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Review of Peter Kingsley’s CATAFALQUE

by Terence Blake

(1) A Contrary Review

I discovered the existence of Kingsley's CATAFALQUE by accident, or, if you will, by
I was thinking about the relation between Gilles Deleuze and Carl Jung, when I came
across references to Kingsley and his new book.
For me the relation between the movements of thought expressed in Deleuze’s LOGIC
obvious. DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION also participates in that movement, but it is
a conservative synthesis, too structuralist and too Freudian.
Peter Kingsley interests me because of the primacy he gives to THE RED BOOK, but he
is no pluralist. He self-identifies as the Contrary, an archetypal figure for North American
Indians of all tribes. Supposedly when they see him Indians immediately recognise him as
a Contrary, a Trickster figure who upsets and inverts established perspectives.
I have never met him, but on his videos he looks a rather toned down, diluted exemplar of
the Contrary. He seems to frequent mainly classicists, "spiritual" guides and seekers, and
established Jungians, so maybe his threshold for being Contrary is rather low.
In my preferred domain of thinking, Paul Feyerabend, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari,
James Hillman, Jean-François Lyotard, François Laruelle, Bruno Latour, Slavoj Zizek,
Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, Kenneth White, Steve Fuller and Babette Babich all
incarnate the Contrary quite effectively, without fanfare. The Contrary is not a club but an
open and multiple cluster.
So I wanted to read Peter Kingsley's book for the experiences, the images and the affects,
the dreams and the visions, the doubts and the guesses, and not for his certitudes and his
opinions about his special status. Unfortunately, it is the latter that come to dominate in
the initially sympathetic reader’s impressions.
Peter Kingsley begins CATAFALQUE with the Eranos Lectures, and the figures of Jung
and Corbin. He quotes Corbin as lauding the atmosphere of "absolute spiritual freedom"
and the goal "to be themselves, to be true" that prevailed in these meetings.
However, Kingsley glides quickly from truth as "being true" to Truth as "timeless and
sacred realities", from existential truth to ontological Truth. No wonder he condemns
James Hillman as "missing what is essential". Hillman, like Deleuze, is a pluralist. They
are very wary of monist "essences".
My attraction to the book is its fidelity to the Jung of THE RED BOOK, which incarnates
a schizo-process close to what Deleuze and Guattari discuss, it recounts an encounter with
madness. For me Deleuze is totally a Jungian, but he tried to hide it in DIFFERENCE
AND REPETITION and needed Guattari to come out.
I am quite in favour of Kingsley's approach to the Pre-Socratics, in particular Parmenides
and Empedocles, as embodying a "wild" mystical experience and thought outside of the
Platonic grid, but I don't think he is alone in seeing them along these lines (cf. Nietzsche,
Jung, Deleuze, Feyerabend, Hillman, Heidegger).
(Note: I am puzzled - why is there no inclusion of Heraclitus?)
Kingsley's critique of the Jung establishment as apotropaic of Jung's experience is well-
taken, but others such as James Hillman in English and Étienne Perrot in French have
made similar, and quite virulent critiques. However Kingsley trashes Hillman (and also
Pierre Hadot) in the name of some self-proclaimed deeper, wilder uniqueness.
Original scholarship, personal experience, and a contrary attitude can get you pretty far,
but they are not enough, they are not proof. They can hold you captive you inside a self-
validating circle. Anecdotal external validation by North American Indian medicine men
and women who haven't even read your work can at best confirm your "being true", not
your saying Truth.
The problem with Kingsley self-identifying as a Contrary is that he is not reflexively so.
He is a good Contrary to others, but not to himself. He is no self-contrary, so he remains
in the domain of certitude. His Contrary is thus entwined with the archetype of the Wise
Old Man, and guru-dom ensues. I will try to separate them.
Is this "inflation"? I don't think so. This category is impractical and reductive as usually
applied. Strictly it means "too influenced by the archetype for your own good". Inflation
is not a question of absolute prohibition but of dosage, and should be seen positively as an
alchemical operation that can be useful or required.
I will be reading CATAFALQUE not for its "teachings" about an absolute reality, but for
its account of Kingsley's alchemical operations and experiences.
