Terrapin Station: Soldier and Sailor as Jungian Opposites
Well, there aren't too many places where I can share this with any hope of appreciation. This forum might be the home of someone else who digs Jung and Jerry. If so, I hope you enjoy this:
Terrapin Station: Soldier and Sailor as Jungian Opposites
Riki Sarah Dennis, MA Ed
11 Spring TSD 8888 Frodo’s Quest
Robin Robertson, PhD
September 12, 2010
I have been a fan of the Grateful Dead for most of my life. I don’t want to share my age with the reader, but my first recordings were on 8-track. My older brother’s banana yellow dune buggy may have been involved. Although biased, I seem to be a reasonably intelligent, creative, and open-minded person. New music has come into my life - and left many times over, but the Grateful Dead have stayed. They’ve made their way into my writing from grammar school to this PhD program. Why has their music remained meaningful to me? Of late I have become fixated upon the album ‘Terrapin Station’ – hand in glove with a newfound interest in the work of Carl Jung. This isn’t chance - Jung’s concept of opposites is at play in Terrapin Station!
Sound bites seem to rule the modern era. “Headline news” and “tweets” are convenient, but seldom pithy. A black and white, either or, sensibility is easier to contain in such limited spaces than is grey. This idea that something is inherently good and its opposite is evil incarnate, does save space. Jung asked us to do more. He posited that we are made up of light and shadow, and only by embracing both can we become whole. It appears that we can’t look to today’s newsman for exhaustive treatments of the human condition. This is where the bard comes in.
‘Terrapin Station’ begins with a story teller, in the company of us as the listeners, gathered around a fire. The tale centers on a sailor, who had: “… loved a lady many years ago …” and a soldier who’d “… lost at love …” (Garcia, p.1). A door “… flies open …” and a girl enters. As seems rare in modern songs, there comes a call towards a quest. She throws her fan into the lion’s den – with a purpose:
“… Which of you to gain me, tell will risk uncertain pains of Hell? I will not forgive you if you will not take the chance …”
The “Lady with a Fan” isn’t promoting male bravado. She is offering an opportunity for the sailor and the soldier to unite in a quest, not only for her fan, but towards self actualization.
“… opposition between the person we have come to believe ourselves to be, and the shadow within that is equally us, can only be overcome through a gentle feminine touch. Often we experience this reconciliation through tears that melt away the hard places inside us and create a “solution” in which all the essential parts remain – but now ready to be combined into someone new. The resolution is neither the person we already think ourselves to be, nor the person inside that we reject, but someone new who is a combination of both.” (Robertson, p. 282).
The soldier didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. It may have been the honorable choice. What part of one’s self would put one’s life at risk for extraneous gain? One’s shadow can be, before inclusion, uncomfortable, even unsavory. By definition, it isn’t the part of ourselves we share with the world. There are honorable reasons backing a division:
“When Christ withstood Satan’s temptation, that was the fatal moment when the shadow was cut off. Yet it had to be cut off in order to enable man to become morally conscious.” (Jung, p.1).
Like some deific being, the soldier wanted his shiny, well-armored light to show. Knowingly or not, he was an example to others. I suspect he knew, for “… Strategy was his strength …” (Garcia, p.1). Like many soldiers I’ve known, it may well have been a moral choice – albeit a costly one. Remaining apart from his shadow, the soldier’s decision doomed him to continue a fragmented existence, never quite whole:
“The self is a unit, consisting however of two, i.e., of opposites, otherwise it would not be a totality. Christ has consciously divorced himself from his shadow. Inasmuch as he is divine, he is the self, yet only its white half. Inasmuch as he is human, he has never lost his shadow completely, but seems to have been conscious of it.” (Jung, p. 1).
The sailor took his turn in the lion’s den. This wasn’t a sign of disrespect for the soldier’s rectitude, but rather a move towards personal synthesis, even as he sets an example for others.
“If the moral opposites could be united … they would be suspended altogether and there could be no morality at all. That is certainly not what synthesis aims at. In such a case of irreconcilability the opposites are united by a neutral or ambivalent bridge, a symbol expressing either side in such a way that they can function together.” (Jung, p.1).
Retrieving the fan, the sailor is willingly bound to the lady. Affixed via fan as strongly as if by nails, he has gone into the darkness and become joined with his shadow, coming out towards unity when “… the lady fairly leapt at him …” (Garcia, p.1).
“This symbol is the cross … the tree of life … to which Christ is inescapably affixed. This particular feature points to the compensatory significance of the tree: the tree symbolizes that entity from which Christ had been separated and with which he ought to be connected again to make his life or his being complete. In other words, the Crucifixus is the symbol uniting the absolute moral opposites. Christ represents the light; the tree, the darkness; he the son, it the mother.” (Jung, p.1).
The soldier and sailor are united as symbols of different paths one can take in the world. The soldier remains mired in duality:
“The first attempt is moral appreciation and decision for the Good. Although this decision is indispensable, it is not too good in the long run. You must not get stuck with it, otherwise you grow out of life and die slowly. Then the one-sided emphasis on the Good becomes doubtful, but there is apparently no possibility of reconciling Good and Evil. That is where we are now.” (Jung, p.1).
The sailor wound up with the lady of self actualization, of balance, leaping at him. His ending is “… never told ...” (Garcia, p.1) despite attempts to bribe the story teller. We’re left to draw our own conclusion about his fate, and that of the soldier. Both gather with us around our fire, presented for examination via bard. We remain, as always, on our way to Terrapin, a place where we can choose transcendence. Like the sailor and the soldier, we can choose wholeness – or not – at any time.
“Terrapin, I can’t figure out, Terrapin, if it’s the end or beginning, Terrapin, but the train’s put its brakes on, Terrapin, and the whistle is screaming, TERRAPIN … While you were gone, these faces filled with darkness. The obvious was hidden, with nothing to believe in, The compass always points to Terrapin … You’re back in Terrapin for good or ill again …” (Garcia, p.1).
Garcia, J., Hunter, R. (1977).Terrapin station. Nashville: Arista.
Jung, Carl. (1954, April 10). Jung's letter to father victor white. Retrieved from http://www.jungcircle.com/muse/white.html
Robertson, R. (2007). Seven paths of the hero in lord of the rings: the path of opposites. Psychological Perspectives, 50, 276-290.
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