In the last two posts I explained why Jean Gebser’s book has given me a huge part of the answer to the theme of this series of posts. There was another book referred to me by a commenter (big thanks to Shane) which has proven very useful also and that’s Australian scholar David Tacey’s analysis of Patrick White’s novels. I almost completely disagree with Tacey. In fact, I was going to give up on him after just a couple of dozen pages but I figured I should take my own advice from two posts ago and sit in the contradiction. I’m glad I did, if for no other reason than to learn the extraordinary fact that, even though I disagree with Tacey’s entire approach, the primary archetype he invokes in the book is, you guessed it, The Devouring Mother. Even though we disagree, we also agree. This seems fitting given that the Integral, identified by Gebser, is all about overcoming the either/or binary of Instrumental Consciousness.
I could fill a whole other series of posts with the problems I have with Tacey’s analysis. There’s only one that I want to highlight because it’s crucial to my analysis of Patrick White’s Voss. I noted in my first post that Voss was about the integration of the anima and animus. It turns out I was not the first to do so. Other Australian writers, including very well-known ones such as James McAuley, had noticed this too.
Tacey rejects this idea but he doesn’t give any explanation why. Rather, he simply notes that professional writers like McAuley were lacking the requisite knowledge of Jung (the implication being that Tacey, as a professional Jungian scholar, has that knowledge). That’s what’s known in first year philosophy class as an Appeal to Authority, probably the most common fallacy in the world these days. Shut up and trust the experts.
Tacey’s use of a fallacy is a bad enough sin in a scholarly text, but the alternative explanation he provides for the relationship between Voss and Laura in White’s novel simply makes no sense. He states that Laura is the devouring feminine to Voss’s puer (aka The Innocent/Child archetype). He likens her to the sirens of old that lured men to their doom. Well, clearly she’s not very good at her job. In the opening section of the novel, Voss pays her almost no attention. He doesn’t even to have to block his eyes or ears as with the sirens of ancient times. He’s too busy preparing for his mission to give her any mind. So, Tacey writes off the overwhelmingly most likely explanation for one that simply doesn’t fit the facts of the novel.
But it’s the reason why Tacey makes the mistake that is crucial because the error that he makes is absolutely essential for understanding not just the story of Voss but why the book represents a genuinely new paradigm in storytelling. Tacey approaches the book as an object of psychoanalysis and not as a work of art. He explicitly rules out the idea that Voss is a Hero’s Journey. Therefore, he misses the core artistic achievement that Patrick White made in the novel. With Voss, White didn’t just write an incredible novel. He rewired the whole structure of the Hero’s Journey.
Here is a schematic diagram of the Hero’s Journey in classic 3-Act Structure. It is a Jungian archetype. It is one of the schematic structures that underlie human cognition. (Actually, I suspect it is one of the schematics that underlie actual reality but let’s avoid that philosophical issue for now).
In Act 1, the Hero gets a call to adventure. Act 2 is where most of the action is and then Act 3 is the denouement where the hero transcends to a new world that is qualitatively different to the one they were in at the start of the story. To take an example that almost everybody will know, in The Matrix, Neo accepts the red pill at the end of Act 1. He’s almost about to die through Cipher’s betrayal at the end of Act 2. Act 3 is where he goes back into the matrix to save Morpheus. Every Hollywood box office hit follows this archetype as do all bestselling books.
Because Tacey doesn’t care about the Hero’s Journey, he misses the fact that the anima/animus theme in Voss is not just a passing fancy in the book. It’s not just hinted at. White hardwires it directly into the 3-Act structure. All the major pivot points in the plot represent anima/animus integration. Patrick White was Australia’s greatest writer for a reason. He knew how to write a story. When he does something like that it is not an accident. It doesn’t matter whether he is conscious of what he is doing. I agree with Tacey that White was probably not conscious of most of what he achieved in Voss. But that’s no surprise. A bebop saxophonist is not consciously aware of what they are doing when they are playing a solo. It’s impossible to be consciously aware while you’re ripping through scales at 200 beats a minute. But clearly jazz saxophonists can and do play solos. They do so from the Unconscious. That’s the whole point of jazz.
