Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

The Transcendent Function of Interculturalism

Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

The Transcendent Function of Interculturalism

Article excerpt

In a 1992 article, Kathy Foley asks the question:

   Are cross-culture drama, dance, and music the ultimate in cultural tourism:
   Club Med experiences of "the real thing" without any substantive connection
   to the internal stuff that codes a performance? Or is it the very reality
   of the arts to allow us to test the boundaries of self and other where the
   experience stretches us toward realizing the other is only a possibility of
   self that for cultural reasons is suppressed? (10)

From a psychological perspective, each person's individual encounters with the products of another culture, like all encounters, are part of the individual's personal development. I would like to suggest that, at the optimal end, the intercultural encounter (1) may serve as a catalyst for what Jung calls the "transcendent function," which acts to facilitate individuation. In other words, through use of the Other's symbols, one can become more fully one's self.


The course of an intercultural encounter begins with the individual, as yet unaware of the Other. But this is not a sustainable state, nor is it in fact really a beginning; for, on a psychological level, what seems to be the individual has come into being by separating one part of the psyche from the rest. "Consciousness," as Jung explains, "grows out of an unconscious psyche which is older than it, and which goes on functioning together with it or even in spite of it" (Archetypes 281). What we humans by habit take to be ourselves is only a rather narrow area of focus on the surface of a much larger Self. During childhood, every human goes through a process of differentiating an ego-consciousness from the remainder of the psyche as necessitated by the exigencies of human existence and culture. The remainder of the Self is generally ignored and often not even acknowledged by the ego. (2) Those parts of the Self that are deemed unacceptable to the ego, for reasons of culture, personal history, or religion, are repressed into the unconscious and, as a result, are subject to being projected onto others: the external Other becomes a substitute for an unacknowledged internal Other. The nature of these projections tends to be negative: the ego has gone to lengths to establish its independence from the rest of the psyche and is naturally in fear of annihilation should it be subsumed by an unconscious with which it no longer identifies. Fear, hatred, or contempt of the Other without arises from fear of the Other within. Projection is easiest when the least real understanding or possibility of identification exists, so the cultural Other is a viable target. Intercultural awareness tends to begin with opportunistic use of the Other for projection. (3)

As I have mentioned, repressions are often culturally driven. For instance, Western cultures have long perpetuated masculinist, rationalist, empiricist biases, which not only lead to repression of much opposing material but also exacerbate the problem by an extreme valorization of the ego. (4) These biases were decried by Jung, (5) as they also have been more recently by performance theorists, such as Victor Turner and Jerzy Grotowski. Turner has said that

   Cartesian dualism has insisted on separating subject from object, us from
   them. It has, indeed, made voyeurs of Western man, exaggerating sight by
   macro- and micro-instrumentation, the better to learn the structures of the
   world with an "eye" to its exploitation. The deep bonds between body and
   mentality, unconscious and conscious thinking, species and self have been
   treated without respect, as though irrelevant for analytical purposes.

Jerzy Grotowski's concern

   is not for the African or Asian societies from which he draws the bulk of
   his research material but for the contemporary Western civilization that he
   believes has excluded the sacred from the performing arts and therefore
   impoverished them both in terms of technique and the essential knowledge of
   humanity. … 
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