Red Book Diary – 2

Partitionings and Prejudices

Two things struck me most as I began reading Jung's Red Book.  The first was that it felt very familiar.  It felt (more so than sounded) a lot like things I had written during my anima work.  My journal writings were a lot less formalized . . . there were no revisions, no sense that they would become a product intended for an audience.  But that feeling of somewhat grandiose clawing to make sense of the rush of numinous images and affects that come from the dissolution experience, that feeling of being in over your head in something both fascinating and terrifying, that feeling of being utterly ill equipped to make much sense out of what you are experiencing.

Jung's writing also felt familiarly Jung-ian to me.  All of the dualism, the dichotomization of Opposites, the idea that everything "light" must have a "dark" component.  This seems to run throughout the Red Book.  It is a core layer of Jung's mysticism.  But what is most interesting (to me) in seeing it applied in this style and topic of writing is that it seems . . . perhaps "tacked on" is not the right term, but it seems very much a kind of arbitrary interpretive paradigm held up to a spontaneous psyche that does not really divide so easily into opposites.  And that leads me to my second initial impression.

In Jung's fantasy dialogs with his soul, we see a very distinct opposition.  Jung obviously senses and means to explore this opposition with the text's experiment.  Jung's identity in the Red Book (at least thus far) is, well, not quite that of a scientific rationalist, but certainly a devoted skeptic of anything irrational, mystical, seemingly "untoward".  In the terms of his own type theory, he is an extreme thinking type.  At least this is how he portrays his egoic attitude.

The opposition to the soulful madness and irrationality of the unconscious really stood out to me, because it was not the way I have experienced the unconscious or the anima.  One gets the impression that Jung was "playing up" the degree of his thinking type orientation.  Or rather, that he sought to identify with this typology excessively as a kind of defense, yet it was not completely natural to him.  After all, he was making the decision to have dialogs with his soul and record them in this grandiose, projection-laden, mystical text.  If he had really ever been a scientific rationalist, it's doubtful any such project would have ever been embarked on.

What I think I mean to get at here is that the splintering or compartmentalizing of personality complexes that would come to define much of Jungian psychology develops here as a paradigm or mold fit over an interaction with the spontaneous unconscious.  As one not entirely satisfied with Jungian type theory and the (over-)differentiation of numerous things psychic into specific archetypes, personages, and complexes, the splintering paradigm seemed partly artificial to me.  That is, I believe it was "honest" on Jung's part, but the division and "oppositionalism" struck me as the product of an arbitrary and under-investigated attitude or prejudice in Jung's thinking.

Still, to see these divisions helps us to understand Jung's thinking and theories.  But as a person all too familiar with the abstract, philosophical muddling about in language that the "intellect" is inclined to do when trying to make sense of the "soul", I felt that there was a powerful distinction in the value of what was being written that could be made between what Jung's "thinking function" narrator expressed in the name of interpretation and what Jung's soul figure/s expressed.  And of course, Jung's thinking function narrator has significantly more to say about everything than his soul does.  When the soul speaks, it seems as though Jung's thinking function really doesn't understand at all . . . and then it must go off in spirals of contemplation, speculation, conceptualization, and interpretation.  But these spirals (though I recognize them as an essential aspect of this kind of active imagination/meditation project) felt completely empty to me.  They meant nothing.  Yes, they sound deep and philosophical . . . but they are just elaborate, intellectualized ways of backpedaling and evading the direct comments and criticism of the soul.

I don't mean to completely discredit them.  It is easy to see how a number of Jung's staple theories evolved out of these abstracting, spiraling speculations.  So, for the historian in us, these parallels may seem fascinating.  But as "Philosophy", as insight into the Self system or into the anima, they are a worthless currency.  As one who has minted a great deal of this kind of worthless currency, I recognized its stamp.  I found myself impatient with this part of the text, and I skimmed over it (as much as my guilt over skimming the "sacred Red Book" would allow me).  But during these interpretive passages I found myself hungering for the return to dialog with the soul . . . or at least the retelling of visions and archetypal fantasies.

I don't feel put out by this thinking type "filler", but I worried as I slogged through it that other Jungians would see great wisdom and truth in these passages.  I'm not sure (and will have to wait to read other Jungian takes on these writings).  But these extremely familiar writings are what I call "projection texts".  That is, the texts themselves are meaningless or at least not really important, but the author has introjected him or herself into the subtext, which is a kind of transformative vessel.  We (who write) need to make such vessels and create such projection texts, because it is how we find our soul.  It is a way to let aspects of the Other into our minds in the hope that they will somehow fertilize us.  But it is easy to get lost in the textual facade (for both authors and audiences).  Much postmodern theoretical writing is a matter of projection texts.  The result of such writing is not (for the most part) a furthering of universal knowledge or the creation of a better way of seeing a particular issue.  What happens is that those who fall into a transference with these texts tend to unconsciously move toward classical tribalist formations.  The texts are totems (things into which great tribal value is projected) . . . and they must be worshiped.  They are used for indoctrination and the regulation of tribal beliefs.

Jung was not writing for this reason . . . and it is doubtful that most such writing is made to be propaganda.  It is mostly heartfelt and deeply believed in by its author.  But the problem of the mysticism of language is that it deceives us with the ruse of seeming to hold a latent sense or to be somehow interpretable.  It isn't.  This is not what such writing "means".  This kind of writing is about getting lost in the woods in the hope of finding oneself some place magical.  For the original author, this could be a communion with the Self or soul (as in the case of the Red Book).  But for other readers who are drawn to these texts, there is less draw toward their soul than there is to a sense of tribe.  The facade of these texts becomes the dogma of the tribe.  As Jungians already struggle in this arena, I worry that the Red Book would not help them out of that rut.

But for me, one who is curious about the soul of Jung and of the Jungian tribe most of all (and who doesn't want to fall into an unconscious participation mystique with the Jungian tribe), I wanted only to hear from Jung's soul figure.  Jung the narrator only really came alive for me when he was in conversation with her.  And that is the Jung that is least known to us, the one we are looking for in this Red Book.

In addition to the extreme "thinking type" posture Jung's narration takes in the Red Book, it is also very evident that Jung (or this thinking function aspect of his personality) exhibits deep-seated misogyny.  This distaste for women and the feminine goes way beyond a culturally constructed "19th century, patriarchal prejudice".  Often, Jung puts this fear and suspicion of women into terms that well predate his era . . . and even point back to a kind of Christianized association of woman with the devil.  It isn't quite a Malleus Maleficarum level misogyny, but it is severe.

This didn't come as any surprise to me, as this attitude is evident in his Collected Works, as well.  But it is pointed enough in the Red Book that it seems completely fair to say that Jung has some kind of "complex" where women and the feminine are concerned.  To be fair to Jung, though, the inner exploration recorded in the Red Book marks an attempt to address and repair this misogyny.  But we can say with certainty, being familiar with Jung's later writing on the animi and women's psychology, that the attempt to repair this misogyny through the psychic events that inspired the Red Book did not entirely work.  It didn't entirely work, but it seems to have worked a bit.

Jung portrays himself (his thinking function) in the Red Book as ever the reluctant participant in the "debauchery" of the unconscious's irrational assault (at least until he can rationalize away its sting).  An assault led or characterized by the anima, soul, or Salome.  I remain (being about half way through the text at this writing) uncertain whether Jung has exaggerated his thinking function and its misogyny and prudishness out of a "theatrical dissociation" into roles.  An alchemical text that would come to interest and perhaps influence Jung greatly later in his life was The Speculative Philosophy by Gerhard Dorn.  Dorn's writing takes a very similar dissociative approach (and significantly resembles Jung's Red Book writings) . . . although, in the case of that text, it is fairly clear that Dorn is employing this knowingly as a literary device.  This device was commonly used at least since ancient times.  Whether Jung employed it knowingly or not, it certainly lends itself to his theory of personality structure and complexes.

