Gaia Domenici: Jung’s Nietzsche: Zarathustra, The Red Book, and ‘Visionary Works’.
When the desert begins to bloom, it brings forth strange plants.
You will consider yourself mad, and in a certain sense you will in fact be mad.
To the extent that the Christianity of this time lacks madness, it lacks divine life. Take note of what the ancients taught us in images: madness is divine. C.G. Jung (Liber Novus:238)
Not that you overturned the idol: that you overturned the idolater in yourself, that was your courage.F. Nietzsche (DD:123)
Gaia Domenici’s Jung’s Nietzsche: Zarathustra, The Red Book, and ʻVisionaryʼ Works (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) should be welcomed as a fresh and compelling reading within Nietzsche and Jung studies, for it has all the qualities to compete with the best related literature. Domenici’s work, as pointed out by Sonu Shamdasani in the foreword to this book (‘Between Deserts’), successfully guides the reader through ‘the desert’ of Jung’s life-long confrontation with Nietzsche and ‘simultaneously forms a major contribution to the study of the reception of Nietzsche’s work and to Jung studies’ (ix).
To this merit, renowned Nietzsche scholar Martin Liebscher adds that Domenici’s monograph answers the call for the ‘revision and revaluation’ of Jung’s philosophical reception, by placing ‘a novel and revealing emphasis on the role of Thus Spoke Zarathustra
for Jung’s visions of Liber Novus’.
Gaia Domenici, Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies, University College London, is a young philosopher and versatile scholar who has been publishing (in German, Italian, and English) on Nietzsche, Jung, and German philosophy in the most authoritative scientific journals.
Jung’s Nietzsche is her first monograph and indeed provides the sum of her talented career thus far.
The content of the book revolves around Carl Gustav Jung’s complex engagement with the life and work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), on intellectual and psychological levels.
The work is distinctively underpinned by robust historical research and strengthened by a meticulous structure which leaves aside no aspect of the question of ‘Jung’s Nietzsche’.
However, the real signature trait of Domenici’s book resides in a hermeneutical intuition: the choice to adopt Jung’s category of ‘visionäre Art’ (‘visionary art’) as the Ariadne thread of a comparative analysis between Nietzsche’s and Jung’s own visionary experiences, coalesced
into the book of visions known as Liber Novus (or Jung’s Red Book).
Jung’s Nietzsche is divided into five chapters.
The first section (‘Introduction’) historically traces Nietzsche’s presence in the development of Jung’s thinking, elucidating the problematic aspects of his psychological understanding of the German philosopher.
The author places Liber Novus on centre stage and clearly explains her take as follows:
‘If it is true that Jung experienced Nietzsche as part of a particular tradition to which he himself felt to belong, then investigating Nietzsche’s presence in Liber Novus might make clearer his overall influence on Jung’s theories’ (22).
Domenici’s methodology combines Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari’s historicalcritical approach to Nietzsche, as transmitted by Giuliano Campioni and the Italian school, with Shamdasani’s historical approach to Jung (23).
The second section (‘“Visionary” Works and Liber Novus’) explores the definition and characterisation of what the Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology identified as a particular lineage of Western visionaries, illustrating its main protagonists and symbolical motifs.
This part emphasises the close correlations between Jung’s conception of the visionary mode of creation and his own self-explorations, thus providing the reader with an innovative and thought-provoking point of observation concerning Liber Novus and Jung’s psychological ideas.
The following two chapters of the book (‘Nietzsche in Liber Novus’ and ‘Liber Novus in Nietzsche: Jung’s Seminar on Zarathustra’) reveal the heart of Domenici’s research and indeed, the most challenging material of her work.
The reader is first led on a captivating journey into Liber Novus via a close confrontation with Nietzsche’s ‘hidden’ and ‘explicit’ presence in its pages.
Secondly, the reader learns about Jung’s later (mis)readings of Nietzsche, taking shape in the Seminar on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (1934-1939) in the controversial terms of ‘inflation’, ‘intoxication’, and ‘failed individuation’ (16, 148).
