Third in our ongoing series of articles of Speculative Fiction meets Jung as remodeled through the work of Ruth Johnston in her new book: Re-modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance. In these posts, she applies her theories on personality in an effort to help us understand the widening rift between various groups of sf/fantasy fans.
SF Culture Posts
Part One: What Forces Drive the SF Culture War?
Part Two: Optimistic in the Night Land
Part Three: If You Had Introverted Intuition, My Dinosaur
Q: Welcome back, everyone. Ruth, can you give our readers a quick reminder of where we are?
In the last two articles, we talked about a way that Sensing and Intuition can be paired in personality, and for ease of discussion in the interview, I called them A and B. Let’s look now at the B pairing and how it might influence the worldview presented in someone’s fiction.
Q: In our last installment we spoke about John’s Night Land stories, and the type of ideas and images produced by what you have dubbed the A combination. Now let’s look at a story that shows the B combination: ” If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” by Rachel Swirsky. How do you see it as an example of the personality patterns you’re talking about?
A: I think this story is a wonderful example of the hardest to explain, most mysterious mental function we can observe in personality: Introverted Intuition. Both kinds of Intuition are involved in a search for meaning, but Introverted Intuition is particularly intent on finding cloaked, disguised, suppressed truth.
I think that’s what this story is about. Of course, it isn’t really a story; it’s a scene that poses questions about meaning. There isn’t any movement in plot, rather the motion consists of a gradual revealing of the speaker’s state of mind. The scene: A woman sits by a hospital bed, where her fiancé, an archeologist, is in a coma. He was beaten by five drunken men for unknown reasons. The only dinosaur in the story is in her imagination, of course, as she envisions what would have been different if he had been even a small carnivore. The title poses the question: what if, instead of being who you are, you had been something else?
I think the key to the story is that she feels a small Tyrannosaurus Rex would have been a truer form for the soul of the man she loves. It would reveal his true nature, whereas his powerless natural appearance forms a kind of mask that makes him look like he ought to be a victim. The exercise in imagining is pointless if being a dinosaur wasn’t somehow a truer truth than the natural one; otherwise we could ask what if he were a Mack truck or an onion. By emphasizing that the dinosaur would be the same size as the human, she is making it clear that she sees the transformation as revelation, not random change. “If you actually looked like your true inner nature, my love, then people would see that you are strong and this would be a deterrent to getting hurt.”
When you posit that the appearance of a human being might be a disguise, a false archetype that covers truth, you are deep into Introverted Intuition’s territory.
Q: There are many fascinating ideas in your new book, but the one that I found the most revolutionary of all was your redefining of Jung’s terns Introverted and Extroverted. Could you tell us a little more about this?
“Introverted” is so often used to mean shy or unsociable, but when I use it, I mean that it’s connected to an inborn knowledge that’s much like animal instinct. I often compare it to a rabbit’s inborn sense of what the sky should look like, sort of a template for normal safety. The template includes clouds, trees, and fluttery songbirds. Anything that moves like a hawk is not in the template, and the rabbit should not give it the benefit of the doubt, even if it turns out to be just the neighbor kid’s RC airplane. Introverted parts of personality are idealistic, inflexible, and usually a bit negative.
Part of each personality is rooted in this inborn instinct, while the other part is flexible, exploring, pragmatic, optimistic and open to new ideas. That’s why I mean by “Extroverted,” and I probably annoy half your readers by capitalizing the word, but it’s to remind of the novel meaning. I don’t mean liking to go to parties, I mean the opposite of the rabbit scanning the sky. Things are going to be okay, change is fine, learn as you go, take things as they come.
These new meanings for Introverted and Extroverted are of key importance because they explain why everyone has certain things that they simply cannot accept as true or real, even when the evidence is staring right at them. Their inner Introverted template excludes those possibilities, and the template is actually stronger than the facts. People can be rigid and idealistic about appearances, relationships, logic, and–this is the weird one I’ll try to explain–a sense of meaning.
Q: A sense of meaning? That sounds quite interesting but hard to put into words. Please do continue.
