To Live As If The Two Worlds Are One 

Guest post written by ANNE-MARIE STORRS, the author of The Spiritual Consciousness of Carmen Martín Gaite.

Reading Carmen Martín Gaite’s novel Nubosidad variable shortly after it was published in 1992, I was surprised when my reading was interrupted by images and ideas from the analytical psychology of Carl Jung. These appeared particularly in relation to some of the mirror scenes and their link with the Jungian shadow. Although initially reluctant to accept the interruptions, I discovered that Jung’s ideas constitute a very fine tool for analysing and illuminating the work of the Spanish writer. There is a certain irony in this as Martín Gaite was critical of psychiatry in her notebooks and in a number of her novels. In Nubosidad variable, one of the two protagonists is a psychiatrist whose professional approach illustrates the writer’s view that they are paid interlocutors with power over their patients and no real interest in their stories. With regard to Jung, however, I found that his attitudes and practice represented a challenge to Martín Gaite’s perspective on the profession.  He himself was critical of the lack of interest in the individual patient, referring to ‘the richness and importance of [the] inner experience’ of the mentally ill, and he shared with the Spanish writer a real dislike of labelling people, criticising a system in which ‘patients were labelled, rubber-stamped with a diagnosis’.i The two also have in common the belief in the primary importance of the inner world. 

The focus of my book, The Spiritual Consciousness of Carmen Martín Gaite, is the way in which Martín Gaite’s religious perspective, or spiritual consciousness, is revealed in her fiction. Her definition of religion, like Jung’s, does not refer to a creed.ii Instead, in her interview with Maria Vittoria Calvi, the Spanish writer looks back to the source, to religare, which she interprets as volver a atar, to re-connect or bind back, referring to the day-to-day and supernatural worlds.iii  

In addition to Jung, Martín Gaite’s ideas and outlook share an affinity with Joseph Campbell and with the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray.iv  Macmurray described a mature concept of religion as one that would no longer perceive two separate worlds but would live as though they were part of the same reality, which corresponds to Martín Gaite’s perspective. This concept of a mature religion also recalls the description by Jesus in the Christian story of how religion would develop, namely that there would be a shift away from encountering the supernatural in buildings or specific places towards a new expression rooted in the inner self.v  

The two worlds of day-to-day reality and the supernatural can also be described as corresponding to consciousness and the unconscious. Joseph Campbell writes about ‘the lines of communication between the conscious and unconscious zones of the human psyche’ being This separation is reflected in what Jung described as the attitude that ‘consciousness is sense and the unconscious is nonsense’.vii It is this perceived split between the two worlds that Martín Gaite seeks to reconcile, to live as if the two worlds are one, in Macmurray’s definition of a mature religion. In notebooks and narrative Martín Gaite shows that she recognises the hand of the supernatural in those larger, external events that have implications for an entire community and in her belief that nothing happens by chance, that there is meaning in everything. Her perspective is also revealed in her attitude to small, everyday occurrences such as Sofía Montalvo pulling off the handle of a drawer in Nubosidad variable. On one level this might be a source of irritation, but to someone who is aware and attentive it invites interpretation and integration of the perceived meaning within day-to-day life.viii  

In her stories Martín Gaite shows us characters who find meaning in their lives through attentiveness, reflection and the renouncing of the ego determination that refuses to recognise and respond to the interventions of the other world. Wisely, she also offers characters in whom the split between consciousness and the unconscious is profound or for whom the path to meaning is blocked – temporarily or permanently – by the strength of their ego wishes, or by too little attention to their inner world and too great a preoccupation with what others think. This range of responses, which can also be seen as corresponding to the old and new concepts of ‘religion’ referred to above, is reflected in the stories of the five female characters explored in The Spiritual Consciousness of Carmen Martín Gaite, illustrating the consequences of each for the meaning and fulfilment of a life. 

ANNE-MARIE STORRS has a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh (U.K.). This is her second book. 

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