Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Existential Themes in the Red Book

The relationship between Jung and existential and humanistic thought has often been noted in passing, but seldom articulated in any detail. We have already seen (this blog: Jung on Death, December 1, 2009) the strong affinity between Jung’s Red Book views on “living towards death” and similar views put forth by Martin Heidegger in the 1920s. Here I will discuss Jung’s existential views on personal authenticity and freedom. Over a quarter of a century ago Walter A Shelburne (Journal of Religion and Health 22:1) noted the similarities between Jung’s conception of individuation and the ideal of “authenticity” as it appears in the writings of Jean Paul Sartre. Shelburne pointed out that in spite of significant differences both individuation and authenticity involve a call to the individual’s inner resources, creativity and freedom and the overcoming of self-deception in the service of achieving a meaningful existence.

In the Red Book, Jung is adamant that the individual should not follow a personal or spiritual model but should instead assumes personal responsibility for his or her own life:

“If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself? So live yourselves” (231).

“The image of the hero was set up…through the appetite for imitation. Therefore the hero was murdered, since we all have been aping him” (249).

While Jung’s views on personal responsibility will later be tempered by his concept of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, in the Red Book he suggests that the individual and not the collective archetypes is the source of life’s meaning: “The meaning of events comes from the possibility of life in this world that you create. It is a mastery of this world and the assertion of your soul in this world” (239).

“The time has come when each must do his own work of redemption. Mankind has grown older and a new month has begun” (356).

Interestingly, Jung suggests that the divine in instantiated in man precisely through a rejection of imitation and the assumption of individual freedom:

“The new God laughs at imitation and discipleship. He needs no imitators and no pupils. He forces men through himself. The God is his own follower in man. He imitates himself” (245).

The creation of personal meaning and the assumption of personal responsibility involves a descent into the shadow depths of one’s soul:

“you must become your own creator. If you want to create yourself , then you do not begin with the best and the highest, but with the worst and the deepest” (249-50).

“With fear and trembling, looking around yourselves with mistrust, go thus into the depths… (244).
The existential theme of authentically living all of one’s possibilities appears. Even death does not release one from this obligation

“You do not come to an end with your life, and the dead will besiege you terribly to live your unlived life” (308).

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