(2) The War between Spirit and Brain
In a note (v 2, p 483) of CATAFALQUE Peter Kingsley pours scorn on Nietzsche,
Heidegger, Steiner, and Aurobindo for their supposed "fantasies" and "clumsy
misunderstandings" of Parmenides' poetic language and style. He repudiates in particular
Aurobindo's talk of Heraclitus's "logos doctrine".
Strangely, Kingsley's conclusion (spiritual intuition and insights however deep are not
enough to uproot the "prejudices and collective misunderstandings embedded in the
human brain") rings true, but he does not see that it applies to himself as well.
On this interpretation, some of Kingsley's own most closely held beliefs are coming from
his brain. This purported war between the spirit and the brain could lead to a strange
hermeneutic principle of demarcation - between spiritual insight and brain engrams.
Unlike Deleuze and Hillman, who are more Heraclitean, Peter Kingsley is Parmenidean.
This need not be an absolute division. Feyerabend is very pragmatic about these things.
He treats both as methodological heuristics, to be used as required.
Thus, while he himself is more Heraclitean (and, beyond that, Homeric) Feyerabend
praises Einstein for using a Parmenidean hypothesis (block universe) in a fruitful way.
If we treat Kingsley's idea of an absolute timeless Reality as a heuristic hypothesis we can
examine its fruitfulness.
1) In the domain of classical scholarship it has allowed Kingsley to shed new light on the
2) In the scientific domain it has been less fruitful. Praising Empedocles for taking seeds
from the Absolute Reality, such as the doctrine of the four elements, to inaugurate our
culture is to confuse potency with truth.
If Peter Kingsley had found that previously incomprehensible fragments of Empedocles
actually contained a formula for uniting general relativity and quantum physics, that
would be a powerful argument for his transcending his time through contact with Truth.
Unfortunately, Empedocles' four elements theory turned out to be a dead end.
3) In the domain of psychological reality, Peter Kingsley takes into account the personal
equation of other interpreters. For example, he condemns the interpretations of Jung
promulgated by his "narcissistic", "inflated", "extravert disciples" (646-647). He does not
relativize his own views by way of his own equation.
Jung himself is both Heraclitean and Parmenidean. There is what Hillman calls his flux of
"psychological creativity" and there is the fixist doctrine of archetypes.
4) In the domain of theory, Kingsley's interpretative hypothesis does not allow him to see
the works of Paul Feyerabend, Gilles Deleuze, and James Hillman as creative
continuations and transformations of Jung's work. It blinds him to some of the most vital
contributions of this time to the sort of pluralism that was at the core of Jung’s experience
and ideas.
(3) Epistemological Slippage
In this review I am in the process of subtracting Peter Kingsley's dogmatic elements and
of immanentising him (no doubt against his grain).
A first line of entry into examining Kingsley's attempt to inherit Jung is epistemological.
Jung was very clear on this point, the importance of epistemology, as marking the major
disparity between his own approach and that of Freud :
"when he had thought something, then it was settled, while I was doubting all
along the line. It was impossible to discuss something really à fond...He had no
philosophical education...I was studying Kant, I was steeped in it, and that was
far from Freud".

(Quoted from this interview).

I think that Peter Kingsley sees Jung's life and work through pre-Kantian spectacles and
so fails to inherit or illuminate his thought correctly. Similar looking experiences can be
very different if we consider the epistemological mode as part of the experience.
Transposing the experience of his chosen inspiring figures into his own mode of thought
Kingsley is led to a certain number of epistemological slippages that serve to validate his
affirmations beyond what his experience actually warrants.
1) Kingsley slides from thinkers (like Corbin) being true to their propositions being True.
2) Kingsley slides from what philosophers (like Empedocles and Parmenides) say they are
doing to endorsing that they are in fact doing that.
3) He slides from what philosophers (like Empedocles) say to what Kingsley himself
This slippage allows a conflation of the subject of the act of enunciation and the subject of
the enunciated content.
