Moral Injury and its Aftermath
I listen and tolerate as much as I can on various news/talk shows, each wrestling with the double massacres in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Some seem deeply grieved and struggle for clarity or some form of coherence to explain what has occurred to so many families who suffered deaths and wounds. Others want to use this horrific moment in our history to promote an agenda. Both are to be expected.
But underneath it all is a deep moral wound or wounds that seem to bleed into all of our imaginations, stoking more hate in some, calming others with the spirit of compassion. I believe an entire nation can be traumatized by a moral wounding that needs to be treated in some ways as an assault on the soul of individuals. It pulls the conversation from politics to the imagination’s ability to make sense of what appears to be random and arbitrary.
I went back to my copy of Larry Kent Graham’s Moral Injury: Restoring Wounded Souls. It is immensely helpful in describing the nature of a moral injury, what its immense and far-ranging affect can be on an individual, a city or a nation, and moves to salve the wound, if not heal it.
He senses at the beginning that the nature of a moral affliction can arise from “a failure to live in accord with our deepest moral aspirations.” He uses the word “moral” to mean “a sense of right, fairness in one’s obligations that we see in the events of our everyday lives. Moral also includes our core values, our virtues held by our communities about what constitutes the best way of life.”
Another way to speak about the above is that it is a myth, which puts us in accord with our inner selves in relation to the outer world we negotiate daily. The mythologist Joseph Campbell uses the terms “mythic dissociation,” which occurs when we become discordant with our myth, personal or collective, the myth we are enmeshed in socially, politically and spiritually.
Moral dissonance, however, is not just about interior conflicts, and here I move closer to the shattered cities of El Paso and Dayton, whose trauma has spread throughout the nation in debilitating ways. Moral dissonance can arise from a moral climate in which history and culture have embedded us and in some cases like our current climate, have impeded us from living the values that most often sustain us. Pressed by moral dissonance, many of us may feel that we have to split our time” between many moral landscapes in order to survive, which then create pervasive moral dissonance in our personal and social lives,” Graham believes in working with trauma patients in his professional life.
But that is not the end of the terrible effects living with moral injury inflicts. He equates moral injury with moral trauma, which can drain us of our vitality, shake us from previous values and identities and send us spinning in circles which formally assured us of a stable moral compass. Moral injury ensues, then, when our lives and those of others in our social groups diverge from what we believe to be the best in ourselves, or when our moral actions lead to a diminishment of value for self and others. Self-violation and violation by others can also injure one morally, leaving anger, feelings of resentment and revenge smoldering beneath the skin.
But Graham has and has found to work, a path back from moral trauma. He senses that healing injuries include some fundamental shifts: renewal, repair and reconciliation, each of which “is used to reframe suffering as a soul wound/injury. With his clients he has noticed a marked difference in their responses when he introduces the terms “soul wound” or “soul Injury.” His patients seem to shift to another level of consciousness in meditating on their injury. He replaces the word trauma with soul injury. Changing the wording shifts the healing to another level. Words, he has found, do matter as matters of life and death.
– Dennis Patrick Slattery
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JUNGIAN LITERARY CRITICISM: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE (2019) BY SUSAN ROWLAND. IN JUNG: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDES. SERIES EDITOR, LUKE HOCKLEY. LONDON: ROUTLEDGE.
Reviewed by Dennis Patrick Slattery
Susan Rowland has blessed us again with an exploration of Jung’s thought that ripples out into a myriad of other disciplines, but whose central intention and focus is to discern the workings of psyche and the literary text in areas where they find mutual compatibility. Such a linking is not new to her; this latest creation follows C.G. Jung in the Humanities: Taking the Soul’s Path; Remembering Dionysus: Revisioning Psychology and Literature in C.G. Jung and James Hillman; Jung: A Feminist Revision and others. Her strength and her interests run along the lines between disciplines; she enjoys and is more than adept at sensing associations and correspondences through what I would call the analogical imagination. Her recent work is no exception in its range and originality.
