Interpreting a text through literary lens can often yield some pretty interesting, yet almost assuredly unintentional parallels with various ideologies and schools of thought. I chose to look at A World Elsewhere through a psychoanalytic lens for a presentation in English class recently. My focus for the presentation was Carl Jung‘s theory of Individuation, explained in the video above. In case anybody is interested, my analysis of the text through a psychoanalytic lens can be found below.
What is the text trying to communicate?
The novel is essentially an insight on the development of individuality. The various characters struggle with what it means to be an individual as they try to reconcile the often conflicting facets of their identities. The most obvious example of this “quest for individuality” would be Landish. He struggles with the idea of succession and of being the sole heir to the Druken name, as well as his own desire to forge his own path through life. Jung would refer to this process as Individuation: the development of the individual Self.
Landish and Deacon
Although Landish and Deacon, being the protagonists, are the most fully developed characters in the novel, neither of them feels complete without the other. In a sense, if you were to read two different books, one focusing solely on Landish and the other on Deacon, you would most likely come to the conclusion that they are both incomplete. Landish and Deacon complement each other and could very well be considered as being one entity. The reason their relationship is so strong is because one cannot exist without the other: they share an unbreakable bond.
This bond could be seen as being akin to the relationship between the conscious and unconscious minds. Although they are separate, the human psyche would not be as we know it were it to consist of one and not the other.
Landish could be considered as the unconscious portion of the mind, whilst Deacon could be considered as the conscious portion of the mind. Landish is much bigger in stature then the undersized Deacon, and he often carries Deacon on his shoulders. This could very well allude to Sigmund Freud’s iconic iceberg diagram. In fact, Landish is often driven by his primal desires: he likes to keep the neighbourhood courtesans company and he usually proceeds with bold, sometimes criminal acts to get what he wants. Landish’s Super-Ego (morality) and Ego (reality), as the diagram suggests, also kick in from time to time to repress his Id (pleasure). Deacon’s actions however are usually reasonable and moral. He, as the conscious, tries to suppress the primal desires of the unconscious with reason and morality. Although, because the unconscious (Landish) directly influences the conscious, Deacon is sometimes overtaken by the desire to do something characteristically irrational (such as his decision to enter the lake near Vanderland). The unconscious also has a lot of influence on the conscious, which is perfectly mirrored by the respective sizes of Landish and Deacon.
- The Animus: the male component of the unconscious. Captain Druken’s seal hat could be seen as being Landish/Deacon’s Animus. It is quite emblematic of masculinity in general. The seal fur could represent strength and the victory of the strong (man) over the weak (seals). It is also a direct product of the destruction of life; a remnant of a formerly living, breathing organism. Landish’s Super-Ego causes him to reject the profession his father lead as he simply cannot live a life that revolves around the destruction of life. However, because power and violence are so intrinsically linked to the concept of masculinity and his own identity, his primal desires make him cling to Captain Druken’s hat.
- The Anima: the female component of the unconscious. Gen of Eve (the painting) could be seen as being Landish/Deacon’s Anima. It is not only a symbol of femininity, but also of fertility; or the creation of life. Landish holds his mother in much higher esteem than his father because of her ability to nurture life. He attempts to do the same thing with Deacon by being both a mother and father to the boy, albeit with mixed results. The Anima directly opposes the Animus.
- The Persona (Mask): what we wish others to perceive us as. Deacon’s innocence and charm could very well represent Landish/Deacon’s persona. Landish’s biting wit doesn’t make him a very likable fellow, whereas Deacon receives nothing but sympathy and goodwill from others (such as the articles of clothing they receive on the ship). Alternatively, Landish’s wit and strength could be the persona. He might just be using his intelligence and his strength as a cover for his innermost fears.
- The Shadow: what we wish to hide from others. Landish’s repressed weaknesses and fears (conflicted identity, abandonment, succession, failure) could represent Landish/Deacon’s shadow.
What does this all mean?
Landish’s progress throughout the novel is indicative of Individuation: all of the various fragments of the conscious and unconscious come together to form one whole individual. At the closing of the novel, his relationship with Deacon becomes stronger than ever, he manages to keep the seal hat and Gen of Eve in his possession, and he is finally able to start writing his book.
Landish (the unconscious) comes to terms with his animus, anima and shadow. He realizes that, although Captain Druken had fathered him, he does not have to match up to him or rise up to any challenge he may have left for him in death. He puts aside all of the contempt and animosity he had harboured for his “father” all his life, and, in doing so, he is finally able to pursue his writing career. Writing ceases to be his defiant stand in the face of his “father’s” harsh disapproval, and instead becomes something he truly enjoys. The seal hat, once the embodiment of his “father’s” control over him, loses the significance it once had for him. With his animus in check, his anima takes on a bigger role.
The love and adoration that his mother had shown him as a child renews his life with a sense of purpose. His mother was the one that raised him: through her endearing love and her strong will, she nurtured his creative spirit and his compassion. Through his anima, he realizes that his life does not have to be centered around the taking of life, but can instead be geared towards the nurturing of life.
Deacon (the conscious) is therefore his life’s work: his ultimate purpose. Overcoming all of his identity issues allows him to become the guardian that Deacon needs. During their stay at Vanderland, he starts to suffer from terrible nightmares (psychoanalytical psychologists believe that dreams are windows into the unconscious) and Landish is unable to come to his aid. However, after they leave Vanderland and Landish reaffirms his love for him, Deacon’s nightmares stop. What this means is that the Deacon’s well being is directly linked to Landish’s mental state. Therefore, in order for the conscious to be healthy, the unconscious needs to be healthy as well.
The reaffirmation of their bond marks the point at which Individuation is achieved. Only after all of the different elements of the human psyche are in harmony with one another can the individual Self flourish.