This conflation of subjects creates the appearance of presenting an unmediated content,
that is somehow self-enunciating and so self-validating (if you conflate yourself with the
"right" subjects). The unmediated content is presented as raw experience. This form of
naive empiricism merges with solipsism, and ultimately with a solipsism of the present
moment (as Bertrand Russell pointed out).
Dialogue in this case is not necessary, and certainly not critical discussion. The main goal
is to get the "right" experiences and then use them to interpret everything else. Insofar as
Kingsley is true to his experiences he is an inspiring talker and stimulating thinker. He is
not the vehicle of a pure and undiluted Truth.
Money is an unspoken pre-condition for this search for the right experience. Few people
today can afford to lie down in a dark and quiet place for days on end, to "incubate" this
experience. Jung emphasises that his "Red Book" experiences came to him while he was
working as an analyst and supporting a family. Kantian critique is essential under these
(4): Deleuzian aspects
My review of Peter Kingsley's CATAFALQUE so far brings out the negative aspect of my
reading experience, but I hope to get to my more positive reactions.
One approach to what is positive in the book's overall perspective would be to envision it
in terms of its radical empiricism and of its uncompromising rejection of the rationalist
tradition. To bring this out we can usefully compare Kingsley's CATAFALQUE to
Deleuze's oeuvre. A "Deleuzian" aspect is present in this book, even if it is skewed, as we
have seen, by Kinsley's dogmatic image of thought.
We can see the Deleuzian aspect in
1) Kingsley's commitment to experience over doxa, and to a wider range of experience
2) his anti-Platonism
3) his fidelity to an underground tradition stretching from the pre-Socratics to Jung
4) his critique of the orthodox Jungian analysts, of their adulteration or betrayal of Jung's
experience and message
5) his "magical" language and incantatory style
6) his appeal to dreams and visions, to altered states of consciousness and to techniques
such as incubation for reaching them
7) his emphasis on individuation as de-personalisation, dis-egoisation, the escape from a
psychological theory and experience centered on the ego. 
(5) Prophet and Scholar
It is difficult to get an idea of the text's content and style, the reviews I have seen do not
quote much, and are mainly dithyrambic, praising both Kingsley's authenticity and his
To get an idea of his prose, you can hear a sample chapter being read here.
This is a great reading of a powerful text. However, I am ambivalent about Kingsley's
approach. There is too much certitude in his manner. As stated in a previous post, Jung
affirmed in his last interview that the major difference between his own approach and
Freud's was that when Freud thought he "knew" something he was certain of it, whereas
Jung felt he was always full of doubts.
In other words, in relation to psychic experience, Freud was a metaphysician and Jung
was a phenomenologist. Kingsley rightly critiques the widespread adulteration of Jung's
testimony of psychic reality to make it fit into secular consensus "reality".
However, rather than sticking to the phenomena Kingsley re-metaphysicises experience
and talks about attaining "absolute" reality.
In short, I am enchanted by Kingsley's narrative, I share his critique of the domestication
of Jung's message, I am inspired by his experience, but I reject his certainty.
Kingsley is an uneasy hybrid between Prophet and Scholar, and the one fecundates the
other and vice versa, but sometimes they sterilise each other. The second volume is 350
pages long, and is composed exclusively of footnotes. This demonstrates an impressive
amount of scholarly work, but sometimes the prophet superposes himself on the scholar
and scorn replaces justice (cf. Kingsley's disparaging remarks on Hillman, Nietzsche,
Edinger, etc.).
(6) Back to Zarathustra
In his CATAFALQUE Peter Kingsley seems to be writing from a state of inflation, which
expresses itself in a form of shamanistic reductionism that is just as bad as the scientism
he supposedly combats.
I can only suggest that one read volume one alone first, as Kingsley's footnotes (printed in
volume 2) contain much that is irritating and unfair. I am surprised to see how many
people take Kingsley at his word in his own self-evaluation. People praise his scholarship
as exhibited in volume 2, but it is far from objective or accurate from the very first page
of v2 where he accuses Cheetham of being just like Hillman in that they both typically
"miss the essential".
Later Kingsley criticises Hillman, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Steiner, Giegerich, Edinger with
truncated quotes taken out of context, and with no regard for their work as a whole.
