At the Edges of the Round Table:
Jung, Religion, and Eranos

David L. Miller

An earlier and shorter version of this essay was presented to the 16th Congress of the International Association for Analytical Psychology in Barcelona, Spain, on September 1, 2004.


I first attended the Eranos Conferences in 1969. Along with Gilles Quispel and James Hillman, the speakers were Helmuth Jacobsohn, Gilbert Durand, Toshihiko Izutsu, Schmuel Sambursky, Henry Corbin, Ernst Benz, Gershom Scholem, and Adolf Portmann. The seats for the auditors at Casa Eranos were reserved, and I was assigned a seat in the fourth row. The aisle and Lago Maggiore were on my right and an elderly British woman was on my left. In the intermission of the initial lecture by Scholem, I turned to my seatmate and, in an attempt to make conversation, I asked her whether there would be a question-and-answer time following the lecture. She said to me: "You must be an American." I confessed that I was, whereupon she educated me about the spirit of Eranos. "You see," she said, "the presenters are invited to speak at the very edge of their disciplines. If they manage this edge, they are in no better position than the audience to answer questions. It would be premature. On the other hand," she concluded decisively, "if they do not manage to speak at the edge, then they are not worth questioning in the first place!" (For another version of this anecdote, see: Miller, 2004, p. 216.)

I tell this anecdote, because of the synchronicity, thirty-five years later, of being asked to speak about Jung and Eranos at this Sixteenth Congress of the International Association of Analytical Psychology whose theme has to do precisely with "edges." The coincidence is so striking to me that I can do no other today than to talk about the notion of "edges." My point will be that Jung gave a psychological edge to the Eranos Conferences and that Eranos gave an intellectual edge to Jung’s psychology. Indeed, one of the Eranos Conferences had "edges" as its theme. In 1980, the topic was: Grenzen und Begrenzung / Extremes and Borders / Les extrêmes et la limite. "Edge" is not explicitly named in these titles, but edge was surely the import and it was about this that the speakers spoke (Portmann & Ritsema, 1981). The edge-nature of Eranos was made clear in an earlier book by Adolf Portmann, An den Grenzen des Wissens (1974, pp. 223-229), a work mentioned by Aniela Jaffé in her 1975 Eranos lecture on the reciprocal relation of Jung and Eranos (Jaffé, 1977a), which was translated into English by Robert Hinshaw and appeared in the 1977 issue of Spring journal (Jaffé, 1977b).

The photograph of the "empty" Round Table at Casa Eranos that Paul Kugler has provided for us today was first shown to me by Henry Corbin at an Eranos gathering. Corbin told me the story that Kugler has recounted here, and that Aniela Jaffé told, also, in her 1975 presentation. Corbin said to me that he and Jung were looking at an Eranos photograph album one day and that, when they came upon this picture, Jung said in French: L’imageest parfaite. Ils sont tous ! "The image is perfect. They are all there!" The ghostliness of this tale is indicative of the feeling at Eranos. I think of this sensibility as the Eranos edge, the edges of the Round Table, so to say. The Round Table of Eranos had an edge, or, better, it was an edge. It’s very roundness, including even the ghosts and ancestors, was an edge for a world that likes things straight.

The matter of "edges" is not simple. One might say that "edge" has itself an edge. This edge and its difficulty are reflected in the translation of the theme of our Congress.

"The Edges of Experience"
"Aux limites de l’experience"
"Grenzen der Erfahrung"
"Frontiere dell’esperienza"
"Al filo de la experiencia"

If one begins with the title in English, then the word "edges" is rendered by the word limites in French, Grenzen in German, frontiere in Italian, and filo in Spanish. But if one attempts the experiment of beginning with the languages other than English, and then translates their versions of our theme back into English, the translations would likely read, not "Edges of Experience," but "Limits of Experience" or "Boundaries of Experience" or "Frontiers of Experience" or "Lines of Experience." An edge is different from a limit, a boundary, a frontier and a line. When one hones or sharpens a knife, one puts an edge on it, but one does not put a limit, a boundary, a frontier or a border on it. As the Italian proverb says: traduttore, traditore, "to translate is to betray." Jung once said, concerning Flournoy’s attempt to translate his work into French, "A translation is something impossible" (Shamdasani, 2003, p. 303n39); and, as George Steiner has recently pointed out, Henry James referred to this problem as "the golden cage of the untranslatable" (Steiner, 2003, p. 92).

