If we do not have the depths, how do we have the heights?
– Carl Jung in the Red Book
Vacitus atque non vocatus, deus aderit. Invited or not invited, the god will be present.
– Attributed to the Delphic Oracle and carved above the door of Jung’s home.
My life has been permeated and held together by one idea and one goal: namely, to penetrate into the secret of the personality.
– Carl Jung in Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Around the autumn of 1913, Carl Jung experienced a prolonged period of outer isolation and inner disorientation. Three years earlier, he had left his post at the Burghölzli Hospital to concentrate more fully on his own research (and to avoid any scandal over his relationship with a patient, Sabina Spielrein). Then in 1914, having made his harrowing break with Sigmund Freud, he severed the remaining strand that tied him to psycho- analysis. He resigned his presidency of the International Association. Shortly after, he gave up his teaching post at the University of Zurich. Apart from a few loyal patients, he was now on his own, in an open, labile space, free of any pressure to conform to Freud’s interpretations.
In his self-imposed isolation he questioned all that he had achieved in his professional life, and felt uncertain as to what lay before him. During this time he could not bring himself to read any scientific papers. In his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, written in the last decade of his life, Jung recalled how he had felt himself suspended in a continual state of hyper-tension, terrified at the prospect of going mad, of following the ominous tracks of Nietzsche into insanity. The doctor, who was there to heal others, had himself become critically ill.
It would seem that the dramatic break with Freud had triggered something like a psychosis in Jung, an extreme turbulence of mind in which the chaotic contents of his unconscious erupted, threatening to submerge his life. He found himself hallucinating, hearing voices within and without, and having nightmarish apocalyptic visions and dreams. He appeared to be in the grip of the kind of breakdown he had observed in his patients at the Burghölzli. Although the breakdown was dramatic, there yet remained a strong connection to his past. Many of his dreams and visions had a direct relationship to earlier occult interests and to the book he had just completed, Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, a wide-ranging study of mythology, which was written as a counter-blow to Freud’s thinking. Reflecting on the writing of that volume, Jung remarked: I was living in an insane asylum of my own making. I went about with all these fantastic figures: centaurs, nymphs, satyrs, gods and goddesses, as though they were patients and I was analyzing them. Now, in 1913, these mythical figures were no longer safely out there for the doctor’s speculative diagnosis;; they burst out from within, shaking his equipoise, threatening his sanity.
In his own account, Jung recalled how he had found himself holding on to physical objects for support and how he would repeat to himself the stubborn facts of his quotidian existence: that he had a medical diploma, that he was married, that he had five children, that he had patients waiting to see him, that he lived at 228 Seestrasse in the town of Küsnacht. By reciting the mantra of the ordinary, he struggled to tether himself to the everyday world he feared was slipping from him. Interestingly, he was thirty-eight, the same age as Freud had been when, in fear and trembling, he began his own momentous self-analysis. But, at this point, trying to break away from his problematic mentor and father figure, Jung would not have appreciated the comparison. Determined to realize Nietzsche’s existential imperative: Become what thou must be, he was much more concerned to locate the defining differences and what they signified.
In October 1913, on a train journey to Schaffhausen, Jung had a waking vision. He found himself watching a cataclysmic flood submerging most of Europe. He could see the floating rubble of civilisation with thousands of floating corpses and, as he looked, the swirling yellow water turned to blood. Two weeks later on the same journey the vision came back with greater intensity and with even more blood. As it ended, Jung heard a voice addressing him: look at it well, it is wholly real and it will be so. In the following year, he had a recurrent dream of a new ice-age threatening to destroy the world. The last dream in the sequence closed with the image of a tree. The bitter cold had transformed its leaves into clusters of grapes which contained healing properties. In the dream Jung watched himself pick the ripe grapes and offer them to a large crowd. The visions and dreams are as graphic as their general import is transparent. Like many of his childhood fantasies and games, they reveal a dialectical movement between world-annihilation and personal redemption. Jung is, at first, a shocked and passive witness and then, finally in the last dream, a saviour- protagonist: a Christ-like figure who brings wholeness and healing to an ailing civilization.
