The Long View 2009-09-26: Jung in the 21st Century

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

It isn't at all clear that Carl Gustav Jung's reputation survived the publication of his most famous work, Liber Novus, known as the Red Book. Both John Reilly and Tim Powers have made use of his ideas, but the sheer strangeness of the work makes it uninteresting to the prosaic and political twenty-first century.

Jung in the 21st Century


When I was in college, I read my way through most of Carl Gustav Jung's Collected Works, in the elaborately illustrated and suitably dark hardcover volumes issued by the Bollingen Foundation. I by no means regard the time spent as wasted; you can get a good education just acquiring the resources to understand a system like Jung's. Neither do I condescend to Jungians with the attitude that Jung's philosophy is just something you outgrow; there are many unfootnoted Jungian notions floating around in my published work. Still, I don't think there was ever a time when I confused Jungianism with enlightenment, much less with salvation (people who knew me 35 years ago may remember otherwise, but if so, their memories are defective).

In any case, the Bollingen Foundation no longer exists. They decided in the 1960s that their work of making Jung's principal works available was complete and they turned the Bollingen Series over to Princeton University Press. Smaller entities have continued to promote Jung's works and ideas, however. Among them is the Philemon Foundation, which is about to strike a publishing coup:

During WWI, Jung commenced an extended self-exploration that he called his "confrontation with the unconscious." During this period, he developed his principal theories of the collective unconscious, the archetypes, psychological types and the process of individuation, and transformed psychotherapy from a practice concerned with the treatment of pathology into a means for reconnection with the soul and the recovery of meaning in life. At the heart of this endeavor was his legendary Red Book, a large, leather bound, illuminated volume that he created between 1914 and 1930, and which contained the nucleus of his later works. While Jung considered the Red Book, or Liber Novus (New Book) to be the central work in his oeuvre, it has remained unpublished...

Unpublished until October of this year, when a carefully produced facsimile edition with a critical (as in "annotated") English translation from the German will appear.

In some ways, the Red Book, as it will be called, sounds a bit like the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which is also a heavily illustrated expression of the “active imagination”:

([I]n English Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream, from Greek hypnos, "sleep", eros, "love", and mache, "fight") is a romance by Francesco Colonna and a famous example of early printing. First published in Venice, 1499, in an elegant page layout, with refined woodcut illustrations in an Early Renaissance style, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili presents a mysterious arcane allegory in which Poliphilo pursues his love Polia through a dreamlike landscape, and is at last reconciled with her by the Fountain of Venus.

(We know that Aldus Manutius published the work, by the way, but there is more than one view about authorship. Samples of the work are available at that link, too.)

Despite the parallels, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili seems to be different in kind from the Red Book. For one thing, the former is a carefully constructed work designed in part to show off the author's Classical erudition. By all accounts, the Red Book is dense with obscure references, too, but only incidentally. The author was deliberately trying not to construct the book, but to let his imagination function without editing. There is also this: the book is fascinating, in the special sense of mesmerizing or bewitching, to Jungians and to people interested in related subjects. That is certainly the impression created by Sara Corbett's long article in the September 20 issue of the New York Times Magazine on the upcoming publication of the Red BookThe Holy Grail of the Unconscious. To some extent, the fascination adheres to the physical book itself, for so many years just an illuminated rumor in a bank vault. The book does have text, however:

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... ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH the Red Book — after he has traversed a desert, scrambled up mountains, carried God on his back, committed murder, visited hell; and after he has had long and inconclusive talks with his guru, Philemon, a man with bullhorns and a long beard who flaps around on kingfisher wings — Jung is feeling understandably tired and insane. This is when his soul, a female figure who surfaces periodically throughout the book, shows up again. She tells him not to fear madness but to accept it, even to tap into it as a source of creativity. "If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of your nature."... In the Red Book, after Jung's soul urges him to embrace the madness, Jung is still doubtful. Then suddenly, as happens in dreams, his soul turns into "a fat, little professor," who expresses a kind of paternal concern for Jung.

Jung says: "I too believe that I've completely lost myself. Am I really crazy? It"s all terribly confusing."

The professor responds: "Have patience, everything will work out. Anyway, sleep well."

