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Dreams, Death, and Psychology in FFX

This is an edited repost of a topic I first posted on the AFF forums (2/24/06) which got deleted during their routine cleaning.

I was reading James Hillman's Dream and the Underworld, which is about the relationship between dreams, soul/psyche, and death. Heavy stuff, even for someone in his field. I was just thinking how Final Fantasy X illustrates, mythically, the points he's trying to make with argument, discussion, and talking-about-the-subject in an academic way.

Let me toss out some ideas which only a few of you will find interesting.

First, myth and symbol. In modern life, we tend to try and analyze, dissect, and rationalize the world, and anything that doesn't fit in math, science, and nice neat equations and laundry lists gets tossed aside as irrelevent. But there is a big pile of stuff -- personal experience, emotions, the supernatural, the wonderful, the terrifying -- which is not material, physical, or logical, any more than the part of you that is "you" can be defined, analyzed, and broken down into its molecules. That stuff-- the emotional, the psychic, the experiential -- can't be explained literally. Instead, it works through symbols (images and poetic concepts that mean more than they are), and through myths (stories that don't make rational, logical sense, but which stick with us, which feel "true" in some poetic and emotional way we can't put our finger on, can't pin down).

Final Fantasy by its very name is engaged in that world of myth. The "finality" is an interesting concept. The word "final" comes from the Latin word finis, for boundary, not just end. Fantasy ("imagism" in Greek, related to words for showing, light, imagination, images, seeing, and speaking) crosses that boundary.

The linear storyline of FFX drives people bonkers, but if you look at it as a story, as a fantasy, as a dream, it's fascinating.

Set aside the whole storyline of a rotten and corrupt religion, which is a thoughtful story too.

At the heart of this story is a very big paradox: pyreflies.

They can show you dreams and memories, the residue of the unconscious, all that stuff in your soul which can't be defined, touched, analyzed, or dissected in our world. They make the invisible, the indescribable, the intangible, quite visible, and even (in the case of Zanarkand and Tidus) alive. Dreams walk, speak, and have autonomy. Jung would have a field day with that, since after many years of studying psychology he came to the astonishing conclusion that there are parts of us that our conscious, ego-based center is NOT in control of... feelings, intuitions, dreams... which are, essentially, other entities inside of us, or beyond us.

Behavioral psychologists think Jung was off his rocker, but obviously I've found some value in what he says. Have you ever had a story write itself, as if you were taking dictation? Who the heck is writing it? What draws us to certain characters in fiction and compels us to make icons of them (in every sense of the word)? That's not our rational, conscious mind deciding to be Auron-obsessed.

Back to Hillman. Hillman is pointing out that in the mythology of Greece, India, and many places, death and dream are brothers, both born of the underworld. He's tired of people using dreams as tools to solve problems, predict the future, or tell us about ourselves: he's tired of using them as Rorschach tests. Like Jung, he says that dreams are dreams, and they have their own life. But here's the part I'm having trouble figuring out, in this book I'm reading. He's talking about how they are like death. He talks about how the very concept of soul, of being alive, is so intimately connected with death and not-being, yet we shy away from that. He talks about how death is the path we're all headed towards. He talks about how in mythical conceptions of the afterlife, what survives in death is this psyche, this soul, this image which comes out to play in our lives in dreams. That in descriptions of the afterworld, the souls of the dead are described as moving and acting like people in dreams... they are the same exact thing.

I don't know if I buy all this literally, and with James Hillman, one should never take him literally. Rather, I take his idea mythically. I'm still tasting it and trying to understand it. But at any rate, he's arguing that the dreams and the souls of the dead are very akin.

In Final Fantasy, the pyreflies do two things.

They make dreams and memories visible and tangible.
They make the souls of the dead, the Unsent, visible and tangible.
In the Farplane in Guadosalam, these two concepts appear to fuse. Rikku argues the images seen there are generated from our own dreams and memories. Or are they the autonomous spirits of the dead given temporary existence in the living world again? Or are they both?

Both the dreams and the spirits of the dead bite back, in Spira. Both teach us. Both walk and breathe and love and live with us, even though they don't really belong with us.

And at the end of the story, we have to let go both of the dead (the unsent, the Fayth), AND dreams.

What does it mean to banish both the dead -- which one really assumes don't belong with us -- and dreams? What is left when we say that dreams are dead? What is left when we dismiss both dream and death from life?

I don't know, but I find it extremely telling that the party members consist both of a dream-person, and a dead soul.

That is really an amazing thing that Square did, with the characters of Auron and Tidus. Beyond the bad voice acting, monster whumping, and the archetypes of the Young Hero and the Wise Old Samurai, we've got death and dream...the brothers... born of the underworld, Sin.

I can't believe that Square managed to hit on all that by accident. Except that myths keep popping up of their own accord, from somewhere down deep in our psychology, the breeding ground of dreams, stories, and myths.

