Friday, October 30, 2009

Jung's Tales of Izdubar, pp. 277-88

In one of The Red Book's most significant passages, one that I believe will provide an important key to understanding Jung's thought, Jung tells of his encounters with the sick God, Izdubar (Gilgamesh). This God, who Jung pictures on page 36 of the Calligraphic Volume is described as possessing a ruffled black beard “decked with exquisite stones,” two bull horns rising from his head, with a “rattling suit of armour” over his chest, and carrying a “sparkling double axe in his hand” (278). We soon learn that Izdubar has been lamed by the “awful magic” of science, a science that humanity has gown accustomed to, but which, Jung acknowledges, has somewhat lamed man as well. Jung tells Izdubar: “We had to swallow the poison of science. Otherwise we would have met the same fate as you have: we’d be completely lamed, if we encountered it unsuspected and unprepared.” Science, Jung informs Izdubar, has also taken from man his capacity to believe in the gods. Somehow, Jung concludes that in spite of this, he must stand by Izdubar, who he calls, “my God,” and who he because of his love for this God, he cannot abandon (281). Jung tells us that his God his sick, and that he has no other choice but to attempt to heal him, for otherwise Jung’s life would be “broken in half.” Here we find Jung’s fascinating response Nietzsche’s “death of God.” Zarathustra had declared:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

For Jung, God, whether dead or only deathly ill, must be healed by man:

…our God is sick. We have seen him dead with the venomous gaze of the Basilisk on his face, and we have understood that he is dead. We nmust think of his healing (281).

Jung’s medicine is audacious in its formulation and radical in its implications: his God, Izdubar, must accept that he is a fantasy, as only in this way can he be trenewed in his life. Jung fears that Izdubar will reject his proposal out of hand as “he will claim that he is completely real and that he can only be helped in a real way” (282). But Jung succeeds in convincing the god to go along with his plan, suggesting to him: “I do not mean to say that you are not real at all, of course, but only as real as a fantasy” (282). In this statement Jung transitions to a way of thinking, an epistemology, that will characterize all of his future thought. The imagination, the products of the psyche, especially those of the collective imagination/unconscious are every bit as real, or even more real, than the objects of the so-called real and objective world! Jung tells us straight away: “The tangible and apparent world is one reality, but fantasy is the other reality” (283). Izdubar, is prepared to acknowledge that he is a fantasy, if only on the pragmatic ground that it might help to heal him. Jung then finds that he can carry the God, and indeed, without difficulty, squeeze him “into the size of an egg and put him in {his] pocket,” after which he walks the god into a “welcoming house” where he is healed. Jung notes:

Thus my God found salvation. He was saved precisely by what one would actually consider fatal, namely by declaring him a figment of the imagination (283).

Throughout The Red Book, Jung turns traditional epistemology on its head: placing his weight on the side of the imaginary as opposed to the real, the irrational as opposed to the rational, madness as opposed to sanity, and even the evil as opposed to the good. His position is not unlike the one Derrida would take 60 years hence: that of redressing the imbalance resulting from the traditions’ “privileging” of certain critical ideas over their opposites.

The Red Book can and should be read in conjunction with Jung’s major “scientific” work of the period, Psychological Types, which was apparently written between July 1919 and February 1920 (see note 230, Red Book p. 205), during a hiatus in Jung’s work on the Black Book 7, which was one of the notebooks that eventual fed into The Red Book.

In this context it is imporatnt to consider Jung's views on science and fantasy in Psychological Types, where he argues that creative fantasy is the bridge that unites thinking and feeling, and thus unites the science of psychology with a psychology of human experience (Psych. Types, par. 84) and, as Jung puts it, "the springs of life" (Psychological Types, par. 86). According to Jung, "every creative individual whatsoever owes all that is greated in his life to fantasy" (Psych. Types, par. 93).

In Psychological Types, Jung provides an account of the nature of God that might be spoken of as a scholarly version of his healing and in effect re-birthing Izdubar in The Red Book. In discussing the theology of Meister Eckhardt, Jung recites that God and the soul are identical, that “God must be withdrawn from objects and brought into the soul, and this is the ‘higher sate’ in which God is ‘blissful’” (Psychological Types par. 421). Jung quotes Eckhardt to the effect that God created the world so that He might be born in man’s soul, which on Jung’s interpretation indicates that “God is dependent on the soul, and at the same time, that the soul is the birthplace of God” (Psych. Types par. 426). Indeed Jung notes that Eckhardt himself writes, “ Know that without me God can no moment live: Were I to die, then He could no longer survive.” (Psych. Types, par. 432). Jung will later in The Red Book meditate on the implications of his being the “mother” of his God, and of his having the power to either heal or exterminate the race of Gods (RB 285).

