"La Rivista di Engramma (open access)" ISSN 1826-901X

114 | marzo 2014


The Braided Weave of Mnemosyne: Aby Warburg, Carl Gustav Jung, James Hillman*

Daniela Sacco 
Translated and annotated by Emily V. Bovino

versione italiana

While there is evidence that Hamburg cultural historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) did not hesitate to express scarce appreciation for the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) – in particular, his attribution of absolute importance to sexuality (Gombrich [1970] 1986, 184) – little is known of Warburg’s possible knowledge of the analytic psychology of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). In this context, it is significant that Jung asserted the autonomy of his thought from that of the founder and father figure of psychoanalysis by taking a distance from the equivalence Freud insisted upon between libido and sexuality. With analytical psychology, Jung opened this equivalence to a concept of the unconscious intended more broadly as cultural memory. Thus, though contact between Warburg and Jung is immediately evident in the fundamental disagreement of both with Freud’s theories of sexuality and the unconscious, Jung’s name does not appear to have surfaced yet in readings of Warburg’s writings.

Despite this apparent lack of any direct connection between Jung and Warburg, critical texts of Warburg studies evermore frequently cite Jung’s name alongside that of Warburg. This inclination to relate the two thinkers results from the common tendency to associate Warburg’s concept of Pathosformeln with the archetypes of the collective unconscious theorized by Jung.

The historical context shared by Jung and Warburg – and the Zeitgeist that permeated it – is the humus in which the thinking of both scholars is rooted. [1] Born in Hamburg in 1866, Warburg was nine years younger than Jung. Though Jung was Swiss by birth, he can be considered both genealogically and (more importantly) culturally German. The German pasts of both Warburg and Jung were marked by an epoch that seethed with cultural turmoil; amidst this ferment, antithetical currents of thought and their respective champions, became the protagonists of momentous transformations. When played out in the new century, these transformations would eventually pay the tragic price of two world crises.

Both Jung and Warburg are associated with areas of research that brought together a diverse array of thinkers and scientists over the course of the late nineteenth century. On the one hand, growing interest for the concept of heredity introduced by the studies of British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) had resulted in the development of mechanistic theories of evolution and racial memory; meanwhile, the popularity of Vitalist conceptions like Naturphilosophie contrasted with the rising positivist determinism that characterized evolutionary thought. [2]

This latter theoretical current – the Naturphilosophie – favored among German scientists active between the end of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth, had been the source of several significant scientific developments. Included among these were the morphological studies of J.W. Goethe (1749-1832), which introduced the concept of Urform, or Urtyp. In a synthesis of empirico-naturalist and transcendental-humanist approaches to evolution, the Urform or Urtyp attributed originary forms or types to every living species. Another Vitalist tendency that opposed both the dominant Darwinian evolutionism, and its esteem under German imperialism, is the Lebensphilosophie current. [3] Evidence of Lebensphilosophie’s probable influence can be found in both Jung and Warburg: though they defended themselves from it, protected by their respective sophrosyne, they were each fascinated by the thinking of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. [4]

In the originality of their individual positions, situated in different areas of research, Jung and Warburg shared a similar ultimate objective: cultural memory. The task of studying cultural memory led both Jung and Warburg into and out of various alliances with both the Vitalist conceptions of Naturphilosophie and the mechanistic tendencies of Naturwissenschaft. [5] Their transversal movements through influences led to creative syntheses that each accomplished in virtue of personal experience and genius. Thus, while for Warburg, the fibers of cultural memory were what he would call the Pathosformeln; for Jung, the archetypes derived from the collective unconscious. Both approaches incorporated a mixture of components associated with determinist and finalist thinking. [6]

Archetypes, formulas of pathos, engrams

The influence of Swiss cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) was fundamental to the way that both Warburg and Jung articulated their ideas through trajectories leading from empirical observations of images – those of art in the case of Warburg, and those of the mental realm, in the case of Jung – into the elaboration of a historical supra-personal memory. In fact, Jung’s initial theorization of the later concept of archetype was developed through the term “primordial image”, which appears in Symbols of Transformation (Jung [1912-52] 1992, 45). The term archetype would only be expressly cited later, in Instinct and Unconscious, when Jung asserts to have gleaned it from the writings of Saint Augustine (Jung [1919] 1994, 153). In Burckhardt’s work, one relevant example of a reference to the “primordial image” can be found in a letter Burckhardt wrote to a student, in which he uses Goethe’s philosophy of morphology to define Faust as authentic Urbild. For Warburg, who acknowledged Burckhardt as a mentor, the concept of Pathosformeln hypothesized that, where a demonstration of pathos was manifest, a certain formula or pattern from antiquity could be retraced.

It is by way of Burckhardt – who in this case serves as a filter – that it becomes possible for us to return directly to Goethe as a figure whose work informed the thematic structures developed by both Jung and Warburg. In fact, Goethe was so important to Jung and Warburg that one can consider him to be an indisputable link joining their research. To the concept of “polarity”, which Warburg expressly wrote of as Goethe’s creation and the core of his morphological thinking, one can also add the doctrine of form or originary types – the same Urbild referred to by Jung. In 1955, Jung would declare that the objective of his research had been to “confirm the intuitions of Goethe on the basis of experimentation” (Jung [1977] 1995, 344). Indeed, the Jungian archetypes do seem to reproduce the Urphänomen that Goethe set out to observe in his approach to the natural sciences.

