Steve Gronert Ellerhoff, Post-Jungian Psychology and the Short Stories of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut (Routledge, 2016) Buy here
University College Cork
Steve Gronert Ellerhoff’s incisive exploration of the short fiction of Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury opens with the fictive millionaire Eliot Rosewater’s expression of adulation for science fiction writers, whom he characterises as “the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die […]” (qtd. in Ellerhoff 1). Appropriating this evocation of the mythic power of science fiction as a thematically resonant epigraph, Ellerhoff alludes to the potential of science fiction to transcend the representational constraints of realism. He emphasises the genre’s unique capacity to transform ephemeral concepts into “concrete metonyms” and give narrative form to abstract ideas (Seed 2). The tropes and conventions of science fiction embody the broader complexities of human existence and thus, Ellerhoff maintains, serve a psychological and cultural function akin to that of myth, which stands as “the fundamental language through which [humanity] relates to life’s mystery and fashions meaning from […] experiences” (Kalsched and Jones). Ellerhoff constructs science fiction as a symbolically potent genre whose profusion of recurring narrative patterns and archetypal images function as Space-Age manifestations of the myths defined by C.G. Jung as “original revelations of the preconscious psyche […]” (qtd. in Ellerhoff 5). It is this unique conceit that functions as the analytical nucleus of Ellerhoff’s research, as his revolutionary new book, Golden Apples of the Monkey House, explores the science fiction stories of Bradbury and Vonnegut through the lens of post-Jungian psychology. In doing so, Ellerhoff constructs an engaging and highly original framework upon which to build an archetypal theory of the short story.
The first chapter of the book confidently outlines Ellerhoff’s pioneering hypothesis, establishing a theoretical paradigm which the author terms a “post-Jungian mythodology”. Deftly interwoven into his literary analysis, this mythodology is defined as a mode of literary analysis based upon the theories of Carl Jung as they were expanded upon and reimagined over the course of the twentieth century. The book focuses primarily on short stories written by Bradbury and Vonnegut between 1943 and 1968, with particular emphasis on works produced between the denouement of the Second World War and the collective national trauma of the Kennedy Assassination. This complex, albeit superficially placid era, before the ascendancy of television, constituted what Ellerhoff describes as the golden era of magazine publication and he carefully contextualises these works within an epoch when printed periodicals dominated the cultural landscape. As the primary mode of popular expression during the post-war years, the stories that appeared in mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and Colliers, as well as those printed in pulps like Thrilling Wonder Stories, emerged as new myths for a new world. Ellerhoff argues that within the corpus of modern literary production, short stories are perhaps the closest analogues to myth; for, while novels exist as constellations of numerous, variegated metaphors, stories can “single out and distill one with great precision” (16). Foregrounding the Jungian notion of archetypes, “patterns which recur in widely varying cultures separated by an immensity of both distance and time”, Golden Apples of the Monkey House elucidates how patterns existing within the post-war short story echo archetypes that span the history of human consciousness while simultaneously embodying the unique concerns of their time (Kalsched and Jones). Drawing on the work of theorists such as James Hillman and Joseph Campbell, Ellerhoff adumbrates a variety of post-Jungian approaches to myth and meaning. In doing so, he posits that the profusion of post-war scholarship centred on mythology was a reflection of a nation reconfiguring its own foundational myths following the upheaval of World War II. Ellerhoff thus illustrates how the short fiction of Bradbury and Vonnegut emerged from a unique socio-cultural moment when enduring mythological structures and archetypal images were being drastically reimagined for a new age.