In the last article, we talked about how Introverted Sensing is idealistic about human social roles, thinking strongly in archetypes like mother, father, child, knight, or villain. By contrast, Introverted Intuition actually suspects archetypal roles of being nothing but masks or Potemkin villages to fool us, concealing true meaning from our searching eyes. This doesn’t mean that everyone whose personality includes Introverted Intuition dislikes stories about knights! But there’s a pervasive sense of suspicion about appearances. When they see a row of presidential candidates, they suspect that the ones who look “out of central casting” may be quite different from what they seem.
Introverted Intuition gets balanced by Extroverted Sensing, which is carefree about appearances, willing to take them as they come. Depending on the role it plays in personality, it can really make an “anything goes” attitude. A strong sense of Extroverted Sensing finds it easier to accept things and people that don’t fit inborn notions. This might mean less discomfort around people from foreign places who look, smell and behave really differently. It usually means more ability to keep up with changing visuals and sounds in real time, perhaps in sports. Most science fiction geeks who have Extroverted Sensing use it in the background, as a subroutine of their neural networks. They might be better at athletics than other geeks, or perhaps not even that. But they often have superior powers of real-time observation; Sherlock Holmes used Extroverted Sensing.
So for the pairing I’ve called B, what you look like isn’t very important, and it can be changed and even twisted a lot. What matters is what you mean.
Q. As Spock would say, Fascinating. Moving from the theoretical to the specific, is that where the dinosaur comes in? Changing appearances?
A: Yes, the key is that if he could look like a dinosaur, appearances might change, but meaning would be truer. The writing looks at different aspects of how she’d relate to him as a dinosaur, and it goes into fanciful ideas, like touring Broadway, but underneath the silliness is the sense that if appearances could be shifted to match truth, good things would happen. When the man is a dinosaur, she realizes that she could not marry him, but then human knowledge and skill would move forward and they would both find other kinds of happiness. The emerging truth–that he is powerful and can fight back–would cause loss, but its emergence would also bring gain. Whereas when he looks like a mere man, limited to his body’s form, bad things happen.
Here we see the fundamental fear of Introverted Intuition: that a covered, disguised truth will remain unseen. Its Introverted idealism and negativity are directed to this end: that no buried truth will escape discovery.
Q: Lol “That no buried truth will escape discovery.” That sounds like it should be the personal motto of nearly every main character I’ve ever invented. What an excellent phrase!
A: It’s certain true of Rachel Griffin! Her personality is hard to pin down because she’s also gifted with perfect visual memory, which for good or ill the rest of us just don’t have.
Q: How does this drive to uncover truth apply in this situation?
A: When Intuition is Extroverted, as in the A pairing discussed last time, it’s like a stargazer exploring all the ways stars can be connected as constellations. Extroverted Intuition has unbounded enthusiasm for drawing all possible lines, seeing no connections as meaningless and only concerned lest any be left out. It’s confident that some apparently trivial connections will turn out to form very important new shapes.
But when Intuition is Introverted, it’s more like an AI robot mapping a vast prairie dog town. On the surface, little is visible, but that appearance is misleading. When the robot starts out, it doesn’t know where the tunnels will lead, but it does know that they will lead to certain expected places: sleeping burrows, escape tunnels, and winter food storage rooms. Could we find literally anything? No. But could we find something hidden? Oh yes.
At each point when the robot pauses, it has a choice to turn in any direction and go forward at any speed, but not all choices are equal. Some choices will slam it into a dirt wall, and other choices will rush into a short dead-end. As the robot explores, it learns to ping tunnels and determine whether they’re worth going down. It maps as it goes, and eventually it can pause at a tunnel mouth and guess–nay, know–that this new tunnel connects to another well-explored section. After some time, the robot probe feels free mark some tunnels briefly but not explore them. It already skips the option of ramming into dirt walls, and now it skips some tunnels and rooms as well.
So the mood and attitude of this type of Intuition is more restricted, less expansive and optimistic, than the Extroverted kind in “A.” It feels like it’s tracking down something that’s already somehow known in a gut-feeling way. It’s much more like a detective than like a stargazer.
Q: You mentioned that you had taken the time to read some of Rachel Swirsky’s other works. Do you see similiar traits in them?Q: Do you see the same traits in Rachel Swirsky’s other work?