The concept of the Pathosformel, already conceived in Warburg’s very first works, was fully theorized in his 1905 writings on Dürer: the Pathosformel was the “pathetic formula,” an emotional charge which, in its recovery of the passionate nature expressed in images of art from antiquity, found expression in an iconographic formula that repeated itself over time (Warburg [1932] 2000b, 196). This repetition was persistent even in the different historical contexts that accompanied artistic representations over the passage of time. In both the case of the constitutive elements of Jung’s archetypes and that of the particular characteristics of Warburg’s Pathosformeln, the conceptual pairs of instinct and emotion, form and reflection, are joined like two faces of the same medallion. Jung, in particular, conceived the “primordial image” as “intuition that instinct has of itself or as self-representation of instinct” (Jung [1921] 1996, 154), and as “the necessary complimentary opposite of instinct” (Jung [1921] 1996, 457). Meanwhile, for Warburg, it is in the persistent interweaving of emotional charge with the iconographic formula, that an indissoluble continuity can be located – an uninterrupted passage among emotion, its expression, and the act of reflection. A dual sense of the concept of form, thus comes to be articulated as such: “alongside the characterization of sensible form as an external quality, it is accompanied and interpenetrated by that of the ideal form as an eidetic structure: a type of form that instantly expresses a psychic, or pathema-driven, content, considered equally emblematic: the Pathos-Formel” (Pinotti 2001, 85). [7]

The expression of “formulas of pathos” – always present in images though relative to their respective emotive potentials – does not distinguish between form and content. As a result, if disassociated from all of the nuances between phenomenon and noumenon, between archetypal image and the archetype itself (nuances which have tended to divide Jung’s commentators), the meaning of the Pathosformel approaches the originary concept of archetype conceived by Jung.

For Jung, the “primordial image” is an inherited organization of psychic energy that enjoys the “advantage of dynamism [vigor or life]”; for Warburg, evidence of Pathosformel comes from the contrast between the movement expressed in a figure, as it relates to the general immobility of a larger scene. This is evident in one of Warburg’s very first assertions according to which the classical form of representation was adopted by the artist of the fifteenth century every time it was necessary to “lower the image into dynamism [vigor or life]” (Warburg [1932] 2000a). [8]

However, that which at the beginning was, for Warburg, a simple hypothesis regarding the artistic appropriation of an iconographic formula from the past, would, over the gradual course of his thought, become a conviction about what was more precisely at issue in the art history of the Renaissance: the reemergence of supra-personal memory traces in personal forms of memory. The question of mnemonic heredity makes Warburg’s research unique with respect to the studies of other scholars of the Renaissance; it extended the confines of research to an ahistorical past that went far beyond Greece, to root itself in achronologically-stratified matter. This had the effect of broadening Warburg’s studies far beyond the circumscribed Renaissance epoch. It is no coincidence that both Jung and Warburg refer to the same scientific term for theoretical justification of heredity in memory traces, or the engram, a concept coined by neurologist Richard Semon (1859-1918), and also referred to as mneme.

In Semon’s use, engram referred to lasting modification of organic substances by a stimulus, whereas phenomena that arise as a result of the presence of the engram, or of numerous engrams, are called mnemic phenomena (Semon 1904). The engram, as a mnestic precipitate, is stored as a latent force ready to reemerge in response to the appearance of a stimulus. These definitions indicate how the physiological concepts of Semon can be considered relevant to the studies of cultural memory by both Jung and Warburg: for Jung, the mneme becomes the underlying structure for a collective psyche (Jung [1921] 1996, 381), while for Warburg, it is a point of reference in the conceptualization of a collective or social memory characterized by the reappearance of formal types over the course of history.

That the psychic response and its reemergence – as both the effect of a repeated stimulus and the image that would then be created as a result of this stimulus – are all vehicles of transformation and adaptation relative to the context in which they occur, rather than a mechanical, always identical, consequence, challenged the determinist causalism of Semon. In general, the monistic psychology of which Semon was an exponent, readily subscribed to determinist causalism. Causalism was justified by an internal strand of evolutionistic biology known to have influenced both the studies of Warburg, through the figure of Ewald Hering (1834-1918), and the studies of Jung, through Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). [9] As regards the latter, this influence is particularly notable for Haeckel’s conception that ontogenesis recapitulates phylogenesis; that is, that the individual organism goes through stages of development that reenact the evolutionary history of the species or population within which it is classified. And Semon was, in fact, a pupil of Haeckel. It is for this reason, that when giving his definition of the image as archetype, Jung cites Semon while at the same time distancing himself from him, so as not to permit that the psychic become “a mere product or exemplar, cast from environmental conditions.” It is apparent that Jung did this in order to sustain the idea of a transformation of instinct into spiritual form (Jung [1921] 1996, 454).

This distinction is fundamental because if, on the one hand, the great originality of Jung among his predecessors is defended with his affirmation of the autonomous psyche, on the other hand, this same autonomy of the psyche would eventually be collocated by Jung within a framework that made it possible to discuss a certain heredity of representation. The archetype as a structural element – as an ordering principle of the unconscious – is inherited, and the image that enters the order of heredity can then return to reemerge as a subjective variant in every life. It is important to remember this detail when comparing the archetypes of Jung with the Pathosformeln of Warburg. Usually, the question of affinities between Jung and Warburg are resolved with the assertion that, for Warburg, images are historical realities inserted in a process of transformation through culture: the argument made is that they are not historical entities as they would be for Jung (Agamben [1975] 1984, 126]. Indeed, the first to dissociate Jung from Warburg under this particular aspect was probably Gertrud Bing who, in writing of Warburg, notes that he does not grant Medea the status of archetype that Jung would have assigned her. As Bing explains, “her [Medea’s] image does not transcend the figure that myth conferred to her” (Bing 1960). However, as Peter Gorsen has observed, it is a mistake to treat the Jungian archetype as a transcendent entity, since in Jung’s conceptualization of it, the archetype is always personified (Gorsen 1994). Gorsen’s point makes it evident that Jung is often misread and misunderstood. For Jung, the subjective variant of each life is the historical context that changes the uniqueness of images over time. The singularity of images relative to their specific context is synthesized as a universal human trait: for Jung, “it is not a question even of inherited ideas, but of a functional disposition to produce the same or related ideas”: it is this disposition, or tendency, that Jung refers to as the archetype (Jung [1912-52] 1992, 109).

An example of how Jung conceived the universal human trait against specific racial heredity can be found in one of his cited case studies. In broad terms, without going into too much detail about the significance of this particular analysis, it is notable that Jung establishes a parallelism between visionary experience in the dreams of an individual he describes as a hospitalized black man, and the images of Ixion on the wheel (Jung [1912-52] 1992, 109). [10] Jung discusses the man’s vision of an erect male member, oscillating and producing currents of wind in descent from the sun, and relates it to a vision described in a text of Mithraic liturgy: a tubular form that hangs from a solar disk and generates wind. He then associates representations of a tubular form descending from the sky from medieval paintings, with the vehicle of the Holy Spirit finding its way into the robes of Mary to inseminate her (Jung [1912-52] 1992, 108). These instances indicate how the comparative study of images was fundamental to the origins and development of Jung’s theory of archetypes. Jung analyzed the visionary experience of the patient through its resemblance to other images proffered by cultural memory. This openness allowed for the exchange of analogies as well as a variety of proposals for subsequent interpretation.