Also, if this sort of thing interests you and you missed my earlier post, check out my quick explanation of What the Heck is an Archetype?



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 27th, 2006 04:27 pm (UTC)
Narny narny nar
This makes me squeak a little with complete joy. I really... don't know if I have the capacity to comment because I'm so uneducated it hurts, but I'll try, okay? Yes. I'll try even though it's making my mind a little bendy.

I'm going to address your point of when a story starts to write itself, because I don't feel I know enough to really comment on anything else.

I never used to believe authors when I'd read an article in which they said something to the effect of "... and she just decided she wasn't going to die where I'd planned it and merrily threw a wrench in my outline and kept on living." I didn't believe people who said that their writing took on a life of its own and would start to do things, or that characters would make decisions without consulting them.

Clearly I wasn't writing enough. Or my characters simply weren't developed enough. Since I've come back to writing after almost a year away from it and several several years away from the world of fanfic, I find that my characters are (as ringprincess put it to me a few days ago) "breaking the fourth wall" so to speak.

They're making choices and doing things and I feel like I'm just sorta acting as the court reporter, recording everything they do and say and not putting my bias in at all. Okay maybe a LITTLE. ;)

I find your references to this Hillman guy interesting, that he talks about dreams as if they are their own people, sorta doing their own things and going throughout their own lives, and maybe our minds brush theirs for a few seconds each night. At least, that's what... I think of, when you write about him and his ideas.

Oh god, I totally can't remember where this comes from, but it was some maybe... exestensialist? maybe? belief that the world was operating on many different planes and when you lit a fire it didn't ignite because match hit sandpaper, bit it ignited because on another plane fire was coming into existance at that very moment. God, I wish I could remember where that's from.

I have no idea why this makes sense, but it does. Maybe it doesn't to you.

Anyway! I tried! XD
Apr. 27th, 2006 04:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Narny narny nar
Oh, that's a beautiful image!

You got it. You got what I was trying to say. More importantly, you got some of what Hillman was trying to say, and he's even harder to grasp than Jung.

I switched from a plodding and traditional academic, classical scholarship department to a program that studies myth from the angle of psychology, and this is the sort of stuff I'm playing with now. Totally useless, and very... soul-deep. :)
Apr. 27th, 2006 10:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Narny narny nar
First, have you read The Sandman by Neil Gaiman? If not, I think you would get a good deal of fodder from that series. Death and Dream are siblings there, though not brothers.

Second. I am glad you brought this up. I have fun with these things.

So. I don't like when creators renounce their creations with phrases like "it wrote itself" or "it just came to me". I encounter it most often with females and I wonder if it is perhaps some mutated form of feminine modesty. No, you created it. You wrote it. Your synapses, experiences, knowledge and aesthetics sparked and connected and you crafted the creation. You chose each brush stroke, each word, each note or whatever bricks you lay and you made it.

At best, this type of thinking is a fun sort of magical whimsy. At worst, it can absolve personal responsibility, and that's no good.

Now, I feel and believe in my characters. I ache when they ache and laugh when they do. I believe that they are as nuanced and experienced as myself. They even surprise me. But to accept the idea that you are simply "channeling divinity" rather than becoming more skilled through practice is, I believe, your choice and not something I choose to believe.

Consciousness thought isn't something that can be measured or faithfully transferred. We have markers like heart rate and brain wave patterns, but our thoughts and dreams are ultimately evasive. Does a rock have thoughts? We can only rely on our human-centric markers, and it says no. However, humans aren't anything more than a complex system of chemistries and atoms that we recognize as sentient life. And a rock is also chemistry and atoms.
There are your dreams.

And death is a redistribution of those chemistries and atoms. Our human-centric markers signal "death, absence of life". Matter can't be destroyed so it is only redistributed. We are still there, but we lack the container and the measuring stick. I don't follow a religion and I don't believe ghosts are anything more than a manifestation of our imaginations. But I don't see such a thick line between death and life and I don't believe existence ceases at death. Simply put, we will probably return to the plants and animals that kept us "alive", of course. It's the great uniter, of course.

Wait, weren't we talking about a game? Hah. I believe FFX is a good story. In some ways, the world is actually a bit more logical than ours, as dreams and thoughts and deaths can be easily tracked through those weird little pyreflies. In other ways, it is completely full of holes. That makes a fertile bed for fanfic. :)

I actually think we do choose the characters that fascinate us the most. Like I mentioned before, all of our paths of experience and knowledge and aesthetics lead up to choices/preferences (and into each other as well), so it's not so easily traceable. We relate, we admire, we lust. The archetypes come into play and archetypes, are something of a reflection of the structure of human-society, as you said. You may not be aware of the choice until you have chosen, but in many cases, you can un-choose it the moment you are aware.

