Reflections on Jung in the 21st Century

This is a blog on Jungian themes published by Michael Escamilla

Loving The Alien: On David Bowie

Loving The Alien: On David Bowie                                       

by Michael Escamilla



                                     Photo by Masatoshi Sukita from 1980, when Bowie was living in Kyoto, Japan   



       A little over one year ago, the world received word that the English musician/artist David Bowie (nee David Jones) had died after having been ill with cancer.  The news came as quite a shock to the music community worldwide and to the many fans of his work and was the first rumble in a year where many other musicians and actors of significant popularity passed away.  In this blog I’d like to share a few thoughts on David Bowie’s work and legacy, with some thoughts on creativity, alienation, psychosis and individuation and, of course, some “Jungian” reflections on what Bowie brought to our culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.

       Bowie was born as David Jones in 1947 and began a long-lasting career as a musician (writer, singer, performer, producer) in 1963, working primarily in the medium of “rock music” or “rock and roll.” Despite adding other artistic activities to his resume (acting on stage and cinema and in music videos) he continued his musical work up to his death on January 10 of 2016.  His last album, titled simply with an image of a black star (“*”) was released on his 69th birthday, two days before his death.   Along the way, Bowie was known for inventing a number of different stage personae, at the same time as he continued to develop new musical styles in which to express himself (or ultimately, his Self in the Jungian sense). As Bowie was well aware of the ideas and writing of C.G. Jung, and commented that his way of dealing with his psychological struggles was through his artistic work (musical and theatrical), his oeuvre can give us insights into his individuation process.   Moreover, as the individuation process of each person has similarities and commonalities with the process of all humans, his work can give us important insights into the process of psychological exploration and transformation which underlie individuation in general. 


The Age of Enlightenment and Alienation


       The theme of alienation was one of the most consistent symbolic realms in which Bowie worked throughout his life, and this fascination with “the alien” took different and deepening forms for him over time.  A year after his death, we live in a culture where how to deal with the “other” or “outsider” has risen to the level of discussing the building of great walls (literal and figurative) to separate those who are different from mythical notions of racial and national purity.  Fear of “the other” is certainly, psychologically, a millennia old concern (our own biology is a dance of antigens and antibodies), but the concept of individuals being alienated from their own selves became a phenomenon, psychologically, in the 19th century.  Alienation (the sense of disunity with one’s own self and one’s own society) is one of the major causes of suffering in the modern world, and was hypothesized by Jung and others as a consequence of psychosocial developments dating to the advent of the age of enlightenment, an era which priviledged rationality, logical and mathematical processes, the material world, and mass production at the expense of the irrational, the symbolic and religious experience.  Lost in the transformation to utilitarian and rational (“enlightened”) viewpoints were the psychological valuation of mystery, the numinous, and connection with nature.  In fact, when Jung began his training and career as a psychiatrist, many still used the word “alienist” to define this new profession, in which a medical doctor’s aim was to help care for and heal persons who were suffering because they had become “alienated” from their society (and, it was thought, from themselves).


The Unconscious, Schizophrenia, and Creativity


       Through his early work with patients at the Burgholzli hospital in Zurich, Jung and his colleague Eugen Bleuler found a way to understand the bizarre behaviors, beliefs, and narratives of their “alienated” patients, along the way coming up with a diagnostic category called “schizophrenia.”  Jung became fascinated with the ideas and themes he detected within the delusional ideas of his patients, leading him to explore the symbols and experiences of the unconscious directly in himself, and leading to a new view of psychosis as representing direct experiences with unconscious forces, dynamics, and symbolic images.  These same forces, in Jung’s view, were operative in all human beings and served as the energies and patterns through which an individual’s psychological experience of life would be molded.  The “schizophrenic” patient was different from others only in the sense that the person’s ego (sense of “I”) was relatively weakened in relation to the other dynamic entities within the unconscious, and any person under the right circumstances (in which the iron hold of the ego is weakened, sometimes intentionally) could access these “psychotic” states.  The products of the unconscious are often seething, frightening, disturbing and beyond rationality.  For those who must confront these processes (either through genetic disposition or other external factors such as sensory deprivation, psychological stress or trauma), the ego can indeed become fragmented and difficult to reconstitute – hence one becomes alienated from themself (i.e. feels that they have become something else than their sense of “I” as experienced by the ego). 

       There is scientific evidence that first degree relatives of people with schizophrenia have a higher level of artistic and vocational creativity than the average person, as well as evidence from brain imaging studies that creative people (compared to less creative people) tend to have differences in dopaminergic neurons that are similar to the differences seen in brains of persons with schizophrenia.1  David Jones (Bowie) came from a family which was strongly predisposed to developing schizophrenia (he had a half brother who was institutionalized with this diagnosis, as well as at least one maternal aunt) and we know from some of his interviews that he felt in his early twenties and thirties that he was falling into similar psychotic territory (a combination, it appears of family disposition, the use of drugs including cocaine, and a determination to explore artistically alternate personae and to enter into the world of “the alien”).  He would later recuperate from this brush with psychosis through becoming clean and sober and entering his “Berlin” phase (this will be discussed further on in this article).

       Bowie (his stage name itself signifies a persona, a consciously chosen “other” personality which he could inhabit to explore alternate realities) may or may not have done formal analysis, but we know that he was aware of Jung’s psychological concepts and that he used his artwork to give life and expression to the ideas, concepts and feelings which emerged from his unconscious.  As a true artist, his work is not reducible to logical explanations, but at it’s best works to give expression to symbols and images (musical notes and textures, words, costume, staging), creating a numinous experience for those who are moved by his work (Jung would call this type of art “visionary”), and, at times, relating these symbols and experiences to himself as the man behind the creator (a type of art that Jung would call “psychological”, i.e. related to a personal story of development).  His work is often not pleasant (the last two videos he created for some of his last album are actually painful to watch, especially for fans of his work who realize he made these while he was ill with cancer.  In the case of his last video, Lazarus, he knew that he had lost the battle with cancer and would soon die.  But it is especially in his last stage of work that he courageously faced and bridged the world of unconscious imagery and the flesh and bone human being that he was. 



Rock and Roll Music and David Jones: “I had heard God.”


