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.
The gap was perhaps the penalty of an honorable attempt to give equal validity to rational and imaginative modes of knowing. One could say that Jung saw through the “‘myth’ of science,” as he called it, but was partly grounded in its outlook; or conversely that he was grounded in religion but saw through it as myth; but both would be misleading since “myth” to him was not a derogatory term but the essential form in which truths were to be apprehended. In all seriousness he put the scientific and the religious myths on the same epistemological foundation—thus, of course, baffling both camps, as the correspondence continually demonstrates. His starting point, in spite of his boredom with clinical material, remained that of the therapist, and his conviction therefore that “you can’t tear people into two parts and assign one of them to the doctors and the other to the theologians.” But to avoid thus splitting them was an ambitious design, leaving, in the end, the doctors short of clinical guidance and the theologians far out of alignment with Jung’s own religious ideas. The letters are particularly interesting where they chronicle the failure of the only serious contemporary attempt to reconcile psychology and religion.
The sequence of ideas underlying this attempt is set out in Jung’s more popular expositions and is well defended (although he was eighty-two at the time) in the recorded discussions with Richard I. Evans which have now been reissued. It follows on consistently, contrary to the view that Jung was a dramatic apostate, a fallen angel from the early psychoanalytic heaven. In the Freud/Jung exchange it was possible clearly to trace its course—the early doubts about the exclusively sexual nature of libido, the absorption of a great part of the Freudian outlook, with returning dissatisfaction over its reductionist bias—as it ran parallel to the emotional involvement with Freud. His later ideas were prefigured when he wrote there (in 1912) that “a thorough understanding of the psyche (if at all) will only come through history or with its help. Just as an understanding of anatomy or ontogenesis is possible only on the basis of phylogenesis”; and of Freud’s reduction of religion to infantile remnants, “you speak of this insight as if it were some kind of pinnacle, whereas actually it is at the very bottom” (of numinous experience).
Forty years after, in these late letters, he has not changed his position: where Freud wished to throw off the oppressive Patriarch (while, willy-nilly, often embodying him), Jung was driven to reinstate his Protestant forebears. For him numinous experience was universal, dangerous when repressed, frightening—Freudian reductionism, he argued, being welcomed with relief by a mechanistic culture—and also therapeutic: myth “connects us with the instinctive bases of our existence.”
This is reminiscent of Susanne Langer’s conception of myth as an embodiment of the “great dreams of mankind,” “not a wishful distortion of the world, but a serious envisagement of its fundamental truths.” It is curious that while Langer has traced the evolution of myth into the more developed symbols of art and philosophy, and while literary criticism is constantly engaged in discovering symbolic patterns, no link has been able to emerge between Jungian ideas and a theory of art. Fundamentally Jung was as uninterested in art as form as was Freud—he was moved to write on Ulysses and on Picasso precisely because they mimicked schizophrenic productions—and he rummaged for his archetypes in Gnostic and alchemical philosophy.
Here and there in these letters Jung attempts to define the archetype: it is “an habitual current of psychic energy”; it is biologically rooted—“we follow archetypal patterns as the weaver-bird does”; it is definable by effect—“nobody has ever seen an archetype, and nobody has ever seen an atom either. But the former is known to produce numinous effects and the latter explosions.” It is not hard to be sympathetic to the idea that there are persistent symbolic motifs with a particular power to refresh and move us: that one of the reasons that Lear, let us say, is a greater play than The Revenger’s Tragedy is that it incorporates them. We may agree that Freud’s use of symbol was singularly and anxiously biased (it is as though he hopefully ascribes sexual meanings everywhere, to enliven a rather lifeless and depressive world); and that it is true, as Jung claims, that logical exposition of numinous symbols robs them of meaning, like the prose translation of a poem. We may feel well disposed toward Jung simply for his sane insistence that the unconscious contains constructive energies as well as censored sexual secrets. Yet in the end we cannot avoid exasperation at finding that the archetypes may cover almost everything—and yet often so little, the favored ones appearing again and again.
One suspects that perhaps Jung was not so much in a state of simple confusion as involved with themes that were particularly precious to him, that he had genuinely found therapeutic, and that he was both unable and unwilling to expose to rational analysis: exposure strips the symbol of resonance, as we know from many a reductionist exercise. The awkward gap between empirical analysis and imaginative thinking remains visible.
