Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The Big Red Book
I don't know why I am so intent on seeing this book, but I am.
Maybe it's that old University of Chicago great books thing. Maybe I'm just a nosy old biddy. For whatever reason, though, I am considering a trip to New York to see Carl Jung's "secret" book, which he unimaginatively called Liber Novus. (If he had written one after this, would it have been the New New Book -or the Really I mean it this time New Book?) But when I first came across Jung's work in college, I felt like I had come home. Archetypes, the collective unconscious, individuation, integration....I became an 18-year-old groupie of a slightly mystical, spectacularly imperfect, psychiatrist from Switzerland. Leave the Back Street Boys to someone else; I was waiting at a different kind of stage door.
OK, I get it. Not everyone gets this excited about ideas -particularly someone else's ideas. And I've mellowed, anyway, to say nothing of having discovered the thinking of other scholars of the mind. I've even had an idea or two of my own, thank you very much.
But this book.... seriously, I want to see it. In it, Jung chronicled and created illuminated illustrations about his dreams, hallucinations, and encounters with the collective unconscious. He worried that he might be having psychotic episodes. His heirs apparently concurred; they have kept this book unavailable since Jung's death in the early 60s. Yet, through these dreams, he came to the theories of the collective unconscious and archetypes as tools for working toward a healthy emotional life. He famously was unwilling to let anything or anyone go from his life until he had figured out why they were there in the first place. What had they come to teach him?
So, he purposely confronted (and occasionally induced) his own hallucinations in order to learn from them. I can't quite imagine having a rich enough interior life that visions would come to me. I think they would spot infertile soil and go bother someone else ;) And yet, what they teach me is that we're not meant to simply explore the depths of our own psyches. That's necessary but insufficient, as the logicians would say. Rather, there is something "out there" that's bigger than we are, and we are meant to explore that, too. Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.
Of course, reading about someone else's journey is not quite the same thing as having undertaken it oneself. Everyone has her own work to do in this regard, and insofar as I've even started it, I can report that it's not always fun. (It might have been easier if I had fallen for the Back Street Boys, now that I think about it.) But I'm going to New York anyway, to indulge my hero-worship just a tad but also to acknowledge the intellectual and spiritual curiosity as well as the courage of a mind that shaped mine.