In both sections, Domenici’s writing stands out because of her original combination of historical and philosophical elements with
the close analysis of mythological patterns common to both Jung and Nietzsche.
A particularly engaging choice is the use of animal and natural symbolism (in both Liber Novus and the Zarathustra Seminar) as the main
thread of discussion in these chapters as well as the valorisation of Jung’s juxtaposition of Zarathustra to Eastern spiritual texts.
The final chapter of the work (‘Conclusion’), despite its title, is not just a conclusion.
It is in fact, rather a section in itself that recapitulates what has been said beforehand, by tackling Jung’s confrontation with Nietzsche through its most delicate focal point: the ʻDeath of Godʼ and the overcoming of Western spiritual malady.
By ‘visionary’ art, Jung essentially describes a particular form of artistic creation incorporating under its aesthetic layer a radical proximity to primordial psychic experiences: ‘Something strange that derives its existence from the hinterland of man’s mind, as if it had emerged from the abyss of prehuman ages, or from a superhuman world of contrasting light and darkness.
It is a primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding and to which in his weakness he may easily succumb’ (Jung, CW15:§141).
He included in this category, among other examples, the second part of Goethe’s Faust, Jakob Böhme’s mystical accounts, Gustav Meyrink’s esoteric novels, William Blake’s illuminated works, Dante’s Commedia, and indeed,
Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Dionysian-Dithyrambs.
He also defined the visionary work of the genius as characterised by the imperious emergence of autonomous psychic forces, exhibiting similar peculiarities to the fantasies of madness.
Yet the visionary, unlike the insane, would be the one who found a way to navigate in the ‘dark and stormy waters’ of the ocean of the irrational, as Immanuel Kant imagined it (Kant 1919 :270), without being overwhelmed by its unseen currents.
Jung’s vision of Nietzsche, in this respect, is never an easy one. It restlessly oscillates around this dilemma, triggered on the one hand by an extreme fascination for the German revolutionary thinker and on the other hand, by the disputable morbid interpretation emerging in the Seminar on Zarathustra.
The value of Domenici’s contribution thus lies not only in shedding light on Jung’s tormented reflections on Nietzsche’s madness and
genius, but especially in reconnecting them to the fundamental root of his disquiet: Liber Novus.
In Jung’s first-hand visionary experiences, however, the task of ‘overcoming madness’ ultimately resolves around the mysterious cathartic action of love (revealed by the name itself of Philemon—from Greek ‘philéin’, ‘to love’—the inner guidance of Jung’s visions), exactly what the Swiss man thought Nietzsche’s power ‘inflation’ condemned him to lack above all.
Where Jung’s Nietzsche is impeccable in its philosophical and historical richness, it partly neglects Eros, letting intellectual elements largely prevail over the experiential, visceral nature of Jung’s coming to terms with Nietzsche.
Otherwise, Domenici’s work manages altogether to unravel the most difficult riddles, questions, and historical intricacies that characterise the exceptional encounter between two of the greatest minds of the turn of the last century.
And what is more, her book inspires the reader to rethink, with a critical mind, Nietzsche’s historical and psychological importance for
our time of transformation.
A time in which, while the statues of old idols get pulled down, new ones await to be built anew, seemingly unaware of the lions roaring at their feet and the hammer knocking at their heart. Tommaso A. Priviero,Review of Gaia Domenici. Jung’s Nietzsche: Zarathustra, The Red Book, and ‘Visionary Works’. Vol 3, 2020 • PP. 176-179
Jung, Carl Gustav. [1930/1950]. Psychology and Literature. Collected Works of C. G. Jung. vol. 15, §§133-162.
––––—. 2009. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited and Introduced by Sonu Shamdasani, Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and
Sonu Shamdasani. New York / London: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kant, Immanuel. 1919 (1781). Collected Works (Sämtliche Werke), Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft). Leipzig: Verlag
Von Felix Meiner.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1982 (1888). DD = Ditirambi di Dioniso e poesie postume (Dionysos – Dityhramben). Milan: Adelphi.