Adlerian and existentialist meanings of life in Berserk
This is a summary of our conversation on how the concept of Adlerian meanings of life helps us make sense of Guts’ reasons for leaving Griffith and of how Guts’ and Griffith’s dramas are connected.
At least one level of analysis (breakdown) of the self is necessary to distinguish between what we called “Adlerian meaning or Adlerian dream” and “existentialist meaning”, that between unconscious self and reflective self. The two parts of the self are the sources of two different “meanings of life”.
I mainly used “meaning of life” in Adler’s sense, as a deterministic drive. Adlerian meaning of life is not something consciously chosen. It is something determined in the first years of childhood. If for instance you are feeling physically inferior to a bigger brother and that’s the dominant part of your emotional life in those first years, then you may unconsciously make your purpose in life, and meaning of life, to prove that strength is not important. Important is intellect. And you struggle to get a PhD. Guts’ Adlerian meaning is a relationship of mutual attachment. Griffith’s is to become king. In the Adlerian sense living a meaningful life means looking forward to the next day within the logic of your meaning of life. It means seeing that every day that you spend you spend it by progressing towards, by working towards achieving the goal that you’ve been set to achieve by your unconscious in its infantile stage and pressed to achieve by your evolving unconscious. In this sense, your meaning is your destiny, your drive, your religion, your obsession, your “god” or your “demon” (Griffith calls dreams “gods”; Guts asks whether they’re not more like demons; Griffith answers it makes no difference). Living a meaningful adult life is simply to see that you are fulfilling that meaning or destiny. However, Adlerian meanigs can easily become destructive (become demons) if projected on the wrong object / if unfolded in and entangled with the wrong circumstances. Adler says there is not much room for choosing meanings or radically reforming: the recipe or the basic constraints for happiness, are already given to your reflective self. The indeterministic, or “existentialist” meaning is a project consciously chosen and worked out by your reflective self. Another “existentialist” variant is merely the conscious continuous denial of one’s Adlerian destiny even in the absence of a positive replacement: at the least, embracing the absurd (Camus). This is actually what Guts only succeeds in doing. In your words, one becomes a “martyr of his own existentialist dream”. The two types of “meanings of life” come charged with discordant theories. However, in these theories’ weak versions one life can include both types of positive meanings.
We were saying Guts faces three options when Griffith becomes unreliable.
a. Leave Griffith and become “a martyr of one’s own existentialist meaning”: wrenching from an Adlerian meaning become destructive (projected on the wrong object, Griffith). This is what Guts does.
b. Leave but create an idol: secretly “hang Griffith’s icon on his wall” without contacting the person Griffith, and keep faith that after a time they could come together again.
c. Maintain or reestablish contact with Griffith, become open to a formula-free relationship and be ready to fight both his and Griffith’s “demons” (i.e. both his and Griffith’s Adlerian destructive meanings) hopefully with Griffith’s help.
Which one of them is the least of evils?
The good thing in a: Guts wrenches himself from what is most certainly a losing bet. Staying with Griffith in an asymmetric position is a losing bet because Guts’ Adlerian meaning / dream cannot be fulfilled alongside Griffith under the complacent circumstances. An Adlerian meaning becomes destructive when projected on the wrong object. It is a losing bet not only from his Adlerian meaning of life point of view, but in general: near Griffih he can hardly develop a new meaning.
The disadvantages with solution (a): Life becomes emptied of meaning. Recall Guts training moves when he is by himself and away from Griffith? A ridiculously mechanic and repetitive up and down with a huge sword. This denotes emptiness because we are talking about the most skilled warrior in Midland here. Griffith’s was his inspiration. Life is also tormenting: Guts’ Adlerian meaning is continuously pressing from below to make a connection with Griffith. Not to mention that by the time Griffith and Guts evolve following the shock of separation (if they do at all), it would probably be too late for them to get back together.
The good thing about b: having faith in that idol with the knowledge that it is my creation denotes independence and a victory of the conscious self who merely uses the “religious potential” for one’s own sake and without yielding to anyone.
The problem with b: Guts cannot fool himself and double think for too long. If Griffith is an idol, then what is the justification that Guts-the-reflective can give to Guts-unconscious for not contacting Griffith? That the idol is not “ready” for a meaningful relationship? That would mean the “idol” is not worthy enough for Guts-unconscious to adopt / absorb.
The good thing with c. C would obviously be an end to repression. Guts and Griffith are yearning for each other’s presence and objectively do badly in life without each other in the narrative.
Solution c’s drawback: As long as Griffith’s reflective self does not credibly choose sides, Guts is overpowered by demons on both sides. Guts could appeal to an argument from reciprocity or universal morality and claim that the logic of the relationship he proposes to Griffith is “better” because it is one of equals, while the logic Griffith wants to impose is a master-slave relationship. However, as you pointed out, the argument would be rendered moot by Griffith, because Griffith would feel enslaved in a morality of equals. He cannot help feeling otherwise because his Adlerian meaning (and his perceived authentic self) is to become king. Guts could only reestablish connection only after defeating his own demons first (developed new meanings of his own or learned to comfortably live without any); but isn’t that the point when Griffith would no longer “need” to defeat Griffith’s?
Your evaluation, which I accept: out of these three, option (a) is the one holding the greater chance of psychological development for Guts, even if small in absolute terms.
Between brackets, being left alone is a chance for Griffith’s development too, even though in the narrative Griffith does not bring that chance to fruition. In the narrative, the night Guts leaves, Griffith loses control (he loses “ambition”, as forewarned by Zodd) and carelessly seduces the princess, as if to rush his dream of becoming king while proving Guts to be irrelevant. Under the circumstances, Griffith only manages to get caught, tortured and maimed for a year, until Guts returns to physically save what is left of him. In a word, manages to throws away everything he had built and more. During that year and after Guts’ return, Griffith is gradually succumbing to his demons. He is blaming Guts for everything, unable to critically scrutinize his Adlerian meaning and the circumstances that made it destructive (his long time denial that he needs Guts in a different logic than that of master-slave). He blames Guts for everything and in the end he sacrifices Guts. This completes the tragedy and finally seals his own psychological stagnation.
Generalizing on option (a), the existentialist fight with one’s own Adlerian meaning amounts to creating room for, or creating the premisses for the development of a new and yet unspecified meaning. Fighting one’s Adlerian meaning when that meaning has become entangled with the wrong circumstances / projected on the wrong object, is an active opening to the coming, the creation or the discovery of new meanings. The creation of something strong enough to become a truly functional meaning (something capable of bringing fulfillment if followed) is however contingent upon the discovery of some kind of unconscious soil for a consciously cultivated meaning. That is, it is contingent upon the existence of some secondary Adlerian meaning formed alongside the main one in the early childhood. Berserk is tragic and its characters are simplified models but if there is some hope for some of us, that hope often comes to rest with such secondary meanings.