If the general drift is clear, the details of these apocalyptic narratives remain complex and hard to interpret. To what do the compelling images of annihilation actually refer? To the life of Jung or to the collective situation? (The First World War broke out two months after his last dream). And in what ways did Jung emerge as the saviour protagonist offering a higher form of selfhood to suffering humanity? Was this a messianic image of psychotic self-inflation or was it more a matter of objective self-realization? And how is one to understand the irruption from the unconscious in relationship to the termination of the friendship with Freud and to the forging of an alternative, more encompassing and spiritual, conception of selfhood? To begin to answer these questions, we must look at the extraordinary manner in which Jung documented his breakdown and journey into madness. We must look at the style and then the content of what he recorded and relate them to his later thinking. It is time to turn to one the strangest of accounts in the story of the self, to the work that came to be known as the Red Book.
In the autumn of 1913 Jung started to log his turbulent inner life by jotting down his immediate fantasies and inner dialogues in a series of six black notebooks. He later transcribed the material into what he called, rather grandly, Liber Novus, the New Book, the title denoting (like Dante’s La Vita Nuova) a further revelation. As he did so, he reflected on the meaning of the material and added illustrations and border decorations. The whole work was written on folio pages in a medieval calligraphy using historiated capitals;; Jung called it his monkish black-letter script. The volume was bound in dark red leather and dubbed the Red Book. Never published in his lifetime, it was seen only by a few trusted individuals. After Jung’s death in1961, it was assiduously guarded, for over four decades, by a family keen to protect his reputation. It was deemed that the big mad book could only discredit the world famous psychologist. Finally, in 2009, Liber Novus was published.
Anyone opening the volume at random will experience a frisson of shock. Disregarding the majestic red cover, it looks like a crazy therapeutic journal one might expect to stumble upon in the cupboards of a psychiatric ward: an idiosyncratic outpouring left by an unknown patient. The unwieldy book burns with disturbed life. The eclectic images – of mysterious figures and diabolical shadows, of beasts and insects, of dragons and devils – instantly ignite the imagination. Many of the pictures are painted in the boldest of colours: in fiery reds, radiant blues, numinous golds. On some pages the red brush-strokes look like hot lava erupting from a volcano or the hot undifferentiated fragments of a container which has just exploded.
In one picture, a small figure crouches before a fierce jet of orange flame which breaks over him with a numinous, if somewhat menacing, energy. In another, a large snake twists through a pyramid of glowing fire, its open mouth releasing, not a tongue, but a delicate plant-like tendril rising ethereally into the upper air. In yet another picture, a mysterious boat guided by a small hooded figure carries a golden disc over a turquoise sea;; below in the depths a large fish, with glistening golden scales, accompanies the vessel on its unknown journey. As above, so below. These images are vast, magical, mythopoeic – as they are also, artistically, uneven. They carry resonances from a number of earlier cultures and religions: Aztec, Egyptian, Gnostic, Persian, Greek, Roman and Christian. Taken together, they evoke a form of nekyia, a journey into the underworld, a meeting with ancestors, an encounter with spirits and demons.
Other illustrations are calmer and more abstract. Two of the images resemble Persian carpets spread out to reveal a pattern of hieroglyphic marks and magical emblems: a dove, a snake, thrones and towers. Here the red is no longer violent, but meditative and serene. On other pages, there are coloured circles, upright ovals, receding cones: a sacred geometry expressing cosmic balance and harmony. Of these, the most striking are a number of mandala images, which Jung developed from his army notebook, sketched while on military service in the summer of 1917. He drew twenty-seven images – the word ‘mandala’ comes from the Sanskrit mandalam meaning a circle – which he felt expressed the true state of his inner being. He saw these images as cryptograms of the self: not of the Freudian ego, but the microcosmic soul, the monad of life. His earlier occult interests were breaking out.
These mandalas were to become crucial to his understanding of the nature of the psyche;; they were for him visual representations of a circumambulation of the centre, which he saw as the ultimate expression of psychic wholeness. With loving care, he transcribed a number of theses figures to the majestic Red Book, giving their precise date and context. The final one, dated 1928, is a geometrical image of a golden castle. It marked the culmination of his dangerous introspective experiment and pointed forward to new work, first, with the sinologist, Richard Wilhelm, and, then, to a decade of intense research to decode the symbolic language of alchemy.
