Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

BOOKMARKS Was Jung a Jungian?: A New Biography Takes the Measure of the Man

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

BOOKMARKS Was Jung a Jungian?: A New Biography Takes the Measure of the Man

Article excerpt


Was Jung a Jungian?

A new biography takes the measure of the man

By Richard Handler

Jung: A Biography By Deirdre Bair

Little, Brown. 881 pp. ISBN:0-316-07665-1

I have a friend, a cheerful but serious guy, who"s in Jungian therapy--in this results-oriented, high-speed culture, a treatment that might be considered more meandering and ethereal than most. He doesn"t seem to be especially troubled by anything, so one day I asked him, "What do you do there?" "We talk about my dreams," he answered. "But why go there just to do that?" I pressed. "Because I want know where I stand in a Larger Story." Needless to say, this isn"t an answer I"d get from somebody visiting their managed care-assigned shrink.

Along with Freud, Carl Jung is one of the two iconic figures in the field of depth psychology. He gave us the terms introvert and extrovert. He argued that we all possess male and female aspects, as well as an unacknowledged, forbidding region, called the Shadow. While Freud"s patients lay down on a couch, the old master uttering a few words of interpretation now and then, Jung talked to his patients, consoling them, taking their ideas seriously as they sat across a table. He was less interested in what stage of childhood they were stuck in than in how their spiritual journeys were evolving. If Freud believed that ego should replace the instinctive and impulsive id (making us all mature but rather dour folk, like the master himself), Jung believed that "individuation"--a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious parts of our being that reconciles our opposite character traits--was the highest goal.

Jung insisted that individual character flowed from an ancient pool of myth--archetypes, humanity"s age-old symbols that swim in the collective unconscious. He thought that people, in the second half of their lives, were concerned with questions of meaning--essentially religious questions. Without Jung, there would have been no Joseph Campbell or legions of myth-minded, spiritual authors and their readers--for many, Jung is the father of The New Age.

Deirdre Bair"s biography of Jung weighs in at 640 densely clotted pages (with 200 pages of notes). It"s a huge undertaking to write and a huge undertaking to read. There"s more here than anyone would reasonably want to know about the details of Jung"s daily life--the meetings, schedules, professional quarrels. But for those looking for the clues to what made Jung the genius many consider him to be, this obsessively, extravagantly detailed account of his life provides tidbits and anecdotes galore.

Details of a Life

Jung was born in 1875 in Switzerland; he died in 1961 at the age of 86. His father was a poor country parson from a distinguished family. His mother was a troubled woman who believed in ghosts and spirits and had periodic breakdowns. As a young boy, Carl read philosophy, theology, and mythology. He loved the legends of the Holy Grail. His dissertation in university was on the occult--an interest he"d maintain all his life.

It"s not that Jung believed in ghosts and little green men; he thought supernatural states were a manifestation of deep, psychological states of mind. Even his later obsession with alchemy, the medieval pseudoscience of turning lead into gold, was, for him, a metaphor for human transformation. As a young medical student, Jung chose psychiatry because of his interest in religion, and because he hated the sight of blood--psychiatry being one of the few medical specialties where doctors can avoid it.

Jung leapfrogged into Swiss society by marrying the heir to one of the biggest industrial fortunes in the country. His ferocious intensity could send psychic shock waves through his house, causing furniture to crack and plates to be broken seemingly without touching them. (Bair quotes one colleague who called Jung a shaman, and half mad.) He wrote his books in a white heat, as if to dispel ghosts. …

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