Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity, by Peter Kingsley

Robert A. Segal is wary of an attempt to offer a definitive new interpretation of Jung

June 13, 2019
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C.G. Jung (1865-1961), the famous Swiss psychiatrist, is typically seen as Sigmund Freud’s great rival. But Jung was always his own person.

Freudian psychology centres on humans’ relationship to other family members, especially parents. Jungian psychology, more narcissistic, centres on humans’ relationship to other parts of themselves.

Despite Jung’s proudly labelling himself a scientist, there have been efforts to downplay his scientific outlook in favour of a deeper, religious one. The most extravagant expression of the supposedly true Jung is The Red Book, which amasses Jung’s speculations from 1914 to 1930. It was not published until 2009.

For most Jungians, the book is the equivalent of the Koran. It gets compared to the greatest works of the humanities. In actuality, it is a disorganised series of dubious distinctions, illogically turned into oppositions and then equally illogically into paradoxes. Far from profound, it is sophomoric.

Peter Kingsley is an English classicist who, decades ago, wrote several acclaimed books on the Presocratic philosophers. Now he offers a two-volume tome on Jung, whom he ties to the Presocratics. Volume one consists of readable pronouncements about what Jung is really saying; volume two, equally long, consists of notes.

We are informed by Kingsley that almost every other authority on Jung has got him wrong. These include Jung’s disciples, Jungian clinicians and scholars of Jung. To date, only two persons have got Jung right: the French scholar of Sufism, Henry Corbin, and Kingsley himself. Kingsley reminds one of the line by Church historian Adolf von Harnack about the early Christian theologian Marcion: only Marcion understood Paul, and even he misunderstood Paul. But Kingsley denies any misunderstanding of Jung on his own part.

Kingsley asserts that The Red Book evinces the true Jung. But, ironically, most Jungians say the same. They adore Jung’s contempt for science.

For Kingsley, appealing to Jung in his autobiography, there are two Jungs, one public and one private. Jung’s public personality is that of a person of science. Jung’s private, true personality is that of the unconscious. Jung dared not vaunt his true self – the reason the book remained unpublished for so long.

The public Jung goes back to Plato and Aristotle. The private Jung goes back further, to the Presocratics (although even the consummately rational philosopher of science Karl Popper sought to go “back to the Presocratics”). The scientific Jung starts with word association tests to make his claims. The private Jung relies on his unconscious for truth. The public Jung is very critical of mystics. The private Jung is a consummate mystic.

Kingsley never offers arguments for his intuitions about Jung. He considers himself better read than others. But he is not. And he is continually wrong. For example, Jung faults, rather than celebrates, so-called primitive peoples for projecting themselves on to the world. For him, moderns properly differentiate themselves from the world, even if they now need to reconnect themselves to the unconscious. Above all, moderns harbour psychology, which is one of the sciences.

Yet the ultimate issue is not what Jung is claiming but whether he is right. Is the unconscious the sole source of truth? What of all the competing notions of truth, and of science and reason, that serious thinkers consider? Kingsley pays these issues no heed.

Robert A. Segal is sixth century chair in religious studies at the University of Aberdeen, and editor of The Gnostic Jung (1992) and Jung on Mythology (1998).

Catafalque: Carl Jung and the End of Humanity
By Peter Kingsley
Catafalque Press, 848pp (2 volumes), £59.95
ISBN 9781999638405
Published 1 November 2018

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Reader's comments (5)

That Robert Segal can publish such an inaccurate and empty piece in Times Higher Education is a clear sign of what British “higher education” has come to in 2019. There once was a time when British academia could observe dispassionately, with the eyes of a Gibbon or Toynbee, what gives rise to civilizations as well as what brings them to the edge of destruction – and still had the stomach to digest Carl Jung’s urgent warnings that the unchallenged supremacy of science and technology was heralding the end of our civilization. But now higher education has become nothing but a cheerleader for science and technology. True to form, Robert Segal makes sweeping prouncements that make no sense. His claim that “Kingsley offers no arguments” is blatantly absurd, considering his own observation that the second volume of my new book consists entirely of supportive notes. Here, as elsewhere, he commits the logical error of assuming that only those who speak out in favour of science are capable of using real arguments – whereas anyone who dares to challenge our religion of science must by definition be unscientific and therefore incapable of argument. And Segal has strangely glossed over those passages in ‘Catafalque’ where I point out, in detail, the major shortcomings in Segal’s own publications and scholarship on Jung. He fails to understand that the domain of scholarship reaches beyond science, and that anyone claiming to be a rationalist has to do much more than string together rational-sounding words and expressions.
Prof. Segal's review, constrained by word count limitations for publication, is a rather generous take on Peter's most recent mystical confessional. Much more could have been said. I direct the readers of THE to the lengthy review I posted on back in December. It is entitled "Making Western Culture Great Again!" and has been the top review due to favorable reader response for much of that time. In his emotional response to Prof. Segal, Peter clings to his massive second volume of footnotes as the place where the reader should look for his "arguments," not in the meandering, doom-laden mystical prophecies that comprise the 445-page first volume of his book. In fact, as has been the case with the idiosyncratic mystical texts Peter has produced in the past 20 years, the wonderfully rich footnotes have little relevance to the main mystical text and are not "supportive" at all. Without his footnotes, which he brandishes like a man pulling open his shirt to reveal a suicide vest of explosives as a warning to others that he should be taken seriously – VERY seriously, Peter's idiosyncratic mystical musings would be ridiculed by the scholars he scorns. It is clear that he is conscious of this and he is very sensitive about it. Peter is a self-proclaimed mystic and prophet. This is in the public record. His book is a warning about the decline and death of Western culture. As a prophet, Peter offers a diagnosis and a pharmakon, a treatment. The book is a personal statement, elegiac and poignant in its way, and at times nostalgic in a bittersweet way, because his own early career insights into the true divine origins of Western culture via the Presocratic healers/seers are the central Truth of his personal history and of our culture. Peter the Prophet’s fate and our fate are linked. Those golden Glory Days, his and ours, are in the distant past. We must bring the past into the present and return to The Truth if we are to be saved. Western culture lost The Truth until Peter rediscovered it in the 1980s through mystical revelations. We are all doomed because of this fatal forgetfulness. Western culture, indeed the whole world, is dying and is about to be placed in a coffin on the catafalque Peter has built. Peter laments that no one understands prophets like him, so all is lost. But what this really comes down to is that we are all doomed for not being Peter. But this was supposed to be a book about C.G. Jung, correct? Meh . . . not so much. However, the Jung that Peter seems to be channeling in this book is not the biological or historical Jung the man. All that was ephemeral. Here it is: “In other words, there is no Jung. His life wasn’t the story of Jung realizing himself. It was a story of the unconscious realizing itself through the passing appearance of a conscious Jung” (p. 208). So Peter’s book is not about Carl Jung. It is Peter’s engagement with his imaginings of an eternal force that was only temporarily Carl Jung. Therefore, this book will be a great disappointment to anyone wanting a historical account or biography of Jung the man. What he offers are not "arguments" backed up by "supportive footnotes," but instead the following assertions about a C.G. Jung who is a morally, intellectually and spiritually flawless divine being revealed to Peter through his own personal mystical experiences. Here are the "revelations" about Jung that he offers his readers in the first volume: Jung was a mystic (and knew it and lied about it) • Jung was a prophet (and knew it and lied about it) • Jung was a Gnostic (and knew it and lied about it) • Jung was a magician and performed magical rituals • Jung was deified. Repeat: he became a god. • Individuation is a path to deification • Jung consciously and deliberately formed a religion (his psychology) • Jung became the savior of the world, the servator mundi • Jung is the Anthropos • Jung is the Cosmic Christ • Jung suffered for our salvation – why can’t his critics see this? • Jung and Peter are working together to save us all Peter Kingsley is a brilliant man and a creative scholar. Many of us who have admired his early works on the Presocratics have been willing to cut him some slack these past 20 because of his brilliance. It is a great pity that Peter could not have used his exceptional intellectual gifts to provide us with a new and scintillating work of scholarship on Jung. Those of us who have followed his work grieve for the Kingsley of the 1990s.
I do not think that Robert Segal's review is "inaccurate and empty". It is critical, and I think it is one-sided, unfair and incomplete. Peter Kingsley seems to have some trouble with the very fact that it is critical, and so his reply is weaker than it could have been. However, I think that his book CATAFALQUE itself is weaker than it could have been. We should try to learn from our critics, even when we do not agree with them. For example, Kingsley does not react well to what he sees as Segal's claim that "Kingsley has no arguments". In fact Segal says "Kingsley never offers arguments for his intuitions about Jung". This is a very different proposition, and Kingsley's only reply is a sort of mute gesture at his second volume, composed entirely of footnotes. This poses the question of the nature and status of these notes, many of which serve to give scholarly information ancillary to the main argument. However, some of these footnotes are manifestly subjective and under-argued value-judgements of Kingsley's predecessors (Hillman, Edinger, Heidegger, Nietzsche). Sadly his reply fails here. Segal's review is flimsy, and what he says about Jung's RED BOOK is silly. Kingsley missed an opportunity to demonstrate this, and merely gave vent to an emotional retort that exhibits the same weaknesses as his under par footnotes.
TRUTH A great seeker once said ‘What is now true was once only imagined’. We try to hold open the doors to what might be imagined, and yet we also map a path through this ocean of possibilities. The four compass points in our quest are Equality, Simplicity, Peace and Truth. And the most polar of these is Truth, yet it is tempered by love. For truth without love is violence and love without truth becomes sentimentality. It is the marriage of love and truth that is the hope of the world. From a London Quaker, UK.
I will not comment on Catafalque beyond saying that it is an interesting and valuable attempt at expanding the dimensions of potential understanding of Carl Jung by asserting an intimate perspective as to what lies beneath, as it were, Jung's psychological philosophy. By doing so, Kingsley did what Jung himself avoided, discussing the potential implications of The Red Book. Jung never intended to publish the Red Book. It was instead a type of diary of his confrontation with his unconscious, as he felt it, as he experienced it. It was not done in a childish manner or in that of a deranged man, but over years in a mix of introspection and artistic expression from an incredibly sensitive and analytical person, a physician. I welcome the subjective perspective of an intellectual to try and arrive at a personal truth about another's personal truths. It is not "gospel", just as Jung is not gospel. But it is an interesting and compelling interpretation that is not without substance and support. Segal's critique , on the other hand, is so heavy handed as to almost be contemptuous, not just of the author but of Jung. To call the Red Book sophomoric verges on the imbecilic, as is to term Jung's psychological approach as "narcissistic". It is incredible how some academics sharpen their knives to stab rather than dissect. If it is true that Jung cared not to "vaunt his true self" as Segal claims, it is precisely because of scholars as himself who deride what is born in the periphery of that other religion: scientific rationalism, believing it to hold all truths exclusively. It is not true that Jung had a "contempt for science", quite the opposite, but he, as Nietzsche, understood that science is but an incredibly important tool in our human arsenal to attain the truth, it is not the only path. Our intuitions and myriad of yet to be understood influences (physical and psychological) are also extremely valuable. Jung respected our ultimate lack of control and insight into our uncounscious and he sought to delve into it. We are richer for it. And I think Catafalque in its attempt to give us a perspective on what Jung expressed but dared not expose, is a valuable and welcome endeavor that should be considered in this context.