The appropriation of the term engram by Warburg occurred in the last period of his life and similarly provided him not only with a scientific confirmation and justification for his theories, but with an opportunity to deepen and focus his ideas about the Pathosformeln. In fact, Warburg would begin to refer to the iconographic formulas used by artists to render the pathos of antiquity with the more precise term, dynamogram (Gombrich [1970] 1986, 244 and 248). The dynamogram was the crystallization of psychic energies from antiquity that had survived as heredity deposited in memory. However, with the new term dynamogram, these crystallizations became more than just energetic forces, but were also dynamo, or rather generators and converters of energy. Their reemergence is a display of the “profound forces” to which the mind of the artist can either succumb or emerge from revitalized. It is interesting to note the analogy with Jung and his inflationary conception of psychopathology, that is, the potential incapacity to contain the power of the unconscious and the annihilation it threatened. Warburg perceived this same danger of the monsters of memory in their vast range. Following his own personal experiences with psychopathological states, he discussed the meaning of this danger in a 1927 essay on Burckhardt and Nietzsche, the latter considered by Jung an exemplary case of inflation of the Ego.

Thus, for Warburg, as for Jung, the mechanism of reemergence in the engram is not reductively causalist and mechanic: reemergence is always reinterpreted, readapted and transformed in relation to different contexts. Furthermore, it is precisely in this possibility of reinterpretation that the capacity of control over irrational power unleashed by reemergence resides. Thus, a “dynamic inversion” can occur such that the same energy conserved in the structure of the engram, finds expression in different configurations, including antithetical ones. As was the case for Jung, cultural memory is always a question of the successive forms of spiritualization that follow the reemergence of a vital impulse.

For both Jung and Warburg, the function of the symbol is a defining aspect of the management and transformation of energy. As Gombrich observes, in the history of culture, the symbol is the correspondent figure of Semon’s engram. Both Jung and Warburg trace the seed of culture to the slippery interval between impulse and action, or rather, in that moment of reflexion, or reflexio (the bending back of a structure on itself, in this case, the retreat of instinctive impulse and its consequent absorption by the psyche) is generated in the originary form of the image (Jung [1928] 1994, 135). The image is the manifestation of reflexion, the process of initial absorption of emotion into the psyche.

For Jung, the symbol is a “psychological machine that transforms energy” (Jung [1928] 1994, 55) and then converts it, giving life to representation; likewise, Warburg also spoke of the passage from the “complex of the monster, to the ordering symbol.” It is striking that Warburg describes the monsters of emotion with the term “complex”, a term which Jung would also make use of in his description of rediscovering the autonomous psyche: for Jung, the complexes are like demons that take possession of an individual, undermining the will and self-control. If for Warburg, symbols, as transformers rather than mere custodians of energy, convert the deepest emotions of the soul into lasting forms of art, the value of images and their localization can be appreciated as somewhere between emotion and a logico-rational form. The image, in its adherence to a vital impulse, is thus above all a symbol; only later, in its crystallization, does it become a sign. [11]

The symbolic conceptions of Jung and Warburg, the latter profoundly influenced by the philosopher of art Friedrich Vischer (1807-1887), correspond precisely in these terms: the uniqueness of the symbol is its vitality, its dynamism, that which prevents it from being allegory, or rather, the perfect and indissociable biunivocal identity of object and meaning. [12] The symbol, as a “plurivocal” form, is inexhaustible in its density of sense, and cannot be interpreted exhaustively as a sign or an allegory. In its manifestation it is an experience both in the image and of the image, what Jung would call an “enantiodromic” development of a subterranean centre or nucleus that is, in-itself, indescribable as an archè, or origin. [13]

The symbol, in its function as metaphor, conducts to the unknown, to the enigma, and it presupposes a link with meaning that is obscure, or, as Warburg defined it “magically concatenating”. Warburg would more confidently deduce this later in his research, through his reflections on the Hopi dance of the serpents. That Jung also appreciated this quality of the symbol is evident in his observations of symbolism used in the magic actions of certain rituals, such as, for example, that of the Wachandi in Australia. In both cases, the situation is one of a “symbolic” formation that requires as its exemplary principal reference a religious act; it is not the symbol per se considered exclusively in its semiotic function as a mere sign. [14]

As previously noted, Warburg finds instances of confirmation for the dynamism or vitality of the symbol during a trip to the United States between 1895 and 1896. Warburg’s assistant, art historian Fritz Saxl would define this trip across the Atlantic as his “voyage in archetypes,” a journey in which Warburg set out to learn about the ritual dances of the Pueblo of New Mexico. In addition to the confirmation, and further understanding, of the defensive meaning of ritual as it relates to external realities perceived as overwhelming, the conception of the permanence of the symbol, and the instincts that branched off from it, came to be prefigured as the biological root of later cultural manifestations. It is, in fact, in the representation of the lightning-bolt-as-serpent by an Americanized Pueblo child that Warburg retraces what he considers to be evidence of the existence of collective memory.

Thirty years later, in 1925, Jung would also set out on a trip to the United States to visit the Pueblo. The trip to New Mexico was in consonance with a trend at the time diffuse among those interested in comparative research methods. As was the case with his voyage to Kenya, Jung would later remember the trip as an occasion for more in-depth study of the function of the unconscious in “primitives." [15] The trip had resulted in Jung confirming his belief in instances of innate cultural memory, or more specifically, the discovery that in so-called primitive man, religious notions are innate rather than learned (Jung [1977] 1995, 74).