Jung’s notion that humanity has, in the power of its imagination, the capacity to heal and give life to the gods recalls the Gnostic formula:

God created men, and men created God. So is it also in the world, since men created gods and worship them as their creations it would be fitting that gods should worship men.[1]

Of equal interest is the Chabad Hasidic formula that both earth and the heavens partake in reality and illusion, being and nothingness:

(Looking) upwards from below, as it appears to eyes of flesh, the tangible world seems to be Yesh and a thing, while spirituality, which is above, is an aspect of Ayin (nothingness). (But looking) downwards from above the world is an aspect of Ayin, and everything which is linked downwards and descends lower and lower is more and more Ayin and is considered as naught truly as nothing and null.[2]

Jung, with his concepts of the “Objective Psyche,” and the reality of fantasy provides epistemological content to these theosophical ideas.

[1] Rudolph. Gnosis. p. 93.
[2]Schneur Zalman Likutei Torah, Devarim, fol. 83a. Quoted in R. Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to God, p. 137-8.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Jung's Red Book: The Desert, pp. 235-6

Jung discusses the poles of retreating from and engaging with his fellow men as pathways to the soul. At first, his soul leads him into the “desert” of his self. Jung tells us that by turning himself away from men and things he becomes wholly identified with his thoughts, but then he also found that he needed to detach himself from his thoughts. In the process his soul became a virtual desert. However, by turning one’s creative force towards this desert soul he foundthat it would green and bear “wonderful fruit.” Presumably this is a reference to the process of “active imagination,” that Jung is developing in The Red Book. According to Jung, one will be tempted to, but must forbear from, making an early return to the world of things, men, and thoughts. Only after one has discovered one’s soul can one live in harmony with men, thoughts and things, and no longer be their slave or fool. The ancients who retreated into solitude found a world of symbols, an “abundance of visions.” It was easier for them to “live their symbols” as the world “had not yet become real for them.”

Jung makes a comment suggesting a constructive theory of language: “When you say that the place of the soul is not than it is not. But if you that that it is then it is” (236). He notes that the ancients considered the word as a creative act. The contemporary reader will note that this is not only an ancient idea, but a postmodern one as well. Jung will again consider the constructive theory of langauge later in The Red Book, but he will be more equivocal in his assessment of it.

Jung then tells us that the oldest and truest words are those “that oscillate between nonsense and supreme meaning” (236) I would add that this is also the case with regard the newest words as well. We might say that the margins of “sense” move in each generation, so each must produce literature, metaphors and theories that straddle the margins between sense and nonsense and thus place language up against the boundary of what Jung here calls the true and Jacques Lacan referred to as the “real.” The escape from the “ruling discourse” of a particular era can be experienced outside of language, for example, in experiences of the numinous, the erotic, and the traumatic, but it can only be pointed to within language, through language that borders on the non-sensical and thus escapes from the tentacles of accepted meaning. I think that in The Red Book, Jung is struggling to do just this—to speak nonsense that leads us to a new sense, one that is both ancient (pointing backwards to the Gnostics) and contemporary (pointing forwards towards postmodernism).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jung's Red Book: On the Service of the Soul, pp. 234-5

Existential themes are prominent as Jung tells us that an approach to one’s own soul first sinks one into meaninglessness and disorder. Jung asserts that meaningless and chaos is the “other half of the world,” and no one can be complete or have a full understanding of the world without embracing its chaotic and meaningless elements. Order and meaning are lacking in that they are in a state of having already become, while chaos and meaninglessness are in a process of becoming. The divine child or supreme meaning, a meaning “beyond meaning and meaninglessness,” is the product of the wedding between order and chaos. When one becomes open to one’s soul, the “dark flood of chaos” merges with order and meaning.

Jung is here experimenting with ideas that will later prove to be at the core of his psychology: the divine wedding, the coincidence of opposites, and the need to embrace what is alien, dark, and chaotic in the world and self. He will later find that “chaos” is an important stage in the alchemical work, a work he will declare to be analogous to, if not identical with the psychological process of individuation. In line with his philosophy of coincidentia oppositorum Jung asserts that one must submit to what one fears and love what one is horrified by. One must even be willing to eschew virtue if one becomes enslaved to it. In general, one must reverse one’s position vis a vis the soul: if one believes he is master he must become its servant; if one believes that he is its servant one must become its master. Jung’s notions of compensation and the shadow are already implicit in these reflections. We might say that there is no single prescription for psychological growth; those who live on the side of order and meaning, must embrace their shadow side of chaos, and vice versa.

