Sunday, September 21, 2008

Journeying with Jung 2

As I have indicated in the last post, I have just finished reading Ronald Hayman's magnum opus on Jung.  This is a thoroughly researched piece of work as are all the biographies written by Hayman.  However, I must admit I found his style a little unclear in  places especially when he over uses the third person singular pronoun - one is left often to re-read the paragraph to see to whom this pronoun refers.  However, this minor quibble aside, I found this biography a marvellously enriching book for anyone interested in the thought and therapy of Carl Gustave Jung. The book is divided into five major sections with roughly eight chapters in each.  I was caught by his titles for each chapter which point up a major insight from it or a specific occurrence in Jung's life or thought, e.g., "Bursting Out" (Ch. 1), "Lusty Stallion" (Ch. 9), "Creative Illness" (Ch. 16), "The Woman inside Me", (Ch. 17), "Cooking in the Rain" (Ch. 20), "Hitler is a Medicine Man" (Ch. 27) and "Jesus and Satan are Brothers" (Ch. 35)   The chapter titles, then, lead us forward with Hayman to trace the paradox, the enigma, the mystery that is Carl Gustave Jung.  To paint him either as a hero of humankind, an idol of modern depth psychology or psychiatry on the one hand or to depict him as an eccentric psychiatrist who embraced the strangest of ideas from mythology to alchemy to witchcraft as well as those from orthodox science on the other is to miss the point essentially.  Hayman avoids such extremes and paints a balanced picture of the man in all his strengths and weaknesses.  Jung, one feels would be very happy with this biography, because it paints him neither as sinner or saint but as a real person marrying both extremes somewhere on the middle ground.  In writing this biography, Hayman took Jung at his word - the whole man is portrayed not just either extreme.  For those of us who love Jung that word "whole" is so essentially Jungian.  I will indicate below some insights I gained from chapter to chapter.  While this is a very logical way to proceed, it is perhaps a little lacking in inspiration and assimilation on my part, but I can think of no better way at the moment to get my head around why I have always been "besotted" by Carl Gustave Jung.

Chapter 1: Bursting Out:

Hayman tells us that the words "peasant" and "natural" keep cropping up in all the accounts which those who met and knew Jung give of this great man.  All were impressed by his great and powerful mind which was highly cultivated.  Jung, after all, was a voracious reader.  An analyst called him: "a sort of humanist in the old Renaissance style...the most deeply rooted man I ever met." (A Life of Jung., W.W.Norton & Co., 2001, 3).  A word that kept recurring in my own mind as I read this biography was "earthy" and this links well with the above quoted "deeply rooted."  Then his secretary of the early fifties described him as "always himself." (ibid., 3)  I also like this statement, too, because to my mind it sums up the essential aim of Jungian therapy namely "individuation" or "integration" as Dr Anthony Storr (also a Jungian therapist and psychiatrist) puts it.

Another thing I liked is that Jung enjoyed confrontation and "eye-balling" his clients or patients.  Unlike Freud who sat behind them like an objective observer (I cannot help think of the image of the autocratic God of the Old Testament here) while Jung engaged with the person head on (I cannot help thinking of the personalist God of the New Testament as illustrated in the image of Jesus Christ).

Then we have the wonderful concept of the "collective unconscious", perhaps Jung's greatest contribution to psychology/psychiatry/psychotherapy.  As Hayman points out in this chapter:

Jung thought of the collective unconscious as a force that could intervene collectively in private relationships and public affairs. 'It doesn't matter to me in the slightest whether God and the unconscious are ultimately identical or not.'  What the religious man called God, he said,  is what the scientific intellect calls the collective unconscious.  For him the terms collective unconscious and psyche are interchangeable: since it is 'antecedent to man and is a sine qua non of his psychic life, I allow myself to call this "psyche" (or whatever it may be) "divine" in contradistinction to "human" '  (Op. cit., 4)

He was at one with Freud in wishing to be seen as a scientist not as a mystic.  In fact he loathed being called the latter.  Again to return to Hayman's words:

He insisted he was an empiricist, concerned only with facts that could be checked. 'What matters to me is what can be verified by experience...Anything I cannot demonstrate in the realm of human experience I let alone, and if someone should assert that he knows more about it, I ask him to furnish me with the necessary proofs.' (Ibid., 4)

