April 22, 2008


The cover of the new edition of MDR, courtesy of wikipedia.

When I was very young, I had a brief and passing infatuation with the psychological ideas of Carl G. Jung, the Swiss psychologist. It didn't take too long to outgrow it, but I have to admit that every few years I take another look at it.

It's a sporadic bad habit of mine, like occasionally gorging on Cheetos or secretly listening to Abba--which I will always publicly deny.

I hadn't thought about Jung for a while until I stumbled on Deirdre Bair's 2003 Jung: A Biography, a 647 page mammoth (not counting notes) that took me months to get through. Bair didn't have any particular axes to grind, which is not often the case with this subject. I also revisited Jung's "autobiography," Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which was largely written with the help of his follower Aniela Jaffe, and Man and His Symbols, his last work which also contained contributions by various followers.

Jung books tend to come in at least two main flavors: hagiography as written by followers and de-bunking by others. The best example of the latter is Richard Noll's The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung and The Jung Cult, both of which were a hoot. Noll focused on Jung's alleged Nazi sympathies and described Jung's ideas as a carefully disguised "Aryans-only cult of redemption and rebirth."

Jung was born in 1875, the son of Swiss Reformed pastor Paul Jung and the former Emilie Preiswerk. Jung was named for his paternal grandfather, a prominent physician and professor. He also did nothing to deny rumors that he was an illegitimate descendant of the German writer Goethe. His mother's side was the most interesting; they were what my hillbilly ancestors would have called a little "tetched" or "keen," given to spiritualism, seeing ghosts, and telling strange stories.

Jung became a physician himself and specialized in psychiatry, working for a number of years at the Burgholzli, a mental institution. He became a correspondent and ally of Sigmund Freud, who was interested in gaining non-Jewish converts to psychoanalysis. For a while, Jung was the "crown prince" and heir-apparent, but the alliance fell apart with some bitterness.

There are two main versions of the split. Jung's would be that he was uncomfortable with Freud's dogmatic insistence on the central importance of sexuality or the libido. The other side was Freud's determination to prevent psychoanalysis from being contaminated by "the black tide of mud," i.e. Jung's tendency towards occultism.

For what it's worth, I think they were both right...

After the break with Freud, Jung's ideas definitely tended towards the weird, as he pondered through mythology, alchemy, astrology, and various sources of arcane lore for what he considered to be their psychological insights. In time, he gathered quite a cult following (in almost every sense of the word).

He wrote voluminously and largely (in my opinion) unintelligibly, although towards the end of his life he was able to reach a wide public audience through the two books mentioned above and appearances on the BBC.

I'll try to summarize what I think his basic ideas were tomorrow.

IRAQ WRAPUP. Here's a good summary of the various strands of the Iraq war mess.

EQUAL PAY DAY is today, but many women are doing worse as the economy tanks.

ENVIRONMENTALISM, VOLUNTARY OR OTHERWISE. This item from Alternet suggests you may start acting like one soon, like it or not.

E. COLI INDIVIDUALISM. Genes may not determine everything, even for bacteria.


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