The very format of the Red Book proclaimed a work pitted against the zeitgeist. In the manner of Nietzsche, it is defiantly untimely and consistently contra. The book has nothing to do with Materialism or Functionalism, with scientific statistics or empirical data, with Humanism or the Enlightenment – or Freudian psychoanalysis. The author’s authority is rooted in the mythological past, not in his rejected intellectual mentor. The huge book is composed as if the printing press had never been invented. The script is medieval, the quotations from the Bible are kept in Latin, while many of the names, like that of the senex figure Philemon, are inscribed in the archaic Greek. In the same mood of historic defiance, the last chapter, a long sequence called Septem Sermones ad Mortuos (transcribed, once again, from the Black Book) is presented as if it was written by an early
heretical Church Father. Jung wrote: The seven instructions of the dead. Written by Basilides in Alexandria, the city where the East touches the West. In a small privately printed edition, he claimed that it had been translated from the original Greek into German. All this may sound like a prescient post-modern game, but the intent is far from ironic. There is a gravitas at work serving not the spirit of the age, but the spirit of the depths. Jung is like a bereft priest seeking a new faith. He identified with Basilides, an early unorthodox Christian whose Gnosticism was to help shape his own psychology. Once again, one encounters an aggressively renegade position, backward looking and defiantly ‘heretical.’
Yet in spite of this, or because of it, the Red Book remains weirdly subversive. Out of date in its style, urgent in content, it somehow commands our perplexed attention.
An indispensable key to the content of the work is provided by an essay written in 1916, when Jung was in the throes of his experiment in self-understanding. The essay, with the religious-sounding title The Transcendent Function, could well have been placed at the beginning of the Red Book, if Jung had ever planned to publish it. Though Jung’s account is formulated in a somewhat digressive and impersonal style, there can be no doubt that it relates intimately to his own experience. It is a good example of psychology as veiled memoir. Below the discursive sentences runs an occluded story, as well as an animus against Freud. Thinly disguised autobiography, it clarifies what Jung was attempting to do.
At the very outset, Jung warns of the dangers of the method he is about to describe. It could, he says, lead to a temporary state of schizophrenia or induce a psychotic episode. At this stage, the only evidence he had came from his own daring experiment. In the middle of the essay, Jung refers to Nietzsche’s madness, drawing attention to the way in which his conscious rejection of compassion led to an unconscious identification with the crucified Christ and the dismembered Dionysos. But this, too, is extremely close to what is depicted in the first chapter of the Red Book, where Jung himself undergoes a crucifixion and becomes Christ. For Nietzsche read, also, Jung. Then, the very last sentence of the essay reads triumphantly: it (the transcendent function) is a way of attaining liberation by one’s own efforts and of finding the courage to be oneself. In the context of Jung’s life how can one read this sentence but autobiographically? It translates as follows: through the Red Book I freed myself from Freud and found the courage to create my own school of psychology. Jung’s liberation from Freud is the resounding climax of the subterranean narrative.
Though his own journey into the unconscious is not mentioned once, the notion of the transcendent function throws a bright beam of light on the Red Book. If the Red Book is the primary creation, this essay is the rationale.
Jung sees the transcendent function as a psychological process through which the conscious collaborates with the unconscious to engender a third and higher state: a greater quality and range of awareness. In the story of the self this marks a further development in the art of self-analysis. The new state is achieved by subduing the active part of the mind so that it is able to confront what is lying just below the threshold of consciousness. According to Jung, the individual must make himself as conscious as possible of the mood he is in, sinking himself in it without reserve and noting down on paper all the fantasies and other associations that come up. The spontaneous fantasy has to be followed faithfully and any form of free association (which would quickly take the mind away from the immediate object) firmly resisted.
According to Jung ‘visual types’ will tend to see figures and narratives, while ‘audio-visual types’ will tend to hear voices. The first part of the method consisted in capturing, through writing, painting or sculpting, the immediate fantasies. The aim is to track the image dormant in the emotion. Out of the creative engagement emerged a further activity, that of critical reflection: an attempt to understand the meaning of what had emerged, a desire to evaluate and place the experience. The enquiry, thus, started with a form of expressive phenomenology and ended with a form of Socratic scrutiny. The shuttling to and fro of affects and arguments is seen to culminate in a further state of reflexive consciousness;; a new more complex and integrated self. This process of inner development, so dear to Montaigne and later to Rousseau and Nietzsche, Jung called individuation – a coming into selfhood – a term he borrowed from the
Scholastic philosophers to denote the differentiation of the individual from the species. In the story of the self it is a crucial concept.
