'Made In Abyss' And The Unconscious
'The Bottom of this Pit Is Still Unknown So It's Kinda Like God'
Nanachi’s words to Mitty in the final episode of 2017’s ‘Made in Abyss’ gave us, the viewers, the briefest, yet most tantalizing of insights into the faith of the Abyss and it’s spiritual connection to both the cave raiders, who explore it’s depths and to the wider community of Orth itself. In this universe, belief in a metaphysical, omnipotent deity such as the Judea-Christian ‘God’ has been replaced by the deification of the unreachable depths of the unknown. The series’ inclusion of the aforementioned ‘Faith of the Abyss’ and the tiered nature of the Abyss itself, have led many to interpret the Abyss as being, an allegoric representation of the nine circles of hell depicted in Dante’s 1400th century Epic ‘The Divine Comedy’. This interpretation is the one I have come across the most often and while there are numerous examples to be found in the series which lend this theory a great degree of plausibility; in this video I would like to offer up an alternative view. Now before I continue, I would like to stress that the following interpretation that I am presenting, is just that, a theory, there are numerous ways to interpret the Abyss as an entity, this is just one of them. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way I’d like to propose the theory that…
The Abyss is the Physical Manifestation of the Collective Unconscious.
Idea’s pertaining to ‘A Collective Unconsciousness’ are most famously associated with the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung who coined the term in his 1916 essay ‘The Structure of the Unconscious’. In this essay Jung identifies three realms of the psyche – Consciousness, Personal Unconscious and ‘The Collective Unconscious’. These three realms do not exist independently of each other but rather continually interact in a dynamic compensatory interplay. Our individual consciousness is made up of, what we are consciously aware of. At the centre of our consciousness is our individual ‘Ego’. Our ‘Ego’ acts as a filter that determines which events, or experiences enter into our conscious minds and which are repressed within the personal unconscious. The personal unconscious on the other hand is a vast reservoir of emotions experiences and materials which the ego has forgotten, disregarded or suppressed because they were deemed too distressful or merely insignificant. All of these materials are repressed within the personal unconscious, but, do not go away, they exist subliminally (or below the surface) of our conscious minds, but, still have the potential to effect our lives and minds in various ways. The final realm of the psyche is the deepest layer and lies below that of the personal conscious, it, is the ‘collective unconscious’. This realm, is a communal space, within the psyche that is shared amongst all beings of the same species.
‘In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents’
– C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (London 1996) p. 43
In summation the collective unconscious is composed of elements and events which we as humanity have inherited and which are shared collectively. This is the realm of instincts or the ability to carry out actions out of necessity without conscious thought, and, of archetypes. Archetypes are mental categories or dispositions which humans are born with that, predispose us to think, feel or act in specific ways. Archetypes cannot be directly perceived but they can be recognized in the signs or symbols which they manifest from within ‘the personal unconscious’.
Archetypes aren’t signs or symbols, rather they manifest them
Archetypes possess the capacity to initiate, control, and mediate the common behavioural characteristics and typical experiences of all human beings. Thus, on appropriate occasions, archetypes give rise to similar thoughts, images, mythologems, feelings, and ideas in people, irrespective of their class, creed, race, geographical location, or historical epoch.’’
Anthony Stevens – Jung: A very Short Introduction
Archetypes are evolutionary inherited phenomena and just as our bodies have evolved, so has the psyche, throughout our history. Archetypes are like the various objects found within a museum. The collective unconscious is that museum; it is the communal space of the psyche that contains within it, our entire evolution, as conscious beings. Returning to a statement I made earlier; ‘Archetypes cannot be directly perceived but they can be recognized in the signs or symbols which they manifest, from within ‘the subjective unconscious’. What we get then is an interplay between the collective and personal unconscious which gives birth to symbolic representations of these archetypes in the form of things like dreams. It gave birth to the symbolism that we saw in the ‘Surrealist’ movement of the 20th century. Surrealism was not concerned with philosophy but rather psychology, it turned its gaze inwards as the Surrealists tried to expose the imagery of the psyche, free from the rationalising presence of the Ego; as Andre Breton wrote in his manifesto on Surrealism in 1924. He defines surrealism as
‘Psyhic Automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern’ – Breton
If we follow this line of reasoning and return it to Made in Abyss, then we could posit the idea that ‘The Abyss’ itself, is a metaphorical reservoir for the collective history of the people of this world; and it’s flora, fauna and geography are the symbolic projections of, ‘the personal subconscious’’; as it interacts with, and gives forms to, the archetypes of the collective unconscious. It is a metaphorical space which is exempt from ‘the rational’, as it births life, which are beings of pure instinct and reflect the deepest parts of our subconscious as humanity. No other artist I’ve come across better reflects ‘this imprinting’, of the subconscious’ onto a physical space better than the German surrealist Max Ernst. Ernst, deeply influenced by the Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis of the early 20th century, created works depicting ‘physic landscapes’ where the unconscious bled out and took physical form in the landscapes he created. These landscapes much like ‘The Abyss’ were wild irrational places free of the conscious Ego and mirrored many elements of the Abyss stylistically. The following are a series of landscapes Ernst created
The Eye Of Silence (1943)
La Tentation De St Antoine (1945)
Max Ernst Convolvulus! Convolvulus! (1941)
La Nature à L‘Aurore (1936)
Europe After The Rain ll (1941)
When watching ‘Made in Abyss’ I found the parallels between Ernst’s work and the world depicted in the series to be remarkably similar; to the point where they became almost uncanny. The evocative, symbolic imagery Ernst’s work confronts us with, mirrored the Abyss so naturally that I could easily imagine these paintings being levels within the Abyss itself. In both works Jungian archetypes are given a highly symbolic form that mirrors the deepest aspect of our psyche; and the ‘nightmarish’ quality of many of the creatures which reside within it, are just that, ‘nightmarish’.
Earlier, I noted that ‘archetypes’, while being incomprehensible in their pure form often take on a symbolic form within the personal subconscious, and these are often times reflected in the form of dreams. This would explain the nightmarish quality of the predators of the Abyss, as they are physical manifestations of our unconscious, from our earliest existence as a species. Take for example the ‘Crimson Split Jaw‘ or ‘Scarlet Maw’ we witnessed in the opening episode of the series and later in it’s natural habitat, the third layer of the Abyss. It’s not hard to interpret several symbolic elements at work within this creature itself. Take for example it’s serpentine form which itself is highly symbolic. Jung wrote of serpents that ‘there is hardly anyone whose relation to a snake is neutral. When you think of a snake, you are always in touch with racial instinct. Horses and monkeys have snake phobia, as man has.’ They are a primordial symbol of fear, and of attraction. Jung continues that the serpent is the age-old representative of the lower worlds (here the Abyss), of the belly with its contents and the intestines, it shows the way to the hidden treasure, or it guards the treasure. Jung’s depiction of the archetype of the serpent is remarkably similar to the Crimson Split Jaw that we saw in the series, ‘the belly with its contents and the intestines, it shows the way to the hidden treasure, or it guards the treasure.’ The split jaw article from the ‘Made in Abyss’ wikia states that
‘Whether it’s to harvest the nutriets, or the tempter the gizzard is unknown, but they are known to habitually swallow relics and minerals. There is no doubt that the sac of any of them bears treasure in great quantities’
Crimson Split Jaw
Going further with this, Jung continues..The serpent shows the way to hidden things…which leads man to go beyond the point of safety, and beyond the limits of consciousness, as expressed by the deep crater. That ‘going beyond the point of safety, and beyond the limits of consciousness’ is what entering into the Abyss asks of the cave divers. The deeper they go, the more abstract and symbolic the levels become. Until we reach a place of darkness, a place where even ‘the personal subconscious’ can no longer give form to the archetypes which exist there. A place where, entering, would mean the complete overrunning of the ‘Ego’ and what makes us human; it’s a place we can never return from. This is where I will end things. Before we wrap though however, I will leave you with the following images, and these parting words. Below is a painting by Sandro Botticelli the 15th century Italian artist. It depicts his interpretation of Dante’s structure of hell from, Inferno. Then there is a map of the abyss.
According to Jung, hell represents, among every culture, the disturbing aspect of the collective unconscious.