In “All That Fairy Tale Crap,” her Cinderella narrator explicitly states that “we are all escaping from archetypes.” The prince is a drag queen, the glass slipper is part of a kinky fetish, and the stepsisters may be ugly but they’re as sympathetic as anyone else presented in the sketch. The story’s main (and perhaps only) point is to show how every folk-story image is a false front.
In the poem “Black, White, Red,” another fairy-tale girl is a bride in white, but soon everything turns ugly as the best man drugs and rapes her. “Her prince was a mirage/ dreamed between bloodthirsty men.” But it’s not just the prince archetype the poem is debunking; “huntsman, dwarf, neglectful father” are also (archetypal) images involved in hurting this girl. In the last lines, literature is posed as a deceitful escape, a kind of death, that the girl can run into: where maybe colors will be less stark and bad things won’t happen. She seems to suggest that stories themselves are a kind of archetypal disguise. Further, the poem’s violence suggests that discovering truth in its gore (red, black, white) is better than hiding behind a story concept (pink, gray, beige). This message is the core of the B polarity (of Introverted Intuition and Extroverted Sensing). Use vivid observation to strip away false appearances and discover truth: the only important archetype.
Q: I can see from your examples that Ms. Swirsky and I are on opposite pages when it comes to our philosophy of writing. I am guessing that these personality qualities you are identifying probably tie into the distance between our world views. How confident are you in the ability to make a direct connection between someone’s personality and writing?
A: Reading someone’s mind is always pretty dicey. What I can say with confidence is that written work definitely presents a worldview that can be described in my personality terms, and that in the cases where I can check, usually the actual personality matches. I’m sure there are super examples within science fiction, but I’ll have to step outside of SFF. Take George Orwell. We have a large body of material about him: essays, books, and personal letters, as well as descriptions by people who knew him well. It’s not hard to get a sense of who he was, and I’m confident in tagging his personality type as INFJ, which is one with Introverted Intuition—with the whole “B” polarity in fact. His works do tend to project various aspects of the B combination.
Orwell’s 1984 is a great example of Introverted Intuition at work. He posits an idealized society in which every apparent archetypal appearance is covering something completely opposite. Not only that, but part of uncovering truth is to exercise Extroverted Sensing through sights, sounds, tastes and the sensual pleasure of sex. In Re-Modeling the Mind, I used a passage from one of Orwell’s other works to illustrate the observational powers of Extroverted Sensing. He really does seem to have a close match of human personality and Perceiving worldview in his writing. This may not always be the case, but so far I keep finding it. We already talked about John’s match between personality and work, and I think we can say the same for you, that you also have the “A” combination of flexible Intuition with strong preference for archetypal human images.
Q: What about readers? Do reader preferences always match their own personalities?
A: That’s a really tough question, and I think the answer is no, but with a qualification. When we find a work of fiction that presents a world we recognize as somehow ours, we’re probably feeling the resonance of writing that does harmonize with our Perceiving worldview. These may be the books we go back to or continue to think about. Like John with the Night Land world. We can also fall in love with aspects of the artistry used in works that don’t have the same resonance. My personality has the “A” combination like yours and John’s, and not at all like George Orwell’s, but I love his writing very much. I’ve read all of his novels, many of his letters and essays. I admire him profoundly. However, the message and world of 1984 don’t resonate with me in the way that the message and world of Eliot’s Middlemarch do. Eliot’s personality was very similar to mine.
It’s an important distinction because it would be too simplistic to see this series of articles as pinning down the personalities of readers. I am absolutely sure that there are people with both Perceiving polarities on both sides of the controversy. I still see a way that the issues line up, but it’s not in a direct one-to-one correspondence way.
Q: When we were first discussing these ideas, we touched upon Eric S. Raymond’s idea of literary status envy. His article had suggested that some folks in the speculative fiction field wished for the same kind of respect that literary writers received from the intelligentsia? Can you tell us what you make of his theory and whether it ties into your take on the B polarity?
A: Yes, I think this is a critically important piece that can only be understood by first understanding the fundamental goal of Introverted Intuition: using language to carry out the revelation of hidden truth. First let’s stipulate that all good writing uses language to reveal truth.
Now I’ll draw from Annie Dillar’s 1981 work Living by Fiction, which distinguishes between “plain” and “fancy” writing. Plain writing is what Orwell meant when he said, “Good writing is like a windowpane.” It doesn’t distract the eye from its object. Fancy writing, on the other hand, creates a beautiful surface; if it were a window, it would be wavy or colored glass.
