myth and poetry

MP Review
Robert Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher: Research With Soul in Mind.

Spring Journal Books
$24.95 / 360 pages
ISBN: 978-1-882670-47-5

Reviewer: Dennis Patrick Slattery
Bio for Dennis Slattery

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One April, 2009

The Wounded Researcher: Research With Soul in Mind

In a Foreword a few years back, Thomas Moore praised Sandra Lee Dennis’ book, Embrace of the Daimon: Sensuality and the Integration of Forbidden Imagery in Depth Psychology (2001) with this observation: “That myth [of the hero] fades in and out of this book, but for the most part it retains its mythic and therefore poetic nature” (p.ix). His insight is important for this review, for in his remark Moore links, even weds, myth to poetics. Myth is an entrance to poetics, a way of seeing that is more figural than literal, more imaginal than perceptual. Such is one large skein as both strategy and strength of The Wounded Researcher.

No less does the mythic figure of Orpheus serve as guide to Romanyshyn as Virgil serves as guide to Dante, instructing the poet of each work, Dante’s Commedia and Romanyshyn’s The Wounded Researcher, along the path not just to remembering the story of their respective illuminating pilgrimages, but also witnessing the anguish of discerning the right language, always failing, always slipping between the tectonic plates of scholarship and soulful speaking, in the creation of the work itself. In this way, Romanyshyn’s work is Dantesque, suffering at turns, the infernal realm of being arrested in the pathos of one’s own soul—through dream, injury, fantasy, arrested thought—the purgatorial realm of hopeful encounter wherein the wound is purged, or at least modulated, and the paradisal realm of a failed achievement, where failure itself is the gold standard for what has been realized in vision, uncompromised and, finally, unmediated by the distortion of the craft. In short, to engage research from the level of soul mindfulness, is to pass through the three canticas of Dante’s poem, a process of individuation we all live through in our own manner, however incomplete, however never fully realized. We might take solace in the voice of Ishmael, another researcher on board the Pequod, who writes about writing in one exasperated harpooning of the suffering attendant on this mysterious craft: “God, keep me from ever completing anything’” (Moby-Dick, 1851/1967, p. 153).

In a recent interview for The Nation, the novelist Toni Morrison comments on the nature of language, one of the most prominent characters in Romanyshyn’s book: “Language changes—and should—because it is as alive as its speakers and writers. It is stifling or bad only when unclear, mediocre, false or wholly devoid of creative imagination” (2008, p.37).

I insert this insight by Morrison for it summarizes the theme of Romanyshyn’s book: the creative imagination in the pilgrimage of research   saves research from the stereotype of plowing through data in the spirit of cool objectivity and from the pure subjectivity that encourages solipsism. From his study I have begun to imagine research as a plot line in a fiction; it becomes under his guidance a fictional genre that includes at various intervals tragedy, comedy, epic and lyric. His study elevates research to a multi-generic act of creativity that snags in its wide nets one’s dreams, accidents, fantasies, gaps, desires and aspirations, remembrances. Research indeed contains all the basic psychic and bodily food groups necessary for life’s nourishing fields to become present.

Tables of Contents of books give away the internal skeleton of its body. Look for a moment at this book’s: Part I: Theory; Part II: Process; Part III: Method; Part IV: Implications; Epilogue: Letting Go of the Work. In all, thirteen chapters and the Epilogue comprise the plot line of the action, a large act of remembrance: to keep soul in mind when plotting one’s work both in reading and writing. Its key refrain: Make a space, allow the gap, respect the fissure, welcome the abyss (2007, p.29). Move into where there seems to be nothing, respect the nothingness of research, where openings allow and invite the imaginal impulse of soul. Following Jung, Romanyshyn lays bare the power of the archetype as an “organizing principle that affect[s] conscious life” (p.37) and may be the best guide into, down and through the work, the alchemical vessel that is the place of powder burns, water solubility and reconstitution. Research is an act of unmediated courage and a constant organic transformation of data into insight.

Follow the myth, both personal and collective, conscious and unconscious is a mantra of Romanyshyn’s study. Following primarily C.G. Jung and James Hillman, but also Henri Corbin, Gaston Bachelard, J.H. van den Berg, poets from Keats to Coleridge to Rilke and Wallace Stevens, as well as literary agents like Susan Rowland, cultural anthropologist Ruth Behar and depth psychologist Veronica Goodchild, who coined the term alchemical hermeneutic research, his study takes seriously Hillman’s insight that “archetypal resemblances...are best presented in myths in which the archetypal persons I am like and the patterns I am enacting have their authentic home ground” (2007, p.47).

