Robert D. Romanyshyn is an Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, an Affiliate Member of The Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, and a Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. He is also a Core Faculty Member at Jung Platform.
Author of eight books including his newly published Victor Frankenstein, the Monster and the Shadows of Technology: The Frankenstein Prophecies, he has published articles in psychology, philosophy, education and literary journals, published a book of poems, written a one act play about Frankenstein, and created a multi-media DVD entitled Antarctica: Inner journeys in the Outer World, a psychological reflection on the melting polar ice. In addition to online seminars and interviews, he has given lectures and workshops at universities and professional societies in the U.S., Europe, Australia, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand.
Courses and Lecturesby Robert Romanyshyn
Articlesby Robert Romanyshyn
In workshops on the grieving process over the years, I have witnessed how grief work opens one to wonder, enables one to be surprised by the unexpected and unnoticed miracles in the mundane, the extraordinary that is nestled in the folds of the ordinary, like the play of light and shadows revealing the hidden dimensions of a landscape that one has perhaps passed by so often and without notice, or the beauty of the rose that softens sorrow.
Home! What images does this word conjure up in all of us? What memories, desires, hopes and feelings arise from the depths of the soul with the very speaking of the word? Home is at the heart of these blogs because each in its own way has considered how Covid-19 is awakening this archetypal image, which is perhaps the first, oldest and deepest root of our ties to the world and which sets the rhythms of our existence as a journey between birth and death.
How could we even consider the possibility of any connection between wisdom and virus? Framed as a question, the theme of this blog is intentionally a challenge, which is designed to make us pause. Virus belongs to the lowest possibility of life on the planet, a protein bundle on the very boundary between living and non-living entities. Wisdom belongs to the highest capacity of human reason.
Mary Shelley’s story of Victor Frankenstein retells the Christian story of creation in which Victor Frankenstein is the new creator god who would make use of the powers of science and technology available in his time to create a new race of beings who would never know the stain of death. In her story, the creature that Victor creates abandons, and then would destroy, haunts his maker from the margins where his side of the story waits to be told.
In Mary Shelley’s story, Victor Frankenstein and the ‘Monster’ personify two opposite attitudes toward the natural world. Frankenstein intentionally cuts himself off from the natural order and rhythms of nature, eschewing the beauty of the changing seasons, refusing to be distracted from his work to reanimate dead matter. In his obsession, he adopts a purely utilitarian attitude toward the natural world.
In the myth, Prometheus, whose name means forethought or foresight, is the creator of humankind but dissatisfied with the lot imposed upon them by the gods, he steals fire from the gods and gives it to mortal beings. Angered by this action, the gods take their revenge through Epimetheus, whose name means afterthought or hindsight.
Without a mythic context as a backdrop for our lives, we are all too easily swept up in the current of the times. This dynamic applies not only to one’s personal life, but also to the collective lives of all of us. Myths are the larger stories that provide context and as such can often have therapeutic value in times of need.
How are we framing this pandemic? Some compare it to a war, or more specifically to WWII. Some use as their measure the seasonal flu or the 1918 Spanish flu. Such comparisons, however, carry with them not only the belief this crisis will pass as did the others, but they also engender the idea that we will be able to carry on as usual once the crisis has passed.
Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein is a psychological primer on how we make monsters. The interaction between Victor Frankenstein and the creature he makes enact this drama. Like a mirror, the monster reflects Victor’s horror of his dream to be a new god who would erase death from life.
Today we are webbed together in virtual space and time as we sit at our computers. But are we alone together, apparently connected but haunted by a sense of isolation? Do we suffer from terminal identity, a felicitous phrase that not only describes our sense of identity in the digital world, but also suggests that there might be something more pernicious about this phrase, something terminal about our addiction to the terminal?
Victor Frankenstein, as a modern Prometheus, erases the boundary between the Gods and humanity. In this boundary violation, he is following the track of modern science, whose origins lie in the mid 15th century with the artistic development of linear perspective vision. In this regard, the fictional character of Victor Frankenstein does what the historical figure Galileo did when, looking through his telescope, he erased the boundary between the uncorrupted heavenly sphere and the corrupted sphere of the earth.
From a physiological perspective, breathing is a matter of respiration, and shortness of breath can be a medical problem. This perspective is, of course, not only true, it is also necessary and valuable in its medical context. But that context has become the norm of what is real about the act of breathing.
In the 1960s, the dream of space flight became an exemplary expression of technological achievement. For the first time in human history, we could see from the moon the image of earth rising in the inky darkness of space. I remember being mesmerized by that image. I also remember being dismembered by how the paradoxical tension of that image turned upside down my taken for granted assumptions about who we are as a human species and what our place was in the cosmos.
Memory is a tricky business. The act of remembering is a backward glance and this turning toward what has been, is done by the one who is remembering now, in a present moment that has around it some sense of an imagined future, however dim that sense might be.
Memory can be a path of exploration, a backward glance which, returning one to the moment where the present started, can make one present to the present moment in another way–where one might, as Eliot notes, come to know it for the first time. Are not such returns necessary, especially in moments of change and crises?
Every day seems to bring in its wake a creeping sense of apocalypse that is haunting our individual and collective lives. Apocalypse is one of those harrowing words that seem to foretell disaster. Are we on the edge of a global catastrophe? What is in a word, and specifically such a loaded word like apocalypse?
This new series of blog articles offers psychological reflections on the COVID-19 crisis from the perspectives of depth psychology, particularly Jung’s psychology and the innovative cultural-historical psychology of Jan Hendrik van den Berg.
The art of the question is the work of psychotherapy. In the 40 years I have practiced this art as a Jungian and existential psychotherapist, it has become increasingly evident that the boundaries between the private domain of soul and the public domain of nature are two sides of the same coin.