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” uses what Dillard would call fancy language, and there’s a philosophical purpose. When we’re writing about plain things, we use plain language. The same hospital room (in the story) could be described so that the words didn’t call attention to themselves. Like a clear window, it would show us the bed with its coarse sheets and shiny rails, and the squeak of a nurse’s shoes as she walks past. In plain language, the story would tell more of the story. It might end with the idea, “I wish you had been a dinosaur so that you’d have killed the men.” But the story, written this way, would not explore the hidden true meaning of who the man was. It would present what Extroverted Sensing sees as an accurately-modeled appearance, but that wasn’t the writer’s purpose. The purpose was to meditate on the reality of identity and unreality of appearances. In order to present the inner-identity truth as primary, the story had to use “fancy” language.
There’s a close link between abstract ideas and figurative language. When we present ideas, we can’t describe them as if they were things. We convey them by making the surface of our art depict the ideas, so that the surface calls attention to itself instead of moving the “eye” directly to the things. Here’s what Dillard said in her book:
” We have seen in twentieth-century painting that the art of mind and the art of surface go together. When painters abandoned narrative deep space, their canvases became abstract and intellectualized. With its multiple metaphors and colliding images, and embellished language actually abstracts the world’s objects. Such language wrests objects from their familiar contexts. We do not enter deep space; we do not enter rounded characters; we contemplate them as objects.”
Introverted Intuition is deeply interested in wresting objects from their familiar contexts so that we’re not fooled into regarding the familiar appearances as their whole truth. Writers who have Introverted Intuition in their personalities may use plain, direct language: George Orwell is a great example of one who did. But when their purpose is to create verbal art that “wrests objects from their familiar contexts,” they will be strongly drawn toward language that directs the eye away from the thing, and toward the new way it’s being presented.
Q: That is an interesting and somewhat subtle concept. Can you give us another example to help us grasp it more completely?
A: Yes, here’s another good example of the same phenomenon, Eugie Foster’s 2009 Nebula-winning story, “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast.” In this story, a utopian/dystopian city ruled by a queen has one main law: every morning, you have to put on one of the masks that will control your identity for that day. The story’s events first establish how this works, then depict the narrator’s bitter discovery of truth. First, the concept of the story is a perfect fit with the B polarity: Introverted Intuition has two anti-mask revelations at once. The narrator learns the truth of how the techno-masks control them, but the story itself also suggests the extent to which roles we play are masks that control us. Second, the story’s language is very sophisticated and beautiful, even as it describes at times ugly things. In drawing the reader’s attention to the masks, it also draws attention to the words as they mask or reveal ideas.
Q: In the next article, we’ll talk about how these ideas may explain some of the current controversy. Can you give us just a brief preview of what is to come?
A: I think that the gradual introduction of a different set of standards, and perhaps a different kind of “speculation” in “speculative fiction,” is creating some identity crisis in science fiction. Both of the personality combinations I’ve described have always been part of the SF world, both in its writers and in its readers. But I think that Introverted Intuition has previously been caught up in logical questions about science and technology. It’s been hunting down the hidden meaning of how we relate to rapidly-developing new abilities. Extroverted Intuition (in the “A” polarity) has generally used a what-if scenario to set in motion a wild adventure, while Introverted Intuition has most often presented scenarios of withheld truth that must be diligent sought, layer by layer. In exploring how human archetypes may be masks, it often showed corruption in government or a reversal of expectations: the ugly alien turns out to be morally good. Much of the interest in “transhumanism” may come from Introverted Intuition too, as it explores the ways an individual can cross over boundaries of appearance-archetypes, like how a robot may become somewhat human. Gradually, “speculation” about “identity” is moving away from this narrow vein of technology and logic, and this shift is materially aided by the introduction of new literary standards, ones that directly support the goals of the “B” worldview. Together, they support a shift away from technology and toward questions of persons. And then political identities invade and the Galactic War is on.
Thank you, Ruth! Another great installment in our ongoing series!
For more of Ruth’s work:
Re-modeling the Mind: Personality in Balance
Ruth’s extremely interesting site on the Middle Ages: All Things Medieval
Ruth’s excellent book on Beowulf