The Confrontation with the World

Why did Jung stop working on Liber’ Novus?

In his afterword, written in 1959, he wrote:

My acquaintance with alchemy in 1930 took me away from it. The beginning of the end came in 1928, when [Richard] Wilhelm sent me the text of the “Golden flower,” an alchemical treatise. There the contents of this book found their way into actuality and I could no longer continue working on it.

There is one more completed painting in Libel’ Novus. In 1928, Jung painted a mandala of a golden castle (Page 163).

After painting it, it struck him that the mandala had something Chinese about it. Shortly afterward, Richard Wilhelm sent him the text of The Secret of the Golden Flower, asking him to write a commentary on it. Jung was struck by it and the timing:
The text gave me an undreamed-of confirmation of my ideas about the mandala and the circumambulation of the center. This was the first event which broke through my isolation. I became aware of an affinity; I could establish ties with someone and something.

The significance of this confirmation is indicated in the lines that he wrote beneath the painting of the Yellow Castle. Jung was struck by the correspondences between the imagery and conceptions of this text and his own paintings and fantasies.

On May 25, 1929, he wrote to Wilhelm:

“Fate appears to have given us the role of two bridge pillars which carry the bridge between East and West.”

Only later did he realize that the alchemical nature of the text was important. He worked on his commentary during 1929. On September 10, 1929, he wrote to Wilhelm:

“I am thrilled by this text, which stands so close to our unconscious.”

Jung’s commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower was a turning point. It was his first public discussion of the significance of the mandala. For the first time, Jung anonymously presented three of his own paintings from Liber Novus as examples of European mandalas, and commented on them. To Wilhelm, he wrote on October 28, 1929, concerning the mandalas in the volume:

“the images amplify one another precisely through their diversity. They give an excellent image of the effort of the unconscious European spirit to grasp Eastern eschatology.”

This connection between the “European unconscious spirit” and Eastern eschatology became one of the major themes in Jung’s work in the 1930’s, which he explored through further collaborations with the Indologists Wilhelm Hauer and Heinrich Zimmer.

At the same time, the form of the work was crucial: rather than revealing the full details of his own experiment, or those of his patients, Jung used the parallels with the Chinese text as an indirect way of speaking about it, much as he had begun to do in chapter 5 of Psychological Types. This allegorical method now became his preferred form. Rather than write directly of his experiences, he commented on analogous developments in esoteric practices, and most of all in medieval alchemy.

Shortly afterward, Jung abruptly left off working on Liber Novus. The last full-page image was left unfinished, and he stopped transcribing the text. He later recalled that when he reached this central point, or Tao, his confrontation with the world commenced, and he began to give many lectures. Thus the “confrontation with the unconscious” drew to a close, and the “confrontation with the world” began. Jung added that he saw these activities as a form of compensation for the years of inner preoccupation. ~Red Book; Introduction; Pages 218-219.