As is evident, the notion of permanence in the symbol would prove fundamental to the successive development of Warburg’s theories: it informs his theory of rebirth or posthumous life, what Warburg calls the Nachleben, the survival or afterlife of pagan heredity in the artistic forms of European civilization. Hence, the idea of permanence comes to be complemented by the earlier idea of transformation. One example of this idea in Warburg’s scholarship can be found in the “cross-dressing” subjects represented in the middle section of frescoes in the Hall of the Months at the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara: behind the “barbaric” costumes of the ancient Indian demons of the Eastern astrological tradition, Warburg sees the faces of the Olympian deities.

With its close ties to the conceptualized polarity of the symbol (always sensitive to the cultural context in which the image comes to insert itself through reemergence), the relationship between permanence and transformation is profoundly dialectical. Like the enantiodromic oscillation between two opposite poles of the symbolic process as described by Jung, the symbol conceived in its polarity is a catalyst of infinite signification swinging between opposite poles of an ambivalent dualism. This polarization is crucial for analytical psychology: in this synthesis of difference and repetition, the archetype as an explicative model for the history of symbolic images reproduces the nexus of permanence and transformation (Pezzella 1989, 148f.).

A similar notion of polarity, and the ambivalence of the image, allows Warburg to problematically facilitate the coexistence of contradictory components of permanence and transformation within the same theory. Warburg makes the engram into the vehicle of a dynamic force whose charge is constant while its significance can “invert” itself. It is in virtue of this value of polarity that, as Gombrich righly notes, Warburg would always consider images to be holders of both an intrinsic meaning and an emotional charge, capable of maintaining autonomy in respect to context.

An eidetic structure and emotional one are, therefore, admitted by Warburg a priori with respect to decisive historical objectification; likewise, Jung accepts the existence of an innate disposition to the production of parallel images that cohere with the presence of universal and identical psychic structures: the archai. [16] The archai, in this sense, can be understood as corresponding to the biological concept of so-called patterns of behavior. [17] This parallel correspondence with models of behavior accrues increasing importance if one considers that Warburg was always more engaged with the corporeal and gestural aspects of Pathosformeln manifestation, being that these components shared qualities with the iconographic expressions of art.

The contradiction of antithetical components being simultaneously present within the same phenomenon are observed by Jung in specific analyses of psychic events. In these events, the antinomy, or opposition between principles, is included as a unique property of psychological phenomena. For Jung, psychic events can be defined as such from both a mechanistic perspective – that is, as purely causal – as well as from the energetic perspective, or rather, as essentially finalistic. Being that both perspectives are indispensable to comprehending the psychic event, Jung allows for “a third conception that is just as mechanistic as energetic” (Jung [1928] 1994, 12). Logically speaking, this third conception should not be admissible, but as Jung teaches, the reality of the psyche does not submit to the rule of tertium non datur. [18]

This point is fundamental to understanding how Warburg and Jung, the two psychologists of culture, negotiated a space for themselves within the evolutionary concepts that circulated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Jung, by explaining the significance of reemergence within a mnestic lineage, arrives at the conclusion that:

The evolutionist theory cannot hold without a finalistic point of view […]. The evidentiary fact of differentiation and of evolution can never be made clear in an exhaustive manner with causality, because it necessitates the adoption of a finalistic perspective, which man produced in the course of his psychic evolution in the same way he produced the causal ones (Jung [1928] 1994, 31).

In agreement with the evolutionism of the times, and its fixity on causal connections, Warburg allowed for the presence of permanent components that repeated themselves over time with a certain continuity; such components represented those “energetic” elements that were oriented towards final causes, and whose place in the realm of the psychic would be recognized by Jung as mechanistic, along deterministic lines. The concept of permanence introduces the concept of history to evolutionism. Up until that point, history had been conceived as a continuous and linear progress. With Jung and Warburg, the concept of history began to permit for returns, for cyclic movement and anachronistic aspects: history became a process in which Vitalist elements could be synthesized with deterministic-evolutionary ones. Jung’s third dimension of the psychic reverberates with that which Warburg interpreted in his studies as “irresolvable dualism”: in the understanding of artistic phenomena, “the oscillation between the progressive-evolutionary paradigm and a paradigm that is achronological-typological” (Pinotti 2001, 174). This oscillation forces the suspension of the question “why”, in favor of a descriptive and attentive method that is better summarized with the question “how”.

James Hillman and the Renaissance of the psyche

Over the entire arc of Jungian thinking, the permanence of dualistic positions experiences numerous reiterations; throughout the course of these revisitations, the theory of psychic polarity tends to enmesh itself in the problem of opposites. The absorption of the psychic into its ontological reality of three dimensions would only come to be radically affirmed after Jung’s death by American psychoanalyst and philosopher James Hillman (1926-2011). In fact, it is in the writings of Hillman – the principal inheritor of Jung’s ideas –that we begin to find significant references to the studies of Warburg. And so, in this manner, the secret symmetry between Warburg and Jung that we have, over the course of this essay, tried to make evident, now deepens and is finally made explicit with Hillman.

Hillman, in his epistemic distance from Jung, is able to propose a different theoretical angle. With the full absorption of the psychic realm as third dimension, the anima or soul – intended in a way that shares a certain affinity with Renaissance Neo-Platonism –breaks through the ultimate residues of dualism and opens to multiplicity, to the polytheism of the pagan anima. [19] It is also in virtue of this variance, this swerve, that it is appropriate to bring together Hillman’s ideas with Warburg’s in a way that pushes this study beyond simply recounting Hillman’s understanding of Warburg’s thinking. Alongside the meta-historical value of paganism, which perhaps only two 'heretic' Jews like Hillman and Warburg could understand, there is a correspondence between the value that Hillman attributes to the Renaissance concept of memory and Warburg’s last “unfinishable work” (Mazzucco 2000): the image atlas Mnemosyne. With this particular project, the present relevance of Warburg is most evident despite the insurmountable distance of the contemporary from that “irresolvable dualism” that is sometimes said to characterize his thought. With Mnemosyne, it becomes possible to appreciate the affinities that draw Warburg closer to current theories of the psyche, despite his historical distance.

