Beyoncé: Flawless Evolution, Part 2

Still from “Partition” video. The mirroring does not suggest an unconscious shadow, rather the surrounding darkness allows the balanced self to come into clearer illumination.

Can we read the artist through the work, even when the artist is the Work? These questions permeate the album, particularly the intimate portraits of “Drunk in Love,” “Jealous,” “Rocket,” and “Mine.” The artist here expresses more comfort and confidence with sexuality than had ever come through in earlier works—no matter how much she performed sexuality in the past, there was never anything like the sheer joy and shame-free announcement,“I can’t wait till / I get home so you can tear that cherry out.”

We think we are allowed some insight into the “real” Beyoncé’s marriage to Jay-Z, who is the guest rapper in “Drunk in Love,” but again we face the question of “real” reality versus the images presented. One wonders why the rapper would equate himself Ike Turner and assert “No I don’t play / Now eat the cake, Annie Mae,” evoking a scene from What’s Love Got to Do With It? in which the singer emotionally abuses his successful wife. The opening lines of the (gorgeous) “Mine” teases the audience with a glimpse of marital conflict and a seemingly biographical observation by the singer that “I haven’t been myself since the baby,” only later to have those biographical parallels dashed by the singer’s declaration that “We should get married,” as those who follow the star couple know they were already married when their daughter was born.

As Beyoncé shatters and reconstructs long-nurtured assumptions about who and what the artist is, the audience witnesses a re-crystallization of the artist’s span of history and career. Throughout the album we see images of the artist at various phases of life, seeing the early victories and defeats, never knowing “who” she is. At the opening of “Yoncé,” we hear her calling the audience to say “Heeeyyy Ms. Carter”—referencing her spousal relationship while refusing the traditional title of “Mrs.”—then name yet another facet of self through the hyper-funky, sexy “Yoncé / All on his mouth like liquor.”

The bonus video “Grown Woman” encapsulates the artist’s work of integrating her life to date into a new center of gravity. Not offered as pure audio, the video requires us to re-experience this reconstitution with every listen. The video flips between modified home video recordings, the lyrics of the song written into young Beyoncé’s mouth, with reconstructed adult performances of the home videos, all the while interspersed with the adult artist in a sexy, casual, somewhat disheveled appearance confidently surrounded by trophies. Here is the pageant queen post-”Pretty Hurts.” She has gone through perfection and discipline, gone through the journey of meeting and marrying her shadow, gone through reconciliatoin of warring parts into a grander Self. Now her past is not a passive, unchanging set of stories that forever limit her, it is raw material creatively constructed into new form. She rewrites the past to create her future.

Complete Jungian readings of Beyoncé’s work:

Beyoncé: Flawless Evolution, Part 1

According to McLean’s rendering of the alchemical sevenfold process, the manifested work at 4 progresses toward an experimental expression of its energies at 5, from the static square to the dynamic pentacle. Beyoncé, the artist’s eponymous fifth solo album, certainly meets the criteria of a work of experimental expression. Released without warning, following a secretive recording frenzy, the album exploded into public consciousness with such force that it was nearly impossible to separate the sheer enthusiasm of the public from critical experience of the work itself. I listened to it incessantly, with a sense of excitement. I felt vindicated, as though I had believed all along she was capable of this quantum leap in artistic expression. Having read her so intently, the force of her first two songs felt profound in the extent to which they shook her public persona free of its earlier constriction.

Here is Beyoncé, renowned perfectionist and self-disciplinarian, who has spent almost her entire life performing in front of an audience—evidenced by collected footage interspersed through the work—opening her fifth album by singing the Sia-penned declaration, “Perfection is the disease of a nation.” Here is the artist in that opening video, performing the role of pageant queen, performing the cracks and dis-ease underlying our culture’s obsession with flawless surfaces, performing the woundedness and vulnerability she had never before allowed in her public persona.

As soon as the audience begins to consider the implications, the album immediately shifts from powerful ballad into the dark and lush electronic soundscape of “Ghosts/Haunted,” a sound unlike anything the artist has ever done. Here the singer declares, almost casually: “Reap what you sow / Perfection is so… eh.”

Is this the birth of an entirely new stage of consciousness for the singer? A declaration of freedom from the personality and cultural complexes that have formed and impeded the individuation process to this point? Are the lyrics critical of record labels and the need to “work 9 to 5 / just to stay alive” an evolution in the consciousness of the artist toward greater social concerns? As the individuation process reconciles the painful contradictions and limitations of the self, more energy becomes available for outward concern. Simultaneously, the individuated person increasingly comes to see how her history, her family, her community, and her nation comprise facets of self that must themselves be confronted, integrated, or transformed. In the video for “No Angel,” the artist herself is invisible, instead directing the camera and audience toward a community in Houston typically held in media margins, as discussed by sheridf at Crunk Feminist Collective. She is decentralized from the image, but her passion shapes the images we see and experience.

Social concern sets the stage for the later video, “Superpower.” We follow the artist through a slow-motion journey in an apparent call-out to the Occupy movement, gathering young people and activists into a climatic charge at the riot-clad police officers, stopped at the last moment for a triumphant stand-and-stare from the artist herself. Were this scenario to play out in a contemporary city, it would end in tear gas, violence, and arrests. Here she aligns herself with the activist youth, counter the policing forces, envisioning opposition without violence.

Beyoncé by GxStep

Complete Jungian readings of Beyoncé’s work:

4: The Joy of the Individuated Self

According to Adam McLean‘s commentary of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, the alchemical sevenfold process reaches its material manifestation at the fourth station. This is the nadir of the spiritual process, after the “involutionary arc” in which the initial spiritual impulse descends, meets with opposition, synthesizes the impulse, and finally emerges into materiality. Jung saw the number 4 as indicative of the quaternity, symbolic of wholeness—four Western elements, four cardinal directions, four corners of a square or four points in a circle. Throughout the course of the artist’s work, we saw her solo emergence of Dangerously in Love, her encounter with her nemesis and beloved in B’day, the internal division and synthesis of I Am…Sasha Fierce, and now we see her forged into a greater whole: joyful, proud, and celebratory.

Beyonce Tag II PSD, by RenkuFX

4 is the reconciliation and stabilization of the inner process of solve et coagula within Beyoncé’s persona, dramatized in I Am… Sasha Fierce. The fiercely sexual and wanly vulnerable halves of self have married into a greater whole. 4 is the wedding reception for this hieros gamos. Qualities of joy, celebration, and pleasure permeate many of the songs, particularly “Party,” “Love on Top,” and the ecstatic “End of Time.” The audience bears witness to the singer’s empowered confidence and self-worth. “Finally / You put my love on top,” the singer says to her Beloved, recognizing the recognition of her worth. Many pop romantic tropes emphasize images of incompletion without love and partnership—the Spice Girls sang that “2 become 1” in the romantic and sexual union, where Beyoncé distinguishes herself by emphasizing completion and partnership, declaring “I know 1 + 1 / Equals 2”.

The only sour note in this reading is the song “Rather Die Young,” an ode to the exhausted and problematic trope of self-negation-as-homage-to-love. Developmental processes are always incomplete, always containing encapsulated, unintegrated fragments of past and cultural complexes. “You make me feel like I’m seventeen,” she sings, noting that this relationship has activated an old complex not fully integrated into the mature self.

Individuation does not mean a departure from submission or servitude, but an enlivening of these innate qualities within the person. The artist’s work has always include a value of service toward her beloved, and songs such as “Dance for You” show this quality remains rooted within her love and art. She repeats over and over how she’s going to “show” her lover how much she appreciates and values his love and offers her dancing as gratitude and connection. There is no contradiction for the integrated self to be “a woman in the street and a freak in the you-know-what,” to recognize the value and worth of her sexuality and wield it in gratitude.

In “Girls,” the album’s first single, the singer brings her exaltation to her entire gender, asserting “My persuasion / can build the nation.” The former Virgin Queen has integrated her qualities of power, sexuality, and capacity to bear new life, noting that woman are “strong enough to bear the children / then get back to business.” Bearing children is one of her many capacities, but who she is is larger than any task, responsibility, or role, as she suggests in “Schoolin’ Life”:

Beyoncé 4 – The Collection, by ValentineSobeit

I’m not a teacher, babe
But I can teach you something
Not a preacher
But we can pray if you wanna
Ain’t a doctor
But I can make you feel better

Through this refrain if “I’m not, but I can,” the artist claims myriad potentialities and integrates them into the I from a place of self-empowerment, not subsuming the I into an archetype or role. This is a hallmark of the individuated self, able to take part in the world without being defined by it, in touch with the foundational core of essence, who she truly is at heart.

In this reading, both the artist’s music and public persona are the alchemical workings that the artist is bringing to bear. Because life and art is process, neither she nor we can dwell forever in this space of celebration and achievement, or else it loses its value and freshness and begins to turn. From this nadir of the alchemical process, the manifested work now moves in an evolutionary arc, which mirrors the involutionary arc. The next stages are the experimental manifestations of the work’s energies, the difficulties encountered in expression, and the last mature expression of that initial spiritual impulse. From 4, the stable square, we move to 5, the pentacle of shifting and transformation.

Complete Jungian readings of Beyoncé’s work:

Sacred Marriage: I Am… Sasha Fierce

After my lengthy close reading of archetypes, identity, and relationship in Beyoncé’s album B’Day, I debated whether to continue the exploration for later albums. This series of explorations comes out of a long-term series of conversations with my best friend Woods. Both of us are around the artist’s age and were in college together when she released her first solo album. We regularly discussed her music and her presentation of her particular intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Earlier this year, I read an article by Nitsuh Abebe called “Why Can’t Beyoncé Have It All?” This article seemed to summarize everything we had ever discussed and contained this gem: “A few years ago, ­Beyoncé “killed” Sasha Fierce—or, rather, reintegrated Sasha, a process I wish Carl Jung were alive to ask her about.” As someone who is perhaps inordinately fascinated by both Jung and Beyoncé, this stuck out to me as an invitation and challenge. In re-listening to her works, I perceived creative alchemy, a unique process of individuation that has continued with her recent creative emergence, Beyoncé.

Continue reading “Sacred Marriage: I Am… Sasha Fierce”