It is about edges that I wish to speak when talking about Jung, religion, and Eranos, and I will be using "edge" in all of its senses: namely,

I mean all of these meanings at once, because these meanings represent what I experienced at Eranos in my time there from 1969 to 1988. Allow me to reflect for a few minutes on these edges in relation to psychology and religion. I begin with psychology.

Psychology as Edge

In his book The Work of the Negative, André Green speaks about psychoanalysis as edge-work. His last chapter, entitled "On the Edge," urges psychoanalysts not to think of their discipline and their practice in a one-sided way: it is neither a science, on the one hand, nor an art, a philosophy, or a religion, on the other. Psychoanalysis, both as a theory and as a practice, is constantly—Green argues—on an edge between science and philosophy (Green, 1999).

There are recently a few in the psychology field who have argued for thinking of the psychotherapeutic work as edge-work. Michael Eigen does so in his book, The Electrified Tightrope, as does Darlene Ehrenberg in her work on therapy entitled The Intimate Edge. Ronald Schenk, in The Sunken Quest, the Wounded Fisher, the Pregnant Fish, writes: "All therapy is borderline," (2001, p. 86) that is, it is edge-work. A recent issue of The Psychoanalytic Quarterly (2004) is completely focused on "the third in psychoanalysis." It explicates the edge between a variety of analytic dyads, a concept that Wolfgang Giegerich had also already stressed in 1977 in an article in Spring entitled, "On the Neurosis of Psychology or the Third of the Two" (Giegerich, 1977). And Helene Lorenz had in 1997, in a most remarkable, and too little noticed, book on the relation of complexity theory to depth psychology, pointed to the importance of the "edges of chaos" in the analytic experience (Lorenz, 1997, chaps. 7 & 8). It is, Lorenz argues, at the "edges of chaos" that "complex adaptive systems [like the Self] begin to evolve" (p. 112), i.e., individuation takes place at a psychic edge. More recently, in an article in Spring, Giegerich has argued that the interiorized boundary of the soul is the experience of its not having a boundary (Giegerich, 1998, pp. 16-17). In my terms, this is psyche’s edge. Our congress’ theme is, of course, also witness to the psychological importance of the concept of edge. (David Tacey has—in addition to the other Jungian theorists mentioned here—petitioned the metaphor of "edge" in his book, Edge of the Sacred, but his use of the trope is different from that being explored in the present work.)

Indeed, people who are "edgy" come into therapy or analysis, and the attempt is to put an edge on their edginess, i.e., to hone it. Sonu Shamdasani has recently reported that Cary Baynes wrote to Cary de Angulo, whom he would later marry, that analysis with Jung "enabled him to realize [as he put it] the ‘paradoxical knife edge’ of balancing the rational and the irrational" (Shamdasani, 2003, p. 318). The point is, as Kafka wrote, that psychologically "auf dieses Messers Schneide leben wir" [we live on the razor’s edge] (1958, p. 158-59). Analytic material lies on the edges of experience, and psychology’s work, if successful, gives the person, as Baynes witnessed, an experience of a psychological edge. Perhaps depth psychology should have been called edge psychology, if only to avoid the soul and spirit, anima and animus, depth and height awkwardness of vertical binarisms and split-syzygies.

Jung’s way of putting this point was to note the one-sidedness of neuroses and the desirability of making conscious another side (e.g., 1972, par. 40; 1985, par. 257; 1976, pars. 382-389; and compare Giegerich, 1994 & 1999). Analysis is a putting of one on the edge, like the edge of a well-honed knife whose locus occurs where two sides meet. During the process of honing, the knife becomes sharper and sharper as the edge has less and less mass, i.e., as it approaches nothingness. (See Appendix I.)