In the context of Warburg’s scholarship, the originality of the image atlas Mnemosyne derives from the fact that, unlike Warburg’s previous production, the study does not comprise written essays: it is, instead, an atlas of standing panels, covered in black cotton, and pinned with images arranged in an ordered scattering. The theoretical support for the work comprises: an introduction written by Warburg, notes from a diary that accompanied the preparation of the project, and notes and documentary side comments relative to each atlas plate. The elaboration of the project began in 1924, with Warburg's return from the Kreuzlingen clinic directed by Swiss-German psychologist Ludwig Binswanger, and ended in 1929, the year of Warburg's death. The Atlas was never published and only partially presented to a select scholarly public at the Biblioteca Hertziana in Rome. At Binswanger's sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, Warburg lived through what can be defined in Jungian terms “a conflict with the unconscious” or “a creative illness” – an experience that appears to have been a defining one for him and his work on Mnemosyne (for more on this topic as it regards affinities between Jung and Warburg, in particular how Warburg’s Mnemosyne can be read in relation to Jung’s Red Book, see Sacco 2013a, 197-212, Sacco 2013b, 97-107, and Sacco 2011). An initial reconsideration of this experience of illness was first undertaken by Giorgio Pasquali, and later expounded upon by Georges Didi-Huberman (Didi-Huberman [2002] 2006; the English translation of the address made by Pasquali on the occasion of Warburg’s death is published in this issue of Engramma under the title A Tribute to Aby Warburg). As Gorsen has hypothesized, Jung’s exchanges with Binswanger are, in fact, a possible source of direct connection between Warburg and Jung’s ideas: Binswanger had worked with Jung when he was an university student and had, in fact, been introduced by him into the psychoanalytic circle.

Warburg’s explicit intentions with the Mnemosyne project were to gather together the sum of his research, using images derived principally from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to then extending back into the most remote antiquity and forward into his own time. The idea was to give special attention to the themes, subjects and ideas that had presented themselves over the course of the Atlas’ composition. Beyond these explicit intentions, what is said and what is not said in the project is clearly disproportionate: Warburg is able to make the atlas images speak louder in their own eloquent silence than those he gathered and accompanied with text in his previous essays.

From observations of the structure of the Atlas, one comes to understand how the achronological-typological paradigm of Warburg’s research is able to negotiate a space for itself in contemporary cultural history: in the Atlas, the polarity of the symbol does not split into two antithetical nuclei but rather comes to be fragmented into a polysemic multiplicity. The organization of tables and of images that each plate brings together is of such a nature as to presuppose synchronic connections, rather than ordered hierarchies of association among single images and a larger whole. In following a typology with respect to the model, the connections of association among figures and plates follow relationships that are not of succession, but of continuity. The relationships that result from the association of images create different frames of reference, a relative equilibrium that is changeable over time. This mechanism of changeability is also fueled formally by the possibility of moving the images, whose impermanent attachment has only been temporarily fixed with drawing pins. This mobility recalls to the observer the possibility of creating interchangeable associative connections among the images displayed on different plates. The reading of the work is, thus, resolved through a web of paths, each of which individuates a trajectory that can variably intertwine, that simultaneously persist in reversing the gaze of the spectator. The effect of the resulting visual schemes is not merely a systematic graphic illustration of Warburg’s theoretical work, but rather an image repertory of fecund presuppositions from which inexhaustible echoes of interpretations reverberate with evocative power. It is no accident that Warburg chose to name the atlas after the mother of the nine Muses Mnemosyne as opposed to using other possible terms that would have referenced a more subjective representation or determination of man. It is also no coincidence that Mnemosyne is also the term that Warburg had inscribed at the entrance of the Warburg Library in Hamburg: the tutelary spirit that protected and inspired the studies to be nurtured within the library’s halls. It is, in fact, the library that, as an organization of knowledge, anticipated the creation of the Atlas and seems to have also prefigured it in image and semblance (Mazzucco 2000).

A spatial typological disposition, not a chronological or alphabetical one, rules the distribution of books inside the library. In the library, the law of a “good closeness” or generative proximity prevails. Texts are treated like the tiles of a mosaic, situated in order to open significant connections among different thematic areas. In this way, the library can be said to reproduce the image of the encyclopedia, in the sense that the classification system that was established for it was not a nominal one: volumes were arranged without recourse to chance, but with the intention of filling actual “fields” of knowledge according to the most Aristotelian of definitions (Calabrese 1984, 120). In both the Atlas and the library, the term Mnemosyne serves to reconnect Warburg’s understanding of cultural memory to a precise historical referent: the significance that memory held in Renaissance culture. Hillman discusses this Renaissance valuation of memory in relation to Jungian analytic psychology, as a will to reemergence, one that literally pulled memory from the ruins of the unconscious that had trapped it in the last decade of the nineteenth century, the early days of psychoanalysis (Hillman 1975, 91).

According to Hillman, the twentieth century’s first reemergence of memory – in the Renaissance sense of the term – was made possible by the archetypes of the collective unconscious theorized by Jung, who had distinguished unconscious states from the unconscious in the ancient sense of memory. It thus became possible for the ancient image-based character of memory to be restored with the dismantling of a negative limiting concept of the unconscious that Jung had insisted upon. Hillman carried out this task by abandoning Jung’s dualistic dilemma of the two opposites, or two forms of thinking: the logico-rational language and the fantastic language. This dilemma was undone by Hillman’s assertion, following Jung, that these two forms of thinking must exchange roles: Hillman declared it was time the second form observed the first, rather than the other way around. It was time to translate the language of reason into imaginative metaphors. The phenomena of the reemergence of the imagination from the negative unconscious of psychopathology had to be perceived “as ways leading back into lost areas of the soul, its imagination and its history” (Hillman 1972, 175).

It was to the ancient tradition of the “art of memory” that Hillman reconnected in order to recover the Renaissance sense of the word Mnemosyne and to acknowledge in it a modality for organizing the collective imaginary with dominant archetypes. Hillman was helped along in this process by the publication of the volume The Art of Memory, published by Warburg Institute scholar Frances Yates (1899-1981) and researched thanks to extensive documentation preserved at the Warburg Library (Yates [1966] 2001). Jung had held Burckhardt as his point of reference for the Renaissance, and therefore, had conceived the fifteenth century as a typical example of enantiodromia, of the reversal of opposites in a “materialist passion” at the heights of medieval Christian spirituality; Hillman, on the other hand, had Warburg as his primary reference, and was therefore interested in the Renaissance for the value it attributed to the anima or what he called “soul-making,” and the imagination as a psychological ideal.

The art of memory expanded more or less subterraneously over the course of the centuries – from the pre-Socratic Simonides, the focus of Yates’ research, to the modern Gottfried Leibniz. In this underground process, the techniques developed for adapting and developing memory reveal an intrinsic connection between anima, memory, imagination and rhetoric. Besides the rhetorical and technical subtleties, to which one entrusted the exercise of memory, the more profound significance of these practices is the pedagogical value they had for therapeutic strategies, and the attention they encouraged towards the images. The content of memory was located in a structure of the imaginary made to correspond spatially to a group of “places” so that events and objects could be remembered by cataloguing according to a shared significance. These shared significances were usually identified with particular divinities, mythical characters, or zodiac constellations. Serving as “places for sacrifice and for protection” these “relationships” (Hillman 1972, 38), “fields” or “caverns” (Hillman 1972, 175) – “halls of memory” – are identified by Hillman under the function of universals, as “archetypal structures” in which any content can find a kind of intrinsic “intelligibility of understanding”: “associations led (…) into memoria” (Hillman 1972, 169). This cataloguing practice, like the library and the Atlas of Warburg, has nothing to do with actual nominal cataloguing systems. The latter adhere to chronological or alphabetical systems of categorization that are differentiated from the content they intend to gather.

For the very spatial concreteness of its structure, one of the most striking demonstrations of the use of the art of memory in the Renaissance was the theatre of memory by Italian philosopher Giulio Camillo (1480-1544). Camillo’s theatre of memory was an actual architectonic construction in wood that represented a neoclassical theatre, and was sufficiently large enough to permit the entrance of two people at a time. It was outfitted with images and drawers in function of places in which relative figures or ornaments for remembrance could be placed. The collection of the imaginary in memory theatres is usually accompanied by the practice of extreme visual precision, determined by what Yates called, “psychological reasons (…) for the choices of mnemonic images” (Yates [1966] 2001, 9). According to Yates, images would be chosen for the strong impression that they would have, and therefore, in order to function as a guarantee of the mnemonic exercise, they had to be, above all, emotionally efficacious (Yates [1966] 2001, 9). Images had to be exceptional not only for their unusual beauty but for their ugliness, their obscenity, the absurdity of their combinations (Yates [1966] 2001, 10). These were actual imagines agentes, active and dramatic fantasies (Yates [1966] 2001, 10) that, indeed, call to mind the techniques of visionary imagining elaborated by Jung. The principal difference between the two – between the visionary imagining of Jung and the imagines agentes described by Yates – is the vigil attention over the Ego that Jung insisted on in the psychopathological context. In this vigil attention the Ego had to control itself while conducting the ebb of fantasies, so as to avoid being overcome by it. In the mnemotechnical practices developed by Jung there was attention to the precise arrangement and spatial ordering that images were to have in the mental theatre: this order, however, was inherent in the images themselves, and did not regard the attention of an ordering principal presupposed from the outside. The necessity for modern man to pose a vigil control over fantastic activity reveals all of the disinclination towards any care for images: in a civilization reformed under iconoclasm, which had purged images from memory and had, in this way, eroded away memory itself, images had become dangerous. The judgment of images as somehow dangerous confines them to pathology, but Hillman acknowledges that “psychopathology as an archetypal fantasy” – or “pathologizing as a psychological idea” – is one of the principle “soul-making” fantasies: “pathologizing is a psychic activity per se” (Hillman 1975, 22-23). The imagines agentes, full of metaphorical power against every conceptual construction, had the function of stimulating learning and remembrance, acting at the service of the psyche, embracing and amplifying its “breath.” It is in this away that, for Hillman, the art of memory could be considered a moral activity of the anima.

This connection between anima and memory seems to emerge in the thought of Warburg from the same source that produced the theory of Pathosformeln: a feverish correspondence between Warburg and his close friend André Jolles. The correspondence had begun with Warburg’s attempt to explain the presence of the classic nymph in the austere composition The Birth of St John the Baptist (Tornabuoni Chapel, 1485-1490) by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494). In the garments of the classic nymph that so captured the imagination of the two friends, a pagan and polytheistic soul is identified. The nymph catches the attention of both Warburg and Jolles for the dynamic principle that moves her. It is by way of this dynamism, by this vitality, that the nymph imprints a necessity to represent, in narrative form, those same internal processes that from emotion conduct to critical evaluation. From here, the discourse between Warburg and Jolles, lovers of the same evocative image, ensues: the result is the revelation of a metaphorical power unleashed by the emotional charge contained in the image. For the two friends who question each other about its manifestation, the nymph appears like “she who brought life and movement onto a scene that is otherwise immobile”: “it appeared to be movement personified.” The personification of the anima in the nymph thus passes through the image of the butterfly in flight, fluttering itself into an elusive evasiveness, to be transported into the “blue sky” of “Ideas.” It is an image that contains in nuce “the trajectory of individual perception (aesthetic) of historic supra-personal memory” (Settis [1981] 1990, VII-XV): the movement of the anima compels the recovery of archetypal ground – a return to the ultimate significance of the Neo-Platonic epistrophe. [20]

The intimate connection that brings the anima together with memory thus passes through the dimension of the imaginary and the language of images, the same images that the daughters of Mnemosye, the Muses, speak through: the language of the arts. If “the arts and the psyche at their primary levels speak above all the language of memory”, it is not surprising that Warburg preferred to communicate the sense of the ancient word Mnemosyne in a project that used only images. It would be opportune to redefine this use of the imaginary with Hillman’s term doulia, or rather, an attitude of service that presupposes the perception of the image as autonomous, valued for itself, as opposed to latria, or feeding an idolatry that attributes a transcendental or superior significance to the image. It was in this way that Warburg managed to recover a form of communication that had been lost with the forgetting of the anima: he was able to do so because he oriented himself towards a model of knowledge, in which, for its Neo-Platonic influence, the anima and not the man, occupied a central role. The Renaissance recognized the right of the imagination to its own space, and for this Hillman considered it a psychological ideal: “if we today would restore imagination to its full significance, we too need some sort of enormous room that can act as its “realistic vessel.” (Hillman 1975, 199).

