Sunday, September 27, 2009

...the unearthing of the Red Book...

“This Jung, he was a bodhisattva,” Martin said to me that day. “This is the greatest psychic explorer of the 20th century, and this book tells the story of his inner life.” He added, “It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.” He had at that point yet to lay eyes on the book, but for him that made it all the more tantalizing. His hope was that the Red Book would “reinvigorate” Jungian psychology, or at the very least bring himself personally closer to Jung. “Will I understand it?” he said. “Probably not. Will it disappoint? Probably. Will it inspire? How could it not?” He paused a moment, seeming to think it through. “I want to be transformed by it,” he said finally. “That’s all there is.”

IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND and decode the Red Book — a process he says required more than five years of concentrated work — Sonu Shamdasani took long, rambling walks on London’s Hampstead Heath. He would translate the book in the morning, then walk miles in the park in the afternoon, his mind trying to follow the rabbit’s path Jung had forged through his own mind.
Shamdasani is 46. He has thick black hair, a punctilious eye for detail and an understated, even somnolent, way of speaking. He is friendly but not particularly given to small talk. If Stephen Martin is — in Jungian terms — a “feeling type,” then Shamdasani, who teaches at the University College London’s Wellcome Trust Center for the History of Medicine and keeps a book by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus by his sofa for light reading, is a “thinking type.” He has studied Jungian psychology for more than 15 years and is particularly drawn to the breadth of Jung’s psychology and his knowledge of Eastern thought, as well as the historical richness of his era, a period when visionary writing was more common, when science and art were more entwined and when Europe was slipping into the psychic upheaval of war. He tends to be suspicious of interpretive thinking that’s not anchored by hard fact — and has, in fact, made a habit of attacking anybody he deems guilty of sloppy scholarship — and also maintains a generally unsentimental attitude toward Jung. Both of these qualities make him, at times, awkward company among both Jungians and Jungs.

The relationship between historians and the families of history’s luminaries is, almost by nature, one of mutual disenchantment. One side works to extract; the other to protect. One pushes; one pulls. Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s literary executor and last living heir, has compared scholars and biographers to “rats and lice.” Vladimir Nabokov’s son Dmitri recently told an interviewer that he considered destroying his father’s last known novel in order to rescue it from the “monstrous nincompoops” who had already picked over his father’s life and works. T. S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie Fletcher, has actively kept his papers out of the hands of biographers, and Anna Freud was, during her lifetime, notoriously selective about who was allowed to read and quote from her father’s archives.
Even against this backdrop, the Jungs, led by Ulrich Hoerni, the chief literary administrator, have distinguished themselves with their custodial vigor. Over the years, they have tried to interfere with the publication of books perceived to be negative or inaccurate (including one by the award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair), engaged in legal standoffs with Jungians and other academics over rights to Jung’s work and maintained a state of high agitation concerning the way C. G. Jung is portrayed. Shamdasani was initially cautious with Jung’s heirs. “They had a retinue of people coming to them and asking to see the crown jewels,” he told me in London this summer. “And the standard reply was, ‘Get lost.’ ”

Shamdasani first approached the family with a proposal to edit and eventually publish the Red Book in 1997, which turned out to be an opportune moment. Franz Jung, a vehement opponent of exposing Jung’s private side, had recently died, and the family was reeling from the publication of two controversial and widely discussed books by an American psychologist named Richard Noll, who proposed that Jung was a philandering, self-appointed prophet of a sun-worshiping Aryan cult and that several of his central ideas were either plagiarized or based upon falsified research.
While the attacks by Noll might have normally propelled the family to more vociferously guard the Red Book, Shamdasani showed up with the right bargaining chips — two partial typed draft manuscripts (without illustrations) of the Red Book he had dug up elsewhere. One was sitting on a bookshelf in a house in southern Switzerland, at the home of the elderly daughter of a woman who once worked as a transcriptionist and translator for Jung. The second he found at Yale University’s Beinecke Library, in an uncataloged box of papers belonging to a well-known German publisher. The fact that there were partial copies of the Red Book signified two things — one, that Jung had distributed it to at least a few friends, presumably soliciting feedback for publication; and two, that the book, so long considered private and inaccessible, was in fact findable. The specter of Richard Noll and anybody else who, they feared, might want to taint Jung by quoting selectively from the book loomed large. With or without the family’s blessing, the Red Book — or at least parts of it — would likely become public at some point soon, “probably,” Shamdasani wrote ominously in a report to the family, “in sensationalistic form.”
For about two years, Shamdasani flew back and forth to Zurich, making his case to Jung’s heirs. He had lunches and coffees and delivered a lecture. Finally, after what were by all accounts tense deliberations inside the family, Shamdasani was given a small salary and a color copy of the original book and was granted permission to proceed in preparing it for publication, though he was bound by a strict confidentiality agreement. When money ran short in 2003, the Philemon Foundation was created to finance Shamdasani’s research.
This October through early January, the book will be able to be seen at the Rubin Museum. The Philemon foundation finally raised the money for the research and we can now see the book (as well as buy a copy from
Written by Sara Corbet for the NYTimes, and reprinted here by Elizabeth Spring