The Red Book moving constantly between active fantasies, engaged dialogue and critical reflection can now be seen as Jung’s major work of active imagination. The shuttling to and fro between affects and arguments forms its method and provides its structure. Inevitably the book, composed over seventeen years, became the protected centre of his psychological universe, the magnetic hub of all his mature thinking, his most seminal and most secret book.
What are we to make of it?
The first volume provides, at once, the existential context. Referring to his apocalyptic vision of the floods Jung writes: at that time, in the fortieth year of my life, I had achieved everything that I had wished for myself. I had achieved power, wealth, knowledge and every human happiness. Then my desire for the increase of these trappings ceased, the desire ebbed from me and horror came over me. It is at this moment of inner terror that the spirit of the depths addresses him, testing every belief he possessed: his belief in science, his love of order and explanation, his identification with current norms. Interrogating himself, Jung feels he has been betrayed by the outer zeitgeist and by his own willpower to adapt to his culture and to succeed. The identity crisis is, thus, a spiritual crisis, which calls for a complete turning round, an act of metanoia, to encounter all that has been repressed, a journey back into the lost world of the ancestors and the primordial psyche through the discipline of active imagination.
The narrative of the Red Book, divided into three volumes, is made up of a series of meetings, dialogues and reflections. It begins with a journey into the desert, a descent into hell, and the murder of Siegfried (SiegFreud?). It continues with an encounter with the prophet Elijah, who is accompanied by blind Salome and a black serpent. The first book climaxes in the deification of Jung. He is crucified. As the serpent wraps round his body ever more tightly, he watches the blood pour down the hillside;; in torment his face turns into that of a lion. That is the active fantasy, in the reflexive commentary Jung explains: Man is not redeemed through the hero, but becomes a Christ himself.
In the second volume, after a number of further transformative encounters with the devil, an anchorite, an old scholar with his beautiful daughter and the divine bull, Izdubar, Jung eventually meets Philemon. He is yet another of Jung’s father figures – in the illustration with his lean and bearded face he certainly resembles Freud. Bringing words of admonition and wisdom, Philemon seems to morph out of the earlier figure of Elijah. Like Virgil in the Commedia, he possesses the spiritual power to guide the wavering pilgrim forward;; like Zarathustra in Thus Spake Zarathustra he is a seer and shaman. More than that, he serves a teleological function for, both as prophet and senex, he prefigures the role that Jung will adopt later in his life. Even the famous remark that Jung made to John Freeman in the BBC Face to Face programme in 1959: I do not need to believe, I know is virtually uttered (in the Spring of 1914) by Philemon in the Red Book. Philemon says: It is what I know how to say, not because I believe it, but because I know it. Philemon is a proleptic expression of Jung’s prophetic and solitary nature. In keeping with this, the chapter closes aphoristically: The touchstone is being alone with oneself. This is the way.
The last volume of the Red Book, called Scrutinies (elsewhere known as Septem Sermones ad Mortuos) is the most coherent in theme and structure;; it was published privately and stands somewhat apart from the first two books. Written in three nights of compulsive writing, it responds to a group of ghostly Crusaders who came to Jung’s house crying: We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought. The dead Christian souls, wandering in the shadow of death, disillusioned, ill at ease, unable to settle, have not found the redemption they had anticipated. Jung’s task is to release them from their anguish by redressing the old Christianity which had failed in its promises. The first six sermons, all given by Philemon, though, interestingly, in the original Black Books all proclaimed by the ‘I’ of Jung, introduce a new cosmology, joining in the figure of Abraxis the opposites which Christianity had dissociated: good and evil, creation and destruction, body and soul. The seventh and last sermon discloses a new key to understanding: the inward gateway to the dancing star of the individuated self: the star is the God and the goal of man. Suddenly, the ghosts of the Crusaders lose their oppressive heaviness and vanish like smoke into the night sky to find their ultimate peace. It is a moving and poetic finale.
With the completion of Scrutinies, Jung claimed the haunting was over. The mythopoeic journey, guided by active imagination, had enabled him to begin to integrate the warring chaos within. The shallow spirit of the zeitgeist had been brought into relationship with the ineffable spirit of the depths.