       Growing up in a relatively stable home (albeit with the “ghosts” of schizophrenia and mental illness ever present), the young David Jones had the good fortune to attend a secondary school that was known for encouraging creativity and the arts.  His adolescence coincided with the advent into culture of the phenomenon of “rock and roll,” and he appears to have experienced this music (an explosive amalgum of African American rhythm and blues traditions, figuratively and literally amplified by technologic developments lending a new palette of sounds and volume to these musical forms) in a strongly numinous manner.  According to Jones, when he first heard the song “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, he felt that “I had heard God.”2  He was especially taken by a saxophonist who was part of Little Richard’s band and soon Jones learned how to play that instrument.  He joined a number of rock bands, first as a saxophonist and eventually as a singer.  As he developed, he became primarily known for his skills as a songwriter and singer, and then as a performer, but he continued to play saxophone throughout his career, usually incorporated into his recordings in one form or another.  His early groups were essentially rhythm and blues based, often doing cover versions of American blues artists and he also adopted some of the vocal and writing stylings of English “music hall” popular music.

       Jones took interesting detours from this music career even in his early years. At one point he took time off to practice Buddhism.  Also, early on in his career, he spent several years outside of the music business studying and performing as a mime.3  By the time he had finished this experience he was ready to re-enter the performing world of contemporary rock music, approaching his performances with an accent on movement and dance.  His mime teacher, Lindsay Kemp, taught an aesthetic which expressed the inner beauty of a person through “gestures” and movement.  Kemp stated that he:


                          “endeavore(d) to teach everyone …to free what was already

                            there.   Everybody has that dove flying around inside them, and

                            to let it fly is a fabulous experience.” 3


       Necessity led Jones to have to adopt a stage name, as another singer (David Jones of the Monkees) was becoming popular, and he chose the name “Bowie” as a stage name.  Perhaps he liked the sound of the name.  It is difficult to draw a connection to his selection of this last name on the surface, as he chose it from having heard of James Bowie, an American hero (and scoundrel)4 who was known primarily for developing a type of knife used in street fights (the Bowie knife) and for being one of the defenders who died at the battle of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.  Once assuming the stage name, and now having incorporated the movement/expressive work of mime into his art, it was not long before Jones shifted from recording music performed in a fairly conventional pop/music hall idiom to the first of his alternate egos (personae), the “Space Oddity.”


David Bowie as Jungian Artist: Encountering the “Alien”


       There are many themes that Jones consciously explored in his music, stage and video productions from the early 1970s through his last work in 2016, and these were affected by his interest in the unconscious process and dreams.  He alluded to being fascinated with the theories of Jung, both in the lyrics to an early song5 and in interviews over the years.  Among the themes he explored, often again and again, were the encounter with the shadow (a dark, sinister, unsettling aspect of his self, which again and again insists on interacting with his “ego”), the unification and assimilation of opposites, an exploration of anima and animus figures, an endless fascination and at times identification with “the other” (gender, sexuality, country, culture, extraterrestrial) and a somewhat tortured struggle with the concepts of religious experience and ritual.  Tanja Stark6 has written an erudite and stimulating essay on the Jungian themes encountered in much of Jone’s (Bowie’s) work and of his stated interest in Jung’s ideas.  Here I will touch only on the theme of “the alien” which recurs from beginning to end of his video oeuvre (including the “alienated” phase of his “Berlin period” work, and on the last two videos he released (one shortly before his death and one just after).  Henceforth I will refer to him as David Bowie, the stage name Jones chose for himself and under which he released his artistic work.

       The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the word “alien” as:


                              “not one’s own, foreign…differing, out of harmony, repugnant…

                               a being from another world…person excluded…”7


This definition resonates with the world which Carl Jung and his fellow “alienists” encountered in their work with the clinically insane at the dawn of the 20th century.  It also clearly held a resonance, as a symbol, for David Bowie as he developed his artistic works (songs, videos) during the dynamic, dissonant and creative cultural revolution of the last fifty years (1963 to 2016).  That Bowie’s artistic creations (including the recurrent symbol of the “alien”) held meaning and attraction for people during this half a century is evident in the success of his work commercially and critically, and in the response to his unexpected death from cancer (statements were released mourning his loss by heads of state around the globe).  As described by the Jungian analyst Verena Kast,5 to symbolize is “to discover the hidden meaning” in concrete situations and “to experience symbols as symbols” requires an emotional response to the symbols.  As an artist, Bowie gave expression and (through music and staging) emotional valence to symbols which drew his attention, amplifying and enriching images and concepts and ultimately making these objects available to his audience to experience and interact with and ascribe their own individual meaning to.

       The encounter with the unconscious and its manifold archetypes occurs through images and experiences have a numinous  quality.   They are also often experienced as parts of one’s self that are “foreign” or “alien” to the ego.  In this sense, Bowie’s fascination with the “alien” is directly accessing a common experience of all of the forms or archetypes (shadow, anima, animus, trickster, God/self, etc) as they erupt into our field of consciousness and overpower, fascinate, and inspire us.  They are always “alien” at first, and require an interaction and coming to terms with them, an integration with our sense of who we are (originally our consciousness is defined by our ego…as life goes on this hopefully broadens to allow a fuller sense of self which incorporates additional inner figures and archetypes).  A failure to integrate them results in either projection of these onto other persons or, in the case of schizophrenia, an overwhelming of the ego (and conscious thought) by these other inner characters.  It is quite possible that some, perhaps through fragility or permeability of the ego functions, have a tendency to more directly experience these unconscious figures, and that Bowie, given his family history, had the blessing (or curse) of an active imagination and ability to both access and emotionally react to these inner figures and archetypes.


The Space Oddity


       Bowie first explored the “alien” experience through the images of outer space exploration – both man leaving the earth to enter a new, ungrounded, destination and later, through the concept of an extra-terrestrial alien coming to visit earth.  Bowie’s first successes (“hits” to use the terminology of pop music) were the song “Space Oddity” (in which Bowie portrays a man shot out into space) and, shortly after, the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (in which Bowie play-acted a fictional extraterrestrial character who had come to earth to be a rock and roll star).  

       Timed to coincide with the first manned mission to land on the moon, Bowie released a video in 1969 for his song “Space Oddity” (  In the video portrayal for this song, Bowie portrays two different characters – he plays a man representing “Ground Control” (a scientist or technician) who is communicating with an explorer/astronaut named “Major Tom” who rockets up to outer space. The video is crude and simple, most notable for the other-worldly floating of Major Tom in outer space, appearing first inside of a circle, which turns out to be his space capsule (he is like an embryo inside the womb).  The Ground Control character is amazed at astronaut Tom’s successful rocketing into outer space and coaxes him to leave the “capsule.”  Astronaut Tom leaves the capsule and experiences the confusing and stimulating state of anti-gravity, where he is soon joined by two ethereal women figures.  The connection between Tom and Ground Control breaks and he ends up suspended in his capsule, far from earth, observing that:


                       “Planet Earth is blue

                        And there’s nothing I can do”


For Jung, exploration of outer reality (in the case of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” the scenario of man journeying to outer space) is always paralleled by the process of exploring inner reality.  In Jungian psychology, we have inner archetypes which form our experience of the world.  Symbolically, the exploration of space, especially when used in an artistic sense, can be seen as an exploration of inner realities and figures.  Given that view, Bowie first discovers a double feminine figure, an anima or “other” (doubling in dreams can be interpreted as a way that the psyche expresses a greater need to provide a symbol for integration).  Moreover, the male figure in the song shifts from the rational, “nerdy” scientist firmly rooted on the ground (ground control) to the dionysian, anima possessed, character suspended in the realm of the spiritual, cosmically viewing the entire planet, but hopelessly disassociated from it at the same time.