I mentioned in my first review of Voss that there is no romantic love shown whatsoever in the book. Nevertheless, many people who read it call it a “romance”. How can that be possible? It’s possible because White invokes another archetype. Jung liked to use geological metaphors to explain the archetypes but I prefer the electrical circuit metaphor. Here is one of the most common archetypal circuits in existence. We start with two components.
Then we wire them together.
With this simple structure we have one of the oldest stories in existence: man meets woman; in other words, a love story.
Sometimes, this initial connection is all you need.
How did you two meet?
He literally bumped into me in the vegetable aisle at the supermarket. We hit it off and have been together ever since.
Remember that the archetype is the structure and nothing more. By itself, it’s almost meaningless. But this structure undergirds all the greatest love stories ever told (and all the ones that weren’t told). Paris meets Helen. Romeo meets Juliet. Faust meets Gretchen. Mr Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennett. Neo meets Trinity.
With a slight change in structure we create the classic adultery story: man meets married woman.
We can embellish the structure of this story too. Man and woman are married. Husband cheats on wife. Wife cheats on husband. They patch it up and then the two people they were cheating with end up getting married themselves (has Hollywood made that movie yet? If not, there’s a free idea for screenwriters).
There are endless ways to add to this basic structure but they all boil down to the two basic elements: man and woman (note: for our purposes here, I’m completing ignoring homosexuality and all other options as these would require a too lengthy digression).
Let’s call this the Personal dimension of the Love Story.
But almost all love stories have a Collective component too. When we add that in we get the following two dimensional view.
Note that each of these is an independent variable. We can calculate all combinations of these variables by taking the factorial of 4 which gives us 24 possible combinations. This is going to be important as we move through the analysis ahead.
(Big disclaimer: just because there are 24 combinations does not mean they are meaningful because words and phrases have to mean something and the same words put in a different order produce duplicate meanings. There might be a mathematical way to exclude duplicates but it’s beyond my ability. For “fun”, I went through all the combinations of 24 and found 8 duplicates. My assumption is that the combinatoric calculation is correct to the right order of magnitude, which is the main point I am making. If there are any math nerds reading this who can see an error with this approach, please correct me.)
Paris and Helen fall in love. That’s the personal side of the story. But Helen is already married to Menelaus. That’s the collective side. It becomes really collective when every man and his dog shows up at the gates of Troy to fight over the matter. Romeo and Juliet fall for each other but the collective context is that their families are enemies. Faust and Gretchen fall in love but her mother will not approve. Romantic love is the personal perspective of the Love Story. The Collective perspective is the exoteric structure that society determines for romantic relationships in the form of marriage, courting rituals, sexual norms etc.
Using these two primary dimensions, we can map a change in love stories over time. During the Mythic era, of which the Iliad is our paradigm example, the Collective pole dominates the Personal. Whenever personal love is depicted, it is the cause of damage to the Collective. Paris and Helen’s personal love ruins her marriage to Menelaus and causes a 10-year war. There are very similar stories in the Australian Dreamtime myths. Somebody sleeps with somebody’s spouse and bad things follow. The Mythic Consciousness was all about the Collective. Romantic love was a threat to the Collective and the love stories from this time focus on that angle.
By the time we get to Shakespeare and the Renaissance, the pattern is reversed. Suddenly, the Personal takes precedence over the Collective. The story of Romeo and Juliet is the story of romantic love first and foremost. The Collective (the Montagues and Capulets) is a threat to that love and ultimately destroys it. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from Boccaccio’s Decameron and the Decameron has many love stories focusing on the Personal. Sometimes, as in Romeo and Juliet, the collective intervenes and the whole thing ends in tragedy. Sometimes, the lovers overcome the Collective (usually by eloping) and live happily ever after enjoying their personal love.
From the mythical era all the way up until the 19th century, almost all love stories are love-at-first-sight. The lovers fall in love in Act 1 and the rest of the story is the process of negotiating with the Collective. We can map that onto the Hero’s Journey as follows:
Starting in the 19th century, we begin to see a change. The love story starts to get more complicated and it takes longer to tell.
Let’s use Pride and Prejudice as the paradigmatic story. Man meets woman but they don’t fall in love instantly. In fact, they don’t even like each other. He’s a pompous ass and she’s not the prettiest girl at the ball. Instead, they learn to love each other over time and the novel is the story of their developing love. It looks like this:
These are new kinds of love stories; new archetypes. But they do not cancel out the old archetype. They build on it. They transcend it; go beyond it.
In the French writer Stendhal, we see the unrequited love story; 500 pages of will-they-or-won’t-they and then they don’t. Meanwhile, the gothic romances bring back the supernatural forces of the Mythic but they are no longer the Collective gods of Ancient Greece but personal demons to be fought against. Fear, anxiety and even terror are the emotions which start to make their way into the love story.
What began to happen in the 19th century in literature as in all other areas of society was that the Unconscious started to come into view. If we add the Conscious-Unconscious to our axes we get the following.
We have gone from 4 independent variables to 6. The factorial of 6 is 720. The old love story encompassed 24 combinations, the new 720. So, we see an order of magnitude increase in complexity. That’s why the new love story takes so long to tell.
In ancient societies, the masculine and feminine are kept separate both physically and psychologically. There is men’s business and women’s business and never the twain shall meet. Severe punishments are in place to ensure these boundaries are not traversed. In Australian indigenous societies, for example, a husband was forbidden from speaking to his mother-in-law; surely one of the most sensible rules ever formulated. But, jokes aside, a man caught in the sacred woman’s area or vice versa, could be put to death. That was very real and very serious business.
Similar patterns existed until very recently even in the West. In Australia, all the way until the 1960s there were separate rooms for women and men at pubs. Schooling was rarely co-ed. Part of the reason why women didn’t work or hold office was because that was the man’s sphere. Love stories throughout history reflect these socio-cultural patterns. When the Unconscious starts to come into view in the 19th century in love stories, that’s an indication it was coming into view in the general society. The masculine and feminine relationship was changing at exactly the time that the conscious-unconscious relationship was changing. This combination of changes makes sense historically because the feminine had been relegated to the Unconscious a couple of millennia ago. Both were now reappearing on the scene.
With this brief historical background in mind, let’s return to Patrick White and Voss, published in 1957 featuring a story set in 1848. Voss is a brand new kind of love story but also a brand new kind of story; a genuine watershed moment.
Man meets woman is the opening scene of the novel as Voss and Laura Trevelyan meet. But this is not the Romeo and Juliet love-at-first sight story. Rather, it is the Jane Austen romance. An odd couple meet in an aristocratic house. He’s a bit of a weirdo. She’s a young aristocratic women whose only life path in the society of the Victorian age is to get married and start a family.
Initially they don’t seem to like each other. This all makes sense. We know how this one goes. They’ll dislike each other for a while, slowly start to realise the other is not so bad and then fall madly in love at the end. That’s what White wants us to think. He’s inviting us to compare his book to a Jane Austen romance in exactly the same way that the opening pages of Goethe’s Faust directly refer to the Book of Job. This happens all the time in literature, and pop culture for that matter. The technical term for it is Intertextuality.
We read the first Act of Voss through the frame of the Jane Austen love story. But immediately White sets up a dissonance. Something is missing. There is no romance between Voss and Laura. Even the scenes which are explicitly romantic (an evening stroll in the garden in the moonlight) have none. We put up with this because White has primed us for the Jane Austen romance and we know those take a long time to develop. So, we are waiting for the sparks. But they never come. White gives us the form of the love story with none of its content.
