C.G. Jung’s Red Book: A Critical Review

Although many Jungians interested in the publication of the Red Book have not yet had the opportunity to read it (especially due to the supply vs. demand and cost prohibitions . . . as of February 2010), a number of reviews have already appeared.  There has been something universally dissatisfying to me about these reviews.  They are not necessarily dishonest, but they strike me as inadequately far-seeing and insufficiently critical (in the analytical sense, not the oppositional sense).  Woolly thinking is not that unusual in the Jungian mindset, but some of this signature woolliness seems to be trickling out into the construction of the Red Book's publication in non-Jungian media, as well.  Of course, it makes for more interesting press if the publication of the Red Book is constructed as a "happening".

Although sobriety and restraint do not usually color my calling card, compensation certainly does . . . and I feel that there is some need for a compensatory review of the Red Book.  My previous reflections on the Red Book dealt with its psychology (and therefore Jung's psychology), but here I would like to provide a slightly more literary review of the text.  I will forgo the standard descriptions of what the Red Book is and how it came about (both the original and the newly published facsimile).  In other words, this is not a newbie's review of the Red Book.

One of the reasons I did not initially jump on the bandwagon of Red Book reviewing is that I find the Red Book nearly un-reviewable.  There is no such thing as valid universal criticism of texts.  Texts have to be placed into a context of purpose and the specific construction of their audience.  These don't have to be the ones the author assigns to the text, necessarily . . . but when talking critically about a text, it must be fixed and contextualized in some way.  One of the major problems with reviewing the Red Book is that it is ultimately impossible to say what this context should be.  Jung's own contextualization is complicated and rather vague.  Editor Sonu Shamdasani believes (and make a valid case in his introduction) that Jung intended the Red Book to be published . . . which would lead us to assume that the audience for the Red Book would consist of a combination of those interested in Jung's personal life and psyche (e.g., the audience for Jung's autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections) and those who practice or study Jungian analysis (who would presumably look upon the Red Book as a case study of an especially rich individuation process).  Related to and subsumed in these groups are those Jungians who are looking for a kind of paternal root and foundation to their own Jungianism, a touchstone.

It is this latter subgroup that pumps up the excitement of the "happening" and generates the tribal numinosity around the unveiling of the Red Book, although in my personal experience, relatively few Jungians are willing to admit how significant this factor is to them while also looking upon it psychologically and with an analyst's investigative fascination.  I noted this because I would describe this analytical fascination with the relationship between the Red Book and my own "Jungianized" psyche as my primary orientation (as previous posts in the Red Book Diary make clear).  At this point, I have been a bit surprised to see how many Jungians who obviously feel a numinous participation with the Red Book (and with Jung himself) seem compelled not to accept the shadow inheritance evident in the Red Book.  That is, arguably, the Red Book offers insight into the individuation process and into the "way of Jungian individuation", a kind of Jungian identity mysticism.  To the degree that such an identity mysticism is participated in through the Red Book, the shadow of this identity is also participated in (although perhaps unconsciously).  As Jung himself pointed out, every ego position casts a shadow, for to take any position is to engender its opposite or that which the chosen position neglects or opposes.

Therefore, to deny that there is a shadow inheritance for Jungians in the Red Book is to deny that the Red Book has anything to do with Jungian identity . . . which would be absurd.  The publication of this book would not be a "happening" if it had nothing to do with identity.  The book's numinosity for Jungians is essentially a factor of participation.  If the book proves to be numinous to non-Jungians, that too would be due to a willingness to participate in the book's identity mysticism.  Mysticism relates to Mystery (as in the Mystery religions), which is etymologically rooted in "initiation" . . . and an initiation is an identity transformation or reorientation based in participation with a group, tribe, god, or ideology.  Individuation itself can be seen as a generic mysticism . . . while Jungian individuation is a construction of that mysticism through "Jungian-approved" terms, ideas, symbols, and dogmas.

With that in mind, I would like to embark on a journey of contextualizations (and scrutinies of those contextualizations) for the Red Book.  We must first contend with the discrepancy between the way Jung contextualized the Red Book (as far as we can discern) and the way Sonu Shamdasani, the Philemon Foundation, and W. W. Norton & Company have contextualized its publication.  There has been much grumbling and some debate about whether the Red Book should have been published.  Aligned against Shamdasani are various Jungians who feel that the Red Book was too personal to have been published or that it was not really intended to be published, and Shamdasani's efforts to do so were violating on some level.

