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

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