One of the beautiful things about psychoanalytic thinking has always been that we need to look beneath the behavior to find the motivation, and then the meaning. Multiple meanings are possible -- in fact, usually necessary. I have been reading Lewis Aron’s article on the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge and musing about duality.
He writes about ‘radically ambiguous knowledge’; we need to be aware of the opposites inherent in the world. The blissful garden may be both good and bad -- good because it is so soothing, bad because we are not yet aware. The snake can be good or bad. He encourages learning and awareness but brings forth great suffering for mankind.
The psychoanalyst Eric Fromm interpreted the creation story as ‘good’, the symbol of mankind’s emerging from embeddedness to freedom. The esteemed Rabbi Soloveitchik, writing about the same time, saw it as more ‘bad’ -- as sinfulness involving lack of reciprocity and lack of limits.
Aron describes the story as both, and these complementary views can be held at the same time. We need to leave Eden and become free but in the context of limits and mutual respect for each other. One view balances the other so we don’t fall with a thud from the seesaw of life. Of course, we do fall constantly but hopefully can heal ruptures with this dual awareness.
As Aron points out, Martin Buber stated that knowledge of good and evil means an awareness of duality, of opposites inherent in all being in the world. This seems to me one of the bases of wisdom.
Aron, L. (2005). The tree of knowledge: Good and evil interpretations. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 15:681- 207.