as the pre-Lacanian era of psychoanalysis, in which Western reason compromises with psychoanalysis by ‘annexing it to its own sciences or its own myths’ (Mehlman 1996, 19). It is a theoretical game carried on outside true experience.

Freud: ‘patients regularly repeat traumatic situations’ (1915-17, 315)

That ‘the most significant feature’ of Urfe’s characteristic ‘semi-intellectual introversion’ is ‘negative: its lack of social content’ (508) is evident in his retreat to Phraxos. The Island is a paradise, disturbed only by the occasional presence of other people or even other animal-life: ‘its distinguishing characteristic, away from the village, was silence . . . It was the world before the machine, almost before man . . . It was the least eerie, the most un-Nordic solitude in the world’ (51). That ‘the subject shows characteristic symbols of mingled fear and resentment of authority, especially male authority’ (508) can be noted from the very first page, in which Nicholas explains that he ‘wasted two years doing my national service’ (15). He goes on to express that he was ‘outrageously bitter’ (17) about being forced to join the army. He regards the masters in the British public school at which he works as ‘a glimpse of the bottomless pit of human futility’ (18). Urfe’s strongest antiauthority sentiment obviously relates to his father, ‘he was a stickler for externals and petty quotidian things’ (15). This is a classic Oedipal relation on Freud’s terms: ‘he feels the presence of the father as a nuisance . . . he shows satisfaction when his father has gone on a journey or is absent’ (Freud 1915-17, 375). It is hardly surprising, then, that when Nicholas hears that his parents have died in a plane crash he remarks ‘after the first shock I felt an almost immediate sense of relief, of freedom’ (16). Urfe cannot resolve this complex because he cannot identify with his father, an entity representative only of the ‘grotesquely elongated shadow’ (15) of repressive Victorian discourse. Urfe only mentions his family in the opening two pages but the psychologists pick up on the fact that ‘he comes of a military family, in which there were a large number of taboos resulting from a strongly authoritarian paternal regime’ (509). This evokes ideas from Freud’s Totem and Taboo, the mythic origin of society as the primal hoarde, in which one treacherous father enjoys all of the women and deprives his sons of them.

The report’s comments about Urfe’s treatment of women, that ‘they are seen both as desired objects and as objects which have betrayed him, and therefore merit his revenge and counter-betrayal’ (509) are equally accurate. The first female betrayal, as befits the sufferer of an Oedipus complex, is that of his mother. She follows the discredited discourse of his father: ‘she never argued with him and always behaved as if he were listening in the next room, even when he was thousands of miles away’ (15). Love from others, for Urfe, is laced with betrayal. A girl from East Anglia who wants to marry him causes him to reflect that ‘I began to be sick of the way a mere bodily need threatened to distort my life’ (21). An emblem of this tendency is the way in which he repeatedly slaps women – Alison, June, Julie – after he has pursued them as sites of desire. His relationship with Alison is an excellent demonstration of his repetition-compulsion. It is an extended game of fort da, in which Urfe desires her, drives her away, and then desires her again. Upon leaving her for the first time, to go to Greece, he explains their relationship as a competition based on counter-betrayal: ‘The thing I felt most clearly, when the first corner was turned, was that I had escaped. Obscurer, but no less strong, was the feeling that she loved me more than I loved her, and that consequently I had in some indefinable way won (48) He justifies his betrayal of Alison by reasoning that she has betrayed him, by returning to Pete. The Lily/Julie figure best represents the pattern of desire and betrayal. He becomes infatuated with her, breaking off his relationship with Alison, only to blame her for Alison’s suicide, telling Julie’s twin sister: ‘Now you know the cost of your fun and fireworks at Bourani’ (472). His reported ‘repetition-compulsion’ to isolate himself is also born out by his behaviour in the novel; in his refusal to socialise with the staff at his British public school job, in his rejecting Alison in favour of Greece, and in his psychosomatic impression that he has syphilis (an excuse which he defers from its initial context – an excuse to keep himself away from the human inhabitants of Phraxos, to an excuse not to spend the night with Alison when they meet in Athens, even though he is aware that the disease is false by this point). He desires to return to an earlier condition – the stage before which he was separated from the mother by the strict command of the father, as represented by society in general. His repetition-compulsion demonstrates resistance to separation from the mother.

