Red Book Diary – A Failed Individuation Journey?

I finished reading the Red Book this weekend (10/24/09).  There are many things I wanted to reflect on along the way, episodes for this diary.  I still hope to get to at least some of these.  By the conclusion of the book, there were so many thoughts stirring in me.  I found myself slightly cranky.  Not really disappointed . . . the feeling was deeper and more complex, something very difficult to process.  The crankiness or moodiness comes from the anxiety of being unable to build a bridge from affect to language.

I would like to use this unnumbered installment of the diary to reflect on these feelings (it is being written after the 3rd installment).  Many of my reactions in this post will be personal.  I don't want to do much (and ideally no) textual criticism here.  I want to try to suss out what the Red Book meant to me both before I read it and after, how I positioned myself in respect to it and how it has changed me.

As the perhaps provocative title of this post intimates, one of the key questions for me at the end of the book was: does this elaborate mystical fantasy of transformation that Jung indulges in and soldiers through amount only to a failed individuation?  I don't mean that it was "just an illusion" or that it was delusional, psychotic, or meaningless.  I mean that it depicts a genuine individuation event, but that event does not bear fruit or even achieve what it set out to.

To compare the process and goal of the individuation event recorded in the Red Book with my own theory of the individuation (or simply the anima work) process, the conclusion would have to be that, indeed, the Red book ultimately depicts a failed individuation.  It bothers me, though, to be inclined toward this conclusion.

It disturbs me in some way, and yet everything I've been writing over the past couple years or so predicted this.  All the criticism I've written of Jung's theories and of Jungian theories has suggested that Jung and Jungians do not understand the animi work, have not developed a theory that describes it to its completion or that makes sense of it as a whole, and have bungled or at least left dangerously unfinished a viable theory of individuation.  The precedent for these failures is evidenced in the Red Book . . . and that also (if it is possible to establish logically, and it may not be) suggests that my hammering on about the complexes of Jungianism (the Jungian tribe) being firmly rooted in Jung's own complexes is a more viable argument than I even assumed it was.  After all, those failures that are described or implied in the Red Book remain major dark spots in Jungian thinking: the anima, individuation, Christianity, dualism, spiritualism, the hero, the somewhat unseaworthy attitude toward science, patriarchal egoism, lack of adequate differentiation in the shadow, a narrowminded and prudish attitude toward inflation.  These are all elements of what I have been calling the Jungian Disease.  In the Red Book, Jung deals extensively with all of these things . . . and in my opinion, he fails to find a functional paradigm with which to understand them and grasp their interrelationship.

One of the reasons the outcome of the Red Book should not really be too surprising to me is that I have essentially developed my revisionary theories as a treatment of this very disease.  The larger struggle that remains where these theories are concerned is a matter of convincing Jungians to take seriously that they actually have a disease or complex like the one I have described.  It is no doubt much harder for certified Jungian analysts to pathologize themselves and their tribal affiliations than it was for me to pathologize myself as I struggled with the accompanying fevers and delusions of the Jungian indoctrination I fed myself on.  I have always been my own primary guinea pig in the numerous attempts at treatment I've experimented with.  Although I think I applied the Jungian treatment successfully and to significant effect, having to devise ways to treat my own residual Jungianness has been more of a creative and often divisive process.

I think I am over the hump on this leg of the treatment, but the real trick is to treat the specific "poisonousness" of my Jungianism without amputating that Jungianism.  Amputation of any poisoned organ of tribal affiliation does not generally work.  We merely take our disease to a new tribal affiliation until its poisoning manifests.  Then we blame that new tribal affiliation or ideology or religion and fly off to find something we haven't polluted yet.  But even in a cultural or tribal complex there is a fusion between personal and tribal complexes that is inextricable.  I don't mean to prescribe a kind of Jungian treatment by returning to one's original religion, necessarily.  After all, it is unlikely that any tribe or institution has the answers readily available to the problems of its own complexes.

If one, say, has some kind of "Christian complex", going back to the Church or seeking any kind of return to faith is not likely to resolve it, because the Church has no solutions for its real devils.  But the symbols of the tribe or institution can be revised, reworked, pushed to evolve.  It takes a dangerous and potent imagination and an ability to "live in sin" or violate tribal taboos, but it is possible.  The alchemists are a case in point.  They tried to treat the Christian complex they were born into (which was generally a devaluation of matter, instinct, soul, the body, and the feminine).  There is no evidence that alchemists wanted to refute their Christianity or even saw their Work as in opposition to the Christian tribe.

To the extent that the alchemists succeeded in their experiment, a treatment of the Christian disease was devised . . . but its application or regimen was so convoluted and strange that it could not be distributed like some kind of Communion wafer at mass.  In order for alchemy as treatment of Christianity to be affective, one had to become an alchemist and devise elaborate, mystical variations on the general understanding of the alchemical opus.  Each had to, in essence, write his (or her?) own Red Book in which a personal Logos was developed.  I.e., alchemy was a mysticism.  The result, though, was esoteric writing that did not make adequate sense to most others.  Those to whom it did have some resonance still had to recreate the alchemical experiment in their own ways.  It wasn't self-help.

In treating the Jungian Disease, one likewise must find some way, despite what may overtly appear to be heresy, to feel and perhaps still be Jungian.  I'm not sure if other Jungians must be convinced of this.  But it is a necessity of the participation mystique or transference to the totem of the Jungian tribe.  If one individuates, one must do so in association with a tribe.  The tribe is needed in order for there to possibly be an individuated relationship to it.  We cannot individuate in a vacuum.  Even individuation is ultimately all about Eros, about how the individual relates to others and to the tribe with which she or he is most deeply affiliated.  And the validation of that individuation is still determined by the tribe, not by the individual.  The tribe validates the individuant by making use of the individuant's individuatedness, innovation, or revision in some (conscious or unconscious) way.  That is, the tribe must itself form a relationship to the individuant in order for that individuation to be entirely valid.  And if a tribe has an excessively difficult time forming relationships to its individuants, the tribe will gradually begin to ossify and crumble.  That relationship is what allows tribes to be adaptive and survivable in times of environmental crisis.

As for Jung, although there may be many others of note, two tribal affiliations stand out to me.   The first is to a kind of 19th century, rationalistic medical science that believes in rigorous, detached thinking as a kind of patriarchal virtue.  The second is to German romanticism with all of its occult fascinations, its Christian and pagan mysticisms, its arcane metaphysics and spiritualisms.  Jung was no doubt an individuant from both of these tribes.  That is, he stood in relationship to them by also distinctly apart from them.  But he did not, I think, manage to find a way to stand equidistantly between them.  He stayed a bit too much within the opposing tribes participation mystique when he criticized the other.  As a modern, one who stands among but not truly within the innumerable tribes of modern society, Jung's individuation was not completed.  That is, he did not succeed at understanding all of his tribal affiliations to the modern and differentiating them in himself.  He accepted some of his cultural constructions as granted and true.  Perhaps greatest among these accepted constructions was the patriarchal myth of the great man who with individual power subdues chaotic nature and renders it usable to human hands, anthropomorphizes it, perhaps even commodifies it.

In the Red Book, episode after episode of visions pit Jung against the implications and seductions of this tribal affiliation of which he is significantly blind.  And episode after episode, he fails to grasp its impermanence, arbitrariness, and constructedness.  Sometimes he ends these encounters feeling he has failed to understand something, and sometimes he leaves them feeling he has conquered and forced a transformation.  But the inflation of those achievements soon fades, and Jung is back to an abject state of frustration and despair again.

