Doing Unspeakable Things On Our Behalf – Pirates as Necessary Psychic Safety Valves


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Been doing some interesting reading around Jungian psycho-analysis. In particular, I was struck by a couple of passages in which he uses the language of ‘blockage’ – which connects with the terminology I have been using to describe piratic acts. In Modern Man in Search of a Soul he writes this:

‘As long as all goes well and psychic energy finds its application in adequate and well-regulated ways, we are disturbed by nothing from within. No uncertainty or doubt besets us, and we cannot be divided against ourselves. But no sooner are one or two of the channels of psychic activity blocked, than we are reminded of a stream that is dammed up. The current flows backwards to its source; the inner man wants something which the visible man does not want, and we are at war with ourselves.’

The language is fluid, nautical almost, and describes the process by which we become aware of what may be in our unconscious only when we encounter ‘uncertainty or doubt.’ It is then that divisions begin to exhibit themselves within us. When things are going well, when we are developing and maturing as we should, then life ‘flows’ smoothly. Yet when we find our psyche ‘blocked’ then we become divided: parts of ourselves become enclosed against other parts, and war begins to rage. Indeed, it is only then that we discover the hidden worlds – the Neverlands and Narnias – within us. What happens then? Jung continues:

‘Freud’s psychoanalytic labours show this process in the clearest way. The very first thing he discovered was the existence of sexually perverse and criminal fantasies which at their face value are wholly incompatible with the conscious outlook of a civilized man. A person who was activated by them would be nothing less than a mutineer.’

A mutineer…

The pirate, according to Jung, is one who has abandoned repression, and is living out the fantasies that they have discovered within themselves.

Two things of interest here, I think.

Firstly: we can see now that pirates are acting as some kind of necessary release valve for the collective unconscious of a highly repressed 18th Century society. And this is why they were hunted down so violently. That pirates were punished so brutally is testament to just how shameful those in power found it when their unconscious desires were acted out. That which they had tried to suppress came out in violent retribution against those who had made their darkness visible.

Secondly: this gives us some clues as to why pirates are still so popular in the playful imagination. In the book I examine closely the pirate themes in JM Barrie’s play Peter Pan, which is really a play about Wendy Darling struggling to leave the nursery and enter womanhood. Her way is currently ‘blocked’ by the presence of her father…how will she find release? The good news is that Wendy does not need to become a mutineer, a pirate, herself, for to do this she would be activating the wild unconscious desires within her thoughts in an horrific and unhelpful way. What she does instead is enter the fantasy world of Neverland where she can engage pirates to begin the unblocking work that needs doing, but in a controlled and safe way, through play.

And this, I argue in the book, is why we still love pirates. They allow us to begin the difficult work of unblocking our psyche. Rather than having to become real pirates – with all the violence of a life that refuses to repress any desires – we engage pirates in role-play, in the theatre, in films, and thus, in a more gentle way, by proxy, can start to deal with complex internal struggles.

Pretty much getting to the end of second draft… so should be publishing by the summer…


One response to “Doing Unspeakable Things On Our Behalf – Pirates as Necessary Psychic Safety Valves”

  1. Really excited to read the long form version of all the thoughts that you have been sharing. This post reminds me of something I lifted from Peter Rollins’ Insurrection referring to some of Pádraig Ô Tuama’s work. I think the quote is from the end of the book but don’t have it with me:

    “[T]he church should be like the singer-songwriter we might listen to
    when we are working through a difficult situation. They sing their
    sorrowful song, and, in doing so, we confront our own suffering in a
    way that is painful without being overpowering. As we sit there and
    listen to the music, we are invited to work through our pain, engage
    in the act of mourning, and find strength in the midst of our
    weakness. Then when we leave, we are in a better state than when we