Jung on individuation: ‘becoming a single, homogenous being . . . becoming one’s own self’ (1928, 171). Individuation denotes ‘the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘individual’, that is, a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole’ (Jung 1959, 275). This state is achieved in the successful balance between the conscious and the unconscious, and of the male and female components of the psyche

This definition is enforced by Nicholas’s propensity to swim whenever the social world is encroaching upon him too much. It is an escape: ‘only the sea lived, and I did not begin to think coherently until school was over at noon and I could plunge into the water and lie in its blue relief’ (382)

That is, situations that represent ‘a new climax of insight and understanding’ (Jung 1974, 275)

To achieve this Conchis must break down Nicholas’s rationality, which is strong precisely because, as an existentialist, he despises any ‘kind of illogical fear of the supernatural’ (102). Conchis does so by repeating, in measured tones, that ‘I am a psychic’ (100), a conceit that gradually sneaks around Urfe’s sense of reason. The quote has an immediate numinous quality: ‘The house seemed full of silence; and suddenly everything that had happened earlier led to this’ (100). The words have their desired effect; though Urfe is initially incredulous the words remain in his mind, causing him to conjecture:

‘I am a psychic . . . it all pointed to spiritualism, to table-tapping. Perhaps the lady of the glove was a medium of some kind. Certainly Conchis hadn’t got the petty-bourgeois gentility and the woolly vocabulary I associated with séance-holders; but he was equally certainly not a normal man’ (102) By the time of the first tangible vision, when after reading a pamphlet by Robert Foulkes, Nicholas falls asleep and awakes to see its author like Alice encountering the rabbit, his faith in the rational is shaken: Conjectures flew through my head. The people I had seen, the sounds I had heard, and that vile smell, had been real, not supernatural; what was not real was the absence of any visible machinery – no secret rooms, nowhere to disappear – or of any motive (156) Eventually Nicholas is profoundly affected by this impression of numinosity. After he encounters a group of Nazi troops brutalising captured freedom fighters, he feels contradictory emotions: Once more I felt, beneath my anger, a return of the old awe for what Conchis was doing. Once more I was a man in a myth, incapable of understanding it, but somehow aware that understanding it meant it must continue, however sinister its peripateia (381) Nicholas is entranced by the incommensurable sensations that the Godgame produces: ‘incapable of understanding it, but somehow aware that understanding it meant it must continue’. As Conchis has told him ‘reality is not necessary’ (138) Jung on myths: ‘While the memory-images of the personal unconscious have some detailed form, since they consist of images that have been experienced, such detail is lacking in the memory-traces of the collective unconscious, since they have not been experienced individually. If the regression of the physical energy, retreating before an insurmountable object, goes back even further than the time of early infancy, it reaches the traces or deposits of ancestral life, and mythological images awaken. An inner mental world, whose existence we never before suspected, unfolds and displays contents which are perhaps in sharpest possible contrast to our previous conceptions. These images are of such intensity as to make it quite intelligible to us that millions of cultured people should have plunged into theosophy and anthroposophy’ (1928, 81)
10 11

Though he claims that ‘it was not in the least a literary feeling’ (157) these situations do seem to follow generic, literary lines. Nicholas’s encounter of Lily playing recorder is set-up as an archetypal dream vision which is incredibly similar to scenes in both Jane Eyre (Chapter 2) and Wuthering Heights (Chapter 3). In all three the first-person narrator is placed in a bedroom that has not been used for some time. Jane Eyre is put in the infamous ‘red-room’ which is ‘very seldom slept in’ (20) because old Mr Reed had died there. In the bed-chamber in Wuthering Heights the narrator is warned that the master ‘never let anybody loge there willingly’ (19). Characteristically, Nicholas finds a gecko in his room and notes that ‘Geckos like seldom-used rooms’ (101). The empty rooms are similarly arranged: I fastened my door and glanced round for the bed. The whole furniture consisted of a chair, a clothes-press, and a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top resembling coach windows. Having approached this structure, I looked inside, and perceived it to be a singular sort of oldfashioned couch, very conveniently designed to obviate the necessity for every member of the family having a room to himself.