But what is this “form”? It is nothing other than an archetype. White gives us only the schematic representation of a love story. This works in exactly the same way the archetypes work. But the archetypes live in the Unconscious. So, another way to say it is that White is telling a story to our Unconscious mind. If that sounds weird, it’s because it had never been done before! I may be mistaken as I haven’t read every novel ever written, but I think White is the first author to use an archetype in a novel as an actual storytelling device. As a result, he is telling one story to our unconscious mind and another to our conscious mind. But even more than that, he’s inviting the conscious mind to understand that an archetype is being used. Therefore, he’s bringing the Unconscious to consciousness.
By the way, modern cognitive science has shown how this works. If somebody is told the words “no elephant”, what happens in the mind is that the subconscious forms the image of the elephant (the subconscious is all about images) and then the conscious mind forms the negation of it. We can diagram this as follows:-
This is the secret behind all modern advertising and propaganda. Your conscious mind can understand a negation, but your subconscious mind only sees the image. All modern propaganda and advertising works by talking directly to the Unconscious. Because our culture has not yet learned to come to terms with the Unconscious, our conscious minds are completely oblivious to what’s going on, although we are slowly starting to pick up on the trick as revealed by the use of phrases like “psy-op” becoming common. This is another way in which we are slowly bringing the Unconscious to consciousness.
So, we go through the first Act of Voss thinking we’re reading a love story and wondering why it doesn’t appear. And this is where White pulls his first brilliant trick. He subverts the whole thing at the end of Act 1. This subversion forces a re-evaluation on our part, one of several which ramp up in importance as the novel progresses.
At the end of Act 1, Voss asks Laura to marry him. This blows up our whole understanding of the story. We were supposed to be in a Jane Austen love story. But we know that in a Jane Austen love story the marriage comes at the end. By putting the marriage at the of Act 1, White forces us to completely re-evaluate what is going on.
But it’s even more brilliant. Because while we the reader are re-evaluating everything we thought we knew, so are the characters in the novel. Laura in particular is shocked by the offer. Then she tacitly accepts it. What? Who accepts an offer of marriage from a man she doesn’t even like when he is about to go on a journey that will take at least two years?
Whatever is going on makes no rational sense. It is explicitly irrational; unconscious. Thus, we get a split in the story that begins at the start of Act 2. That split is between conscious and unconscious. Laura and Voss are getting married. Except, they aren’t. Another negation. Another sublimation. White is forcing our conscious mind to negate while priming our unconscious to continue to see what only exists archetypally. In doing this, he has added a whole new dimension to the Hero’s Journey; a whole new axis. This is a revolution in the art of storytelling. It looks like this.
There are now two stories going on simultaneously; one in the unconscious mind and one in the conscious. Note that this is true both for us the reader and the characters in the novel! The addition of the y-axis here is the brilliant, genius-level innovation in storytelling that Patrick White achieves with Voss. With this achievement, he can tell a whole new kind of story; a story about the Unconscious itself. In Voss, the two threads that had been building historically since the start of the 19th century come together, the masculine-feminine and the conscious-unconscious.
Act 2 is where we are going to descend into the Unconscious. For the masculine, represented by Voss, this is a trip into the desert. For the feminine, symbolised by Laura, it’s an equally barren existence in the bourgeois household of the Victorian era. In his next brilliant move, White extends the unconscious love story into a marriage story by having Laura adopt a child at the mid-point of the story. She becomes a mother, except she isn’t. The child is adopted, but only informally. It’s all taking place in her unconscious mind but so is the whole relationship with Voss. There is now a symbolic marriage between the two. They are now a family with a child.
Meanwhile, up in the conscious mind, Voss is the still the great adventurer taking a journey. The adventure story continues throughout Act 2. We get the following Hero’s Journey:
Does this look familiar? All the men are up there in the Conscious part of the story. All the women are down below in the unconscious. That is exactly what was going on in the Victorian era society and had been going on for the last couple of millennia of patriarchy. The feminine has been relegated to the unconscious. Household, family, child. All woman’s business. All hidden away out of sight. Meanwhile, the great adventures of Faustian man were blazing in all their glory up in the Conscious.
