Carl Jung: A `Psychic Pyramid Seller'

Article excerpt

Carl Jung's face stares out from covers in every book shop that sells psychology, New Age, mythological or self-improvement titles. Sigmund Freud, fellow founder of the psychoanalytic movement, may have wooed intellectuals with his dark theories of infantile sexuality and the rampant id, but it is Jung who has cornered the middle-of-the-road self-improvement market. He is the Frank Sinatra of psychoanalysis - established, approachable, offering the comfort of myths and meaning in a mechanistic world.

For some time now the iconoclasts' hammers have been hard at work on the Freudian edifice - chipping away with the suggestion that he never cured anyone, that he made up most of his case histories, and that he is largely responsible for our current disastrous confusion over sexual abuse and recovered memories. No one, in the meantime, has laid a glove on Carl Jung - until now, that is.

According to a startling new book, The Jung Cult: Origins of a charismatic movement, Jung's theories are not the work of a brilliant mind exploring long-forgotten myths and returning with insights that can make us all whole. Instead, they were drawn from a well-frequented and rather murky intellectual spring - the "volkisch", or folk, movement that captivated hundreds of thousands of Jung's German contemporaries and formed one of the tributaries that fed into the Nazi ideology of the master race. "The current Jungian movement is, I would argue, completely unconscious of its roots," says the author of the book, Dr Richard Noll. In his book, Noll concludes that Jung's greatest accomplishment may have been turning what probably amounted to a psychotic episode - he maintained he had been transformed into a lion-headed Greek god - into a technique for personal salvation, at the core of which resided an "Aryan inner Christ". Not only are the underpinnings of the theory dubious, says Noll, but Jung resorted to telling lies about the case history that provided crucial evidence for his theory of the Collective Unconscious, the case of the patient known as the Solar Phallus Man. "Jung is the most influential liar of the 20th century," declares Noll flatly. Not surprisingly, remarks like these have set the feathers flying in academia. The row started nearly two years ago when, after much heart-searching, Princeton University Press, who have sole rights to Jung's works in English, published Noll's book in the United States. It was obvious the book would cause trouble. It begins by pointing out that the major source about Jung is still his "autobiography", Memories Dreams and Reflections - published in 1962 and still in print - which was largely the work of disciples and bears about as much relationship to the real Jung as the Gospels do to the historical Jesus. The comparison is not accidental, for one of Noll's striking claims is that Jung set himself up as a cult leader, much in the style of Jesus and that he even identified with Jesus. The book paints a fascinating picture of intellectual life in fin de siecle Germany. Orthodox Christianity had been put under the microscope by theologians who were questioning central doctrines such as the virgin birth or the resurrection - scepticism that still has the power to shock a century later - and the result was a spiritual vacuum. Nietzsche had declared God dead and the intellectual air was thick with talk of the degeneration of the races and the need for some kind of renewal. Jung was just one of many, Noll shows, who drew on the same Central European cauldron of neo-paganism, and Nietzschean, mystical, Volkisch utopianism that also spawned National Socialism. Noll, a one-time clinical psychologist with links to the Jungian establishment, is careful not to make a direct link between Jung and the rise of the Nazis. But he argues that such Jungian concepts as the need to rely on intuition rather than reason and the importance of an elite group of initiates also fed their poisonous mythology. …