Nevertheless, it has to be said that for all its strangeness and beauty, parts of the Red Book remain all but unreadable. Some of the writing has the tedium one associates with automatic writing. The shifting, unpredictable narrative is, too often, interrupted with ponderous commentaries and vague grandiose reflections. In places, the book resembles the prolix work of Tolkien: a procession of dwarfs, giants, devils and monsters, as if composed in 3D, 48 frames per second. It is true that Jung’s language can be sublime, as with the eloquent incantations in the second book, but his writing easily trips into hyperbole with its ‘hellish magic’, ‘total evil’ and ‘frightful struggles’. The writing is marred by a stylistic inflation, a bloated Romanticism. One over-hears the high straining rhetoric of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. In the hands of another writer, the work might have been viewed as the prima materia for an innovative literary creation, using image and text, an artistic auto-mythography like Dante’s Commedia or Petrarch’s Secretum or William Blake’s Prophetic Books or Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. But Jung was a psychologist, not a novelist or poet. He was always suspicious of the evasions of art in the context of therapy. It is also abundantly clear that he himself decided against any publication in his lifetime, and left no plans for the book after his death. Nor was the work finished. Jung declared that if he had continued with the experiment it might have taken him into a final state of madness. An epilogue, started as late as 1959, broke off mysteriously in mid sentence: even if another possibility/ never . . . The Red Book was too close to Jung’s life to become Art. It could not be closed down with a writer’s definitive sentence.
Yet the experiment in active imagination, conducted over seventeen years, was destined to become the concealed quarry for all of Jung’s later thinking. The private therapeutic labour fed his public psychology. His theories about the self-regulating self, about individuation, about the collective unconscious, about alchemy, about mandalas, about the union of opposites, about animus and anima, about the shadow, about synchronicity either emerged directly from the experiment or found their validation there. According to Jung, the Red Book was: the numinous beginning that contained everything.
Numinous. That is the decisive word. The psychosis, triggered by the break with Freud, was at root a spiritual event and gave birth to a spiritual psychology. In 1913, in the interval between completing Transformations and Symbols of the Libido and starting the Red Book, Jung described his existential predicament as follows: But in what myth does man live nowadays? In the Christian myth, the answer might be. ‘Do you live in it?’ I asked myself. To be honest the answer was no. For me, it is not what I live by. ‘Then do we no longer have any myth?’ ‘No evidently we no longer have any myth.’ ‘But then what is your myth - the myth in which you do live?’ At this point the dialogue with myself became uncomfortable, and I stopped thinking. I had reached a dead end. At the heart of the trauma was Jung’s desire to confront and overcome that dead end, to find an animating mythology he could live in and through with absolute integrity. He sought to find/create a mythology that could survive the rational Enlightenment, that could flourish alongside the powerful domains of science and technology, that could meet the spiritual depletion of a disintegrating civilisation. It was also, of course, Jung’s answer to both his father (who, although a minister of the Swiss Reformed Church, had inwardly lost his faith) and to Freud, (whose scientific faith in secular psychoanalysis he could not, finally, follow).
However, in the search for a living mythology the relationship with Nietzsche was, perhaps, the most crucial. His presence pervades the Red Book. Nietzsche had urged humankind to grow up, to face the fact that the Christian God was a repressive human fabrication erected by Paul, the only apostle who had not encountered Christ and that it had to be destroyed to allow the growth of the übermensch, the free self-regulating, self-creating, individual. Nietzsche wanted a joyous return to the creative life, to the body and nature. In his subtle response, Jung initially accepted that position, then neatly turned it round. Yes, he said, all gods were projections, but the projections had their origin in human nature. The gods were, thus, part of our biological inheritance, even before language and the influences of ideology. The outer gods are dead, long live the inner gods. Following the terminology of Kant, Jung named the primordial gods a priori images;; then, later, applied the word archetypes. He claimed that the archetype was an irrepressible, unconscious, pre-existent form that seems to be part of the inherited structure of the psyche, and can therefore manifest itself spontaneously anywhere, at any time. In this phylogenetic sense, the gods could never die. To be human was to be religious. In each person lived a mythologem.
