Ann Lammers’ Review of Deidre Bair’s “Jung: A Biography”
Recently I started on Deirdre Bair’s biography of Jung, beginning with Chapter 35 (‘Why Men Had to Quarrel and Leave’), because it’s where she deals with Victor White.
A friend had written to me that this chapter depressed him, and I can see why.
Bair is determined to avoid hagiography, which is fair enough; but in bending over backwards not to idealize Jung, she seems to have lost some of her zest for her subject.
In this chapter, at least, I get no sense of the wildness and humour and joy that were part of Jung’s life.
I do not think she likes him, actually.
(Why use a word like ‘brutally’ to describe how he sent away uninvited guests when White was visiting in Bollingen?)
She sees only hostility, competition and pettiness in Jung’s relationships with most of the men and many of the women around him.
She describes their group endeavours as if they were siblings fighting over an inheritance.
It’s a dreary, seamy, somehow flat-footed account.
For example, her account of White’s and Jung’s friendship captures little of their excitement and intellectual risk-taking.
Sloppiness about the dates of published writings renders Bair’s whole account of the Jung-White relationship opaque.
Granted, I have closely studied only five pages in a book of 851, but how many similar errors does the volume contain?
Bair is strangely confused about the sequence of events in the Jung-White story, and therefore wildly mistaken, at times, when she speculates about their motives.
She says that White’s 1949 review of Jung’s lecture ‘On the Self’ was ‘a last warning salvo’ to Jung not to publish Answer to Job.
This makes no sense at all.
White’s review of ‘On the Self’ was published well before Answer to Job was even started.
And I do not know where she gets the idea that White would have issued a warning to Jung by means of a negative review.
(In his letters, as it happens, White never warned Jung against publishing Job. On the contrary, prior to 1954 he expressed only enthusiasm for its publication, a fact Bair might have known from a source she frequently cites.)
She compounds her error when she goes on to discuss White’s scathing 1955 review of Answer to Job.
In Bair’s version of events, Jung replied to this review with a letter of ‘uncharacteristically even-tempered moderation’, calling it a ‘correctio fatuorum’. But no.
Jung’s ‘correctio fatuorum’ letter, written on the last day of 1949, was rather a heated response to White’s review of ‘On the Self’.
Stung by White’s unexpected criticism, and perhaps forgetting that his friend could not read Greek, in this letter Jung entered the lists armed with lengthy quotations (handwritten in Greek) from a sermon of Basil the Great.
With this letter, the great debate about privatio boni was fully engaged.
On another matter, Bair says White was under pressure from his Order, citing a passage in my book for support.
Unfortunately my book does not support her here, because the passage in question (pp. 98ff) describes how much White’s plight was caused by his own internal ambivalence as he tried to hold onto mutually contradictory points of view.
True, he also suffered the blow of losing his academic appointment.
But, as I have tried to make clear, this was due partly to historical accident, partly to the actions of a specific individual in his Order.
It was not caused by overall policy.
Otherwise White wouldn’t have been awarded the STM degree, or come so close to being Regent of Studies.
It is also untrue (as shown in my book) that White attempted belatedly to prove his loyalty to his Order by publishing his damning review of Job.
In early 1955 it was too late for him to get his Oxford position back, for one thing.
And he wouldn’t have changed anyone’s mind by writing such an over-the-top review.
No, I am afraid the excesses of that review were not calculated; they came (if this hyperbole can be excused) from White’s bowels, not his head.
It’s often tempting to outsiders to suspect a Catholic religious order of being a monolith; I started years ago with that hypothesis, but by the time I wrote my book on Jung and White I had learned better.
I wish Bair would not give me so much credit for how she tells that part of White’s story.
I’m embarrassed to think of English Dominicans reading her book and perhaps not recognizing how much she’s twisted my arguments to make her own.
Finally, she makes contrary-to-fact statements about the letters of Jung and White, once again citing me in support of errors.
In one footnote she states that I’m the only person who has ever read White’s letters to Jung.
(Perhaps she means my book is the only place, so far, where one can find published excerpts from them?)
In another note she writes that my ‘Appendix A’ explains why the letters have never been and never will be published in their entirety.
I am mystified: did she read the source she cites?
‘Appendix A’ of In God’s Shadow lays out the history of the Jung-White letters.
For 30 years after Jung’s death his letters to and from White were held by his son in strict confidentiality, while scholars were denied access.
In 1990, however, for reasons spelled out in the appendix, Franz Jung and the other Jung heirs decided to release the Jung-White letters to two people, Adrian Cunningham and myself.
Franz Jung later wrote (and permitted me to print) a statement about this event, saying that his father had always intended this important correspondence to be published.
It is good to be able to add that after years of preparation the Jung-White Letters are now almost ready for the publisher.
My positive take on Bair’s book is that her research will help Adrian Cunningham and myself to fill in some of the remaining gaps in the footnotes for The Jung-White Letters.
Thanks to her interview with C.A. Meier, for instance, I now know the names of the doctors who visited Jung’s house every fortnight in the 1940s.
Books by Ann Lammers: