Monday, June 20, 2011

Vernon, Mark. "Carl Jung, Part 3: Encountering the Unconscious." GUARDIAN June 13, 2011.

Jung's split with Freud in 1913 was costly. He was on his own again, an experience that reminded him of his lonely childhood. He suffered a breakdown that lasted through the years of the first world war. It was a traumatic experience. But it was not simply a collapse. It turned out to be a highly inventive period, one of discovery. He would later say that all his future work originated with this "creative illness".

He experienced a succession of episodes during which he vividly encountered the rich and disturbing fantasies of his unconscious. He made a record of what he saw when he descended into this underworld, a record published in 2009 as The Red Book. It is like an illuminated manuscript, a cross between Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Its publication sparked massive interest in Jungian circles, rather like what happens in Christian circles when a new first-century codex is discovered. It is of undoubted interest to scholars, in the same way that the notebooks of Leonardo are to art historians. And it is an astonishing work to browse, for its intricacy and imagination. But it is also highly personal, which is presumably why Jung decided against its publication in his own lifetime. So, to turn it into a sacred text, as some appear inclined to do, would be a folly of the kind Jung argued against in the work that followed his recovery from the breakdown.

In particular he wrote two pieces, known as the Two Essays, that provide a succinct introduction to his mature work. (He can otherwise be a rambling, elusive writer.) On the Psychology of the Unconscious completes his separation from Freud. He shows how tracing the origins of a personal crisis back to a childhood trauma, as Freud was inclined to do, might well miss the significance of the crisis for the adult patient now.

In The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious, he describes a process whereby a person can pay attention to how their unconscious life manifests itself in their conscious life. It will be a highly personal and tortuous experience. "There is no birth of consciousness without pain," he wrote. But with it, the individual can become more whole. . . .

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