Scholarly Reviews of The Wounded Researcher: Research with Soul in Mind

Robert Romanyshyn, 2007

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Review by Kelli Nigh (2008) Curriculum Inquiry 38(4), 435-436. 

Robert Romanyshyn's book acts as a guide for researchers who are beginning research projects that address spirituality, consciousness and learning. In the four parts of the book - Theory, Process, Method and Implications - a dense array of scholarly literature from the fields of psychology, phenomenology, and hermeneutics is critically considered. The proposed process, referred to as the imaginal approach to research, has arisen from a central supposition that research bears the soul in mind. In the field of holistic education, John P. Miller (2000) has described the tendencies and highlights how the soul gazes backward and downward asking, What is there yet to be acknowledged?

In the first section of the book, Romanyshyn writes of the in-between spaces, or gaps through which the soul moves to draw together concepts such as mind and matter. The author's invitation to fall into the unconscious and examine personal wounds strikes at the heart of how emotion and feeling play a role in establishing the core potential of an academic inquiry. If an individual desires a safety net to break the descent into the unconscious, Romanyshyn provides a complex framework of Jungian theory, and for a moment one might think of the soul's journey softened by his discussion on the poetics of the research process. The theoretical framework, despite its rish intellectual value, is not enough to save the researchers from the kind of fall Romanyshyn proposes. At the point of complete fragmentation, the archetypal realm is activated and itis at this time that the ego ceases to control the process and the unconscious informs the piecing together of the research idea. Romanyshyn shows how archetypes such as Oedipus and Eurydice form six research moments that identify how an eventual separation between the researcher and work is possible.
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Review by Rosemarie Anderson (2007) The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 39(2), 224-225. 

Robert Romanyshyn’s The Wounded Researcher is an erudite, warm-hearted and soulful book about ‘‘research with soul in mind.’’ In a lucid and lyrical writing, Romanyshyn relays his own journey in the development of an imaginal approach called alchemical hermeneutics. If there were ever a research book with which to ‘‘cozy up’’ on a winter night, this might be the one. You could probably find other activities for such an hour; but, by way of exaggeration, I want to emphasize how readable and personal this book is. To illustrate, I quote Romanyshyn directly:

The work that the researcher is called to do makes sense of the researcher as much as he or she makes sense of it. Indeed, before we understand the work we do, it stands under us. Research as a vocation, then, puts one in service to those unfinished stories that weigh down upon us individually and collectively as the wait and weight of history. As a vocation, research is what the work indicates. It is re-search, a searching again of what has already made its claim upon us and is making its claim upon the future.… In this sense, re-search as a vocation is a journey of transformation. What the knower comes to know changes who the knower is. It is an alchemical process in which one knows only insofar as one lets oneself be known  (pp. 113–117).

For Romanyshyn, the wounded researcher is claimed by the work of research, which in time invites the researcher to relinquish the claim he or she has upon it so that the work itself can speak. Since alchemical hermeneutics invites and engages the researcher’s unconscious processes, the ‘‘wounded researcher … is meant to go down into the terrain beneath the bridge, into that abyss that the vulnerable observer attempts to bridge. The difference is that while the vulnerable observer includes only those subjective factors that he or she is conscious of, the wounded researcher delves into his or her unconscious complexes, which he or she then strives to make conscious (p. 108).’’ From this perspective, re-search is soul work or spiritual work because in relinquishing one’s claims upon the work and the narrow perspectives with which one began, re-search again takes on a lively character all its own. The past that claims the researcher speaks through us to the future in language transformed by the act of searching again. The researcher begins to ask, ‘‘Who’s doing this work after all?’’ begging the question even of authorship. For the transpersonal researcher, much nourishment and support is found in Romanyshyn’s alchemical hermeneutics, an approach to research that is intended to be complementary and easily blended with other research approaches. In addition, many procedures, such as transference dialogues, creating ritual space, the process of reverie, working with images and symbols, and writing styles appropriate to research with soul in mind, will find direct application in transpersonal research and scholarship. I highly recommend this insightful and artful book to transpersonal researchers.

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Reply by Professor Robert Romanyshyn to book reviews by Professors Colin Holmes and Bernie Neville (2013) International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches 7(3), 405-406.

My intention in writing The Wounded Researcher was to set out a path to research that would make a place for unconscious dynamics in the practice of research. To that end I felt it was necessary to make as strong a philosophical case as possible for the approach, the processes and the method that were needed to do so, which others then could adapt and transform as suited their contexts and styles of research. I regard The Wounded Researcher as a book that is finished but whose work is not done. I take up the two reviews, which I find to be fair and balanced, in a spirit of moving the work forward.

From the opening to the end of the book, the question of language is, as it was at the origins of depth psychology, a central concern. As Susan Rowland has pointed out, language is not neutral medium for psychology. Its words shape how one conceives the nature of psychological life and from that how one goes about one’s research. Subtitling my book Research with Soul in Mind, I was shaping an approach that applies to research that third middle term soul, which is the defining characteristic of depth psychology and which James Hillman describes as that process that deepens events into experiences. In this context, soul is not a substance and is certainly not identified with the Christian idea of soul as an afterlife. Soul as process is a way of seeing and knowing the world and being in it that is responsive to the world as image, and in my previous work I have shown how the image requires one to cultivate a metaphoric sensibility as its mode of expression. A metaphor is a perspective that presents an image that is neither a fact nor an idea. A metaphor opens a subtle reality between things and thoughts. And in this place a psychologist who is aware of his or her perspective is less likely to identify psychological life with and reduce it to that perspective. But, without that awareness, a perspective falls into being a complex that often times makes dialog with other perspectives quite difficult if not impossible.

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Within the contexts of three language traditions in psychology – scientific precision, phenomenological description and hermeneutic interpretation – the language of The Wounded Researcher takes on the challenge of how one writes down the soul in writing up one’s work. How does one write from the depths, or, as Prof. Holmes says, explore the borderlands between rationality and irrationality? How does one think and write and do research at the edges and margins of rationality? And how does one do this while still trying to make a philosophical argument for doing research from the perspective of soul? In The Wounded Researcher I opted to think and write a book in psychology while staying on those edge places as much as possible. I chose to illustrate that kind of writing rather than to speak about it, making a place in the writing for the metaphoric, symbolic, esthetic and rhythmical qualities of language. But, as both reviewers have noted, that style, while praised for its eloquence, could be obscure for those who are unfamiliar with depth psychology.

While I accept that criticism and its risks, I would have had to write a different book to overcome them. It is a problem that has followed me for 40 odd years – how does one write a book for the discipline of psychology that in attending to the depths of soul has to locate itself in those marginal places? I did not want to squeeze soul into the monumental language of psychology, which I have done too often in the past and which has not resulted in much dialog. Rather with this book, which Prof. Holmes rightly sees as a culmination of a lifetime of work, I wanted to liberate soul from the language prison of psychology.

My strategy was neither to dismiss the language of psychology nor to offer another critique of mainstream psychology, joining a long line of phenomenological and existential critiques that stretch back to the 1960s. Rather, I wanted to offer an animated and spirited alternative that would reframe the language of mainstream psychology as an unacknowledged perspective that functions as an unconscious complex. More than 40 years of analytically oriented practice as a therapist had convinced me that complexes are not transformed by changing one’s mind. Rather, if they are transformed at all, it is through a change of heart. I expected that my style would be difficult and even annoying to some, but my hope was – and still is – that irritation, like a pebble in a shoe, can become a moment of pause and possibly the beginning of questioning where one is going. In that pause the possibility of and even the necessity for dialog might emerge.

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Framed within this context of language, The Wounded Researcher is actually more than a book about psychological research. In his detailed and accurate overview of the themes of my book, Prof. Neville notes, however, that I leave it to the reader to speculate about how broadly the insights and assertions of the book can be generalized. It is a fair point but, as he also notes, the core of my argument – that unconscious processes impact on the initiation, construction and implementation of a research project – ‘is one that deserves to be taken seriously outside the confines of psychological research.

In his remark, Prof. Neville touches on what I came to realize as I was writing my book. The Wounded Researcher is a book on ethics; in that context the core of it is to be taken seriously, because failure to do so leads to epistemological violence, expressions of which are apparent, for example, in our political and economic systems and perhaps most dangerously in our technological ways of redesigning nature. Moreover, the core that is to be taken seriously concerns not just psychological research because every researcher regardless of his or her discipline is a complex psychological being. As I claim in the book, and as Prof. Neville seems to note in agreement, research as re-search is an activity of soul, soul’s way of situating one in the gap between what one says and what haunts one as wanting to be said. Research is education into soul, a way of searching again for what has been once known, lived, and has been lost, forgotten or otherwise exiled but still lingers on the edges and margins of consciousness. As an education into soul, the core
of the book with its ethical imperative extends to how one lives, loves and works with soul in mind.

