May 10, 2012

Jung and Novels: The Manticore

In a series of scenes that any drunk could appreciate, David Staunton opens The Manticore standing up in a packed auditorium and screaming, “Who killed Boy Staunton?” It is a pivotal moment, after which he flees Toronto to the holy site of Jung, Zurich. Staunton has passed his own boundaries and slipped into madness He embarks on a Jungian analysis to regain control of himself. This is the final novel that I will highlight on this blog that uses a Jungian analysis as a narrative device.

The Manticore is the second book of The Deptford Trilogy, but students of Davies will see that it is really the final volume of a Jungian trilogy. Jung is not a character in The Manticore, unlike the other two novels I’ve written about: Pilgrim and The World Is Made of Glass. But Davies goes very deeply into the analytical process.

The real Jungian trilogy is A Mixture of Frailties (1958), Fifth Business (1970) and The Manticore (1972). You can see how Davies is just starting to delve into Jungian psychology in A Mixture of Frailties. Fifth Business gets to the very rich roots of the story with such astonishing clarity that Jungians cannot miss the technique. Fifth Business pits the Puer Aeternus (i.e. Boy Staunton) against the Senex (i.e. Dunstan Ramsey). They are two sides of the same coin.

[As a side note, I will never trust a book recommendation engine until Fifth Business and Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head point to each other.]

By the time of The Manticore, Davies is so comfortable with both analytical psychology and himself that he can use an analysis as a narrative device, despite never having undergone analysis himself.

While the third novel of The Deptford Trilogy, World of Wonders, works well as a novel, it is missing the blistering insight of his previous three novels. It does begin with one of the greatest metaphors of the artist in fiction. In response to the question, "What do you call a great magician," the greatest magician replies:

“A man who can stand stark naked in the midst of a crowd and keep it gaping for an hour while he manipulates a few coins, or cards, or billiard balls.”

This is the essence of great art: An artist who can turn nothing into not just something, but something that deeply absorbs an audience. Later in life Davies himself compared his writing to alchemy, another subject that Jung explored. Davies said that he had turned a great deal of dross writing into a lot of money.

By the time that Davies wrote The Manticore, he had published four novels and found international literary fame. He was a literary man whose confidence was bolstered by accomplishment and accolades. So he took some risks, including a serious engagement with analytical psychology. He uses a lot more dream analysis than I felt like I could get away with in Powder Dreams.

Davies also uses a reflective view of analysis. While he tries to make Staunton have real decisions to sort through during analysis, it is nothing compared to what Staunton sees in his past. This was something I tried to address in Powder Dreams; how do you show the momentum of analysis as events unfold around you? Twenty-twenty hindsight is easy enough, especially with a skilled guide (i.e. analytical psychologist), but to sort through current events as they are slapping you in the face, that is a real challenge.

A Jungian analyst once told me his beef with The Manticore was the lack of encounter with the Collective Unconscious. Again Davies does not excel at this kind of in-your-face experience.

The Manticore has some of the greatest metaphors ever developed in literature, including being shat out of the anus of primal experience (i.e. the final bear cave scene which pairs beautifully with Staunton’s first experience with evil), how to live life in terms of a three dimensional chess board, and finally a parable of living with one’s demons as Christmas dinner guests are given gingerbread men.

The Manticore is peerless in its perfection of bringing Jung and the novel together.