By MARTHA HOPKINS
Calling it “an important event that shows a sea change in attitudes toward analytical psychology,” Jungian analyst Thomas Kirsch praised the recent Library of Congress-sponsored symposium held in the Coolidge Auditorium on June 19 in conjunction with the Library’s new exhibition, “The Red Book of Carl G. Jung: Its Origins and Influence” (see story on page 151).
Organized by James Hutson, chief of the Manuscript Division and curator of the exhibition, the free, public program featured eight prominent scholars who discussed this seminal work and the Swiss psychoanalyst who created it between 1914 and 1930.
Jung created “The Red Book” after his break with fellow psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, when Jung underwent a period of psychic turmoil and assaults on his unconscious that he feared would overwhelm him. He resolved to “find meaning in what I was experiencing” by writing down and illustrating his visions.
The 205-page Red Book manuscript with Jung’s illustrations and calligraphy had been locked in a vault at some point after Jung’s death in 1961. With permission from Jung’s heirs, W.W. Norton published a facsimile edition in October 2009. Edited by Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College, London, the book has already been reprinted six times to meet demand.
Shamdasani, along with several other Jungian scholars, participated in the opening session on “What ‘The Red Book’ Reveals about Jung,” which was moderated by Jungian analyst and author Beverly Zabriskie. Shamdasani described “The Red Book” as “Jung’s descent into Hell.” He defined Hell as “when the depths come to you.”
Shamdasani placed Jung’s work in the visionary tradition that includes Dante’s “Inferno” and William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” He explained that, according to Jung, “turning away from the world to the soul” was a necessary part of the integration process that leads to wholeness. Shamdasani called “The Red Book” a “book of deep, deep privateness” that reveals that “the language of psychology is poetic.” He said that in creating the book, “Jung engaged in uncovering what was in the depths of his soul.”
Speaking on “Jung and the Profoundly Personal” was Jungian scholar James Hillman. He was able to add the perspective of someone who knew Jung, when Hillman studied in Zurich, and who attended Jung’s funeral. According to Hillman, “The Red Book” is “radically different from anything else in psychology and from our modern world of reason, technology and economics.” He continued, “We live in a narrow, rational framework, and our lives are being lived for us by powers we don’t understand.” In contrast, Jung’s imaginative work “demonstrates the profundity of one’s personal life.”
Jungian analyst Ann Ulanov, professor of psychiatry and religion at Union Theological Seminary, New York, also looked at Jung’s encounters with his unconscious as represented in “The Red Book” in her talk titled “Encountering Jung Being Encountered.”
She said that in “The Red Book” Jung entered “fearsome territory,” describing one of the pages of the book displayed in the Library’s exhibition, which shows a boat with a sea monster lurking below. Quoting Jung, Ulanov said, “Life has no rules. That is the mystery.”
The first afternoon session, on “Jung and Freud,” was chaired by Jungian analyst Joseph Cambray of the Center for Psychoanalytic Studies at Harvard Medical School. Speakers were Ernst Falzeder, senior editor at the Philemon Foundation, and Dr. George Makari, a professor of psychiatry at Weil Medical College of Cornell University and director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry.
Falzeder examined the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, which he called “a fascinating chapter in the study of the human mind.” According to Falzeder, the differences between the two men that led to their eventual break were clear from the beginning, but they tolerated the issues for a while. Eventually, Jung charged Freud with being dogmatic, reducing all mental problems to sexual issues. Freud accused Jung of succumbing to the occult.
“Freud took more from Jung’s ideas than vice versa,” said Falzeder, maintaining that their influence is more apparent in popular culture, literature and religion rather than science. “People use the terms they developed, and the analyst’s couch has become a familiar cartoon image.”
Makari postulated that the split between Jung and Freud was a clash over the meaning of modernity and enlightenment, or the concept of humans as machines rather than spiritual beings. He suggested that Freud followed thinkers who rejected the traditional idea that humans have a mind and soul, instead viewing the brain as a machine. However, Jung tried to marry reason and passion, mind and body, and build a bridge between objective science and subjective thought. In creating “The Red Book,” Jung attempted to heal his own psyche by returning to a pre-modern worldview in which a “dark night of the soul led to enlightenment.” Makari believes the break between Jung and Freud mirrors the problems that still affect the modern world as a result of the ascendancy of science. “It makes us reflect on the strange inheritance that modernity has bequeathed us.”
The closing session on “The Nature of Jung’s Encounter with the Unconscious” was chaired by Betty Sue Flowers, former director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Speakers included Jungian analysts John Beebe, M.D., and Thomas Kirsch, M.D.
Beebe discussed “Jung’s Pursuit of Character in ‘The Red Book.’” He noted that in the work, Jung “returns to the irrationality he had abandoned.” He finds his soul through the multiple characters with whom he has encounters. These included the Biblical figures Elijah and Salome; Philemon, a winged wise old man who offers guidance; and a serpent and the Devil.
“It would make a good screenplay,” Beebe remarked. “It’s entertaining with good lines and funny dialogue.”
Like Hillman, Kirsch, in his talk “Jung’s Encounter with the Unconscious,” shared personal reminiscences of Jung. Kirsch’s parents studied with Jung in Zurich, and his father was one of Jung’s few associates who had the opportunity to see “The Red Book.” At the age of 19, Kirsch attended Jung’s 80th birthday party, having been sneaked in by his mother. He still remembers Jung’s “warm handshake” and his approval of the young man’s presence. On another occasion, when Kirsch arrived for an appointment with him, Jung greeted Kirsch by saying, “So, you want to see the old man before he dies.” Other than replying, “Yes,” Kirsch remembers nothing about the meeting.
Like others in the Jungian community, Kirsch sees “The Red Book” as Jung’s self-analysis, saying, “In it, Jung rediscovers his soul.” Kirsch finds the work so highly personal that he “feels like an intruder” while reading it.
“[The Red Book] is Jung’s path; everyone’s does not have to be the same.”
Martha Hopkins is an exhibition director in the Interpretive Programs Office.