The Wounded Researcher is a demanding book. But, as I tell my students, its demands are also an invitation, which reaches beyond writing a dissertation. The approach, processes and method of this kind of research are practices for conducting one’s life in a responsible way. Using the example of the dream, that epiphany of the non-rational that is our nightly companion, I suggest to my students that an ethics of soul is one that acknowledges that, while we are not responsible for our dreams, we are called to be responsive to them. I am not unaware of the fact that such an approach to research, as well as life, love and work, takes time. Therefore, I appreciate Prof. Holmes’ question about how this approach affects practice and Prof. Neville’s remark about university administrations having little tolerance for such patience. At Pacifica Graduate Institute, our doctoral students have a 2-year clock and I work with them within that boundary. But together we keep in mind the larger picture and proceed as best we can on the borders and edges of their work.

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Review by Dennis Patrick Slattery (2009) for Mythopoesis (www.mythopoesis.com)

In a Foreword a few years back, Thomas Moore praised Sandra Lee Dennis’ book, Embrace of the Daimon: Sensuality and the Integration of Forbidden Imagery in Depth Psychology (2001) with this observation: “That myth [of the hero] fades in and out of this book, but for the most part it retains its mythic and therefore poetic nature” (p. ix). His insight is important for this review, for in his remark Moore links, even weds, myth to poetics. Myth is an entrance to poetics, a way of seeing that is more figural than literal, more imaginal than perceptual. Such is one large skein as both strategy and strength of The Wounded Researcher.

No less does the mythic figure of Orpheus serve as guide to Romanyshyn as Virgil serves as guide to Dante, instructing the poet of each work, Dante’s Commedia and Romanyshyn’s The Wounded Researcher, along the path not just to remembering the story of their respective illuminating pilgrimages, but also witnessing the anguish of discerning the right language, always failing, always slipping between the tectonic plates of scholarship and soulful speaking, in the creation of the work itself. In this way, Romanyshyn’s work is Dantesque, suffering at turns, the infernal realm of being arrested in the pathos of one’s own soul—through dream, injury, fantasy, arrested thought—the purgatorial realm of hopeful encounter wherein the wound is purged, or at least modulated, and the paradisal realm of a failed achievement, where failure itself is the gold standard for what has been realized in vision, uncompromised and, finally, unmediated by the distortion of the craft. In short, to engage research from the level of soul mindfulness, is to pass through the three canticas of Dante’s poem, a process of individuation we all live through in our own manner, however incomplete, however never fully realized. We might take solace in the voice of Ishmael, another researcher on board the Pequod, who writes about writing in one exasperated harpooning of the suffering attendant on this mysterious craft: “God, keep me from ever completing anything’” (Moby-Dick, 1851/1967, p. 153).

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In a recent interview for The Nation, the novelist Toni Morrison comments on the nature of language, one of the most prominent characters in Romanyshyn’s book: “Language changes—and should—because it is as alive as its speakers and writers. It is stifling or bad only when unclear, mediocre, false or wholly devoid of creative imagination” (2008, p. 37).

I insert this insight by Morrison for it summarizes the theme of Romanyshyn’s book: the creative imagination in the pilgrimage of research   saves research from the stereotype of plowing through data in the spirit of cool objectivity and from the pure subjectivity that encourages solipsism. From his study I have begun to imagine research as a plot line in a fiction; it becomes under his guidance a fictional genre that includes at various intervals tragedy, comedy, epic and lyric. His study elevates research to a multi-generic act of creativity that snags in its wide nets one’s dreams, accidents, fantasies, gaps, desires and aspirations, remembrances. Research indeed contains all the basic psychic and bodily food groups necessary for life’s nourishing fields to become present.