To reinstitute this form of communication means to recover not only a form of lost language, but to make an entire world, an entire cosmological horizon, reemerge. This cosmological horizon is that intermediary zone between body and spirit in which the anima resides, marrying the human to the divine through the imaginary. It is a cosmos that is once again considered in terms of its micro-macrocosmic interconnections. Being denied the third dimension of the psyche, the images are reduced to a mere physicality that comes to be confused with the factuality of things. They are either mere objects among objects, or resolved into pure transcendence, becoming self-negating in their invisibility. The denial of their cosmological status is a prerogative not only of iconoclastia, which has always misinterpreted their autonomous value, but also of the increasingly important iconophilia. [21] In iconophilia, the illusion of veneration for the image is the double of iconoclastia and replicates its same violence. If the prevalent system is monotheistic, and the polycentric system has no “vessels” for its fragments, the trajectory of care for the anima must, as Hillman indicates, move towards the restitution of the imagination to an affective gnoseological dimension [Hillman 2000]. In this dimension, the image recovers its status as daimon, and images return to being daimonic mediators, instead of “demonic” forces. [22] In the same way one can read the cosmology of the anima in Warburg’s Atlas.

Over the course of this essay, the wanderings of Mnemosyne have criss-crossed, following two lines of thought: the first, the trajectory of Warburg as it relates to that of Jung, on the traces of the physiological roots of mneme: the second, the trajectory of Hillman, the primary inheritor of Jung’s research, and the manner in which it manages to give voice to the Atlas Mnemosyne and its mute language of the muses. In both cases, Warburg is witness to an intelligence that restores supreme synthesis to body and mind in the expressive significance of our cultural codes.


*A previous version of the present article was published in La Rivista di Engramma, 16, May/ June 2002, and again, two years later, in issue 35, August/September 2004. The author also returned to the same theme in later publications, including the monographs Al di là delle colonne d’Ercole. Hilman erede infedele di Jung (Beyond the Columns of Hercules: Hilman, Jung’s Unfaithful Heir) published in 2013 by Moretti&Vitali (in particular, in Chapter V.III), Mito e Teatro. Il principio drammaturgico del montaggio, Mimesis, Milano 2013 (Myth and Theatre: The Dramaturgic Principle of Montage) and, in part, in the article “Sulla via di quel che ha da venire. Presentazione di C.G. Jung, Il libro rosso” (On the Road of That Which is to Come: C.G. Jung’s The Red Book), La Rivista di Engramma , 89, April 2011.

1 Zeitgeist is a German term that literally means 'spirit of the time' and refers to the genius or thoughts and feelings, in circulation at a particular historical moment; this genius is, in turn, used to characterize a period or age. One of Ernst Gombrich’s main arguments about Aby Warburg’s work was that it had abandoned the “stylistic approach to art” as a manifestation of the Zeitgeist, for a more generative focus on art history as a field of perennial “choice and conflict.” (Gombrich [1970] 1986, 313-314). The Latin term humus refers to the substance of soil that results from the decomposition and oxidation of organic matter, and permits the growth of plant life.

2 Vitalist conceptions like Naturphilosophie opposed the mechanistic view of biological systems that eighteenth century thinkers had developed through the ideas of sixteenth century French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). Vitalists assert that living entities do not only differ from artificial devices for their degree of complexity, but for their containment of some form of non-physical element, a distinctive ‘spirit’ with which they have come to be infused. This ‘spirit’ results in animate form being governed by completely different principles from inanimate form. German embryologist Hans Driesch (1867-1941) is considered a vitalist, as is French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). For more on vitalism, see William Bechtel and Robert C. Richardson, “Vitalism” (1998), in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/Q109).

3 Lebensphilosophie is generally defined as a philosophy that inquires after the meaning, value and purpose of life, with an emphasis on feeling and immediacy, as opposed to on the formulae and abstractions of purely theoretical knowledge. It was developed in the eighteenth century in reaction to Enlightenment rationalism. Lebensphilosophie is most commonly associated with Johann Hamann (1730-1788), Johann Herder (1744-1803), Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854), the young Georg W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Henri Bergson and Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). See Jason Gaiger, “Lebensphilosophie” (1998), in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (URL: http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/DC097).

4 The term sophrosyne was used by Warburg to refer to a calming intellectual space necessary for critical self-reflection and rational orientation (Russell 2007, 47). Sophrosyne is a Greek term used to refer to soundness of mind, moderation, prudence and self-control. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote of the tension between Apollo and Dionysus as that between sophrosyne and hybris. He defined sophrosyne as “respect for the limits of the individual” or “measure in the Hellenic sense”; he defined hybris as “getting above oneself” or “excess” (Nietzsche 2000, 27).

5 Naturwissenschaft is the German term for the study of the natural sciences.

6 Determinist approaches assert that everything occurs through a necessary chain of causation. Finalism is a philosophical and scientific doctrine that asserts that natural processes like evolutionary changes are directed towards an end or goal.

7 The adjective 'eidetic' is used to refer to an image that succeeds in reviving a retinal stimulus or optical impression with a hallucinatory clarity (e.g. from G.W. Allport in the British Journal of Psychology, 1924: “The true eidetic image, in distinction to the visual memory-image, revives the earlier optical impression when the eyes are closed, in a dark room, and sometimes when the eyes are normally open.” See “Eidetic, adj. and n.”, in Oxford English Dictionary). The term “eidetisch” was coined by German psychologist E.R. Jaensch between the two World Wars, and is usually associated with the psychology of German National Socialism. Jaensch is known to have had considerable influence on the Belarusian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (Robbins 2001, 59) who in recent years has been revived as an important point of reference for research in the science of cognitive development. Pathema is a Greek term that can be translated in English as affect or affection, the state of being affected by something or undergoing something: its contrary is considered to be poeima or action (Wolfsdorf 2013, 50).

