Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble
Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III, Heart Trouble
…I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad.
“They say that they think with their heads,” he replied.
“Why of course. What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.
“We think here,” he said, indicating his heart. [Italics mine]
Conversation between Ochway Biano, Chief of the Pueblo Indians and Carl Jung, recorded in CG Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections (1961)
Everything has been “figured out”, except how to live.
In Part I and Part II of this series “Anxiety Behind the Mask”, I’ve been exploring the symbollic meaning of the pop cultural figure of Iron Man. He is certainly a symbol for the relationship in our culture between the social mask and the inner human, and for the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable. However, there is great psychological danger in complete identification with such an impervious persona: it can become a trap, become robotic, with no way left for the inner person to “get beyond the mask”.
One of the elements from the story of the origin of Iron Man is that Tony Stark, who becomes Iron Man, has heart trouble. As the first Iron Man movie shows, he is injured in the process of his capture, and has to be fitted with a special magnetic device to keep shrapnel from ripping apart his heart.
There is of course a tremendous importance to the symbolism of the heart. It is the seat of the feelings and of passion. It is also the particular organ associated with eros, which includes but is more than the power of sexual love. Eros is also the human capacity to connect and relate. The place where our yearnings are located. The place where hope and despair alike find their home.
Tony Stark is portrayed as a technical genius, someone who can create the most incredible machines. As a hero figure, he symbolizes the incredible technical prowee of our culture. This kind of technical knowledge exemplifies the tremendous power of rational thinking — what Jung identified as the principle of logos. It is characterized by the ability to organize, quantify, discriminate, classify, and strategize. But logos is always pulling things apart, using conceptual power to break things down into their component parts, and make them less than they are. Our ability to do this as a species is a great strength, and has contributed mightily to the survival and success of our species. It is a cornerstone of western civilization, and we all glory in our scientific and technical acheivements.
However, this scientific and technical prowess can leave us completely isolated and alienated from our world, nature, and other people. And above all, it can leave us cut off from our inner selves, from our true ability to feel things, and to relate to others and to our world.
Like Tony Stark, the Iron Man, who is a symbol produced by our culture’s collective consciousness, it is all too easy for those of us who live in our culture to have “heart trouble”, to have lost touch with our ability to feel, to empathize, to relate. But, as Leonard Cohen seeks to remind us, the truth of the heart is never really lost. It is always there waiting for us, even when we seem to be in exile from ourselves, even when the world seems to say, “this heart, it is not yours”.
Four Questions about the Heart
Here are some questions that may help the conversation with your own heart.Are there any feelings that you would find hard to share with the people closest to you? What are the three most painful experiences in your life? What are the three most joyous experiences in your life? What is it that you really yearn for?
What about your own heart? It’s only by staying close to it that one can begin to be close to the spontaneity and aliveness that is one’s own real life. Often, the course of analysis, therapy or counselling is following the road back to the deepest parts of the heart.
I’d welcome your reflections on the “heart trouble” of Iron Man and the ways in which it reflects our own struggles with our hearts, as individuals and as a culture.
My very best wishes to each of you as you make your individual journeys of wholeness and self-discovery,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
PHOTO CREDITS: © Marvel Entertainment, LLC These images are the property of Marvel comics and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.
VIDEO CREDIT: “By the Rivers Dark” by Leonard Cohen, from the album Ten New Songs © 2001 Sony Music Entertainment Inc. This music is the property of Sony Music Entertainment and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.
© 2010 Brian Collinson