Hillman taps another large guiding principle of the work: homecoming, a nostalgia, returning to what is unfinished, incomplete, needing renewal, even a further re-cooking in the alchemical bath of re-searching, not unlike the Grail quest, the Hero’s search and return with the boon to his/her community, to share the knowledge, the narrative, the knots of the travel and its companion, travail.

What I like about this study is that the author does not try to make all this happen in vacuo, or simply in his own experiences with research, although the latter is plentiful in its pages. Rather, laced throughout are stories, testimonies, witnesses and agonies from his own students who were willing to heed the call of his invitation to share their stories of the pilgrimage and then to relate their own encounters with the subject matter. The Appendix then, carries the protocols that Romanyshyn instituted and that students responded to in order for his study to gain further validity in the variety of their personal experiences that found their content, if not their energy, in the final achievement of completing the dissertation. This piece of the research model is rich, intriguing, provocative, and necessary to ground their work in the myth that held them and the myth that held the author in the formulation of questions that guided responses. While one author orchestrated the design of the study, many voices congealed its assets to create a more convincing theoretical reading.

One senses moving through The Wounded Researcher that something has broken free in research and is now allowed to breathe for the first time. By this I mean the language used in this study, as in the following: “The wounded researcher is a complex witness who, by attending not only to the conscious but also to the unconscious subjective factors in his or her research, seeks to transform a wound into a work. The work comes through the wounding... (2007, p.111). How many times have we who have taught undergraduate students, been asked by them: “May I use ‘I” in my paper? I have been told by other professors not to make any reference to myself because it is non-objective” or some similar plaintive cry. Romanyshyn’s study shatters the illusion of objectivity in promoting the “confessional/memoir aspect of research as well as the unconscious aspect of it, and this is the task of the wounded researcher” (p.111).

Furthermore, like any work, Romanyshyn’s study clusters around a hard core of vocabulary words that act like yeast in bread dough or seasoning in food. Here is my short list that others could certainly add to: Orphic, anamnesis as un-forgetting, haunt, remember, metaphor, memory, hermeneutic, body, backward glance, poetic, transference, dialogue, history, reverie, cardiognosis, witness, grief, mourning, failed, orphan, ancestor, vocation. Having read his work over the past 36 years and having been influenced by his writing and teaching while a graduate student, I sense that this work is a summing up, a synthetic overview of those almost four decades of writing on themes that have insisted on their own anamnesis.

On another level, The Wounded Researcher is a memoir wrapped in academic garments and sealed in an imaginal body. It is both literary and psychological, mythic and poetic that together begin to hint at a new paradigm of research, more human and authentic, more comic in its inclusivity and less tragic in the objective and anemic format of research as it is practiced in the academy. Reverie research is what I call it, for the study “offers a pathway into the unconscious depths of the moment, whether that moment is one of reading a book or gazing into the flames of a fire” (2007, p.143). It is, as he continues, a moment of abduction into both the mood and the feeling of one’s work. Romanyshyn’s vision of research allows us for perhaps the first time in a radical way to reset the margins of both our research field to widen into the person engaged in the process as well as to allow the field of research to speak back about what it needs for completion.

I end this review by conveying something of the excitement over my favorite section: Part III, Method. It begins with Chapter Seven and is entitled “Recovering the Soul of Method” (2007, p. 207) and ends on page 306. This section carries the strongest heart beat of the work and where I found the most interesting remarks on hermeneutics in both reading and writing. Here the “Alchemical Hermeneutic Method” (AHM) is most forcefully outlined. What intrigued me most as reader is the breathing space given to the work one is in dialogue with: “The work itself hungers to be fed also by soul” (p.224). Being fed is a rich metaphor in the research banquet since both reader/writer and the work need to be nourished by the other. Here Romanyshyn introduces behaviors and attitudes that include “loitering,” “lingering,” “emptiness,” “patience,” “hospitality,” “inviting,” “open to surprise” that may actually apply to the attitude of the work explored as well as the explorer.