Of course, Voss is not on a great adventure. He’s walking into the desert and fighting his own demons. This is yet another negation on White’s part and it symbolises not just a psychic but a spiritual struggle. Our textual reference point now is the biblical journey. Voss is both Faust, the prime myth of Faustian culture and also the biblical Moses wandering in the desert. In this way, he represents the two highest levels of the animus that Jung identified. Laura’s adoption of the child now makes her the Virgin Mary in anima terms. It is through these symbols that White shows us the individuation process in Act 2.
It is the psychological journey of Act 2 that the novel is known for. But it’s at the end of Act 2 that we get the final, earth-shattering re-evaluation that is going to blow everything out of the water. Voss dies.
He dies at exactly the point in the classic Hero’s Journey where somebody is supposed to die. In the Matrix, for example, this is the point of the story where Cipher is killing the other members of the crew by pulling the plug on them. It’s the All is Lost moment where the mission seems impossible before the hero rises from the ashes.
But there’s a huge problem. It is Voss that has died. But Voss is supposed to be the hero of the book! White is yet again forcing us to re-evaluate and this time we must re-evaluate the entire premise of the book. The titular character, the hero, has died and there’s still one act of the story to go. Again, White is negating a standard cultural expectation. When a story is named after one of the characters, that character is supposed to be the hero. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, Robinson Crusoe, Oliver Twist. The list could go on and on.
What does this mean? It means Voss is not the hero. Laura Trevelyan is the hero. We must change our entire understanding of the story. With Voss dead, the adventure story has ended and so has the love story. All that is left is Laura. What on earth is going on? What sort of story are we in now? The answer: a completely new type of story never written before. And the reason is because in Act 3 White introduces a fourth variable to the love story.
What happens symbolically in the 3rd act of the story is that the feminine rises up from the unconscious both literally and figuratively. Laura leaves the house of her aunt and uncle. She gets a job and takes a place in society. She is a mother, a widow, a teacher and still a young and beautiful woman. She is all these things in one. But the psychological journey of Act 2 is over. In Act 3 we are now standing back in history. The love story of Voss and Laura is over and both we and the characters in the novel are re-evaluating it as a historical occurrence through the character of Laura.
This is the fourth and brand new dimension White has added to the love story. It’s the incredible, meta, put-your-mind-in-a-blender-and-drink-an-Integral-Consciousness-milkshake moment. It makes me want to pour a bath just so I can jump out of it and shout “Eureka, muthaf**ckers!”
White has added Time to love story. We now have 8 independent variables. The factorial of 8, the total number of unique combinations of 8 independent variables, is a mind-bending 40,320. This is two orders of magnitude greater than the three dimensional story. White’s technical achievement has unlocked a new kind of story. Never before could so much information be fitted within the space of a novel. And, as Gregory Bateson once said, humans think in stories. Therefore, this is a new kind of thinking, exactly the kind that Jean Gebser talked about. When we add the fourth dimension, we change everything and we need a new word to capture that change: the Integral.
This technical, analytical achievement makes Voss a work of genius. But there is something far more important and this is one of the few things I agree with David Tacey about.
Patrick White was clearly a troubled soul. He’d had a difficult childhood moving between Australia and England. As a result, he didn’t fit in to either country. He also served as an intelligence officer in World War 2 and saw first hand the ravages of war including in the deserts of North Africa (I believe it’s those deserts he had in mind in Voss). Tacey analyses White as having a puer-Devouring Mother complex. But, as Tacey himself admits, such complexes are never wholly a part of personal psychology. That was Jung’s great advance over Freud: he realised the connection between the personal and collective psyche.
