DAVID BOWIE has won four posthumous nominations at the MTV Video Music Awards with the Jung-influenced Blackstar, the singer’s final album released on January 8 just two days before Bowie died from cancer at the age of 69.
As Bowie transformed the pop scene like a court jester, Carl Jung also transformed psychology into something more creative – from the Burgholzli in Zurich to a more personal journey into the unconscious mind.
When Bowie sung of ‘Jung the Foreman‘ on Aladdin Sane, the ‘lightening flash’ on the cover signaled a reference perhaps to Jung, the Zurich psychoanalyst who famously split from Freud in 1913. Indeed Bowie reportedly attended the first public exhibition of Jung’s Red Book in New York in 2009 – a book about Jung’s vivid dream life.
A contemporary of Freud, Jung was famous for coining such terms as ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’, ‘anima’, ‘animus’, ‘persona’, terms which seem to suggest Bowie had an intuitive intimacy with Jung’s psychology. Bowie played with his public presence to explore his own personality and identity.
In 1999, Bowie described himself as being “quite Jungian” having “Technicolor dreams” … “The dream state is a strong, active, potent force … the fine line between the dream state and reality is at times, for me, quite grey.”
The impact of Bowie’s death, particularly with the secrecy around his illness, was similar to the shock over Princess Diana’s car crash in Paris in 1997. The twitter sphere added to the fans’ desire to communicate their collective angst and share their mutual bereavement.
Ann Shearer’s book ‘When a Princess Dies’ (1998) links the Jungian idea of a ‘collective unconscious’ evoking the public experience of her death where the ‘crowd psychology’ becomes captured by the archetypal patterns. Was Bowie able to capture the public imagination in the same way? Certainly, social media provided an internet epitaph to Bowie life and works. Diana and Bowie were both instrumental in changing word and image through their unexpected demise.
The suburban David Jones aka David Bowie grew up in Bromley and hated suburbia. This blocked creative energy arguably caused some splitting in that he grew up the introvert but forced himself onward to test himself as an extrovert performer.
I think there was a sensitivity and insecurity which was underpinned by introversion. This would account for the use of various persona, illicit substances, and stage identities masking his true nature. And these artistic faces were extrovert and theatrical.
Indeed Bowie was a man inclined to play with ‘persona’ – masks – and extrovert characters in his visionary career. And ‘Let’s Dance’ encapsulates the image of the Dionysian bacchanal, with sexual and druggy abandonment of Studio 54 in NYC with Andy Warhol’s Factory.
While David Bowie is a creative persona of the original David Jones, the Thin White Duke took on various stage personae including Ziggy Stardust, the Rebel, A Hero, Young American, Jean Genie, and a would-be Martian living in Suffragette City. It seems as if Bowie was often ‘captured’ by the archetype when he says “That fucker Ziggy would not leave me alone for years … my whole personality was affected … It became very dangerous. Not in a physical sense by definitely in a mental sense,” according to his brother back in 1977.
But the Hero archetype was certainly something he played with. He was a visionary, a seeker, a trickster, a rebel, a father and lover. But each day was different. Just for one day. He had the mental health to be able to remove the mask and become his self – even if his identity showed fragility when he was addicted to cocaine. I felt he only partially coped with some of his psychical experiments.
Druggy ‘psychical inflation’ bolstered his schizoid self-giving him the self-confidence to write and perform and find a creative space which also involved the use of sexual androgyny and ambiguity. Bowie had a way of changing, transforming from femininity (expressing the feminine within, his anima, and then showing off his masculine animus) then changing with each throw of the dice. But he was never especially machismo and he retained femininity and grace.
Clearly Bowie toyed with projecting different identities; adopting varied masks and Kabuki characters, but also he toyed with his sexuality, here seen wearing a dress on his album ‘The Man who Sold the World‘. Not for him the singularity of being a male pop idol.
Bowie was also the first mainstream music star to bring gender-bending fashion centre stage. Bowie’s androgyny knew no bounds; his flamboyant make-up and experimental hairstyles pulled together fashion in the 1970’s, setting trends for both men and women alike.
Moreover, his different shaped eyes denoted the Brother Son and Sister Moon of a curious otherworldly gaze; his magnetic, almost eerie eyes: one clear blue, one black. What gave Bowie’s eyes their hypnotic dual colours? Did a male and a female homunculus live in each eye respectively?
It seemed there was a progression to Bowie’s career, a trajectory from inflation to integration that Jungians call ‘individuation’. Bowie followed this path of finding his true self to the very end. There was almost a postmodern signal to this with Black Star, acknowledging what Jung called the ‘shadow’ – the darker unconscious part of our personality.
Brian Eno, friend of Bowie and world renowned music producer, went on to describe their final correspondence, adding: “I received an email from him seven days ago. “It was as funny as always, and as surreal, looping through word games and allusions and all the usual stuff we did. It ended with this sentence: ‘Thank you for our good times, Brian. They will never rot.’”
“I realise now he was saving goodbye.” As we know, Lazarus, the parable, was one of the most frequently illustrated parables in medieval art, perhaps because of its vivid account of after-life images. The Rot was, perhaps, an indication of his awareness that death was coming. Mortido was the final stage of the alchemical process of transformation to dust. The vessel was his life, from birth to death.
As the collective social media provide an internet epitaph to Bowie, I reflected on the Lazarus mask worn by Bowie in his final video. There was a sense that, like Jung’s mask, of honey resin, a death mask was made to capture and honour the work of a genius: an imago dedicated to Major Tom, the celestial Space Oddity.
Revisit artist and writer Tanja Stark’s intriguing essay on Jung and Bowie here: