The Holy Grail of the Unconscious
September 17, 2009 1:53 AM   Subscribe

The Red Book, full of calligraphy and grand illustrations, is Carl Jung's last unpublished book. Written in private and quite possibly never intended to actually be published, it has been called full of "infinite wisdom" and conversely "the work of a psychotic". It has been carefully guarded for the past 40 years by his family, who only recently have been convinced of the importance of its publishing. This is the story of how it happened.
posted by Hackworth (43 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
illustrations? ~^
posted by sexyrobot at 2:20 AM on September 17, 2009


Yes, illustrations, and quite beautiful ones at that, much like illuminated manuscripts (which, by the way, you'd know if you read the article). You can see some on the Red Book's Amazon page.

From what I knew of it, it was a private work; Jung never really intended for it to be published. As the article says:
He worked on his red book — and he called it just that, the Red Book — on and off for about 16 years, long after his personal crisis had passed, but he never managed to finish it. He actively fretted over it, wondering whether to have it published and face ridicule from his scientifically oriented peers or to put it in a drawer and forget it. Regarding the significance of what the book contained, however, Jung was unequivocal. "All my works, all my creative activity," he would recall later, "has come from those initial fantasies and dreams."

Jung evidently kept the Red Book locked in a cupboard in his house in the Zurich suburb of Küsnacht. When he died in 1961, he left no specific instructions about what to do with it. [...]

posted by fraula at 2:41 AM on September 17, 2009


This is a wonderful article. Thanks Hackworth.
posted by honest knave at 3:33 AM on September 17, 2009


I look forward to reading the latest in the Red Book series. So far I've enjoyed the volumes on infectious diseases, coins, pharmaceuticals, and Maoist doctrine. I trust that Jungian zerrissenheit will be equally amusing.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:58 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


$200? I guess I'll wait for my library to get a copy.
posted by lyam at 4:13 AM on September 17, 2009


Mysticism and its visual correlatives always seem to travel the same musty paths. Among their acolytes, only Blake is forever fresh. Blessed are those whose minds run to the clear, the simple, the practical: the crisp metaphor; the nature study; morning. Fortunate the man who forgets the dreams of nighttime to forge a dream out of daylight.
posted by Faze at 4:24 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I really look forward to hearing what Jung has to say about the Bollywood Dance Workout!!
posted by the dief at 4:45 AM on September 17, 2009


I vote for "work of a psychotic." There were few more more over-rated cult figures in 20th century intellectual history. He made it all up and called it science.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:49 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]



I vote for "work of a psychotic." There were few more more over-rated cult figures in 20th century intellectual history. He made it all up and called it science.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:49 AM on September 17


Aristolte made it all up too. And Plato. And Euclid, and everyone else. You can't have science of the mind if there is no way to collect evidence, or if you don't even know what constitutes evidence. But you have to study it nonetheless, so you rely on what you have, the products of minds across cultures and the ages, the dreams that minds produce when their output is not consciously directed. That's what makes Jung, Freud and others brilliant.

Yes, he and Freud made it all up. So how come so much of what they made up works?
posted by Pastabagel at 5:39 AM on September 17, 2009 [15 favorites]


Oh, what a cruel, disappointing world that it isn't Freud's grandson that's named Ulrich Hoerni.
posted by Kattullus at 5:41 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


So how come so much of what they made up works?

Would you mind providing examples? Not for Jung, as several bits of his theory still ring true, but for Freud.

The term and technique that is still in use today from him is 'psychoanalysis', but I thought most of his theories had been debunked? Is there anything else that I don't recall? Don't get me wrong, he was a great thinker, but sometimes I think his greatest contribution to psychology was thinking up a whole host of new theories that psychologists then had to go out and disprove, or at the very least repudiate. It's awesome that he incited so much work in the field which then led to our current understanding of psychology, but I can't think of one theory (I don't consider psychoanalysis to be a theory - more a technique) of his that has held up. I mean even his theories about the unconscious and what was revealed through psychoanalysis seem fairly wrong.

Assistance?
posted by scrutiny at 6:01 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, he and Freud made it all up. So how come so much of what they made up works?

Depends how you define "works." Intellectually stimulating theories by which you can structure discussions - OK. Empirically testable clinical tools to help people suffering with mental illness - not so much. And which did they claim they were doing?

