Let’s talk about Carl Gustav Jung. Of course he published about archetypes, and alchemy, and dreams, and synchronicity, and the anima, and frankly, a lot of that is very interesting even though rejected by psychology as a discipline. But I want to talk about a relatively early book of his: Psychologische Typen (1921), translated into English as Psychological Types. Even if you think you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably heard of it in an indirect way, because (1) Jung comes up with the now commonplace distinction between introverted and extraverted people; and (2) this work is the basis of the popular Meyers-Briggs personality test.
What Jung does is importantly different from what Meyers and Briggs do, though. First, Jung only introduces four fundamental psychological functions: thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuition, and he tells us that one of these is dominant for a person, and that its opposite will be weak. (if thinking is dominant, feeling will be weak; if intuition is dominant, sensing will be weak; and so on.) Meyers and Briggs add the dimension of judging/perceiving, and they end up having 2x2x2x2 rather than 2x4 character types. But that’s not the most important thing. What is much more important is that Meyers and Briggs create a test, a piece of paper or a website where you answer a bunch of questions and then the algorithm tells you what your personality type is. Jung would have never dreamt of that! Rather, Jung writes a 700 page book that discusses… let’s see… Tertullian, Origines, controversies in early Christology, transubstantiation, the problem of universals, Schiller’s aesthetics, Nietzsche on the Apollonian and the Dionysiac, the nature of poetic symbols, the philosophy of William James, the concept of great men in history… and after all that, there’s also 100 pages in which the describes the actual personality types. If you want to know what psychology could have been if it had not been captured by the fake promise that using statistics makes something a real science, read this book.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that reading Jung’s book some fifteen to twenty years ago was a revelation to me. I started it already secure about my personality type: introverted thinking. It was obvious. Even though I love teaching, speaking to large audiences, having fun with friends, I can only handle that in short periods between longer periods of being alone, in my house, maybe with my family. I get my energy from being with myself, and that’s Jung’s idea of introversion. And thinking was also obvious: I mean, I studied physics, became a philosopher, I think think think all day. And then I read the book, and I realised I was wrong. I realised that in Jung’s typology, my dominant psychological function is not thinking, but intuition. I think a lot, sure. But my thinking is guided by unconscious insight. My thinking may get me somewhere, but it doesn’t tell me my destination. That comes from somewhere else.
All of that is a Russoian (get it? get it? ‘as Mike Russo does’, but it also sounds like ‘Rousseauian’) preamble which serves only to illuminate the following sentence: I am a very intuitive writer. I know that I’m onto something long before I could explain to anyone, including myself, what it is that I’m on to. I don’t have a plan. I don’t have a story outline. I have an inkling that something will happen. Or at least, that’s how it is with works like Turandot and Xanthippe, though it’s clearly different for a work like Kerkerkruip, which requires more purely logical thought.
Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates started as a throwaway joke. You can click the link, but I’ll just quote it in full. The context is that Andrew Schultz said he wrote Xenophobic Opposites, Unite! just because he wanted to write a game that started with an X. And then I said:
This dialogue does not appear in the final game, and it couldn’t appear in the final game, because it doesn’t fit it in tone and substance. But here the idea took hold of me. And I intuited – I really think that’s the right word – that there was something here. I didn’t know exactly what it was. But I felt strongly that if I started to write this game, it would work. Xanthippe and Socrates would start talking to me.
As I said, I don’t make plans. I can’t make plans. I need to write the characters in order to find out who the characters are. I knew only two things:
- Socrates didn’t want to have sex with Xanthippe because he was paralysed by the fear of death.
- Xanthippe would come up with an argument for the immortality of the soul while Socrates was performing cunnilingus on her, and this would cure Socrates of his fear of death, leading to the climactic love making scene.
Those who have played Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates may realise that neither of these things is actually true in the final game. But more about that later. What may be clear is that in my original conception, the piece was much more farcical. Socrates’s persona was fake; he was afraid of death and just trying to hide it! And the centrepiece of his philosophy was thought up by his wife as a prelude to orgasm! In a farcical state of mind, and early on in the development of the game, I hit upon the perfect way to write that cunnilingus scene. I would copy one of the worst game mechanics in existence, namely, the mechanic in certain porn games where the (usually male) character has to ‘last long’ by speeding up or slowing down his movements to keep his arousal between ‘flabby penis’ and ‘ejaculation’. It’s a conception of sex that is almost too bad to parody, but it seemed perfect to raise the farcicality of the scene to eleven. There’s Xanthippe, there’s her arousal meter, and the player has to tell Socrates to slow down or speed up in such a way that she can think up the entire argument for immortality before either getting bored or coming.
I axed this idea. Imagine my immense surprise when @Perry_Simm used this exact same mechanic with the same parodic intent in Citizen Makane. That would have been something for the ‘similarities between entries’ thread!
So why did I axe the idea, as well as the entire cunnilingus scene and the farcical Socrates? Well, what happened is this. I started writing the game. The characters started talking. And it turned out that they had something to say. They turned out to be so human, so poignant, so vulnerable, so lovely, so real… Readers, when I thought I was going to write a farce, I was badly mistaken. I found out during writing that Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates had never been and could never be a farce. At some point, roughly where they have talked about infidelity, I realised that I had to rewrite all the earlier passages, because Socrates wasn’t afraid. He couldn’t be afraid. He wasn’t a fake. He wasn’t a fake, and Xanthippe could have never loved a fake. It made no sense. He was real, she was real, their love was real. To put in a farcical porn parody would be to betray them and their love; or, to put it in other terms, it would have been an aesthetic disaster. And so I changed a lot of things and with every change I became happier with what I had written. I started writing a farce, I ended up writing something that I – and some of the reviewers – found moving. And although I can’t prove it, I believe that I unconsciously knew that that was going to happen, and that that is why this idea refused to let go and managed, among all my other unfinished or unbegun projects, to get turned into a real game.
(Despite the insights I got while writing, only my beta tester Mike Russo prevented me from making the capital mistake of spending too much time on Xanthippe’s relationship to Plato and too little on her relationship with Socrates. The entire ‘allegory of the cave’ scene was totally rewritten based on a single line of criticism of Mike’s, making it the most impactful single line of criticism I ever received.)
I don’t think I want to say too much about the game itself, though I’m definitely willing to take questions. AMA! (Ask Me Anything.)
Maybe one thing I’d like to comment upon, which I haven’t seen in many of the reviews, is this. There are only a few choices in the early game that have consequences later on, and more or less all of them have to do with establishing the language of intimacy between Socrates and Xanthippe. Does she call him ‘honey’ or ‘big man’? Does he call her ‘Tahippy’ or ‘Xanita’ or ‘Xanthara’? What kind of food does she bring him? What’s her physical technique of seduction? These things don’t matter at all, and yet they matter the most. The weird little nicknames we have for our spouses, no matter how stupid or unoriginal, are among the most powerful everyday ways we have for reinforcing the bonds of intimacy. It’s not important what you share, it’s important that you share. And Xanthippe comes into the prison cell speaking this language of intimacy… and Socrates does not speak it back. There’s too much between them. There’s too much tension, too much misunderstanding, too much distance. Speaking the language of everyday intimacy would be fraudulent, it would be fake – and Socrates is never fake. Even though he makes the terrible mistake of comparing his wife to a bovine in heat, Socrates is fundamentally correct that Xanthippe’s approach is wrong. And of course she knows, deep down, that it’s wrong; and he knows he’s wrong to react the way he reacts; and they’re big enough people to get past the wrongs. And then, at the very very end, the language of intimacy returns. But now both of them speak it.
For one more night.