I want to begin this review even as I admit to the feeling of overwhelm because of both its richness as well as its myriad subjects, by citing part of the book’s last paragraph, which reads in part as an Introduction. She writes that this new text “is a plea for essence not essentialism, which is another way of saying to know our disciplines as parts of a never-rationally completed whole, a Dionysian transdisciplinarity. Literary studies and Jungian psychology. . . are also called to a greater project of envisioning that the manyness, multiplicity and multiple realities of knowing and being may also imagine their oneness” ( 2019, p.187). We see that the book wishes to sustain a double vision of many and one rather than a fission of disciplines; the end result for Rowland is establishing “an eco-cosmological imagination evoked for the twenty-first century” (p. 187). This final statement also encourages, in addition to confluences between Jungian psychology and literature, deeper and more connected studies of ontology, epistemology and mythology—an ambitious task for any of us, but doable, given how well she lays several foundations for such a life-long enterprise.
Influenced by and then extending the transdisciplinary work of Basarab Nicolescu, author of From Modernity to Cosmomodernity, Rowland uses the latter writer’s insights to penetrate into fields as far ranging as close ethical reading, literary theory, philosophies of history, ecocriticism, myth, climate change, and the Anthropocene, the last term “what Jung would call an image becoming a symbol, a conceptualization of a complex and not fully known condition” ( p. 161). Underlying these and other disciplines is the idea of “complex adaptive systems” that reveals the paradox of unity within multiplicity, the unus mundus described by Jung as containing diverse and at times contradictory-seeming views and theorems.
But let me step back now to the beginning of her epic exploration for a moment and comment on the book’s structure, which I found as creative as its contents. Each of the seven chapters follows a set template: l. An Overview; 2. Jungian thought often mixed with alternative voices; 3. Key definitions of Jungian terms; 4. A chapter summary in three sentences; 5. Literary case studies (one of my favorite sections); 6. Further readings in Jung and subsequent Jungians; 7. Further readings in Jungian Literary Criticism; 8. References for that chapter. The overall effect for this reader was a richly textured complexity that made me realize early on how symbolically-textured the entire book is as it develops this and other central ideas chapter-by-chapter. It is, in fact, an “essential guide” but to much more than Jungian thought and literary criticism/theory.
There is also prevalent throughout Rowland’s study a clarity and crispness, especially in her use of terms and in her development of complex ideas; those who have studied Jung and those just beginning will discover a freshness in her amplification of Jung’s terms, especially those like the symbol, which Jung himself continued to develop and embellish over time. Rowland first gives a basic description or definition of terms that were highlighted in the chapter; such a structure allows for an in-house review of those terms in a succinct definition even while the reader brings to it from what they remembered in reading the chapter, their own understanding that is then complemented by Rowland at the end. In addition, Rowland’s readings of classics of literature by writers like Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austin, William Shakespeare and W.B. Yeats, as well as new titles by writers like Barbara Hambly and Tjeu van den Berk, as well as non-literary explorations and new electronic media utilizing digital art formats that include works by Joseph Cambray, Jutta Scamp, Joel Weishaus. She also includes critical summaries of New Critical theory, New Historicism, Structuralism and Deconstruction and the thought of Russian Formalist M. M. Bakhtin, as some examples of literary modes of knowing. All of these together build a formative image of a transdisciplinary imagination that is given substantial form in one of the books’ richest discussions: transdisciplinarity and complexity theory (p. 150). Rowland’s cohesive and elegantly coherent work, one discerns in the pilgrimage of reading through its vast network of interlacing pathways, offers new ways of reading and knowing, novel ways of making connections between competing theories and disciplines, while not destroying the integrity of their differences. It is a work of and about a new epistemology as well as a new pedagogy that restructures knowledge to offer major breakthroughs in how education itself is fashioned and what its fundamental mythologies are promoting as well as leaving by the wayside.
