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The Red Book of C.G. Jung

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Jung's The Red Book has an enormous complexity of meaning deriving from Jung's intimate experiences, which are still being discussed and elaborated on by the Jungian community all over the world. The present volume focuses on some of its main aspects and its importance for the understanding of the work of Jung.The Red Book is often mistakenly seen as a product of a midlife crisis of Jung's, caused by his break with Freud. However, although this crisis was present, the work is better understood as a manifestation of unconscious symbolism of Jung's individuation process that started in his childhood. Certain symbols of The Red Book can be traced back to Jung's earliest years, reaching their peak during the period of writing the book and continuing throughout his creative life.Jung's work is therefore understood as having a Janus face: like the old Roman god of the gates it has two faces, one looking back to the past, the other looking to the future. If the past appears in the various figures with which Jung interacts throughout the book, such as the desert anchorite Ammonius, and the prophets and heroes of ancient times, it also looks to the future, pointing to new developments in analytical psychology and the practice of psychotherapy. Both aspects of the The Red Book are here discussed at length.The writing of Jung's book and its appearance to the general public almost a century afterwards is studied in relation to the paradigm crisis in science and the phantasy of millenarianism. Jung wrote this work when Europe was entering the strong cultural crisis of World War One, which threw up profound cultural changes. Jung's family and estate gave their final authorization for the publication of the book in the year 2000, a year full of symbolic meaning, impregnated with phantasies of millenarianism. Jung's work is considered here as a book therefore pertaining to large cultural changes, one in the past and one in the present, and both equally transformative of society and the perception of man himself.

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Prologue

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“Opening The Red Book seems to be opening the mouth of the dead”

—James Hillman, Lament of the Dead

The Congress of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP) is held once every three years. In 2010, the IAAP Congress took place in Montreal, Canada. The association brought together recognised Jungian institutions from across the world, and a large number of analysts from all corners of the globe participated, debating and evaluating new concepts and the theoretical and cultural applications of analytical psychology. One of the most significant—and perhaps long-awaited—participants at the Montreal conference was Sonu Shamdasani, editor of The Red Book. Shamdasani took part in two events; an evening conference and an afternoon debate, and was enthusiastically applauded for both. Many of the analysts present had questions for the speaker. Rather significantly, a good part of these questions were preceded by words of gratitude for his valuable contribution to widening the understanding of analytical psychology and its concepts through his detailed research of Liber Novus. This surely confirms both the strong impact of Liber Novus on the Jungian community and the importance of Shamdasani's work as editor of the book. At the same time, however, this raises an unanswered question: what was the real contribution of The Red Book to the understanding of analytical psychology? Has the book had any type of significant influence on current approaches to Jungian clinical practice? These are questions that I hope to answer by the end of this book.

 

Chapter One: Introduction

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The Red Book, or Liber Novus as Jung called it, has become the object of intense curiosity since the publication of his memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963). Jung refers to The Red Book in the chapter entitled “Confrontations with the Unconscious” when he describes the crisis he experienced soon after his separation from Freud in 1913. One of the book's appendices refers to The Red Book and the meaning it had in Jung's life. While it was being written between 1913 and 1930, copies of the book were circulated within a small group of people in Jung's intimate circle. On some occasions, passages and images from the book were published, some of which appear in the book C. G. Jung: Word and Image, for example, which was edited by Jung's secretary, Aniela Jaffé (1979). It contains a section dedicated to The Red Book and comments on some of its images. The book did not have any further exposure, as Jung's final decision was not to publish it, although this must not have been without some ambivalence, as in various parts of the book it is clear that despite everything, Jung wanted his work to be known.

 

Chapter Two: The Gestation of the Book

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“My life is the story of the self-realization of the unconscious.” It is with this powerful affirmation that Jung starts his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963, p. 17). The contents of Liber Novus give testimony to this gradual process of inner content emerging in consciousness, and how by the author's creative impulse this became integrated and later expressed in his life's work.

Jung's midlife crisis

Jung was in a transitional phase in his life when he started to write The Red Book and he needed to reformulate his vision of the world. He had just broken with Freud, a decision that had cost him many of his friendships and the protection of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, which in 1913 had already gained significant notoriety across the whole of Europe. Jung was an important defender of this movement led by Freud, and was also the first president of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA). In 1909 he left Burghölzli Hospital and his position as an assistant doctor under Doctor Eugen Bleuler, bringing to a close what is referred to as his “psychiatric period” in order to embark upon his long and fruitful creative journey. The end of his relationship with Freud and the conclusion of his teaching work at the University of Zurich soon after were the first of many institutional ties that he would break during his lifetime.

 

Chapter Three: The Structure of the Book

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“I advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can—in some beautifully bound book…when these things are in some precious book, you can go to the book and turn over the pages, and for you it will be your church—your cathedral—the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If someone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you will listen to them—then you will lose your soul—for in that book is your soul.”

