I am offering a gift today. Accept it if you will: There is just enough time to prepare for the publication of a long awaited book that may be as significant as any to be published in this dawning century. But to be prepared to hear what this author has to say, you must first read something else.
The new book is C.J. Jung’s Red Book. It will be published in early December. The work is part journal, part critical account of one of the most amazing intellectual journeys and experiments of the twentieth century.
Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and contemporary of Freud’s; he was a protean genius, who, like Freud, was present at the creation of a new science: one devoted to trying to understand the role and power of the unconscious in individual and group life. So much of the past century fell under the sway of this radical new teaching we now toss terms around as though their meanings were self-evident: we repress things, engage in meaningful slips of tongue and refer to experience as archetypical.
Jung and Freud broke ranks over what to make of the unconscious. Freud saw sexuality as the paramount force impelling human action and conduct. He scandalized Europe with his essays on infantile sexuality. And he insisted that those with whom he worked regard his views on sexuality as something akin to dogma: his new science had certain fundaments that must be accepted. There could be no new physics of the psyche without the gravitational pull of desire.
This made Jung uneasy. Surely there was more to the world than this. Jung was suspicious of Freud’s insistence that there was and could be something akin to a rational explanation or approach to the forces giving shape to our lives. Jung sought something we all seek: meaning. He did so by trying to observe the unconscious at work and without preconception.
When he broke from Freud, Jung turned inward, recounting his dreams, reveries and fantasies in a series of notebooks he later transformed into an incomplete volume known as the Red Book. This volume sat for many years in a bank vault, under lock and key and the foreboding rectitude of an executor’s watchful eye. The family has now consented to publication.
What to make of this new book?
Jung’s heirs are deeply ambivalent about the work. Would it not show the author to be a man dangerously close to mental illness, perhaps swept within the vortex of psychosis, for several years? Would publication tarnish the reputation of a man already suspect given the unconventional character of so many of his ideas?
Well before I became a lawyer I tried my hand at teaching. I sat at the head of a conference table at Columbia and walked students through great books I had read and tried to comprehend. In one year-long course, we would start with Plato’s Republic and sprint through several dozen impossibly difficult works, often ending somewhere around the time of Freud. As each class ended, I would collapse in despair. Had civilization run its course? Had we marched from hope, through illusion and then settled into elegant and fashionable despair? I wanted nothing of the parlor game of intellectuals; I fled academe.
We did not read Jung. And now I wish we had.
I’ve just finished Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. The book is liquid fire. It gives an account of what led to the writing of the Red Book, and what followed from it. If you have time to read only one book between now and December, this is the book you must read. Period. If it does not speak to a deeper sense of self alive to a world of meaning, I will be surprised. This book is a homecoming, and a premonition of something amazing that will soon take shape when the Red Book is published.
Now cometh the Red Book. That is a gift I shall soon receive, and I am counting the daysuntil my copy arrives.