Jung: His Life and Work

In 1976, Barbara Hannah published her work, Jung: His Life and Work. A Biographical Memoir. Hannah was a painter and had come to Zürich at the beginning of 1929 to work with Jung.

She remained in Switzerland, and practised as an analyst.

In the 1930s, she prepared a several volume résumé of Jung’s lectures at the Federal Institute of Technology, and also translated some of his writings.

In the preface to her book, she stated that as a biographical memoir, her aim was to show Jung’s life as it appeared to her.

She felt that it was too early for a detailed biography, as there were many documents held by the Jung family which were not yet accessible for study.

She admitted that she knew little of Jung’s family life, but was approaching it solely from her own standpoint, that is, of a student who also knew him outside of analysis.

Her aim was to show how he “first lived his psychology and only much later formulated in words what he had lived”

Thus, her focus was on his own process of individuation.

A subsidiary aim was to put on record information that might otherwise subsequently die with her, and in particular, concerning his relationship with Toni Wolff.

In a paper written in 1967, “Some glimpses of the individuation process in Jung himself”, Hannah noted that Jung’s continued presence in people’s dreams and active imaginations “gives us the sense of his near presence”, and rendered his death less of an “icy barrier” than that of others that she had been affected by.

There is a sense in which her biography seeks to evoke this sense of presence.

In the early chapters of her book, she drew heavily on Memories, Dreams, Reflections, supplemented with anecdotes that Jung narrated to her, and things she had heard from other people.

The work qualitatively changes after the time Hannah herself came to Zürich in the 1920s, given her presence at some of the events she narrated, her acquaintances with other figures in Jung’s circle, and the manner in which she took note of comments made by Jung.

Hannah’s account of his “confrontation with the unconscious” faithfully followed the account in Memories, supplemented by comments that Jung made to Hannah.

Though not a scholarly study or a professional work of history, Hannah’s work drew on a lifetime’s involvement with Jung’s psychology.

It contains invaluable firsthand information.

However, it is not always possible to evaluate the veracity of her accounts.

If the book does contain unverified gossip, it is at least first-hand gossip, which has not been subjected to decades of elaboration.

As a “biographical memoir”, Hannah’s work is restricted in what it sets out to do, but this restriction proves to be its strength.

As such I regard it as still the only indispensable biography of Jung.

Subsequent biographies have only heightened its significance.

In assessing these works, it is important to look at the narrative conventions employed.

Of the “posthumous” biographers, Hannah could draw upon years of direct contact with Jung in preparing her book, and phrases like “Jung told me” occur frequently.

The same does not hold for the next batch of biographers.

As we saw in the case of Memories, a first person narrative contributed greatly to a particular account being taken as definitive.

In the works we now turn to, we see how in a lesser way, third person narratives could still be used in a manner which gives the impression that the biography in question presents a window into Jung’s intimate thoughts —even without documentary evidence. ~Sonu Shamdasani, Jung Stripped Bare: By His Biographers Even, Pages 71-72

Liked it? Take a second to support Mr. Purrington on Patreon!