My position on this is fairly partisan: I definitely feel that the publication of the Red Book was legitimate and necessary (for Jungian psychology to have any chance at evolving).  The fear that the book will verify to the public that Jung was mad (or a Nazi or a this or a that) is if not absolutely irrational, entirely unimportant.  That is, anyone who feels the Red Book proves that Jung was insane already thought Jung was insane.  To the more balanced perspective, there ends up being no fodder whatsoever in the Red Book to corroborate a diagnosis of psychosis in Jung.  If anything, Jung's attitude (as narrator-persona of the Red Book) is extremely sober, Swiss, Christian, upright, and skeptical of/resistant to the fantasies his imagination regurgitates.  This is not to say that he remains unaffected during his psychic journey.  His reactions are very emotive and dramatic (melodramatic at times).  But they are largely the emotions of (to put it a bit too plainly, perhaps) a prude . . . and not a decadent of any sort.  Anyone who has been through an individuation event similar to Jung's (psychotic or otherwise) should be constantly struck while reading the Red Book with how defiant and resistant Jung's narrator persona is to the whole endeavor.  It is not unfair to say that Jung's narrator spends the majority of his attention and effort refusing, denying, resisting, and being disgusted by much of what has fantasies ask of him.  He is not a true supplicant, an initiatory sacrifice.   His "triumph" (and perhaps his personal goal) during the journey is in consistently maintaining some degree of detachment and non-compliance with the "unconscious".

It must be noted that this makes Jung a very odd mystic.  By the standards of mystical convention, Jung remains in some not insubstantial way unchanged as he undergoes his Mysterium, defying the archetypal "intent" of the transformative initiation process.  This is not to say that he is utterly unchanged, but he is definitely not utterly changed, either (as an initiate into some form of Mysteries would typically be or feel; rather Jung's transformation is more characterized by an increase in confidence and sophistication that comes from succeeding willfully at a task he had set out to accomplish . . . Jung is concerned primarily with reaching his own standard of achievement or attainment and does not allow the achievement to be define for him by the psychic forces he engages with).  Of course, there is a historical precedent in initiate figures like Christ, Buddha, and many others of temptation by some form of evil during the initiation or identity transformation.  And this temptation is (archetypally) to be resisted.  But Jung seems to treat the entire phantasmagoria of his process as a temptation.  He is immensely skeptical of the whole affair.  It is odd, as Jung was critical of what he saw as a Christianization of mythical pagan personages that lumped and reduced them all into the Christian devil.  And yet, in the Red Book, Jung's narrator is overtly concerned that most of the personages of his imagination are "of the devil".  Jung's stance is that of somewhat less "heroic" St. Anthony.

This attitude (one might even call it anti-Jungian) compliments the significantly Christian orientation of the Red Book's narrative.  Much of this narrative and the process it describes depicts Jung as a Christian trying to come to terms with a psyche that is either non-Christian or only perversely Christian.  The Jung of most of the published Collected Works (the Jung we are more familiar with) was less prudishly Christian where matters of the unconscious were concerned.  Yet, at the same time, some aspect of his Christian prudishness stuck with him.  He maintained throughout his life that some degree of egoic resistance to the power of the unconscious had to be maintained in a psychically healthy individual.  Jung may have outgrown the state of mind that carried him through the creation of the Red Book in various ways later in his life, but the Red Book very neatly depicts his own prescribed methodology for dealing with the "irrational" and numinous unconscious.  Jung demonstrates his method of what could be called the maintenance of a "strong or resilient ego" during periods of psychic transformation.

I found this demonstration fascinating (and troubling).  On one hand, Jung proves that this kind of ego-resilience can be achieved . . . and I would have thought it utterly impossible.  Now I (and every other Jungian) can finally see what he meant by this ego-preservation and strengthening.  On the other hand, there are two significant problems with this prescription.  First, it is still entirely impossible for the many millions of people who aren't Carl Jung or aren't equipped with the same degree and kind of temperament, will, intelligence, and perseverance he was (and so the method is still unprescribable, at least in a psychotherapeutic context).  Second, this fortification against and detachment from the psychic process of radical identity transformation does not come without repercussions and externalities.

As I wrote previously in the Red Book Diary, I am not satisfied with Jung's treatment of the soul and anima figures in the Red Book.  He never values them to the degree I feel is warranted.  The other side of this coin is that he overvalues the wise old man/patriarch figures of his fantasies, especially Philemon (he seems to eventually see through the previous ones after flirting with them . . . flirting being the most accurate term for his relationships with them).  One can speculate from this that Jung might have had either a father fixation or some significant homosexual tendency (or both).  We know he had such feelings for Freud at one point (as he himself admitted in a letter to Freud).  I'm not inclined to make too much of this or sensationalize it or displace it into our more homosexuality-perceptive postmodern cultural context.  It doesn't matter to me if Jung had a more or less latent homosexual tendency.  I don't think that is any kind of secret passageway into the true workings of Jung's personality.

But I do feel that his intellectual and quasi-erotic attraction to these powerful patriarch figures coupled with his seeming distaste for more emotive and "irrational" female figures says a great deal about Jung's psychic constitution.  It is the kind of thing that would stand out to an analyst who observed Jung as a patient.  What it "means" is hard to determine (perhaps impossible) . . . but it is definitely significant.  We note, as we don this lens, that although Jung remains thoroughly un-seduced by the anima figures in the Red Book (even as he had always characterized the anima as a seductress), he is repeatedly seduced by the patriarch figures.  With a number of these patriarch figures, he has a "morning after" epiphany and then provides a corrective to the previous episode.  But the female figures never penetrate Jung or get him to comply with most of their requests.  More importantly, perhaps, what they have to say and represent is generally not well understood by Jung.  Even when he dismisses them, he fails to see all of them or see through them . . . and they seem to be more genuinely Other to Jung's ego position.

Observing this, we are forced to ask why it is that Jung characterized the anima as so seductive when in fact he himself was substantially more susceptible to patriarch figures and their magical "Logos".  There is in this an easily detectable worm in the apple of Jung's anima theory.  It is even fair to say that Jung seems to have projected his seducibility onto the anima, when in fact it was the Logos-bearing masculine that muddled his mind and attracted his "irrational" heart.  As obvious as I find this conclusion to be in both the Red Book and (along side the Red Book) in Jung's Collected Works, I feel doubtful that many Jungians will leap to the same conclusion.  There are many Jungian tribal affiliations and identity constructs that would have to be seen through and deconstructed before this "obvious" conclusion can be made.  But I feel it is obvious to anyone who is not caught up in those Jungian identity constructs unconsciously.  When Jungians will be able to intelligently and constructively discuss this topic I don't know.

This latent "complex" in Jung's psychology and in his individuation model ultimately raises the question of whether this model (as portrayed in the Red Book) is the only valid one to pursue.  That is, is "Jungian individuation" really an adequate representation of archetypal individuation?  To say the least, I feel Jung's model deserves substantial scrutiny and is probably in need of revision.  I have addressed that somewhat in other installments of the Red Book Diary, and it is only tangentially important to this review, so I will leave it at this for now.

To return to the issues of contextualization, we know that Jung primarily created the Red Book to help signify and study his own individuation experience and engagement with the unconscious.  But he seems to have frequently used it as a touchstone in conducting some of his analyses with patients and more personal interactions with colleagues.  He relied on the Red Book for help in orienting some patients (and himself) to their own irrational and numinous psychic experiences.  He did not necessarily say: "See how I did this?  Do it like that."  But he did treat the contents of the Red Book like pure archetypal manifestations of psychic complexes and scenarios.  In some sense, then, he conducted his analyses (and his mentoring of other analysts) out of the Red Book (not just as a physical text but as an experience of "THE Psyche").  He therefore obviously felt the book had some value in this regard.

In my opinion, valuing the Red Book in this way is very much akin to valuing it as a relevant case study (of individuation).  That is, he does not seem to have directly prescribed visionary experiences out of the Red Book to his patients and colleagues.  Rather, Jung saw the Red Book as a modeling text not unlike, say, Faust.  It did not necessarily represent capital-T Truth, but it portrayed something with universal or archetypal elements that could readily be related to other people's experiences of certain psychic phenomena.  It is my opinion, therefore, that Jung (at least in part) contextualized the Red Book as a case study relevant to the study of the individuation process and the treatment of analysands.  If he also felt the Red Book was a mystical indoctrination text, this does not show as obviously in Shamdasani's reconstruction of the Red Book's history of usage.