Whatever the case, Jung's narrator in the Red Book is not all that likable a fellow.  He comes across as simultaneously a bit thick (where otherness is concerned), prone to grandiosity, and excessively fortified with prejudice and prudishness.  Jung may have preferred to interpret some of these qualities as "womanish", but in my opinion they are really a shadow aspect of a rigidly constructed patriarchal masculinity.  He exhibits a pronounced fear of "penetration" or contamination (this is something of an oddity, because Jung was very valuative overall in his published writings where the irrational contents of the unconscious were concerned).  Every foreign thing from the unconscious must be elaborately and sometimes aggressively defended against for many paragraphs before a little bit of empathy and openness develops in his posture.  Even after this empathy is allowed to have a small space in consciousness, more rationalizations and limitations are then placed upon it.  The so called "soul" seems to be severely throttled throughout much of the dialog.  In MDR, Jung wrote something to the effect of having to lend his own voice to his anima/soul because she didn't have one of her own.  I would interpret this more along the lines of: Jung had to force himself to stop choking "her" for a few seconds at a time just to let her squeak out a few words.

And those words that do get out are much more important (to Jung's mental health and to our understanding of Jung's psychology, both personal and academic) than the tirades of rationalized prejudice and squirming that Jung's narrator performs.

I would like to quote a few paragraphs from this dialog here (p. 236-237):

Experiences in the Desert

After a hard struggle I have come a piece of the way nearer to you.  How hard this struggle was!  I had fallen into an undergrowth of doubt, confusion and scorn.  I recognize that I must be alone with my soul.  I come with empty hands to you, my soul.  What do you want to hear?  But my soul spoke to me and said, "If you come to a friend, do you come to take?"  I knew that this should not be so, but it seems to me that I am poor and empty.  I would like to sit down near you and at least feel the breath of you animating presence.  My way is hot sand.  All day long, sandy, dusty paths.  My patience is sometimes weak, and once I despaired of myself, as you know.

My soul answered and said, "You speak to me as if you were a child complaining to its mother.  I am not your mother."  I do not want to complain, but let me say to you that mine is a long and dusty road.  You are like a shady tree in the wilderness.  I would like to enjoy your shade.  But my soul answered, "You are pleasure-seeking.  Where is your patience?  Your time has not yet run its course.  Have you forgotten why you went into the desert?"

My faith is weak, my face is blind from all that shimmering blaze of the desert sun.  The heat lies on me like lead.  Thirst torments me, I dare not think how unendingly long my way is, and above all, I see nothing in front of me.  But the soul answered, "You speak as if you have still learned nothing.  Can you not wait?  Should everything fall into your lap ripe and finished?  You are full, yes, you teem with intentions and desirousness!--Do you still not know that the way to truth stands open only to those without intentions?"

I know that everything you say, Oh my soul, is also my thought.  But I hardly live according to it.  The soul said, "How, tell me, do you then believe that your thoughts should help you?"  I would always like to refer to the fact that I am a human being, just a human being who is sometimes weak and sometimes does not do his best.  But the soul said, "Is this what you think it means to be human?"  You are hard, my soul, but you are right.  How little we still commit ourselves to living.  We should grow like a tree that likewise does not know its law.  We tie ourselves up with intentions, not mindful of the fact that intention is the limitation, yes, the exclusion of life.  We believe that we can illuminate the darkness with an intention, and in that way aim past the light.  How can we presume to want to know in advance from where the light will come to us?

let me bring only one complaint before you: I suffer from scorn, my own scorn.  But my soul said to me, "Do you think little of yourself?"  I do not believe so.  My soul answered, "Then listen, do you think little of me?  Do you still not know that you are not writing a book to feed your vanity, but that you are speaking with me?  How can you suffer from scorn if you address me with those words that I give you?  Do you know, then, who I am?  Have you grasped me, defined me, and made me into a dead formula?  Have you measured the depths of my chasms, and explored all the ways down which I am yet going to lead you?  Scorn cannot challenge you if you are not vain to the marrow of your bones."  Your truth is hard.  I want to lay down my vanity before you, since it blinds me.  See, that is why I also believed my hands were empty when I came to you today.  I did not consider that it is you who fills empty hands if only they want to stretch out, yet they do not want to.  I did not know that I am your vessel, empty without you but brimming over with you.

This was my twenty-fifth night in the desert.  This is how long it took my soul to awaken from a shadowy being to her own life, until she could approach me as a free-standing being separate from me.  And I received hard but salutary words from her.  I needed that taking in hand, since I could not overcome the scorn within me.