Sunday, September 21, 2008

Journeying with Jung 1

I have long been a reader of the works of Carl Gustave Jung (1875 – 1961) who was a famous Swiss psychiatrist, a personal friend and disciple of the founder of psychoanalysis Dr Sigmund Freud, an influential thinker and the founder of analytical psychology in opposition to psychoanalysis.  Jung himself owed much to his erstwhile friend and mentor, though they grew apart as the younger man began to establish himself as an independent thinker.  I had heard all the following Jungian terms when I was at college in the 1970s as his thought had infiltrated the study not alone of psychology but also of philosophy, theology and English literature which I was then studying: Shadow, Collective Unconscious, Archetypes, Individuation and Synchronicity.  These words have been rattling around in my head for the last thirty years and I have often alluded to them in these posts.

I have just finished reading the excellent biography of Carl Gustave Jung - the one written by Ronald HaymanDr. Anthony Storr, also a favourite psychiatrist and Jungian therapist, had this to say of Hayman's book: "The best biography of Jung."  When I saw this judgement quoted on the dust jacket I immediately purchased by copy of A Life of Jung (W.W. Norton & Co., 2001)

Indeed, I have often heard C.G. Jung lauded out of all proportion making him into an idol.  These people would, of course, quote the above terms like mantras or devotional phrases.  I have heard the opposite said of this great psychologist/psychiatrist - that he was a heathen, a man who had dabbled in everything from witchcraft to alchemy to orthodox medicine and psychiatry.  I remember one old priest lecturer telling us that Jung was "way off beam."  Of course, both of these extreme views made me buy his books to see what this scholarly genius or infamous heathen was saying.  Ronald Hayman has succeeded in his biography to avoid both these extremes and present us with a balanced picture of a Jung who was all too human and who made a lot of mistakes.  No surprises then, that this so called "great man" was not without his faults and blemishes.

Man of Contradictions: 

He was Freud's favourite disciple.  Indeed, the great pioneer of psychoanalysis had picked out Jung as his preferred successor - Freud chose Jung as the first president of The International Psychoanalytic Association.  However, the favoured disciple was to break away from Freudian over-control and a veritable autocracy of ideas. Jung made ground-breaking psychological discoveries yet operated most of the time on his impulses.  He saved a lot of people from both psychoses and neuroses, yet drove some others to distraction and at times to despair.  Many loved him truly yet the great man seldom returned such affection.  All his followers and friends found him to be utterly charismatic when lecturing or sharing insights or at celebrations or parties - he found it easy to inspire others with his enthusiasm for his ideas.  However, he was almost selfish to a fault with his time which he used like to spend exploring new ideas, writing and reading.  It is also interesting to read in Hayman's pages that C.G. Jung used empty his chamber pot out the window of his room in his tower-like house at Bollingen without checking to see if there was anyone underneath or not.   He had a short temper and could often use swear words when impatient with others.  He loved his food which he always cooked himself when at his tower in Bollingen.  He was also very much an outdoor man who loved chopping wood, swimming in the lake, taking his boat out and walking in the mountains.  He was a big man - around six foot three inches tall and was well-built and very sturdy.  He was rightly regarded as a great man not only in stature but also in intellect and in intuition.

This charismatic leader was as egotistical as Freud.  I found that Jung did not really like others to contradict his ideas - similar to the founder of Psychoanalysis in this also.  No wonder he eventually broke away from Freud.  What movement could contain two huge egos like that!  It is disturbing to see some traces of phrases and sentiments that could be construed as anti-Semitic in some of his writings and which indicate some measure of pro-Nazism.  Indeed, on the balance of the evidence I'm inclined to believe that C.G. Jung, while not openly pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic, played it safe - both for his own personal safety and that of his followers and for the survival of his own movement of Analytical Psychology.  I'm almost totally sure that most of us would not have acted otherwise given the sheer hatred and evil which were endemic in NazismHayman questions the sanity of his mother and presents his father as a very conflicted pastor who had deep doubts as to the existence of the God he preached.  Jung had also participated in séances with his cousins.  Did he believe in magic, ghosts and flying saucers?  Did he equate God with the collective unconscious?  Certainly, at times, I believe he did.  He also saw himself as a sort of "saviour" who could save humanity from nuclear destruction by psychologizing Christianity.

Above a picture of a relatively young Jung!

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