NOT JUNIGST
posted by shothotbot at 6:03 AM on September 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


*shakes archetypal fist at scrutiny*
posted by shothotbot at 6:04 AM on September 17, 2009


it has been called full of "infinite wisdom" and conversely "the work of a psychotic"

False dilemma.

Jung and little Freudend
posted by pracowity at 6:08 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The term and technique that is still in use today from him is 'psychoanalysis'

Psychoanalysis is a specific term for a specific type of therapy that relies heavily on Freud's ideas. All modern psychoanalysis is Freudian. If you see an analyst, he is a therapist trained in modern Fruedian psychoanalysis. Training is specialized and extensive, requiring a number of years of study and clinical training. The study is not solely focused on Freud by includes training in nearly all psychological models of personality and the mind. It also requires that the student himself undergo analysis (the unexamined life, etc).

The point is the train the analysts to be able move freely among various models (or to apply multiple models) depending on which appears more suitable for the particular patient.

Psychotherapy is a broader term that applies to therapy from any mental health professional, including psychologists, psychiatrists, as well as psychoanalysts.

Modern psychoanalysis relies heavily on Freud's model of the psyche (ego, id and superego) as well as abstractions drawn from his original ideas. (Oedipal complex does not mean you want to have sex with your mother). However, psychoanalytic training is not limited to Freud, and includes more modern and recent theorists as well.

Analysis is the ultimate in the "talking cure." The doctor is trained more than almost anyone else qualified to give therapy, and it demands a commitment from the patient. Think of analysis as the ultimate service pack patch to a software operating system.

As an aside, anyone who dismisses Freud but watches the show Mad Men is doing themselves a disservice. That is the most Freudian show on television now, and possibly ever.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:23 AM on September 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


“This guy, he was a bodhisattva,” Martin said to me that day. “This is the greatest psychic explorer of the 20th century, and this book tells the story of his inner life.” He added, “It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.”
Thanks for posting this. Jungians have been waiting decades for the Red Book to be published.
posted by RussHy at 6:31 AM on September 17, 2009


I vote for "work of a psychotic." There were few more more over-rated cult figures in 20th century intellectual history. He made it all up and called it science.

The Internet Troll as Trickster Archetype
posted by swift at 6:36 AM on September 17, 2009 [14 favorites]


Now that I've read the piece I have to say that I quite want to read it. Questions of Jung's value as a psychologist aside this does seem like a very interesting work of literature.
posted by Kattullus at 6:37 AM on September 17, 2009


twoleftfeet: Don't forget The Feynman Lectures on Physics!
posted by ixohoxi at 6:58 AM on September 17, 2009


>
Oh, what a cruel, disappointing world that it isn't Freud's grandson that's named Ulrich Hoerni.


There was an influential psychiatrist named Karen Horney, whose name was pronounced just how you'd think, although I've known priggish psychologists who insisted on pronouncing it "hor-NAY".
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:09 AM on September 17, 2009


Empirically testable clinical tools to help people suffering with mental illness - not so much.

This is incorrect, and likely the result of ignorance of the actual studies involved.

Therapy has an effect size of 0.80 (SSRIs, for example, typically have effect sizes less than half that), and helps 79% of people who present wanting help with mental distress. This is as true for Freudian talk therapy as it is for CBT as it is for DBT as it is for EMDR. There is no meaningful difference in effectiveness between different forms of legitimate therapy. The null hypothesis is that all therapy works about equally well. A good precis on the studies that prove all this, and there are many, can be found in The Great Psychotherapy Debate by Bruce Wampold.
posted by OmieWise at 7:29 AM on September 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


As an aside, anyone who dismisses Freud but watches the show Mad Men is doing themselves a disservice. That is the most Freudian show on television now, and possibly ever.

And our commitment to putting Mad Men into every discussion thread on MeFi continues unabated!

Not that I mind.
posted by grubi at 7:32 AM on September 17, 2009


all therapy works about equally well.

It all depends on the meaning of "works." Also on the meaning of "therapy." Also on whether you're characterizing it by the theory espoused, or by the actual practice.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:53 AM on September 17, 2009


We should honor the wishes of the creator and not publish it. It sounds like a personal work.
posted by parmanparman at 8:00 AM on September 17, 2009


There are dozens of Jung's artworks scattered through all of the Complete Works so that part is nothing new. The theories are a mixed bag and they are not scientific in the sense that you can do experiments on them and verify them or falsify them.

