Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jung's Red Book

Weighing in at $195, this is probably a Christmas present or a reservation at the library but, fifty years after it was completed, Carl Jung's Red Book, or Liber Novus, has been published. I came across a reference to this a few months ago, oddly enough and now here it is: the world is full of coincidences.

Jung delayed publication of this work because it is so highly personal, and so highly charged. The fear, as Kathryn Harrison describes it in her NY Times review, was that 'anyone who read it might conclude what Jung himself first suspected: that the great doctor had lost his mind.'

What is presents is a series of pictorial representations of the waking dreams which beset him in 1913 and which convinced him he was 'menaced with a psychosis'. I find the idea of this fascinating: Jung seems literally to have suffered the sort of spiritual breakdown which fuelled the Modernist movement. He saw these visions as prophesies, a link between his own unconscious and world affairs. Isn't it easy to look at The Waste Land, for example, and see it as much the same thing?

There appears to be a strong element of gnostic thought in Jung's beliefs (as there is in Modernism in general). Of individuation, for example, Harrison explains: '“Individuation” is the word Jung used for the integration of conscious and unconscious required for a person to reach psychological wholeness, an evolved state of being he did not consider within the reach of every person.' This chimes directly with the gnostic interpretation of the spark of knowledge which resides in each of us, but which only a very few of us are capable of uncovering.

Anyway, it looks like a fascinating book.

1 comment:

Tom Conoboy said...

Oh, and for Donigan's wife, this quote might be of interest:

The narrative proceeds like a blend of biblical prophecy and dialectic, in places unexpectedly funny, as when, in “The Castle in the Forest,” he encounters a woman from the kind of novels he had “spat on long ago.” “I am truly in Hell,” Jung remarks, “the worst awakening after death, to be resurrected in a lending library!” But the conventional heroine who fills Jung with disgust has something to teach him: what he considers “banal and hackneyed contains the wisdom” he seeks. The heroine trapped in a castle in a forest is an archetype — one that, in this instance, challenges his intellectual snobbery.

Jung obviously realised the error of his ways immediately, and after insulting all librarians he turned one of them into the heroine of the story. A wise man...