The Jung who avoided the personal and the clinical does not enlarge much in these letters on why the archetypal symbol should be therapeutic. But in the first volume there is an interesting early letter (1915) in this respect, touching on a problem that sixty years of psychoanalytic practice have made all too apparent:
Understanding is a fearfully binding power, at times a veritable murder of the soul as soon as it flattens out vitally important differences. The core of the individual is a mystery of life, which is snuffed out when it is “grasped.” That is why symbols want to be mysterious…. The symbol wants to guard against Freudian interpretation…. [Understanding] is a wrenching of another life out of its own course, forcing it into a strange one in which it cannot live. Therefore, in the later stages of analysis, we must help people towards those hidden and unlockable symbols….
This passage makes the practice of talking to patients in terms of “shadow” or “animus” seem less arbitrary and eccentric, and better based on clinical good sense. “My main work,” he sums up here, “is not concerned with the treatment of neuroses but rather with the approach to the numinous…[but] the fact is that the approach to the numinous is the real therapy and inasmuch as you attain to the numinous experiences you are released from the curse of pathology.”
The progress from assimilation of Freudian insights, to reaction against their bias, to the emphasis on mythic and numinous experience, concludes in these letters of Jung’s last decade with preoccupation with the most powerful of his archetypes, that of God. To understand the Jungian God it is necessary fully to grasp Jung’s epistemological starting point, the equivalence he accords to subjective and objective realities. When in the first volume he writes to a correspondent,
when an insane person says he is the forefather who has been fecundating his daughter for millions of years, such a statement is thoroughly morbid from the medical standpoint. But from the psychological standpoint it is an astounding truth to which the broadest possible consortium gentium bears witness
we are reminded of his early training as an alienist under Bleuler (for his time, an imaginative psychiatrist), but also of our own contemporaries such as Laing who have reinstated the validity, within their own terms, of such versions of “reality.” Freud himself understandably clung to a strict and pejorative demarcation of fantasy from fact, for he would surely have lost his way otherwise; the position at which Jung arrived was that “all things are as if they were.” To religious “truth” he granted the same epistemological status as the psychotic’s myth, and in these letters he insists on it repeatedly: “I criticize merely our conceptions of God. I have no idea what God is in himself…. My critics all ignore the epistemological barrier which is expressly respected by me”; and
I am not a philosopher but a doctor and an empiricist… religious motifs appear in dreams and fantasies for the obvious purpose of regulating the attitude and restoring the disturbed equilibrium. These experiences compelled me to come to grips with religious questions, or rather to examine the psychology of religious statements more closely.
In one long and interesting letter he states, respectively, that he “moves exclusively in the domain of psychological empiricism, not in that of denominational metaphysics”; that he has never asserted that God is only intrapsychic (“if I say I am a captain in the Swiss Army Medical Corps, as I have a perfect right to do, you will hardly conclude that this is my only qualification”); and that he entirely agrees that man only lives fully when he is related to God, to “that which steps up to him and determines his destiny.”
Ingenious, exasperating, Jung always just manages to avoid outright self-contradiction. We may, presumably, rephrase his three statements as follows: “I will only talk about what I have observed as a psychologist; I have observed that people repeatedly postulate a god, and therefore declare that he is intrapsychic—as to whether he is also extrapsychic I have expressed no opinion; and I agree that man lives well when he doesn’t evade what he feels—intrapsychically—to be greater than himself and calls God.” “And,” we may infer, “whether there really is an ‘out-there’ God, you will never, never catch me saying what I think.”
Jung’s correspondents, we gather from the letters, balked at this very sophisticated position; and passionately though he maintained it, he seems at times to be balancing on a logical knife-edge. It is a pity that for the interviews recorded in Jung on Elementary Psychology he was not matched with his intellectual equal in the shape of a wily Jesuit, who might have challenged his epistemological stand and questioned what private convictions it concealed.
His public standpoint, at any rate, was that there is, so to speak, a God-shaped hole in the human psyche that needs to be filled. “God is a universal experience which is obfuscated only by silly rationalism and equally silly theology”; divinity is all that has to be acknowledged as more powerful than the individual will, “that which steps up to him and determines his destiny.” To believe or disbelieve in such irreducible fact is an absurdity:
People speak of belief when they have lost knowledge. Belief and disbelief in God are mere surrogates. The naïve primitive doesn’t believe, he knows, because the inner experience rightly means as much to him as the outer…. He lives in one world, whereas we live only in one half and merely believe in the other or not at all. We have blotted it out with so-called “spiritual development,” which means that we live by self-fabricated electric light and—to heighten the comedy—believe or don’t believe in the sun.
Consequently Jung’s view of the historical status of Christ, it is hardly necessary to say, is remote from that of Christianity. The idea of taking the Gospels literally seems to him too naïve to be seriously entertained by any adult: Christ’s life in the Gospels is “neither exciting nor edifying”—
It is the well-known psychological ensemble of Mother and beloved Son, and how the legend begins with mother’s anxieties and hopes and Son’s heroic fantasies and helpful friends and foes joining in, magnifying and augmenting little deviations from the truth and thus slowly creating the web called the reputation of a personality.