As a psychologist or as a therapist per se, I am not keen on Carl Jung. As a nerd, he was one of the best of all time. He married a rich woman and retired young and spent almost all his time scrounging around in library stacks for arcane alchemy and gnosticism and all sorts of esoteric stuff. His books never bore me. I consider my affection for reading his books more as entertainment, than I am able to get any use from it.

Lately I have been trying to figure out how not to lose my savings and have been spending all my free time reading economics and investing books. The Keynesians (who got it all wrong!) do not really explain how the economy works. For that I have been getting the most mileage out of the Marxist-Freudian clan. Those guys give you an explanation.
posted by bukvich at 8:11 AM on September 17, 2009


Therapy has an effect size of 0.80 (SSRIs, for example, typically have effect sizes less than half that), and helps 79% of people who present wanting help with mental distress.

I wasn't trying to say therapy doesn't work, just that the intellectual superstructure erected by freudians and jungians is not distinctively helpful. That no form of talk therapy is superior to another (if I understand your main point correctly) is consistent with that.
posted by shothotbot at 8:19 AM on September 17, 2009


Jung, love him as I do, was quite the magical thinker. as with all magical thinkers, there is a line where rational thought becomes irrational.
posted by lacus at 9:02 AM on September 17, 2009


Why didn't they just wait for the collective unconscious to publish the book itself? Surely it would have gotten around to it sooner or later.
posted by yhbc at 9:15 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Empirically testable clinical tools to help people suffering with mental illness - not so much.

If you're talking about broken brains, neurons and chemistry then I have to agree with you and I think it's fantastic that we've made a lot of progress where we've been able to address the health of the brain as an organ and not chalk every disorder up to problems in a magical dualistic psyche.

If we're talking about counseling, though... I'm not even sure that clinical empiricism is even the right approach. I am not a professional in this realm, but it seems to me that Jung offers a lot of tools for examining personal narratives of one's life and resolving tensions and loose threads there.

The Keynesians (who got it all wrong!) do not really explain how the economy works. For that I have been getting the most mileage out of the Marxist-Freudian clan. Those guys give you an explanation.

Summaryplzkthx.
posted by weston at 10:14 AM on September 17, 2009


Would you mind providing examples? Not for Jung, as several bits of his theory still ring true, but for Freud.

There's almost never a point in engaging someone on the internet during a Freud-bashing session. But if you're serious:

- theory of the unconscious and its importance (but following the work of others, notably William James)
- relating to theories of the unconscious, defense mechanisms such as repression, denial, projection, displacement, and sublimation
- the above-noted contributions to pscyoanalysis (as far as that goes)
- importance of early childhood experiences (now taken for granted)
- "life" and "death" drives -- not exactly the stuff of hard fact, but still part of some contemporary theory

Anyway, the idea of a collective unconscious "rings true" to some people, too. But Jung's mistakes are (far) more appealing than Freud's.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:26 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The theories are a mixed bag and they are not scientific in the sense that you can do experiments on them and verify them or falsify them.

Heh. I have a glass of water here next to me. I mean, it's not water in the sense that it's made of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, is wet, and you can drink it... but still.

Freud and Jung both made great contributions to the field of textual analysis. Which shouldn't be surprising, considering that's exactly what they were explicitly doing -- analyzing texts provided by their patients. And to the extent that people's "minds" are machines that perpetually create and exist within the stories we tell ourselves, textual analysis can be surprisingly useful in actually making real people feel better.

But yeah, it's not science. It's literature.
posted by rusty at 10:30 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, illustrations, and quite beautiful ones at that, much like illuminated manuscripts (which, by the way, you'd know if you read the article).

well. since we're being cunty...if you'd read the article, you might have noticed a certain lack of example illustrations. but thanks for the link and the funky attitude.

quite beautiful? like illuminated manuscripts? mmm. looks more like the work of untrained 20-year-old acid-heads who have once seen an illuminated manuscript. but i guess, for a writer, they're not so bad.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:51 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The illustrations (from the amazon page, not the article) remind me a lot of Tolkien's illustrations for LotR.
posted by boo_radley at 11:02 AM on September 17, 2009


Why didn't they just wait for the collective unconscious to publish the book itself? Surely it would have gotten around to it sooner or later.

Perhaps so they could have some creative input in the process? It could be said that this was already occurring, as two previously unknown, unillustrated draft manuscripts were found by the historian who persuaded the family to publish the book.