There is an anecdote about Edmund Husserl that reports the philosopher’s comparison of a complete phenomenological analysis with the sharpening of a knife. One hones and hones and hones until there is no knife left. It is all edge. And the edge is nothing, i.e., it is not a thing. (Sholar, 1998; Healant, 2002; Spiegelberg, 1982, p. 179n2; Strasser, 1950, p. xxix. I am grateful to Edward Casey for calling this to my attention.)

So it is with a long term psychoanalysis. The work is still incomplete, i.e., it is still dull, if the edge has ego-extension (compare Hutcheson, 1994, and Miller, "Irony’s Arrow/Eros"). The point is similar to Jung’s image of differentiation as seeing the two-sidedness of the self, what he called the coincidentia oppositorum, as not a third "thing," but no-thing, the tension between the two, like the tensile quality of a knife-blade. Jung wrote: "Like the alchemical end-product, which always betrays its essential duality, the united personality will never quite lose the painful sense of innate discord" (1985, par. 400). So a psychological edge is not a place; it is a no-place, a no-where, not really an "edge," but an edge-ness about which the ego will always be edgy. Individuation—one might say—puts one on a cutting-edge.

Already in 1896, in a Zofingia Lecture, Jung spoke about the edgy nature of the psychological science. His talk was titled "Über die Grenzgebiete der exakten Wissenchaft," which is doubtless a parody of Emil Dubois-Reymond’s 1872 paper, "Über die Grenzen des Naturerkennens." Jung made a good deal of fun of Dubois-Reymond in his speech, a presentation that the protocols of the Zogingia Society misrecorded as being titled "Die Grenzen der exacten Wissenschaften." This "mistake" may well have been no mistake at all, since it changed Jung’s title from "The Border Zones of Exact Science" to "The Edge of Exact Sciences," which is what Jung actually spoke about. (I am indebted to Sonu Shamadasani for pointing this out to me in a personal correspondence.)

Jung, much later in life, noted that poets often articulate psychological insight. He said with regard to psychological expression that " … bare statement of a case might leave us entirely cold were there no poets who could fathom and read the collective unconscious…. They make known, like true prophets, the stirrings of the collective unconscious…. We cannot, therefore, afford to be indifferent to the poets…." (1971, pars. 321, 323) Indeed. So I turn to poets to describe the edge of psychological theory and practice.

Wallace Stevens, for example, writes about "the edge of time" that must be faced (1977, p. 66), the edge that phantasy forms (1977, p. 43), "the evening’s edge" (1977, p. 93), the tumultuous times "that beat out slimmest edges in the ear" (1977, p. 56), "the edgings and inchings of final form" (1975, p. 488), "an edge of song that never clears" (1975, p. 207), "the breathings from the edge of night" (1975, p. 495), the old man in China who "sees larkspur, blue and white, at the edge of shadow" (1975, p. 73), the natives whose azure lakes bring pink and white dogwood, but whose "azure has a cloudy edge" (1975, p. 37), and the blackbird which flew out of sight marking "the edge of one of many circles" (1975, p. 94). But even more to the psychological point, Stevens writes that "the whole of the wideness of night is for you, / A self that touches all edges, / You become a self that fills the four corners of night" (1975, p. 209). And he writes this about self-knowledge:

It was not her look but a knowledge that she had.
She was a self that knew, an inner thing,
Subtler than look’s declaiming, although she moved
With a sad splendor, beyond artifice,
Impassioned by the knowledge that she had,
There on the edges of oblivion. (1975, p. 435)
In writing about the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Jonathan Levin says that Stevens "writes from the leading edge of unfolding transitions," (1999, p. 187-88) as I believe did Jung, and as did the speakers at Eranos at their best.

The experience of the edge or the edges of experience characterizing the analytic process may be even more striking in the work of another poet. I am thinking of the poem, "In a Dark Time," by Theodor Roethke.

