Katie (pennylane653) wrote in asbyatt,

Inspired by the last post

I'm a senior in high school taking an independent study literary analysis class where we have a year to write a research paper on the topic of our choice. I was casting about for a topic for a long time, until finally I resorted to one of my favorite authors, A.S. Byatt (of course). I'm now studying the Jungian concept of the syzygy in the Frederica Potter series, since I'm really interested in psychology and those are my favorite books of hers.

I remember when I first read the books I was intrigued by the word but I had noo idea what it meant. I figured some of you might be in that category too, so here's the prospectus for my paper, which explains what I've researched so far. It adds a lot to the books once you understand what it means.

The Jungian concepts of the anima, animus, and syzygy are recurring themes in A.S. Byatt's Frederica Potter tetrology. For my paper, I am researching the role that these ideas play in the unification of the books' several concurrent plots and characters, and in the explication of certain characters' mental illnesses. In addition, I am studying the religious and literary references made in conjunction with these concepts, such as the Manichaean religion and the works of Lewis Carroll, and how these further add to the story and conception of mental illness.
The syzygy is often mentioned explicitly in the final book, A Whistling Woman, in all three of its possible meanings. In order to understand what the syzygy referred to, however, I had to have a firm grasp on the concepts of the anima and animus. The basic theory is that since men are overtly male, their consciousness is also male, and the same for females, who possess female conscious. However, many characteristics typical of the opposite gender exist in a person in the form of an unconscious of an opposite gender; men have a female unconscious, called the anima, and women have a male unconscious, called the animus (Franz 186). Jung defined the syzygy as a joining of this unconscious male anima with the female animus, for instance when two people enter into a relationship, to obtain a pairing of opposites that signifies the joining of the conscious and unconscious. People often experience "love at first sight" when they meet a person that they feel personifies their anima/animus, and it is the phenomenon of the syzygy that causes people to feel incomplete when separated from their lover (Stevens 71). The word "syzygy" dates back to the ancient Greeks, meaning yoked or paired, and was often used to refer to the event of two cosmological bodies joining or colliding (Butler). The concept of the syzygy has also been used in a religious sense by the Manicheans and Valentinus, an Egyptian who laid the foundation for Gnostic religion.
Byatt uses different meanings of the word depending on to which character it pertains. "Syzygy" is first introduced through Paul-Zag Ottokar, a bipolar, bisexual, identical twin who is in a band called "Zag and the Syzygy Zygoats", intended by the character as a clever pun on Jung's concept. However, Byatt's motivation in associating Paul with the syzygy provokes several intriguing ideas, since the syzygy refers to two separate beings converging, and he has such a splintered personality in several regards. As an identical twin, this suggests that he could represent the anima as he is bisexual and more in touch with his feminine side, and his brother John the animus. However, the role of the anima and animus in bisexuality was disputed, and also his concept of the syzygy and more generally the Self would be complicated because he is bipolar. Another mentally-ill character (probably schizophrenic), Joshua Ramsden has Manichaean visions of his syzygy, who convinces him to aid the Manichaean struggle of light versus darkness.
However, not all of the characters associated with the syzygy are mentally ill. Frederica Potter, the main character, is the host of a TV show called "Through the Looking Glass," on which they spend an episode discussing Lewis Carroll and his syzygy imagery. This coincides with Joshua Ramsden's encounters with his syzygy, and adds both meaning and cohesion to the plot. However, I am searching for the subtler psychological and religious references that help explain Joshua Ramsden's and Paul-Zag Ottokar's illnesses and personalities. Since Jung believed that the syzygy is the joining of male and female in relationships, the concept of sexuality and the syzygy is also intriguing. Paul is bisexual while Joshua Ramsden seems asexual, having foresworn sexual relations, although another character hypothesizes that had he not he may have been open to males. In addition to questioning the role of sexuality on the syzygy, I am also questioning the importance of identical twins, from a metaphorical, psychoanalytical, and clinical psychological standpoint.
The two components of Jung's syzygy, the anima and the animus, also play important roles in the novels, although the references are subtler. As aforementioned, my central text is A.S. Byatt's Frederica Potter tetrology, which consists of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman. I must reread the series because I suspect that Frederica's personality and the different men she dates in each of the four books is representative of Jung's four stages of the development of the anima and animus. The men that she is most involved with portray the development of her animus, and the way she is seen by other men, as a reflection of their own animas, demonstrates the progression both of the four stages of the anima and of Frederica herself. I am certain that her first husband represents the first stage of the animus, as an embodiment of physical power. Either her sister's clergyman husband, whom she is intrigued by as a girl, or a professor she was obsessed with in college could represent the third stage of the animus as wisdom in the word, which Jung himself said was frequently manifested in professors or clergyman. In order to ascertain whether there are men representative of the other two stages of the animus and whether Frederica's maturation follows the development of the anima, I must carefully reread the series.
In addition, I must do extensive reading on the Manichaeans and the beliefs of the Egyptian Valentinus and the Gnostic religion in order to understand the implications of Joshua Ramsden's visions. I will also read Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and Oliver Sack's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Reading Carroll's work will allow me to comprehend the references made by Frederica and the characters on her show, both to the syzygy and the association of the Ottokar twins with Tweedledum and Tweedledee. In addition, I believe that Byatt's twins are a reference to a case study detailed by Oliver Sacks in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. In the 1950s, he discovered of a pair of identical twins who communicated through a mathematical language; the existence of the Ottokar twins is set around the same time, and when they were children they communicated very similarly. I also intend to read more books by and on Jung to assure my full understanding of his theories on the anima, animus, and syzygy.

The amazing thing about A.S. Byatt is that it's so densely packed with information about seemingly every possible subject. As I was reading through at least 20 possible research topics popped out, and that's just from this one series. Anyway, I hope that's interesting for some of you.
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I wish I'd been that academic when I was a senior in high school...I'm in awe of you. You have done sophisticated textual analysis and theoretical work! You'll have no problems in college!
Okay, I'm snapping out of teacher mode now. It looks excellent. I haven't finished reading the tetraology yet, but I'll keep those things in mind when I do.
Thanks! =) The stuff I was talking about mostly comes into play in the third and fourth books, but once you get to those (which you definitely should) and are aware of that subplot, if you can call it that, it becomes fairly prominent.


February 6 2005, 03:00:50 UTC 12 years ago

that's insane/awesome! want to write my paper on shakespeare for me? don't ask why i'm commenting on your posts in this community.
haha it's good that you said not to ask because I was going to (even though I know you just read my friends page). Still, it was sort of a surprise. It was funny though because immediately when I saw the thing that said "Someone replied to your livejournal" I automatically thought Diana, and then I was like but wait it's on the AS Byatt comm. so no, but then I saw it was you. (Keep in mind that all happened within like 2 seconds.) Anyway, thanks, and you don't need me to write your shakespeare paper for you because you're a really good writer.
Ditto to the above comments on your precociousness... I don't think I would've been capable of coming up with a topic like that independently and doing the analysis and research for it until I was a senior in college, let alone a senior in high school. I wish you all the best in your intellectual endeavors...
Dear Pennylane653:

I really enjoyed your lengthy post about anima, animus and szyygy in A.S. Byatt's work. I am a big fan, both of Byatt and Jung, and I found your anlaysis fascinating.

I notice that your post is almost two years old, and I'm curious to know how the research paper turned out for your literary analysis class.

Are you still thinking and writing about these topics?

best regards, ... thecork

The research paper turned out pretty well, about 12 pages long. If you're interested in a lengthly read I can send it to you. Unfortunately I haven't really had an opportunity to follow up on those topics. I'm now in college and frustrated that I can't find any classes on Jung. My dream class would be about Jung's influence on Herman Hesse, but I can't even find any classes on Hesse! Which is pretty disgraceful, especially considering I go to UC Berkeley. But several ideas from the paper have randomly come up in other classes I've taken, so I think about it every now and then.

Thanks for your interest,
I would love to read the paper. bummer about no Jung/Hesse at Berkely. Seems odd. You might look for something on MBTI, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on Jung's theory of psychological types. Good luck with your studies.
Dear Pennylane:

Thanks again for your offer to send me your paper on AS Byatt and Jung. How shall we arrange the logistics?

... mn
Oops, sorry. I've been busy with school and forgot. If you give me your e-mail address I can send it to you.

Hello Again. I posted my email address for most of yesterday afternoon and then deleted the entry. Did you receive it?
Yes, I got it. Unfortunately, I realized that I don't have the paper on my new computer, but it should be on my external hard drive. I have a ton of reading to do, so it might be a day or 2 until I dig out my hard drive and find it. Sorry for the delay.
No problem ... no rush. Just wanted to make sure you snagged the address. Glad you got it. Take your time.