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Asa Nisi Masa

I had forgotten that Federico Fellini was Carl Gustav Jung’s Number One fan.

Fellini always had a deep understanding of the way the vulgar and the sublime occupy the same (narrow) bandwidth. You can see this understanding on display even in his earliest films, I Vitelloni, Le notti di Cabiria, and La Strada (my Official Favorite Movie of All Time), classic examples, all, of Italian neorealism.

But it isn’t until 8 ½ that Fellini figures out that the name of that bandwidth is “the collective unconscious.”

I watched 8 ½ again for the first time last night in God knows how many years. It stands up remarkably well, chiefly because Fellini does not rely upon tricks to differentiate verisimilitude from fantasy.

(I’m watching a lot of classic films because I began subscribing to Filmstruck, the streaming video channel that’s a collaboration between the Turner Classic Movie and the Criterion Collection. This means I’m going to drop either Netflix or Hulu. Probably Netflix: It’s overpriced, its film collection is second-rate and I’m not a big fan of its original productions, being the only person on the face of the planet who found Stranger Things such a colossal bore that I stopped watching after Episode 3. But I digress.)

A quarter of the way through the film, Guido – Fellini’s cinematic alter ego – encounters an old pal, a stage magician, who offers to transmit Guido’s thoughts to his clairvoyant partner. (The partner is named “Maya,” which is a Hindu word for “cosmic delusion.” I’ve often thought it was odd that Maya has become such a popular female name. More digression!)

Asa Nisi Masa, Guido thinks.

And Maya, confused, writes the letters on her blackboard.


Fellini never explained the meaning of the phrase. But serious scholars of Fellini’s work point to an old Rimini children’s game – something like pig Latin – that consisted of adding the syllables “sa” and “si” to words to create a secret language.

Hence Asa Nisi Masa translates to Anima – which is both the Italian word for soul and one of the core archetypes underlying the works of Carl Jung.

The anima is the anthropomorphicized projection (if you will) of the female side of the unconscious mind. There is a male side to the unconscious mind as well called the animus.

One does wonder: What will happen to Jung and the collective unconscious when the whole concept of “gender” becomes obsolete? Which it certainly will if Western civilization continues its hegemony.


8 ½ is probably the last great movie Fellini made. I loved Giulietta degli spiriti when I first saw it, but there’s a kind of narrative falseness to the film: 8 ½ is Fellini’s candid chronicle and critical assessment of his own philandering and artistic exhaustion while Giulietta degli spiriti only focuses upon the effects of husbandly philandering – which Fellini could not possibly know – and seems to conclude that in order to be happy, middle-aged women only need to learn to embrace their inner trapeze artist.

It is a nice thought.

But it’s one-sided. It hardly addresses the search for meaning or validation a middle-aged woman might also want to pursue. I mean, women are exhausted artists, too.


After Giulietta degli spiriti, Fellini made a number of films that cemented his reputation as a master of the surreal, the dreamlike, the phantasmagoric. Wanna get stoned on acid and visit the local CVS pharmacy? That kind of thing. There are some arresting images in his later work and of course, the ever-wonderful Nino Rota scores, but you could kinda tell old Federico was phoning it in.

But 8 ½ remains glorious. It may be the only movie I’ve ever seen that blurs the thin but mostly impermeable membrane between reality and fantasy in such a way that it’s well-nigh impossible to figure out which you are watching on the screen.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2018 03:06 am (UTC)
Re your question about where the animus and anima go if gender goes down the drain (which I suspect it will not for some time) - one thing I've learned from my Jung reading group is that masculine and feminine are clusters of traits and attitudes that do not have to attach to gender or sex. So we can still have anima/animus, whatever our gender or non/binary.
Feb. 26th, 2018 03:24 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you and your reading group know much more about Jung than I do. :-)

But I would also say that the particular power of symbols is that they exist as psychic batteries.

The attitudes and trait clusters will continue to exist, but without the symbols, they will not illuminate as brightly. At least not in my dark little corner of the world. :-)

(which I suspect it will not for some time

Well, you're right on that one. :-) But that's only because Western culture is going down.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )