There’s a game we’ve all played: if you could have dinner with any historical figure, living or dead, who would it be?
What if you could peek into their minds? What if you could stare at their self-awareness, and experience their unconscious the way they did?
We will soon have that glimpse into the mind of one of the great explorers of the psyche: Carl Jung, whose personal diary of his struggle with the unconscious, his “Red Book,” will be published next month by the Philemon Foundation, a non-profit group of scholars and analysts dedicated to making available some 50 volumes of Jung’s unpublished works.
Of all of them, the Red Book is deemed the most important.
“Jung was one of the great spiritual and psychological pilgrims of our time, and his ultimate project, at which he felt a failure, was to convince people of the reality of the psyche, and the reality of a spiritual energy which moves through all of us,” says James Hollis, who heads Saybrook’s Jungian Studies program and is the Vice-President of the Philemon Foundation. “Essentially, The Red Book is Jung’s personal journal and voyage of discovery during a turbulent mid-life passage. He was overrun with psychic material, even while maintaining familial and professional life. He chose to engage that material, rather than repress it, or succumb to it, and thereby developed the practice of “active imagination,” intra-psychic dialogue, and a deepened engagement with the archetypal field of human experience.”
Saybrook psychology faculty member Eugene Taylor, who is also on the board of the Philemon Foundation, says that the Red Book “is not merely a book about Jung’s thoughts, but the very blueprint for all his thinking and the foundation of his psychology over the lifetime that ensued. It is bound to change Jungian scholarship in profound ways for all time.”
What will we see when we look over the efforts of Carl Jung to understand his own mind? So far all that’s been released to the public are photos of some of the gorgeous otherworldly illustrations Jung included on many pages. The only man who knows the text is the Philemon Foundation’s general editor Sonu Shamdasani, a Distinguished Consulting Faculty Member at Saybrook University and the man who’s translating the Red Book into English, along with providing over 1,000 footnotes.
For Shamdasani, the work of translating and editing the Red Book has been almost as difficult and engaging as Jung’s own journey. According to the New York Times Magazine, Shamdasani developed a routine of translating in the morning and then taking long walks through London parks trying to “follow the rabbit’s path Jung had forged through his own mind.
“These days,” said the Times. “Shamdasani has the slightly stunned aspect of someone who has only very recently found his way out of an enormous maze. When I visited him this summer … he was just adding his 1,051st footnote to the Red Book.” It goes on:
“It is the nuclear reactor for all his works,” Shamdasani said, noting that Jung’s more well-known concepts — including his belief that humanity shares a pool of ancient wisdom that he called the collective unconscious and the thought that personalities have both male and female components (animus and anima) — have their roots in the Red Book. Creating the book also led Jung to reformulate how he worked with clients.”
For Hollis, the publicity generated by the release of the Red Book will be good insofar as it highlights the important work done by this great thinker. “This much publicity will cause more persons to look at Jung and his life and work, and that may prove an invitation to them to look more deeply into the meaning of their journey. “
But, Hollis cautions, the Red Book itself will likely be as controversial as it is inspiring. “I suspect the Red Book will prove puzzling to some, the object of scorn to others, and intriguing to the rest of us.”
Saybrook faculty member Alan Vaughan, a Jungian analyst, agrees. “I think it’s great to have it out there in the public domain, and I’m glad that the Jung family has allowed it to be published – but people who object to Analytic psychology on theoretical grounds will find more evidence upon which to base old and new objections to the validity of his work, I am sure. Still, I think the Red Book will provide a clearer picture of the architecture underlying and applied in process of depth psychotherapy and psychoanalsysis.”
Hollis agrees. “The same project that Jung engaged in remains for the rest of us to address. The Red Book will no doubt renew our summons to the work.”