Monday, September 21, 2009

Thor versus the Cathedrals

A complete translation of psychologist Carl Jung's personal workbook, the "Red Book," is about to be published.

Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.

Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.

So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.

Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters calls it the "most important grimoire of our modern age."

Orthodox Christian blogger Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher essentially thinks it will release gnostic demons, leading to the downfall of Christian civilization.

Gnostic and occult ideas are obviously the predominant feature of Jungian thought. Nonetheless, most people remain unaware of the fact that the occult ideas on which Jung worked were hardly original discoveries of his, as Jung leaves the impression they were; such ideas were ubiquitous in the decaying culture centers of Middle Europe in the years prior to World War II. Most people remain equally unaware that occult practices also lie at the heart of Jung's own theory, clinical practice, and inner experiences. For the most part this is because these ideas have been presented in the Jungian literature, are explained in Jungian training, and when they appear in patients' dreams will be interpreted almost exclusively in symbolic terms, not literally. So, for example, an alchemical picture of a man and woman coupling in a bath-or a dream of something similar-will be taken solely as a metaphor, of a "union of opposites."

It can and should be argued that even so, these occult ideas tend to undermine moral standards.

Dreher goes all Lovecraftian on this one, as do some commenters.

Since I have a lovely equinoctial head cold, I think that I shall crawl into bed with some bourbon-fortified coffee and re-read the whole New York Times article about the new edition.

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Anonymous Pitch313 said...

OK, Jumg kept an elaborated notebook with words and pictures. OK, Jung's family kept it private for decades.

But it this notebook really deserving of all the hyperbole?

Is Jung's shadow all that dark? Was Jung the Devil incarnate turning souls away from redemption? Did he write better and paint better than anybody else of the 20th Century?

Why am I thinking--Not!

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

The message that your inner life should be valued and explored will always threaten those who adhere to fixed moral and religious systems.

The book artistic merits are not the issue so much as the "paying attention" it demonstrates.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Apuleius Platonicus said...

Jung was a Pagan. That's really what all the fuss is about. This is obvious from even a moderately close reading of Jung's "exoteric" writings (and also if you avail yourself of the "expose" writings of Richard Noll.)

Jung, like many (most ... all?) Esotericists, wrote and spoke in a way that was intentionally ambiguous. By Jung's time this was no longer necessarily to avoid the rack and the stake - but it was necessary in order to avoid ridicule or, worse (for Jung), being completely ignored.

Jung saw himself, and not without some justification, as a modern day prophet, sent to save modern, western civilization from its descent into materialism. To accomplish his mission, Jung needed to reach the broadest possible audience, so he dressed up his ideas in a way to make them look (at the time) very "scientific", and also in a way to give them a superficially Christianizing gloss.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael Strmiska said...

I think it is inaccurate to call Jung a Pagan. He identified himself as a Christian, and though he was certainly a quite broad-minded person as regards spirituality and religion, I do not think it would be right to claim him as a Pagan, even though his work certainly helped pave the way for modern Pagan movements.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Yewtree said...

I think Jung identified quite closely with the Gnostics - after all he wrote a LOT about them, particularly the Seven Sermons to the Dead, in which he entered very fully into the Gnostic world-view and identified with a past Gnostic author, Basilides.

Yay! Bring on the occult wossnames and the downfall of Christian civilisation!

8:44 AM  

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