The doctrine of the coincidence of opposites has a long history in mysticism and philosophy. Jung later traces much of this history, especially in Psychological Types and Mysterium Conunctionis. Hegel was its greatest philosophiocal exponent, but Jung, had little patience for Hegel and was, at least at the time of The Red Book, was much more under the influence of Nietzsche's efforts to "transvalue values." I am certainly sympathetic to the notion of coincidentia oppositorum (see, for example, my "Coincidence of Opposites in Jewish Mysticism" http// However, the suspicion arises that at times a simple, perhaps too simple, route to "profundity and depth" is to hold that it is to be found in a region that is the opposite from where one would expect to find it: in chaos as opposed to order, meaninglessness as opposed to meaning, darkness as opposed to light and relativism or even evil as opposed to virtue.

Further, we might even ask if Jung’s readiness to embrace certain opposites, e.g. the chaotic as a source of creative energy, might not have its dangers. Wasn’t it just such an analysis that caused him to, at first, be ambivalent if not optimistic about the Nazi state?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jung's Red Book: Soul and God, pp. 233-4

Jung continues to describe his search for his own soul. He tells us that for many years he wandered, having forgotten that he even possessed a soul. He speaks of the paradox involved in finding one’s soul: “Where I sowed, you robbed me of the harvest, and where I did not sow, you gave me fruit a hundredfold….And time and again I lost the path and found it again where I would never have foreseen” (233). Further, “Dreams are the guiding words of the soul.” Scholarliness is by itself insufficient to grasp the soul,” as “the soul is everywhere that scholarly knowledge is not.” The soul can only be approached through a “knowledge of the heart,” which can be attained “only by living your life to the full.” Jung is here formulating non-Gnostic, life-affirming ideas that will later become the foundation for his concept of individuation, an idea that will also appear, somewhat transformed and without credit to Jung, in existential/humanistic psychology as “self-actualization.” One particularly existential formulation Jung provides is that “The spirit of the depths demands: ‘The life that you could still live, you should live” (234). Interestingly, Jung tells us that the heart is both “good and evil.” Later in The Red Book, he will have much to say about the dark and evil side of God and man. For Jung, “God” and henceforth one’s soul or Self, is in the “other” unexpected place, “If you are boys, your God is a woman…The God is where you are not.” We are seeing the beginnings of Jung’s thinking about the shadow and the anima.

Jung tells us that if he crosses the world this is ultimately in the service of finding his soul, an idea that echos the Hasidic notion that one who is moved to travel to a distant place does so in order to "raise divine sparks" that are unique to his mission in life, an act which at once a "discovery of the roots of one's soul." (We should recall that on his 80th birthday Jung told his interviewer that the Hasidic rabbi, thE maggid of Mezhiretch, anticipated his entire psychology.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jung's Red Book: Refinding the Soul, pp. 231-2

Jung’s comments in this section of Liber Primus on “this life” are significant, as they distinguish him from the Gnostics, whose notions permeate much of his thought during this period. The Gnostics held that this world was worthless and irredeemable, and spoke of an inner realization that propels one beyond this cosmos. Indeed, in the Seven Sermons to the Dead, Jung made such typically Gnostic proclamations as “Weakness and nothingness here, there eternally creative power. Here nothing but darkness. There wholly sun” (see Segal, The Gnostic Jung, p. 193). But in Liber Primus Jung takes precisely the opposite point of view: “the one thing I have learned is that one must live this life…This life is the way , the long sought-after way to the unfathomable, which we call divine…all other ways are false paths” (RB, 230). This perspective, which Jung maintained as he matured, is much more Kabbalistic than Gnostic. Indeed, Jung much later wrote about being in accord with “a tract in the Lurianc Kabbalah (where) the remarkable idea is developed that man is destined to become God’s helper in the attempt to restore the vessels which were broken when God thought to create a world” (Letter to Erastus Evans, Jung, Letters, 2, 175). Indeed, Jung's interest in this world helps to refute the accusations made by Buber and others that Jung substitutes an interior, monological, Gnostic vision of God for a dialogical, world-engaging one.

Jung continues to struggle with the scientific status of psychology: “I had to accept that what I had previously called my soul was not at all my soul but a dead system” (212)

Jung makes some interesting comments on desire: “He whose desire turns away from outer things, reaches the place of the soul…He becomes a fool through endless desire…If he possessed his desire, and his desire did not possess him, he would lay a hand on his soul, since his desire is the image and expression of his soul” (RB 232). Desire, according to Jung, is the “image and expression of the soul.” It would be interesting to place Jung’s comments on desire (both here and elsewhere) in the context of both eastern and western ideas on this topic, from Buddha, to Hegel, to Lacan). For Jung in The Red Book, as for Hegel and Lacan, the soul is found in desire itself, and not in the play of the objects of desire.