And yet, Shamdasani and the publishers have not really positioned the Red Book as a more or less "scientific" case study.  They have promoted it as a numinous text that will revolutionize Jungian scholarship and perhaps mysticism itself.  The book is designed by the publisher and editor to function as a totem, a religious object with some kind of mystery embedded within that possesses transformative powers.  The totemization of the Red Book is quite evident also in the sheer size and cost of the book, in its devotee-perfect facsimile-plus-translation construction, and especially in the (to my mind) odd and excessive promotion of the book's publication with "viewing" and lecture events structured as if some mystical convergence of the universe had occurred . . . and everyone should be excited.  The dawning of the Age of Aquarius, perhaps.  Thus my calling the events of and surrounding the publication of the Red Book a "happening".

But these things encourage us to ask if the specific construction and presentation of the published Red Book is not a displacement (and perhaps even a misappropriation) of Jung's initial contextualization.  I don't mean to proffer a fundamentalist gripe regarding the "amorality" of misappropriating a text.  It is not at all uncommon for objects of art to be appropriated by various ideologies.  An artist even expects this (or should) to some degree.  To create art is to give birth to something the artist no longer fully controls (and perhaps exercises no control over whatsoever).  Although such appropriation can also occur with more academic and philosophical texts, the blatant acquiescence to appropriations evident in the Red Book's publication and promotion seem to make a definitive statement: this is an object of art more so than an academic text.

And this is the arena of conflict with Jung's original contextualization that we as both audience members and potential critics should be most concerned with.  What is it, really, that this object of art called the Liber Novus is representing, and what is this representation saying?  What is being represented is not as much a text created by C.G. Jung as it is an art object (and aesthetic/philosophical statement) coined from the psyches of Sonu Shamdasani, the board of the Philemon Foundation, Norton, and not insubstantially, the collective Jungian and quasi-Jungian imagination.  That is, to some degree (and sometimes very directly and materially in the case of donations to the Philemon Foundation or contributions of effort to its projects and organization) Jungians as a collective have licensed Shamdasani to melt down and reconstruct a Golden Calf, a "craven image", a totem from the numinous stuff of Jungian fantasy and longing.  We should not be deceived by the fact that the Red Book is a dedicated facsimile of the original or that Shamdasani's scholarship bolstering and cradling it is profoundly thorough and excellent.  The Red Book is still a Golden Calf, a totem . . . because that is how it has been position and conceived, and that is how it has been received and how it was intended to be received.

Golden Calf analogy not withstanding, I don't have any intention of playing Moses and chastising all the Jungian idolaters.  What was done, despite having some potential offensiveness to Jung's memory and some of the feelings of the Jung family members, was not a sin.  It is, though, a fascinating psychic phenomena well worth the careful investigation and analysis of Jungians all over the world.  Such analysis, at least publicly published, is it seems, still forthcoming.  It doesn't bother me that the publication of the Red Book has been a totemization.  On some level, I am actually happy to see this, because it provides Jungians a rather transparent psychic artifact, holds up a mirror to our tribal identity, tells us what we want, what we need, where our dreams and fantasies reside.  But my perspective is probably far more analytical than that of most Jungians (curiously so, since I am not an analyst . . . but not being an analyst helps enable me to maintain a slightly more distanced/less participative perspective on the Red Book publication as phenomenon).

But the choice to promote the Red Book as an art object inadvertently (I think) enters it into the realm of aesthetic critique.  Although many Jungians have pranced and brayed about Jung-the-artist, those who are more artist (or art critic) than Jungian remain nonplussed by this new "art discovery".  As well, they should be (says my own inner art critic).  No doubt Jung was a surprisingly talented artist (and a pretty good fiction writer) for also being a world-renowned psychologist and theorist.  But he was not and is not a true contributor to the history of modern art.  Which is absolutely fine, because he had no interest in being any such thing.  This isn't to say that some latent talent for art couldn't have been developed by Jung . . . if he had had a different personality.

In this artistic contextualization of Jung and his Red Book, we need not be concerned that Jung's inner visions will be interpreted by the ignorant and the non-believers (the "uninitiated") as evidence of his madness.  But there is certainly cause for concern that Jungians will foppishly parade themselves out into the modern world with their flies down.  The embrace of the Red Book's artistic contextualization merely demonstrates how profoundly naive and out of touch Jungians typically are where the modern is concerned.  Personally, I only feel a small twinge of shame about this.  Mostly, I find Jungian daftness endearing in the way an absent-minded professor might be endearing.  Like this fictional professor, Jungian naivete regarding the "real world" does not mean that Jungians are fools.  The "real world" is not so hot . . . and "perfect" adaptation to its conventions is by no means something Jungians have coveted or should begin coveting.  But there is still some degree of the Emperor's New Clothes phenomenon afoot here.

