Jung Stripped Bare: By His Biographers Even
Introduction: biography, fiction, history
“Nothing would have prevented it,” said Jung. “I mean—imagine! A man tries to kill himself with a spoon. Sounds like a fair desperation
to me. I had nothing to do with it.
“You curried favour with him. The minute you held the jacket for him he knew he had you in the palm of his hand. I despair. You did this with Blavinskeya. You raved about the wonders of the Moon.
You did it with the Dog-man. You allowed his minder to walk him on a chain. You told the Man-with-the-imaginary-pen you thought he had created the most beautiful writing you had ever read! I swear you don’t want to bring them back. You want to leave them stranded in their dreams!”
Jung turned towards the bureau and fingered a photograph there in a silver frame. It showed a woman who appeared to be in mourning—eyes cast down, chin lowered, black beads and dress.
“It isn’t true,” he said, “that I want to abandon them to their dreams. But someone has to tell them their dreams are real.” Then he added: “and their nightmares.”
“They aren’t real. They’re what they are—the manifestations of madness.”
“The Moon is real,” Jung said. “A dog’s life is real. The imagined word is real. If they believe these things, then so must we . . . at least until we have learned to talk their languages and hear their voices.”
This conversation between C. G. Jung and Dr.Fürtwangler did not take place. Neither the patients—the Dog-Man, the Man with-the-imaginary-pen, Blavinskeya nor Dr Fürtwangler himself, ever existed.
The dialogue occurs in Pilgrim, a novel by Timothy Findlay, which presents the imaginary encounter between “pilgrim”, a man who can never die, and Jung, whom he meets
when he is placed in the Burghölzli in 1912.
Jung had actually left the Burghölzli in 1909, but this conceit enabled Findlay to imagine how “Jung” may have reacted to the extraordinary fate of such an individual, had such events occurred.
To flesh out his account, Findlay drew from historical information concerning Jung which he wove together with his fantasy, liberally inventing scenes that never took place, some of which, nevertheless, as in the account above, may have some plausibility, given the historical Jung’s insistence on the psychic reality of fantasies, and the importance of taking delusions seriously.
In the context of a novel, such elaborations are entirely legitimate. But history is a quite different enterprise.
Findlay’s novel is not the first work, nor is it likely to be last, in which Jung is featured in a fictional context.
What is it about him that attracts such fictions? Why does he attract the interest of novelists and playwrights?
One answer to these questions may be found in the plasticity of contemporary images of Jung.
In cultural discourse, his name is often evoked to denote a whole host of cultural, religious, philosophical, political, and psychological issues as a kind of shorthand.
Discussions that appear to be ostensibly about him may, on closer examination, carry scant relation to historical actuality.
As a result of this, we are faced today with a serious predicament.
Currently, vast sectors of the public are unable to distinguish between fictionalized accounts of Jung from the historical figure, due to the myths, fictions, and errors that abound in the profusion of literature about him.
Alarmingly, professional Jungians are not immune to this.
This situation is compounded by the dearth of reliable historical and biographical information about him and the insufficiently realized fact that many manuscripts, seminars, and
thousands of letters still remain unpublished.
How did this situation arise, and what can be done to remedy it?
One answer may be found through tracing the history of attempts to provide biographical accounts of Jung’s life, and to assess how successful they have been.
Before doing so, we may consider some general aspects of how Jung has been understood.
Freud and Jung have been widely seen as the founders of psychotherapy and modern depth psychology.
Such a perspective presents a particular view of the type of fields that these are: rather than being seen as disciplines which emerge from complex developments in Western thought and society, spanning many disciplines and involving many figures, psychotherapy and depth psychology have been seen as the solitary creations of Freud and Jung.
These creation myths of psychotherapy have in turn had important legitimating functions for the very identity of these fields.
During the past few decades a number of scholars have been presenting radically different accounts of the genesis of these disciplines.
Recently, I presented a new account of the genesis of Jung’s psychology, coupled with a new account of aspects of the rise of modern psychology and psychotherapy.
This work challenged what may be called the “Jungian legend”.
Significant aspects of this may be summarized as follows:
that Freud was the founder of psychotherapy; that Jung was a disciple of Freud and derived his ideas from him; that the two most important figures for Jung in the genesis of his work were Freud and Spielrein; that after his break with Freud, Jung had a breakdown and from this analytical psychology arose; that during this “confrontation with the unconscious” he discovered (or invented) his ideas of the collective unconscious, archetypes and individuation; that analytical psychology represents a revision of psychoanalysis; that Jung wrote an autobiography, which has been taken as the main source of information about his life and work; and that analytical psychology today directly descends from Jung, and, indeed, was founded by him.
In this form, the Jungian legend is in part a tributary to what has been called the “Freudian legend”.
The main elements of this are the claims that psychoanalysis has had a wide impact on twentieth century society, and has led to wide scale transformations in social life; that Freud discovered the unconscious; that Freud was the first to study dreams and discover their meaning; that Freud was the first to study sexuality, discover infantile sexuality, and his discoveries provoked a storm of disapproval due to Victorian repression; that Freud invented modern psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis was the most advanced form of psychotherapy; that these discoveries were based on his self-analysis and observation of patients.
In the past four decades of Freud studies, under the critical scrutiny of Freud historians, this legend has died a death.
Yet somehow, in general discourse, the legend still lives on.
These legends served to telescope intellectual history into a “great men” view of history, and to reduce the history of psychoanalysis and analytical psychology into a battle between solitary geniuses.
