Chapter 16: Creative Illness:
It has often been said that the illnesses of creative artists are worthy of in-depth study. In fact, illnesses played a central role in the life and work of many writers, painters and sculptors of the Romantic Movement, for example, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Indeed, I recall when I was studying this writer, poet and philosopher for an article that I came across a book devoted to the theme of illnesses and their role in the creative processes. Be that as it may, it is quite common to hear - almost at the level of cliché these days - the phrase "creative illness" in general conversation. It is also my own experience that having spent some seven weeks in a psychiatric hospital ten years ago that I, too, experienced a creative release and ended up writing a novel in a period of some six weeks after I was released. Needless to say, it was not published, but that was not the aim at all. The aim was to give expression to my feelings and pent-up emotions. I remember a poet at a conference saying once that it was more important psychologically that people write poetry than that they read it. This is very true, indeed. To this extent, then, we may truly say that a break-down may actually be a break-through for many. In 1913 Jung was 38 years of age and approaching a mid-life crisis. By his fortieth year , he said, he had fulfilled all his boyhood ambitions.
It is no surprise then to learn that Jung - as Freud had before him - experienced a nervous break-down or break-through or creative illness, call it what you will. Hayman refers to the fact that Henri F. Ellenberger (1905-1993) - a Canadian-Swiss psychiatrist, medical historian, and criminologist, sometimes considered the founding historiographer of psychiatry - compared the solitude and depression in Jung's life between 1913-1919 with Freud's period of what he called neurasthenia and hysteria. (See Hayman, 173)
Throughout the autumn of 1913 Jung experienced several disturbing dreams, day-dreams and trances. He had one such disturbing trance on a train which entered a tunnel close to the German border. In it he clearly saw powerful floods drown out a relief map of Europe. Two weeks later this same vision was to return but this second time the waves were not of water but of blood. This, he interpreted as a premonition of the great war to inundate Europe the following year. It is interesting to note that Carl Meier said that Jung's break-down could be classified 'phenomenologically ...as a schizophrenic episode.' (Ibid., 175)
Return to his Spiritual Roots or Depths:
Jung was always spiritually and mystically oriented - unlike Freud who possibly repressed his more religious/spiritual impulses. Hayman is interesting to read here on Jung's conversion after, if not in and through, is break-down:
Jung says he underwent a conversion in which he rejected scientific activity as he had previously understood it. he had stopped believing in himself as a receiver of revelations...To regain his soul, he must stop trying to 'fend off' the other, more powerful spirit, 'the spirit from the depths of time immemorial and for all time to come'. He should never have doubted its superiority to a spirit that 'changes with generations and withers with the flowers of summer'. For the Spirit of the Times, the soul is 'something dependent on the person...a thing whose range we can grasp'. But the Spirit of the depths knows that the soul is an independent, living being. (Ibid., 175)
It is interesting, too, to note that it was not a mere question of deciding to opt for the Spirit of the Depths over against its rival the Spirit of the Times. There was no choice involved at all as now the former had consumed him totally.
During his creative illness Jung wrote, drew and painted all his dreams, visions and trances and bound them into an unpublished 'Red Book'. There were some 600 folio pages in this book where he poured out all the inspiration and symbols he was gaining form his unconscious mind. It is also interesting to note that in one such dream he shot "Siegfried", the character which Sabina Spielrein had conjured up in her creative relationship with Jung. His dreams were telling him, he wrote, that he had shot dead the symbol of his 'heroic idealism'. However, we cannot help but feel that Jung is not being too honest here. It would seem to this reader at least that this dream meant that he had finally got over his deep psychological need for Sabina.
The Killing of Heroes:
Jung went on at length during this period to expatiate on the significance of the killing of heroes in one's dreams. 'The killing of the hero,' he said, 'then means that one is made into a hero, and something hero-like must happen.' Next, he had a further fantasy in which he himself became God. In this he had become thereby 'more identical with the collective unconscious.' (See Hayman, 176-177)
He dreamt also that he had met Elijah and his beautiful blind companion Salome. The beautiful Salome told Jung that he had now become the Christ. This is what he had in mind by what he later termed 'self-deification.' Hayman points out that it is more than significant that at this stage Jung had deep down been reeling from the fact that he had lost the two major supports in his life namely, Freud and Sabina, both Jews. Freud and Sabina were literally dead to him and he was now to become the saviour of his own soul - his own Christ or saviour of his inner Self. (See ibid., 177)
Another Wise Old Man figure or archetype that was to develop out of Elijah was the figure he called Philemon - his Wise Guide for the remainder of his life - and old man with horns and wings. (See ibid., 177-178) This figure was to teach his 'psychic objectivity.' (178)
Was Jung insane at this juncture in his life? I'm asking the question, as does Hayman, as to whether the great psychiatrist - who was demonstrably going through a break-down or even a schizophrenic episode - was having schizophrenic hallucinations and delusions. However, Hayman adds the wonderful insight that Newton was certifiably insane for a period of his life and that this certainly did not and does not invalidate his theory of gravity. The author of the biography goes on to contend that such literary luminaries as Coleridge, Baudelaire, Nietzsche and Rimbaud, to mention just a handful of creative geniuses, had come up with marvellously deep insights into the human mind while they were seriously deranged on drugs or even delusions of grandeur. (See 178)
Another insight I learned from this chapter was that Jung had the tendency to 'mythologise his experiences.' (Ibid., 178) Also I now realise that the impact that the break-up with Freud had on him was tantamount to a volcanic eruption or even to an earthquake as the aftershocks lasted for some seven years according to his son Franz. Here is what his son had to say about this period in his father's life:
Can you imagine what it must be to think that you are going mad? That you might fall forever into the void?... For years after he and Freud parted, my father could do no work. He placed a gun in his nightstand, and said that when he could bear it no longer he would shoot himself... For seven years he did nothing except his painting...Think of my mother...Can you imagine living with a man who slept with a gun by his bed and painted pictures of circles all day? (Quoted ibid., 180)
An Insight into Schizophrenia:
Knowing several schizophrenics, I am also delighted to learn knew insights into the illness, viz., that the sufferer often personifies the contents of their consciousness and that he or she tends to believe in ghostly links between unconnected events and make the paranoid assumption that everything refers to him or her. I also learned that the schizophrenic world is a particularly solipsistic one. This is a nice link here, I feel, with the field of philosophy.
Roots of a New Movement:
Jung wrote to Alphonse Maeder in late 1913 stating that he would not fail to create a new yearbook for his supporters in Zurich - in opposition to the Freudian yearbook. He tentatively named the new yearly Psychological Investigations. (See Hayman, 174)