And I also wish that Jungians wouldn't have tried to reintroduce themselves (and their mystical founder) to the world in so naive a fashion.  Because I feel that Jungianism really does have something to offer the "rest of the world" (even the modern world) . . . and that it is more an issue of our habits, complexes, and blindnesses that prohibit this offering than it is the narrowminded stupidity of everyone else (who do not recognize the"true Christ" in their presence).  Jungians (who advocate such an opinion) are correct, I think, to place much importance on the publication of the Red Book.  The Red Book's publication can help revitalize Jungianism.  But the elixir belongs to and must be drunk by Jungians themselves, not the rest of the world.  The Red Book is not the Gospel . . . it is a potential wake-up call to Jungians alerting them to the fact that they have next to no grasp of their own psychic foundation and no conscious or constructive influence over the way they build on that foundation.

By making this event into a Golden Calf, Jungians tempt their own internalized shadow-Moses to stumble down from the real ecstasy on the mountain and be horrified with the abuses of "salvation".  But no one is that Moses in the flesh.  It is only a personage within all Jungians that roars out from depths within to say that we are on the wrong path, that we have lost the eternal flame, that we do not understand.  Like Prufrock's women who come and go talking of Michelangelo who tell him, "That is not it at all.  That is not what I meant at all."  It's an affective, perhaps even non-verbal voice from the Self that reacts to the ego position and indicates that we have "fallen from grace" and would do well to "get right".

But the publication of the Red Book beyond the Jungian tribe is not that important.  It does not "dare to disturb the universe".  It is not "Lazarus, come from the dead, come back to tell you all.”  And we Jungians are not Prince Hamlet.  We are merely an "attendant lord" in this whole unfurling Passion play . . .

one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

T.S. Eliot gives us a wonderful image when he compares the woman who tells Prufrock: "That is not it at all.  That is not what I meant at all."  He tells us that this revelation affects us "as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen".  That is, it projects and illuminates our complex (and our stuckness in it) outward into the publicly visible realm.  Outside of our own grandiose and Lazarus-like conceptions of ourselves, we are observing "the eternal Footman hold our coats and snicker".  We are revealing far more than we think we are.  And the objective, then, is not to become more expertly guarded, but to actually pay careful attention to what exactly it is we are revealing.  What may prove mildly embarrassing "publicly" is a vehicle for our own deeper reflections and possibly, our transformations.

But we have to be ready to look at ourselves, at our Jungianness and realize that although we may very well "have heard the mermaids singing each to each" . . . they do not sing to us (and did not keep singing to Jung, as the Red Book demonstrates).

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown.
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

I don't necessarily think Jungians are collectively ready to embrace their alchemical dissolution.  But the publication of the Red Book affords us a unique opportunity to become reacquainted both with ourselves as Jungians and with a more human version of our tribal founder.  In other words, the Jung we stand to discover (if we are lucky and willing to see) is not the Jung-as-Christ from his Salome and serpent vision.  Yet it is the Jung as true spiritual and psychological founder of our tribe and its identity totems.  We now have deep access to Jung's psyche, his complexes, his obsessions and egoic attitudes.  This Jung is a veritable Pluto of psychic wealth willing to pass on his inheritance to us . . . so long as we are not kneeling in a line with open mouths or upturned hands or ready to cross ourselves or shout hallelujah.

I do not mean to advocate disrespect, but the secret to creating the Philosopher's Stone is to learn to recognize the Philosopher's Stone on your own psychic dung heap.

The Red Book that C.G. Jung created was not an object of art (where art is a public consumable).  But the Red Book that Shamdasani and Co. have given us is.  Or rather, the phenomenon of the Red Book's publication they have given us is.  It's a kind of performance art . . . and it will not glorify Jung or Jungians.  But it is exquisite in the way it "throws the nerves in patterns on a screen" like some magic lantern.  And those illuminated and projected nerves are the nervous system of our Jungian tribe . . . which we have either forgotten about or never known.  These patterns await our investigation and communion like ancient hieroglyphs.  We will have to learn how to read a new language.  And the rest of the world will be as befuddled or misunderstandingly mesmerized by Jung as they have always been.

I think we are standing at the cusp of something new.  It may not be the Age of Aquarius.  In fact, it could very well be the beginning of the Jungian Ice Age and great extinction.  I only know, or feel, that it is an opportunity.  Nothing will be delivered.  Resigned to this inevitability, we have nothing left to us but to create.