I just came across this quote in a biography of Jung I have been reading. I have struggled previously here and here to explain why I think symbols cannot be reduced to mere metaphors and poetry cannot be reduced to representation language. This quote by Jung, from his essay “Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon”, captures more or less succinctly what I have been talking about:
“One certainly has an understandable desire of unambiguous clarity; but we are apt to forget that matters of the soul [psyche] are processes of experience, that is, transformations, which should not be unequivocally designated if one does not want to petrify the living movement into something static. The protean mythologem and the shimmering symbol express the process of the soul far more trenchantly, more fully and, in the end, far more clearly than the clearest concept; for the symbol not only conveys a visualization of the process but — and this is perhaps just as important — it also brings a re-experiencing of it, of that twilight which we can learn to understand only through inoffensive empathy, and never through the great pull of clarity.”
Jung thus identifies three reasons why symbolic language is more appropriate than representational language when speaking about the psyche:
1. Symbols evoke the original religious experience that gave rise to the symbol.
2. Symbols create a visualization.
3. Symbols express the protean nature of the contents of the psyche.
This explains (to me at least) why symbols are not mere metaphors.