Two items in Jung's box of tricks seem particularly responsible for keeping spiritual seekers interested in the system, for the excellent reason that these items resonate in the seekers' experience. One is that, if you pay attention to your dreams, they really will put on a show for you, though one may question whether the performance reliably follows the depth-psychological script or means quite what the depth-psychologists say. The other attraction is "synchronicity," the phenomenon of the "significant coincidence." Again, if you look for synchronous events, you will surely find them. If you are at all philosophically minded, you will spend many happy hours trying to figure out whether the coincidences are real or just a product of selective attention, or whether that distinction can have any meaning. And look, here is a synchronous event right here, since the very day the New York Times piece appeared (though before I read it or heard rumor of it, I solemnly swear) I posted to my website a long review of Frank McLynn's biography of Marcus Aurelius, which contains this passage:

The author brings some interests to this study that are peculiarly relevant to the period, but that some early 21st-century readers may find as exotic as the gladiatorial games that Marcus found so tedious. The author is keenly interested in depth psychology, particularly of the Jungian variety, which really was prefigured in the medicine of the second century. The famous second-century oneirologist Artemidorus gets several mentions (he is not very obscure, since he influenced both Jung and Freud). For that matter, so does the deified Asclepius, who offered advice in dreams to both physicians and patients; this was a culture in which valetudinarianism seems almost to have been a spiritual discipline.

Robertson Davies, himself a Jungian of the strict observance, attempted in The Cunning Man to describe an internist's medical practice that employed such a model. Regarding the second century, Peter Brown has noted that the Antonine Age enjoyed, or at least experienced, a low-key but personally important spiritual life that involved access to the numinous through dreams; and one might add, through the affect associated with holy places. However, we should remember that, even centuries earlier when pure theory preoccupied the finest minds of the Classical world, the ancients meant by the term "philosophy" something very like what Jungians mean by Jungianism: not just a system of propositions, but a therapeutic regimen with a comprehensive intellectual component.

On the whole, it seems to me that there are two things to remember about Jungianism. The first, which the Jungians themselves urge, is that their system may be good for you but it is not really “medicine.” The second is that Jungianism is not a religion, though it functions as one for many of its adherents. It some respects, it seems to have been designed to make possible a spiritual life without a transcendent dimension. This would be as much a mistake in the twenty-first century as it was in the second.

* * *

Speaking of Jung, Hermann Hesse was a fan, but he seems to have come to the conclusion that Jungianism was a self-referential exercise, a sort of game of symbols. Am I the first person to whom it has occurred that the annual Eranos Conferences in Switzerland, with their gatherings of "psychologists, philosophers, theologians, orientalists, historians of religions, ethnologists, Indologists, Islamists, Egyptologists, mythologists and scientists" (and senior CIA officials, but don't get me started) was the model for the annual Glass Bead Game in Hesse's book of the same title?

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Archetype of the Apocalypse

Edward F. Edinger

Edward F. Edinger

I've always been impressed that John could wade his way through a book like this and find something interesting to say about it. I am not sure I could have managed to finish it. John, and others of my favorite authors like Tim Powers have managed to make some interesting stories using Jungian ideas, but actual Jungians always seem a bit cracked to me.

Archetype of the Apocalypse:
A Jungian Study of the Book of Revelation
by Edward F. Edinger
Edited by George R. Elder
Open Court Publishing Company, 1999
222 Pages, US$26.95
ISBN: 0-8126-9395-7

Once upon a time, there was a film producer who said that the kind of movie he liked was one that started with an earthquake and then built to a climax. In a similar spirit, the editor of "Archetype of the Apocalypse" prefaces it with the warning that the "book will challenge the reader to accept a disturbing premise: namely, that *the world as we know it* is coming to an end in the very near future." "Archetype of the Apocalypse" examines most of the "Book of Revelation" verse by verse, but the basis for this prophecy is not the authority of scripture. Rather, the future is proclaimed by the voice of the collective unconscious, as manifested in the culture of the late 20th century and in the psychology of the author's own patients.

Objections to this thesis quickly present themselves. For one thing, just once I would like to hear a prophecy about the end of the world as we don't know it. More generally, it is hard to take any school of analytical psychology altogether seriously these days. Nonetheless, I urge readers to suspend their disbelief for a few hours. This is a fascinating little book, filled with provocative observations that transcend theory. Moreover, aside from the analytical psychology, "Archetype of the Apocalypse" is a surprisingly useful introduction to the parallel apocalyptic texts that pepper the biblical canon and the apocrypha. "The Book of Revelation" is in some ways irreducibly obscure, but even a passing familiarity with its literary allusions makes it much less so.

The book's author, Edward F. Edinger, was a noted Jungian analyst and a founder of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York. The series of lectures that became "Archetype of the Apocalypse" were delivered in 1995. They were edited by George R. Elder, a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist, who worked on the text with Dr. Edinger before the latter's death in 1998. The result is more coherent than are most lecture compilations. Another merit of the book is the use of classic black-and-white illustrations, notably from William Blake and Albrecht Duerer, to help to explicate the biblical text.

