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Jung and God

C.G. Jung: Letters Volume 2 1951-1961

selected and edited by Gerhard Adler, in collaboration with Aniela Jaffé, translated by R.F.C. Hull
Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XCV:2, 763 pp., $20.00

C.G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time

by Marie-Louise von Franz, translated by William H. Kennedy
C.G. Jung Foundation, 355 pp., $15.00

Jung and the Story of Our Time

by Laurens van der Post
Pantheon Books, 276 pp., $10.00

Jung on Elementary Psychology: A Discussion Between C.G. Jung and Richard Evans

by C.G. Jung, by Richard Evans
E.P. Dutton & Co., 224 pp., $3.95 (paper)

Last year marked Jung’s centenary, and Freud’s is already twenty years past; yet these two, who evolved so inevitably from a century of preoccupation with the strata underlying rationalistic thought, have remained curiously sacrosanct from serious biographical inquiry. The course of the six years’ relationship between them, revealed with the publication in 1974 of the Freud/Jung Letters,showed Ernest Jones’s biography of Freud to be, at the least, a discreet and partisan account; while Jung, fifteen years after his death, has had the benefit of scarcely any genuine assessment or biographical study. * Books such as Marie-Louise von Franz’s, which is a dense and committed slab of Jungian exposition, or Laurens van der Post’s, which is pure hagiography, will do little to interest readers either in the odd and complex man himself or in his place in cultural history: with literary friends who can write of him as “one of the greatest religious phenomena the world has ever experienced,” as van der Post does, he hardly needs enemies.

And yet, patchy and difficult, in comparison to the letters, as Jung’s books strike the uninitiated, obfuscating the learning and the insights he clearly possessed, Jung surely deserves better treatment by now: partly—how he would have hated that!—as one-half of the Freud/Jung—phenomenon, and partly simply on his own account. If the late nineteenth-century climate was ready, as L.L. Whyte has shown in The Unconscious Before Freud, for a Freud to crystallize the clinical work of Charcot and Janet, the experimental psychology of Fechner and Wundt, and the philosophical preoccupation running from Hegel and Schopenhauer through Herbart, Carus, and von Hartmann, it was equally inevitable that there should be a Jung to balance the Freudian bias.

It is difficult to know whether his personal protest, with all the emotional, practical, and intellectual consequences it implied for him, contrived to debar him from the areas (such as child psychology) which were associated with Freud, or whether his interests would in any case have developed along the lines they did. The irony is that the very points—the strictly sexual interpretation of libido and the reduction of cultural patterns to sexual motifs—which provoked his dissidence and with which the Freud/Jung correspondence showed him to have been consistently in disagreement have long since been tacitly or explicitly revised; and while Freudian theory has proliferated in new and fruitful directions, Jung’s name now tends to appear in the company of courses on yoga, Tarot reading, and macrobiotic cooking. This too, it is clear from these letters, he would emphatically have hated.

Poor Jung, should we say? Should we feel that if only he had not been unconsciously maneuvered, by a quirk of Freud’s mentality, into playing the part of rebellious, outcast son, he could have had a more honorable career as second-in-command under the Freudian banner? If there was one thing that the Freud/Jung correspondence clearly showed, it was that the break which so drastically shaped Jung’s life was neither mere intellectual disagreement nor mere disloyalty: it showed rather that Freud’s unconscious need to enact and survive an Oedipal drama was compulsive, and that Jung was the actor for a prearranged role.

The theme of son overthrowing father which is so clearly visible in the pattern of Freud’s life, in many of the dreams recorded in The Interpretation of Dreams, and in his world-view, is visible in that exchange from the first letter to the last: from Freud’s repeated hopes that the younger man is to “replace” him, to “force him into the second rank”; his repeated references to himself (in his fifties, and with a quarter of a century left to live) as old and finished; his edging of Jung into the role of tantalizing victor by answering his letters instantly and then reproaching him for making him wait for the next; and, simultaneously, his urbane obliteration of each predictable sign of independence on Jung’s part.

By the time the inevitable break approached the two seemed to be living out the myth of parricide which was at the same time preoccupying them intellectually, and which was to be formulated in Totem and Taboo. “The endeavour of the son to put himself in the place of the father,” in the words of that book, was ritually re-enacted; but while Freud survived it once again, the break must have set Jung disastrously adrift. Given the vitality of the movement from which he had to break away and the extent to which he had been identified with it, it is perhaps impressive enough that he managed to make his mark as independently as he did; and after reading this last volume of his letters one cannot feel that he was in the long run anyone’s victim.

The years of Jung’s life about which we know least are those between the break with Freud and the time when he had acquired some reputation: roughly, those between 1912 and 1930, when he was fifty-five. It is unfortunate, for these were the years of his full maturity when his ideas must have become finally formed. The book under review is the second and last volume of the selected letters, apart from the separate one containing the exchange with Freud. Even the first volume was unrepresentative in that it contained relatively little material from those years, and this one, substantial as it is, contains only the letters of his very old age, from seventy-six until his death at eighty-six.

