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The Composition of Liber Novus

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Black Books

The Composition of Liber Novus

The outbreak of the war had given Jung a completely new understanding of his fantasies .

In Liber Novus, he wrote: “And then the War broke out.

This opened my eyes about what I had experienced before, and it also gave me the courage to say all of that which I have written in the earlier part of this book.”

A critical part of this shift was that he no longer viewed his fantasies as purely personal.

In Liber Novus he wrote (commenting on an entry of May 23, 1914), “I wanted to understand it all as personal experiences within me, and consequently I could neither understand nor believe it all, since my belief is weak.”

It is likely that at this stage he reread the entries of November I2, 1913-July 21, 1914, in Books 2-4.

He now conceived of the idea of a work exploring the correspondence between his fantasies and what was taking place in the world, at literal and symbolic levels.

This was to become Liber Novus.

He transcribed and edited most of the entries from Books 2- 4 covering November 12, 1913-April 19, 1914.

In the main, he tended to omit material that depicted his emotional states.

He reproduced the fantasies faithfully while omitting the dates.

The sequence of Liber Novus nearly always corresponds exactly to that of the Black Books.

Jung maintained a “fidelity to the event.” What he was writing was not to be mistaken as fiction.

At the same time, he closely copyedited the fantasies, making a number of small revisions.

The changes served to clarify matters at certain junctures and present a smoother sequence, and they also made the material less personally revealing.

The main difference between the Black Books and Liber Novus is that the former were written for Jung’s personal use, and can be considered the records of an experiment, while the latter was addressed to a public and presented in a form to be read by others.

The revisions to the material mark the passage from personal notebook to public work. Dated entries became chapters.

A sizable share of Jung’s “confrontations with the unconscious” actually consisted of his transcription of and editorial work on and copyediting of his own material.

In this edition, most of the significant changes have been noted, which enables the reader to follow Jung as editor of his own material.

In Liber Novus, to each of the entries Jung reproduced, he added a section explaining the significance of the episode, combined with a lyrical elaboration.

He arranged the work into a series of chapters: for the most part, the chapters corresponded to individual entries.

The Draft begins with the address “My friends,” a recurring phrase.

In November 1914, Jung closely studied Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-91), which he had first read in his youth.

He later recalled that “then suddenly the spirit seized me and carried me to a desert country in which I read Zarathustra.”

It strongly shaped the structure and style of Liber Novus. like Nietzsche in Zarathustra, Jung divided the material up into a series of
books comprised of short chapters.

But whereas Zarathustra proclaimes the death of God, Liber Novus depicts the rebirth of God in the soul.

There are also indications that Jung read Dante’s Commedia, which also informs the structure of the work. 121

Liber Novus depicts Jung’s descent into hell. But whereas Dante could utilize an established cosmology,

Liber Novus is an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.

The role of Philemon in Jung’s work has analogies to that of Zarathustra in Nietzsche’s work and Virgil in Dante’s.

In the Draft, about 5 o percent of the material is drawn directly from the Black Books.

There are approximately thirty-five new sections of lyrical elaboration and commentary.

Here Jung was the exegete of his own imaginal visions.

He attempted to derive general psychological principles from his fantasies, and to understand to what extent the events portrayed in them presented, in symbolic form, developments that were to occur in the world.

In 1914, he had introduced a distinction between interpretation on the objective level, in which dream objects were treated as representations of real objects, and interpretation on the subjective level, in which every element concerns the dreamers themselves.

As well as interpreting his fantasies on the subjective level, one could characterize his procedure here as an effort to interpret his fantasies
on the “collective” level.

He does not try to interpret his fantasies reductively but, rather, as depicting the functioning of general psychological principles in him (such as the relation of introversion to extraversion, thinking and pleasure, and so forth), and as depicting literal or symbolic events that are going to happen.

Thus the “second layer” of the Draft represents the first major and extended development and application of his new constructive method.

It is itself a hermeneutic experiment.

It provides an interpretive reading of the entries in the Black Books in the concentrated five-month period beginning in November 1913.

This work of understanding encompassed a number of interlinked threads.