With each failure to comprehend the apparition of the Grail that passes before him, he does generally learn something, sees through some subtle illusion, lifts some veil.  And in this process, he develops (at least the foundations of) many brilliant insights about the modern and about the ways humans deceive themselves.  Yet he prides himself too much on his differentiating cleverness and seems to think he can solve every puzzle, slice through every Gordian knot with the fast blade of his intellect (a Jungian might say, "thinking function").  Sometimes this causes him to leave an encounter or conversation feeling like he has comprehended something of the "Mysteries" only to recognize in the next episode that this comprehension was inadequate or even totally incorrect.

Jung, the narrator of the Red Book, is a devout and very extreme "thinking type" at the beginning of the book.  He has numerous encounters with characters that make him feel complex emotions and affects and beg him to feel his way through various hells and puzzles rather than think his way through.  He understands that he must, in order to follow the hunger of his Self and his instinctual process of individuation, somehow integrate or form a more developed relationship to his "inferior feeling".  He concocts many mystical rituals and anointing conversations with gods, souls, and wise men that are at least in part meant to lead him toward his inferior function.  But he never really gets there.  He is (in my opinion) continually distracted by patriarchal godhead and gods, great men, prophetic attitudes.  He wants so passionately to work on the masculine god image that he seems to completely misunderstand that the relationship with the soul/anima is the true vehicle for this "knowing of God".  The message of the anima work is that one must feel and love God or the Self before any gnosis can occur.  The union of ego and Self does not come in the arena of mind, and although Jung's soul figure does try to convince him that this work is about love (not knowledge or enlightenment or transcendence), Jung can accept this only abstractly and intellectually.  He cannot erotically and Erotically unite with the Self-as-anima because he keeps looking for a patriarchal god figure, something more egoic, more like him and not so Other.

The Jung at the end of the Red Book is no more in touch with his feeling than he was at the beginning.  In fact, he seems significantly less so, because not only do his soul figures become demonized and perverted by the end, he actually finishes the Red Book (as if this could somehow make sense or be the fruit born from all that went before!) with the Seven Sermons to the Dead.  The Sermons are pure metaphysics, Gnostic theology, hierarchies of form in the Godhead.  There is nothing feeling-oriented about them at all.  They are pure "thinking type" texts, the thinking function at its most transcendentally inflated and detached from the earth of its feeling.

To the degree that Jung conceived individuation as some kind of integration of the inferior function or the formation of a more valuating relationship to that function, the process recorded in the Red Book is an abortion.  Without doubt, the thrust of the book's mysticism is all about such an integration/valuation . . . but Jung never accomplishes this in a tangible way.  We cannot say that he has become either more feeling or more conscious of his feeling intelligence as complex and valuable by the end of the book.  He does peak somewhere along the way.  It seems like he is making slow progress and may eventually "get it".  But the last chapter (Scrutinies) marks a distinct retreat into thinking type inflation and devaluation of its other.

This seems to bring to mockery Jung's notion of the transcendent function.  I've always felt that this concept was, although not really incorrect, at least overly mystified and woolly.  Jung's Red Book fantasies portray much of the transformative mysticism, dance out the usual symbols of transformation, but for me the whole process of this mystical transformation stayed almost entirely within the realm (and the grip) of the thinking function.  As he was contaminated with the numinousness of these images he may have felt like he was transforming, but I could detect no real evidence that any transformation of perspective had occurred.

Of course, this is not to say that Jung's individuation process stopped with the journeys recorded in the Red Book.  He lived (I believe) more than 30 years after he stopped working on the Red Book.  Also, it has been my experience that individuation events (like the mystical hazings of the Red Book) become more meaningful as time passes and one is able to language and process the experience better and in more practical ways.  These transformations feel immense when they occur, but then we go back to our everyday lives and find that we have not become gods nor devised any significantly better living strategies.  The real grunt work is done after we detach from the breast of the numinous . . . even as it feels much more mundane and terribly slow and small.