It is not surprising that a follower of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the famous Swiss depth-psychologist, should take an interest in the notion of the "apocalypse" in general and in the "Book of Revelation" in particular. Jung himself viewed history in much the way Hegel did: it is a process that began in unselfconscious animality, passes through ages of division and strife, and will culminate when mankind finally understands itself and the world. Jung posited that this process was mirrored in the development of the psychology of individuals as they matured through life. The goal of personal psychic development was the integration of the personal, conscious ego with the Self. Jung held that the Self is "transpersonal." It contains an individual's memories, drives and desires, but also, in some way, those of the individual's culture, and even of the human race as a whole. The Self is the repository of Jung's famous "collective unconscious." The purpose of Jungian psychoanalysis is to bring this collective unconscious to consciousness. The patient will then understand himself as he really is, which includes some appreciation of how the Self surpasses the ego's understanding.

Jung gave this process of integrating the psyche the name "individuation," but did not claim to have invented it. Cultures throughout history have aided integration by generating symbols, or archetypes, that represent features of the collective unconscious, or stages in the process of individuation. These archetypes are the common possession of the whole species; they are why similar myths appear in distant societies that have never had even indirect contact.

A symbol system that particularly interested Jung was alchemy. He believed that the transformations that occurred in the alchemists' alembic, or that they believed to be taking place there, reflected the processes taking place in the alchemists' own psyches. The real goal of alchemy was not to make ordinary gold, but "the philosopher's stone," the symbol of the individuated Self. He also believed that the stages in the alchemical processes corresponded to the great phases in the cultural history of the world. The human race, therefore, went through a pattern of crises and discoveries similar to that experienced by patients undergoing analysis.

Jung discussed these topics chiefly in his books "Mysterium Coniunctionis" and "Aion," and Dr. Edinger applies aspects of the analysis in those books here. (There is a brief discussion of Jung's alchemical model of history in my own book, The Perennial Apocalypse.) Another symbol system that reflects the process of individuation is to be found in apocalyptic literature. While writing of this type is not confined to the biblical tradition, it was chiefly biblical apocalyptic literature (literally, the literature of "revelation") that interested Jung. He discussed the matter at length in "Answer to Job." Dr. Edinger insists that "Answer to Job" is of great significance for the future of the world, and so "Archetype of the Apocalypse" is largely a systematic application of insights from that book.

For Dr. Edinger, as for the Jungians in general, the personal is the historical. Regarding the notion of the end of the age, he says: "[T]he essential psychological meaning of the Apocalypse [is] the coming into consciousness of the Self -- and anxiety is a harbinger of that phenomenon." While archetypes are, by their nature, ubiquitous in time and space, the fact is that some archetypes are more relevant to some times and places than to others. That was why he delivered these lectures when he did. "I think it is evident to perceptive people," he says, "that the Apocalypse archetype is now highly activated in the collective psyche and is living itself out in human history."

This roiling of the transpersonal is not arbitrary; it reflects events in the outer world, just as it causes them: "One way or another, the world is going to be made a single whole entity. But it will be unified either in mutual mass destruction or by means of mutual human consciousness." The choice between the unity of fulfillment and the unity of death turns, however, on the way that individuals manage their own psychic lives. The choice thus really depends on whether we can distinguish the real nature of events in the outer world from our own psychic projections. We have not been doing such a good job so far, with the result that psychic processes are being externalized:

"The Self is coming, and the phenomena that ought to be *experienced consciously and integrated by the individual in the course of the individuation process* are occurring unconsciously and collectively in society as a whole."

The idea that inner conflict can be projected onto external enemies is not particularly mysterious. In fact, this is one context in which the Jungian terminology is helpful:

"The Self is projected into one's national community and is the basis of national and ethnic identity....Collective exteriorized manifestations of the Self lead to the constellation of the opposites in the Self; and those opposites generate conflict."

Edinger was very interested in messianic figures, who have a strange way of being "saviors and beasts" at the same time. According to Edinger, Captain Ahab in "Moby Dick" is a literary example of an ego that has activated an archetype and been devoured by it: that is what makes Ahab such a compelling character. Jung once made much the same assessment of Hitler after seeing him in person. "Archetype of the Apocalypse" contains two appendices, one dealing with David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, the other with Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite of Heaven's Gate. About David Koresh the author says:

"This man represents...a new phenomenon that is quasi-criminal, quasi psychotic due to possession by the archetype of the Apocalypse. And that means, since a human ego has been bypassed, that the possessed individual is functioning `inhumanly.' It is by that very fact a psychological state that generates charisma with tremendous energy in it!"

