TRUMP AND THE TRICK­STER ARCHETYPE

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Ozzie King

The me­te­oric rise of Don­ald Trump as the Repub­li­can front run­ner for Amer­i­can pres­i­dent is un­de­ni­ably one of the odd­est events in US po­lit­i­cal his­tory. De­spite his showy lack of ex­pe­ri­ence, proud un­fa­mil­iar­ity with the con­cept of pol­icy, fla­grant dis­re­gard for the ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal struc­ture, and du­ti­ful vi­o­la­tion of ev­ery con­ceiv­able stan­dard of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial deco­rum, he con­tin­ues to mes­mer­ize the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Po­lit­i­cal pun­dits are scur­ry­ing to ex­plain the Trump phe­nom­e­non. Th­ese at­tempts, in so far as they log­i­cal, are des­tined to fail, for Trump con­spic­u­ously over­brims the con­tain­ment of con­tem­po­rary nar­ra­tives and his­tor­i­cal space. We can­not be­gin to un­der­stand Trump ex­cept by ini­ti­a­tion into the mys­ter­ies of mytho­log­i­cal space.

In a 1936 es­say ti­tled “Wotan” – a vari­ant of Odin, chief of the Norse gods – famed Swiss psy­chi­a­trist Carl G. Jung, with full aca­demic grav­ity, pro­claimed that Adolf Hitler was pos­sessed (or seized) by the awak­ened “an­cient god of storm and frenzy”. He went on, with un­abated so­bri­ety, to elab­o­rate: “[t]he im­pres­sive thing about the Ger­man phe­nom­e­non is that one man, who is ob­vi­ously “pos­sessed”, has in­fected a whole na­tion to such an ex­tent that every­thing is set in mo­tion and has started rolling on its course to­wards perdi­tion.” With such an oth­er­worldly nar­ra­tive ten­dered in solemn ap­praisal of a his­tor­i­cal cri­sis, the 21st cen­tury per­spec­tive – with its mount­ing ado­ra­tion of the log­i­cal – is bound to dis­miss Jung as an overzeal­ous and schiz­o­phrenic philoso­pher. Nev­er­the­less, it would do us well to pay close at­ten­tion to the Jun­gian ver­dict.

What are we to make of Jung’s con­tention that Hitler was pos­sessed/seized by the berserker god Wotan? To an­swer this, we must first un­der­stand what Jung meant by god. In “Wotan” he as­serts that although “[a] mind that is still child­ish thinks of the gods as meta­phys­i­cal en­ti­ties ex­ist­ing in their own right, or else re­gards them as playful or superstitious in­ven­tions”, the gods, prop­erly con­sid­ered, are “per­son­i­fi­ca­tions of psy­chic forces”. This is an in­sight­ful per­spec­tive which har­mo­nizes with the mytho­log­i­cal treat­ment of the gods as cir­cum­scribed within clearly de­mar­cated zones of ac­tion. Even the most psy­cho­log­i­cally com­plex gods in­ex­orably lack the nu­ance of or­di­nary hu­man per­son­al­i­ties. In the lan­guage of Jun­gian psy­chol­ogy, we may say that the gods rep­re­sent archetypes of the col­lec­tive un­con­scious.

Jun­gian archetypes are fun­da­men­tal psy­chic struc­tures that serve as the sub­stra­tum of all hu­man per­son­al­i­ties. They frame per­spec­tives and guide ac­tion. As op­er­a­tional as they are, the archetypes are typ­i­cally con­signed to the shad­owy dun­geons of the un­con­scious and only episod­i­cally gain en­trance into the van­guard of con­scious­ness.

The as­pect of the per­son­al­ity which in­ter­faces with re­al­ity may be termed the ego. It rep­re­sents a par­tic­u­lar­iza­tion of the archetypes un­der the cir­cum­stances and con­tin­gen­cies of space, time, and causal­ity (that is, of ge­og­ra­phy, cul­ture and his­tory). Since it is the ego which ne­go­ti­ates the terms of re­al­ity, it must ac­cord­ingly meet the ex­i­gen­cies of sur­vival and the vi­cis­si­tudes of ev­ery­day life. The heav­ier the de­mands of the ba­nal­i­ties of ex­is­tence, the more prom­i­nent, com­plex and adap­tive the well-de­vel­oped ego and the more re­strained the ar­che­typal man­i­fes­ta­tions. We can get a sense of the com­plex­ity of the ego by the in­tri­ca­cies of its nar­ra­tive ex­cre­tions. In the 21st cen­tury, char­ac­ter­ized by its in­fin­itely nu­anced nar­ra­tives and

sym­bolic ex­cess (there are more sig­ni­fiers than things sig­ni­fied) so ve­he­mently lamented by Bau­drillard, the ar­che­typal re­al­ity is buried be­neath an im­pen­e­tra­ble moun­tain of nar­ra­tive webs and sym­bolic de­bris.

