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Absolute Negative Interiorization

Psychology as the discipline of interiority does not lend itself to a simple delineation of terms starting with basic concepts and working up to more complex ones. Most of its ideas and concepts presuppose one another. Consequently, in attempting a definition or explication one must select certain features of the term under discussion while ignoring others that are possibly equally important. In this regard, the term here under discussion, Absolute Negative Interiorization, is no exception. And so, bearing this in mind, a brief definition of its meaning is given in advance and a more in-depth discussion is given in subsequent paragraphs.

Briefly defined, Absolute Negative Interiorization is a methodological presupposition that expresses the psychologist’s commitment to a phenomenological appearance, not as factual, positivistic “reality,” but as something inherently psychological, i.e., as consciousness speaking about itself. Through devoted attention to the phenomenon, the phenomenon unfolds itself revealing its inner truth or essence.

As a methodological stance, Absolute Negative Interiorization is an achieved perspective with respect to the content under consideration whether that content is a dream, an idea, a cultural product, or virtually anything else that warrants the effort of psychological investigation. But here we need a word of caution. The word “content” in this context conjures up something material, factual, empirical in the sense of the way that the modern mind has come to regard “reality.” We tend to even positivize psychological content like dreams and ideas as entities existing independently of the mind that observes them. In contrast, absolute negative interiorization takes anything that appears in consciousness as inherently psychological and as such, just one of many possible modes of apprehension which, only together, form a unity. In this way, the empirical, scientific, positivistic stance of the modern world becomes only one of many ways to apprehend the phenomena. Regardless of what particular matter is the focus of concern it is viewed phenomenologically, as it appears in consciousness, as something mental or noetic—in brief, as it appears from the stance of negativity. To say it slightly differently, it is assumed that the content of consciousness is “sublated” from the outset. The oppositional contrast between “inner” (psychological) and “outer” (reality) so frequently employed in today‟s psychological discourse is dissolved.

The process of achieving this perspective with respect to a specific phenomenon involves certain methodological strategies and attitudes. For example, following the thought of Jung, the phenomenon is seen as having its own independence, its own essential truth, even its own “subjectivity” for whom, in a manner of speaking, the mode of apprehension becomes an “object,” an object which is itself transformed through its own act of knowing the phenomenon.

Along with granting the phenomena independence, another methodological presupposition is that whatever appears in consciousness does so by virtue of being, at its most fundamental, the expression of a thought. While the contents of consciousness take many forms such as emotions, images, ideas, etc., they are all understood essentially as expressing underlying structures or “thought.” A phenomenon shows up in the world by virtue of the thought as which it, the phenomenon, is a manifestation.

The attitude called for in this approach is one of receptivity rather than intentionally directed activity—more yin than yang. What is generally referred to as ego functioning is to be avoided in favor of letting the thoughts think themselves. Rather than the active application of a particular theoretical framework, the strategy is more one of an unreserved attention to the unfolding of the thought at the essential core of the phenomenon.

This unfolding typically has the form of an uroboric process. It has many of the features of the dialectical process of thought described by G.W.F Hegel in his Science of Logic. In such a process, thought moves through a series of steps in which each step is found wanting in some respect and is therefore subject to a negation. The original starting point, the prima materia, is thus negated, but at the same time it is carried forward in a logically more complex or sublated form. Gradually, through a series of such iterations, including a “negation of the negation,” the logical structure or absolute negativity of the phenomenon is revealed, or as Giegerich sometimes puts it, it is “released into its truth.” At some point, the analysis may negate even its own negativity and in so doing consciousness posits itself via or as some “other,” an other completely independent of itself, that is, in the status of positivity. It should be noted that whatever “truth” is revealed is relative to its own dialectical unfolding; it is not a universal Platonic truth or a truth in the sense of a scientific finding. When there seems to be no more thought “thinking itself out,” the process has reached its completion; however, the understanding acquired may now constitute a new position, a new prima materia, from which the process may start over, perhaps with a different emphasis.

Another essential strategy follows Jung‟s admonition not to let anything into the fantasy image that does not belong there. Again, the subject matter or phenomenon under investigation is approached as an unfolding of an inner dynamic rather than being 'interrogated,' as it were, from the point of view of an outside perspective and thereby asked to make itself accountable in alien terms. We can see this type of interrogation, particularly in experimental psychology today, where psychological phenomena are routinely “reduced” to a biological substrate. Here the psychological is translated into a language alien to its own core metaphor, the psyche or soul. The only authority for the truth of the phenomenon is the phenomenon itself viewed from within, that is, viewed psychologically. In this sense the term 'absolute' is used because there is an absolving of the difference between the phenomenon and any Other that might stand apart from it since all others are viewed from within the interiority of the phenomenon itself which, in a manner of speaking, views the whole world through its own lens. While consciousness achieves a more refined or deeper


understanding of a particular phenomenon through a process such as the one described here, it is equally the case that this very consciousness will have been initiated into a new way of understanding. It will have a new logical structure as a result of having itself been assimilated to the logical structure of the phenomenon.

To summarize, absolute negative interiorization is a methodological stance for seeing psychologically and is achieved by uroborically (hermeneutically) allowing the phenomenon to unfold into its dynamic aspects or moments. It is described as absolute in the sense that this method overcomes or is “absolved” from the external or abstract sense of difference that is characteristic of oppositional thinking (subjective/objective, self/other). It is negative in the sense that it is logical/psychological, not empirical, i.e., it happens in the mind. It is an interiorization in that the unfolding is the unfolding of the multifaceted, dynamic interiority of the phenomenon itself, on its own terms, presupposing no “external authority” or underlying “external substrate.”


John Robertson

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