Graneek is extremely nice without being at all my kind of man: he is a pusher, a mover, a coherer, an urger, a carer; I am a leaner, a stopper, an analyst, a discourager, a scoffer.
Top of the list in Mr Bizlike’s letter to Santa this Xmas was Philip Larkin’s “Letters to Monica”. This long awaited volume, coming almost twenty years after fellow poet Andrew Motion’s biography and Anthony Thwaite’s “Selected Letters”, covers the forty year correspondence between Larkin and his lover and closest confidante, Monica Jones.
In a letter written from Belfast on October 26th 1950, Larkin contrasts himself with his librarian boss at the time by presenting five dichotomies, each consisting of opposite poles:
Pusher or Leaner
Mover or Stopper
Coherer or Analyst
Urger or Discourager
Carer or Scoffer
As sometimes happens, this was synchronous with other studies currently underway at Bizlike Towers, specifically the use of the Myers Briggs Type Instrument. Based on the work of eminent Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, the MBTI is a self-report questionnaire designed to make his theory of personality types understandable and useful in everyday life. It’s based on eight preferences, arranged into four complementary pairs or “dichotomies”.
So let’s consider Larkin’s theory of personality as evidenced by his five opposites:
Pusher or Leaner. How like Larkin with his notorious antipathy to work to take a passive stance. (“Why should I let the toad work squat on my life?”)
Mover or Stopper. Larkin moved into the attic flat at Pearson Park, Hull in October 1956 and stayed there for the next eighteen years. He only moved out when the University which owned the building, decided in 1973 to ‘sell off its worst properties.’
Coherer or Analyst. A very strong correlation here with the Jungian concept of Perceiving. Larkin’s boss, as head of a complex institution would see the coherent whole – the big picture, whereas the poet would be more observant of the detail of what was going on around him. (“..at every station, Goole, Doncaster, Retford, Newark, importunate wedding parties, gawky & vociferous, seeing off couples to London..”) Bits and pieces like these would become his famous “The Whitsun Weddings”.
Urger or Discourager. Consider the batchelor Larkin’s epigram “Marriage”:
‘My wife and I – we’re pals. Marriage is fun.’ Yes: two can live as stupidly as one.
Carer or Scoffer. Finally, another Jungian concept – the dichotomy between feeling and thinking. Larkin’s boss makes decisions based on his values of showing respect for other people. “Nevertheless, he is extremely nice and I can’t imagine him in a bad temper” the poet writes. Larkin however is more sanguine about the role of emotions (“Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf.”)
In Myers Briggs parlance, it’s customary to use capital letters to denote type – as a big-picture extrovert, task-driven, captain of industry this makes me ENTJ. Larkin’s typology makes him LSADS – an indolent, stick-in-the-mud, nit-picking, commitment-phobic cynic. Of course, he had his bad points too!
(It’s worth noting here that the MBTI makes no claims to defining “good” or “bad” – only different preferences…)
Larkin makes just one reference to Jung in his published letters. Seven years prior to his personality profiling, he mentions the practice of writing down his dreams “to try to find in them a curve of development” before announcing a few days later: “I have dropped my dream business and presumably I am the individuated man.” This term refers to the process in Jung’s analytic psychology by which the self is formed by integrating elements of the conscious and unconscious mind.
Jung describes individuation as the main task that we face during the second half of our life – an open-ended process of psychological maturity. The twenty-one year old Larkin claims to have achieved this in about a fortnight. Fairly typical for one of his type, wouldn’t you say?