8 The English expression the “advantage of dynamism” is used by Jolande Jacobi in Complex, Archetype, Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung to compare Jung’s archetype to other symbolic formations (Jacobi 1959, 50). Jung is also quoted using the term dynamis in relation to the German word Wirklichkeit: “it is quite impossible for a static system to live if there is no dynamis in it. The term reality or real (derived from res, “thing”) of course, does not contain the idea of dynamism, but the German word Wirchlichkeit does contain it. Inasmuch as a static form of religion is sufficient it is efficiens, it is working, it is wirklich. So it needs the dynamism inside, and as soon as that dies down, the efficiency of the static system vanishes, crumbles away” (Jung 1988, 1115). A similar idea of dynamism defined as the image of life in motion in contrast with a static system, can be found in the English translation of Warburg’s essay “Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Spring” (1893) in which Warburg writes of “the surface mobility of inanimate accessory forms, draperies and hair (…) as an easily manipulated external sign that could be added wherever (…) needed to create the semblance of intensified life” (Warburg 1999, 141). Thus while the term “dynamism” may not have been expressly used by the two, this translation from the Italian vitalità used by the author seems justified.

9 Monism in psychology is typically defined as an approach to psychology that denies mind-body difference and devotes its studies to demonstrating how the “mental” and the “physical” are mutually reducible. Monistic psychologists, therefore, do not permit for that autonomy of the psyche, which both Freud and Jung insisted upon. Idealism, materialism and phenomenalism are all forms of monism. In idealism, all things are mental; in materialism, all things are physical; and in phenomenalism, all conditions can be reduced to actual appearances (Concise Corsini 2004, 751).

10 According to historian of psychiatry Sonu Shamdasani, the editor of Jung’s recently published Red Book, the Ixion case was one of the “critical experiences that gave him a clue that, as he wrote in 1952, “it is not a question of a specifically racial hereditary, but of a universally human characteristic” (Shamdasani 2003, 313). The Ixion case has, however, also been written about by feminist Jung scholar Susan Rowland as a regrettable demonstration of Jung’s typically “colonialist” mentality (Rowland 2012).

11 In Man and His Symbols, Jung summarizes the difference between sign and symbol with the following assertion: “The sign is always less than the concept it represents, while a symbol always stands for something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. Symbols, moreover, are natural and spontaneous products (....); a symbol hints at something not yet known” (Jung 1964, 41).

12 A biunivocal relation is one in which the object of the relation is contemporaneously both condition and effect of the relationship. The biunivocal correspondence is one of reciprocity or bidirectionality. Biunivocal relations are relationships between positions in a set, whereas binary relations are relationships between points in a set (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 23; Badiou 2008, 36). These relationships are exclusive relationships that exist between only two elements of a set.

13 Jung used the term enantiodromia to refer to the occurrence of a “return to the opposite.” It is used to suggest “the sudden collapse from one state into its opposite under certain conditions” (Cambridge Companion to Jung 2008, 65 and 128).

14 As per the function of symbol formation, Jung believed that “the purpose of symbol was to transform libido from one level to another, pointing the way toward future development. Symbols are like living things, pregnant with meaning and capable of acting like transformers of psychic energy”. For Jung, a cross on a steeple is a sign, an indication that the building beneath it is Christian; a cross on an altar inside the church is a symbol “expressing the ineffable mystery of Christ’s resurrection.” A symbol is never the product of rational thought (Cambridge Companion to Jung 2008, 319).

15 The term primitive is a highly contentious one. Though some assert that its earliest usage appears to have been to designate original inhabitants or indigenous populations of a region, its association with pre-literate and non-industrial societies led to it taking on the meaning of unsophisticated, crude or recalling an earlier or ancient period of dead ancestors or progenitors (see “Primitive, n. and adj.”, in Oxford English Dictionary).

16 Archai is the plural form of archè, a Greek philosophical term with a number of meanings, including “originating source, cause, principle of knowledge, and basic unity.” Aristotle’s doctrine of scientific principles propounds that all sciences and scientific knowledge are founded on archai, or principles of a limited number and determinate kind. See Richard McKirahan, "ArchÄ“" (1998), in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (retrieved February 3, 2014, URL: http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/A016).

17 The phrase “patterns of behavior” is usually used in reference to ethology or the study of animal behavior in a natural setting, rather than in a laboratory environment. One of the major exponents of ethology was Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-1988), whose work Warburg’s biographer Gombrich cites  in his studies of perception titled Art, Perception and Reality (Gombrich 1973, 40). The move from ethology to human social biology in more recent years is typified by the work of American mymecologist E.O. Wilson who has been accused of scientific materialism and of a determinism that recalls eugenics.

18 Tertium non datur is Latin for “third not given” and refers to the principle of the excluded middle, in which every statement is either true or false. In mathematics, the principle of the excluded middle is contested for use in cases of infinite domains where there are no one-to-one correspondences between a set and its constituents (Fraenkel 1973, 228).

19 Anima is the Latin term for the Greek psyche, and is translated in English as “soul” or “spirit”. In Jung’s analytical psychology, anima and animus are the complimentary masculine and feminine parts of the soul-complex, and exist “virtual images” or “psychic aptitudes” that only “acquire solidity, influence and eventual consciousness in the encounter with empirical facts” (Jung 1968, 190).

20 The French historian of philosophy Pierre Hadot defines the Greek term epistrophe as a “changing of direction” or “the idea of return.” The idea of epistrophe is usually compared to metanoia, and the two are defined as distinct forms of conversion (Hadot 1981, 175).

21 Iconoclasm is a Greek term that refers to the destruction of images, and the overthrowing of institutions or belief systems; iconophilia, likewise a Greek term, refers to a love and veneration for images that risks idolatry, or the worship of images.

22 The daimon is the Greek term for an intermediary being between gods and humans. A daimon is neither inherently good nor bad, whereas the demon, in the European Christian tradition, is a malignant force.

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To cite this article: D. Sacco, The Braided Weave of Mnemosyne. Aby Warburg,Carl Gustav Jung, James Hillman,  “La Rivista di Engramma” n. 114, marzo 2014, pp. 73-97 | PDF of the article 

doi: https://doi.org/10.25432/1826-901X/2014.114.0004