But, despite the inevitability that Jung continued to individuate in ways after his Red Book experience, those flaws that mark his failure to individuate or adequately valuate his inferior function (and soul) depicted in the Red Book always in some way remained a part of his theories.  Even his late works like Aion and Mysterium Coniunctionis bear the indications that those wounds that remained exposed at the end of the Red Book were still bleeding and unhealed.

Jung notes in his unfinished epilogue to the Red Book that he turned away from the project when he discovered alchemy, whose symbol system better allowed him to make sense of his inner world.  And yet, I detect in Jung's alchemical writing the same kinds of mistakes and failures of valuation he made in the Red Book.  Actually, the Red Book is extremely alchemical even preceding Jung's alchemical studies.  It gets at least one of Jung's mistakes with alchemy correct.  Namely, it shows that the Nigredo comes after the Coniunctio . . . or that the Coniunctio leads directly to the Nigredo.  In most of Jung's alchemical writings, the Nigredo is made to seem like a primary state of loss of soul or depression from which individuation then can begin.  This is sometimes more implied than directly expressed by Jung, but as I have written numerous times previously, this is a grievous and unforgivable error . . . even if it is only implied.  It has enabled Jungians to see every depressive introduction to the archetypal or instinctual unconscious as a "Nigredo experience".  But the true alchemical Nigredo is in fact a rather advanced mystical achievement dependent upon enormous sacrifices and painful differentiations and revaluations and enantiodromias.  The Blackening stage of the Nigredo is actually the first forged state of the Philosopher's Stone.  It is not merely the initial dissolution or dissent into the Mercurial bath.

Jungians (who have continued to misuse this symbol in their psychology and metaphor making) have introduced and perverted a mysticism in service of an indoctrinating process.  It is, to me, not only an intellectual and scholarly mistake, but an ethical failure.

Of course, no true Nigredo is depicted in Jung's Red Book (or it wouldn't be a failed individuation process).  There are plenty of deaths and rebirths, descents and ascents, treks through desert and hell.  And aspects of the Nigredo are intimated in the symbols flashing over the pages.  But it never completely feels right to me.  Jung fails to valuate the Other (as anima) and join with it . . . so he cannot find the Coniunctio or truly understand that its sacrifice means both the sacrifice of his newly valued anima (which is to be valued above all other things if the Coniunctio is to ever have the teeth it needs to be a valid threshold experience) and of his newly emergent heroism.  And if there is no true Coniunctio, there can be no Nigredo . . . which is the product of the Coniunctio.

These failings that come under the captivity of the thinking function may also be directly related to one particular fact.  Namely, that the Red Book (though it mentions dreams occasionally) is entirely an active imagination exercise.  Its fantasies develop out of a fully conscious Jung.  And even if that consciousness is relaxed somewhat in order to allow fantasies to well up, the power of consciousness to translate and direct images is still significant.  I have always felt skeptical about active imagination as a provider of genuine individuation material.  And I say that even as a poet and artist myself.  So I know that the instinctual Self can find its way into art . . . as can our autonomous obsessions and complexes.  In my experience, the Self enters conscious creation only in unexpected ways.  We might devise an active imagination fantasy in which we make a token sacrifice in the hope of conjuring a god, and then the god shows up where we can capture or converse with it.

But in art, we cannot call the gods to action with our will or even our need.  We can only make significant openings in ourselves, set out the right kinds of feasts, show the right kind of hospitality.  And this is done through various convolutions and accidents and slips of control . . . abaissment du niveau mental.  The gods only appear in ways we do not dictate.  And it is quite likely that we will not recognize them at first, even that we will despise and reject them in the form they appear.  Jung makes use of the story of Philemon and Baucis, who invited the disguised gods into their humble home and cooked their only goose for these strangers.  He (or maybe something below the surface in him) is on the right track with this symbol, but what is not adequately expressed by Jung is that, in the city of our psyche, there is only one small voice of hesitant valuation, one little impoverished couple, one Philemon and Baucis.  The rest of us rejects the gods, cannot ever see the gods, and even probably hates the gods.

