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The New Jung Scholarship: Shot in the Dark? Or a Genuine Renaissance?

Posted on 02 Aug | 0 comments
Pages from Jung's Red Book
Photos of Jung's Red Book courtesy of the New York Times

One doubts that the Collected Works of Carl Jung have ever been on display at a book exhibit during the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association, while Freud’s books have always and still continue to appear all over the place in that venue. We may attribute this to the failure of reductionistic laboratory empiricism in its entire history to grasp the reality of the unconscious, Freud being as much as they reluctantly have been abe to take.

Times may be changing, however. PsyCritiques, the weekly on-line APA journal of book reviews in psychology, has been inviting APA members to review books on Jung and his ideas with greater frequency.  My last book review for them was a critique of John Dourley’s Jung and the Religious Question, an in-depth look at Jung’s take on the role of spiritual experience in the process of individuation. Dourley is an ordained priest and also a practicing Jungian analyst. Recently, they have asked me to review John Ryan Haule’s Jung for the Twenty-First century, a two-volume study. Volume one is a thoroughly original interpretation of Jung’s psychology in the context of modern developments in brain science, anthropology,  sociology, and biology. Volume two is a review of scientific studies on shamanism, meditation, and parapsychology, showing the relevance of Jung’s work for what lies at the borderline of mainstream science.

One can only conjecture as to the change in attitude. The American Psychological Association was founded and controlled by laboratory experimentalists for nearly one hundred years, until the late 1980s, when clinicians came into the majority and the research scientists bolted to form their own group, The American Psychological Society.  A certain liberalism set in, but not enough for them to turn to Jung for intellectual or theoretical sustenance.

In October of 2009, however, Liber Novus, Jung’s famous unpublished Red Book, was released by W. W. Norton to wide acclaim, earning the attention of audiences in both psychoogy and psychiatry. After Jung’s break with Freud in 1913, Jung went into a six year episode that Henri Ellenberger called “a creative illness,” in which he experienced hallucinations and waking visions. He was not mourning the separation from Freud, but experiencing an opening of the internal doors of perception, in which he was able to initiate a dialogue between consciousness and the unconscious. At that point in his life he was a man who had lost his soul, having spent 6 years in Freud’s orbit. Now he was a man in search of his soul, affecting a recovery that would last him a lifetime. Jung taught himself to cultivate waking visions, which he developed into the technique of active imagination, a process he then taught to each of his patients. He took extensive notes in what came to be called The Black Books, including sktches of his own primitive drawings and paintings of things he had seen. Within a few years, he began transferring the content of these Black Books into a single large oversized volume, bound in red leather, which he referred to as The Red Book.    The text was in handwritten Gothic German script, and the paintings were well developed and in full color.

Showing it to only a few of his closest associates, Jung worked on the Red Book off and on until 1926, when the Sinologist Richard Wilhelm drew his attention to a Chinese alchemical text entitled The Secret of the Golden Flower. Jung added a psychological commentary but was most profoundly affected by an insight he received from the project to look into the European alchemical tradition  in his search for the link between the primitive archaic psyche and modern human consciousness.

Though there are indications that Jung thought about publishing the Red Book, it remained in his study up to the time of his death in 1961. After that, it remained in a Swiss bank vault until fifteen years ago, when the Jung Estate gave permission to Prof. Sonu Shamdasani to edit and translate the book.  The publisher could not imagine that many would pay $200 for a facsimile reproduction of the Red Book that was so large it could not fit on a regular bookshelf. They only published 5000 copies on the first print run, but immediately had to go back to press. It has presently sold some 85,000 copies and been translated into a half dozen foreign languages.

As the basic blueprint for the rest of Jung’s life work, and as a chronicle of  the deeper mysteries of the human psyche revealed for the first time as the perilous journey that it is, the work will likely become the center of attention in the Jungian world for the indefinite future.

Hesitant as Jung was to reveal the text in his own lifetime for fear he would be grossly misunderstood, nevertheless the book has had a profound effect on individual psychologists and psychiatrists, who are awakening to a new understanding of Jung’s theories. A case in point is a recent issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry (Harris, 2010), which published a major statement on Jung’s Red Book, including illustrations, possibly the most positive review of Jung’s work ever printed in the psychiatric literature. We may surmise that increased coverage of books about Jung is following a similar trend in psychology, if reviews in PsyCritiques is any indication.

References

Harris, J. (2010). The Red Book: Liber Novus.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 67:6, 554-556.
 

-- Eugene Taylor

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