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Michael J. Horne » Book Review » Book Review: The Sunken Quest, the Wasted Fisher, the Pregnant Fish: Postmodern Reflections on Depth Psychology

Book Review: The Sunken Quest, the Wasted Fisher, the Pregnant Fish: Postmodern Reflections on Depth Psychology


Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2006, 51,149-151

Book Review: The Sunken Quest, the Wasted Fisher, the Pregnant Fish: Postmodern Reflections on Depth Psychology.
by Ronald Schenk

Wilmette, Illinois: Chiron Publications, 2001.
Reviewed by Michael Horne, M.D.

Analytical psychology purports to help despairing people repair the tattered meaning of their existence. Many analytical psychologists feel that postmodernist approaches to understanding are relativistic and nihilistic and, therefore, destroy meaning. They wonder how such points of view can be compatible with the practice of analysis.

Ronald Schenk, a Senior Training Analyst with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, and in private practice in Dallas, Texas has written a book which corrects these negative views. He has combined several of his own essays that vividly describe, in clinically relevant terms, his view of the postmodern contribution to the theory and practice of analytical psychology. Before he became an analyst, Schenk developed a postmodern sensibility through graduate work in phenomenology. However, It was in the chaos of his own life experience, some of which he describes in this book, that Schenk came to fully appreciate the relevance of postmodernism for analytical psychology.

Postmodernism has been difficult to define, as it has evolved from work in a variety of fields. These include literary criticism, history, sociology, semiotics (the study of symbolic systems, including language), epistemology (the study of the methods of acquiring knowledge, and how its truth claims are justified), rhetoric (the study of the use of language for persuasion), and the fine arts. Each of these disciplines has framed the definition in terms of its own subject matter. However, it is the ontological (theories on the nature of being) insights of postmodernism that distinguish it from the modernist views it claims to supersede.

Schenk explains this distinction clearly, showing how the first modernist thinkers asserted that humans had a fundamental or essential nature based on their being subjects with the capacity for rational thought. This approach to human nature is called essentialism, or foundationalism, and the process of arriving at the essential nature is called reductionism. In the 19th century, this rationalist version of modernism was challenged, first by Marx’s assertion of the primacy of the explanatory power of economic forces, and then by Nietzche’s claim that the essential nature of humans could be understood in terms of their “will to power” and, finally, by Freud’s and Jung’s formulations of the influence of the unconscious mind on rational conscious thinking. Despite the dethroning of rational thought as the ultimate ground of being, these theories were modernist, since they all asserted that there could be some foundationalist explanation of human “beingness”.

In contrast to modernist theories, postmodernism stresses the impossibility of locating any foundational explanation of human nature or being (Rosenau 1992). Schenk describes the textual analytic method of deconstruction of Derrida, the contemporary French postmodernist philosopher, who uses this approach to show that language can never capture the full meaning of any utterance (Derrida 1967). Therefore, Derrida claims that no final explanation of things in rational terms is ever possible. However, far from this being a descent into nihilism and relativism, it is, rather, an opening up of possibilities for new meanings. This privileging of the otherness hidden in language, has encouraged an interest in the understanding of the marginalized other in politics and in history. In philosophy, the study of otherness has been developed in the ontological theories of Emmanuel Levinas, influential in both ethics (Levinas 1998) and theology (Vanhoozer 2003). In analytical psychological theory, Huskinson has proposed a reformulation of the Self in terms of Levinas’ postmodern conceptions of otherness (Huskinson 2002).

The modernist/postmodernist distinction is clearly revealed in the two ways unconsciousness is spoken of in analytical psychology and in psychoanalysis. On the one hand, it is used as a noun and, therefore, has the meaning of a thing. On the other hand, it is used as an adjective, and, in this case, has the meaning of a quality. As a noun, we speak of “the unconscious”,  as if it were an enduring essence. This is the modernist sense of the word. As an adjective, we speak of  the “unconscious aspects of things”, thereby giving a description of one’s lack of awareness of potential experience (de Azevedo 2000). This is the postmodernist sense of the word. This latter sense is captured by Jung’s concept of the Shadow, or Lacan’s idea of the Real.

