Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Article by Bill Callanan


Jung, speaking in his 82nd year, recalled the significance of the early experiences recorded in the recently published ‘Red Book’: “The years when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integrating into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.”

A frightening aspect of his “encounter with his unconscious” was that Jung found himself pushed to the brink of madness by forces beyond his comprehension. How to relate to the influx of material from the unconscious was a problem for him. Most of the material appeared fantastical to ordinary consciousness. Responding to it meant an expansion of Jung’s consciousness in ways which left his conceptual powers in tatters. Sonu Shamdasani’s in his Introduction to the Red Book, comments “Up to 1912 Jung had been an active thinker and adverse to fantasy. He himself acknowledged his rational bias at that stage: “As a form of thinking I held fantasy to be altogether impure, a sort of incestuous intercourse, thoroughly immoral from an intellectual viewpoint.””

An obvious question arises: Given its central importance, and the fact that Jung had enshrined these early experiences in the form of an elaborately illuminated manuscript, continuing to transcribe them and write commentaries on his core experiences for another dozen years, adding his final entry as late as 1959, why did he fail to publish this treasure trove during his life, and why has it taken over 50 years since his death for it to reach the public? It was a predicament that exercised Jung himself, but one he failed to satisfactorily resolve. Does this reticence point to an ambivalence on Jung’s part, one which led him to effectively omit all reference to the “numinous beginning which contained everything” from his later writings?


Jung describes the Red Book as “an attempt to formulate things in terms of revelation.” “My work is a more or less successful attempt to incorporate this incandescent view of matter into the world view of my time.” There was a basic incompatibility between “The first imaginings and dreams which were like fiery molten basalt from which the stone crystallized upon which I could work,” and the orthodox scientific approach advocated by his professional colleagues. Jung himself had deep misgivings about how the material would be received, commenting; “As they are now in their present form they might come out of a madhouse.” This degree of ambivalence, understandable in a man of his time who was anxious to maintain his ‘scientific’ credibility, indicates also a reticence – amounting at times to virtual duplicity, - with regards the actual source of the material – his own intuitive faculty - and its ‘objective’ status.

Jung recognized that the style of writing was unlikely to gain acceptance among his peers and, fearing that publication would result in irreparably harm his reputation, he was cautious about letting all but a handful of followers peruse the text. With this inner circle he debated whether there was some format the work could be presented in to minimize the risk of it being dismissed out of hand as the ravings of a visionary. Cary Barnes, a correspondent with whom Jung discussed his misgivings, wrote to him recapping what they had discussed together: “You said you were in doubt as to what to do about the ‘Red Book…” “So much of what you had experienced, you said, would be counted as sheer lunacy; that if it were published you would lose out altogether not only as a scientist, but as a human being.” “Confronted with the choice of you as a lunatic, and themselves as inexperienced fools, the Philistine would have to choose the former alternative.” Furthermore she notes that Jung himself was deeply ambivalent about the material: “It hurt your sense of the fitness of things terribly…” Referring to the illustrations she remarks: “Some of the pictures were absolutely infantile…” There was something about the material that resisted rational explication: Cary Barnes noted: “You could only command the scientific and philosophical method and that that stuff – the fantasy material, - you couldn’t cast into that mould.”


While he felt it could be cast in several forms, such as the artistically creative form of a novel, or that of philosophical speculation, or quasi-religious Revelation, he had misgivings about all of these:

The autobiographical form he dreaded, because, as he confessed, revealing so much of one’s inner life in public “was like selling your house.”

While undergoing this ‘initiatory experience’ at the hands of the Unconscious, Jung felt his unique contribution was that of keeping his feet on the earth and remaining objectively aware, from a psychological standpoint, of the process he was undergoing. The form of an oracular revelation would, as he saw it, leave open the possibility of his utterances being taken as the inspiration for of a new cult, with Jung as its ‘prophet’. Since his struggle throughout the period of his ‘creative breakdown’ had been not to identify with the inner voice of his unconscious, he found the idea of putting his pronouncements in the mouth of a prophetic-type persona as ‘not to his taste’. (This to my mind is a good illustration of Jung’s pragmatic bent. He declared himself as having “no respect for any ideas, however winged, that had to exist off in space and were unable to make an impression on reality.”)

Unable to decide on an suitable format Jung hedged his bets: keeping the Red Book, (named because of the red leather binding in which he inscribed his experiences), in a prominent place in his study, but under wraps. In effect the manuscript endured a shadowy underground existence. In 1925 he allowed extracts, under the title “Seven Sermons to the Dead.” to circulate clandestinely, but he later regretted this, disowning these extracts as “a folly of my youth” in his 1961 autobiography. Significantly, the work is not included in Jung’s Collected Works.

With the problem of publication unresolved Jung returned to the human side and to Science to carry on with his life’s work: “It cost me 45 years so to speak to bring the thing that I once experienced down into the vessel of my scientific work.” He had, he felt, no option but to ‘justify’ his insights with a panoply of ‘objective’, factually based, material. He had to draw conclusions from the insights. The elaboration of material in the Red Book was vital but he also had to understand the ethical obligations. In doing so he paid with his life and his science.