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one in One, free in the tearing wind. (1975, p. 231)

Many more poetic testimonies to an edge-psychology might be invoked if time permitted. There is, for example, the striking figure in Matthew Arnold’s poem, "Dover Beach," of the "edges drear" of a contemporary life poised between the demise of one modality of meaning and prior to the coming of a new one, like das Zwischen of Heidegger, between the gods that have fled and those that are to come (Arnold, 1959, p. 836; Heidegger, 1962, pp. 142, 170, 276, 425-427, 442; Heidegger, 1949, p. 288; compare Richardson, 1967, pp. 6, 11, 101, 155, 447, 160, 589). Such examples could be multiplied, but for now let Stevens and Roethke suffice to indicate the psychological point that, not only the patient, but also the analyst, may appropriately say: "The edge is what I have"—in every sense of the word "edge." Perhaps psychology and psychologists would do well to give more attention to edges and less to boundaries and limits.

Religion as Edge

I mentioned that individuation often puts a person on a cutting-edge. Jung almost said as much twice, once in his essay on the visions of Zosimos and once in his essay on transformation symbolism in the Catholic mass (1967, par. 110, and 1985, par. 324). In both essays he was speaking about the knife used in religious sacrifice, a cutting that for Jung was a trope of the psychological process of differentiation (cf. Hillman, 1988, p. 12). Jung cited the New Testament: "The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12); "Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword" (Revelation 1:16). The implication was that there is a connection between psychology and religion concerning the matter of the edge.

Indeed, the image of a cutting-edge has been an important figure in the history of religions. In Zoroastrianism, the Cinvat Bridge on the road to the next life is a knife-edge that discriminates the paths to heaven and to hell. It is not unlike a similar figure in Islam, and it is analogous to that dangerous edge traversed by the Altaic shaman in the spirit-journey to the underworld realm of Erlik Khan (see Trubshaw, 2004). There is also in the tradition of Zen Buddhism the metaphor of the "diamond sword" of discriminating religious consciousness whose spiritual essence is that of enduring brilliance, dignity and strength. But, more significantly, this Buddhist sword signifies the Diamond Sutra and its teaching of the Diamond Sword of Discriminating Wisdom, which cuts away all doubts. In the Katha Upanishad, the Hindu version of this religious insight has to do with a razor’s edge, which gives W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, The Razor’s Edge, its title. The Hindu text says: "Sages say the path is narrow and difficult to tread, narrow as the edge of a razor." (Mascaro, 1965, p.61 [1.3.14]) A Hebrew scripture, in which the prophet Jeremiah expatiates (in advance!) against developmental psychology, says: "In those days, they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge" (Jeremiah 31:29-30, cf. Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:2). And in his massive study of Haida religious myths, Robert Bringhurst reports a Northwestern American Native proverb that was first recorded by Franz Boas. "The world is narrow and sharp as a knife." A Native American story amplifies the point:

A man once said to his careless son: The world is as sharp as a knife. If you don’t watch out, you’ll fall right off [and die]. His son replied that the earth was wide and flat; no one could fall off. And as the son kicked at the ground to show how solid and reliable it was, he ran a splinter into his foot and died soon after (Bringhurst, 2000, p. 372).
Bringhurst entitles his book, A Story as Sharp as a Knife, indicating the nature of religious discourse and its edge-function, a point also made in the remarkable book by Michael Ortiz Hill, Blues Song at the Edge of Chaos, which is on Bantu shamanism (a work that I am indebted to Katherine Cooper and L. Murphy Lewis for bringing to my attention).

These religious phenomena—Zoroastrian, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Hebrew, Native American, and African—are all apposite to my theme. But a theological debate between two Protestant theologians, which occurred about the same time that I encountered the British woman at the Eranos Conference, may further clarify the point that religion, like psychology, is constituted by an edge.

