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Red Book

Liber Novus

Jung now commenced writing the draft of Liber Novus.

He faithfully transcribed most of the fantasies from the Black Books, and to each of these added a section explaining the significance of each episode, combined with a lyrical elaboration.

Word-by-word comparison indicates that the fantasies were faithfully reproduced, with only minor editing and division into chapters.

Thus the sequence of the fantasies in Liber Novus nearly always exactly corresponds to the Black Books.

When it is indicated that a particular fantasy happened “on the next night,” etc., this is always accurate, and not a stylistic device.

The language and content of the material were not altered.

Jung maintained a “fidelity to the event,” and what he was writing was not to be mistaken for a fiction.

The draft begins with the address to “My friends,” and this phrase occurs frequently.

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 is addressed to a public and presented in a form to be read by others.

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

He later recalled, “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 into a series of books comprised of short chapters.

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

There are also indications that he read Dante’s Commedia at this time, which also informs the structure of the work.

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 50 percent of the material is drawn directly from the Black Books.

There are about thirty-five new sections of commentary.

In these sections, he attempted to derive general psychological principles from the fantasies, and to understand to what extent the events portrayed in the fantasies presented, in a symbolic form, developments that were to occur in the world.

In 1913, Jung 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 attempt to interpret his
fantasies on the “collective” level.

He does not try to interpret his fantasies reductively, but sees them as depicting the functioning of general psychological principles in him (such as the relation of introversion to extraversion, thinking and pleasure, etc.), 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 attempt to develop and apply his new constructive method.

The second layer is itself a hermeneutic experiment. In a critical sense, Liber Novus does not require supplemental interpretation, for it contains its own interpretation.

In writing the Draft, Jung did not add scholarly references, though unreferenced citations and allusions to works of philosophy, religion, and literature abound.

He had self-consciously chosen to leave scholarship to one

Yet the fantasies and the reflections on them in Liber Novus are those of a scholar and, indeed, much of the self-experimentation and the composition of Liber Novus took place in his library. It is quite possible that he might have added references if he had decided to publish the 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).

Judging from the annotations, it appears that he gave it to someone (the handwriting is not that of Emma Jung, Toni Wolff, or Maria
Moltzer) to read, who then commented on Jung’s editing, indicating that some sections which he had intended to cut should be retained.

The first section of the work—untitled, but effectively Liber Primus—was composed on parchment.

Jung then commissioned a large folio volume of over 600 pages, bound in red leather, from the bookbinders, Emil Stierli.

The spine bears the title, Liber Novus.

He then inserted the parchment pages into the folio volume, which continues with Liber Secundus.

The work is organized like a medieval illuminated manuscript, with calligraphic writing, headed by a table of abbreviations.

Jung titled the first book “The Way of What Is to Come,” and placed beneath this some citations from the book of Isaiah and from the gospel according to John.

Thus it was presented as a prophetic work. In the Draft, Jung had divided the material into chapters.

In the course of the transcription into the red leather folio, 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, and not to the fantasy material itself, and mainly consisted in shortening the text.

It is this second layer that Jung continually reworked.

In the transcription of the text in this edition, this second layer has been indicated, so that the chronology and composition are visible.

As Jung’s comments in the  second layer sometimes implicitly refer forward to fantasies that are found later
in the text, it is also helpful to read the fantasies straight through in chronological sequence, followed by a continuous reading of the second layer.

Jung then illustrated the text with some paintings, historiated initials, ornamental borders, and margins. Initially, the paintings refer directly to the text.

At a later point, the paintings become more symbolic.

They are active imaginations in their own right.

The combination of text and image recalls the illuminated works of William Blake, whose work Jung had some familiarity with.

A preparatory draft of one of the images in Liber Novus has survived, which indicates that they were carefully composed, starting from pencil sketches that were then elaborated.

The composition of the other images likely followed a similar procedure.

From the paintings of Jung’s which have survived, it is striking that they make an abrupt leap from the representational landscapes of
1902/3 to the abstract and semifigurative from 1915 onward. ~Sonu Shamdasani, The Red Book, Page 202-203