Monday, September 21, 2009

Radio Interview with Sara Corbett and David Oswold

This is "Philemon" from Jung's Red Book! I'm linking this blog to this 30 minute radio interview on Jung's Red Book, because I think it's really an excellent broadcast.
Carl Jung had a ferocious dedication to his inner life, and we all benefit from his courageous journey into this world. Alchemy and astrology and art, (especially mandalas) were tools Jung used for working with the deep psyche. Evolutionary astrology and Jungian psychology meet hand in hand in this deep exploration where symbolism and mundane reality meet...
Here's the link for the radio interview:

Part Two, Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious

Liber Novus: The Red Book of C. G. Jung
by Sonu Shamdasani
Anyone going to this? I think I'll be going....
In this first public lecture on C. G. Jung’s legendary Red Book, Jungian scholar and Red Book editor Sonu Shamdasani will present the contents and images from Jung’s “Liber Novus” or Red Book. In this private illuminated journal, Jung engaged the inner world of his psyche and its relation to the outer world of collective events in the first half of the twentieth century through text and illustrations.
Fifty years after C. G. Jung’s death, and twenty years en route to publication, the Philemon Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of the Red Book, translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck and Sonu Shamdasani. This lecture co-incides with the release of the Red Book, published by W. W. Norton & Co, and the opening of the Red Book exhibit at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York.
Sonu Shamdasani is Philemon Professor of Jung History at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, and General Editor of the Philemon Foundation. The Red Book is the third volume of the Philemon Series.
Friday, October 9, 20097:30 pmNew York Academy of Medicine ( Fifth Avenue at 103rd St., New York, NY 10029.Tickets are $20 and may be purchased at the door.
Red Book Exhibition
The original Red Book of C. G. Jung is on exhibit at:Rubin Museum of Art ( West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011October 7, 2009 – January 25, 2010

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Holy Grail of the Unconscious

This Blog is a beginning of a discussion about Carl Jung's: "The Red Book". This is a the first part of an article, which will be in the New York Times on this Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Article is written by Sara Corbett and begins our conversation about
"The Holy Grail of the Unconscious"~

This is a story about a nearly 100-year-old book, bound in red leather, which has spent the last quarter century secreted away in a bank vault in Switzerland. The book is big and heavy and its spine is etched with gold letters that say “Liber Novus,” which is Latin for “New Book.” Its pages are made from thick cream-colored parchment and filled with paintings of otherworldly creatures and handwritten dialogues with gods and devils. If you didn’t know the book’s vintage, you might confuse it for a lost medieval tome.
And yet between the book’s heavy covers, a very modern story unfolds. It goes as follows: Man skids into midlife and loses his soul. Man goes looking for soul. After a lot of instructive hardship and adventure — taking place entirely in his head — he finds it again.

Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.
Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.

So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.

Which is why one rainy November night in 2007, I boarded a flight in Boston and rode the clouds until I woke up in Zurich, pulling up to the airport gate at about the same hour that the main branch of the United Bank of Switzerland, located on the city’s swanky Banhofstrasse, across from Tommy Hilfiger and close to Cartier, was opening its doors for the day. A change was under way: the book, which had spent the past 23 years locked inside a safe deposit box in one of the bank’s underground vaults, was just then being wrapped in black cloth and loaded into a discreet-looking padded suitcase on wheels. It was then rolled past the guards, out into the sunlight and clear, cold air, where it was loaded into a waiting car and whisked away.

THIS COULD SOUND, I realize, like the start of a spy novel or a Hollywood bank caper, but it is rather a story about genius and madness, as well as possession and obsession, with one object — this old, unusual book — skating among those things. Also, there are a lot of Jungians involved, a species of thinkers who subscribe to the theories of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and author of the big red leather book. And Jungians, almost by definition, tend to get enthused anytime something previously hidden reveals itself, when whatever’s been underground finally makes it to the surface.

Carl Jung founded the field of analytical psychology and, along with Sigmund Freud, was responsible for popularizing the idea that a person’s interior life merited not just attention but dedicated exploration — a notion that has since propelled tens of millions of people into psychotherapy. Freud, who started as Jung’s mentor and later became his rival, generally viewed the unconscious mind as a warehouse for repressed desires, which could then be codified and pathologized and treated. Jung, over time, came to see the psyche as an inherently more spiritual and fluid place, an ocean that could be fished for enlightenment and healing.

