Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Red Book and Difference

With his 1968 paper "Différance," Jacques Derrida introduced a notion that was to have a variety of ramifications in philosophy, literature and political thought. Derrida produced a "difference" in the spelling of his term by substituting an "a" for an "e" in such a manner that this difference cannot be heard in French but only be discernible graphically. He introduced "différance" in order to make oblique reference to the spaces between letters, phonemes and words that allow them to be distinguished from one another, and hence produce language and meaning. Derrida goes on to suggest that différance is “older than being itself,” and he indicates that while différance itself can never be presented it makes possible the very gesture or presentation of being present. A basic idea here is that without differentiation there could be no experience, meaning or being whatsoever. One ramification of Derrida’s ideas on difference is that the search for a unitary philosophy, absolute truth, singular vision of self and the world becomes a chimera, as any unity, singularity or absolute must rest upon the foundation of that which is different from itself. This leads to a respect for differences in art, culture, thought, and religion, and the abandonment of any Hegelian-like effort to integrate all ideas and things. A further implication of this view is that things and ideas are integrally related to, and indeed dependent upon their polar opposites, and that the effort to exalt one pole of a binary opposition (good, being, presence, reality) and debase its opposite (evil, nothingness, absence, illusion) is a fruitless endeavor. With this highly truncated account of the role of difference (difference) in late 20th century thought, we are, I believe, in a position to appreciate Jung’s own thoughts on difference in the Red Book and Psychological Types, which as we have seen were authored during the same period. Over 50 years prior to Derrida’s seminal essay, Jung appreciated the significance of difference for all things human and otherwise:

“Differentiation is creation. It is differentiated. Differentiation is its essence, and therefore it differentiates. Therefore man differentiates since his essence is differentiation” (347).

Jung recognized that an important implication of difference is that we are unwise to think we can ally ourselves with one pole of a binary opposition:

“When we strive for the good or the beautiful, we forget our essence, which is differentiation. And we fall subject to the spell of the qualities of the Pleroma” (349).

Jung further seemed to grasp that another implication of differentiation,” is a call to allow the world to develop in all of its differences. In the Red Book, a white bird sits on Jung’s shoulder and says, “Let it rain, let the windblow, let the waters flow and the fire burn. Let each thing have its development, let becoming have its day” (310).

In the Red Book, Jung holds the view that a primal unity is torn asunder in the human subject, as “we are the victims of the pairs of opposites. The Pleroma is rent within us” (348).

While Jung is adamant that man’s “very nature is differentiation,” (347), he does not abandon the notion of transcending difference. According to Jung:

“…he who accepts what approaches him because it is also in him, quarrels and wrangles no more, but looks into himself and keeps silent. He sees the tree of life, whose roots reach into Hell and whose top touches Heaven. He also no longer knows differences” (301).

We might say that the possibility of (psychologically, philosophically and mystically) transcending difference lies in the fact that it too is a pole of a binary opposition with unity or non-differentiation. For Jung, differentiation is a function of our conscious mental life, in the unconscious the opposites remain indistinct (Psychological Types, par. 179). For Jung, the process of individuation involves the differentiation of psychic functions (e.g. sensation and intellect), ego from non-ego, positive from negative, good from evil, and then their re-integration in the formation of a Self. For Jung, such differentiation is necessary for direction and purpose (par. 705), and to prevent an arbitrary identification with one pole of an opposition, “together with a violent suppression of its opposite” (Par. 174). Here Jung describes on the psychological level what Derrida and others were to declare on a philosophical level fifty years hence: the importance of reintegrating the so-called “inferior” poles of various oppositions (e.g. evil, the imaginary, absence, the irrational) into the discourse of the self (Jung) or the times (Derrida).
It is not only differentiation, but ultimately a reintegration of the opposites that is necessary to prevent the ego from falling prey to one or the other poles of an opposition. Indeed, it is a fundamental principle of Jungian psychology that the opposites must each be given their due and ultimately united, for “when the individual consistently takes his stand on one side, the unconscious ranges itself on the other side and rebels” (par. 175). Indeed, this is the idea behind Jung’s concepts of the shadow and compensation and his interest in the venerable doctrine of coincidentia oppositorum (which I have explored in an earlier post).

Interestingly, while Derrida eschews all philosophical and mystical efforts to think or experience unity, he too allows for the possibility of transcending difference. He writes: “The efficacy of the thematic of difference may very well, indeed must, one day be superseded, lending itself if not to its own replacement, at least to enmeshing itself in a chain that in truth it never will have governed” (Derrida, Différance, p. 7).

Jung frequently found himself on the cusp between unity and difference. While he took a keen interest in the myths, symbols, (and their differences) that he found in various cultures and traditions his notion of the archetypes of the collective unconscious he sought to ascertain a unity underlying these differences


  1. Noticed there weren't many comments, so I wanted to say thanks for all the time you've put into this. I've enjoyed this blog after and while reading The Red Book. I am relatively unfamiliar with Jung and his work, but I appreciate the connections you make to other themes and subjects. The discussion of existential ideas/themes in The Red Book is particularly interesting.

  2. This is a great post! Thanks so much.

  3. I also appreciate the time and effort you have placed in commenting on the Red Book.

    For those of you interested in following up on the source materials listed in theLiber Novus section the the RED BOOK the link below may be of interest:


    Thank you

  4. Reintegration of opposites is a remarkable concept that urges one to Know oneself. It is a very long and painful process because no one really wants to see the depth of one's capacity for evil and destruction. Gurjieff reminds us that as long as we act as "automatons," (unconscious, mechanical human beings, purely in the power of external influences), we will never embark on the journey towards self-actualization and individuation. As automatons our will is an impotent embryo - full of dormant potential but too weak to act with originality and authenticity. So long as we ignore to look into our opposites, our Shadow - full and individuated life will remain dance in chains (Nietzsche). Jung's contribution is enormous as it urges us to look into ourselves, pull in our projections so that we can see ourselves and the world in a more objective way. Speaking of Jung's opposites, what are your thoughts on man's soul being feminine (Anima).Do all stages of Anima progression cooexist at the same time, or does one stage gets replaced by onother? Thank you for the blog. I enjoyed reading it.


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