Average Life

Average Life reflections


I've recently started reading 'the problem of the PUER AETERNUS' by Marie-Louise von Franz. And in the light of her analysis of the PUER AETERNUS archetype, I've discovered just how much I've been under its influence. And I'm now also starting to see how it contributed to the impulse to create average life, and all it's components.

At first it was only about creating the average of my personal (unpublished) archive, but I later added the Average Ape Punks. (from a Puer impulse as I thought the average images alone were to boring, as in: too far away from the chaos of all the mental pictures I associated with this whole quest) For a while, I've been really torn about this; whether * I should keep the average ape punks series as a part of this work or not.

  • (this word reminded me of Werther - Goethe's reckoning with his inner PUER AETERNUS, a book I’ve read last year, a book that felt like a home-coming to me, as I’ve written 2 journals in my life during important life transitions (2011, 2022), that are quite similar in structure to this book, with the difference that the diary entries are not addressed at anyone in particular.)

The PUER gets his inspiration from the heavens. He likes to dwell in his fantasy, and is generally lazy. You could say that the link with the successful crypto NFT series like the bored ape yacht club, is imagined. It's driven by a wish for (quick and instant) success. In imagination the average ape punks are as successful - potentially - as the real world successes it refers to. As such, it's a pure PUER product. (I could write quite a lot about what defines successful here, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole).

The way these gifs have been created is also 100% PUER. With as much automation, and as less boring repetitive work as possible, it is a lazy product. (Although I have to add some nuance here - it does take many years of hard work to develop the discipline and skill set to be able to create this kind of work.) I have a very strong inner critic, and my self judgement in this context is possibly overstretched.
But on the surface, it reflects the PUER's desire for success and glory, at minimum expense. Because of this, I've also priced them accordingly. The average ape punks are cheap tokens, because they are not, and never will be, real. They only materialize as a projection. If they would ever be expensive, it would be because they got devoured by greed, or the illusions and projections of an army of PUER AETERNI. As such it's also a comment on what defines (financial) value in art, and of course also in the context of crypto art. (The question of what determines value is something that I've been wondering about for a very long time.) Relation and context will always be the defining factors or (art's) value. As such, it will always be vulnerable to human projection and illusions. The confrontation between the 'real' prints, and the projected gifs, are a testimony, but also a questioning of this dynamic. Of course the whole of this project; its meaning is a going back and forth between the polar opposites that are at play in this process of the awakening PUER. There is a lot of contradiction at work.

The routine of documenting my own life photographically, is not a PUER product. It's a huge effort to overcome the domination of this archetype on one's life. The hiding - not publishing - of it, however is textbook PUER. Because the images do not align with the imaginary idea of one's self, which in fantasy is of course much more radiant and glorious, than the images in the archive portray. I see all this quite clear now.

The average is quite the opposite of the dreams of a PUER. It's in fact the ultimate nightmare to a PUER, to have to admit one is not 'the chosen one', the divine child, but just as average/human as everybody else. The average is the ground, the swallowing swamp, the reality that eats all fantasies. As such, I've decided that the average ape punks should remain a part of average life. The stark contrast between the two series open the mental space to reflect about the process of the PUER AETERNUS, in search of his own delusions, and the path to meet up with reality, as it is. (This is not a straightforward path, because as I wrote on a paper some months ago: “the kid is strong.”)

The form of the average ape punks, the ever changing pixels in a gif, also show the PUER's refusal to pin himself down. The images keep the eternal possibility open. The form never really materializes. It remains something unreal. The subject, referring and using the meme material of BAYC and Cryptopunks – which is about as far removed from my own life as could be - is also very much embedded in the influence of the PUER AETERNUS (you could say that a big part of the whole crypto culture is under its spell.) The almost childish iconography, the quick and explosive money grabs, the reduction of life to gamble and play, is clearly influenced by this archetype. The average images are in this regard a clear break with this. The images are very sobering, very earthly in their textures, while at the same time retaining an 'airy quality', courtesy of the production process, which is still under influence of the PUER AETERNUS. The boring work of archiving, and using photography to document one's own life on the other hand is also in contrast with the PUER, All in all, there's an interesting mix of contradictory forces at work, that as a whole symbolize the enigma, the in-explainable depth and paradox of life.