Tables of Contents of books give away the internal skeleton of its body. Look for a moment at this book’s: Part I: Theory; Part II: Process; Part III: Method; Part IV: Implications; Epilogue: Letting Go of the Work. In all, thirteen chapters and the Epilogue comprise the plot line of the action, a large act of remembrance: to keep soul in mind when plotting one’s work both in reading and writing. Its key refrain: Make a space, allow the gap, respect the fissure, welcome the abyss (2007, p.29). Move into where there seems to be nothing, respect the nothingness of research, where openings allow and invite the imaginal impulse of soul. Following Jung, Romanyshyn lays bare the power of the archetype as an “organizing principle that affect[s] conscious life” (p. 37) and may be the best guide into, down and through the work, the alchemical vessel that is the place of powder burns, water solubility and reconstitution. Research is an act of unmediated courage and a constant organic transformation of data into insight.

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Follow the myth, both personal and collective, conscious and unconscious is a mantra of Romanyshyn’s study. Following primarily C.G. Jung and James Hillman, but also Henri Corbin, Gaston Bachelard, J.H. van den Berg, poets from Keats to Coleridge to Rilke and Wallace Stevens, as well as literary agents like Susan Rowland, cultural anthropologist Ruth Behar and depth psychologist Veronica Goodchild, who coined the term alchemical hermeneutic research, his study takes seriously Hillman’s insight that “archetypal resemblances...are best presented in myths in which the archetypal persons I am like and the patterns I am enacting have their authentic home ground” (2007, p. 47). 

Hillman taps another large guiding principle of the work: homecoming, a nostalgia, returning to what is unfinished, incomplete, needing renewal, even a further re-cooking in the alchemical bath of re-searching, not unlike the Grail quest, the Hero’s search and return with the boon to his/her community, to share the knowledge, the narrative, the knots of the travel and its companion, travail. 

What I like about this study is that the author does not try to make all this happen in vacuo, or simply in his own experiences with research, although the latter is plentiful in its pages. Rather, laced throughout are stories, testimonies, witnesses and agonies from his own students who were willing to heed the call of his invitation to share their stories of the pilgrimage and then to relate their own encounters with the subject matter. The Appendix then, carries the protocols that Romanyshyn instituted and that students responded to in order for his study to gain further validity in the variety of their personal experiences that found their content, if not their energy, in the final achievement of completing the dissertation. This piece of the research model is rich, intriguing, provocative, and necessary to ground their work in the myth that held them and the myth that held the author in the formulation of questions that guided responses. While one author orchestrated the design of the study, many voices congealed its assets to create a more convincing theoretical reading.

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One senses moving through The Wounded Researcher that something has broken free in research and is now allowed to breathe for the first time. By this I mean the language used in this study, as in the following: “The wounded researcher is a complex witness who, by attending not only to the conscious but also to the unconscious subjective factors in his or her research, seeks to transform a wound into a work. The work comes through the wounding... (2007, p. 111). How many times have we who have taught undergraduate students, been asked by them: “May I use ‘I” in my paper? I have been told by other professors not to make any reference to myself because it is non-objective” or some similar plaintive cry. Romanyshyn’s study shatters the illusion of objectivity in promoting the “confessional/ memoir aspect of research as well as the unconscious aspect of it, and this is the task of the wounded researcher” (p. 111). 

Furthermore, like any work, Romanyshyn’s study clusters around a hard core of vocabulary words that act like yeast in bread dough or seasoning in food. Here is my short list that others could certainly add to: Orphic, anamnesis as un-forgetting, haunt, remember, metaphor, memory, hermeneutic, body, backward glance, poetic, transference, dialogue, history, reverie, cardiognosis, witness, grief, mourning, failed, orphan, ancestor, vocation. Having read his work over the past 36 years and having been influenced by his writing and teaching while a graduate student, I sense that this work is a summing up, a synthetic overview of those almost four decades of writing on themes that have insisted on their own anamnesis. 

On another level, The Wounded Researcher is a memoir wrapped in academic garments and sealed in an imaginal body. It is both literary and psychological, mythic and poetic that together begin to hint at a new paradigm of research, more human and authentic, more comic in its inclusivity and less tragic in the objective and anemic format of research as it is practiced in the academy. Reverie research is what I call it, for the study “offers a pathway into the unconscious depths of the moment, whether that moment is one of reading a book or gazing into the flames of a fire” (2007, p. 143). It is, as he continues, a moment of abduction into both the mood and the feeling of one’s work. Romanyshyn’s vision of research allows us for perhaps the first time in a radical way to reset the margins of both our research field to widen into the person engaged in the process as well as to allow the field of research to speak back about what it needs for completion.

