The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness

The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness

The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness

The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness

Synopsis

The black sun, an ages-old image of darkness, has not been treated hospitably in the modern world. Modern psychology has seen darkness primarily as a negative force, something to move through and beyond, but it actually has an intrinsic importance to the human psyche. In this book, Jungian analyst Stanton Marlan reexamines the paradoxical image of the black sun and the meaning of darkness in Western culture. In the image of the black sun, Marlan finds the hint of a darkness that shines. He draws upon his clinical experience-and on a wide range of literature and art, including Goethe's Faust, Dante's Inferno, and the black art of Rothko and Reinhardt-to explore the influence of light and shadow on the fundamental structures of modern thought and the contemporary practice of analysis. He shows that the black sun accompanies the most negative of psychic experiences but also the most sublime, resonating with the mystical experience of negative theology, the Kabbalah, the Buddhist notions of the void, and the black light of the Sufi Mystics. An important contribution to the understanding of alchemical psychology, this book draws upon a postmodern sensibility to develop an original understanding of the black sun. It offers insight into modernity, the act of imagination, and the work of analysis in understanding depression, trauma, and transformation of the soul. Marlan's original reflections help us to explore the unknown darkness conventionally called the Self.

Excerpt

I first became aware of the image of the black sun while reading Jung’s alchemical works and later in a more personal way in my analysis of a woman whose encounter with the black sun was dramatic and life changing. What I initially thought was a rare and obscure phenomenon proved to be far more widespread than I had imagined. I have since found it to be linked to the deepest issues of our mortality and to both tragic and ecstatic possibilities.

The groundwork of my fascination with the black sun was laid down long ago—in childhood. I remember thinking about death, realizing that I would die along with everyone and everything I loved and valued. My thoughts about mortality took on an obsessive quality, and I wondered why not everyone spent all of their time trying to solve the problem of dying. Over the years I learned much about the historical and psychodynamic reasons for my obsessions, and even though the issue of personal mortality no longer aroused in me the same level of anxiety, I still struggled to find a stance in regard to this inescapable and existential truth of life.

I once had a dream of floating on a raft moving toward a waterfall. I was standing with my back to the direction of the flow but was bent over in order to see where the raft was going. I could see that it would at some point fall over a precipice, which would mean certain death. I heard a voice say, “Yes, you are going to die, but you don’t have to bend over backward to see it.” While the truth and humor of this dream gave me some relief from my obsession, I never quite stood up completely straight again.

My reflective turn toward death marks my melancholic character and, like the historical alchemist who has a skull on his bench as a me-

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