Jung’s comments on the image. i.e. “The wealth of the soul exists in images, announces a long tradition in analytic and archetypal psychology that has recently been a subject of great controversy.

For more on Jung's views on Gnosticism and the Kabbalah, see my forthcoming book: Kabbalistic Metaphors: C. G. Jung and Jewish Myusticism, to be published shortly by Spring Journal Books.

Next: The Soul and God

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jung's Red Book: The Way of What is to Come, pp. 229-31

My copy of The Red Book arrived today from Barnes & Noble. This past weekend I had the privilege of seeing the original Red Book, along with a number of other of Jung’s drawings and writings from the period, at the wonderful Rubin Museum in Manhattan, where it will remain for the next few months. I also attended two of the other events celebrating The Red Book’s publication; on Friday, October 9 at the New York Academy of Medicine and on Saturday, October 10, which featured Jung’s grandson, Andreas Jung, speaking about Jung’s homes, at New York University. But now its time to get down to business. In this blog I will engage The Red Book, primarily with a series of questions that I hope will generate some discussion amongst those who are reading and studying it.

The first thing that jumps out about The Red Book is its immense size and the fact that it is written in an extremely careful calligraphic hand, in the style of a medieval illuminated manuscript, with variations in the size and color of the lettering, and Jung’s stunning illustrations. By presenting it in this manner (carefully copied and edited from less elaborate manuscript versions) Jung signals that The Red Book is an extremely important work. Though after the 13th century many secular texts were illuminated, the majority of illuminated manuscripts were religious in nature, and their presentation is seen by readers as an index of their significance and even sacredness. There is little doubt that Jung’s text is, by virtually any definition, religious in nature. Liber Primus begins with quotations from Isaiah and John, and The Red Book’s language and style can hardly be understood as anything but prophetic . From the start Jung relates that he “must proclaim” what he is about to tell us, and indicates that he has received communications from the “spirit of the depths” and the “spirit of this time,” speaks of God with the authority of one who has gnosis or special knowledge, and tells us that “justification” for what he says is “superfluous.” The first questions that come to mind, include whether and how The Red Book can be understood as a psychological work; whether we are to understand Jung’s proclamations as descriptions of psychological events or as religious prophecy; indeed what might prophesy look like if it appeared in an educated European in the early years of the 20th century; whether Jung in The Red Book is wise, insane, or both (ow whether the "prophetic" presentation is, as Shamdasani seems to suggest in the Introduction, best understood as a liteary convention), whether Jung indeed had gnosis or special, mystical knowledge, and what is the epistemological status and value of what he tells us; and, finally, whether Jung’s presentation of The Red Book is an indication of grandiosity, or what Jungians might term “ego inflation.”

Jung’s distinction between the “spirit of this time” and the “spirit of the depths” raises the question of whether there is indeed a form of knowledge that is not conditioned by time and place. His identification of the “spirit of this time” with an experimental, scientific, skeptical world-view, and the “spirit of the depths” with a spiritual, verstehen approach, suggests that it is science (and not theology) that is conditioned by history.

I am intrigued by the existential and even postmodern elements that are to be found in the opening paragraphs and pages. The “Supreme Meaning” is the “God yet to come” (compare Derrida’s musings on the Messiah), and it is “the melting together of sense and nonsense,” again an idea that one might associate with existentialism and postmodernism, but not readily with the Platonic strands of the “archetypal” Jung. Jung’s identification of “nonsense” with what he here calls the “shadow” raises the question of whether and how we all need to integrate the nonsensical and absurd into our lives if our lives are to participate in the “supreme meaning.” And why does Jung give preference to “meaning”? Why should not sense and nonsense unite to produce the “Supreme Absurdity.”

Jung's comments on the "medical model" in psychotherapy look backwards to Romanticism and forwards to anti-psychiatry: "Whoever wants to be a doctor of the soul sees people as being sick. He offends human dignity" (p. 231, n. 29).

What are we to make of Jung’s proclamation that one must find one’s own path, that it is not to be found in examples, Gods, teachings or laws, and further that “I will be no saviour, no lawgiver, no master teacher to you. You are no longer children.” (I’d like to hear what Wolfgang Giegerich would say in response to this!). Were (are) there some who were tempted to consider Jung (possibly Jung himself) as a saviour or master teacher? If not, why this warning?

Jung’s comments on explanation and understanding are, to say the least, interesting. According to the “spirit of the depths,” “to understand a thing is a bridge and possibility of returning to the path. But to explain a matter is arbitrary and sometimes even murder. Have you counted the murderers among the scholars?” The Red Book opens with a very strong (and indeed frightening) thread of anti-scientism.

Next: Refinding the Soul