To some extent, the activation of certain archetypes at certain points in history is foreordained. The Jungian system assumes that there is an entelechy, a natural organic destiny, in the evolution of the mind of the race. The impending apocalyptic era, according to Edinger, will finish up the process that was advanced but not completed around the beginning of the Christian era. The psychic struggle that produced the classic apocalyptic literature, and that eventuated in the Christianization of late antiquity, had its own task:

"[T]he vast, collective, individuation process which lies behind history required at the beginning of our era the creation of a powerful `spiritual' counterpole to the `instinctual' degradation and excesses that accompanied the decadence of the ancient world."

Thus, the drama in the "Book of Revelation" is very much about sorting out the good from the bad and simply rejecting the latter. There are hints of apocatastasis, of the renewal of all things, in the "Book of Revelation." This is particularly the case with the vision at the very end of the Bible of the New Jerusalem, the perfectly integrated city where the human race at last has access to the Tree of Life that was withheld from it in Genesis. This image of wholeness, however, overlays a text about separation and judgment. At the time, though, this was just what the world needed:

"[T]he meaning of this double-layered structure is this: at certain levels of development a decisive *separatio* is, in fact, a state of wholeness -- even if not what we, with modern psyches, would define as a state of wholeness."

The coming apocalyptic age, however, must move on to a higher level of integration. Otherwise, the human race will destroy itself in pursuit of a phantom Enemy. This time, the shadow must be assimilated. This will require, frankly, a spiritual revolution:

"The image of a totally good God -- albeit pestered by a dissociated evil Satan -- is no longer viable. Instead, the new God-image coming into conscious realization is that of a paradoxical union of opposites; and with it comes a healing of the metaphysical split that has characterized the entire Christian aeon."

We may note in passing that there are formal reasons why only a totally good God is conceivable, much less "viable," but that is another story. In any case, Jung was quite capable of giving some specifics about the spiritual regime that would follow Christianity, even down to the schedule for its appearance. When told of a dream about a vast temple in the early stages of construction, Jung said (as Edinger quotes):

"Yes, you know, that is the temple we all build on. We don't know the [other people in the dream] because, believe me, they build in India and China and in Russia and all over the world. This is the new religion. You know how long it will take until it is built?...about six hundred years."

Edinger himself suggests this about the theology, or possibly anthroposophy, of the post-apocalyptic age:

"God is going to incarnate in humanity as a whole and in that incarnated form offer himself as a self-sacrifice to bring about his own transformation, just as he did with the individual Christ."

Jung's comment was probably made around the middle of the 20th century, so the time of fulfillment would appear to be sometime in the 26th century. That puts it about 500 years after the year 2000, the conventional length of a world age. Jung, perhaps, conceived himself to be living in a time like the intertestamental period, when classic apocalyptic was born, and it is not too much to say that he believed himself to be planting the seed of a new revelation. At least in Edinger's estimation, however, the new revelation would not fulfill but defang the old:

"By understanding the psychological reality that stands behind them, we are `impoverishing' the scriptures of their content or `relieving' them of the weight of their content...while at the same time augmenting the weight and magnitude of the psyche. That operation is going on in this book."

The notion of deliberately "impoverishing the scriptures" will sound a bit diabolical to many readers; certainly it does to me. For that matter, so is Edinger's transpersonal Messianic Age. In fact, I might be outraged by all this, were it not for the fact that true diabolism is beyond the reach of Jung's system. The attempt to reduce religion to collective psychology is not so manifestly foolish as trying to reduce it to, say, neurobiology. Still, it is a form of reductionism nonetheless, an attempt to get a very big thing into a smaller thing. It's not going to work, so there is no point in getting upset about it.

Moreover, though the insight is beyond the power of his philosophy to understand, Edinger has succeeded in highlighting the provisional nature of Christian eschatology. In the old formula, the salvation of the world is "already but not yet." This is reflected not least in the text of "Revelation." He is right: the images don't quite gel, however much they may sometimes illuminate history. The notion of a schizophrenic God was one of Jung's poorer notions, and it boobytrapped the whole Jungian enterprise: Jungians are always in danger of confusing the divine with the merely uncanny. On the other hand, history really is both progressive and uncanny, just as Jung imagined it to be. "Archetype of the Apocalypse" illustrates this paradox very well. 

Copyright © 2001 by John J. Reilly

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