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I end this review by conveying something of the excitement over my favorite section: Part III, Method. It begins with Chapter Seven and is entitled “Recovering the Soul of Method” (2007, p. 207) and ends on page 306. This section carries the strongest heart beat of the work and where I found the most interesting remarks on hermeneutics in both reading and writing. Here the “Alchemical Hermeneutic Method” (AHM) is most forcefully outlined. What intrigued me most as reader is the breathing space given to the work one is in dialogue with: “The work itself hungers to be fed also by soul” (p. 224). Being fed is a rich metaphor in the research banquet since both reader/writer and the work need to be nourished by the other. Here Romanyshyn introduces behaviors and attitudes that include “loitering,” “lingering,” “emptiness,” “patience,” “hospitality,” “inviting,” “open to surprise” that may actually apply to the attitude of the work explored as well as the explorer.

What also enters the researcher’s field at this juncture, and primarily through the symbol,  is failure, mourning and grief; the work of interpretation “is always a ‘failure’ because what is present in the symbol remains haunted by what is absent.... A hermeneutics of the depths is always an expression of longing...” (p. 225). This nostalgic strain in scholarship has haunted Romanyshyn for decades and is perhaps, in its recognition of an achievement that always falls short of one’s expectations the necessary nub of creativity itself. But what makes his expression unique is that he names it as part of and a necessary condition of the research process that keeps soul in mind. In that respect, where one fails at one’s attempt to give symbolic or creative form to one’s work is also a place of celebrating the work one does achieve. It reveals to me that something deeply paradoxical is at play in research. How far this study takes us from the cool and detached objectivity of the traditional research image!

Moreover, and to extend the above paragraph, Romanyshyn is close to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1968/2008) in suggesting that the first rustling of “interpretation begins with being summoned by the work” (2007, p. 228) since it arises initially as an invitation or as a call or a summons. “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart” (p. 3) as St. Benedict begins his Rule (530/1998) in the earliest moments of Western Monasticism’s first Handbook for the religious life, is not separate from the hero’s being called to something beyond him/herself, yet deeply imbedded within one’s soul. Romanyshyn continues such a rich tradition when he observes: “Alchemical hermeneutics begins in the ear and not on the tongue, and in this respect it has implications for language” (p. 229).

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Fresh language must then attend a fresh and originary calling; clichéd writing, jargon-laden observations, stilted prose, flat and fatigued metaphors or figures of speech dislocate the call into a realm of dead letters rather than one of lively exchange. To be called, as Romanyshyn defines it, is to be called to language in a fresh and animated way. Metaphor as well as calling guide this display of how research might be reimagined. Consider his insight on this subject: “When the metaphors in our methods are forgotten, the method functions like a symptom” (2007, p. 246). Anamnesis is crucial to both the research as well as to the writing-as-witness part of the pilgrimage.

Writing, like research—although the two are not separated in this study—also includes the four functions that C.G. Jung outlined: thinking, feeling, sensing and intuiting, each of which encourages or allows the researcher to “perceive the world through the dark-light of the soul’s complex and archetypal dreams, fantasies, memories and imaginings” (2007, p. 265). Research, Romanyshyn’s work suggests, is a rich way to engage and so recover a wholeness that the soul desires. A therapeutics attends his vision of research such that the soul, while never healing entirely from its wounds, understands better ways in which to make those permanent wounds work. The consequence is a rich boon he has brought back to share with any of us engaged by the imagination of ideas.

Work Cited

Romanyshyn, R. (2007). The wounded researcher: Research with soul in mind. New Orleans: Spring Journal Books.
Melville, H. (1851/ 1967). Moby-Dick; or the whale. Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press.
Moore, T. (2001). Foreword, in: Embrace of the daimon: Sensuality and the integration of forbidden imagery in depth psychology, by Sandra Lee Dennis, York Beach, ME. Nicolas-Hays.
Morrison, T. (2008) “Back talk.” Interview in The Nation, December 8, 2008, p. 37.
St. Benedict. (1530/1998) The Rule of St. Benedict. (ed. T. Fry). New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics.
Campbell, J. (1968/2008). The hero with a thousand faces. Bollingen Series XVII. Third Edition. Novato, CA. New World Library.

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