Carl Jung is a fascinating character in psychology’s history.
Mentored by Freud himself, Jung broke off from Freud to found his own theory of human behavior, nowadays generally referred to as Jungian psychology. The Jungian theories place more emphasis on the spiritual side of our inner psyche, and the belief that all of humanity shares what he referred to as a collective unconscious. He also believed in the power of archetypes — that our myths and symbols are universal and innate and serve a greater purpose in helping us learn from each of our stages in life.
Carl Jung died 48 years ago, but he still has a devout following of professionals, clinicians and researchers who believe in the power of his theories. While not a popular form of psychotherapy in the United States, it remains a niche in psychology that nonetheless carries on Jung’s theories and practices.
In his late 30s, Jung started writing a book called The Red Book. The Red Book is part journal, part mythological novel that takes the reader through Jung’s fantasies — hallucinations he self-induced to try and get to the core of his unconscious. And as a theorist, he wanted to document his 16-year journey, so he wrote down everything he experience, saw and felt:
Jung recorded it all. First taking notes in a series of small, black journals, he then expounded upon and analyzed his fantasies, writing in a regal, prophetic tone in the big red-leather book. The book detailed an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through his own mind, a vaguely Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a curious, shifting dreamscape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and with richly hued, staggeringly detailed paintings.
For decades, The Red Book has been wrapped in mystery, because it has never been published. It was thought that only one copy of the book existed — locked in a Swiss safe deposit box by the heirs to C.G. Jung’s estate.
As it turns out, however, copies of the book have been around if one searched hard enough to find them. A historian by the name of Sonu Shamdasani found said copies and after three years of discussions with the descendants of Jung, convinced the family to allow him access to the original to translate and finally publish it. The book will finally be published next month.
But what will readers find in the Red Book? And is it of any value to anyone who isn’t a hard-core Jungian? Answers to the first question can be glimpsed by reading the full New York Times article on the book:
The central premise of the book, Shamdasani told me, was that Jung had become disillusioned with scientific rationalism — what he called “the spirit of the times” — and over the course of many quixotic encounters with his own soul and with other inner figures, he comes to know and appreciate “the spirit of the depths,” a field that makes room for magic, coincidence and the mythological metaphors delivered by dreams. […]
The Red Book is not an easy journey — it wasn’t for Jung, it wasn’t for his family, nor for Shamdasani, and neither will it be for readers. The book is bombastic, baroque and like so much else about Carl Jung, a willful oddity, synched with an antediluvian and mystical reality. The text is dense, often poetic, always strange. The art is arresting and also strange. Even today, its publication feels risky, like an exposure. But then again, it is possible Jung intended it as such. In 1959, after having left the book more or less untouched for 30 or so years, he penned a brief epilogue, acknowledging the central dilemma in considering the book’s fate. “To the superficial observer,” he wrote, “it will appear like madness.” Yet the very fact he wrote an epilogue seems to indicate that he trusted his words would someday find the right audience.
But answers to the second question will be harder to come by. While some of Jung’s theories have become a part of the popular culture of psychology, most of Jung is difficult to digest and accept at face value. His theories are very creative and interesting, but it’s hard to generalize from one’s man’s own inner life and turmoil. For understanding Jung, his life, and where all of his psychological theories came from, it will be a treasure trove indeed. For the rest of us, however, its value may be more ethereal and harder to grasp.
The historian who did the translation over the past few years has said the book’s basic message is “Value your inner life.” Whether you read it or not, that’s a message worthy of any great theorist in psychology.
Read the full article: Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious