On becoming guardians of homecoming
By Robert D. Romanyshyn
Reflections on the psychological dimensions of technology in our individual and collective lives
Join the poetic speaker and depth psychologist Robert Romanyshyn and Machiel Klerk, founder of Jung Platform, for a free webinar on 17 April 2019. During this webinar they will go into conversation about Robert’s fascinating new book, explore some of the prophecy-like truths held within Mary Shelley’s original story, and delve into the shadows of technology. In this blog post, Robert shares some of the inspiration that led to his new book being birthed into the world.
In the late 1980s the possibility of a nuclear holocaust felt like an ever-present danger. I was at that time a practicing psychotherapist and teaching at the University of Dallas. In both contexts I had numerous contacts with students and some patients in their late teens and early twenties. Listening to their concerns I noticed a repeating pattern of anxiety that touched upon feelings of dread and in some cases even feelings of hopeless despair. In the face of the possibility of some global holocaust a dark shadow seemed to hover over the future. Why study, why plan a career, why begin a job or a relation if we were all to be engulfed in that fearful image of a mushroom cloud?
This experience changed my life and my work as a teacher and a writer. I was confronted by the question of how we had come to such a place where the planet and possibly all its life was being increasingly wired for destruction. In 1989 I made my first attempt to reply to the question with my book Technology as Symptom and Dream. It described in detail the creation of our scientific-technological world-view, and in essays, interviews and workshops, I continued to reflect on the psychological dimensions of technology in our individual and collective lives.
Now in 2019 as I look back on this 30-year period two issues stand out for me. One is that that book, which has had five re-prints and has been and still is used in college and university courses, tapped and continues to tap into a shared sense of unease about the place of technology in our lives.
The other issue is that the pace of technological advancements is continuously increasing and its reach into our personal and collective lives has become increasingly invasive. Whether it is still the fear of a nuclear event, or the terrible warning signs of climate crises, or the threats to privacy and identity, or the loss of a sense of place and community as we live more and more in digital space, or the shadowy impacts of technology on our political and economic institutions, or the seemingly insane pace of time in a 24/7 wired world… we are webbed into a way of being where these global concerns are the very fabric of our day to day lives.
So now I have returned to this issue of technology with a new book – Victor Frankenstein, the Monster and the Shadows of Technology: The Frankenstein Prophecies – intended to reach that wider audience that has been shaped and influenced by the advances in technology over the last three decades. Woven around eight questions drawn from Mary Shelley’s novel, the format opens a place to pause between an unquestioned embrace of technology and a naive rejection of it.
While we have been out of balance with the natural world for a long time, and while today the crises spawned by technology seem so overwhelming, the necessity to re-member our broken bonds with the natural world and to recover our need for a sense of the sacred can be the beginning of a journey of homecoming. That journey begins with personal stories, which become ways of entering into the larger cultural concerns.
We need to share such stories of, for example, those moments when one was awakened to the overwhelming beauty of nature, or when the silence of the world charmed us with its mysteries, or even, as happened with me, when the look on the face of my two year old grandson showed a dawning recognition that my image presence on Skype was different from our embodied presence together. I knew in that moment that something of this carnal presence with each other would be forgotten and something vital to him would be lost as he grew more comfortable with the technology.
In that brief moment with my grandson, I realized that in my life and work I had to be a memory keeper of those experiences when the world was a wonder and a miracle. My task — and ours together? — is to remember such occasions, to stand up for their value and necessity, and in those simple acts become, as it were, guardians of homecoming before they are forgotten. To be against forgetting is an act of resistance to becoming so enthralled with technology that we sleepwalk into oblivion.
A word of caution! To be keepers of memory and guardians of homecoming is difficult work because when one remembers he/she is being re-membered, changed, transformed and awakened to how each present moment in time is an opportunity to re-imagine a future. Anyone invested in keeping things as they are, in holding onto what is as what must be will be against such work.
To be a memory keeper is not a nostalgic longing for some golden age, some lost paradise.
To be a memory keeper is to be a fool like Don Quixote, the knight errant, who imagines windmills as Giants in his quest to re-member and re-mind others of a time and a world that was in danger of slipping away.
To be a guardian of homecoming is to be a fool who can dream what seems an impossible dream.
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Robert D. Romanyshyn is an Emeritus Professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute, an Affiliate Member of The Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts, and a Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Author of eight books including his forthcoming Victor Frankenstein, the Monster and the Shadows of Technology: The Frankenstein Prophecies, he has published articles in psychology, philosophy, education and literary journals, published a book of poems, written a one act play about Frankenstein, and created a multi-media DVD entitled Antarctica: Inner journeys in the Outer World, a psychological reflection on the melting polar ice. In addition to on line seminars and interviews, he has given lectures and workshops at universities and professional societies in the U.S., Europe, Australia, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand.
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