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Jung, C G - The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature - Imagination and inspiration



Type of Spiritual Experience


All the following quotes are about Jung's belief in the difference between imagination and inspiration. 

A description of the experience

C G Jung – The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature

For the sake of clarity I would like to call the one mode of artistic creation psychological and the other visionary. 


The psychological mode works with materials drawn from man’s conscious life – with critical experiences, powerful emotions, suffering, passion, the stuff of human fate in general.  All this is assimilated by the psyche of the poet, raised from the commonplace to the level of poetic experience, and expressed with a power of conviction that gives us a greater depth of human insight by making us vividly aware of those everyday happenings which we tend to evade or to overlook because we perceive them only dully or with a feeling of discomfort.  The raw material of this kind of creation is derived from the contents of man’s consciousness, from his eternally repeated joys and sorrows, but clarified and transfigured by the poet..........

There are literary works, prose as well as poetry, that spring wholly from the author’s intention to produce a particular result.  He submits his material to a definite treatment with a definite aim in view; he adds to it and subtracts from it, emphasising one effect, toning down another, laying on a touch of colour here, another there, all the time carefully considering the overall result and paying strict attention to the laws of form and style.


The other class of works flow more or less complete and perfect from the author’s pen.  They come as it were fully arrayed into the world, as Pallas Athene sprang from the head of Zeus.  These works positively force themselves upon the author; his hand is seized, his pen writes things that his mind contemplates with amazement.  The work brings with it its own form; anything he wants to add is rejected, and what he himself would like to reject is thrust back at him.  While his conscious mind stands amazed and empty before this phenomenon, he is overwhelmed by a flood of thoughts and images which he never intended to create and which his own will could never have brought into being ……….

He can only obey the apparently alien impulse within him and follow where it leads, sensing that his work is greater than himself, and wields a power which is not his and which he cannot command.  Here the artist is not identical with the process of creation, he is aware that he is subordinate to his work or stands outside it, as though he were a second person, or as though a person other than himself had fallen within the magic circle of an alien will..........

Analysis of artists consistently shows not only the strength of the creative impulse arising from the unconscious, but also its capricious and wilful character.  The biographies of great artists make it abundantly clear that the creative urge is often so imperious that it battens on their humanity and yokes everything to the service of the work, even at the cost of health and ordinary human happiness.  The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature that achieves its end either with tyrannical might or with the subtle cunning of nature herself, quite regardless of the personal fate of the man who is its vehicle…..

Depending on its energy charge, it may appear either as a mere disturbance of conscious activities or as a supraordinate authority which can harness the ego to its purpose.  Accordingly, the poet who identifies with the creative process would be one who acquiesces from the start when the unconscious imperative begins to function.....

With works of [inspiration] we would have to be prepared for something suprapersonal that transcends our understanding to the same degree that the author’s consciousness was in abeyance during the process of creation.  We would expect a strangeness of form and content, thoughts that can only be apprehended intuitively, a language pregnant with meanings, and images that are true symbols because they are the best possible expressions for something unknown – bridges thrown out towards an unseen shore.......

The moment when this mythological situation reappears is always characterised by a peculiar emotional intensity; it is as though chords in us were struck that had never resounded before, or as though forces whose existence we never suspected were unloosed.  What makes the struggle for adaptation so laborious is the fact that we have constantly to be dealing with individual and atypical situations.  So it is not surprising that when an archetypal situation occurs we suddenly feel an extraordinary sense of release, as though transported, or caught up by an overwhelming power.  At such moments we are no longer individuals but the race; the voice of all mankind resounds in us.......

The gulf that separate the first from the second part of faust , for example, marks the difference between the psychological and the visionary modes of artistic creation.  Here everything is reversed.  The experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression is no longer familiar.  It is something strange that derives its existence from the hinterland of man’s mind, as if it had emerged from the abyss of prehuman ages or from a superhuman world of contrasting light and darkness.  It is a primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding and to which in his weakness he may easily succumb.  The very enormity of the experience gives it its value and its shattering impact.

Sublime, pregnant with meaning, yet chilling the blood with its strangeness, it arises from timeless depths; glamorous, daemonic and grotesque, it bursts asunder our human standards of value and aesthetic form, a terrifying tangle of eternal chaos… on the other hand, it can be a revelation whose heights and depths are beyond fathoming, or a vision of beauty which we can never put into words.  This disturbing spectacle of some tremendous process that in every way transcends our human feeling and understanding makes quite other demands upon the powers of the artist than do the experiences of the foreground of life…

The primordial experiences rend from top to bottom the curtain upon which is painted the picture of an ordered world, and allow a glimpse into the unfathomable abyss of the unborn and of things yet to be.  It is a vision of other worlds, or of the darknesses of the spirit, or of the primal beginnings of the human psyche

The source of the experience

Jung, Carl Gustav

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