In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table . . . The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed books piled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratched on the paint. (Wuthering Heights, 19) The bed was a cheap iron one. Besides a second table, a carpet, and an armchair, there was only an old, locked cassone, of a kind to be found in every cottage on the island . . . The walls were bare except for a photograph . . . I held up the lamp and turned the picture round to see if there was anything written on the back . . . On the table by the head of the bed there was a flat shell to serve as an ashtray, and three books: a collection of ghost stories, an old Bible and a large thin volume entitled The Beauties of Nature. The ghost stories purported to be true, ‘authenticated by at least two reliable witnesses . . . [They] reminded me of being ill at boarding school. (The Magus, 101) Following the precedent of Catherine Earnshaw’s ‘writing scratched on the paint’ Nicholas even looks for a palimpsest in his room: ‘I held up the lamp and turned the picture round to see if there was anything written on the back’ (101). The presence of ghost stories serves as a generic marker, breaking down the barrier between literature and vision. That ‘the ghost stories purported to be true, “authenticated by at least two reliable witnesses” ’ (101) inspires both Urfe and the reader to requestion the legitimacy of supernatural occurrences. The memory that stories evoke of boarding school tie the visions to the rites-of-passage importance of the ghost vision in Jane Eyre (presenting Jane with a powerful impression of death and male sexuality). At first Urfe is determined to defy the generic markers: ‘The house was quiet as death, as the inside of a skull; but the year was 1953, I was an atheist and an absolute non-believer in spiritualism, ghosts and all that mumbo-jumbo’ (102). Nicholas’s vision is deferred, in order to break down his Twentieth Century rationality. Several nights later he does encounter Lily, Conchis’s wartime love, still in her twenties though the Conchis who she accompanies is still an old man. Like Catherine’s child-ghost in Wuthering Heights, the vision drags Nicholas into an analeptic scene that has been described in a preceding passage by another first-person narrator. In Wuthering Heights this is the diary of Catherine Earnshaw, in The Magus it is Conchis’s wartime narrative, in which he deserts the army and disappoints Lily. In both novels this throws up questions about the identity of a female protagonist who lives in the house – one who has not aged alongside her male partner. This literary pattern must have archetypal qualities, ‘a poetic force and beauty’ (Jung 1974, 79), as it inspires a sense of the numinous in Nicholas, a sense of ‘an intensely mysterious present and concrete feeling of excitement, of being in a situation where anything still might happen. As of the world had suddenly . . . been reinvented, and for me alone’ (157).

Note also the way in which Conchis is deliberately playing with the idea he later presents in the psychological report that Nicholas has an oral fixation. Though Nicholas is disgusted by a conscious representation of his own desire, the desire to get closer and closer back to the breast, to the nipple that preceded its removal with the interjection of the father, he has pursued this course throughout, getting into relationships fundamentally for maternal satisfaction: ‘The subject has preyed sexually and emotionally on a number of young women. His method, according to Doctor Maxwell, is to stress and exhibit his loneliness and unhappiness – in short, to play the little boy in search of the lost mother. He thereby arouses repressed maternal instincts in his victims which he then proceeds to exploit with the semi-incestuous ruthlessness of this type’ (509).

‘Figuratively speaking, he is the ‘informing spirit’ who initiates the dreamer into the meaning of life and explains its secrets according to the teachings of old. He is a transmitter of the traditional wisdom. But nowadays the father pedagogue fulfils this function only in the dreams of his son, where he appears

as the archetypal father figure, the ‘wise old man’ (Jung 1974, 199) 14 The Anima: ‘Every man carries with him the eternal image of woman, not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definitive feminine image. This image is fundamentally unconscious, an hereditary factor of primordial origin engraved in the living organic system of the man, an imprint or "archetype" of all the ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit, as it were, of all the impressions ever made by woman . . . since this image is unconscious , it is always unconsciously projected upon the person of the beloved, and is one of the chief reasons for passionate attraction or aversion." (Jaffé 1995, 411).
15 16

See, for instance, The Return of the Native, p.457, Woodcock ed.