To the psychologist, this is immensely tedious, he continues. Whereas in its archetypal sense, elaborated in another letter, the crucifixion stands for the painful but redeeming conjunction of Christ as intellect, with the cross as tree of life, as natural earthy growth. It is no wonder that he considered the Papal Bull of 1950 declaring the Assumption of the Virgin an article of faith to be the most important symbological event since the Reformation; and exclaims of modern theology such as Bultmann’s: “Demythologization! What hybris!”
He came finally to conclude of his relationship with churchmen that “probably no compromise is possible except that of ‘coexistence.”‘ The oddity is that, knowing the fate of his Gnostic and alchemist forerunners, he could ever have cherished so intense a conviction that he could rehabilitate the Church for the twentieth century by reconciling it with psychology, and that he was so evidently embittered—“I realize I am fit for the stake ad maiorem Dei gloriam“—when the hiatus between his outlook and that of churchmen could not be bridged. His work with patients—usually imaginative people—perhaps obscured for him the inability of most people to grasp the “as-if” dimension in which poetry, fiction, myth—and indeed the explanatory models of science, as well as our own conceptions of ourselves and of our social roles—must necessarily exist; further, the fact that it is the essence of committed religious faith to assert that it deals in absolute rather than relative truth.
Jung’s relationship with the Church is recapitulated here in the rather saddening series of letters to Father Victor White, Dominican monk and professor of theology at Oxford, author of books linking theology and Jungian psychology, and apparently a patient or pupil of Jung’s at one time. When Jung’s last work, Answer to Job, appeared, it contained his final version of God, self-evidently unacceptable to Christians and consequently the provocation of a number of letters in this volume: God, he proposed, is a blind and unconscious deity, containing both good and evil within himself, and dependent for his liberation on man’s evolutionary struggle toward consciousness rather than vice versa.
This must be taken, of course, as metaphor rather than dogma, and it is again curious that he should have been hurt by the reaction of professing Christians: it is as though Shelley were disappointed at not being awarded parliamentary confirmation of his claim that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Inevitably the book caused offense (one of the few correspondents who wrote warmly was the Jewish writer Erich Neumann, who felt it spoke for his people’s suffering under Hitler) and exacerbated the passionate debate between Jung and White over the nature of evil. Their disagreement over it estranged them, White had a serious motor accident, and soon after, in his fifties, died of cancer.
The incident hints at a certain ruthlessness in Jung. In the autobiography he wrote, “I have offended many people, for as soon as I saw that they did not understand me, that was the end of the matter so far as I was concerned: I had to move on.” The man who emerges from a reading of the letters is neither the kindly old patriarch of one popular version nor the woolly-minded prophet of another: he is secretive, arrogant, isolated, intellectually formidable. In his carefully guarded private life he kept, apparently, the affection both of his wife and of a long-standing mistress (and also—we may infer from Laurens’ van der Post’s cloudy prose—gave her rather a bad time). He had a bust of Voltaire standing in his waiting room to remind himself of the “dubiousness of my morals, the baseness of my motives …lest my patients let themselves be deceived by the amiable doctor.” He was invited, once, to speak from his father’s pulpit in the village he had left fifty-nine years earlier, and declined to lecture on sacred premises. We sense in him something grim, something Messianic; something of the trickster and also a capacity for tolerating his own fraudulence: “I have not made my panic unreal but have got away with it by hiding behind the mask of courage. It is an act of supreme hypocrisy, just another sin without which we would all be lost.” We might adapt a favorite quotation of his and say that everything about him is not quite true, and even that is not quite true.
In the end, too, we are impressed by how much he did have in common with Freud. For both of them the highest good was self-knowledge, which by definition included courage and stubbornness. Jung’s curious God aspires to it and also leads us back to Freud, not only because he is the Jewish Yahweh-god but because he is unconsciousness evolving toward consciousness: “consciousness is always the criterion,” Jung several times repeats here—as he might have said, “Where id was, there shall ego be.”
Both saw this progression as a via dolorosa with only the most modest of rewards at its end—“the individuated human being is just ordinary and therefore almost invisible.” Jung’s old age reveals no sign of sweetness or optimism. The best that can be achieved is that “one accepts, without reservation, the particular fatal tissue in which one finds oneself embedded, and that one tries to make sense of it or to create a cosmos from the chaotic mess into which one is born.” With all their recklessness, both men were struck by the limitations of reason and will, had a sense of fearfulness, an intimation that there were some mysteries best left alone.
April 15, 1976
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. ↩