Schenk points out that Jung, despite his use of foundationalist notions, such as his theory of archetypes, was distinctly postmodern in that “his notion of the reality of psychic life was his faith in meaning”. Schenk points out Jung’s postmodern belief that this meaning emerges from irrational signification, and that it is not foundational. Schenk demonstrates this by using Hillman’s interpretation of Jung’s concept of the image, in which he asserts that meaning evolves via the conscious elaboration of images that don’t point back to any origin. Schenk goes on to say that Jung does not entirely free himself from the modernist idea of a subject. For instance, Jung often describes the process of individuation in a modernist way, as the development of a subject towards an ideal state of being.

In the postmodernist view, the subject is a concept that is based on a set of  propositions constructed by a person in order to describe him/herself. Postmodernists also criticize notions of individuation or self-actualization as goals for human development, saying that these objectives are purely cultural concepts of an ideal self and, therefore, lack universal validity. Schenk clearly demonstrates these modernist/postmodernist distinctions, and shows how Jung veers from one to the other as he develops his analytic theory.

Schenk gives an extended discussion of Jung’s use of phenomenology. This was an epistemological method, pioneered by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century (Sokolowski 2002, Burr 2003). Husserl took consciousness as his object of study and asserted that one’s consciousness, with all its faculties, is always attempting to apprehend the characteristics of some thing. As a result of his studies, Husserl realized that people’s conceptualization of things was always influenced by their prior views or current intentions. This was a non-foundationalist view and was, therefore, postmodern. However, Husserl also maintained that if one could put aside one’s prior views about a thing, one could come to a correct apprehension of its nature. This was a foundationalist view and was, therefore, modernist (Husserl 1970). Schenk rightly contends that Jung was a non-foundational phenomenologist, with regard to his emphasis on apprehending the image on its own terms (Brooke 1991). Jung’s method of amplification is an example of this aspect of his phenomenological approach.

In response to Husserl’s foundationalism, his student, Martin Heidegger, developed a non-foundationalist phenomenology, in which he says that one understands the world of objects through one’s experiential involvement with those objects (Heidegger 1962, Mulhall 1996)). Schenk outlines Heideggerian phenomenology, and uses it to critique Jung’s foundationalist views of archetypes. However, Schenk recognizes Jung’s non-foundationalist views of archetypes, where he maintained that we live within our psyches seen as a collection of images, including those that he called archetypal. Schenk also describes Jung’s Heideggerian view that we understand the world of our psyches by the revelations of our living within it. In this regard, Heidegger says that we get a sense of “how we are faring”.  In this area of theory, as in so many others, Jung is both foundationalist and non-foundationalist.

Schenk discusses the topic of the body in analysis, using a non-foundationalist phenomenological approach (Merleau-Ponty 2002). He proposes that embodiment is not prior to consciousness but, rather, one presupposes the other. He says that meaning is not behind the bodily gesture; it is the gesture itself. For example, he says it is not one’s clenched fist that signifies one’s anger, rather, it is one’s anger. Phenomenologically, there is no real autonomous body. It is, Schenk says, one of our complexes which is available to analytic exploration in the usual way. He says that interpretive “body work” does not require the use of movement or hands on techniques. He says that the interpretive body is “existence solidified” and, as a result, neither the body nor consciousness is foundational. The body, conceptualized in this way, “speaks”.

Schenk notes that Jung located the religious function internally, and thought that dreams were an especially important mode of numinous expression. Schenk refers to the dream state as a ‘temple of Dionysus”. This metaphor points to his phenomenological non-foundationalist view of the dream as being a place to be entered into, as though the dreamer were a participant in a revelatory, religious drama. He says that the dream is an autonomous world and, for the dreamer, being in the dream is as real and significant as being in the world. In the non-foundationalist Jungian mode of interpreting the dream, the dreamer is impacted by the dream as a “world”, and derives his/her understanding of the dream through the understanding of this impact. Schenk says that, in the dream we are best understood as verbs rather than nouns.

Schenk likens the beginning of the analytic process to a shipwreck. In this metaphor the ship represents the secure place the analysand has established, via his/her belief that the meaning of utterances are stable. We are thrown into the linguistic discourse of our culture, and live out the premises of this discourse, oblivious to their existence. We are prisoners in language, unable to see that we have built our prison’s walls. The analysand’s ship is wrecked when the analyst speaks the previously silenced utterances in the analysand’s discourse. Schenk likens this analytic role to that of the tragic fool. He gives Jesus as an example, saying that he was someone who spoke from the outside, disrupting the accepted discourse of his culture. Schenk says that, after the shipwreck has occurred, the analyst and analysand set out on a voyage in language. He conceptualizes this as a making-room for the silenced discourses. He equates this with the imagination, and says that this creates new possibilities for being in the world, rather than constructions of meaning. He likens this process to one in which we are “lived by words”, meaning that we are determined by the discourses that surround us, rather than some putative internal motivation.

In the final chapter, Schenk uses T.S.Eliot’s poem The Waste Land to give a postmodernist account of individuation. Schenk says that, in this poem, Eliot saw the quest as being the making of poetry, a postmodernist concept, rather than as poetry being “the idiom of the quest”, a modernist idea. He says that in The Waste Land, Eliot uses a postmodernist method of bringing the past into the present, that dissolves history into the individual, and the individual into history. Schenk summarizes this discussion of The Waste Land, and the postmodern themes of his book, by concluding that, “We live within awareness perpetually presenting itself and receding.” In addition, he says, “Meaning emerges in tangible form out of the interaction of many awarenesses”  and that, “This meaning is the self awareness of the daily life of the world.”  In this summary, he highlights the fact that the postmodern approach to analysis dissolves certainty, but not meaning.

Schenk has written a very compelling narrative of Jung as a thinker making the transition from modernism to postmodernism. However, his account is often written in a postmodern allusive style. In addition, understanding postmodernism depends on a very extensive background of theory, and he has been unable to explicate this fully in all cases. In order to provide readers not familiar with postmodernism an entree to Schenk’s work, I’ve written an explanatory and, therefore, modernist review of his book. If this review sparks your interest in postmodernism, read Vivien Burr’s Social Constructionism and Pauline Rosenau’s Postmodernism and the Social Sciences, listed in the reference section. Then read Ronald Schenk’s erudite and evocative account of the relationship of postmodernism to analytical psychology.


Brooke, R. (1991). Jung and Phenomenology. London: Routledge.

Burr, V. (2003). Social Constructionism. London: Routledge.

De Azevedo, A.M.A. (2002). ‘Substantive unconscious and adjective unconscious: the contribution of Wilfred Bion’, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 45, 75-91.

Derrida, J. (1967). ‘Structure, sign and play in the discourse of the human sciences’, in Writing and Difference. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Descartes, R. (1960). Discourse on Method and Meditations. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Heidegger, M. (1962), Being and Time. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Hillman, J. (1983). Archetypal Psychology. Dallas: Spring.

Husserl, E. (1970). The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Huskinson, L. (2002) ‘The Self as violent Other: the problem of defining the Self’. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 47, 437-458.

Levinas, E. (1998). On Thinking of the Other: Entre Nous. New York: Columbia University Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002). The Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge

Mulhall, S. (1996). Heidegger and “Being and Time”. London: Routledge.

Rosenau, P.M. (1992). Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads and Intrusions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Vanhoozer, K. ed (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Michael Horne

North Pacific Institute for Analytical Psychology

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