Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

The Birth of Analytical Psychology from the Spirit of Weimar Classicism

Academic journal article Journal of European Studies

The Birth of Analytical Psychology from the Spirit of Weimar Classicism

Article excerpt


In a paper written in 1909 called Der Familienroman der Neurotiker, Freud suggested that, during their childhood psychological development, some neurotics entertained the fantasy that their parents were not their biological progenitors. [1] Instead, they believed that they were the offspring of much more (socially) important parents, and in particular this belief centred around the figure of the father. Although Freud does not give any examples, he might have been found evidence for the 'family romance' in his most enthusiastic disciple at the time, C. G. Jung. Moreover, Jung's status as a thinker has recently, and rightly, come under intense scrutiny. It seems appropriate to ask of Jung -- whom the American scholar Richard Noll has described as ranking in significance with the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate [2] -- was he mad, bad, or God? The answer might be that he was none of those things, but he was Goethe(an).

Jung and Goethe

In his autobiography -- written largely by his secretary, Aniela Jaffe [3] -- Jung refers on two occasions to a family legend, according to which he was a descendant of Goethe (MDR: 52 and 261). In a footnote, Jaffe summarizes the 'evidence' for this kinship. Jung's great-grandfather, Franz Ignaz Jung (1759-1831), was married to Sophie Ziegler who, together with her sister, had connections to the theatre in Mannheim, and was a friend of Lotte Kestner, a niece of Charlotte Buff, one of Goethe's first lovers. Allegedly -- there is no evidence for this story Goethe slept with Sophie and gave her a child, Karl Gustav Jung the Elder (1794-1864) (Jung's grandfather). But, as has been pointed out, many of these details are false. For a start, Charlotte Kestner was the daughter, not the niece, of Charlotte Buff; Kestner never stayed in Mannheim; she did not know Sophie Ziegler; nor is there any record of Sophie Ziegler visiting Weimar. [4]

Whilst Jung apparently (and, so it seems, with good reason) denied the authenticity of the legend, he nonetheless attributed some psychological importance to it: 'This annoying story made an impression upon me in so far as it at once corroborated and seemed to explain my curious reactions to Faust' (MDR: 261). Yet Jaffe recalls that whilst he described the rumour as 'annoying', Jung never related the story without 'a certain gratified amusement' (MDR: 52). And there are plenty of indications that the legend was of great importance to Jung. As a child, Jung fantasized that he was, in fact, two different persons (MDR: 50). This fantasy began when Jung saw an eighteenth-century carriage drive past his house, and he felt a strong sense of identification with the period of the carriage and its past owner. Although Jung does not say so explicitly, Henri Ellenberger has suggested that this 'other' of Jung's childhood was Goethe. [5] According to Gustav Steiner, who knew him as a university student, Jung would boast of being a descendant of Goethe. [6] Furthermore, one of Jung's earliest experiments in scientific investigation was a case-study of mediumship conducted, perhaps somewhat unethically, on his cousin Helly Preiswerk (the eleventh child of Rudolph Preiswerk, Jung's maternal uncle). During one seance, Preiswerk summoned the spirit of the woman whom Goethe had, allegedly, seduced. Jung's great-grandmother had also, it was claimed, been reincarnated as the Seeress of Prevorst. [7] In later years, Jung received visitors in Kusnacht with what appears to be the same mixture of engagement and irritation that Goethe received them in Weimar.

More recently, Noll has claimed that Jung himself came to believe that he was no less than the reincarnation of Goethe (:140). To support his claim, Noll cites transcripts of unpublished interviews with Jung conducted by Jaffe, from which, however, he is not permitted to quote. It may well be that, on occasions, it suited Jung to encourage this belief. For example, during his strange father-son relationship with Sigmund Freud, it might have comforted him to know that his Urgro[beta]vater was Goethe (as well as giving his analytic father-substitute a theme for one of his papers). …

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