Pages of the Red Book display Jung's calligraphy and paintings.
I have long admired Carl G. Jung (1875-1961) for his intellectual heroism and explorations of the human psyche. My fascination with alchemy and astrology is fueled by his writings, my love of myth and folklore by his insights, and my worldview of archetypes and the collective unconscious infused by his understanding of them.
I owe him a lot. So I ~ along with millions of others worldwide ~ am tantalized by the upcoming publication of Jung’s Red Book, a massive tome he wrote about 100 years ago and which has been secreted away in a Swiss bank vault for many of those years. The book is an outgrowth of his “confrontation with the unconscious” as he entered middle age. As explained by the New York Times this week:
Jung recorded it all. First taking notes in a series of small, black journals, he then expounded upon and analyzed his fantasies, writing in a regal, prophetic tone in the big red-leather book. The book detailed an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through his own mind, a vaguely Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a curious, shifting dreamscape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and with richly hued, staggeringly detailed paintings.The lengthy article is a must-read for anyone with at least a passing interest in Jung and his beliefs. It provides a reasonable overview of his life and work, with the Red Book as a focal point:
Jung’s descendants finally agreed to allow the Red Book to be published. It is expected in bookstores in early October and is lauded by publisher W.W. Norton as “the most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology.”Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.
Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.
So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.
Click here for the complete New York Times article.
Inset photo of Jung by Henri Cartier-Bresson.