We cannot become the great valuators of the gods (the Self), knowing them, anticipating them, conjuring them with magic (Jung makes Philemon a magician with such powers!).  We have to settle for very subtle, very occasional signs that must practically be divined.  Even to grant bodies, voices, and personages to affective dynamics of the Self system can be to force captivity and therefore devaluation upon the gods.  Perhaps some relative innocent could get away with asking a god to take human form and join a conversation, but Jung was a genius, a man of extremely powerful intellect.  That brilliance leaves substantially less room for the gods to slip into the manikins Jung molds.

It seems to me that conducting a mystical transformation through active imagination is simply too precarious, involves too much control, too much ego.  This sort of thing must be done through dream work or through ritual.  I can see a creative ritual in which some monument or offering is erected ceremonially to a mystical encounter of the past.  And the Red Book claims to be that.  But it is just so difficult to give these dialogs and fantasies utterly over to the unconscious, especially for a modern, very brilliant, very knowledgeable, but very lopsidedly "thinking type" man like Jung.  He just exerts too much egoic power over the theater to allow it to put on the divine play.

And yet, he does surprisingly well, considering.  It does seem to me that the gods and the Self process slip onto and off the stage.  They can occasionally be glimpsed behind the figures in the fantasies they have been impressed into playing.  At least until "Scrutinies", in which the presence of an Otherness seems to finally disappear altogether.  Still, even before that, it seemed to me that Jung's narrator was able to assert too much control over the dynamics of the encounters, and his projected others only got to say what it was he was willing to allow them to say most of the time.

I am also speaking from a personal prejudice here, because I have had a very (strikingly) similar experience to that recorded in the Red Book, but mine was done through dream work.  I never trusted my own conscious imagination and intellect to lead me or conjure true encounters with my soul (even as I hungered to be able to have such sorcery at the time).  What I call my anima work experience took place in a dream cycle, and the anima figures had total autonomy . . . while even my dream ego belongs to the construction of the dream and not my conscious will.  In the inevitable comparison between this dream cycle and the Red Book, I can't help but see that the dream sequence depicted a much more elegant and less muddled construction of the anima work.  It took me many years to even begin to be able to language that experience functionally, but even from the middle of the dream sequence, I had learned to valuate my anima.  And I never experienced any sort of deception or dangerous seduction from these anima figures.  There was never anything I had to resist, to fight off from the anima in a "manly fashion".  (I did have one dream in which an impostor-anima tried to emasculate me, but a genuine anima figure arrived before this happened and told me I shouldn't submit to it.  Anima Work Dream #4, Coniunctio and Sacrifice).

It makes me think that the complexity and complication (and length) of the Red Book is largely a product of Jung's resistance to and lack of valuation for his anima or soul.  By this resistance, he devised hell after hell to traverse, grand puzzle and grand temptation after grand puzzle and temptation.  But there is no puzzle to solve, no dangerous temptation to resist in the anima.  One merely commits oneself to valuing this figure and process utterly, essentially falling "madly" in love with her.  And then one refines that love and valuation, stripping away selfishness and control of the Other, demand that the Other provide, save, or complete the ego.  The anima work progresses on the quality of the heroic ego's love for the anima . . . and concludes only when the heroic ego comes to see that the ultimate state of love is one in which the desire for the Other to be connected to or even within oneself is seen through and recognized as a desire for that Other to provide for the ego.  To love is to ask (or demand) no providence.  It is to facilitate the Other in its specific uniqueness and drive . . . and not blindly or out of unquestioning belief, but out of a deep knowing of the Other's needs and potentials.