Whether or not he would have wanted it this way, Jung — who regarded himself as a scientist — is today remembered more as a countercultural icon, a proponent of spirituality outside religion and the ultimate champion of dreamers and seekers everywhere, which has earned him both posthumous respect and posthumous ridicule. Jung’s ideas laid the foundation for the widely used Myers-Briggs personality test and influenced the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. His central tenets — the existence of a collective unconscious and the power of archetypes — have seeped into the larger domain of New Age thinking while remaining more at the fringes of mainstream psychology.
A big man with wire-rimmed glasses, a booming laugh and a penchant for the experimental, Jung was interested in the psychological aspects of séances, of astrology, of witchcraft. He could be jocular and also impatient. He was a dynamic speaker, an empathic listener. He had a famously magnetic appeal with women. Working at Zurich’s Burghölzli psychiatric hospital, Jung listened intently to the ravings of schizophrenics, believing they held clues to both personal and universal truths. At home, in his spare time, he pored over Dante, Goethe, Swedenborg and Nietzsche. He began to study mythology and world cultures, applying what he learned to the live feed from the unconscious — claiming that dreams offered a rich and symbolic narrative coming from the depths of the psyche. Somewhere along the way, he started to view the human soul — not just the mind and the body — as requiring specific care and development, an idea that pushed him into a province long occupied by poets and priests but not so much by medical doctors and empirical scientists.
Jung soon found himself in opposition not just to Freud but also to most of his field, the psychiatrists who constituted the dominant culture at the time, speaking the clinical language of symptom and diagnosis behind the deadbolts of asylum wards. Separation was not easy. As his convictions began to crystallize, Jung, who was at that point an outwardly successful and ambitious man with a young family, a thriving private practice and a big, elegant house on the shores of Lake Zurich, felt his own psyche starting to teeter and slide, until finally he was dumped into what would become a life-altering crisis.
What happened next to Carl Jung has become, among Jungians and other scholars, the topic of enduring legend and controversy. It has been characterized variously as a creative illness, a descent into the underworld, a bout with insanity, a narcissistic self-deification, a transcendence, a midlife breakdown and an inner disturbance mirroring the upheaval of World War I. Whatever the case, in 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia.”
He later would compare this period of his life — this “confrontation with the unconscious,” as he called it — to a mescaline experiment. He described his visions as coming in an “incessant stream.” He likened them to rocks falling on his head, to thunderstorms, to molten lava. “I often had to cling to the table,” he recalled, “so as not to fall apart.”

Had he been a psychiatric patient, Jung might well have been told he had a nervous disorder and encouraged to ignore the circus going on in his head. But as a psychiatrist, and one with a decidedly maverick streak, he tried instead to tear down the wall between his rational self and his psyche. For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him. Between appointments with patients, after dinner with his wife and children, whenever there was a spare hour or two, Jung sat in a book-lined office on the second floor of his home and actually induced hallucinations — what he called “active imaginations.” “In order to grasp the fantasies which were stirring in me ‘underground,’ ” Jung wrote later in his book “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” “I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them.” He found himself in a liminal place, as full of creative abundance as it was of potential ruin, believing it to be the same borderlands traveled by both lunatics and great artists.

Jung recorded it all. First taking notes in a series of small, black journals, he then expounded upon and analyzed his fantasies, writing in a regal, prophetic tone in the big red-leather book. The book detailed an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through his own mind, a vaguely Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a curious, shifting dreamscape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and with richly hued, staggeringly detailed paintings.

What he wrote did not belong to his previous canon of dispassionate, academic essays on psychiatry. Nor was it a straightforward diary. It did not mention his wife, or his children, or his colleagues, nor for that matter did it use any psychiatric language at all. Instead, the book was a kind of phantasmagoric morality play, driven by Jung’s own wish not just to chart a course out of the mangrove swamp of his inner world but also to take some of its riches with him. It was this last part — the idea that a person might move beneficially between the poles of the rational and irrational, the light and the dark, the conscious and the unconscious — that provided the germ for his later work and for what analytical psychology would become.

The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. (“I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.”) At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful.

He worked on his red book — and he called it just that, the Red Book — on and off for about 16 years, long after his personal crisis had passed, but he never managed to finish it. He actively fretted over it, wondering whether to have it published and face ridicule from his scientifically oriented peers or to put it in a drawer and forget it. Regarding the significance of what the book contained, however, Jung was unequivocal. “All my works, all my creative activity,” he would recall later, “has come from those initial fantasies and dreams.”
Jung evidently kept the Red Book locked in a cupboard in his house in the Zurich suburb of Küsnacht. When he died in 1961, he left no specific instructions about what to do with it.

And so a beginning...comments? I will include the rest of Sara Corbett's article in the next post....Elizabeth Spring