Jung wanted to understand himself and to integrate and develop the various components of his personality; to understand the structure of the human personality in general and the relation of the individual to present-day society and to the community of the dead; to fathom the psychological and historical effects of Christianity; and to grasp the future religious development of the West.

He discussed many other themes, including the nature of self-knowledge, the nature of the soul, the relation of thinking and feeling and the psychological types, the relation of inner and outer masculinity and femininity, and the uniting of opposites.

He also treated solitude, the value of scholarship and learning, the status of science, the significance of symbols and how they are to be understood, and the meaning of the war.

He touched on madness, divine madness, and psychiatry, how the Imitation of Christ is to be understood today; the death of God; the historical significance of Nietzsche; and the relation of magic and reason.

The overall theme of Liber Novus is how Jung regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation.

This is ultimately achieved through enabling the rebirth of a new image of God in his soul and developing a new worldview in the form of a psychological and theogenic cosmology.

Liber Novus presents the prototype of Jung’s conception of the individuation process, which he held to be the universal form of individual psychological development.

Thus the work itself can be understood on one hand as depicting Jung’s individuation process, and on the other as his elaboration of this concept as a general psychological schema.

At the beginning of the book, he refinds his soul and embarks on a sequence of fantasy adventures, which are linked to form a consecutive narrative.

He realized that until then, he had served the spirit of the time, characterized by use and value. In addition to this, there existed a spirit of the depths, which led to the things of the soul.

In terms of Jung’s later biographical memoir, the spirit of the times corresponds to personality no. I , and the spirit of the depths corresponds to personality no. 2.

Hence this period may be seen as a return to the values of personality no. 2.

The entries from the Black Books, now recast as chapters, follow a particular format: they begin with the exposition of dramatic visual fantasies.

In them Jung’s “I” encounters a series of :figures in various settings and enters into conversation with them.

He is confronted with unexpected happenings and shocking statements.

He then attempts to understand what transpired and to formulate the significance of these events and statements into general psychological conceptions and maxims.

Jung held that the significance of these fantasies was that they stemmed from the mythopoeic imagination, which was missing in the present rational age.

The task of individuation lay in establishing a dialogue with the fantasy :figures-or the contents of the collective unconscious-and integrating them into consciousness, hence recovering the value of the mythopoeic imagination, which had been lost to the modern age.

Through this, the spirit of the time would be reconciled with the spirit of the depths.

This task was to form a leitmotif of his subsequent scholarly work.

After completing the handwritten Draft, Jung had it typed and edited it.

On one manuscript, he made alterations by hand (I refer to this manuscript as the Corrected Draft) .

From the annotations on the Corrected Draft, it appears that he gave this to someone (the handwriting is not that of Emma Jung, Toni Wolff, or Maria Moltzer) to read.

That reader commented on Jung’s editing, indicating that some sections that he had intended to cut should be retained.

Sometime in 1915, Jung decided to re-transcribe the typescript of Liber Novus in the form of a medieval illuminated manuscript in calligraphic script on parchment.

He titled the first book “The Way of What Is to Come” and placed beneath the title some citations from the book of Isaiah and from the
Gospel according to John.

Thus the text was presented as a prophetic work.

He completed the transcription of the first section of the work, effectively Liber Primus, on parchment. Initially, and throughout this section, the paintings and historiated initials represented scenes from the fantasies.

Possibly for technical reasons (the parchment pages show a lot of bleed-through), he now continued to transcribe and illustrate the work in a large folio volume of more than 600 pages, bound in red leather, from the bookbinders Emil Stierli.

The spine bears the title Liber Novus (New Book). He inserted the parchment pages into the folio volume, which continues with Liber Secundus. In the course of the transcription into the folio volume, he altered some of the titles to the chapters, added others, and edited the material once again.

The cuts and alterations were predominantly to the “second layer” of interpretation and elaboration.

The entries and fantasies reproduced in Liber Novus are confined to a condensed period of time. In certain regards, Jung’s commentary in the second layer reflects his understanding of the changes that happened to him. in the period as a whole rather than only referring to the fantasies in question.

A reading of the material later featured in Liber Novus as it originally unfolded in the Black Books enables one to see and to follow the phenomenology of Jung’s experiences during the course of his self-experimentation. ~Sonu Shamdasani, The Red Book, Page 39-43