The in­ter­ment of its archetypes un­der an in­sol­u­ble nexus of nar­ra­tives and in­fi­nite lay­ers of sym­bolic ex­cess is typ­i­cal of the nor­mal in­di­vid­ual (even though by this he is plagued with neu­roses and is need of cathar­sis). His nor­mal­ity and san­ity is gauged ex­clu­sively in terms of align­ment be­tween his ego and the in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized dic­tates of the real world.

The world is, how­ever, not with­out per­son­al­i­ties born with­out the buf­fer­ing ef­fect of a well-de­vel­oped ego – per­son­al­i­ties who es­sen­tially in­ter­face with re­al­ity by way of their archetypes. Con­trary to the mul­ti­plic­ity and nu­ance of the ego, th­ese per­son­al­i­ties are typ­i­cally sim­ple, mono­ma­ni­a­cal and in­tense and usu­ally man­i­fest ex­tra­or­di­nary willpower. How­ever, be­cause they do not ne­go­ti­ate the world via the agency of the ego, they are in­vari­ably cat­e­go­rized

lusus nat­u­rae (freaks of na­ture) – re­mark­able per­son­al­i­ties who are nev­er­the­less viewed as fool­ish, delu­sional and schiz­o­phrenic; even sadis­tic and psy­cho­pathic. Not­with­stand­ing their ab­nor­mal­ity from the per­spec­tive of the ba­nal­i­ties of ev­ery­day life, the ar­che­typal per­son­al­ity – if it has not yet suc­cumbed to the se­duc­tions of sui­cide – may find refuge in com­mit­ment to cer­tain vo­ca­tions that wel­come and nor­mal­ize ex­pres­sions of the patho­log­i­cal – war, com­merce, pol­i­tics and the pri­est­hood.

But what is more, de­spite the gen­eral ab­nor­mal­ity of the ar­che­typal per­son­al­i­ties in times of nor­malcy, th­ese

lusus nat­u­rae are the in­evitable dem­a­gogues, heroes and gods in times of cri­sis. A cri­sis may be in­ter­preted as a dis­tor­tion in the fab­ric of his­tor­i­cal space which makes the mythical pos­si­ble. This his­tor­i­cal fo­cal point acts as a con­duit for the en­trance of the gods – with all their mad­ness and de­prav­i­ties. It may be said that here the mythical nar­ra­tive is in­jected

into his­tor­i­cal space. But it is not so much an in­jec­tion into his­tory as much as it is that the dis­tor­tion of his­tor­i­cal space by cri­sis cre­ates fissures in that space and of­fers glimpses of the ar­che­typal abyss buried be­neath it. As the cracks widen and the earth quakes, the sky dark­ens, and cen­turies of nu­ance and sub­tlety are blown away. Now the shad­ows of the ar­che­typal nether­world climb out in droves. His­tory comes to a stand­still. The mytho­log­i­cal has in­vaded the space of the real.

It is not hard to un­der­stand the apoth­e­o­sis of ar­che­typal per­son­al­i­ties in times of cri­sis. The mythol­o­gist Joseph Camp­bell once pro­claimed with char­ac­ter­is­tic pro­fun­dity that “the psy­chotic drowns in the same wa­ters in which the mys­tic swims with de­light”. Those who have cus­tom­ar­ily ne­go­ti­ated life via the ego, af­ter the ba­nal­i­ties of the ra­tio­nal or­der have been blown away, dis­cover that they dwell in a strange land which they are un­able to nav­i­gate. It is only nat­u­ral that they turn to those who have al­ways in­hab­ited the ar­che­typal spa­ces and who know its ev­ery con­tour – those who are not merely un­fazed by the new or­der but who ac­tu­ally revel in it; psy­chopomps to guide them in the land of the dead.

Within the frame­work thus es­tab­lished, it is easy to as­sim­i­late the rise of a geno­ci­dal psy­chopath as Führer of Ger­many. We have only to in­voke the cat­a­clysmic world of the Weimar Repub­lic (par­tic­u­larly the hy­per­in­fla­tion ini­ti­ated by the fi­nan­cial de­mands of the Great War and in­ten­si­fied by the bru­tally puni­tive terms of the Ver­sailles Treaty and the aus­ter­i­ties of the Great De­pres­sion) to es­tab­lish the con­text of cri­sis. As for the ar­che­typal per­son­al­ity, it was quintessen­tially ex­pressed in the per­son of Adolf Hitler. We know it by the rad­i­cal sim­plic­ity of his mo­tive and the in­ten­sity and ab­sur­dity of his vi­sion –

leben­sraum for the master race, mech­a­nized ex­ter­mi­na­tion of a scape­goat peo­ple, and a regime to span a mil­len­nium.

