The Shadow Knows
(Or, "If Only You Knew the Power of the Dark Side!")
Derrida speaks of Deconstruction as,
among other things, the dismantling of traditional dualistic hierarchies.
We traditionally not only distinguish pairs, but first we oppose them to
one another (something not self-evident if you think about it), and then
we exalt the one and debase the other.
He says it is not necessarily
desirable to undo the separation into pairs, but we must deconstruct these
sets of ranked oppositions, dismantle them, to see if there is a logical
reason for the particular arrangement, or if it is arbitrary, existing
only as the order imposed by those in power so as to protect their power.
Obvious examples are male
superiority over female; male=good, female=evil. Christian over
non-Christian; Christianity=true, other religions=false. These are
Derrida reverses some traditional
relationships, such as that between nature and culture, showing that the
former is lost, unknowable. What passes for it is really a theoretical
reconstruction, hence part of culture. The opposition is not what it
seems: not nature versus culture but culture versus counterculture. The
counterculture disguises itself as nature in order to make a powerful
critique of the dominant culture. Once this illusion is dispelled, the
powerful advantage is lost.
Nietzsche said the difference between
concept and metaphor is illusory. So-called concepts pose as superior to mere
metaphors, because the concept is supposed to be a direct apprehension of
self-evident, perspicuous truth, while the metaphor is supposedly some dim and
distant comparison. This difference is what is supposed to make philosophy
superior to literature.
But Nietzsche shows how concepts are
simply metaphors which are so much taken for granted that we skip
immediately to the punch line. Like coins with the value marks rubbed off
after too much use. Concepts are no better than metaphors and do not
deserve their traditional privilege. See the example of "transcendent,"
"high and lifted up." All is metaphor. All is rhetoric. Even logic is
rhetoric. Meaning is metaphor. So old metaphors, the so-called concepts,
seek to preserve their position by virtue of seniority. Their metaphorical
character has become invisible to us through familiarity (cf. Schklovsky).
They pose as something better and qualitatively different from metaphors.
You can see the process Nietzsche refers
to in the phenomenon of language inflation. "Marvelous" used to mean the same as
"miraculous," but we used it to death, till it means merely "very nice." So we
have to switch to "miraculous." "Awesome" and "awful" used to compress a story
of something prompting awe in the viewer, but now we have forgotten this and the
word is reduced to nothing.
What seems to be substructure is really
superstructure. The criterion for the proof of a theory are themselves functions
of that theory. Created by it.
Marx said it well, and Liberation theology
repeats it: theology and philosophy are ideology. In other words, they are an
explanation and therefore a legitimation, of a particular system of things. To
explain them is to show how they became as they are, and this is implicitly an
argument that they must be that way. And change would be tampering. The example
of Adam & Eve shows this clearly. Did women get subordinated to men as this
story "records"? Or isn't the story itself precisely a tool to bring about and
reinforce that oppression? History is made into nature, so it will seem
Your theology is an extension of, a
function of, a defense of your socio-economic, class position. This is why
Marx said the real task of philosophy is not to explain the world as it
is, but rather to change it.
As Liberation theologians say, you
must make your commitment by intuition, or faith, for either the
liberation of the poor or the continuation of their oppression. The
arguments will follow. They always do.
Gordon Kaufman accepts
Kant's verdict that we cannot know what God is like, or if he exists at
all. But we infer his existence and his justice as necessary postulates
for morality. He says in his Essay on Theological Method that we must take
responsibility for our image of God, since it is our image and can be
nothing more. We must design the creator. Feminists are the ones who grab
the bull by the horns and simply create a female God! They call it a
Yet I think that something is being
forgotten here: once the supposed substructure is revealed to be the
superstructure, the jig is up. The mystification is dispelled. The weapon
of priestcraft is struck from the hands of the oppressor, the one who kept
us intimidated and in the dark. What Kaufman and the feminists are doing,
it seems to me, is to take up the fallen weapon of the oppressor and to
wield it themselves. They don't think the common people capable of
thinking for themselves. They just think they, the theologians, will be
better Grand Inquisitors. But the Sandinistas are never any better than
the Somozistas, and the Contras are no improvement either, because the
power they fight over is that which corrupts in the first place.
In this case, wouldn't the truly
liberating option be to give up any god at all? To be done with priestcraft
instead of taking our turn wielding it? If we take charge of the priestcraft,
replacing the old idol (in other words, the old god-concept) with a new one, we
will be oppressing not only the people but ourselves as well, insofar as, by
doublethink, we actually begin to take this new god seriously ourselves!
A new and more liberal god is the same
unconscionable scam as a new, tailor-made biblical exegesis that, say,
legitimates homosexuality. If you can engage in this kind of revisionism at all,
you ought to know that such a creation can never have the authority the old
god-concept had only because we did not yet realize it was merely a human
construct. And for you to go on treating this god as if it were as real as you
used to think the old god was, is to act in bad faith. We have a whole liberal
Protestant religion that in effect teaches "justification by bad faith."