In 1966, Gordon Kaufman wrote a seminal essay in which he inquired as to the actual function of the concept of "God" in the use of religious language. (1966, pp. 105-32; and 1972, chap. 3). He noted that most often and most notably the term for ultimacy occurs "within the context of man's [sic] sense of limitation," when there is a sense of what traditionally has been called "finitude." Therefore, as Kaufman says, "the idea of God functions as a limiting concept, that is, a concept that. . . refers to that which we do not know but which is the ultimate limit of all our experiences." "God-talk," as he calls it, "arises because certain features of experience force us up against the limit(s) of all possible knowledge and experience" (1972, pp. 47, 49; compare Tracy, 1981, p. 160: "Chief among them [the essential characteristics of religion] is the recognition of a limit-character to all religious experience and language").

In his analysis Kaufman posits four types of "limit": those of the physical-material environment; those of the organic body; boundaries imposed upon people by personal and external social factors; and certain normative limits, such as the limiting nature of the idea of true over against false or beautiful over against ugly, with no third possibilities.

On the basis of this differentiation of types of limits, Kaufman reasons that the personal God of Christian theism is a "limit"-concept analogous to the third type, the personal limits we sense from others in society. People, Kaufman thinks, make an analogy from this experience in everyday life to some sense of an ultimate limit. "When a personal limiter is the analogical basis for understanding the ultimate Limit," Kaufman reasons, "a doctrine of God results" (1972, p. 61). The most common Christian metaphors for the ultimate Limit help to make the point: Father, Lord, Judge, King, etc. For Kaufman these are indicators that the Christian limit-concept of God is grounded in the everyday experience of personal-social-historical boundedness.

Kaufman is really arguing against attempting to ground a doctrine of God philosophically in the language of metaphysical and cosmological dualism. Over against this he is petitioning for a language that is analogical (1972, p. 70n30).

But Kaufman's argument found a limit of a different sort in the form of a response published in 1968 by Paul Van Buren (1968, pp. 161-63). Van Buren joined the issue directly, saying, "A sense of limitation is too narrow a definition of the experiential rootage of the language about the gods, even for Christianity. "He argued that while many men and women through history may well have experienced limits of various sorts, nonetheless it is few indeed who have "trembled in the presence of the gods."

It is the experience of the "few" that interested Van Buren. For deeply religious men and women, he believes, it is not so much a sense of limit as it is a sense of "wonder" that calls forth talk about "God." To sense the limits of life is to view "the ordinary as ordinary," whereas in Van Buren's view the religious sensibility occurs when there is a seeing of "the ordinary as extraordinary" (1968, pp. 166, 168, 169, 170).

In this essay Van Buren was attempting to call attention to the fact that "every seeing is seeing as," and so he emphasized "imaginative vision," parabolic utterance, dreams, and poetry as typical linguistic models for a philosophy of religion (Ibid., 178-180). It is as if Kaufman had picked up one side of Rudolf Otto's definition of religion as mysterium tremendum et fascinosum (a fearful and fascinating mystery), and Van Buren had acknowledged the other side. Kaufman sees the tremendum of the experience of limit; Van Buren sees the fascinosum of wonder. Yet in this debate between notions of many and few, limit and wonder, tremendum and fascinosum, there was to come a third possibility.

Four years after he responded to Kaufman, Van Buren published a book in which he addressed the problem of limit in a different way (Van Buren,1972). "Language has limits," Van Buren acknowledged. But the word "limit" may itself be misleading when speaking of these limits. This term, Van Buren observed, presents us with a "picture of a line that marks off one area within the limit from another area beyond, one which we can see just as well." A different image may be more useful, that of a squash court in which, unlike a tennis court with its clearly marked lines, "there is no ‘out,’ no possibility of marking the fall of the ball beyond the boundaries of the court" (1972, 82). So it is, also, Van Buren thinks, with language. (Compare the similar point made psychologically about there being no "outside" to the psyche, in Giegerich, 1998).

Language is like a platform. We can walk on it or dance on it, but if we go beyond the edge we simply fall off into non-sense. "Edge" is the word Van Buren uses to replace "limit" over which he and Kaufman had argued (compare Lewis, 1960, pp. 214-16). Van Buren called his book The Edges of Language.

