Sorting the facts from fictions in Jungian myth

Jung - Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology
June 11, 2004

Archetype, complex, anima, mandala, collective unconscious, the self, the inner child, introvert, extravert, the active imagination, individuation, wholeness, synchronicity - these are among the many terms and concepts that Carl Jung either created or appropriated. Myth, my own specialty, is itself so regularly associated with Jung that simply to study myth is for some automatically to be a Jungian. Jung has transcended the bounds of psychology and become a cultural icon, one almost on a par with Sigmund Freud. Indeed, one task of any biography, and perhaps the strongest similarity in the two works under review, is the disentangling of Jung from Freud.

Biographies of Jung abound and, predictably, range from the hagiographical to the dismissive. The fullest biography from the inner circle is Barbara Hannah's Jung (1976). Typical of devotees, she attributes Jung's ideas to nothing external and instead to his sheer genius. Hers is the counterpart to Ernest Jones' hagiographical Sigmund Freud . For Hannah, it was only when Jung, after his break with Freud, engaged in solipsistic confrontation with his own mind that he discovered the collective, or distinctively Jungian, unconscious and was then on his way. Hannah thereby dutifully follows Jung's autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), which, as the title implies, ignores his outer life and concentrates entirely on his inner one.

At the other end of the biographical spectrum stands Richard Noll's The Jung Cult (1994). Noll decries Jung's autobiography, as well as the biographies of Jung's disciples, for ignoring external influences. Far from immune to them, Jung, according to Noll, was the product of them. Noll's is the counterpart to Frank Sulloway's Freud, Biologist of the Mind (1979).

Where for Sulloway, Freud, far from original, simply applied the biology of his time to psychology, for Noll, Jung similarly applied the cultural ethos of his time to psychology. Inspired by the rise of völkisch , neo-pagan, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic mystery-like cults in German-speaking Europe, Jung established one of his own, with himself the object of worship. Far from breaking with the philosophically encrusted psychology of his times and striving to forge a new discipline - scientific psychology - Jung simply cloaked his anti-modernist, atavistic, religious inclinations in modern, secular guise.

Deirdre Bair is a professional award-winning biographer. While another of her biographies is of Anaïs Nin, by far the best-known follower of Freudian renegade Otto Rank, clearly she comes to the study of Jung as a novice. By contrast, Sonu Shamdasani, long affiliated with the Wellcome Institute (now Trust Centre) for the History of Medicine, is a leading figure in "the New Jung scholarship", which seeks to professionalise the history of Jungian psychology. Shamdasani is the author of several by-now classic essays on Jung's autobiography and on the subject of the Miller fantasies in volume five of Jung's Collected Works . He is the editor of Jung's Notes on his Seminar on Kundalini Yoga and is the editor of Théodore Flournoy's From India to the Planet Mars . As he discloses, he is also at work on the first published edition of Jung's famous Red Book , comprising drawings and interpretations of fantasies during his period of self-analysis. In addition, Shamdasani has written a pointed rejoinder to Noll amusingly titled Cult Fictions .

If Bair entered the Jungian world as a novice, she has done her homework, or much of it. The last 200 pages of her book consist of notes. Frustratingly, some of her sources are confidential. By contrast, Paul Roazen's gossipy Freud and His Followers openly names all those he interviewed. While Bair thanks the Jung family for its help, it is unclear the degree of access granted her. Certainly, her notes reveal that she never examined the indispensable Red Book .

Bair offers her work as the first "objective" life of Jung. I would call it the first, or most, factual life. Bair has amassed more specific information about Jung's life than anyone else. Her work is almost twice the length of that of its nearest rival, Gerhard Wehr's likewise overwhelmingly factual Jung (1985 in German, 1988 in English). No topic in the life of Jung escapes Bair's scrutiny. Ever dispassionate, she aims to settle even the most controversial issues by tracking down the facts - this while managing to write with unfailing verve and grace.

Still, Bair's biography stays on the surface - the factual surface. She concerns herself with immediate issues. She does not place Jung in his times. For all its scrupulous, invaluable detail, her biography seems superficial. Her discussion of the issue I know best, Gnosticism, fails to explain Jung's fascination with so seemingly abstruse a phenomenon. As her notes make clear, her guides to her interpretation of Jung's Gnostic myth, the "Seven Sermons to the Dead", are tendentious authorities, and both lead her to conflate Jung's analysis of Gnosticism with that of the theosophist G. R. Mead. She does not realise that the sermons are interpretable parapsychologically as well as psychologically. She does not compare the sermons with any ancient Gnostic myth, and her glossy style leaves unsettled just how familiar she is with standard Gnostic materials.