At that point, the initial model of romantic love can segue into the facilitating, valuating love of the Self.  Therefore, the animi-as-romantic-partner and twin or soul mate is relinquished and depotentiated, as is the heroic sense of self that woos that kind of partner.  What seemed at first like it would be a glorious Coniunctio, a hieros gamos, becomes instead an acceptance that ego and Self are and must be in some sense divided and differentiated in order to fulfill the deepest love.  This division is not a distancing, but a sense that it is relationship (meaning a self and an other) that is the engine of the personality, not transcendence or becoming or oneness.

In the Red Book, Jung never stops crying out, "Save me, teach me, forgive me, anoint me, obey me".  But he is generally not very responsible with what he does and says to the representatives of the Self.  And he can imagine himself in the role of receiver or demander or thief or murderer (thief of another's life or soul) . . . but as giver, facilitator, intentional healer, as one who treats the other in an enabling or constructive way, Jung is significantly impotent.  This is at times pointed out to him by his soul . . . but he doesn't get it.  And eventually he becomes Demonic and powerful enough to intellectualize, pervert, and mystify the soul's voice, effectively neutering the functional and Self-driven Otherness in his psyche.

That description makes hims sound like a fiend . . . and I don't think that was the case.  In fact, what Jung devised incredible devious and sophisticated ways to achieve and rationalize, most people do without even thinking.  They don't suffer guilt for the murder of their gods.  They are so detached from ever valuating the Self or the Other.  Jung's battle with valuation of this Other was a testament to his sense of ethics.  But in the end, after winning many small but important compromises at the negotiating table, he was simply conquered by the Demon.  But at least he was conquered and did not freely give himself to the Demon with excitement and desire like most people do.  Those compromises he won allowed him to imagine and understand the processes of individuation and mystical initiation very thoroughly (although not completely) on a thinking level.  His contribution won from these compromises is extremely important, and it gives us a way into this citadel of Self.  It may only be a way paved with words and intellectualized thoughts, but it is a way.  And if one has a facility with language, an ability to not fall into transfixed fixed revery at big words and ideas but to put them to use, make them practical, survivable, adaptable, changeable, this tunnel Jung constructed is a great boon, a red carpet rolled out for us to stroll easily down, that ushers us functionally in.

It is more as a mysticism that Jung's psychology flounders.  As a psychology and an attempt at a science of soul, it offers great possibilities.  It is a wonderful foundation and first step, and as a science, it lends itself to being revised logically and as needed.  But as a dogma, as a fully elaborated way and model of individuation, what Jung left us is poisoned.  Not incurably so, at least I hope.  But it is infected.  And to the degree that we use Jungianism as a mysticism and not a science (which is considerable and, I think, even underestimated by those who claim to resist and dislike Jungianism's mysticisms), we perpetuate the Jungian Disease.

Still, I feel grateful for having some truly useful foundations and for having a diseased Jungianness to treat.  It is a great blessing to have something treatable at hand, because many indoctrinated Jungians are analysts.  They are better equipped than we tend to imagine for the treatment and even redemption of the Jungian tribal soul.  But our pride and poisoned mysticism clouds this for us.

I will leave this emotive response off here.  And although I only give the most fleeting valuation of the blessing of treatability the Red Book offers in the previous paragraph (after excoriating Jung for his devaluations of the Other in the many words preceding), I do want to reiterate that this treatability is what most stuck with me in the end.  Yes, the road ahead is intimidating . . . and I have little faith in the Jungian ability to diagnose and treat the Jungian complex effectively.  But the Red Book's depiction of disease illuminates the structure and origins of this disease.  It makes treatment possible and logical.  At this point, Jung and his personal demons no longer stand in the way of Jungian treatment of the tribe and the progressive revisioning of analytical psychology.  Now, only the Jungian demons we have inherited remain.  The battle with these demons has come down from the unreachable ethereal heavens and relcoated itself into our individual psyches.  We fight, therefore, with ourselves to effectively treat Jungianism.  And although these fights with ourselves are the easiest ones to lose . . . they also make victory a possibility.

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