In the second volume of the Red Book the god Izdubar (Gilgamesh) is dying from science and modern secular consciousness. Jung wants to save the ailing god but he can only do so by getting the wounded immortal to acknowledge that he is a fantasy. Once Izdubar embraces the idea, his divinity is restored. He returns as a radiant image;; a truth not of the external world, but of the inner imagination. In this way, Jung was able to keep the god-impulse spiritually bright. Ancient deities could be resurrected;; new gods morph from the old. The life of ritual and myth could be taken forward to complement the age of science and technology, to represent inner space and time. Hanging on the wall behind his desk Jung kept an image of the Turin Shroud. To enhance the numinous he covered it with a cloth. Not part of the scientific world, not part of the historical world, but an image of the divine man with its tap root in the psyche-soma. Nietzsche negated the Christian past;; Jung sought to integrate it on his own terms.
So did Jung’s analytical psychology emerge as a reaction to Freud’s psycho- analysis? This is the common reading. But the recent publication of the Red Book invites a new mapping. Long before he was aware of Freud’s work and from an early age, Jung had engaged with a perennial tradition of spiritual thinking. He was profoundly aware of a subterranean stream of mysticism running from Plato to Plotinus, through the early church fathers to the Gnostics and Alchemists, into such charismatic figures as Paracelsus (1493-1541), Boehme (1574-1624) and Swedenborg (1688-1772). As a young man, he had been fascinated by the drama of séances. In 1896 he had enthusiastically observed his cousin, Hélène Preiswerk, in a state of trance, speaking in different voices and telling stories from previous incarnations. Significantly, his medical dissertation, published five years before he met Freud, was called On the Psychology and Pathology of so- called Occult Phenomena. It would seem that the traumatic break with Freud allowed Jung to return to the repressed – all the spiritual and paranormal phenomena which had been regarded by the Master as either ridiculous or taboo, what he had, dismissively, labelled Jung’s ‘spook complex’. In truth, the Red Book might be described as Jung’s defiant séance with himself to hear the many voices that rational civilisation had muzzled. Certainly, it marks a turbulent re-connection with occult thinking and practice, and a struggle to fashion that subterranean tradition anew. In this, as well as in its fusion of text and image, it resembles Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Work and, especially, William Blake’s Prophetic Books.
Perhaps what emerges most dramatically for the story of the self is the commitment to live the symbolic life. For Jung, the wealth of the soul resided not in propositions but in images, not in theory but in play, not in speculation but in ritual. It is characteristic of the man that at the outset of his psychosis he began to play each morning (before seeing his patients) with the sand and stones around Lake Zurich. The line of poetry in the Incantations: I shattered my firm castle and played like a child in the sand is a direct reference to this activity. The images not only reveal the polar dynamic in Jung’s nature between destruction and creation, but also refer precisely to his daily obsessive building of a model village: cottages, a castle, a church. Unselfconsciously on his knees, it was a humble return to childhood, to spontaneous creation, to the auto-symbolic: active imagination with sand. Not unlike Montaigne carving philosophical maxims in the oak beams of his study, Jung would also chisel resonant phrases into resistant stone, so that he could daily contemplate their meaning. Over the door of his home he inscribed in Latin the words: INVITED OR NOT INVITED THE GOD WILL BE PRESENT, while at the entrance to his Tower at Bollingen he chiselled: SANCTUARY OF PHILEMON, PENITENCE OF FAUST. Not unlike Yeats’s tower in County Galway – bought in 1916 around the same time as Jung’s confrontation with the unconscious – the building itself, with all its various extensions, was an objective correlative of the inner self. It was the stone mandala in which Jung lived part of his solitary life attending to the spirit of the depths, shaping the inner life. Each significant event had to be lifted up into an enduring metaphor marking the journey from birth to death. The symbolic practice conferred depth, meaning, purpose and held at bay those entropic forces conspiring to ravage human dignity, the indifferent legacies of Thanatos.
Many criticisms can and have been brought against Jung. There is little theoretical tension in his discursive prose, little scrupulous weighing of counter claims and evidence. The use of sublime classical concepts – pleroma, conjunctio, psychopomp, numinosum – can easily conceal the fraught and entangled nature of everyday experience. Such lofty abstractions seduce the mind to idealise grandly rather than to perceive precisely. In a similar way, the mandala seems more an idealization than a representation of the self – that self, which as Heraclitus observed, is always immersed in the unceasing flow of time, and always shifting and changing: more like elusive music than regular geometry. Much of Jung’s scholarship is intuitive but partial, passionate but erratic. He does not always capture the full complexity, but tends to privilege the predetermined play of archetypes. A theory of the collective unconscious, based on Gnosticism and neo- Platonism, is bound to misconstrue the uncertain and fumbling dimension of finite life. It will also tend to underplay the formative influences of infant and childhood experience. It is most unlikely that Jung’s 1913 psychotic dreams and visions prefigured, as Jung claimed, the horrors of the First World War;; it is far more likely that they symbolised bi-polar energies of destruction and creation in the man, with their deep roots in his solitary and deeply disturbed childhood. Perhaps Jung’s inflated reading evaded that more contingent and chastening possibility.