Where Bair writes biography, Shamdasani writes intellectual history. He places Jung in the context of an international effort at the turn of the 19th century to create a psychology that would be the queen of the sciences. For Jung, psychology would be distinctive, and distinctively modern, in incorporating the irreducibly subjective element in theorising in any scientific field. The central book here is Jung's Psychological Types , volume six of the Collected Works . Shamdasani's take on Jung and modernity could hardly be more opposed to Noll's.

Where Bair rightly establishes Jung's worldwide reputation before any association with Freud, Shamdasani explicates Jung's alliance with other famous psychologists, not least Wilhelm Wundt, William James and Theodore Flournoy. Bair presents Jung as an original, independent psychologist - the conventional view. Shamdasani shows Jung to have been a participant, though still most original, in a larger enterprise - a novel view.

Shamdasani links Jung not only to psychologists other than Freud but also to anthropologists and sociologists. The connections reinforce Shamdasani's basic argument that Jung regarded psychology as the linchpin of other disciplines. As compelling as Shamdasani's investigations are, occasionally he goes a mite too far. For example, the armchair anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, while eagerly embraced by Jung in support of Jung's characterisation of "primitive mentality," was thereby going far beyond Emile Durkheim, who faults Lévy-Bruhl for overemphasising the distinctiveness of primitive thinking. Lévy-Bruhl, while indisputably indebted to Durkheim for the concept of "collective representations", thus constitutes a shaky link between Jung and Durkheim. Similarly, Shamdasani exaggerates the fear of founding anthropologist E. B. Tylor that rational secular modernity might revert to "primitive superstition" - a tacit parallel by Shamdasani to Jung's prediction of the swamping of modern consciousness by the unconscious. On the contrary, Tylor was seeking to preserve religion in the face of science, and "primitive" religion for him is as rational as science.

As Shamdasani acknowledges, the starting point for the history of depth psychology is Henri Ellenberger's magisterial The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970). Like the eponymous detective in the TV series Dragnet , Ellenberger seeks "the facts, just the facts". More precisely, he seeks to separate the facts from loaded interpretations of them. He aims to topple the "Freud legend", or the view, promulgated by Jones, that Freudian psychology sprang out of Freud's head like Athena out of Zeus'. Shamdasani aims to do the same with what he calls the "Jung legend". The two legends are related. Where the Freud legend contends that Freud had no predecessors, the Jung legend claims that Jung had one big predecessor: Freud. Jung is thus to be understood vis-a-vis Freud, even and especially in breaking with him. Admittedly, Jung's practice of starting seemingly every piece of writing by refuting Freud's views on the topic at hand does not abet the case for his autonomy.

Shamdasani's book deals, above all, with the scope of psychology, with psychological types and with the relationship between the body and the soul. In, I hope, a future volume, he will consider in detail the application of Jung's theory to myth and to religion, including Eastern religions, Gnosticism and alchemy.

As parallels to Jung's effort to unify the sciences under psychology, Shamdasani might consider Talcott Parsons' attempt to unify the social sciences, here including psychology, under the canopy of "social relations". Even bolder is the attempt by E. O. Wilson and other sociobiologists to subsume the social sciences under biology - a reunion of culture with biology that for so long has been tabooed as racist.

Though Shamdasani mentions only one of them, he is engaged in the kind of enterprise practiced at its finest by Quentin Skinner, John Pocock and John Dunn in political theory, by George Stocking in anthropology, and by Robert Alun Jones in sociology. He seeks to reconstruct the intellectual history of a discipline by asking what questions the founders themselves were asking, what they were reading, and with whom they were in contact. The position rejected is that there are eternal questions asked, with the differences lying only in the answers. Shamdasani thus stresses that what is called Jungian today is not always quite what the master had in mind. The ultimate source of Shamdasani's brand of intellectual history is that named "question and answer" by the philosopher R. G. Collingwood. Together with Eugene Taylor and several others, Shamdasani has gone far in making the history of Jungian psychology truly professional. His is a superb achievement.

Robert A. Segal is professor of theories of religion, Lancaster University, and the editor of The Gnostic Jung and Jung on Mythology .

Jung: A Biography By Deirdre Bair

Author - Little, Brown
Editor - 881
Price - £25.00
ISBN - 0 316 85434 4

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