‘a person whom I perceive mainly through my projections . . . a carrier of images or symbols’ (Jung 1974, 52). Jung on the imago: ‘Just as we tend to assume that the world is as we see it, we naïvely suppose that people are as we imagine them to be. In this latter case, unfortunately, there is no scientific test that would prove the discrepancy between perception and reality [note that Jung, unlike Lacan, presupposes some kind of extra-linguistic, extra-perceptive ‘reality’]. Although the possibility of gross deception is infinitely greater here than in our perception of the physical world, we still go on naïvely projecting our own psychology into our fellow human beings. In this way everyone creates for himself a series of more or less imaginary relationships based essentially on projection. Among neurotics there are even cases where fantasy projections provide the sole means of human responsibility’ (1974, 52). This latter case appears to describe Nicholas’s relationship to Lily/Julie, though Jung diagnoses this as neurosis, where our ultimate analysis will determine Nicholas as psychotic, or at least having (unrealised) psychotic mental structures. Jung’s fervent attempt to locate the similarities between Western philosophy and religion with mandala symbolism and the oriental eclipses the vital differences between these modes of thought, which are often orientated from very different social formations.
17 18

Though Jungian theory generally makes for more coherent narratives than Freud or Lacan, such a reading is not the case here.

This diagram is adapted from Fink 1997, 92

Fink explains that the subject is presented with a ‘forced choice’ which initiates eho development – but psychotics make the other choice, and are thus (kind of) free (1995, 50).

Though, of course the absence of a physical father does not necessitate psychosis

See Fink 1997, 88

See Leader 1995, 166

See Leader 1995, 166 This idea of ‘imitation’ reveals one of the more questionable aspects of Lacan’s formation of psychosis. The normal, paternal function is surely imposed as a form of imitation, of imitation as inculcation. The difference between the ‘correct’, Oedipal form of imitation and the corrupt, psychotic, one is to a large extent unclear.


It is highly ironic that one who has failed to enter the Symbolic should teach language. Moreover, Urfe does so in a school, the foremost Althusserian Ideological State Appartus. For Althusser the realm of ideology corresponds to Lacan’s Imaginary. Corpet and Matheron note that: ‘the Lacanian narricisticimaginary becomes the Althusserian realm of ideology, a world of mirror reflections and edifying humanist myths’ (in Althusser 1996, vii). Thus one who is overwhelmed with the antagonistic Imaginary relationships characteristic of a psychotic is expected to spread them to pupils. ‘The imaginary register – that of visual images, auditory, olfactory, and other sense perceptions of all kinds, and fantasy – is restructured, rewritten, or ‘overwritten’ by the symbolic, by the words and phrases the parents use to express their view of their child. The new symbolic or linguistic order supersedes the imaginary order, which is why Lacan talks about the dominance and determinant nature of language in human existence’ (1997, 88).
27 28

This imaginary identification serves to deconstruct the binary between Self and Other. Nicholas has a hole in his Self, the absence of the ‘name of the father’, which exposes him to the whole of the continuum alienated by the Image identification. Here whole and hole would appear to be, in conjunction with one another, signifiers that undo themselves. In psychosis Nicholas is slowly able to unravel an impression of the social construction of the self. As Lemaire notes ‘Giving a name to a thing in effect presupposes that one can distinguish that thing as not being one’s self, and that one therefore has at one’s disposal a subjectivity and a signifier of that subjectivity’ (1979, 8). Urfe, with his weakened impression of he subject, appears to disintegrate at moments of desire, expressing Barthes’s ‘union’ love-figure (1977, 227) when he desires Alison: ‘I suddenly had a feeling that we were one body, one person . . . a terrible deathlike feeling, which anyone less cerebral and self-absorbed than I was then would have realized was simply love. I thought it was desire. I drove her straight home and tore her clothes off’ (35). Similarly, the reification of the self is broken down by the way in which the psychologists regards Urfe not as a person but a type, examing for ‘some syndrome I exhibited, some category I filled. I was not interesting in myself, but only as an example’. He is not a person but a ‘normal cultural life-pattern of the type’. For a discussion of The Magus as emblematic of a type of 1950s ideology construction see Woodcock 1994.

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