       A few years later, Bowie’s persona has transformed from the space explorer (Major Tom) to an androgynous, extraterrestrial character who has returned to earth (his “Ziggy Stardust” character.  In 1972, Bowie made another videotape for the same song (“Space Oddity”, but here we see him alone in a music studio, playing a guitar and singing the song.  He has transformed by this point in his career into an androgynous character, complete with plucked eyebrows, long red hair, and a sparkly shirt that looks more like a blouse (“Major Tom” and his anima figures have merged into one creature).  The apparatuses of the modern music studio (for an audio artist like Bowie, the music studio is the equivalent of the alchemist’s laboratory) stand in for the computers and machinery of space stations and rockets that had appeared in the 1969 video.  By this stage of his career, one could say that symbolically Bowie was working on integrating his anima (inner female), at least in terms of his stage personae, as he cultivated an image that was bi-sexual in orientation and androgynous in presentation.  He also used the perspective of an extra-terrestrial walking upon the earth (his “Ziggy Stardust”) persona to give him a new perspective – that of an outsider (a person alienated from humanity) looking at the world and observing it in all of its variety, beauty, sexiness, tragedy, and horror.  No doubt, for legions of fans, Bowie in this stage of his career was championing the cause of many who themselves felt alienated in the culture they had inherited from their parents’ generation.  He also had created a fantasy space in which fans could join him on an imaginative journey outside of otherwise humdrum or painful daily lives.  His openness and acceptance of transgender, homosexual and bisexual tropes also reached out to many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who for the first time had a popular star expressing images from what had been a largely closeted (and oppressed) lifestyle.

       The extraterrestrial persona continued in songs such as “Is There Life on Mars” (1972: and “Starman” (1972:  The imagery and music related to the image of the outer-space alien eventually ended for Bowie when he “retired” his Ziggy Stardust character and performing band in 1973.  There would be references to this character and identity in later work (most notably he plays the role of an alien sent to earth to find water for his dying planet in the film “The Man Who Fell To Earth” (a 1976 film by director Nicholas Roeg)), but by 1973 he had moved on to another persona and musical interest.  The themes of the alien/alienation continue however, in different (now no longer extra-terrestrial) forms.


The Thin White Duke, Soul Music, and the Kabbalah


       From 1973 to 1974, Bowie created a character he called Aladdin Sane (playing of the idea of “a lad, insane” recording an album with that title.  Lyrics from that album use more poetic license and juxtaposition of images and experiences, no longer forming a clear narrative, as he perhaps expressed the experience of schizophrenia (which his half brother had developed by this time in Bowie’s life).  The music is still based on the rock and roll/ rhythm and blues structures of his “Ziggy Stardust” band, but we also see the appearance of atonal and erratic piano soloing in the title track (this frenetic jazz improvisation will return integrated in his last work, *, in 2016).   The theme of insanity is something which Bowie continues to reference from time to time in his songs or videos (see below for references in the 1980s videos "Ashes to Ashes" and "Loving the Alien").  As explained above, insanity can be thought of (and at the time C.G. Jung began his career as a psychiatrist, was indeed thought of) as an "alienated" state.  Jung's later theories of schizophrenia would hypothesize that the illness is a state in which, through the weakening of neural structures, one's ego is inundated by other internal "complexes" (for Jung, he would later hypothesize that these "complexes" in turn were personalized versions of archetypes (the shadow, the trickster,the self, the anima/animus, etc) which although part of our psyche are experienced (in dreams or psychoses) as "other", autonomous entities.

       Following the phases of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie next created a new persona, “The Thin White Duke,” which he would inhabit on stage from 1974 to 1976.  “The Thin White Duke” presented as an unnaturally thin and pale, well dressed version of a privileged white male, incongruously developing and performing a new type of rhythm and blues “funk” music.   He moved to the United States and developed the music and recordings in Philadelphia and New York, strongly influenced by African American soul artists from these cities.  The music was inventive and creative and culturally bold – his performances on the American “soul music” program “Soul Train” are particularly striking as he lip syncs in a studied, purposely awkward manner surrounded by a primarily African American inner city audience ( - far away from the predominantly white audiences of his earlier rock 'n' roll work).  It is hard not to see this as a constellation of complete opposites, as this extremely “white,” “European” and stiff character throws himself into a diametrically opposed musical and cultural world (African American soul music).  This world, though, specifically the 1970s Philadelphia soul sound, was one of the evolutionary paths which American black music had taken after the creations of Little Richard and the early rock and roll pioneers.  It was in this music that the young Bowie had first heard “the voice of God” and, dare we say it so plainly, experienced “soul” for the first time.  Now he was in the thick of it, but consciously representing himself as an outsider at the same time. 

       Perhaps not unexpectedly, this stage of his life, although creative, was internally painful. Bowie’s encounters with the numinous at this stage of his work move from encounters with anima figures to more generalized images of the deity – in both evil and loving forms.  Bowie would later describe this period of his life as a descent into psychological despair, fueled by alcohol and drug use, and he seems to have had experiences during this time which led him to fear he was becoming schizophrenic.  On an episode of VHI Storytellers, he states that the period from 1974 to early 1977 “were singularly the darkest days of my life” (  He states in that episode that he was concerning himself with questions such as: “do the dead interest themselves in the affairs of the living?”   Whatever he was encountering in his personal life, it is interesting to note that his created material at the time incorporates ideas and themes from alchemy.  On the album art work for “Station to Station” (1976) he can be seen drawing the Sefirot  (an image from the Kabbalah of forces or powers through which an unknowable God interacts with his/her created world).  The Kabbalah and Sefirot can be looked at as similar to other alchemical treatises, as guidelines for inner development and individuation.  The subject matter of the Kabbalah and Sefirot includes integration of female and male energies and archetypal forces such as beauty, mercy, and justice.  These were the themes that more and more preoccupied Bowie as he moved from the album Young Americans to the album Station to Station.  The title song “Station to Station” actually refers to moving through the various stages (or stations) of development in the Sefirot/Kabbalah tradition (After 1977 these themes recede in his work until his very last album, *.  Among the energies or archetypes Bowie was encountering during 1976 (he had moved to Los Angeles for the recording of Station to Station) were images of witchcraft and the “dark” side of the deity, including attempts to conjure Satan (this was the period he would later describe as being on the edge of psychosis).  The integration of dark and light forces and the opposites images or forces of the Divine contained in the Self  (“God” and “Devil”) are aspects of the alchemical work of encountering the archetype of the Self.