C. G. Jung's advice to his client Christiana Morgan, discovered in a 1920 diary entry.

—Shamdasani, 2012, p. 121

Liber Novus contains many journeys that lead us to various characters, confrontations, and lessons. The metaphor of the journey can be found in many tales, in literature, dreams, daydreams, mythology, and alchemy. The longissima via described the magnum opus of the alchemist philosophers. The metaphor of the journey can be found in well-known literary works: in Homer's The Odyssey, Ulysses travels on a nostalgic journey to his home Ithaca. The idea of the endless journey permeates the entire process of the hero's development. The archetype of the journey can also be found in a range of contemporary works. The characters created by the Brazilian author Guimarães Rosa are constructed along journeys through the bleak Gerais wilderness in Grande Sertão: Veredas (“The Devil to Pay in the Backlands”, 1963).

 

Chapter Four: Heroism and Heroes in the Red Book

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“There are both heroes of evil and heroes of good”

—François de la Rochefoucauld

The first moment in which the figure of the hero appears in The Red Book is in the fifth chapter of Liber Primus, “Descent into Hell in the Future”. This encounter with the hero takes place after Jung's “rediscovery” of his soul and his imaginary isolation in the desert. Far removed from his everyday life, he starts to fantasise about the descent during which he will discover his most intimate internal processes.

This descent motif, which the ancient Greeks called katabasis, was very common in the initiation rituals of traditional societies. The hero needs to descend to the world of the dead in order to undergo renovation, cheat death, and return to the world of the living transformed. This process of descent found in the ancient mystery religions still exists in Christianity with the representation of Christ descending into hell and being resurrected on the third day in a state of corpus glorificationis. This process is described in the Creed and is a fundamental part of the Christian belief system. In modern psychotherapy, the archetypal motif of death and resurrection is part of the therapeutic process. Every patient needs to die, descend into his (or her, of course) own personal hell, and hit rock bottom in order to transform himself. This is the only way by which a genuine analytic process can take place, and it is the reason that whenever somebody seeks therapy he maintains a hidden ambivalence. On one hand he would like to undergo therapy and to find his individuality, but on the other hand there is a part of him that resists the process in which he has to die. He is afraid and seeks a whole range of excuses that enable him to avoid diving deeper into his issues: lack of time, lack of money, not the right time…

 

Chapter Five: The Limits between Creativity and Madness

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“The God
is near, and hard to grasp.
But where there is danger,
A rescuing element grows as well”

—Hölderlin, “Patmos”, 1984

“But the spirit of the depths had gained this power because I had spoken to my soul during 25 nights in the desert and I had given her all my love and submission. But during the 25 days, I gave all my love and submission to things, to men and to the thoughts of this time. I went into the desert only at night.”

—Jung, Liber Novus, 2009, p. 238

The madness of Miss Miller

In 1911, a little while before having the first inner experiences that would later give rise to The Red Book, Jung published Symbols of Transformation, which was to be the turning point for his separation from Sigmund Freud. The book was based on the travelogues of a young American woman, although he never knew her personally. Jung thought that the images and poetry in Frank Miller's journal revealed that she could be schizophrenic, leading him to use the subtitle An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia (1911). The book was published just two years after Jung had abandoned his position as a medical assistant at the Burghölzli psychiatric hospital. There he had followed hundreds of cases of schizophrenia over years and had noticed archetypical mythological content emerging from these patients, as though their personal psyche seemed to have been invaded by archetypal content. However, Jung's pessimistic prognosis in relation to Miss Miller was mistaken. Shamdasani's research now demonstrates that Miss Miller had been a student of the professor and Swiss academic Théodore Flournoy, and had studied under him for a term at the University of Geneva (Shamdasani, 1990). Miss Miller did not present any symptoms of psychosis. On the contrary, she was a very social and talkative lady, had travelled to various countries in Asia and particularly in eastern Russia, and upon returning to the United States had started to lecture on her ethnological experiences. On her travels she kept a journal of her experiences in which she wrote poems and mythological tales. One of these includes the Chiwantopel hero figure, a character that emerged spontaneously in Miss Miller's fantasies.1 She also included The Song of the Moth, which tells the story of a moth that burns after being irresistibly drawn to a flame. According to Jung, these and the other images contained in the book suggest that they were written while the author was psychologically fragile.

 

Chapter Six: New Perspectives in Jungian Clinical Practice

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“The individual is a gateway…the issue is not simply solving individual neuroses, individual suffering, but dealing with those aspects where the individual suffering intersects, coheres, is in direct connection with collective problems”

—Sonu Shamdasani (Hillman & Shamdasani, 2013, p. 151)

James Hillman dedicates the chapter “The Pandemonium of Images” of his book Healing Fiction (1983) to the Jungian method of psychotherapy. The name of this chapter summarises the Jungian method, a constant confrontation with figures of the unconscious, a powerful technique based on the method of active imagination that Jung developed while writing Liber Novus. Hillman mentions (p. 53) that “Jung gave a distinct response to our culture's most persistent psychological need—from Oedipus to Socrates through Hamlet and Faust—Know Thyself.”

In fact, the major emphasis of The Red Book is the role played by its characters in Jung's personal myth and their meaning in his individuation process. However, the book also presents new perspectives for a revolutionary type of clinical practice. Liber Novus in its entirety can be seen as a sort of self-analysis by the author, who is searching for understanding during a time of significant transition, in which he is the patient, the method, and also his own analyst.

 

Chapter Seven: The Legacy of the Dead

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“These figures are the dead, not just your dead, that is, all the images of the shapes you took in the past, which your ongoing life has left behind, but also the thronging dead of human history, the ghostly procession of the past, which is an ocean compared to the drops of your own life span”

—Liber Secundus, “Nox Secunda”

“Immortal mortals, mortal immortals, one living the others’ death and dying the others’ life”

—Heraclitus of Ephesus, “The Obscure”,
Fragment 62 (Bornheim, 2002)

The dead appear in a range of forms at various moments in The Red Book, always as part of an imaginary dialogue with Jung. In one example, the soul of a woman is anxiously seeking a talisman that will answer her questions. She reminds Jung of one of his former patients who had passed away. There are other examples, such as in the intriguing Chapter 13 of Liber Secundus, “The Sacrificial Murder”, in which Jung discovers a dead child and speaks with its soul, giving him a nearly impossible task to complete. Another important confrontation with the dead takes place in Chapter 15 of Liber Secundus, “Nox Secunda”, discussed in Chapter Five. After the librarian gives him The Imitation of Christ by the Benedictine monk Thomas à Kempis, Jung waits in the anteroom of the library. He hears the sound of voices and shadowy figures pass by. One of these looks at him with tired eyes. This man reveals his name, Ezechiel, declaring that he is an Anabaptist,1 leaving together with the throngs around him to seek truths and revelations in Jerusalem. Jung shows an interest in following him to seek these truths, but Ezechiel responds that he cannot, as he still has a body. He then declares, “We are the dead” (p. 294).

 

Chapter Eight: The Search for the Centre

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In 1918, Jung was commanding the English section of the hospitalised war wounded at the Chateau-d'x in French Switzerland. During this period he systematically drew a range of circular figures he called mandalas, a Sanskrit word meaning “magic circles”. The psychology of the mandala went on to become one of the main theories of analytical psychology. Jung narrates in Memories, Dreams, Reflections that at first he started to spontaneously draw symmetrical concentric circles, and that he noticed that drawing these shapes was a way of objectifying mental content with a high emotional intensity (p. 187). This way he was able to confront and gain a better understanding of the material while keeping himself separate from it. Facing these circular shapes, Jung was performing the process of active imagination. (See more on the development of this technique in Chapter Six.) He would later define the mandala as an important symbol of the self. The self as the centre and totality of the psyche could manifest itself in dreams and fantasies in the form of the mandala, expressing the organising and structuring nature of totality.

 

Chapter Nine: Philemon

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In his book of memoirs Jung wrote: “Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but produce themselves and have their own life” (1963, p. 176).

The appearance of Philemon represents the culmination of Jung's pilgrimage in search of the self. Philemon is referred to in Memories, Dreams, Reflections as equivalent to the guru figure in Indian religion. Jung relates how he had a real-life experience with a guru when he was visited by an Indian intellectual who was one of Gandhi's disciples. The visitor revealed that he had had a guru, and Jung asked him who this was. He answered that his guru was called Sankaracharya. Jung was surprised: “You don't mean the commentator on the Vedas who died centuries ago?” His visitor then explained “matter-of-factly” that this was not at all relevant and that the guru experience is an inner experience. At that moment, said Jung, “I thought of Philemon” (p. 177).

 

Chapter Ten: Final Conclusions

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The Red Book is like the god Janus as it has two sides: one that looks to the past, is traditional and medievalist, and the other that contemplates future developments in psychological theory and practice.”

Seven years after the publication of Liber Novus, we are now able to evaluate its influence on Jungian psychology and contemporary psychology in general. The book is a very unique and original psychological reference. After its publication in 2009, numerous events across the world have been held in order to research, disseminate, and debate the various aspects of Liber Novus and its significance for Jungian psychology. At the same time, as we dive into the book and discuss its various aspects, it is fascinating to see Jung's concepts as they are being formed, their origin in intense subjective experiences, and their gradual condensation into the theoretical body of Jung's work.

This book discusses the immediate meaning of Liber Novus (see Chapter One), a creative and emotionally intense journey that Jung took in order to face his midlife crisis. Although this midlife crisis was a very important factor in the production of the book, Liber Novus should be considered to be a part of Jung's existential process in general. Liber Novus represents a continent of varied impressions from the personal life of its author that at the time had still not been completely understood by his conscious. It contains symbolic representations of various philosophical, religious, and existential questions that had tormented Jung since his childhood. The large number and variety of symbols that emerged at this time were gradually and continuously integrated through creative processes along the course of his life.

 

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