Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Diving into darkness: Adolescents in the United States
by Boardman, Beth Anne, Ph.D., Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2012, 203; 3521003
Abstract (Summary)

This theoretical dissertation examines the mythological and psychological underpinnings of adolescent cultural phenomena, particularly those involving attraction to darkness in the form of black fashions, emblems of death, violent entertainment, risk-taking behavior, and body markings. For the purposes of the study, darkness refers to anything the prevailing ethos of the United States labels as undesirable, unacceptable, or unpleasant, such as: sadness, evil, fear, death, failure, and so on.

The dissertation surveys several cosmologies from around the world, noting that darkness plays a necessary, primary role in the development of any reality, world, or individual. Adolescence, a liminal time of growth from childhood into adulthood, progresses through its own darkness, or stages of physical pain, psychological confusion, and spiritual questioning, which result in what Joseph Campbell referred to as the adolescent's need to "die . . . to its infantile personality." The culture as a whole steers children toward achievement, conformity, and productivity; nevertheless, abuse, addiction, tragedy, and death happen in all socioeconomic classes, to all ages. Adolescents explore darkness because they follow a naturally occurring developmental imperative.

Exploring the mythemes found in the fashions, distractions, and stories of contemporary adolescent culture reveals a plethora of dark colors, imagery, and initiatory pain. These trends, together with other risk-taking behaviors, connote both mourning over loss, and initiation into the responsibilities and rewards of adulthood. The popularity of the horror genre (particularly vampires) in film, novels, and online games reveals the adolescent preoccupation with death, rebirth, and immortality. Two still-beloved stories, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz, illustrate the sacrifices and losses inherent in a child's transformation and the dangers that befall those who wish to remain children forever.

The dissertation concludes that adolescence comprises an alchemical nigredo, the initial stage of psychological alchemy. Adolescents undergo the dissolution and death of the child-self, then subsequent operations leading toward a reconfiguration (coniunctio) as an adult. Parents may be aware of facing their own alchemical process as they enter middle age during their children's adolescence. Personal alchemy repeats throughout life as individuals pass through subsequent developmental changes.

Keywords: adolescence, death, darkness, mythology, nigredo, alchemy

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Slater, Glen
School: Pacifica Graduate Institute
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 73/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Social psychology, Comparative religion
Keywords: Adolescents, Death, Mythology
Publication Number: 3521003
ISBN: 978-1-267-54306-6
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