Drawing upon the mythodolgy established in the opening section of the study, Chapter Two interrogates America’s conceptualisation of its role in World War II as an idealistic mythology, unravelling the mid-century metanarratives of consensus, heroism and the “collective notion of normalcy” (Ellerhoff 40). Here Ellerhoff argues that the post-war ideal of the heroic soldier stoically following orders, upholding morality, and emerging unscathed from the horrors of war is an inaccurate, damaging fantasy that erases the trauma and moral complexity of the combat experience. Establishing the work of Kurt Vonnegut as a sardonic counterpoint to this idealistic vision of war, this chapter explicates how his stories utilise the science fiction genre to explore the dark realities of war, abandoning realism for the fantastic in a mode of speculative writing that allows for a symbolic and, ultimately, cathartic engagement with the wartime experience. As Ellerhoff notes, “From a post-Jungian standpoint, the fantastic events, settings and, devices in Vonnegut’s war stories are born of conscious engagement with the unreal [mythology of wartime heroism]” (41). Stories such as “Report on the Barnhouse Effect”, “All the King’s Men” and “Great Day” reconfigure familiar science fiction tropes into fantastic deconstructions of the mythology of heroic, moral war. Further exploring how fiction responds symbolically to the broader cultural climate, the third chapter of Ellerhoff’s study expands upon the theories posited in the previous chapter by exploring how Vonnegut interrogates another key mythology of the post-war period: the reconfiguration of America’s foundational promises of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to rationalise the culture of consensus and conformity that emerged following World War II. Analysing a range of stories, including “Harrison Bergeron”, “The Big Trip Up Yonder”, and the complex, controversial piece “Welcome to the Monkey House”, Ellerhoff postulates that these texts define the vision of freedom and fulfilment marketed to post-war consumers as illusory, exclusionary and unstable. In doing so, he explicates how the science fiction mythology established in these works embodies how mid-century Americans engaged with the cultural narratives that defined parameters of their lived experience.
Comprising the second half of Golden Apples of the Monkey House, Chapters Four and Five focus on the writing of Ray Bradbury. These chapters establish a thematic parallel between Vonnegut’s and Bradbury’s work as Ellerhoff explores how Bradbury utilises science fiction tropes to engage with America’s shifting post-war mythologies. Chapter Four is centred on Bradbury’s interrogation of the avatar of post-World War II prosperity and placidity: the “mythologically labelled nuclear family” (Ellerhoff 111). Bradbury’s work frequently explores the complexity of family dynamics, a representational strategy which eschews a monolithic, all-encompassing conception of the American family and, as such, does not reduce an “an archetype, which exists in valence, to dogma” (Ellerhoff 111). Instead, stories such as “The Scythe”, “The Small Assassin” and “The Veldt” illuminate the multifaceted nature of the family archetype, unravelling the complex ideology of the family unit and giving form to its myriad, diffuse configurations. Adroitly situating these stories within the broader framework of post-Jungian mythology, Ellerhoff argues that these seemingly intimate tales of familial horror are indicative of wider socio-cultural concerns as, according to Jungian psychology, “the individual experiences the life of the collective within” (qtd. in Ellerhoff 117). Deeply personal nightmares thus function as manifestations of larger cultural anxieties. They embody the creeping trepidation experienced by a society rebuilding itself after the trauma of war, constructing an ostensible utopia in which an idealistic conception of family would form the bedrock of a new world order and for whom the corruption of the family reflected the corruption of the nation.
Further expounding upon this conception of the post-war period as a transformative epoch, Chapter Five explores how the mid-century transformation of technology, politics and society was coterminous with the radical recalibration of America’s cultural mythology. The apotheosis of this interlocking cultural and psychological transformation being most evident in how the technological advancements of the dawning Space Age necessitated the construction of a new American identity. As Ellerhoff writes, “Americans had to accept a new myth about themselves, as being a space-faring people, in order for it to actually happen” (149). Myth is thus revealed as possessing a fundamentally reciprocal nature: humans construct mythologies to explain the world, yet we are also defined by the mythologies we create. Bradbury explores the dual nature of myth as both creation and creator through a number of works that engage with mythological and archetypal manifestations of space in general and the sun in particular. In Jungian and post-Jungian psychology the sun represents the “ultimate wholeness of man” (qtd in Ellerhoff 149). In Bradbury’s work the unique socio-cultural exigencies of the Space Age witnessed the metamorphosis of this symbol of personal wholeness into a symbolic manifestation of a culture striving towards its own apotheosis. In a series heliocentric tales, including “The Rocket Man”, “Death-By-Rain” and “Golden Apples of the Sun” Bradbury contemplates the position of the sun, a numinous celestial entity, in an age de-mythologised by technological progress. Nevertheless, in these works, centred though they are on technologically-resplendent images of space travel, the sun continues to be valorised as the embodiment of rebirth, a symbol of transformation in an age of transformation.
Ellerhoff convincingly demonstrates that the short stories of Bradbury and Vonnegut are significant mythic narratives, fictive articulations of “our dark and bright potentials, collective and individual” (185). These texts reconfigure perennial human mythologies, reimagining their archetypes in the rich symbolic language of science fiction. As Ellerhoff maintains, “[a] post-Jungian approach, with its theoretical basis rooted in the appraisal of dreams and fantasies, yokes well with the criticism of short fiction, particularly for […] those stories presenting fantastical elements.” (186). Golden Apples of the Monkey House is therefore revolutionary in its positioning of post-Jungian psychology as an analytical framework through which we can unravel the symbolic complexities of these stories and identify how their more overtly fantastic elements serve to articulate the dreams and anxieties of post-war America.
The first full-length study of Vonnegut’s short fiction and a welcome addition to the meagre field of Bradbury scholarship, Golden Apples of the Monkey House is a major contribution to the disciplines of Jungian and post-Jungian psychology, as well as an invaluable addition to existing literary scholarship on science fiction and the short story. Emphasising the fundamentally archetypal nature of these fantastic tales, Ellerhoff constructs the short fiction of Bradbury and Vonnegut as twentieth-century mythologies: universal, primordial images couched in the iconography of the Space Age. Ellerhoff’s fascinating post-Jungian analysis of these stories not only situates these texts within the broader theoretical framework of archetypal psychology, but he also carefully contextualises them within the unique historical moment of post-war America. Golden Apples of the Monkey House explores the various political and cultural discourses inflecting these stories while also placing the works within the wider context of post-war print culture. The analysis of the texts is thus supplemented by examples of the original artwork that accompanied them in their initial periodical incarnations. The artwork featured in popular mid-century magazines was not, Ellerhoff observes, incidental to the stories they illustrated, but existed as part of a symbiotic relationship between word and image that informed how these stories were understood by contemporary readers. Similarly, the most intriguing facet of Ellerhoff’s contextualisation is his discussion of the advertisements that littered the pages of post-war magazines, often halting or interrupting a story at unexpected moments. This analytical strategy is particularly effective as the juxtaposition of literary and commercial art highlights, often with a twinge of irony, the convergence of fictional and corporate expressions of the dreams and aspirations that enflamed the mid-century American imagination. Although a deeper comparative analysis of Bradbury’s and Vonnegut’s work would have greatly enriched the study by offering a more detailed exploration of the aesthetic, thematic and symbolic parallels between these authors, Ellerhoff’s hypothesis is engaging and truly original. An ambitious and innovative piece of scholarship, Golden Apples of the Monkey House demonstrates that science fiction authors like Bradbury and Vonnegut were indeed “the only ones zany enough to agonize […] over mysteries that will never die”, and that, in doing so, they harnessed the symbolic power of fantasy to address the unique concerns of a complex historical era (Vonnegut qtd. in Ellerhoff 1). Ultimately, Golden Apples of the Monkey House affirms that the writings of Bradbury and Vonnegut are nothing if not myths reconfigured for an age in which the stars were no longer simply, as Jung maintained, celestial symbols of the self, but had also become destinations in humanity’s cosmic journey.
Kalsched, Donald and Alan Jones. ” Myth and Psyche: The Evolution of Consciousness.” A List Apart: For People Who Make Websites. C.G. Jung Foundation for Analytical Psychology. Web. 20 May 2016.
Seed, David. American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film. Chicago: Dearborn, 2006. Print.