Jung’s Red Book (RB) is a book of extraordinary beauty. Nothing got lost in the reproduction. While I focus here primarily on the images of ideas in the text, it is a treat to spend time with Jung’s paintings, the details of the calligraphic script of the Liber Primus in its medieval manuscript form. Wherever you can, take the chance to take a look at the book! I hope I will eventually find a way of bringing some of the images in here, without infringing on any copyrights. I can read the original in German, which I do in bits and pieces, but it is hard work to decipher Jung’s calligraphic longhand. For the most part I resort to the English translation, which, as far as I can tell, is a brilliant one.
But let me begin at the beginning. The way of what is to come is the heading of the first section of the Liber Primus. Jung speaks “in the spirit of the time”. Each time, each era has a specific “spirit”, a Zeitgeist, that forms our rational mind, morals and values. We are good citizens if we act in accordance to this spirit of the time. The spirit of the time forms our ego-personality and does not question the supremacy of God in the spiritual realm.
But then Jung also speaks of the spirit of the depths that has begun to stir in him. A spirit that “from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit if this time” p.229. It was this spirit, irrational, foolish, intoxicating, even ugly (at least from the other spirit’s point of view) that was the motivating, even dictating force behind the RB. Here Jung seems to talk about the spirit of the greater archetypal psyche. A potentially dangerous force if one is possessed by it. Madness, insanity and psychosis loom if this spirit takes over. But this very same spirit of the depths is also the source of all visions, inspiration and greatness and divine bliss that humanity can hope for. It is, in Jungian lingo, the spirit if the Self (with a capital S), which represents and brings forth the God-like nature in mankind, with all its dark and bright aspects.
Jung is a true shaman here. Never identified. Never possessed. Fully aware of the danger of a one way ticket into psychosis, he stays put and moves along where the spirit of the depths ushers him. He made sense of the nonsensical because a NEW VISION was needed. No pain, no gain. No risk, no gain.
Apropos, a new vision. There is a quote from “Flight out of time: A Dada diary” in the RB, which I will repeat here:
“The world and society in 1913 looked like this: life is completely confined and shackled. A kind of economic fatalism prevails; each individual, whether he resists it or not, is assigned a specific role and with it his interests and his character. The church is regarded as a “redemption factory” of little importance, literature is a safety valve……The most burning question day and night is: is there anywhere a force that is strong enough to put an end to this state of affairs? And if not, how can one escape it?”
Now that is a pretty neat quote. I have no problem putting 2009 instead of 1913. Are we not as much in need of a vision for cultural and spiritual renewal as the dadaists observed in 1913? Another question, is it not interesting that the RB is published at a time when we are desperately in need (think 2012!) of a new vision that leads to renewal. In fact our very survival may depend on that. Some might even call that a synchronicity.
The alchemists, and I consider Jung to be one of them, were guided by the belief that in order to fully comprehend a text one needs to follow the Latin dictum of “lege, lege, lege, et relege”. The English translation means,”read, read, read and then read again”. A work of the magnitude of the Red Book most likely needs to be read four times. I have just begun my first reading, it will take time.
Time is such an interesting concept. From psyche’s point of view there is no such thing as time. Psyche lives in the experience of the eternal moment that includes past and future. The conscious personality, the ego, has difficulties wrapping its head around such an idea. And for good reason, linear ego time is all too real in lived life. Whether we like it or not, we grow older, “time” moves on and one day we will “run out of time”. I often struggle to “make time” for what really feels important. Jung worked diligently and with unwavering focus from about 1913 to 1930 on what was to become the Red Book (RB). That is a long time. He painstakingly devoted seventeen years of his life to a self experiment that became known as his confrontation with the unconscious and ultimately resulted in the RB. He gained all material for his later works, now published as the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, from this confrontation. It was a humbling reminder of the energy, devotion and, yes, time it takes to establish a fruitful relationship to the unconscious. I was reminded of how often I had a dream that felt meaningful. I may have written it down, engaged the images for some time and then moved on. Jung was always very clear on the fact that there is a proportional relationship between the effort, (which I define as the investment of energy, intent and time) one puts towards the unconscious and the fruits this labor can bring forth.