       Another song recorded for the Station to Station album, “Word on a Wing,” offers some insight into his relationship with a positive form of the deity (around this time he began wearing a silver cross, which he would wear for the next twenty years or more, despite what seems to have been, for Bowie, a lifelong dissatisfaction with organized religions of any kind)).  The song opens with the lyrics:


 “In this age of grand illusion, you walked into my life out of my dreams."

"I don’t need another change.  Still you forced your will to my scheme of things.”

(Bowie, “Word on a Wing”, 1976).


It is quite possible this song came from a dream experience, as Bowie was known to use dreams as part of his creative process.  It also reminds one of the encounter of the ego with the divine (or, for Jung, the archetype of the Self).   The above song passage recalls a quote of Jung’s regarding the artistic process:


“Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument.  The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purpose through him.  As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is “man” in a higher sense – he is “collective man” – one who carries and shapes the unconscious, psychic forms of mankind.”  Jung Psychology and Literature 1930


Later in the song “Word on a Wing” Bowie sings of his process of encountering the numinous and of his iterative process of “knowing” God:


“Just because I believe doesn’t mean I don’t think as well. 

Don’t have to question everything in heaven or hell…

Lord, I kneel and offer you my word on a wing. 

And I’m trying hard to fit among your scheme of things”

(Bowie, “Word on a Wing”, 1976)


It is perhaps the most difficult step of an individuation process – the encounter of one’s ego with the divine (Self) and the coming to terms with the I-Thou experience which is built into the fabric of our psyche. 


Berlin, the Nigredo Phase, and a New Kind of Alienation


       In the next phase of Bowie’s work, from 1977 to 1980, he left the United States and chose to place himself in another alien location, moving to the city of West Berlin during the time when it was a walled island surrounded by communist Europe, physically and culturally cut off from western Europe and the United States.  The German director, Wim Wenders, in writing notes about his film “Wings of Desire” wrote of it as a place that was like hell on earth, a landscape of broken buildings, high anxiety and political isolation, surrounded with a literal wall forbidding admixture between Eastern and Western political and social cultures (and enclosing those in the city with no free or open land exit to the rest of the world).  In essence, Bowie was facing and working with the theme of alienation again, by immersing himself in a city and political culture (West Berlin) which was alienated at a group level from it's fractured country of origin, Germany.  Bowie retreated here to work on a series of albums and to restart a life off of drugs and alcohol. 

       The two main albums from this period, Low and Heroes, were largely recorded in Berlin and each contained one album side of primarily instrumental music – most of it very dark and somber and utilizing electronic and doctored sounds.  The work of this period was collaborative, with the English musician Brian Eno, and placed Bowie outside of the musical mainstream.  The albums were less commercial and indeed sold less than his previous work had.  But for many, they symbolize one of the peaks of his artistic creativity (for instance, the American composer Philip Glass later created symphonic versions of much of this work - his Symphony No. 2 was based on the Low album and his Symphony No. 4 was based on the Heroes album).

       Two songs from this period are particularly striking.  On the Low album (released in 1977) the song “Warszawa” ( begins with deliberate dirge-like tones, clearly capturing a mood of what alchemists (and Jungians!) would call the “nigredo” stage, a “depressed” or “low” phase of the individuation process, in which the ego is fallen to pieces and is decomposing.  The song develops slowly with sparse chords and electronic lines. Then a new, rising melodic structure begins, using processed sounds of violins and wind instruments, clearly synthetic but referencing the real instruments. This new progression expresses something both more human and less dirge-like, despite the fact that the sonic materials expressing the melody are encased in a cold “electronic” form.  At the four minute point of this song, the music dips into a more ominous minor chord and Bowie begins singing – not a single voice, but several overdubbed voices: a chorus of baritone male voices (sounding like Russian political music from earlier in the century), a single male tenor voice, a high pitched “female” voice at first solo, then doubled.  At times all the voices can be heard, singing in a foreign language (in truth Bowie made up the words phonetically and they are “meaningless”).   These “alien” voices represent a multiplicity of aspects of the self, with the “female” voices seeming to capture elements of grieving, arising from the “nigredo” of sound, but nested upon the firm, earthy and masculine baritone notes.  After the vocal interlude, the earlier musical themes return, reprising the rising structure of the music before abruptly ending.

       As Bowie himself noted in an interview with the Polish magazine Tylko Rock:


“In that tune [Warszawa], I wanted to express the feelings of people who yearn to be free, they can smell the scent of freedom… but they can’t reach it.” (Oleksiek 2011)


In another interview from 1997, Bowie stated:


I attempted to capture and render musically the anxiety which I had heard in these Polish folk songs. [...] As I don’t speak Polish, I tried to sing in what one could call a ‘phonetic music’. I know that my music doesn’t portray Warsaw the city, but for me it was a kind of a symbol, a catchphrase which carried content that was very important for me” (Glinski 2015)


Not only is the song striking in it’s capturing of a certain time and place (Berlin during the cold war, the angst of Eastern Europeans living in proximity or directly under authoritarian governance), the song itself is an example of how Bowie used synchronistic and “chance” experiences to make his art.  Apparently Bowie had stopped for an hour in Warsaw while on a train ride in 1976 and walked to a nearby record store, where he heard a shop assistant playing a record by a group called “Polish National Song and Dance Ensemble.”  An avid record collector, he purchased the album.  Not understanding the language of the singers (Polish), he was nevertheless drawn to a song called “Helokanie”, a song of call and response between "villagers" and a girl herding sheep.  On the Polish record, it is a composed choral work, but like other composers who utilized local folk music, the composer of “Helokanie” incorporated lyrics and a melody which he had overheard a girl singing while he was on a walk in the Polish countryside.  Within the recording of “Helokanie” ( ) one can hear the different voices (men’s choir, young girl singing) and pieces of the melodies and phonetic sounds which Bowie recreated within his and Eno’s song “Warszawa.”  Bowie grafted these non-western melodies onto the soundscape of “Warszawa” using his own voice, channeling both female and male voices (for an artist who had already integrated feminine and masculine aspects of his character, this was perhaps not a new challenge, although the vocal range and artistry he displayed here is nothing short of stunning).  To even further indicate the chance nature of the elements which composed “Warszawa,” the original melody of the first section came from some notes that the four  year old child of Brian Eno had been playing on a toy piano and which Eno built the prototype of the song around.   Many of the songs put together by Bowie and Eno on the Low album and the subsequent albums Heroes and Lodger utilized a set of shuffled and randomly chosen instructions that they called “oblique strategies.”  The instructions led to creative experiments in sound and composition and utilized other chance elements, challenging the artists to create from elements they did not directly dictate or orchestrate – elements from outside the direct control of ego (although, as in analysis, ego was utilized to interact with the creative symbols or structures emerging from “outside” the ego).

       The song “Heroes” was also recorded in West Berlin and also released in 1977 as the title song of an album with the same name, a few months after the Low album.  The song, an anthem of a doomed action taken by a couple (the symbol is a classic conjunctio image – a man and woman, or, as the lyrics state a “king” and “queen”), kissing at a wall (the Berlin wall is implied) – two human beings challenging the enforced separation of European and Russian states.  The imagery is of martyrs (“I can remember…Standing by the wall…And the guns shot above our heads…” “and the shame was on the other side…oh, we can beat them, forever and ever…then we could be heroes just for one day”).  In the same way that Bowie’s earlier Ziggy Stardust work had given imagery and voice to the marginalized and outcast, “Heroes” created a symbolic, indeed heroic image by which the vulnerable human could stand up against the power and force of the state (of society, in it’s rigidities).  The song moves beyond alienation to a celebration and transformation of the central figure or figures in the realm of the symbolic.  It may be the most moving example of the principle of individuation in Bowie’s work and it is hard not to associate the song to the images of the Rosarium which Jung wrote about in his works "The Psychology of the Transference" and the book Mysterium Coniunctionis.  Musically, a rather standard rocking and rolling chord structure (on bass, drums and piano) is obscured by layers of electronic oscillators, waves of synthesized keyboard chords and guitar feedback loops, and a vocal recording that forced Bowie to express himself more forcefully as the song climaxed, in order to be heard.  In video performances of this song from that era (, Bowie is no longer in costume, dressed simply in a t-shirt, black trousers, and leather jacket, hair un-dyed and without makeup.  He wears a cross around his neck (another symbol of transformation) and stands rooted to the ground against a disorienting background of searchlights shining through a cold, fog-like atmosphere.  The “alien” has become fully human as an “alienated” man, the suffering “hero” of his own life story.  And, as an artist, he had created a musical and poetic image that all persons suffering alienation in the face of political or social repression could relate to.


“Ashes to Ashes” and the First Return of "Major Tom"


        As the 1980s drew to a close, and moving forward from his “Berlin” phase, Bowie continued  to explore the theme of the alien in both his film work (“The Man Who Fell to Earth”) and his musical work and videos (“Ashes to Ashes”).  In “Ashes to Ashes” (1980) Bowie purposely revisited the character of “Major Tom” from the song “Space Oddity,” recasting the romanticized space explorer as a “junkie” “strung out in heaven’s high, hitting an all-time low,”  effectively crash landing the image of the space explorer (and Dionysian drug user) onto the earth.  In the video ( he appears in a costume that is as much the Italian-French mime character Pierrot as it is an exotic creature from another planet.  A number of archetypal characters images appear, including female and male characters in clerical dress, a construction truck, an embryonic Bowie,  and  a “mother” character who counsels him on how to “get things done” by avoiding the flights of fantasy.  Bowie himself has described the song as a farewell to the work he did in the 1970s.  It also seems to symbolically  acknowledge his movement away from drug use and the experimentation phases of the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s, through the “Low” period, to a point of restarting his life from scratch. 

       The “Ashes to Ashes” video also has scenes where Bowie plays a character in isolation in a psychiatric ward.  On one hand this could be referencing the physical “withdrawal” process from addiction, but it also clearly symbolizes the psychological struggle that he has been dealing with as an artist from early in his career (hence references to Jung and madness in his earlier work, including the character of “Aladdin Sane” (a lad, insane), and which we may imagine he had a particular susceptibility to experience (as mentioned above, schizophrenia ran in his family and in the early 1970s he experienced his brother’s early psychotic break, which came after the two of them had gone to hear a music concert).  As Jung himself discovered, in working with schizophrenic patients, who were supposedly “alienated” from themselves, these same patients were often deeply immersed in archetypal experiences and clearly strongly effected by collective cultural elements.   Jung moved from realizing his patients were living direct experiences with the archetypal world to experiencing (and hence discovering) these psychological forces himself.  As Jung wrote in the Red Book, he experienced “psychotic” visions shortly before World War I broke out, and he subsequently let himself experience the archetypal inner world common to all mankind, in a more direct manner.  It is perhaps no surprise, given both Bowie’s and Jung’s deliberate decision to work with the unconscious (Bowie as artist and Jung as psychiatrist/psychologist), that they would increasingly be drawn to similar thematic material, including the relationship of man to God images and to the archetypal symbols at the core of the “religious” experience. 

       During the 1980s, Bowie produced a song and video which dealt directly with religious experiences, which he titled “Loving the Alien” ( Released in 1985, this was actually a song he wrote to express his frustration with organized religions in general, juxtaposing lyrics and video of Christian and Muslim religious symbols.  There are images of mirroring, clashing of cultures, and a feverishly praying Bowie who’s skin is blue (perhaps referencing Hindu depictions of the gods Shiva or Krishna).    The lyrics express a general frustration at the religious clashes happening (for hundreds of years) in the “holy land,” but perhaps at a more challenging level he critiques the concept of humans projecting their hopes for salvation (and their need to absolve sins through “hanging” them upon a scapegoat-God image).  The projection of evil upon people from other religions (in the video this is highlighted by images of medieval knights and Saracens in battle, or broken mirrors/windows) is paralleled by a process shared by both Christian and Muslim religions (he doesn’t explicitly mention other religions) in which there is worship of a creator who is essentially alien (other than man himself and beyond the world we inhabit).  The psychological torment of experiencing and encountering these collective tensions are made explicit at the end when the narrator (Bowie) is depicted as in a cell that could be either a psychiatric unit or a prison in which he is being “treated” or tortured with electric shocks. 


Late Bowie: His Final Works, Individuation, Integration, and Dissolution


“Where Are We Now?”



      Following his “Berlin phase” of 1977-1979, Bowie went on to enjoy a full, creative career, reaching a commercial peak in the 1980s, and continually writing and recording music until weeks before his death at age 69 in January of 2016.  His final works (the “Next Day” and *) bear witness to a man who continued to explore the interface of dreams, symbols, the unconscious, and transformation.  These last two albums were accompanied by videos which he co-created and acted in and which also were full of symbols of individuation, integration of the anima, the shadow, the trickster and explorations of numinous experience and its relation to artistic and religious creation.  “The Next Day” was Bowie’s twenty-fourth studio album and was released in 2013.  It is likely that at least some of the songs and/or videos were done after he had become aware that he was potentially mortally ill with cancer.

       That Bowie’s Berlin period (when the albums “Low” and “Heroes” were created) signaled a key moment in his own archetypal individuation process (the nigredo stage of his alchemical work), is supported by his returning, as he approached the end of his mortal life, to themes from the days of his life in Berlin.  The cover of “The Next Day” is actually a replica of the “Heroes” album, with the title “Heroes” lined out and a large white square with the word “The Next Day” pasted on top of the photograph of Bowie that was on the “Heroes” album.  The accompanying video for the song “Where Are We Now?” ( was directed by a visual artist and friend of Bowie’s named Tony Oursler and lyrically recalls several seemingly mundane places from West Berlin (a tram station, a coffee shop, a department store), set over a melancholic melody with a questioning chorus about where “we” now are.   Oursler, as recounted in the essay by Tanja Stark.6  Bowie was very energized and cognizant of Jung at the time they made this video:


  Ouster wrote that “David Bowie inhabits Carl Jung’s archetypes, reading and speaking of the psychoanalyst with passion” (Stark 2015). 


In fact, Ousler went with Bowie to see the “Red Book” exhibit (a showing of Jung's Red Book, with accompanying art and objects from Jung's work) when it showed in New York in 2009-2010. 

       The "Where Are We Now?” video opens with images of jewels (a diamond, the creative “gold” of the opus of individuation and alchemical work), followed by a glass covering and empty frame (the artist’s tools – the glass reflects life and the visionary artist – his task forever to create something that reflects his experience of the numinous).  The film then moves into an artist’s studio, with a crude Siamese-twin doll (two conjoined monkey-like bodies, with two heads, upon which are projected images of Bowie singing and of a silent woman).  This hermaphroditic, trans-species creature (man and his anima, animal and human) sits upon a table filled with objects, concrete symbols including the diamond, a snake, a wise old man, an empty bottle, a sphere, and books.  Projected behind them are black and white film images of Berlin, including the Berlin Wall (by this point in time just a memory) and towards the end, a famous statue of an angel, from one of the parks in Berlin.  The song lyrics speak of a breakdown in the order of time and of the line between life and death:


“ A man lost in time….just walking the dead”


And further lyrical images move to words about fire and rain.  If this had been Bowie’s last video it would have left us with a moving portrait of integration of opposites and of the wholeness which Jung would often speak of as the goal of an individuated life.




"Black Star"



       But Bowie lived long enough to complete a final studio album “Black Star” and produce two final videos for the songs Black Star( and Lazarus ( (while simultaneously bringing a musical play to Broadway that threaded together songs and themes from throughout his work!).   These final videos eschew the sense of completeness and wholeness that manifested in the video for “Where Are We Now,”  instead seeming to tap into more of what Jung would call  “visionary” and "psychological" modes of artistic creation.  Jung, in his essay on “Psychology and Literature (published in volume 15 of his Collected Works), first describes a “psychological” mode of art, in which the author builds upon life experiences to tell a story of personal transformation.  This might correspond, for instance, to Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes”, in which he used symbols from the collective unconscious, but basically told a story which had relevance to his own personal growth and process of integration.  In his essay on “Psychology and Literature,” Jung also talks about a more disturbing “visionary” type of art, in which the artist is more directly channeling symbols and transformative processes from the direct unconscious.  The video and musical work Bowie created for the song “Black Star” is an excellent example of this visionary type of art. 

       In this last year of his life, Bowie was working on his music and broadway play, undergoing treatments for cancer, and no doubt attending to life with his wife and family (an area which he kept very private – interestingly, given his fascination with the alien/other as expressed throughout his career, he spent his last 24 years married to a black Somalian model and entrepreneur, who was from a Muslim background).  It is likely that Bowie, in facing his mortality, was also asking questions which had occupied him throughout his career, namely the question of a deity and how he could relate to that spiritual dimension, and the question of what happens to the human soul as it transitions into death.  In “Black Star” we see a series of images and a “science fiction” story that delves deeply and disturbingly into images death, suffering, religious ritual, and the creation of mythology.  The video and song allow Bowie an artistic frame with which he could channel terrifying, primal experiences.  But, through the process of creating art with these images and feelings, Bowie is not just experiencing these images and feelings but relating to these alien, "other" archetypes and landscapes (as Jung did the images he elaborated in the Red Book, the ego interacts with the inner elements in bringing them to conscious expression).  The images in this video are dark, strange, grotesque and other-worldly and as such, fulfill many of the criteria of Jung’s “visionary” art.  The following excerpts highlight some of  Jung's key thoughts about "visionary" art:


(In the visionary mode of artistic creation) “the experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression is no longer familiar.  It is something strange that derives its existence from the hinterland of man’s mind, as if it had emerged from the abyss of prehuman ages, or from a superhuman world contrasting light and darkness."


“It is a primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding and to which in his weakness he may easily succumb.  The very enormity of the experience gives it its value and shattering impact.  Sublime, pregnant with meaning, yet chilling the blood with its strangeness, it arises from the timeless depths: glamourous, daemonic, and grotesque, it bursts asunder our human standards of value and aesthetic form, a terrifying tangle of eternal chaos, a crimen laesae whose height and depths are beyond our fathoming, or a vision of beauty which we can never put into words.”


“This disturbing spectacle of some tremendous process that in every way transcends our human feeling and understanding…the primordial experiences rend from top to bottom the curtain upon which is painted the picture of an ordered world, and allow a glimpse into the unfathomable abyss of the unborn and of things yet to be.  Is it a vision of other worlds, or of the darknesses of the spirit, or of the primal beginnings of the human psyche?  We cannot say that is is any or none of these.”


Jung, “Psychology and Literature” (CW 15,141)


       Bowie’s video for “Dark Star” is carefully structured and acted out, but it’s core material is disturbing and far removed from everyday experience.  The entire video, reflecting the title of the song, is carried out under a form of darkened light.  The “Dark Star” concept itself is most likely a direct reference to the alchemical symbol of the “Black Sun,” an image related to the nigredo stage of alchemy and one in which the psyche is forced to confront and create from with the depths of desolation, emptiness, and despair (see Stanton Marlon’s  book The Black Sun11 for an excellent summary of the “Black Sun” motif in psychology and alchemy).  The video opens with images of an astronaut’s body (symbolically we must consider this Major Tom and hence, Bowie), lying in a desolate landscape under both a black star and a black sun (or a sun in the stage of eclipse).   In a twist of "black" humor which Bowie injects into both of these final videos ("Black Star" and "Lazarus"), the astronaut’s outfit has an embroidered “happy face.”  We soon learn, as the helmet it opened by a woman who approaches it solemnly, that inside is a skull.  But the skull is covered in intricate jewels and she takes it, as one would a religious relic, to her village, where a ritual is being acted out.  Bowie next appears as the “narrator,” in a disorienting visual state, with bandages wrapped across his face (and thus blinding him) and two black buttons put in the place of his eyes.  It is both an image of suffering and of turning inward and works effectively and in a heart-breaking manner if we consider this an artistic representation of Bowie’s struggle to create art in the face of his disease and suffering (cancer).  On top of a frantic drum pattern, complicated by jazz saxophone soloing erratically and furtively and synthesizers mimicking static discharges of electricity, the blind narrator sings about a “solitary candle” that is “at the center of it all” and of a “day of execution” in which “only women kneel and pray.”  The candle can be thought of as a symbol of consciousness in the center of a vast, complex and dark unconscious world.

       In an attic with bright light entering into the inner darkness, several characters (a black and white man and a  woman with dark hair) perform an erratic dance based on shaking their arms, not unlike the repetitive movements seen in catatonic psychoses.  The main woman, who carries the astronaut skull into the town, is revealed to have a tail, adding to the uncanny and primal nature of this world underneath the dark star.  As this section comes to an end, women are forming a circle and performing a more involved, solemn ritual dance.  All is ominous, dark and strange, as Jung noted about this type of art:


“It is strange that a deep darkness surrounds the sources of the visionary material…

Jung, “Psychology and Literature” (CW 15,144-145)


The song moves from strange humming sounds to the chords of a church-like organ, and the next phase of the video begins with a scene of dark vegetation transforming into an image of a preacher (Bowie, now unmasked, holding a black holy book with a black star on the cover).  He holds his head up towards the heavens and stands, along with the three “catatonic dancers” (now watching  with eyes open in amazement), in front of an obviously fake backdrop of bright blue skies and white clouds (the dancers shadows can be seen on the sky image).  The preacher character sings of someone dying, with his spirit rising, then refers to the story of a fallen angel, and of a preacher who “trods upon sacred ground” to proclaim “I’m a Black Star.”  The music moves between choruses where the preacher sings about seeing with “open hearted pain” amidst visions of eagles and diamonds and verses performed by an alternate, trickster-like version of the same preacher, who excoriates the listener and tells him he has come to take him home:


                         “I can’t answer why

                          Just go with me

                          I’m a take you home

                          Take your passport and shoes

                          And your sedatives, boo

                          You’re a flash in the pan

                          I’m the great I am”   (Bowie, Black Star, 2016)


Choruses in the background seem to refer to Bowie the man, alternating between what he is (a “blackstar”) and what he is not (“a filmstar”, “a popstar”, “a gangster”).  Of course Bowie (David Jones) has been all of these (The "Thin White Duke" performed as a star on black music shows, Bowie acted in films, was a pop star, and, although not a "gangster" was the first rock artist to package his songs as a stock market investment and accumulated a great amount of wealth) and at the same time is none of these, as they were all personae or different aspects of himself.  As the video proceeds, the preacher character seems both in touch with the God Yaweh (I Am) and with the trickster or devil (Lucifer, the devil coming to claim the soul of the dying).  A horrid scene of crucifixion unfolds, with three bodies writhing in agony on makeshift crosses, bags over their heads and straw coming out of their bodies (at once men and scare-crows).  As the video winds down we see a montage of images of the preacher(s), the crucifixions, the button eyed narrator, the women in ritual with the skull, and the black star (sun) which shines darkly over everything.

       Though carefully scripted and filmed, and recorded and sung in a thoughtful and masterful manner, Bowie’s “black star” song ultimately leaves the work for us, as viewers/listeners to relate to in our own individual way.  There is no simple and straightforward message given here.  Again, to quote from Jung:


“…the work of the artist meets the psychic needs of the society in which he lives, and therefore means more than his personal fate, whether he is aware of it or not.  Being essentially the instrument of his work, he is subordinate to it, and we have no right to expect him to interpret it for us.  He has done his utmost by giving it form, and must leave the interpretation to others and to the future.  A great work of art is like a dream: for all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is always ambiguous.  A dream never says “you ought” or “this is the truth.”  It presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow, and it is up to us to draw conclusions.


“…when we let a work of art act upon us as it acted upon the artist.  To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to shape us as it shaped him.  Then we also understand the nature of his primordial experience.  He has plunged in to healing and redeeming depths of the collective psyche, where man is not in the isolation of consciousness and its errors and suffering, but where all men are caught in a common rhythm which allows the individual to communicate his feelings and strivings to mankind as a whole..”


Jung, “Psychology and Literature” (CW 15,161)









       Bowie’s final video was for the song “Lazarus,” which was also the name of the Broadway musical he worked on up until his last days.  The video was almost assuredly filmed at the point in time where Bowie knew he had lost the battle with cancer and would soon die.  The title references the story from the New Testament, in which Jesus raised a character (Lazarus) from the dead (in the biblical story, Lazarus eventually dies again, so his miraculous resurrection is a brief one).  In the video for “Lazarus”(, Bowie presents a work which, using Jung’s division of art into “psychological” and “visionary”, can be considered as a “psychological” approach to his encounter and entry into death.  As such, it stands in juxtaposition to the “visionary” film for “black star.” 

       The “Lazarus” film opens with a wardrobe bathed in dark shadow and with a hand opening it from within.  Next we see Bowie again portraying the blinded (eyes wrapped and buttons for eyes) creature we have previously encountered in the "Black Star" video, much frailer now and lying in bed.  He is alone in a room that looks like a hospital or jail cell or psychiatric institution (or could it be the cell of a monk?).  As he sings “look up here, I’m in heaven” we see the character struggling to rise and eventually levitating.  The character sings plaintively:


                           “Look up here, I’m in heaven

                             I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

                             I’ve got drama  can’t be stolen

                             Everybody knows me now…”


Beneath his bed is a shadow figure (one of the “catatonic” actors from the black star video, but here more in shadow and more ominous).  The figure reaches out a hand towards him as Bowie’s invalid character begins to levitate, thus escaping temporarily from this shadow character.  The lyrics refer to his sickly and weakened state:


                             “Look up here, man, I’m in danger

                               I’ve got nothing left to lose..."



He mentions being “high” (on sedatives) and mentions him dropping his cell phone (his means of communication?), which he jokes about "Ain't that just like me?"  Sense of direction are lost (through rotation of the camera we become disoriented as to what is up and down) and we are not sure if the character is lifting up towards the ceiling or falling towards the floor.  His hands make the motions which the “catatonic” dancers had made in the “black star” video.  The viewer, as well as the character, are clearly in a transitional, "luminal" state.

        Then, as the music gathers intensity and changes chords, we see an un-blinded Bowie who has emerged from the wardrobe next to the bed.  This second character is dressed in a tight-fitting outfit (black, with silver stripes across it) which happens to be an outfit Bowie posed in for the album “Station to Station” in 1976, in which he was drawing images from the Kabbalah (the image of the Sefirot).   He now faces the camera squarely, an aged and tired looking David Bowie, strikingly different from the self-assured personae he previously used as a singer.  This second character is standing and dancing in an exaggerated manner (we can see here the use of movement which Bowie had learned in his youth work as a mime) and sings of autobiographical elements of Bowie’s life (moving to New York, where he spent his last twenty years).  The character on the bed starts to sing about “being free…like a bluebird” and in an extraordinary montage we see the “Kabbalah” Bowie figure sit down at a desk, and, with a pen, begin to furiously write on page after page. A skull (the same one from the black star video) sits on the same desk,and while the "Kabbalah" character writes feverishly, the camera also shows us the shadow figure, now sitting below the desk,  and the “death-bed” blinded Bowie character, who continues to levitate over his bed.  In some ways this is an exquisitely portrayed, but simple presentation of the link between mortal suffering, the archetype of the artist who transforms the suffering into art (here it is writing, but given the fact that Bowie was acting in and created this film, the video itself is the artwork being produced from his final suffering), with symbols of death (the skull) and spirit (the bluebird) inspiring the artist, and through it all, the shadow figure lurking and demanding an ultimate integration.  The “Kabbalah” Bowie runs out of paper, but continues to write on the desk, as he seems to be running out of both time and materials. 

       In the final stages of the video, the "Kabbalah " character is silent (simultaneously, the invalid character on the bed has been surrounded with shadow) and he now moves, in deliberate, mime-like fashion, like an old man, backwards towards the wardrobe.  The movements are resolute and determined, as he enters the wardrobe and finally closes it.  He has entered his final resting place.  The video is personal and dealing directly with Bowie's psychological experience, but has echoes and resonances with the more visionary “black star” video.  Taken together, they offer the viewer/listener an experience of death and dying that, although personal for each of us, is at the same time a collective psychological experience for all human beings.  Again, to quote from Jung’s essay on the artist:



“This re-immersion in the state of participation mystique is the secret of artistic creation and of the effect which great art has upon us, for at that level of experience it is no longer the weal and woe of the individual that counts, but the life of the collective.  That is why every great work of art is objective and impersonal, and yet profoundly moving.”


Jung, “Psychology and Literature” (CW 15,161)



In Closing...


       David Bowie (David Jones) had the great fortune to live a long life as a creative artist (musician, actor, videographer) and his work, over five decades, cannot be adequately summarized in one essay.  Indeed, I have focused here on only a small sample of his musical and video work. Bowie's interest in Jungian thought and openness to work with the symbols of transformation give us one of the great examples of an artist of the 20th/21st century combining both personal and visionary approaches to express archetypal processes and to incorporate archetypes from the unconscious into his conscious artistic productions (and we hope, into his life: by all accounts, Bowie was a gracious and sober gentleman in his later years and was content in his marriage and with his family life as well as his musical work).  He was perhaps given a special gift for working with and being affected by archetypal aspects of the self which are “alien” and “other” by virtue of his genetic loading (Jung and his mentor, Bleuler both realized that persons with a schizophrenic predisposition also often had a special aptitude for creative artistic expression).

       In exploring the “alien” Bowie gave cultural expression to concepts such as integration of the anima and the shadow, both on a personal and cultural level.  His work to “love” or to “integrate” the alien never stopped and never reached an easy resolution.  His  closing work and videos certainly did not shy away from experiencing the approach towards death and he has left us a touching and stimulating artistic expression of the numinosity of the dying process.  As some of his close friends have said, his last work was a final gift to his audience.

       For this alienist (I am a practicing psychiatrist), I have learned much from the work of Bowie.  And, a year after his passing, I continue to mourn the loss of this talented and creatively driven human being.




I owe a special thank you to Nomi Kluger-Nash for letting me know about Stark’s essay on Bowie, which gave me the idea for this essay.  It turns out (we didn’t know each other at the time) Nomi and I both saw David Bowie in 1980 when he performed as an actor on Broadway in the play “The Elephant Man.”  In that production, Bowie played the role, without makeup or props, of yet another alienated soul, Joseph Merrick.  Merrick, an Englishman in the 19th century, suffered from horrible medical deformities (including speech impediments) and had been abusively exhibited as a “freak” (a man “half human and half elephant”) before finally finding some solace in a hospital, where he was able to live in a humane manner and to become educated and develop friendships and create works of art.  Some excerpts from that production can be seen here:




References Manzano O, Cervenka S, Karabanov A, Farde L, Ullén F. “Thinking outside a less intact box: thalamic dopamine D2 receptor densities are negatively related to psychometric creativity in healthy individuals.  PLoS One. 2010 May 17;5(5):e10670.


2. “I had heard God.” Doggett, Peter (January 2007). "Teenage Wildlife". Mojo Classic (60 Years of Bowie): 8–9.


3. Brown M.  “Lindsay Kemp: The Man Who Taught Bowie His Moves.”  Crawdaddy, Sept, 1974.


4. Davis, WC.  Three Roads To The Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis.  1998. Harper Collins: New York, New York.


5. “Drive In Saturday,” from Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane, contains the lyric:


        “Jung the foreman prayed at work

          Neither hands nor limbs would burst

          It’s hard to keep formation with this fall out saturation…”


6. Stark, T., “Crashing out with Sylvian: David Bowie, Carl Jung, and the Unconscious,” in David Bowie: Critical Perpectives, Devereux E, Dillane A, Power MJ (editors), 2015: Routledge, New York, NY.


7.  Sykes, J.B., editor.  The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English.  Seventh Edition.  1982.  Oxford University Press. Oxford, England.


8. Kast V, The Dynamics of Symbols: Fundamentals of Jungian Psychotherapy, 1992, Fromm International Publishing Company, New York, NY.


9. Oleksiak, W.  “How David Bowie Created Warszawa.”  CULTURE.PL.


10. Glinski, M.  “Did David Bowie Know Esperanto?  The Invented Language of Warszawa & the Eastern-European Story Behind It.” CULTURE.PL.


11. Marlan, S.  The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness. 2008. Texas A&M Press: College Station, Texas.

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