I think I've broken my record on comment length. So...time to end this silly little philosophic wank. I really should clean up after myself, but eh. :) Don't mind me. (But you really ought to check out The Sandman, if you haven't.)
Apr. 28th, 2006 12:53 am (UTC)
Re: Narny narny nar
"And there is Death."

"Dream, you are the most pathetic excuse for an anthropomorphic incarnation on this or any other plane of existence!" *bip*

Ah, Sandman was absolutely a living, breathing part of my college environment, and Death and Dream from the magnificent first family gathering adorned my dorm room door.

I have the issues up until the Kindly Ones, but unfortunately the artwork in that series was not my cup of tea, I knew it was going to a very dark place after the death of Orpheus, and I never did read anything with Daniel.

When you say "we do choose the characters that fascinate us most", you are speaking of "we" as if we were all conscious. We're not. There's a tiny part that's running through our minds, like the part of a computer that is presently on your computer screen. But there is a much larger portion of our psyche of which we are not consciously aware. That's where memories, dreams, wants, needs, hopes, fears, traumas, urges, and a great deal of "us" is determined. The ego -- the part that says "I", the part that can add and subtract, the part that says "I will take the Kung Pao chicken" is being dictated to by that farther-down layer of which you are not consciously aware.

It is you. And yet it isn't. You don't control it, in the sense that you don't know what's going on down there. Rikku gives a classic example. She actually remembers the incident that caused her to be afraid of lightning, and can trace her fear back to a specific moment. But there is a great deal more of us like that, and we usually don't remember or don't identify the experiences that have coalesced down in our unconscious into complexes which in turn may give us fear of lightning, or make us gravitate towards pro wrestling, or prefer Rikku to Lulu or vice versa.

The idea of depth psychology is to respect the fact that the ego, the decision-making conscious part of the mind, is like a boat floating on the surface of the sea, and there is a huge amount below the sea which the ego isn't controlling, isn't aware of, and can't do anything about until it "breaks the surface". To some extent, psychoanalysis, dream interpretation, and the creative process ("active imagination") may help you become aware of what's down there, and then, yes, you may be able to dictate or shape it, but it's still rather autonomous.

There is also the question of whether we have just one "self". Sure, there's the one in charge, but a lot of psychological studies show that there is a wide range between total multiple personality, where all those urges, experiences, and complexes have shattered into conscious entities that aren't aware of one another, and a monotone, flat, unified person with no other selves that have goals, wishes, and urges slightly contradictory to one another.

And gah, I'm not explaining any of this very well but I just had a loooong day of work and my brain is fried, sorry. :)
Apr. 28th, 2006 02:23 am (UTC)
Re: Narny narny nar
When you say "we do choose the characters that fascinate us most", you are speaking of "we" as if we were all conscious.

I suppose I should have said, choice does play a role, rather than simply "we do choose", though my main point in that bit was that we can un-choose.

Our preferences are determined by previous and present circumstance and previous and present conscious choice. While I agree we might not be always be able to easily trace the workings when we are drawn to a choice, we are not helpless to them either. Introspection and self-honesty can help us see the route, however.

I do believe only part of us is conscious, and I believe it is shaped by our conscious actions and conscious reactions to circumstances. The parts that aren't conscious contribute to my conscious mind as much as my skeleton. And in fact, my bones are one of my unconscious bits. They don't speak to me, but I rely on them (in part, let's not forget about muscles and such!) to get me around. If they weren't there anymore, it would be weird and hence my conscious mind would be changed by that. There's no need to mystify it and I think doing so can actually be harmful.

I don't believe in the id/superego/ego model. Hence, we may be at an impasse due to differing beliefs. I simply don't believe in psychoanalysis, so those rules don't really mean much to me. But that's alright.

But speaking of psychology! Maybe this falls under social behavoirists, but I learned about this fellow under the heading of psychology...would you happen to know name of the person who had the theory that children learned to interpret their environment by categorizing things? Such as, child sees animal with four legs and it is a cat. All four legged animals are cats, until something new is presented to further narrow the categories. I have lost his name twice, and it's not an easy thing to google.

Brain fry empathy. :)

Hmm...Livejournal keeps telling me "cannot reply to a nonexistent comment". It's done this before when I've tried to reply to your comments. I'll try again. Have you been getting multiple notifications to replies I make on your journal? I've had a few from you have have been inexplicably broken up over several notifications, and it doesn't seem to be happening with other people.
Apr. 28th, 2006 03:32 am (UTC)
Re: Narny narny nar
Sorry, that's my fault.

I really need to start editing and proofing my comments in a word processor instead of posting them. I have a bad habit of posting, reviewing what I've written, seeing things in need of tweaking, rewriting, deleting, reposting... oh, for an edit button!!!

I will try and restrain myself a bit more, as I know you're not the only one who's been tripped by my bad habit of fiddling. I should just SAY it, and once it's posted, LEAVE it. :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
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