In short, Kingsley criticises
(1) the staid Jungians (ok, but this is nothing new) and
(2) anyone and everyone who could be seen as a predecessor already advancing ideas like
his own (here his scholarship is laughable).
I think Kingsley's appeal is via strand 1 (shamanic Jungian) seemingly buttressed by
strand 2 (cranky scholar).
Kingsley praises Empedocles and Parmenides for bringing the "seeds" of Western
Culture, but he seems unaware that the most important new seed contributed by the
Presocratics (I emphasise "new" seed, because paradigm-changing shamanic voyages
existed before and elsewhere) was critical thinking, a sort of meta-tradition inside the
Kingsley reminds me of those inspired Jungians who dream with a megaphone in their
brain, always recounting big archetypal dreams and experiences, but who would never
recount a dream where he goes into the kitchen and finds his salt-shaker is empty except
for a dead ant and a note from his wife to do the shopping (note: I am trying to invent an
"unimportant" dream, but I can't - all dreams are important, and the most banal images
contain archetypal depths).
Kingsley lays great claims to omniscient scholarship, but in his tiny world there is just the
Ancient Greeks, Jung, and a few Amerindians. He has not read Deleuze and Guattari,
Badiou, Michel Serres, Derrida, Bruno Latour, Lyotard, Laruelle, Baudrillard, etc, nor is it
in his interest to do so. Widening the field of reading and of experience would relativise
his own knowledge and achievements.
One part of Kingsley's appeal and seeming freshness of approach is that he distinguishes
himself from the overly Christian perspective of many Jungians. However, he shares this
"de-Christianisation" of Jung with Hillman, who once again preceded him.
Unlike Hillman, who goes back to Homeric polytheistic subjectivity, Kingsley only goes
back as far as Presocratic subjectivity, which is already giving a monistic overlay to that
preceding polytheistic pluralism, and even there he drops the meta-tradition of critical
His adhesion to this truncated view of the Western Tradition explains how Kingsley can
see the last 2,500 years as a constant decline, as if nothing that created since then could
come up to the level of Empedocles' and Parmenides' "seeds".
Kingsley scorns Plato, perhaps the greatest philosopher of all time, in a vocabulary that is
itself platonic (lower-case "p") with his talk about an "absolute" reality radically separate
from our world of illusions.
With his dualism Peter Kingsley has more in common with the first Zarathustra than with
Nietzsche's Zarathustra, hailed by Jung as expressing the new Spirit of the Depths for our
Kingsley seems to have no idea of and no place for the evolution of the God-image or the
Spirit, something essential to Jung's perspective. Instead he scorns the modern emphasis
on "evolution".
And people praise Kingsley's "rigour" and "fidelity" to Jung!
7) Bibliofalque - A Suggested Reading List
Early reviewers have hailed Peter Kingsley's impressive "scholarship" as displayed in his
CATAFALQUE, taking at face value its mise en scène in volume two, entirely composed
of footnotes.
However, the informed reader soon realises that some of these footnotes, despite their
bibliographical indications, are more akin to emotional blasts and settling of personal
scores than erudite testimonies to his impartiality and willingness to acknowledge his
If one could peel off the resentment-blinded pseudo-scholarship (slipped in with the real
scholarship) and the claims to contact with absolute reality, Kingsley would be a much
more congenial and inspiring figure. Unfortunately he falls victim to the hypothesis of his
own uniqueness.
Kingsley's Grand Narrative is is composed of two grand ideas
(1) the Seeding of the West by Empedocles and Parmenides and a few others. These are
the mystics-magicians-shamans-poets who descended into the underworld by means of
archaic techniques of ecstatic voyage: drugs, breathing, postures, meditation, incubation,
(2) the Decline of the West since them. The progressive loss of the Divine Seeds to
Reason and egoism.
It is based on ignoring, down-playing, or travestying anyone who espoused any one of the
motley set of ideas that he retrieves to compose or to bolster his story.
I think we need to compose and submit to Peter Kingsley a reading list of a dozen books
he should read to feel less lonely. He's read so many books that a few more should be no
trouble for him. He may discover that many of his ideas have already been expounded and
explored, and welcomed by many,and that he is not at all a lone voice crying in the desert.