Thus, like his hero Goethe, - who died leaving the manuscript of his most deeply personal creation, Part 2 of Faust, unpublished in his drawer,- Jung died without resolving the problem of whether, and in what form, the Red Book could be presented to the world. It has taken one hundred years for it to emerge in the lavish form finally presented to the public last year.


Jung’s predicament was rooted in the fact that he found himself the recipient of insights which his conscious mind could not account for. Many of his new convictions had come to Jung unbidden, from a deeply mysterious unconscious source, so there was something manifestly ‘unscientific’ about the way he had come by them. Since the world of Science holds it as an item of faith that one cannot anticipate the outcome of any experiment in advance, he saw that his findings would never pass muster with the scientific world–view of his colleagues. It was clear to Jung’s scientific side that to present these ideas in the form in which they came to him would be to invite ridicule.


But Jung’s discomfort went further than a feeling of inability to produce a scientific underpinning for his insights. There are passages in the Red Book where Jung shows a certain ‘animosity’ towards the scientific project per se. It seems that to Jung at the time the scientific paradigm of Reality felt constraining, in that it precluded the kind of insights he felt called on to explore. He seems to think that it was necessary for him to remove the shackles to thought imposed by amassing scientific evidence so as to leave himself open to non-rational considerations:
“I leave my so called reason at home and give whatever I am trying to understand the benefit of the doubt. Nowadays the world of science is full of scary examples of the opposite.”
At times he is quite dismissive of Science without spelling out the reason for his scepticism: Addressing his inner adversary he tells it: “You should become serious and hence take your leave from science. There is too much childishness in it. Your way goes towards the depths. Science is too superficial, mere language, mere tools.”

Here we touch on a split in Jung the man which he himself failed to resolve: faced with the tension between his reliance on his Intuitive side and an equally strong pull towards evidence that was scientifically credible, he was unable to bridge the two opposite pulls. Such inconsistency is indicative of a problem within Jung’s psyche, which finds itself divided against itself. Such an inner split is not without its consequences: There is a price to pay every time one doesn’t keep faith with the deep source of ones inspiration.

Without directly intending it, Jung himself was responsible for unwittingly introducing an element of subterfuge, at the very least a lack of candour, into his work, by failing to call things by their proper name. The unease arises because Jung is attempting to offer as rationally grounded, insights that came unbidden from his unconscious. The result is a feeling among scientifically minded readers of Jung, of being sold a dummy, of justifying the result after the event, of defending the indefensible.

In the end Jung’s inability to resolve the dichotomy, symbolized by a failure to come up with a publishable format in which to present his source material to the world, cast a shadow over his reputation. This legacy which still hangs heavily over his work, imparting a whiff of quackery, and planting a suspicion of subterfuge which leaves Jung’s bona fides open to question. It lies behind the self-justification with which critics, such as Ian Robertson, Professor of Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, feel entitled to dismiss Jung in sweeping terms: “Unlike in Freud’s case, where a proportion of his ideas have received some scientific support, relatively few of Jung’s ideas have stood the test of time.”

Perhaps in this age of expose and public apology for sins of the past, it is time for us to acknowledge some responsibility on our part for contributing to this confusion. It is time we as Jungians acknowledged this ‘shadow’ aspects of Jung’s work, one that still irks our critics and arouses the antagonism of other schools of therapy. Might it not be liberating to ‘fess up’ to wanting to have our cake and eat it in certain regards? Would such an acknowledgment help to move us beyond a ‘marginal’ feeling one sometimes senses around the Jungian camp; one of a certain aggrieved feeling at being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Perhaps it is time to leave behind a role as ‘alternative’, and see what we have to contribute, on our own merits, to the larger issue: that of how, in a scientifically-minded culture, we may remain credible while continuing to draw inspiration from those intuitive aspects of the therapeutic work that have, from the beginning, been the source of our deepest insights.

Bill Callanan is an Analytic (Jungian) Psychotherapist, founder member and former Chair of The Irish Analytical Psychology Association. He has also trained as a Family Therapist. He has had a long-term involvement with psychotherapy training in a variety of theoretical settings, including a lengthy period on the faculty of the Mater Hospital Family Therapy Training Programme, as well as several years on the faculty of The Irish Institute of Counselling and Psychotherapy Studies at Turning Point, both in Dublin, Ireland. Bill is a Jesuit priest.

B.A.; M. Phil. in Psychoanalytic Studies. (T.C.D.)
European Certificate of Psychotherapy.

- The Family Therapy Network of Ireland. (F.T.N.I.)
- The Irish Analytical Psychology Association. (I.A.P.A.)

Fisher King Press publishes of an eclectic mix of worthy books including Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting Edge Fiction, and a growing list of alternative titles.

Copyright 2010 ©  Bill Callanan, Copyright 2010 © Fisher King Press:
Permission to reprint is granted.

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