Some prefer to stay away from the edge. They like to have things clear. They are limited in imagination and in thought. And they have no sense of humor. Others, like Jung, make their home at the edges. Van Buren lists four instances of language lived at the edge: the language of jokes and puns, the language of lovers, the language of metaphysics, and the language of religion. Here are Van Buren’s examples:

Van Buren also mentions the parables of Jesus and the koans of Zen as putting one on edge (1972, p.110).

Though Van Buren, as a linguistic philosopher of religion, feels "uneasy with the stumbling gait of walking language's frontier," he also wants "to use something more than the vague word ‘mystery,’" as he had in his earlier essay (1972, p. 147). Now, armed with the concept of "edge," and with examples of language's edges taken from human experiences, Van Buren can describe language about God as language "speaking at its edge." It would be a mistake, he believes, "to think that the word 'God' either falls well within the edges of language, where religious claims about God would be meaningful but would appear to be false, or else lies outside language altogether. Planted in its own ground, however, right on . . . the boundary of language, the word can be as alive and flourishing today as in the past" (1972, p. 144).

This edge is no place for literalism, whether theistic or atheistic. Literalists, Van Buren writes, have the matter backward. It is not that things said about God (i.e., that he is a father or good or loving or mighty) are to be seen as attributes, which are qualities belonging to an object. Rather, these things are subjects about which one wants to say more than ordinary linguistic conventions will allow.

For example, when someone wants to say more about love than language permits, he or she can say, "God is Love," meaning that the person has said all that can be said and that now language is on an edge. Though one cannot say any more in some literal sense, the person nonetheless does not wish to remain silent. Van Buren quotes T. S. Eliot:

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. . . . (Eliot, 1943, p. 121)
Between literal and metaphoric, between fascinosum (identity) and tremendum (difference), there is a threshold, which is the edge of language. On this "edge" is the philosophical "logic" of language about ultimate reality, and not only for philosophers of religion, but for all of us.

The Kaufman/Van Buren debate advanced a discussion by Paul Tillich in which existential religious experience was described as Grenzsituation, "a boundary situation" (1948, pp. 195-205; 1962, pp. 73-77), a concept crucial also to the thought of Karl Jaspers (See Schrag, 1971, pp. 28, 37, 78, 103, 115-16, 163-65, 184-85 and 237). Tillich had argued that the "radical experience" of the "human boundary situation" is met spiritually by a continuously reformational nature of a properly iconoclastic faith. In an autobiographical reflection, Tillich—who, as Robert Hinshaw has reminded me, was a speaker at the Eranos Tagung in 1936 and 1954--wrote:

This is the dialectic of existence; each of life’s possibilities drives of its own accord to a boundary and beyond the boundary where it meets that which limits it. …. there remains a boundary for human activity which is no longer a boundary between two possibilities but rather a limit set on everything finite by that which transcends all human possibilities, the Eternal. (1965, pp. 97-98)
If Tillich’s existential theology is the background to a theology whose god-term moves from mysterium to boundary to limit to edge in the work of Otto, Tillich, Kaufman, and Van Buren, this development is surely foregrounded in the work of postmodern theologian Mark C. Taylor. Taylor is quoted as saying in an interview: "The site … of the sacred is the interstitial," i.e., the edge between divine and human, sacred and profane, supernatural and natural, I and Thou, I and the other. (Taylor, 2001a; also see 1999b, pp. 213-217; 1999a, pp. 97, 118-20, 127). Taylor’s most recent book, The Moment of Complexity, represents the application of complexity theory to post-Death-of-God theology analogous to Helene Lorenz’ application of complexity theory to Jungian psychology. Taylor describes postmodern life as existing on the edge between order and chaos, difference and indifference, negentropy and entropy, information and noise," and he sees this as the site of religious experience today, just as Lorenz sees the edge as the locus, between conscious and unconscious, of the process of individuation (2001b, pp. 11-14, 25, 97, 123, 185, 198; compare Derrida, 1987, pp. 54, 81, 140, where Derrida calls the edge "paregon," and, 1981, p. 215, where Derrida speaks about "the edge of being’; Stanley Romaine Hopper, 1992, p. 293; Michael Ortiz Hill, 2003, p. 21; D. G. Leahy, 1989, pp. 773-89; Eugene Gendlin, 2004; and Edward Casey, 2004, pp. 1-36. It was Casey who brought the work of Leahy and Gendlin to my attention. See Appendix I & II, below.). Victor Turner’s well-known term for this religious edge is the "liminal," and he believes that it fosters what he calls a "transient humility" (Turner, 1969, pp. 95, 97, 106). "It is as if to say that somewhere between what we may have sensed to be on the one hand a limit and on the other a limitlessness or wonder, there is an edge. And if we could live on this continuous threshold, life might itself take on an edge, … and our comprehension might be considerably extended beyond preconceptions about the limits of life and its limitlessness, …." (Miller, 1986, p. 72).