Here's an excerpt of a text that Jung wrote that I found recently, that resonates with me, in regard to creating average life:

The supreme meaning is not a meaning and not an absurdity, it is image and force in one, magnificence and force together. The supreme meaning is the beginning and the end. It is the bridge of going across and fulfillment. The other Gods died of their temporality, yet the supreme meaning never dies, it turns into meaning and then into absurdity, and out of the fire and blood of their collision the supreme meaning rises up rejuvenated anew. The image of God has a shadow. The supreme meaning is real and casts a shadow. For what can be actual and corporeal and have no shadow? The shadow is nonsense. It lacks force and has no continued existence through itself. But nonsense is the inseparable and undying brother of the supreme meaning. Like plants, so men also grow, some in the light, others in the shadows. There are many who need the shadows and not the light. The image of God throws a shadow that is just as great as itself. The supreme meaning is great and small, it is as wide as the space of the starry Heaven and as narrow as the cell of the living body. The spirit of this time in me wanted to recognize the greatness and extent of the supreme meaning, but not its littleness. The spirit of the depths, however, conquered this arrogance, and I had to swallow the small as a means of healing the immortal in me. It completely burnt up my innards since it was inglorious and unheroic. It was even ridiculous and revolting. But the pliers of the spirit of the depths held me, and I had to drink the bitterest of all draughts.

~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 230

I've also stumbled on this text by Marie Louise von Franz, that puts a new light on 'the average' as a statistical tool. (I started reading 'The problem of the Puer Aeternus', after I completed averagelife.art) It's interesting that I chose to use statistical methods to overcome the tendency towards fantastic self inflation. von Franz writes:

To think of oneself in a statistical way is most destructive to the process of individuation, because it makes everything relative. Jung says that Communism is less dangerous than the fact that we are all more penetrated by our habit of thinking statistically about ourselves. We believe in scientific statistics which say that in Switzerland so and so many couples marry per year and find no flat, or that there are so and so many in each town, etc. You do not realize what it does to you when you read statistics. It is completely destructive poison, and what is worse is that it is not true; it is a falsified image of reality. If we begin to think statistically, we begin to think against our own uniqueness. But it is not only thinking but a way of feeling. If you go up and down the street, you see all those stupid faces and then look into a window and see that you look just as stupid as the other, if not worse! And then it becomes the thought that if an atom bomb destroyed all that, who would regret it? Thank God, those lives have come to and end, including my own! That is the statistical mood in which one is overwhelmed by the manifoldness and ordinariness of life. This is wrong, because statistics are built up on probability, which is only one way of explaining reality, and as we know, there is just as much uniqueness and irregularly. The fact that this table does not levitate, but remains where it is, is only because the billions and billions and billions of electrons which constitute the table tend statistically to behave like that. But each electron in itself could do something else. Or, suppose put a lion into a room into which you introduced one person at a time. You would see that each individual would behave differently. One would stand petrified and exclaim, “Oh!” Another would dash out of the room, the third might not be frightened at all or have a delayed reaction and afterward say he had not believed it. As a test, it would be quite revealing, for each person would react typically and differently. But if you brought a lion into this room now, I bet that everyone would retire to the back of the room, for then the unique reaction prevails. That is why statistics are only half right. They give a completely false picture because they only give the average probability. When we walk through the woods we step on a certain number of ants and snails and kill them, but if we could write the life history of each ant or snail we would see that its death was a very meaningful end at a typical moment of its life. That was really the basic philosophical problem Thornton Wilder raised when he wrote The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The bridge collapsed at a certain moment and five people were drowned—you read of such things every day in the paper. But Thornton Wilder asked whether that was just chance. He tried to show that each of those five had a typical inner development in their lives and that being drowned when the bridge collapsed was the finale to a very meaningful moment in the lives of each one. But the statistician would say that it was quite probable, since every day two hundred people crossed the bridge, so anytime it fell there would be about five who would be drowned, and they would be there by chance. That is a falsified view of reality, but we are all poisoned through and through by it. It is