Above all, Jung’s rhetorical commitment to ‘science’ quivers at the edge of fraudulence. His claim to be an empiricist is flimsy, and seems more the assertion of a cunning trickster than a careful thinker. In both his introspective work and in his therapy – as with Freud – there was no way in which the personal data could be quantified or tested. The existential and the mystical resist abstract schematisation and public investigation. Claiming the role of science may have been a shrewd and cunning defence put up by the extrovert and strategic part of Jung’s complex personality, but it remained somewhat devious. What both men offered was a form of hermeneutics, a means of interpreting the polyphonic text of life, often insightful and sometimes profound, but always open to question, revision and, rejection.
Jung is a protean figure, but he is best perceived as a prophet in the role of psychologist, a shaman with uncomfortable but healing insights, a christian who is not a Christian. In the Red Book, which opens with spiritual prophecies from Isaiah and John the Evangelist, he asks his soul: But what is my calling? And his soul answers without hesitation: A new religion and its proclamation. Such a figure is best compared to Gurdjieff, Rudolf Steiner or Krishnamurti, not to Darwin, Faraday or Crick. Jung memorably remarked that what mattered in life was not perfection, but completeness. In a letter to Freud, he claimed that religion can be replaced only by religion . . . 2,000 years of Christianity can only be replaced by something equivalent. Analytical psychology was meant to be exactly that: a spiritual binding and a new revelation.
In his role as shaman and prophet, Jung contrasted dramatically with his discarded mentor. Whereas Jung could throw out cosmic announcements about the Creation and the emergence of the spirit from God, Freud was more cautious. He was bitterly aware of the contingent in life, and of the tragic limits to existence. Perhaps thinking of his disloyal crown prince, he wrote, I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow men as a prophet and I bow to the reproach that I can offer them no consolation. Both men were hugely gifted and both driven by inner daimons, but Freud worked in the traditions of Medicine and, more broadly, the rational Enlightenment;; Jung in the traditions of neo-Platonism, heretical Christian sects and the world-religions. Freud was a humanist, a mortalist, a stoic;; Jung an occultist, an immortalist and a late Christian prophet.
Their contribution to the story of the self was profound. They were two great cartographers of inner space and time. They changed the way we view madness and the pathologies of everyday life. After their courageous explorations into the interior of the psyche, tormented and lonely individuals were no longer seen as incurably crazy and locked up in impersonal institutions for the rest of their lives;; they were seen, rather, as human beings, who had suffered from some trauma, who could be understood and brought back, like the ancient mariner, into the human community, often bringing with them gifts of insight and an infinitely greater sense of compassion. Jung put it like this: We recognize in mental illness merely an exceptional reaction to emotional problems which are not strange to us. Freud, who was the founding father of the insight, would have agreed. This was a revolution in the understanding of the self. Furthermore, in their prodigious work they both forged a new lexicon of psychological understanding to secure and deepen the perception. They added to the capital of reflexive speech. In the 21st century their linguistic innovations inform our everyday language: from Freudian slips to defence mechanisms, from resistance to being in denial, from introvert to extrovert. There is no greater sign of influence. And what the language demonstrates is a self- possessing interiority and latency best grasped through anecdotes, slips and omissions, as well as stories, dreams and symbols. For both Freud and Jung, psychology is concerned with individual and primordial memory;; it is a going down into the depths and a going back into time;; an archaeology of the self, possessing a labyrinthine complexity.
Most of all, in the long story of identity, the two men, almost unwittingly, renewed the tradition of ancient philosophy, the Stoic quest for eudaimonia. Both contributed to the difficult art of individuation: the whole being, working well and loving well, wholly alive, confronting life and death – and open to the enigmatic and mysterious.
The classical quest for life-wisdom had found a new matrix.
In his next essay Peter Abbs will examine the work of Heidegger in relationship to identity. For further details of the story of the self see www.peterabbs.org