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Carl Jung: Van Heldingen Pictures of the unconscious

1a Symbolic

CW 18; The Symbolic Life

Carl Jung: Foreword to Van Heldingen:  “Pictures of the unconscious”

Dr. R. J. van Helsdingen has asked me to write a foreword to his book.

I am happy to comply with his request for a particular reason: the case that is discussed and commented on was one that I treated many years ago, as can now be said publicly with the kind permission of my former patient.

Such liberality is not encountered everywhere, because many one-time patients are understandably shy about exposing their intimate, tormenting, pathogenic problems to the eye of the public.

And indeed one must admit that their drawings or paintings do not as a rule have anything that would recommend them to the aesthetic needs of the public at large.

If only for technical reasons the pictures are usually unpleasant to look at and, lacking artistic power, have little expressive value for outsiders.

These shortcomings are happily absent in the present case: the pictures are artistic compositions in the positive sense and are uncommonly expressive.

They communicate their frightening, daemonic content to the beholder and convince him of the terrors of a fantastic underworld.

While it was the patient’s own mother country that produced the great masters of the monstrous, Hieronymus Bosch and others, who opened the flood-gates of creative fantasy, the pictures in this book show us imaginative activity unleashed in another form: the Indomalaysian phantasmagoria of pullulating vegetation and of fear-haunted, stifling tropical nights.

Environment and inner disposition conspired to produce this series of pictures which give expression to an infantile-archaic fear.

Partly it is the fear of a child who, deprived of her parents, is defencelessly exposed to the unconscious and its menacing, phantasmal figures; partly the fear of a European who can find no other attitude to everything that the East conjures up in her save that of rejection and repression.

Because the European does not know his own unconscious, he does not understand the East and projects into it everything he fears and despises in himself.

For a sensitive child it is a veritable catastrophe to be removed from her parents and sent to Europe after the unconscious influence of the Oriental world had moulded her relation to the instincts, and then, at the critical period of puberty, to be transported back to the East, when this development had been interrupted by Western education and crippled by neglect.

The pictures not only illustrate the phase of treatment that brought the contents of her neurosis to consciousness, they were also an instrument of treatment, as they reduced the half conscious or unconscious images floating about in her mind to a common denominator and fixated them.

Once an expression of this kind has been found, it proves its “magical” efficacy by putting a spell, as it were, on the content so represented and making it relatively innocuous.

The more complex this content is, the more pictures are needed to depotentiate it.

The therapeutic effect of this technique consists in inducing the conscious mind to collaborate with the unconscious, the latter being integrated in the process.

In this way the neurotic dissociation is gradually remedied.

The author is to be congratulated on having edited this valuable and unusual material.

Although only the initial stages of the analysis are presented here, some of the pictures indicate possibilities of a further development.

Even with these limitations, however, the case offers a considerable enrichment of the literature on the subject, which is still very meagre. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 530-531