Okay, time to stop pulling my punches…

I understand society and culture in terms of hermeneutics. Things are not always what they first seem. A thing may be both its self and a symbol pointing to something else. The ‘culture’ war is not a debate about things as they are, but things as symbols. The culture war is a debate about meaning.

The debate over children is not actually a debate about children as they are (or as they seek to define themselves) but about children as symbols.

Jung described the Kore archetype thus:

As a matter of practical observation, the Kore often appears in a woman as an unknown young girl, not infrequently as Gretchen or the unmarried mother. Another frequent modulation is that of the dancer, who is often formed from borrowings from classical knowledge, in which case the “maiden” appears as the corybant, maenad or nymph. (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, pg 184)

Note: Corybant is derived from the priestesses of Cybele who performed wild, ecstatic dances and the maenad is a follower of the cult of Dionysus driven to orgiastic excess and nymphs are nature spirits.

Hylas and the Nymphs, Waterhouse

Hylas and the Nymphs, Waterhouse

What Jung is saying here is that the symbol of the Kore, the young girl, can appear in a chthonic, sexual form.

When, therefore, in dreams and other spontaneous products, we meet with an unknown female whose significance oscillates between the extremes of goddess and whore, it is advisable to let her keep her independence.

…the anima is bipolar and can therefore appear positive the one moment and negative the next; now young, now old; now mother, now maiden; now a good fairy, now a witch; now a saint, now a whore. Besides this ambivalence, the anima also has “occult” connections with “mysteries”, with the world of darkness in general.  (page 199)

Jung chose the word Kore as a direct reference to the myth of Persephone who is forced to spend time in the Underworld. Naturally Alice’s descent into Wonderland is recapitulation of this older myth.

But here’s the thing Jung doesn’t mention (at least not in the above). There are many cultures that regard the girl on the cusp of puberty to have a special power; a special connection to the Underworld. Persephone is a maiden, which means she is on the cusp of puberty. Obviously the Persephone myth is about the mystery of fertility and puberty the symbol of new fecundity.

It ought to be also clear that the Underworld and Wonderland are symbols of the unconscious.

Now to the point.

The Judeo-Christian mythos, through its alternative Persephone myth, that of Eve and the Fall, directly inverts the Kore archetype: Eve/Persephone tempts Adam, but there is no return, only expulsion. Indeed, the Judeo-Christian mythos will only allow a girl to be a virgin.

The problem with this is that it is directly contrary to how the unconscious really works and thus it creates a conflict between competing Kore archetypes, that of the innocent girl-child and that of the chthonic girl-child. As Jung points out, the Kore can appear in our dreams and other “spontaneous products” as a “negative” chthonic figure, as this dream indicates:

A naked young girl with a wreath of flowers in her hair appears, riding on a white bull. She takes the child and throws it into the air like a ball and catches it again. The white bull carries them both to a temple (and initiation follows). (page 191)

The thing is, you can’t actually suppress the unconscious. Attempting to do so leads to all sorts of problems. But this is exactly what the Judeo-Christian mythos attempts to do. It is at war with the unconscious (because it is wild and untamed). How might a devout Christian man interpret having a dream of a naked girl as a seductive nymph? He’d be horrified. However, the Jungian would remind him that the girl is not a real girl, she is a symbol of a process and he is not therefore, a paedophile.

The Kore archetype cannot help but appear in dreams. It is therefore of little surprise that it also appears, time and time again, in art and culture. But again, because the Judeo-Christian mythos is at war with the unconscious, it is also at war with art – because art has a nasty habit of ‘transgressing’ Judeo-Christian norms: of being, well, novel and creative.

This returns us to the theme of Alice and the war between the ‘good’ Alice and the ‘bad’ Alice. There is a Judeo-Christian, Disney Alice/Kore, all sugar and spice; then there is the real (natural) Alice Lidell who posed naked for Carroll; and then there is the chthonic, transgressive Alice/Kore.

These themes are played out in the current debate over the sexualization of girls.

Okay, so let’s do a Jungian analysis of the offensive Henson photo to understand why it upset so many Judeo-Christian conservatives.

She is pubescent and so taps immediately into the Kore archetype, but rather than be the pure, virginal Kore, she is naked and seemingly walking out of the shadows of the Underworld. This makes her appear as a chthonic Kore, an anti-Alice, an aspect of the Kore/Anima that the Judeo-Christian mythos has been at war with since the beginning. It is the type of image they want to stamp out. It should be no surprise to find that all the images that the moral conservatives have attempted to ban in recent years, have been of Kore (ie, Mann, Sturges, Ovedon, Goldin, Prince and now Henson).

But once again, they were fighting a symbol and forgetting the ‘real’ girl. Here I want to take you back to everything Jessie Mann, herself a child model, has said about being a child subject (immediately below). Furthermore, even though we don’t have a direct quote from the ‘real’ girl, we do know that she was invited to the opening and was extremely excited at the idea – only to have her excitement turn to disappointment when the opening was cancelled because of the actions of the conservatives. Did they ask her first?

There’s a lot more to the Kore archetype, especially as the one who explores the Underworld. And more to say about the culture war over archetypes and symbols, particularly the archetype of the Shadow…