The fact that there were partial copies of the Red Book signified two things — one, that Jung had distributed it to at least a few friends, presumably soliciting feedback for publication; and two, that the book, so long considered private and inaccessible, was in fact findable. The specter of Richard Noll and anybody else who, they feared, might want to taint Jung by quoting selectively from the book loomed large. With or without the family’s blessing, the Red Book — or at least parts of it — would likely become public at some point soon, “probably,” Shamdasani wrote ominously in a report to the family, “in sensationalistic form.”
posted by nTeleKy at 11:11 AM on September 17, 2009


Anyway, the idea of a collective unconscious "rings true" to some people, too.

I'm actually one of those people. When I first encountered it, my reaction was that this sounded like one of the most fanciful and ungrounded ideas I'd ever heard of from someone apparently regarded as a serious thinker, and it made me pretty much completely dismiss the guy. Over time, however, I've come to see it at a minimum as a convenient shorthand for the accumulated mythology we share and biological similarities that give rise to kinds of thought.

And sometimes when I'm hypothesizing I begin to conjecture that human beings are more connected than we think. Having thoughts bleed across brains in some way or another is wild conjecture but it isn't that much weirder than conscious meat in the first place.

But yeah, it's not science. It's literature.

This is what I'd say about psychology in general.

I've read that "The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms." I think the dichotomy is largely false, in part because you could argue that the atomic (and subatomic) model of matter and the entire scientific fabric into which it's woven is in fact a precise kind of story, and in part because the distinction we're talking about here is probably one that's like the distinction between polar and rectangular coordinates. They're not exclusive, and neither one is certainly truer than the other one, but one is often much more useful than the other in certain contexts. When I'm studying physics and chemistry and engineering and science, I'm going to choose a universe made of atoms most of the time. But when I'm studying psychology? Counseling-type stuff? Stories. Outside of qualia, that's what your view of yourself and the people around you and the world is made up of.
posted by weston at 11:27 AM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


lyam: $200? I guess I'll wait for my library to get a copy.

You drive a hard bargain, my friend. What if we lowered the price to $122.85 -- would you be interested? What if we throw in Free Shipping. Now, what do you say?
posted by msalt at 3:14 PM on September 17, 2009


The way some Haruki Murakami books creep under my skin? I heard he studied Jung a lot.
posted by yoHighness at 3:53 PM on September 17, 2009


I can’t cite a reference, but one day when Jung and Freud where arguing over Jung taking over as Freud’s successor, a book fell off its shelf and made a loud noise in an adjacent room. Jung told Freud that that was the world agreeing him on going his own way... and Freud threw a fit.

In any case the rigorous existential phenomenology of Husserl, if you can handle it, nicely accommodates both Jung and Castenada.
posted by Huplescat at 6:55 PM on September 17, 2009


Classic alchemic writing -- Carl Jung was awesome...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:50 PM on September 17, 2009


Huplescat that's nearly it, yes — I was able to find the anecdote on this page, in the "Carl Jung and Freud" section:
According to Jung (1963/1989), the first real crisis in their friendship came in spring 1909, from the following incident. Jung visited Freud in Vienna and asked his opinion on precognition and parapsychology. But Freud was too materialistic and rejected these matters in a way that upset Jung. A strange thing happened then. As Freud was leaving, Jung felt his diaphragm burning and a very loud crack came from the bookcase next to them. When Jung told Freud that this is a perfect example of paranormal phenomenon, he still denied it. Then Jung predicted that in a moment there would be another loud noise. And he was right; a second loud crack came from the bookcase. Freud remained puzzled and this incident raised his mistrust towards Jung. (pp. 155-156)
It's also in "Memories, Dreams, Reflections", Jung's memoirs (pretty sure those are the pages cited).

sexyrobot, how about nixing the sexist sarcasm? The very first paragraph of the article describes what the illustrations are like. You wanted illustrations themselves, cool. It wasn't quite clear from the wink in your original comment.
posted by fraula at 12:30 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read the NY Times article headline as "Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unicorns" and I got excited.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:48 PM on September 18, 2009


NPR's On Point devoted an hour to Jung's Red Book [mp3 of segment, which is less than an hour, but so are psychologist's hours]
posted by Kattullus at 6:43 AM on September 22, 2009


> Why didn't they just wait for the collective unconscious to publish the book itself? Surely it would have gotten around to it sooner or later.

It just did.
posted by fcummins at 3:04 PM on September 23, 2009


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