I hardly need to tell you that the
fundamentalist appeal to "the word of God" is another case of a supposed
substructure being no more than a secondary superstructure, in fact a house of
cards, a papier-mâché bludgeon. The demagogue swats aside your worthless
opinions based as they are on paltry human reason. He has the Word of God on his
side. And your arguments are as gnats flattening themselves against a charging
But what is this Word of
God? It is nothing other than some words of men, for the most part
nameless men, anonymous writers in a distant age, whose words, though they
sometimes have real wisdom, are valued for something else: the use to
which they may be put by reinterpretation, as a ventriloquist dummy. The
theology of inspiration is like the special effects booth of the great and
powerful Oz. What pretends to be revelation from a source higher than
human beings is merely a construction of human beings whose words are so
feeble and worthless that they must masquerade as the Word of God or they
could never expect to be taken seriously.
But I imagine few of you are in any
imminent danger of being taken in by any of these scams. Still, you need
to have the big idea in mind so to be able to spot them when you see them
Here, however, is one that may be of some
more practical relevance. I am thinking of Jung's deconstruction of what his
disciple Erich Neumann called "the old ethic of perfection." Jung theorized that
each of us has a conscious ego-ideal which he called the Persona. But we also
have a subconscious self containing all our lusts, fears, passions and hatreds.
This is the Shadow, the self that the ethical person would rather not be.
He hates to believe such things of
himself but probably admits they are there and tries his best to get rid
of them. But the dark side is equally part of you, and you cannot get rid
of it short of the exorcism of a lobotomy.
You may think you have gotten rid of
it, but you will only have repressed it, driven it deep under the surface
of the conscious mind. And now that you have assured yourself it is gone,
it can really do its mischief! The cat's away! The mice will play!
As you become dimly aware of the
still-vital dark impulses in yourself, you will want to fight them, but
believing them defeated on the home front, you will attack them in others,
whether they are there or not. You may start projecting your own "evil"
thoughts and inclinations onto others. Jimmy Swaggart might qualify.
And these instincts, surging like molten
magma, will surely sooner or later erupt. We will reveal our Mr. or Ms. Hyde.
And it may be so alien to us, because by definition it cannot exist, since we
have dealt with it, we believe God has dealt with it, that even when it emerges,
we will not recognize it as us! Because it is evil, and we can no longer be
evil. Or, even more insidiously, we may acknowledge the dark behavior as ours,
as us, but we will not recognize it as evil. Since we, the sanctified, have done
it, it cannot be evil. We will rationalize, we will justify. And then a strange
perversion will occur: what first was the Shadow now becomes the Persona! And
this is not a wholistic reconciliation. It is still separating black from white
while losing the sense of which is which!
And here is the terrible danger of the
insidious illusion of sanctification. It is precisely equivalent to the poor
charismatic who goes to the healing rally deluded that he will be healed by the
grace of God. He is not healed, but since God had supposedly promised to heal,
he must have been healed. Satan must be counterfeiting the symptoms! Yeah,
that's the ticket! And out the medicine goes into the trash. That illness was
not banished, but if you think it was, you are giving it free reign to destroy
you. And so with sanctification. Imagining yourself to be "saved" from sin, you
are making it invisible.
We are accepting and safeguarding a
morality based on one of those traditional hierarchies of opposites, differences
that may not even be opposites. In fact our troubles may stem from our being
made to believe they are opposites in the first place when in fact they are not.
Are spirituality and sexuality opposed to
one another? Or are they different simply as summer and winter? Are they both
needful? Complementary? Like the Yin and the Yang of the Tao? I think so. Are
light and darkness opposed to one another? Or different phases of the same
Erich Neumann said that we are only
heightening the tension between the Persona and the Shadow by embracing the
Persona and thrusting away the Shadow. What we ought to do is to embrace both in
turn, strip away the labels of good and evil. It is useless to call something
"good" if that term is half of an opposition, and there is no opposite term to
oppose it to.
What we ought to do is to "give the devil
his due." We ought to face the Shadow and its urges as part of us, as having
needs, as being our own needs. We must judge how best and most harmlessly to
meet those needs. It may be in fantasy. It may be in certain places or in
But only in this way will we regain our
lost wholeness. And with it we will gain our freedom from the internalized
programming of those oppressors who taught us to chop off half of ourselves and
condemn it as evil. It was a divide-and-conquer strategy, cleverly designed to
keep us at the mercy of those who, as Bonhoeffer said, had convinced us we were
sick and needed the snake oil they happened to be selling.
Robert M. Price
July 28, 1996