Jung, Clarke, Kubrick: Dark Monoliths, Stone Temples

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Motifs and coincidences involve the lives and work of the psychologist, the writer and the filmmaker.

Michael Powers

Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung had a strong affinity with stone. When he was seven years old there was a special stone which he imagined could think. Jung would sit on the stone for hours and wonder, "Am I the one who is sitting on the stone, or am I the stone on which he is sitting?" He never reached a conclusion. This affinity continued his entire life. He constructed a miniature village of stone, visited temples carved from solid stone in southern India, and carved forms in stone as a sculptor.

At the age of sixty-nine Jung suffered a heart attack that brought him close to death. While lying unconscious in a Zurich hospital bed he experienced a delirium or vision in which he found himself floating in space above the island of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. From the breadth of his vision of the Earth he later estimated an altitude of one thousand miles above the surface. Also floating in space nearby was a very large dark block of stone. A Hindu temple was carved into the block, similar to monolithic temples Jung had visited (like Kailasantha Temple, carved from a mountain over a period of 100 years). In his vision Jung entered the temple. Somehow he knew that inside was a room in which he would meet “all those people to whom I belong in reality.” If he were to pass through a certain inner door then all of the limitations of material life would drop away and the purpose of Jung’s existence be revealed. We may infer that this was the door of death. Suddenly his doctor appeared in his “primal form” and informed Jung that there were protests from the Earth and he must return. Jung did this most unwillingly, and felt certain that the doctor must die in his place. Jung was indeed his last patient, as the doctor contracted septicemia and passed away a few months later.

By this vision I was strongly reminded of a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which a dark stone monolith appears floating in space above a planet. While not a temple, this monolith induces a profound personal transformation on an astronaut. I wondered whether this image could have originated with Dr. Jung (like Kubrick, born July 26), and traced backward through the historical record to find the origin of the image. The trail to Kubrick’s monolith begins with "Sentinel of Eternity", a 1951 short story by Arthur C. Clarke in which an ancient pyramid apparently of stone is discovered on the Moon. It transmits a signal to the race that created it informing them that humanity had reached the Moon. In 1966 Clarke and Kubrick began development of Clarke’s primitive Sentinel idea combined with the concept of Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End, in which the consciousness of humankind is transformed and the race ultimately ascends from the planet immaterially in a column of fire. This creative cooperation culminated in the screenplay of the celebrated film. Kubrick’s image of a dark stone monolith with the sun rising above it is surely an updating of the ancient observatory at Stonehenge, UK.

After the release of the film the two men parted ways. In Clarke’s book the final monolith is on the surface of a moon of Saturn, while in the film of Kubrick it is shown orbiting the planet of Jupiter because the special effects of the day were not up to the task of realistically modeling the rings of Saturn. As to why Kubrick’s monolith is in orbit instead of solidly fixed on a moon, only those involved could say, and it is now too late to ask. While there are differences between Jung’s vision and Kubrick’s images, in both cases we have large monoliths of dark stone that can bring about profound transformation. In both cases, the monolith is orbiting a planet.

There are also a few curious coincidences involving the lives and works of Jung and Clarke. Jung had his near-death vision of a dark stone monolith that is suspended in space far above the island of Ceylon. Clarke resided on the island of Sri Lanka for the last fifty-two years of his life. Clarke was also celebrated as an expert on objects suspended above the Earth, having originated the concept of the Earth orbital zone now known as the Clarke Belt. Objects orbiting within the Clarke Belt appear to be suspended above a point on the Earth.

Jung’s vision was published in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections three years before work began on the film. Jung’s writing may have had influence on either Kubrick or Clarke, but the nature of any such influence is as of yet unknown.

Michael Powers is a philosopher and jazz musician in Ubud, Bali. Photos of Kallasantha from Pratheepps, and Summer Solstice sunrise at Stonehenge from Wikicommons.

Copyright © Michael Powers. All rights reserved.

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