“Transdisciplinarity,” the heartbeat of the book as I understand it, “draws on complexity theory, which sees the cosmos working through complex adaptive systems that are too complex for prediction and simple causation; complexity that produces patterns at the edges of chaos” (p.150). In one of her most interesting insights drawn from Nicolescu’s work cited above, Rowland suggests that transdisciplinarity “entails a trans-religious attitude that accommodates every religion without privileging any. Democracy itself needs to include the sacred lest it succumbs to literalism and the decay of language. . .” (p. 150). Her observation here she believes is in line with Jung’s sustained vision of the psyche, which is essentially unknowable with any completeness. He writes as much when he observes: “Man knows only a small part of his psyche, just as he has only a very limited knowledge of the physiology of his body” (CW 9,2 par. 253). Rowland’s own thinking asserts that “Jungian psychology restores the sacred to literary criticism without demoting historical concerns because no discipline is demoted in either perspective” (p. 150). Such a restoration extends into other disciplines, but it importantly dignifies the place of the sacred in human life generally, as Jung observed its presence.
I end this review by exploring, I candidly admit, my favorite chapter (5), “Jung and literary genre: Shadow, anima/animus, self and the numinous, trickster” (pp. 86-114). One might call it compatibility and confirmation, for I have sensed the deep connection between reading classics of literature and my own deepening sense of self-knowing which Jung has called Individuation. Part of this power in the text stems from the force field of analogies that leads the reader towards greater insights of text and self. You may remember Jung’s perceptive observation: “Since analogy formation is a law which to a large extent governs the life of the psyche. . .” (CW 9,2, par. 414). I gather from his words that the psyche is fundamentally analogic, metaphoric, symbolic and to extend it a bit, mythic). Rowland’s working the four genres of lyric, tragedy, comedy and epic along Jungian thought-lines reveal them as patterns (or analogies) in the soul, what I have termed “genretypes,” formal patterns of recognition, cognition and imagination common to us all.
After offering a number of descriptions of archetypes as energy-carrying vehicles of the soul, she poses this intriguing question: “Might archetypes be the origin of generic communication?” (. 87). Which leads her to a fundamental question that her text will continue to explore: “how can a Jungian psychology based on archetypes inform a literary criticism of genres and vice versa?” (p. 87). She then offers rich descriptions of the terrains of each generically-patterned work of literature as corresponding to the archetypal archeology of the psyche. She includes in her discussion specific archetypal images like anima, animus, trickster and shadow that are vehicles conveying unique archetypal energies that inform, transform and enrich the personal and the collective imaginations.
Along these same lines of inquiry, I found her discussion of Jung’s The Red Book later in her study particularly insightful as a work of imaginal literature “incarnating psychic reality in multiple genres” (p. 111). She reveals how radical Jung’s epic creation is by noticing how “The Red Book makes conscious how literary genres enact psychic structures; they offer maps to enable readers [to] see shapes, meaning and being in human impulses and drives. . . . They belong to what Nicolescu calls ‘Tradition’” (p. 111).
Rowland’s excellent transdisciplinary study fully embodies what Nicolescu above calls Tradition, which rests on a fundamental tenet: Unity in diversity and diversity through unity” (p. 112). I recommend her latest work to any person seeking to expand and deepen their understanding of how disciplines can find connections to tear down, not reinforce walls of knowledge. Walls do a fine job of staving off difference, but porous openings between differences are better equipped in building deeper understanding and compassion for the views of others and greater clarity of our own perspectives.
Jung, C.G. (1970). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. The collected works of C.G. Jung (Vol. 9,ii: Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. R.F. C. Hull, Trans., pp. 222-65). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1959)
Dennis Patrick Slattery, PhD is Emeritus Professor in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria California. He has been teaching for 50 years, the last 26 at Pacifica. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of 27 volumes, including 7 volumes of poetry and one novel, with Charles Asher. He has published over 200 articles on-line as well as in books, journals, magazines and newspapers. His two most recent books include Joseph Campbell Correspondence: 1927-1987, coedited with Evans Lansing Smith (New World Library 2019) and Deep Creativity: Seven Ways to Spark Your Creative Spirit, co-authored with Deborah Anne Quibell and Jennifer Leigh Selig ( 2019 Shambhala Publications). He offers Riting Personal Myth Retreats using C.G. Jung’s The Red Book and Joseph Campbell on myth. www.Dennispslattery.com; email@example.com
Dennis Patrick Slattery
Ph.D., Literature & Phenomenology, University of Dallas
Dennis is a core faculty member who helped shape the development of the Mythological Studies program.