I don’t think I ever felt as clearly as I do now what it is that defines a Jungian. It is not that one has the credentials of being a Jungian analyst, it is not years of Jungian analysis, nor is it the reading of Jung’s writings up and down and four times back and forth. None of that may hurt, but the defining quality will always be the courage and strength to confront the unconscious, this invisible world as it manifests within each one of us. The persistence to bring forth meaning and to follow the path that will form out of it. A truthful Jungian will find the courage to walk his own path, with the highest degree of consciousness possible. Much easier said than done, I know. But this attitude is a Jungian’s North Star, a point of orientation and navigation. I quote Jung from the RB, p. 231 ” Believe me, it is no teaching and instruction I give you. On what basis should I presume to teach you? I give you news of the way of this man, but not of your own way. My path is not your path, therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life”.
The Red Book by C.G. Jung
Edited and Introduced by Sonu Shamdasani
Philemon Series, 2009
Within the imagery of the Tarot the Fool is the first card. It is he who initiates the journey. The head in the clouds, he is dangerously close to the precipice, followed only by his canine companion. There is no way around it, I cannot escape feeling foolish when I enter new territory, when I start something new. I am there now. There are two books on my mind. One of them is the book. It arrived yesterday in the mail. I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not this. An eleven pound package?! This was clearly not the usual paperback that ends up on my doorstep. I must have had a neat, little red paperback in my mind. I know this is beyond foolish, it is idiotic. No, I have not made it to the Rubin Museum yet, yes, I regrettably missed all the introductory lectures. I just had this private little fantasy of Jung’s Red Book, which I was looking forward to holding in my hands. And here it is. Huge, red, heavy, (nine pounds, I put it on the scale) ominous, beautiful, weighty. Definitely not designed for small New York apartments. Both my apartment and I seem to shrink in its presence. (I am supposed to be the one who does the shrinking). The self-imposed task of working myself through the book has a dizzying effect. Once opened the book reveals imagery that takes my breath away. And I only dare to get a glimpse of them, I cannot yet look too closely. I see Jung’s intricate longhand in German and Latin, the intensity of his focus revealed in the details of his paintings and drawings. I put the book on a the top shelf of a book case. The only spot where it will fit.
The other book on my mind is one I am not even sure it exists. I hope it does. I am in need of it and I will look for it online. Its title should be something like Blogging for Dummies. I need to learn the ropes. Categories? Tags? Links? I like the idea of writing and publishing my musings in cyberspace. It is like forming a thought and letting it drift back into the collective psyche. Maybe somewhere, somebody will come across it and pick up the thread. I will go now and search for this book. I just hope it is not another nine pounder. That would be more than I can handle. And then…let the journey begin.
The long awaited publication of C.G. Jung’s Red Book is heralded as a monumental moment in the Jungian world. Even the NYT, usually very critical of all Jungian things, offered a much more favorable view of his work in a recent article. It has been said that this book will change the way Jungians relate to their work. It has been said that this book will provide unprecedented insight into Jung’s inner world and into the development of the School of Analytical Psychology from Jung’s most intimate psychic experiences documented in this book. I have ordered my copy and had I been at home when UPS tried to deliver I would be pouring over its first changes by now.
The Red Book is said to lead us into new psychic territory. Every day can be a new beginning. Today I decided to enter into new territory by putting my meanderings of engaging and making sense of Jung’s Red Book into a blog. One page at a time. A private piece of Jung’s world, until recently fiercely guarded by his family, has been opened up to the public. This is my way to reciprocate. I have never blogged before, I am a very private person and as a practicing psychoanalyst I am trained to maintain neutrality. But so much that laid hidden needs to break forward and outward in these plutonian times. For whatever it is worth, cyberspace feels like the right place for it. How to handle, navigate, understand and learn all the technical intricacies of being a blogger will probably be as humbling and challenging as working myself through this book. But I look forward to both. All comments from fellow explorers of inner space are welcome.