something that has to be faced. Gerard de Neval, for instance, could not face the problem that the woman he loved was absolutely unique to him, for his statistical reasoning told him that she was just one of the many thousands—which in a way was true too. But it was a half truth, and a half truth is worse than an absolute lie. This is what causes so much difficulty for the puer aeternus and why he does not want to go to an office and do some ordinary job, or be with a woman, because he is always inwardly toying with a thousand possibilities of life and cannot choose just one. It seems to him that that would mean a statistical- average situation. Recognition of the fact that one is among thousands and that there is nothing special about that is an intellectual insight against which there stands the feeling function. The inner battle between the feeling of uniqueness and statistical thinking is generally a battle between intellectualism and allowing feeling its own place in life, because feeling evaluates what is important to me, and my own importance is the counterbalance. If you have real feeling you can say certainly that this is an ordinary woman (for if you see her walking along the street and she is not very different from any other), but to me she is of the highest value. That would mean that the ego makes up its mind to defend and stand up for its own feeling without destroying the other aspect: “Yes, that may be so from the statistical point of view, but in my life there are certain values, and to to me this woman has this value.” For that an act of loyalty is required towards one’s own feeling. Otherwise one is split off from it by statistical thinking, which is why intellectual people tend toward Communism and such ways of thought. They cut themselves off from the feeling function. The feeling function makes your life and your relationships and deeds feel unique and gives them a definite value. When the statistical way of thinking gets people, it means they have no feeling, or weak feeling, or they tend to betray their own feeling. You can say that the man who does not stand for his feelings is weak on the eros side, for he cannot take his own feelings and stand by them: “That is how I intend to live, for that is the way I feel.” Admittedly, that is more difficult for a man than for a woman, which is expressed when we say that a man is weak on the eros side. For example, if you say to a mother that her children are not unique, that there are such brats all over the place, she will reply that to her they are unique, for they are her children. A woman is more likely to have a personal attitude. The man has to think impersonally and objectively and, if he is a modern type, also statistically, and then it turns like a poison against him. This is especially true for men who have a military career and have to sign papers which decide the life and death or fate of many people. A high-ranking officer has to decide what battalion to send to a certain place, knowing that some of those men will probably not come back, that some have to be sacrificed. He must detach his feeling in order to be able to act, for if at such a moment he were to think personally and with feeling about those men in the battalion whom he is sending to their death he would not be able to do it. The same applies to a surgeon who, when he has to perform an operation, must not reflect and remember that this is such and such a person. He has to perform a technical operation which will result in life or death, and this is why most surgeons do not operate on members of their own family. Experience has proved that it is much better not to do so. I know of many accidents which have happened (just an awkwardness on the part of a surgeon who never makes a mistake, but if it is his own wife or daughter he may), so it is better that the operation should be perfectly performed by the colleague in whom he has the most confidence. To be able to detach from feeling is an essential part of a man’s life, for he has to have a cold, scientific, objective standpoint. But if he does not relate to the anima and try to deal with his eros problems, then he cuts his soul into two. That is why men, in general, have more trouble in Jungian psychology than women. Because of our insistence on the acceptance of the unconscious, men have to accept feeling and relatedness—eros—and to a man that is just disgusting; it is as if from now on he must nurse babies. It feels like that to him—it is against nature. But if men wish to develop further—just as women must now learn to share the man’s world by becoming more objective and less personal—they have to make the counter-gesture of taking their own feeling and their own eros problems more seriously. It is an unavoidable part of human development that we have to integrate the other side—the undeveloped side—and if we do not, then it catches us against our will. Indeed, the more a man takes his eros problem seriously, the less effeminate he becomes, although it may look to him like the opposite. If he stiffens and does not take his feeling problems seriously, he will involuntarily become effeminate. In general it can be said that the puer who has a tendency to become effeminate has a better chance if only he will take his feeling seriously and not fall into the pitfall of statistical thinking—if he does not suddenly think, “Oh, Lord!! Hundreds and thousands!—and me too!”

p 91 - 94 from 'Problem of the Puer Aeternus' by Marie Louise von Franz. Inner City Books; 3rd edition (January 31, 2000)

In light of what Marie Louise von Franz writes here, I’ve asked myself a couple of questions. The act of creating the average images, is definitely a 'realization', as in: bringing the image of an internal process into the material world. However, one might say; but why create the average out of the archive; after all, one could just simply print pictures out of the archive and this would be a realization too. This would quite literally be an acceptance of reality as it is. You could say that it remains a clever way to stick to a mental/Utopian space once again. Maybe the whole project is just a clever way of fooling myself? However I don't think this is (entirely) true. Because, the act of creating the average is really the act of metamorfosis. You could say that a new reality emerges from a past reality. And the new reality could be deemed a fantasy, however, the result of the average is not some 'divine' result. As a result it's rather modest. However as an act of creation it's quite heroic. As much as the results might be 'average', the act of creating them was not in the least average. What person in his right mind would create an average of all the images in his life? It's quite extraordinary and unique (Which is something the PUER AETERNUS would approve of). So as I said before, there are definitely quite some contradicting forces at work here.

In light of this I stumbled upon the word "Enantiodromia" which Jung defines as the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enantiodromia

In 2007 when I graduated as a master in Painting at LUCA, I created a series of paintings inspired by the Metamorfosis by Ovidius. I also painted the fall of Icarus, which is basically the ultimate portrait of the PUER AETERNUS. It's quite interesting to see this motif reappear here after 15 years. (I don’t know if it ever really went away, I've always had a fascination with change, it's an important reason why I've been using mainly digital means to create, as the digital realm allows for much more flexibility in the forms one can create, and it's much easier to 'blend shapes and forms'.) But painting the fall of Icarus in my early twenties now feels almost prophetic. The fact that I evolved mostly towards creating digitally, makes sense in the light of the PUER AETERNUS archetype, as digital forms are in a way very unreal. If you want to avoid the confrontation, it's easy, because they don't demand your attention by taking in physical space. You can create something digitally, and it can exist, without being noticed. So over the past 10 years I've mainly been telling myself that I'm only interested in the act of creation itself, and not in the products of creation. But I've found it to be an increasingly growing invisible psychological load on my shoulders, all the digital artifacts I keep carrying with me in digital archives. Because I have spent so much time in the digital realm, I feel like I somehow need a material proof of this time spent. (Which is why I also think that in the future, the physical act of painting or other forms of 'matter' will somehow make a re-entry in my work.)

Marie Louise von Franz writes about the 'provisional life':

Generally great difficulty is experienced in adaptation to the social situation and, in some cases, there is a kind of false individualism, namely that, being something special, one has no need to adapt, for that would be impossible for such a hidden genius, and so on. In addition there is an arrogant attitude toward other people due to both an inferiority complex and false feelings of superiority. Such people also usually have great difficulty in finding the right kind of job, for whatever they find is never quite right or quite what they wanted. There is always “a hair in the soup.” The woman is also never quite the right woman; she is nice as a girlfriend, but —. There is always a “but” which prevents marriage or any kind of definite commitment. This all leads to a form of neurosis which H.G. Baynes has described as the “provisional life,” that is, the strange attitude and feeling that one is not yet in real life. For the time being one is doing this or that, but whether it is a woman or a job it is not yet what is really wanted, and there is always the fantasy that sometime in the future the real thing will come about. If this attitude is prolonged, it means a constant inner refusal to commit oneself to the moment. With this there is often, to a smaller or greater extent, a savior complex, or a Messiah complex, with the secret thought that one day one will be able to save the world; the last word in philosophy, or religion, or politics, or art, or something else, will be found. This can go so far to be a typical pathological megalomania, or there may be minor traces of it in the idea that one’s time has not yet come. The one thing dreaded throughout by such a type of man is to be bound to anything whatever. There is a terrific fear of being the singular human being that one is. There is always the fear of being caught in a situation from which it may be impossible to slip out again. Every just-so situation is hell.

p 2 from 'Problem of the Puer Aeternus' by Marie Louise von Franz. Inner City Books; 3rd edition (January 31, 2000)

So when one creates without leaving a trace it makes you wonder: Do you exist when nobody observes you? Do you exist when you leave no traces? It seems that the idea of being an artist without exposing art is an Utopic dream. The reason one does not want to expose his art is because the creations can never really live up to the expectations of what could be created (there are no limits in fantasy). This has definitely been one of the main struggles of my life. Having had quite a generous stream of ideas throughout my life, very often new ideas presented them as far more seductive than realizing and finishing existing ideas. So finishing Average Life is quite a milestone in overcoming the PUER force in my life.


In the past month (November 2022) I’ve decided to create an installation as well, as I felt that the average images alone, indeed, were showing too much this statistical tendency that von Franz writes about, and I somehow wanted to expose some of the life hidden behind it, as if trying to ‘unmask’ the statistical illusion. It also allows me to incorporate the Average Ape Punks. Whether I succeed here is another matter, because I’m still using what you could define as ‘statistical tools’ to create the images in the installation. But the real images shimmer through, albeit prudently. I’m still having difficulties accepting the simple images of my life, for sure. For some reason, it’s never enough (as von Franz also mentions), and in one way or another I already introduce some kind of destruction, or decomposition in every image. (to be honest, these are fairly simple image manipulations – I have an unpublished archive of gifs where I created software tools with very destructive algorithms, that basically completely destroy the images I work with, and then blend them back together – driven by my curiousness to see what lies behind the possibility of random collisions [of pixels in this case]). This on a side note. It’s a very satisfying feeling to be surprised by your own creation, and by writing image altering algorithms this certainly becomes possible.

However, pixel magic aside, I often feel like I only manage to convey what I really want to say by writing, so I’ve pondered to create a book about average life for a while too. I’ve also thought about creating some form of documentary to comment on this work. But for now, the most important, and simple task I need to fulfill is simply finish this work, and that’s why I will limit Average life to the average image prints and the installation. After all, one chapter completed makes room for new chapters.