Chapter 2: A Cannibal Jesus:

Hayman begins this chapter by pointing out how Paganism and Christianity exist side by side in the Switzerland where Jung grew up.  This is not surprising, because the same phenomenon is apparent also in Ireland where ancient wells called after Pagan gods were "baptized" as it were by the early Christians and took on saints' names.  There is a certain continuity as well as an apparent discontinuity between Paganism and Christianity.   Superstitions and cures exist in both and no theologian can excise them from the public mind or psyche.  To my mind Jung was essentially Romantic in temperament unlike Freud who was certainly more rational and more a creature of the Enlightenment.  The Romantic in Jung embraced the passions (which included superstitions, séances, the world of the spirits, incantations, witchcraft, magic, medicine and cures) as well as the rational.  Hence above I have alluded to how Jung was obsessive about the "whole" person - rational and non-rational and even irrational all had their place in his philosophy and psychology.  The young Carl had absolutely no doubt that his mother was in touch with the spirits.  Let us listen to Hayman again here:

It was she who taught him the prayer he had to recite before she kissed him good night.  In it he asked Lord Jesus top spread out his wings and take possession (or devour) the chicken (cake) Satan was about to devour.  She had unintentionally taught Carl to believe in a cannibal Jesus. (Ibid., 6-7)

Carl's father Paul was a parson in the Swiss Reformed Church and had to perform many funerals.  His older brother Paul had only lived a few days and Carl was born some two years later.  Death was always around the young boy as his father had to perform many funeral rites.  As Hayman points out, "Carl was told 'that Lord Jesus sometimes took people to himself, and this was the same as burying them in the ground." (Ibid., 8)

That Carl was obsessed with religion, God or gods or the world of the spirits is not too surprising, then.  Added to this there was the extraordinary fact that eight of his uncles were parsons - two of his father's brothers and six of his mother's.  His mother had been brought up to believe that the living were surrounded by the spirits of the dead.  Her whole family had a predilection for the paranormal.  While she was a very strong woman she was a very conflicted individual.  In fact some contend that she was an hysteric.  No wonder, then, that the young boy imbibed this obsession with the world of the paranormal and the occult.

I also liked this succinct insight from Hayman, which may be a total generalisation, but nevertheless I feel there is more than a germ of truth in it:

If Freud was overeager to explain religious feelings in terms of sexuality, Jung was over eager to translate sexuality into religion. (Ibid., 12)

Then, there are interesting insights into childhood and schizophrenia.  In these insights I am conscious of Professor Ivor Browne's and Dr Anthony Storr's insights into this same disease as a failure to "separate" out from the family and too "integrate" reality as it were.  Let me return to Hayman's words here:

In his 1912 book Transformations and Symbols of the Unconscious, he writes about schizophrenic tendencies in children of three or four.  The normal child, he says, strives to conquer the world and leave the mother behind. "But the dementia precox  patient (or schizophrenic) strives to leave the world behind and regain the subjectivity of childhood..."... D.W. Winnicott (in a review of Memories, Dreams, Reflections) argued that psychotic illness must have set in by the age of four, and that Carl's personality was split as he defended himself.  But he had a strong will to recovery, and arrived at an understanding of his psychosis...Analytical psychologist Michael Fordham...after reading a draft of the first three chapters of Memories, Dreams, Reflections...told Jung 'he had been a schizophrenic child, with strong obsessional defences, and that had he been brought to me I should have said that the prognosis was good, but that I should have recommended analysis.  He did not contest my statement.'  (Ibid., 13)

Finally Jung developed strange rituals as a child - "quasi-magical rituals that involved playing with fire." (Ibid., 14)  The fire was a symbol of his inner life or inner self.  Other ritualistic practices involved carving wood.  He created a small figure with a top had, black coat and boots like the clergymen he was all too familiar with.  He also created a small home for this manikin which he eventually hid in the attic, a place he was forbidden to visit.   In more classical psychoanalytical terms Winnicott would call this manikin a "transitional object" that can be possessed and manipulated.  All these rituals led to further ones.

Above a smiling Jung, late middle age.

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