On the one hand, these legends perform a function of radical dehistoricization: Freud and Jung are deracinated from their social and intellectual contexts, as founders of universal theories.
On the other, these legends serve to legitimate contemporary discourses, and function as convenient creation myths.
Thus, the names of Freud and Jung are frequently invoked to authorize conceptions and practices which have no necessary connection to their own.
The success of these legends has also been aided by two particular styles of thought.
The first is what Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and I have called “interprefaction”, which designates a key trait of psychoanalytic thinking: interprefaction signifies the manner in
which interpretations and constructions are treated as facts.
When interprefaction prevails, the requirement of evidence recedes.
Due in part to the impact of psychoanalytic thinking on biography, interprefaction has come to play a critical role in biographies, and has led to loose forms of psychobiography.
In such works, elements from the historical record are woven into narratives based on psychodynamic models.
Psychoanalytic interpretation fills in the gaps of the historical record, and where it encounters obstacles, events and occurrences are simply resignified to fit into a pre-given
frame, through a series of symbolic equivalences in which anything can stand in for anything else.
The plot of a life is supplied by a ready-made, off-the-shelf theory.
The second style of thought is the valorization of a subjectivist conception of truth.
In this, it is held that each individual has their “own” Freud or Jung, and that this is “psychically real” and has as much validity as anyone else’s Freud or Jung.
In some variants, this is allied to forms of radical perspectivalism derived from dubious readings of post-structuralist thought.
However useful such a conception may be in psychotherapy, when applied to history it has deleterious consequences.
As historical figures, Freud and Jung become cancelled out, and one can say whatever one likes about them.
All views are treated as opinions on an equal level, and history, as a discipline, is negated.
Within this context, biography comes to play a particular role.
“We’ve become a culture of biography”, noted Justin Kaplan in 1994, likening the “saturating presence of biography” to “an invasion of the body snatchers”.
In the introduction to a recent volume on scientific biography, Michael Shortland and Richard Yeo remarked on the paradox that whilst we are in an “Age of Biography”, and while surveys show biographies to be the most popular form of non-fiction in Britain, biography remains the one of the “least studied forms of contemporary writing.”
Two issues they comment on pose particular problems for history: the erosion of the distinction between biographies and novels, and how little many biographers draw upon the
work of historians.
Thus, for the general public, the historical landscape is more likely to be configured by biographers than by historians.
This is particularly marked in the cases of Freud and Jung.
Given the vast expanse of their oeuvres and the mountains of secondary literature about them, individuals turn to biographies to provide the key to an understanding of their life and work.
New biographies of Jung—unlike new works by Jung—are widely reviewed in newspapers and periodicals, and sell better than his works.
Thus, we live in a time in which such biographies play a critical role in shaping the public perception and reception of his work.
Consequently, contemporary images of Jung owe more to biographies than to any other genre.
In such a context, it is all the more critical that biographies be historically accurate.
In the case of Jung, the attraction of biographies is increased by the difficulty of some of his writings.
In 1946, he wrote to Wilfred Lay:
You have understood my purposes indeed, even down to my “erudite” style. As a matter of fact it was my intention to write in such a way that fools get scared and only true scholars and seekers can enjoy its reading.
Thus, biographies of Jung offer the promise of rendering his work more accessible, particularly to general readers.
Biographies of psychologists also serve to humanize them.
Mundane details of day to day activities and “all too human” incidents serve to bring them closer, and function as a compensation for the larger than life mythic status that they have obtained.
Since psychologists have proposed new ways of living, one seeks to investigate their lives to see how they lived and embodied their own psychology, and also to see how their particular idiosyncrasies may have shaped their psychologies.
Thus, biographies play a critical role as a tool to evaluate their works, and function as informal types of “psychology criticism”.
In biographies of psychologists, the use of formal or informal modes of psychological interpretation by biographers is often particularly problematic.
The tenets of a particular school of psychology, or the biographer’s home-made psychology are all too often taken as universal accounts of character and motivation, superior to those of the psychologist in question.
Thus, biographies may serve to legitimate particular pre-existing interpretations, perspectives and prejudices, through embedding these within the narration of a life.
Thus the “life” genre provides a frame that gives permanence to a particular reading of Jung.
Such a perspective risks short-circuiting the complex task of evaluating a multi-faceted work.
By turning to biography to provide an account of the genesis of a psychology, biography becomes a substitute, ersatz history.
Thus, rather than evaluating Jung’s work in connection with past and present developments in psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, the human sciences, comparative religion, theology, and so on, opinions concerning his personal conduct in real or imagined circumstances all too easily form the ultimate locus of judgement.
There have been many biographies of Jung, spanning half a century.
Thus, Jung biographies form a subdiscipline unto themselves.
But have they brought us fundamentally nearer the historical Jung? Can any of these lay claim to be definitive? How should one view their contradictory accounts?
This work sets out to address these questions.
It commences with a consideration of Jung’s views on biographies and autobiographies, and follows the attempts to write biographical works on Jung during his lifetime
by Lucy Heyer, E. A. Bennet and Aniela Jaffé.
It traces the vicissitudes of the publication of Jung’s Collected Works, and indicates the unsuspected consequences this has had for subsequent biographies and works on Jung.
It considers the biographical projects of Barbara Hannah, Vincent Brome, Gene Nameche and R. D. Laing, Paul Stern, Gerhard Wehr, Frank McLynn, Ronald Hayman, and Deirdre Bair.
Finally, it asks: how many posthumous lives does Jung have to live? ~Sonu Shamdasani, Jung Stripped Bare: By His Biographers Even, Pages 1-7.