Symbolic Life

When I was working in 1906 on my book The Psychology of Dementia Praecox (as schizophrenia was then called), I never dreamt that in the succeeding half-century psychological investigation of the psychoses and their contents would make virtually no progress whatever.

The dogma, or intellectual superstition, that only physical causes are valid still bars the psychiatrist’s way to the psyche of his patient and impels him to take the most reckless and incalculable liberties with this most delicate of all organs rather than allow himself even to think about the possibility of genuinely psychic causes and effects, although these are perfectly obvious to an unprejudiced mind.

All that is necessary is to pay attention to them, but this is just what the materialistic prejudice prevents people from doing, even when they have seen through the futility of metaphysical assumptions.

The organic, despite the fact that its nature is largely unknown and purely hypothetical, seems much more convincing than psychic reality, since this still does not exist in its own right and is regarded as a miserable vapour exhaled, as it were, from the albuminous scheme of things.

How in the world do people know that the only reality is the physical atom, when this cannot even be proved to exist at all except by means of the psyche?

If there is anything that can be described as primary, it must surely be the psyche and not the atom, which, like everything else in our experience, is presented to us directly only as a psychic model or image.

I still remember vividly the great impression it made upon me when I succeeded for the first time in deciphering the apparently complete nonsense of schizophrenic neologisms, which must have been infinitely easier than deciphering hieroglyphs or cuneiform inscriptions.

While these give us authentic insight into the intellectual culture of ancient man—an achievement certainly not to be underestimated—deciphering of the products of insanity and of other manifestations of the unconscious unlocks the meaning of far older and more fundamental psychic processes, and opens the way to a psychic underworld or hinterland which is the matrix not only of the mental products of the past but of consciousness itself.

This, however, seems quite uninteresting to the psychiatrist and to concern him least of all—just as if it were tremendously important to know exactly where the stones were quarried to build our medieval cathedrals, but of no importance whatever to know what the meaning and purpose of these edifices might be.

Half a century has not sufficed to give the psychiatrist, the “doctor of the soul,” the smallest acquaintance with the structure and contents of the psyche.

Nobody need write an apology for the meaning of the brain since it can actually be put under the microscope.

The psyche, however, is nothing, because it is not sufficiently physical to be stained and mounted on a slide.

People still go on despising what they don’t know, and what they know least of all they claim to know best.

The very attempt to bring some kind of order into the chaos of psychological experience is considered “unscientific,” because the criteria of physical reality cannot be applied directly to psychic reality.

Documentary evidence, though fully recognized in the study of history and in jurisprudence, still seems to be unknown in the realm of psychiatry.

For this reason a book like the present one should be particularly  welcome to psychologists. It is a document humain, unfortunately one of few.

I know no more than half a dozen such autochthonous descriptions of psychosis, and of these this is the only one derived from the domain of manic-depressive insanity, all the others being derived from that of schizophrenia.

In my experience at any rate it is quite unique.

Certainly there are, in numerous clinical histories, comparable descriptions given by the patients themselves, but they never reach the light of day in the form of a printed publication; and besides, few of them could equal the autobiography of our author in point of articulateness, general education, wide reading, deep thought, and self-criticism.

The value of this book is all the greater because, uninfluenced by any outside literature, it describes the discovery, or rather the rediscovery, of certain fundamental and typical psychic structures.

Although I myself have been studying the very same phenomena for years, and have repeatedly described them, it still came to me as a surprise and a novelty to see how the delirious flight of ideas and uninhibitedness of the manic state lower the threshold of consciousness to such an extent that, as with the abaissement du niveau mental in schizophrenia, the unconscious is laid bare and rendered intelligible.

What the author has discovered in the manic state is in exact agreement with my own discoveries.

By this I mean more particularly the, structure of opposites and their symbolism, the anima archetype, and lastly the unavoidable encounter with the reality of the psyche.

As is generally known, these three main points play an  essential role in my psychology, with which, however, the author did not become acquainted until afterwards.

It is of particular interest, more especially for the expert in this field, to see what kind of total picture emerges when the inhibitions exerted by the conscious mind on the unconscious are removed in mania.

The result is a crude and unmitigated system of opposites, of every conceivable colour and form, extending from the heights to the depths.

The symbolism is predominantly collective and archetypal in character, and thus decidedly mythological or religious.

Clear indications of an individuation process are absent, since the dialectical drama unfolds in the spontaneous, inner confrontation of opposites before the eyes of a perceiving and reflecting subject.

He does not stand in any dialectical relationship to a human partner; in other words, there is no dialogue.

The values delineate themselves in an undifferentiated system of black and white, and the problem of the differentiated functions is not posed.

Hence the absence of any clear signs of individuation; as is well known, the prerequisite for this is an intense relationship with another individual and a coming to terms with him.

The question of relationship, or Eros, nowhere appears as a problem in this book.

Instead, psychic reality, which the author very rightly calls “actuality,” receives all the more attention, and the value of this cannot be denied.

As might be expected from the impressive contents of his psychosis, the author was profoundly affected by them.

This runs like a leitmotiv through his book from the beginning to the end, making it a confessional monologue addressed to an anonymous circle of listeners, as well as an encounter with the equally anonymous spirit of the age.

Its intellectual horizon is wide and does honour to the “logos” of its author.

I do not know what sort of impression it will make on the “normal” layman, who has never had anything thrust upon him from the other side of the barrier.

I can only say that psychiatrists and practising psychologists owe the author the greatest possible thanks for the illumination his unaided efforts have given them.

As a contribution to our knowledge of those highly significant psychic contents that manifest themselves in pathological conditions or underlie them, his book is as valuable as it is unique. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 349-352