To­day, the rad­i­cal sim­plic­ity has resur­faced. The dra­matic rise of Don­ald Trump on the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal scene is a patent con­fir­ma­tion that Amer­ica is wounded and in cri­sis, for Trump epit­o­mizes yet an­other dread­ful archetype – the Trick­ster. The Trick­ster is fun­da­men­tally a lim­i­nal fig­ure – a bound­ary-crosser who flu­idly nav­i­gates be­tween worlds and who, by magic, trick­ery and/ or thiev­ery, sub­verts the rules of the so­cial and/or nat­u­ral or­der. Typ­i­cal Trick­sters of myth and folk­lore in­clude Her­mes, Prometheus, Loki, Lu­cifer, Eshu, Odysseus, Rey­nard the Fox and Anansi.

Amer­ica seems es­pe­cially fer­tile ground for the growth of the Trick­ster. In the form of Coy­ote and Raven, it has haunted the Amer­i­can land­scapes for mil­len­nia and sig­nif­i­cantly in­fil­trated the folk­lore and lit­er­a­ture of early Amer­ica (Davy Crock­ett, Huck­le­berry Finn, Her­man Melville’s Con­fi­dence-Man etc.). The Trick­ster (in the form of such fig­ures like Br’er Rab­bit and the Sig­ni­fy­ing Mon­key) also fea­tured promi­nently in the nar­ra­tives of 19th and 20th cen­tury African Amer­i­can writ­ers as a tool for cir­cum­vent­ing and de­con­struct­ing the in­sti­tu­tional block­ades and vi­o­lence of White Amer­ica. To­day, a mul­ti­plic­ity of pop cul­ture icons like Bugs Bunny, Dead­pool and the Joker con­vey that the Trick­ster is alive and well in Amer­ica and that the post­mod­ern era is its proper habi­ta­tion.

From the per­spec­tive of Western cul­ture and its dom­i­na­tion by bi­nary hi­er­ar­chi­cal op­po­sites (good/ evil, mas­cu­line/fem­i­nine, master/slave etc.), the Trick­ster eludes cat­e­go­riza­tion. It is both good and evil, cun­ning and fool­ish, su­per­fi­cial and pro­found, friv­o­lous and deadly se­ri­ous. It openly jeers at au­thor­ity, yet es­tab­lishes it­self as a (shift­ing) cen­ter of power. It laugh­ingly stokes the flames of vi­o­lence and chaos, yet, on the same plat­form, it preaches the path to a bet­ter world. Th­ese am­bi­gu­i­ties (and more) are man­i­festly present in Trump.

We may gain ac­cess to a more en­light­ened per­spec­tive of the Trick­ster if it is con­trasted with an­other archetype – that of the Out­sider. De­spite the name, the Out­sider never ex­ists on the out­side of so­ci­ety. It ex­ists smack in the mid­dle of it but sim­ply does not par­take of it. It walks cloaked in the ar­che­typal space, speaks its sim­plic­i­ties and es­chews the nu­ances of the real world. To this camp be­long both Christ and Adolf Hitler (as tran­scen­den­tal and di­alec­ti­cal vari­ants, re­spec­tively). The Trick­ster, on the other hand, does not avoid the nu­ances of so­ci­etal ex­is­tence but wel­comes it and sub­verts the sta­tus quo by be­com­ing a hy­per­bolic ex­pres­sion of the self­same nu­ances. As such, we may imag­ine the mor­phic vari­abil­ity and mer­cu­rial in­con­sis­tency of the Trick­ster as an ex­ag­ger­ated, puni­tive and mock­ing im­i­ta­tion of the ac­tional and nar­ra­tive labyrinths of the so­ci­etal or­der.

As an in­car­na­tion of the Trick­ster, Don­ald Trump is no doubt a dy­nam­i­cally en­ter­tain­ing per­son­al­ity. But he is not to be un­der­es­ti­mated. Con­cealed be­neath his playful com­i­cal­ity is a pro­foundly ni­hilis­tic and de­struc­tive per­son­al­ity. It is easy for the ex­perts to dis­miss him as so­cio­pathic, as short on pol­icy, as a buf­foon. What­ever the truth of th­ese procla­ma­tions, they are im­ma­te­rial, for his suc­cess is vis­i­bly real. If, as Adolf Hitler, Wotan made the whole world quake un­der the ter­ri­ble thun­der of his bat­tle cry, are we not to shud­der even more at the thought of Loki/ Trump – but­tressed by the nar­ra­tive in­fini­tude and sym­bolic ex­cess of our age and its gen­er­ous of­fer­ings of in­stru­ments of war – at the helm of the most pow­er­ful na­tion in the world? If Amer­ica is to be sal­vaged from to­tal chaos, it must find the courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion to heal its wounds by other means. Trump is not the path to its re­cu­per­a­tion. He is the ex­act op­po­site – the harbinger of its pos­si­ble an­ni­hi­la­tion.

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