Symbolic Life

The new art of writing biographies from the psychological point of view has already produced a number of moderately successful studies.

One has only to think of Mobius on Goethe, Schopenhauer, Schumann, and Nietzsche, and Lange on Holderlin.

Among these “pathographies,” Sadger’s book occupies an exceptional position.

It does not stand out because of a meticulous unearthing of the diagnosis, nor does it try to squeeze the poet’s pathology into a particular clinical frame of reference, as Mobius did in an objectionable manner in the case of Goethe.

Sadger’s aim is rather to understand the development of the whole personality as a psychological process, and to grasp it from within.

It is no matter for regret that the psychiatric pigeon-holing of the “case” receives scant attention.

Our understanding is in no way advanced when we know for certain the medical designation of the subject’s state of mind.

The recognition that Schumann suffered from dementia praecox and K. F. Meyer from periodic melancholia contributes nothing whatever to an understanding of their psyches.

People are only too ready to stop at the diagnosis, thinking that any further understanding can be dispensed with.

But this is just where the real task of the pathographer begins, if he wants, as he should, to understand more than the ordinary biographer.

The biographer would rather not penetrate too deeply into certain areas, and because he does not understand what is going on there and can discover nothing understandable, he calls those areas mad or “pathological.”

Mobius sticks psychiatric labels on them and reports something of their geography. The proper task of the pathographer, however, is to describe in intelligible language what is actually happening in these locked regions of the psyche, and what powerful influences pass to and fro between the world of the understandable and the world of the not-understood.

Up to now psychography has failed miserably, believing that its task is complete once insanity has been established; and there is some justification for this since not a few of the most prominent modern psychiatrists are firmly convinced that insanity is beyond further understanding.

The validity of this statement is purely subjective, however: anything we do not understand we are likely to call insane. In view of this limitation, we should not venture so far, let alone assert that what we do not understand is not understandable at all.

It is understandable, only we are intellectually still so dense and lethargic that our ears cannot hear and our minds cannot grasp the mysteries of which the insane speak.

Here and there we do understand something, and occasionally we glimpse inner connections which link up what appears to be wildly fortuitous and utterly incoherent into regular causal chains.

We owe this insight to the genius of Sigmund Freud and his psychology, which is now undergoing all the punishments of hell that the scientific Philistines hold in reserve for every new discovery.

Anyone who wishes to read Sadger’s book with real understanding should first familiarize himself with Freud’s psychology, otherwise he will get a curious impression of the special prominence the author gives to the significance of the mother in the life of the poet.

Lacking the requisite knowledge the reader will also find it difficult to understand many of the parenthetical remarks concerning the father-son and mother-son relationship and to appreciate their general validity.

It will be evident from these hints that Sadger’s book can claim a special place among the pathographies because, unlike the others, it digs down far deeper to the very roots of the pathological and annexes wide areas of that dark world of the non-understood to the world of intelligible things.

Anyone who has been able to profit by Freud’s writings will read with great interest how the sensitive soul of the poet gradually freed itself from the crushing weight of mother-love and its attendant emotional conflicts, and how as a result the hidden source of poetic creativity began to flow.

We owe the author a debt of gratitude for this glimpse into the life of an artist whose development presents so many baffling problems.

Readers who bring no preliminary knowledge with them may be prompted by this book to acquire some. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 336-338