They are the letters of a formidable but tired man. These years saw not only the death of his wife and of friends but also, we can infer, a subtle decline in reputation since the days of his honorary doctorates from Harvard and Oxford, and a corresponding rise in neo-Freudian fortunes. When this is coupled with the fact that virtually no family letters are included (did he never write anything interesting to the five children, nineteen grandchildren, and “eight or nine” great-grandchildren he mentions at one point?), it means that the book, although absorbing reading, is curiously unrevealing about the man himself. We have much discussion of his theory and writings, replies to the many known and unknown correspondents who bombarded him with questions, his views on world affairs and shrewd comments on a variety of subjects, and above all his thoughts on religion, the dominant preoccupation of his old age. Yet the private man remains enigmatic, and we do not know how to connect the Jung of the earlier photographs, staring out like a fierce Teutonic grocer, with the too perfectly benign sage of the late ones.

This archetypal figure—the “old man with the wispy white hair and the twinkling eyes,” in the repulsive words of Time magazine—was clearly by no means the whole of the man, in spite of the pieties of van der Post and other disciples; nor, one may guess from the letters, did Jung deceive himself that it was. There was, undoubtedly, an arrogant and intransigent Jung; and a crabbed hermetic scholar; and, by the end, also a lonely and rather bitter old man (“It appears that men cannot stand me in the long run,” he was writing in the year before his death). His autobiographical Memories, Dreams and Reflections describes blissful and disembodied visions which he experienced during his near-fatal illness at seventy, and which seemed to round off almost too neatly the perfectly integrated life: the more human truth, as we can see by comparing this second volume with the first, is that in his last years he became narrower and more concentrated in his interests, though certainly without any intellectual decline.

What we do miss in this volume of letters, comparing it with the first, are the acute and unmistakably “Jungian” asides which were elicited by the more personal correspondents, often former patients and colleagues: on people who interested him, on dream interpretation, on psychotherapy, on the imaginative life, and in general on “how to live”—an art that he was no more optimistic about than Freud (“I cannot possibly tell you what a man who has enjoyed complete self-realization looks like…. I have never seen one,” he replies to one of the silly questions with which he seems to have been plagued: “before we strive after perfection, we ought to be able to live the ordinary man without self-mutilation”). In his seventies he ceased to take more patients and was therefore not practicing at the time of these letters; perhaps his patients had kept his more personal sympathies alive.

Left to himself, we see Jung in his old age moving away from the particularities of human beings and toward his religious preoccupation: “I find that all my thoughts circle round God like the planets round the sun.” As early as 1911 he had written Freud that “case material is unbelievably monotonous”: curious words from a psychologist. Instead we have the Jungian archetypes which, as he expounds them to his correspondents, can be at least as boring as Freud’s equally arbitrary psychic metaphors from hydraulics and engineering; they only sound more poetic. Or perhaps they are potential poetic material uncomfortably forced into a pseudo-empirical mold, falling between two stools: for Jung not only faced the usual problems of writing about the areas of thought that shift in and out of awareness, but took on the added burden of having to stay in the territory that Freud largely avoided. The difficulties of being obliged to correct, before it was permissible to do so from within the Freudian fold, the imbalances that he disliked are expressed in a letter to a German writer, a follower of Nietzsche, in the first volume:

…the pathological is never valuable. It does, however, cause us the greatest difficulties and for this reason we learn the most from it…. The normal person is infinitely more interesting and valuable. Hence I have endeavoured to remove our “complex” psychology as quickly and completely as possible out of the realm of pathology. However, as you have rightly seen, I have landed myself in enormous difficulties by framing general formulations which are intended to explain the whole field of human experience.

He repeats to the point of tedium to his correspondents that he is a doctor and an empiricist who deals only in observable facts; yet if we attempt to find the observed facts by dipping into the works we find such statements as “clear-cut distinctions and strict formulations are impossible in this field” and “every attempt to focus [archetypes] more sharply is immediately punished by the intangible core of meaning losing its luminosity.”

What we sense in the Jung of these letters is a gap between the acute terre-à-terre observer and the visionary; it is into this gap that his formal writings fall and flounder. Or, to use a favorite spatial metaphor of Jung’s dreams, on the ground floor we find the shrewd peasant, with superadded Freudian insights (“even in the teeth of my resentment,” he writes here, without Freud “I wouldn’t have had a clue”); on the top story the descendant of pastors and theologians, with a gift for dreams and visions; but in between, the psychologist with only a limited number of original ideas, smothered under too much erudition. In these letters and in the autobiography he is much more accessible than in his major writings.

  1. *

    C.G. Jung: The Haunted Prophet, by Paul J. Stern (Braziller), which is to appear shortly, may be a harbinger of future reassessments: although somewhat eccentric and not attempting anything like a scholarly standard, the author has evidently read among the German sources for the life. Here is the opposite side of the coin for which Laurens van der Post provides the smooth face, and the outline of a harsh, tormented, and solitary man can be discerned on it. We learn a good deal, for the first time, about Jung’s family life and his long-standing affair with Toni Wolff (although the sources of the account, here and throughout the book, are not cited in the text); a chapter is devoted to the flirtation with Nazism—neither, it seems, as innocent as Jung always insisted, or quite as bad as has been claimed. The picture of a divided and ranging man rings true, but the author also pays ambivalent tribute to Jung’s achievement and his victories over himself. Refreshingly, the book is not written from an entrenched Freudian position, and its account of the Freud/Jung rupture is by no means partisan.

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