1) James Hillman THE DREAM AND THE UNDERWORLD - for a working out of the
idea of the encounter with Hades and Persephone, and of psychic reality as the
2) Jeffrey Raff JUNG AND THE ALCHEMICAL TRADITION - for the psychoid reality
of the spiritual beings encountered in individuation, and for the alchemical patterning of
this process
3) Marie-Louise von Franz C.G. JUNG: His Myth in our Time - for a re-visioning of
Jung's life and work in terms of his personal myth and its collective ramifications
4) Gary Lachman's JUNG THE MYSTIC - for a full re-integration of Jung within the
magical and mystical traditions
5) Edward Edinger THE NEW GOD-IMAGE - for the evolution of the God-image,
changing with each new epoch (this could help Kingsley get over his nostalgia for the
6) Étienne Perrot's CORAN TEINT - for a modern day alchemical Jungian adventure
lived out in Paris
7) James Hillman ALCHEMICAL PSYCHOLOGY - for a re-psychologisation of
alchemy so that it does not spin off into schizoid spirituality, cut off from real human
experience in the world of ordinary people
8) James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani LAMENT FOR THE DEAD - for a
contextualising dialogue on Jung's RED BOOK
Leaving behind the Jungian ghetto, Kingsley could then read
9) Alain Badiou - MANIFESTO FOR PHILOSOPHY. Badiou’s listing of four truth
procedures is a useful but preliminary approach to enriching our repertoire of examples,
to help us get out of our fixation on a single type of experience and of our drawing
unwarranted conclusions from that.
10) Bruno Latour - AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE. Latour’s expanded
list of 15 modes of existence (as against Badiou's four truth procedures) is an even better
heuristic against conceptual fixation and for the fluidity of ordinary mind, but it still
doesn’t go far enough
11) Deleuze and Guattari - A THOUSAND PLATEAUS. ("Thousand" meaning as many
as you want, or as is appropriate to the occasion) and its idea of the series of becomings,
ending with becoming-ordinary as a perception of the ordinary as itself becoming.
12) Alain Badiou - THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS. This book would give Kingsley a
new understanding of the Absolute, and so show him a way out of his obsession with
transcendance (he would have to brush up on his knowledge of transfinite numbers, logic
and mathematics are probably a weak spot in his personal culture).
Not only need Kingsley never feel lonely again, he could constantly challenge his beliefs
and re-vision his experiences by encountering radically different creative points of view
and critical perspectives.
(8) Appendix - Robert Segal's one-sided review
Robert A. Segal wrote a not so good review of CATAFALQUE, published here on the
Times Higher Education website, to which Peter Kingsley replied.
I submitted a comment, which I reproduce below:
I do not think that Robert Segal's review is "inaccurate and empty", as Kingsley claims. It
is critical, and I think it is one-sided, unfair and incomplete.
Peter Kingsley seems to have some trouble with the very fact that it is critical, and so his
reply is weaker than it could have been.
However, I think that his book CATAFALQUE itself is weaker than it could have been.
We should try to learn from our critics, even when we do not agree with them.So we
should at least try to get right what their actual criticisms are.
For example, Peter Kingsley does not react well to what he presents as Segal's claim that
"Kingsley has no arguments". In fact Segal says "Kingsley never offers arguments for his
intuitions about Jung". This is a very different proposition, and Kingsley's only reply is a
sort of mute gesture at his second volume, composed entirely of footnotes.
This poses the question of the nature and status of these footnotes, many of which serve to
give scholarly information ancillary to the main argument.
However, some of these footnotes are manifestly subjective and under-argued value-
judgements of Kingsley's predecessors (Hillman, Edinger, Heidegger, Nietzsche). Sadly
his reply fails here.
Segal's review is flimsy, and what he says about Jung's RED BOOK is silly, reductive,
and uninformed.
Kingsley missed here an opportunity to demonstrate the flaws in Segal's account, and
merely gave vent to an emotional retort that exhibits the same weaknesses that appear in
his book in his more emotional, judgemental footnotes.