September 21, 1997
Psychiatrist of the Gods? By WALTER KENDRICK
In December 1913, a funny thing happened in Kusnacht, Switzerland. According to Frank McLynn’s ”Carl Gustav Jung,” during that month Jung fought a ”skirmish with insanity,” possibly brought on by a midlife crisis; he had a series of portentous dreams that culminated in the apparition of Philemon, ”a mythological creature recalling centaurs, mermaids and the Minotaur,” who dropped in for chats in Jung’s garden. But Richard Noll’s ”Aryan Christ” paints a more lurid picture: Jung’s ”head changed into that of a lion and he became a god. He became the Deus Leontocephalus, the lion-headed god whose image is found in the sanctuaries of the mystery cult of Mithras (first to fourth centuries C.E.).” There is a discrepancy here.
It is due in part to McLynn’s and Noll’s different sources. McLynn’s account of Jung’s ”descent into the underworld” relies chiefly on the official version recorded by Aniela Jaffe in ”C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (1963). Noll regards this source as tainted by ”a significant, deliberate omission”: ”the long-suppressed story of Jung’s deification,” which ”has been hidden for more than 80 years.” So Noll goes back to the notes on a 1925 seminar, where Jung plainly said, ”The animal face which I felt mine transformed into was the famous Leontocephalus of the Mithraic Mysteries.” Jung presented this flapdoodle as a dream, not a real event, but according to Noll Jung believed it to have been real: ”He had been initiated into the most ancient of mysteries and had become a god.” The truth, of course, had to be kept dark, lest Jung lose his ”modicum of respectability.” Only the great man’s most intimate associates have been aware of it — until now.
The differences between McLynn and Noll go deeper than their choices of documentation. McLynn’s ”Carl Gustav Jung” is a full-fledged biography by the author of five others, including lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Henry Morgan Stanley, the African explorer. McLynn, a professional biographer and neither pro- nor anti-Jung, recognizes that ”Jung is in many ways a battlefield” and has sought to avoid absorbing ”any of the conscious or unconscious parti pris the man and his doctrines provoke.” The result is an evenhanded chronicle that follows Jung from cradle to grave and attempts to explicate the theories he constantly spun out.
McLynn’s tone remains coolly reasonable, though he often finds Jung exasperating: ”It was typical of him to muddy the waters so that a good argument became dissolved in a bad one”; Jung’s exposition of general ideas was ”typically turbid and confused”; in his last years, he displayed a ”maddening insistence, whenever he had lost something, that it had been spirited away by supernatural forces.” McLynn’s Jung emerges as an oversized Swiss version of an eccentric Englishman — annoying to have around but dangerous only to those whose stupidity deserves what it gets.
Noll’s Jung is a different creature altogether. ”The Aryan Christ” doesn’t pretend to be a biography; it skims across Jung’s early years to focus on that crucial month in 1913, and it largely ignores his life after about 1930. In part, Noll does for Jung what Frank Sulloway did for Sigmund Freud in ”Freud: Biologist of the Mind” (1979): he places Jung’s dreams and theories in the context not of biology but of contemporary mythological studies, showing how virtually all his supposed revelations can be found in books by once-popular authorities like Friedrich Creuzer and Franz Cumont. The Jungian panoply of archetypes, the collective unconscious and so on, may be simply a byproduct of ”cryptomnesia,” or ”implicit memory,” which is ”implicated in such contemporary issues as ‘false memory syndrome’ in cases of alleged child abuse,” Noll says. ”If so,” he concludes, ”the collective unconscious may still be said to exist, but only on the shelves of Jung’s personal library.”
Debunking, however, ranks second on Noll’s agenda. His first aim is to prove that Jungianism should be called neither psychotherapy nor philosophy but religion, ”an Aryans-only cult of redemption and rebirth.” Jung and his followers, Noll maintains, knew this dire truth and concealed it from the world under a series of masks. The inconsistencies and contradictions in Jung’s work make perfect sense to Noll because ”Jung was careful to always speak and write in code.” Like other conspiracy theories, Noll’s explains everything. The Jung conspiracy, furthermore, continues to this day, he insists, carried on by the jealous guardians of Jung’s personal papers.
”The Aryan Christ” is an excellent example of the kind of parti pris that McLynn avoids. Noll has suffered at the hands of ”The Jung Cult” (the title of his previous book on the subject): those guardians refused to answer his letters, and the publication of an anthology he edited, which presumably would have supported his theory, was canceled ”due to objections by the Jung family.” Noll seems weary of the whole business, but he’s still licking his wounds. For all its ominous evocation of cults and conspiracies, ”The Aryan Christ” fails to convince me that any serious damage has been done by a few people’s adherence to an obviously wacko creed. I prefer McLynn’s no-nonsense summation: ”Acres of print could have been saved if Jung had come clean and admitted that he was a prophet.”
McLynn’s reasonableness never flags, even when he must handle such crazies as Jung’s mother, Emilie, who bore him on July 26, 1875, and devoted herself thereafter to scaring the daylights out of him. Or his cousin Helene Preiswerk, a fake medium, whose antics formed the basis of Jung’s dissertation at the University of Basel, where he qualified as a medical doctor in 1900. Or Jung himself, who throughout his youth (some might say his life) exhibited frequent signs of an ”unbalanced mental state.”
McLynn patiently follows Jung through his years at the Burgholzli hospital in Zurich; through his love affair with Freud, who called him his ”beloved son” until their bitter split in 1913; and through all the gyrations of Jung’s later life –his fascination with alchemy and ”ambivalent” attraction to Nazism in the 1930’s, his turn toward astrology and flying saucers in the 1950’s, his ascension as ”the New Age guru” in the years just before his death on June 6, 1961. McLynn never loses his straight face, calmly reporting for instance that Jung hated jet travel because ”the body went too fast for the soul, which had to catch it up; this was the true meaning of ‘jet lag.’ ”
Yet one gets the impression that McLynn, although he never says so, regards Jung as certifiable and his followers as worse. There’s no accounting for the followers, but McLynn has a key to Jung’s case: he was Swiss. As a nation, says McLynn, the Swiss are ”xenophobic, conservative, earthbound, introverted, money-minded”; so was Jung. He displayed ”the characteristic Swiss mixture of obstinacy, doggedness, stolidity and innate pride”; in some ways he was simply ”a home-loving Swiss bourgeois.” Recent revelations of Swiss banking activities have given those traits a sinister cast. Still, it’s a provocative thought: along with cheese, complicated pocket knives and cuckoo clocks, the world has Switzerland to thank for the infuriating genius of Carl Gustav Jung.