What also enters the researcher’s field at this juncture, and primarily through the symbol,  is failure, mourning and grief; the work of interpretation “is always a ‘failure’ because what is present in the symbol remains haunted by what is absent....A hermeneutics of the depths is always an expression of longing...”(p.225). This nostalgic strain in scholarship has haunted Romanyshyn for decades and is perhaps, in its recognition of an achievement that always falls short of one’s expectations the necessary nub of creativity itself. But what makes his expression unique is that he names it as part of and a necessary condition of the research process that keeps soul in mind. In that respect, where one fails at one’s attempt to give symbolic or creative form to one’s work is also a place of celebrating the work one does achieve. It reveals to me that something deeply paradoxical is at play in research. How far this study takes us from the cool and detached objectivity of the traditional research image!

Moreover, and to extend the above paragraph, Romanyshyn is close to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1968/2008) in suggesting that the first rustling of “interpretation begins with being summoned by the work” (2007, p. 228) since it arises initially as an invitation or as a call or a summons. “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart” (p. 3) as St. Benedict begins his Rule (530/1998) in the earliest moments of Western Monasticism’s first Handbook for the religious life, is not separate from the hero’s being called to something beyond him/herself, yet deeply imbedded within one’s soul. Romanyshyn continues such a rich tradition when he observes: “Alchemical hermeneutics begins in the ear and not on the tongue, and in this respect it has implications for language” (p.229).

Fresh language must then attend a fresh and originary calling; clichéd writing, jargon-laden observations, stilted prose, flat and fatigued metaphors or figures of speech dislocate the call into a realm of dead letters rather than one of lively exchange. To be called, as Romanyshyn defines it, is to be called to language in a fresh and animated way. Metaphor as well as calling guide this display of how research might be reimagined. Consider his insight on this subject: “When the metaphors in our methods are forgotten, the method functions like a symptom” (2007, p. 246). Anamnesis is crucial to both the research as well as to the writing-as-witness part of the pilgrimage.

Writing, like research—although the two are not separated in this study—also includes the four functions that C.G. Jung outlined: thinking, feeling, sensing and intuiting, each of which encourages or allows the researcher to “perceive the world through the dark-light of the soul’s complex and archetypal dreams, fantasies, memories and imaginings” (2007, p. 265). Research, Romanyshyn’s work suggests, is a rich way to engage and so recover a wholeness that the soul desires. A therapeutics attends his vision of research such that the soul, while never healing entirely from its wounds, understands better ways in which to make those permanent wounds work. The consequence is a rich boon he has brought back to share with any of us engaged by the imagination of ideas.

Work Cited

Romanyshyn, R. (2007). The wounded researcher: Research with soul in mind. New Orleans: Spring Journal Books.
Melville, H. (1851/ 1967). Moby-Dick; or the whale. Norwalk, Connecticut: The Easton Press.

Moore, T. (2001). Foreword. Embrace of the daimon: Sensuality and the integration of forbidden imagery in depth psychology. York Beach, Maine. Nicolas-Hays.

Morrison, T. (2008) “Back talk.” Interview in The Nation, December 8, 2008, p. 37.

St. Benedict. ( 530/1998) The rule of St. Benedict. (ed. T. Fry). New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics.

Campbell, J. (1968/2008). The hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Series XVII. Third Edition. Novato, California. New World Library.

Robert Romanyshyn
is on the core faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute and has been a practicing psychotherapist for over 25 years. An affiliate member of the InterRegional Society of Jungian Analysts, he is the author of the following books: Mirror and Metaphor: Images and Stories of Psychological Life, Technology as Symptom and Dream, The Soul in Grief: Love, Death and Transformation, Ways of the Heart: Essays Toward an Imaginal Psychology, as well as numerous articles and essays in the fields of phenomenology and archetypal psychology. For more on the author visit here.

Dennis Patrick SlatteryDennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D. is Core Faculty, Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California. He is the author or co-editor of 11 books and of dozens of book reviews and articles in journals, magazines and newspapers. A few of his titles include: The Wounded Body: Remembering the Markings of Flesh; with Lionel Corbett, Depth Psychology: Meditations in the Field and Psychology at the Threshold. His current publications include: Harvesting Darkness: Essays on Literature, Myth, Film and Culture as well as A Limbo of Shards: Essays on Memory, Myth and Metaphor. Two volumes of poetry with accompanying Cds are: Casting the Shadows: Selected Poems and Just Below the Water Line: Selected Poems. He has just completed a third volume of poetry: Twisted Sky: Selected Poems, to be published in 2007. Professor Slattery is available for lectures and workshops. For more regarding his curriculum vitae, experience and scholarship or to contact him click links.

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