Alumni Spotlight: Bret Alderman, PhD Depth Psychology 2013
- Who is Bret Alderman? Tell us about Your Work –
I am, first and foremost, a writer, and as a writer I have always been interested in creating hybrid genres, works that mix disparate elements, styles of writing, modes of thought. The Czech novelist Milan Kundera was probably my first inspiration in this regard. His novels incorporate poetry, autobiography, historical essay, oneiric fiction, philosophical meditation, realist narrative, and other forms of writing, yet they do so in such a way that all these seemingly incongruent elements form a thematically coherent work of art. His playfulness with form is astounding, and since the age of seventeen I’ve dreamt of writing with that same degree of playfulness and freedom of form.
My first book, which Routledge published earlier this year, Symptom, Symbol, and the Other of Language: A Jungian interpretation of the linguistic turn manifests a similar playfulness and freedom: It’s a hybrid discourse that mixes seemingly disparate stylistic elements. More specifically, it attempts to let two different forms of thought commingle: mythos and logos, imagination and rationality—the thinking of fantasy and reverie, on the one hand, and the reasoned thinking of logical propositions and conclusions, on the other. Interweaving mythos and logos is one way of manifesting what Jung referred to as a symbolic attitude. It’s at the heart of his technique of active imagination, his work on dreams, and his genius.
My book attempts to manifest this attitude in relation to a subject matter that might not seem too amenable to it: the linguistic turn. My challenge was to write about the very dense, often obscure material of postmodern semiotics— a very logos style of discourse—in a way that would reveal the dream, the mythos, within that discourse. It was a very difficult balancing act. I had to explicate works by Derrida, Saussure, Foucault, and Rorty in such a way as to make them intelligible to a general audience. Then I had to paint a picture of all the mythic themes hidden behind and beneath these abstract theories, all the dream images, symbols, and symptoms veiled by their esoteric prose.
- How/Why did you get into this line of work?
Like many people, growing up I always had a sense that there were things I perceived that weren’t being talked about, either because they weren’t perceived by others, were difficult to put into words, or were just too painful to mention. Writing allows those perceptions to come forth. Often it’s the only way they can. I knew early on that I wanted to write.
- What is most rewarding about it; what makes it all worthwhile?
If you carry a dream for decades, falter, doubt, equivocate, give up, but then start anew, and go through this same process over and over, and finally, decades later, see your dream manifest, it gives you an almost unshakeable faith that there are powers at work in life that far exceed your understanding. The reward is a religious attitude. I don’t mean religious in the narrow sense of adherence to some established doctrine. I mean something far more immediate, experiential, and intimate.
- What are the most critical problems faced?
Self doubt and fear of suffering. Creative works always bring these up, at least in my experience.
- Has there been a defining moment in your life that made you decide to take the direction that you did?
I doubt that there’s been a single defining moment. Maybe it’s there somewhere lurking in the depths of psyche and I just don’t know what it is. Maybe I never will. But, consciously, I think there has been a series of events and choices, each contributing to lead me up to the present moment.
- If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for you, what would be your “dream” achievement?
I’d like to be deep into another book and feel that it has a will of its own, and that all I have to do is follow that will diligently and with courage.
- How do you keep a healthy work/life balance?
I’m not sure that I do! I’m trying to make my ‘work’ my ‘fun.’ Then the whole equilibrium changes.
About Pacifica and You –
- What brought you to Pacifica?
Quite literally, my own dreams. I repeatedly dreamt that I was going to graduate school, and the school was almost always Pacifica. At first I hated the idea of going back to school. I wanted nothing of it! It offended my sense of independence. But the dreams were so insistent that I felt obligated to at least research Pacifica a little further. Then I thought I might as well apply . . . and since I had applied, I might as well go to the interview . . . and since the interview went well, I might as well attend the first session . . . and since I loved the first session . . . now, years later I find myself with a Ph.D. There was so much resistance at first, but in hindsight I can say it was one of the best decisions of my life.
- How has your Pacifica degree served you professionally in your occupation or your vocation?
Pacifica gave me the community and support I needed to cultivate my creative life. It gave me a place where my gifts could be seen and nurtured. I so needed that. I struggled with my writing for so many years, and I got virtually nowhere. I couldn’t finish a single piece of writing. But as soon as I made the commitment to attend Pacifica, the essays just started coming. I had to work at them, but they came. In many ways I owe my first book to this institution. It is a reworking of my doctoral dissertation and would not have been possible without this school.
- How has your degree served you personally?
There used to be a vast distance between what I imagined my creative potential to be and what I had actually managed to create. That distance was a source of great pain. I could barely even look at it. Now the distance is much smaller. I no longer have to merely dream of what I might someday create and fear that it is just a dream. The creative act is not for me an abstraction set somewhere far off in an imagined future. I know it as a lived reality, something that I am capable of, a part of who I am.
Any last thoughts/a favorite quote?
I have to share these kind words from Pacifica’s own Robert Romanyshyn, a writer whose work I’ve admired since I was a young man:
“Bret Alderman’s new book, Symptom, Symbol, and the Other of Language is a scholarly inspiration that makes an important and much needed contribution to the place of Jungian studies in postmodern thinking about language and its absent referent. Approaching this issue as a collective cultural dream, he not only reveals the complex and archetypal patterns of this linguistic turn, but also shows how the absent reference in language is related to the broken connection between the embodied psyche and nature.
The style of his writing is evocative and inviting. It is a must read in a time when the ecological crises that we face are inseparable from the ways in which we think and speak of them.”