There is yet one more Eranos-like edge concerning psychology and religion that needs to be added before ending. I wrote this presentation in the midst of ski season in upstate New York and it occurred to me that there is something important, but odd, about putting an edge on skis. In order to check myself I consulted a former doctoral student, a woman who practiced and taught with the American Olympic ski team. I had the intuition that it is important, not only to sharpen skis, so as to be able to "edge" on slick terrain ("terrain" like that of the spirit and like that of the soul), but also that it is equally important to dull the edges after honing them. I asked my former student about this, and with her permission, I report Mary Keller’s response to my query, hoping that it may serve as a parable about the practice of psychotherapy and of religion. I urge you to listen to her words as a description of the analytic experience.

"Yes," Mary wrote to me in an e-mail, "dulling your edges is important in at least two ways:  
1) Tips and tails: most racers will dull the tips and tails just a bit,
because the critical place for weight bearing in the turn is the mid 2/3 of
the ski. Now that the skis have become shorter and their shape has become
hourglass, dare I say feminine, it is even more important that the far
reaches of the tips and tails aren't too sharp and forcing the ski into an
earlier or later turn. An edge needs to be entered into gently, but then held
firmly, and released with a bit of forgiveness. If done correctly, the
edging process will propel you out of the turn--another reason you don't
want to catch it too sharply entering or leaving for that will stifle things during the build up and release of energy.

2) Downhill skis: Picture yourself on 230 cm of heavy, flat ski moving 40-60 miles per hour around turns, reaching speeds of 80 mph. (perhaps with the music from Mission Impossible in the background). The entire length of the edge of your ski needs to be beveled, so the file is drawn along the flat bottom of the ski while pushing down equally on both sides of the file, producing an arc. On the tips and tails that arc is further smoothed. In the mid 2/3 of the ski, the edge is beveled but sharp. You are leaning over so far when you take turns that you want the edge beveled where it will then function as a sharp edge.

"Now picture yourself getting from the top of the lift at Lake Placid travelling through icy bumps on these skis trying to get to the start of the
downhill course. You are moving fairly slowly and standing up fairly tall and you cannot find your edges so you are skidding your way through the icy moguls on 230 cm. of plank-like skis. The beveled edge is hard to find until you are up to speed, bent over and leaned steeply into your curves. However, this scenario is preferable to moving 60 mph and catching an edge which results in the agony of defeat.

"It's a beautiful art--sharpening edges. As always, it begins with the biggest and dullest files, moves to finer files, to a stone and finally finished off with Scotchbrite to make sure there are no lingering burs. Your fingers become gray with metal shavings and slivers and likely you begin to wrap your fingers with athletic tape before you start. A ritual takes place in the prep rooms."

This is Mary’s narrative about edging skis. And it is my parable about the analytic process and experience. "It’s a beautiful art." "An edge needs to be entered into gently, but then held firmly, and released with a bit of forgiveness." "The edge is hard to find until you are up to speed and leaning steeply into your curves." Yes. So, dulling the edges, once they have been honed, is crucial, lest you "catch an edge," as the skiers say, and fall.