It follows that White’s book is about the state of affairs that held at the time it was written in 1957. White has not just added the “personal” time of the story but also the “collective time” of the whole culture. This is the timeline that I referred to in my last post. The feminine had been relegated to the Unconscious since the creation of the Christian Trinity. But God died and then the Faustian son (Antichrist) died on the battlefields of the world wars. What was left was the feminine still mostly in the unconscious mind but battling to come to consciousness; in other words, The Devouring Mother.
White’s novel is a direct response to the collective psychic situation of the time. There was a breakdown in consciousness leaving the way open for the manifestation of the unconscious (by the way, that breakdown in consciousness has been getting worse lately, in case you hadn’t noticed). That’s why Laura Trevelyan is the hero of the story. She represents the eternal (archetypal) feminine rising to consciousness. That is what White shows us in Act 3.
I don’t believe White had much consciousness of any of this. He hadn’t even read Jung at this time. So, he would not have been framing any of this in the analytical terms I have used here. He would have been drawing on his own unconscious which is also the collective unconscious. In fact, I would say he was using his whole being with all the faculties available to a human. That whole being decided that what was needed to address the issue was a story. Not just any story. A Love Story.
Love is connection. It is connection at the physical level but also at the higher levels of the psyche and spirit. The Devouring Mother is the facsimile of love; the shadow form. She is disconnection. She wants to atomise everything and disintegrate it. Lockdowns, masks, work from home, loneliness, anxiety, mental illness. These are the workings of The Devouring Mother. The answer to all this is love. That is why White wrote a love story.
Only art/symbolism can do this because only art/symbolism can provide the multi-dimensionality required to compress so much into one work. It would simply not have been possible to convey this message without White’s innovation in storytelling. But that innovation did not come from his conscious mind or even just his unconscious. It must have come from his whole being. And that is what is required in the Integral. We must engage our whole being and not just the little voice in our head. Only art/symbolism can communicate from one whole being to another whole being. Our culture is deeply uncomfortable with this idea but we still recognise it in things like marriage ceremonies (all symbolism).
What reductionist science must do is get rid of variables to enable calculation to be done. But none of the variables in White’s love story can be gotten rid of. As a result, you have something that cannot be rationally processed because there are too many variables. The effect is disorienting to our rational minds which still crave the old single point of truth. We can try to go back to the single point of truth. We can try to destroy it. Both of those tendencies are present in the modern world. But there is another way: to transcend it.
We transcend it by doing what White did which is to treat is as one big irreducible whole. To do that we must bring all the human faculties to bear: the conscious and the unconscious, the past and the present, the masculine and the feminine, the personal and the collective. The Integal, aka systems thinking, is about wholes. The word “whole” is etymologically related to the word “holy” (heil and heilig in German). It’s related to salvation. This is the spiritual symbolism that Jung and Gebser knew was needed but which could not be conveyed in an analytical format. We need a way to communicate holistically, which means holy. White found a way in his novel. Voss transcends to the spiritual in the book and the book itself is a spiritual text.
It turns out that what was needed was a love story. That is the meaning of Voss. That is the “integration” that needs to happen. Love strengthens all connections. It is the antidote to disintegration and atomisation. The new thing trying to come into existence is love. A new kind of love. Not one that comes out of nowhere as a deus ex machina but one that builds on what was already there. It is fundamentally tied to the past and it creates a future. It connects the masculine and feminine. It connects the conscious and unconscious. It connects the individual to the collective. At the highest level, it connects to the divine; the eternal.
So, the Baby Boomers had it right, after all. All you need is Love.
And just to prove that I’ve completely lost my mind, I’m going to end with a quote from an 80s pop song; Steve Winwood’s Higher Love:
Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be
Bring me a higher love
As a final note, one of the things that’s blown me away about this series of posts is that I could never have gotten to the end without the referral to Gebser and Tacey. So, just wanted to say thanks one more time to William and Shane for that. A great example of the personal-collective axis at work!
All posts in this series:
Patrick White’s “Voss”
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 1
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 2
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 3
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Part 4
The Eternal Feminine, The Devouring Mother and the Fourth Face of God: Final