Jung Again

"It is plain," C.S. Lewis wrote, "that … the same story may be a myth to one
man and not another." If so, then how can we be sure that it's really a
myth? He had a passing interest in anthropological and psychological
theories about where the recurring motifs in the world's religions and
legends may have come from, and was intrigued enough by Carl Jung's
theory of archetypes to look into it. Ultimately, though, Lewis
concluded that what Jung had to say was not so much a theory of myth as
yet another myth. Jung's description of the collective
unconscious was magnificent, written in the quasi-mystical language of
"good poetry," but it wasn't supported with sufficiently solid material
evidence to merit the status of science. "Surely the analysis of water
should not itself be wet?" Lewis quipped.

– Laura Miller, The Magician's Book


A wise gentleman of my acquaintance once said that finding out whether someone is a Freudian or a Jungian is like asking "Stones or Beatles?" — a superficial but revealing enough way to peg someone. I like to think I defy that kind simple classification, but let's face it — I still have the original copies of Sgt. Pepper's and Yellow Submarine that I danced endlessly around the house to when I was six years old, so I'm not fooling anyone.

Probably because my earliest gateway reading was heavy on magical archetypes of the natural world — talking animals and Greek myths, Wild Island and Narnia — I've always thought of Carl Jung as the patron shrink of writers. I'm no student of Jung arcana, but the general idea of dipping into the collective unconscious to make art or learn about the self, everyone possessed of those dangerous and beautiful depths, appeals to me as a writer and as a reader.

So it's exciting enough to read in last weekend's New York Times Magazine that Jung's ur-text journal, known as the Red Book, has been unearthed and acquired for publication this fall. What's even better is that the story is worthy of any hero journey you would ever want to read, with generations of a loyal and protective family, a locked cupboard, unauthorized copies shockingly discovered, and two men — Stephen Martin and Sonu Shamdasani, the yin and yang of Jung scholars — bravely joining forces to bring the legendary text to light. Sara Corbett gives her article all the due gravitas of a good bedtime story. 

The question of whether Jung intended the book for anyone else's eyes, or if it was essentially an elaborate exercise in cathartic journal writing, remains unresolved. As is the age-old question of whether, if someone's work is important enough to the scholarly world, their wishes even matter. There is the argument that even the brightest stars deserve to keep something of theirs dark, and then there is the argument that it's not called the collective unconscious for nothing. At any rate, the Red Book is very pretty.

During the week the book spends under the 10,200 pixel scanner specially flown into Zurich, everyone connected with the project is having strange dreams — and, because they're Jungians, discussing them. I'm generally not big on dream narratives in with my journalism, but after spending the past nine pages with Jung and his entourage it makes a strange sense. And, in the end, they're all usurped by the words of the man himself:

In the Red Book, after Jung’s soul urges him to embrace the madness,
Jung is still doubtful. Then suddenly, as happens in dreams, his soul
turns into “a fat, little professor,” who expresses a kind of paternal
concern for Jung.

Jung says: “I too believe that I’ve completely lost myself. Am I really crazy? It’s all terribly confusing.”

The professor responds: “Have patience, everything will work out. Anyway, sleep well.”

(The painting is Marc Chagall's "Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel.")


13 Comments to Jung Again

  1. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    September 19, 2009 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    >I’m generally not big on dream narratives in with my journalism
    But otherwise entranced I think.

  2. September 19, 2009 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    This is really fascinating stuff, Lisa. Thanks!

  3. September 19, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Wow. I’m intrigued by the idea of the collective unconscious as justification for posthumous privacy invasion! I think the line between Stones & Beatles is a little firmer than the one between Freudians & Jungians, though. Maybe the Band vs. the Dead?
    This is all delicious food for thought. Thanks so much for starting this blog, Lisa.

  4. Karen Wall's Gravatar Karen Wall
    September 19, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    In our house it’s always been not Freud or Jung but Freud/Jung versus Skinner. But as I’ve often said to my behavioral psychologist husband, to me Jung was never about science. But who can imagine current literary/film
    theory (or film and literature themselves) without Jung and Freud? I’ve had to intervene between my husband and my film theory friends at many a dinner party.
    There’s a great book called exploring the RKO films of Val Lewton using Jungian theory.
    Thanks, Lisa. The blog’s off to a great start. By the way, what’s the name of the painting?

  5. Karen Wall's Gravatar Karen Wall
    September 19, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, the book is Dreams of Darkness by J.P. Telotte. Didn’t proofread that post very well.

  6. September 19, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Cool, Karen, thanks for that. And I’ve edited to identify the painting.
    The Band vs. The Dead, huh? I think I know which side of that I come out on.

  7. September 20, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Good moment to read or re-read Robertson Davies’s The Manticore.
    In my experience, an overly concrete belief in the collective unconscious often serves those who like to blur (or trample) boundaries. It’s not an invasion if we’re all one big ectoplasmic blob of consciousness anyway.

  8. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    September 20, 2009 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Heh, really. Don’t step on my ‘plasm.

  9. Louisey's Gravatar Louisey
    September 23, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Wow, the Red Book looks like a danged illuminated monk’s manuscript! How anal can you get??
    Btw, what if we are Stones AND Beatles?

  10. nbm's Gravatar nbm
    September 27, 2009 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I may get to meet some of Jung’s descendants & followers soon — I’ll let you know if it happens. (I’ve always been on the Freud side, based on the little I really know about Jung; I’ll have to think about what that means. At a first grasp, maybe it’s because Freud keeps his myths more or less as metaphors while Jung makes them real.)

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