This brings to my mind an anecdote that Aniela Jaffé reports about Jung. Jaffé writes in her book, The Myth of Meaning that "when Jung, in his eighties, was discussing at his house the process of becoming conscious with a group of young psychiatrists from America, England and Switzerland, he ended with the surprising words: ‘And then you have to learn to become decently unconscious’" (1984, p. 149), i.e., you have to dull the sharp edges once sharpened. Dulling the edges after sharpening them and being on them is different from the dulled edges prior to the process, just as Zen trees and mountains after enlightenment experiences are not the same as the trees and mountains before. The intuitive volley of a tennis ball struck directly at one’s body after years and years of self-conscious practice is not the same as the lucky hit before being coached by a pro. The edge is the difference. One might call it ed(g)ucation! It is the sort of education that I received from the experience of Eranos, an education about the edge that we all live on always and already (Hill, 2003, pp. 10, 11, 22).


A year before I first went to the Eranos Conferences, in 1968, Christopher Logue wrote a poem for another festival, a festival celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Guillaume Apollinaire. In Logue’s poem the author offered an invitation that is the sort of psychological and theological invitation that I want to give here today. Therefore, I present Logue’s poem to Apollinaire as my conclusion (Logue, 1988, p. 64):

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
And they came,
And he pushed,
And they flew.

Appendix I

"Where are the Edges?"

Arvum Stroll

"Here is our first problem. A cube—say an ivory die—has six surfaces. Its surfaces are contiguous; they abut one another, leaving no space between them. Together they exhaust all the outer area of the cube. A cube also has twelve edges. But if its surfaces leave no empty space, then where are the edges?

"Suppose one answers by saying: "The edges are nowhere. They are imaginary lines, abstractions. By definition, an abstraction occupies no space; thus the edges are not literally between the surfaces at all." This answer commits one to the existence of abstractions. That is already a major philosophical step. But is it correct?

"There are good reasons for thinking it isn’t. The edges of a cube can be said to be jagged or rough or wavy, and they can be painted red in contrast to the ivory surfaces. A person of talent can balance a cube on one of its edges. If edges have such physical properties and are susceptible to such operations, they cannot be mere abstractions, mere imaginary lines. They are no less ivory than the die itself, and are as much a physical part of the die as its surfaces are. But if they are, they are literally between the surfaces. Hence, they are somewhere. Then are the surfaces not contiguous at all?

"Given these incompatible answers, and what seem like strong supporting reasons for each of them, we have a dilemma."

(From:  Avrum Stroll, Surfaces, p. 4.)

Appendix II

"A Mosaic Philosophy"

William James

With this we have the outlines of a philosophy of pure experience before us. At the outset of my essay, I called it a mosaic philosophy. In actual mosaics the pieces are held together by their bedding, for which bedding the substances, transcendental egos, or absolutes of other philosophies may be taken to stand. In radical empiricism there is no bedding; it is as if the pieces clung together by their edges, the transitions experienced between them forming their cement. Of course such a metaphor is misleading, for in actual experience the more substantive and the more transitive parts run into each other continuously; there is in general no separateness needing to be overcome by an external cement; and whatever separateness is actually experienced is not overcome. I t stays and counts as separateness to the end. But the metaphor serves to symbolize the fact that experience itself, taken at large, can grow by its edges. That one moment of it proliferates into the next by transitions which, whether conjunctive or disjunctive, continue the experiential tissue, cannot, I contend, be denied. Life is in the transitions as much as in the terms connected; often, indeed, it seems to be there more emphatically, as if our spurts and sallies forward were the real firing-line of the battle, were like the thin line of flame advancing across the dry autumnal field which the farmer proceeds to burn. In this line we live prospectively as well as retrospectively. It is ‘of’ the past, inasmuch as it comes expressly as the past’s continuation; it is ‘of’ the future in so far as the future, when it comes, will have continued it."

(From:  William James, "A World of Pure Experience," Essays in Radical Empiricism, p. 42.  See also the chapter, "Experience Grows by its Edges," in the book, Streams of Experience, by John McDermott.  I am grateful to Edward Casey for the references to Stroll, McDermott, and James, as well as for Casey's insightful essay, "Coming to the Edge," which he allowed me to see in manuscript form for purposes of research in relation to this essay."

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