Sonu Shamdasani interviewed by Ann Casement
Abstract: Sonu Shamdasani interviewed by Ann Casement about Jung’s The Red Book: Liber Novus in the course of which they range over issues to do with what drew Shamdasani to Jung; how he came to be involved in editing, translating and publishing Liber Novus; why he is so passionate about it; where it stands in relation to Jung’s other work; some of the central figures that appear in the book such as Philemon and Izdubar; what Liber Novus might offer training candidates and succeeding generations of Jungians; how it has changed Shamdasani’s own impression of Jung and what he hopes this enormous project will achieve; why Jung did not publish it in his own lifetime and whether he was mistaken in not doing so; and what impact the publication of Liber Novus will have on Jung’s reputation worldwide as well as within the Jungian community.
This interview with Sonu Shamdasani took place on the 1st September 2009 prior to the publication of C.G. Jung’s The Red Book: Liber Novus, which was launched in New York on 7th October 2009 at the Rubin Museum. Jung’s original is on display there until February 2010.
The book has a text written in German Gothic script giving it the look of a medieval manuscript and edited and introduced by Sonu Shamdasani, with the German translated into English by Mark Kyburz, John Peck and Sonu Shamdasani.
The main focus of the interview is on the text in the book which was worked on by Jung over the course of sixteen years from 1914 to 1930, and the book begins with a quotation from Jung (1957) that includes the following:
My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me . . . Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life.
But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.
Sonu Shamdasani & Ann Casement
Shamdasani postulates that the ‘crisis of language’ in the text emerges from Jung’s tension between directed and non-directed thinking.
The non-directed language is the primary source of directed thinking and fuels the work but the tension in this verbal alchemy is unresolved and the text oscillates between the two poles.
Liber Novus is not a scientific work but a private cosmology which forms the bedrock of Jung’s public work.
There is a parallel universe operating and neither is reducible to the other.
For instance, how does one reconcile Western science with what science has forsaken?
How does psychology differentiate religious experiences from psychosis?
Madness is assumed to be contrary to reason but what does one do with experiences that are so far from rationality?
What is prophetic in Jung’s text is the rebirth of the God image and the image of God.
The plates of Jung’s tempera paintings in Liber Novus show him to be a gifted artist who could have exhibited the paintings, but he was interested in their symbolic not their aesthetic representations and chose to be a psychologist rather than an artist.
Nevertheless, the book is of cultural interest (as many of Jung’s ideas already are) as a work of artistic and literary merit.
The artistic element shows the influence of motifs from the indigenous civilizations of Ancient Egypt, India, Mexico, Tibet, as well as artists such as Odilon Redon and the Symbolist movement, and the frescos and mosaics in Ravenna which Jung had visited.
The literary content of Liber Novus is comparable to Dante’s Divine Comedy and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and the key figure of Philemon is, at the first level, derived from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Goethe’s Faust: Part Two.
The book is published by W.W. Norton in the Philemon Series of the Philemon Foundation, whose editor, Jim Mairs, spent some time explaining to me in New York the intricate technical issues involved in realizing this magnificent production.
The first printing of the book sold out prior to publication.
AC: What drew you to Jung?
SS: I first read Jung when I was 18 when I was in India visiting ashrams and the first text I read was The Secret of the Golden Flower and what struck me about it is that it seemed to offer the possibility of mediation between East and West in terms of psychology.
So that’s what drew me.
AC: What in that text specifically drew you to Jung?
SS: Approaching mysteries without sacrificing reason.
AC: Would you give a brief account of how you got involved in editing, translating and publishing The Red Book: Liber Novus and your dealings with Jung’s Heirs and publishers.
SS: I first began attempting to reconstruct the period which Jung calls his confrontation with the unconscious around 1991 and pretty quickly hit a brick wall because the texts I had available were the chapter in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and the only reliable account which is the 1925 Seminar.
I tried to look at these two and construct a clear chronology which was just impossible, and without a chronology you really can’t understand what is taking place.
I began to find mention of some comments about The Red Book in correspondence that I found and I discovered that Jung had had it transcribed, and in 1996 I came across one transcription and one partial transcription the following year.
By that stage, I was in contact with Jung’s Heirs.
I had edited his seminar On the Psychology of Kundalini Yoga and had been doing research in Switzerland and was engaged in discussions with the Heirs concerning publication of his unpublished works.
That was the beginning of my comprehensive study of the unpublished manuscripts at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), so within that context I gave them copies, indicating that this is what I’d found.
I knew I didn’t have everything that there was.
That opened up a conversation in 1997 of what to do with the texts and I gave a presentation, wrote a couple of reports and had lengthy discussions about the topic and the Heirs decided to release it for publication in May of 2000 and an announcement that this work was taking place was released in the summer of 2001.
AC: Could you say a bit more about your dealings with the publishers.
SS: Initially the attempts to get publishers interested did not result in an offer that was accepted, until contact was made with Jim Mairs at Norton.
He immediately understood what the project needed, and was prepared to work toward the excellent result which we now all have before us, sparing no cost in ensuring that the work appeared in the finest form possible.
The project could not have found a better publisher or editor, and working with Norton has been a pleasure.
AC: Why did you want to be involved with Liber Novus and why are you passionate about it?
SS: Well, like anyone else engaged with Jung’s work who’s had one’s interest piqued in the subject through the mentions in Memories, the few paintings reproduced—with hindsight, in very poor reproductions—in Word and Image, I wanted to read it.
From what Jung stated or was reported to state in Memories, it was clear that it would provide the key to the confrontation with the unconscious which was the source of his later work, so it was clear that without this key one couldn’t understand the genesis of his later work.
So that was the interest that led me to want to study it.
As regards publication, I didn’t enter the situation initially wanting to publish the work.
This was then a point of discussion with Jung’s Heirs and to summarize, once one actually considered the topic, there was no reason not to publish it.
The work enables individuals to gain a window into the genesis of Jung’s psychology like no other.
From a scholarly point of view, I had studied the material, but rather than simply making use of the material in my own works I think it’s important to make these works available in proper historical editions so that everyone has access to them.
I think that it’s only on the basis of proper historical editions that basic primary scholarship is possible which enables the secondary literature to be based on a reliable foundation.
So from my point of view, my interests were not simply how I could exploit the material that I’d seen and read but also how this could contribute to grounding, to developing the discipline of Jung history on a reliable basis and hence contributing to the general understanding of Jung as a whole.
I don’t think I wanted to be involved with it—I just found that I happened to be—so it was ineluctable.
You find yourself burdened with a particular task.
Now, in terms of the question concerning passion, to me scholarship is a passionate pursuit.
You engage in research to understand the historical genesis of particular works. In my view, without understanding that, you can’t fully understand Jung’s work per se.
That’s where the passion comes from.
AC: Where does Liber Novus stand in relation to Jung’s other work?
SS: You won’t get at the centre of the period that Jung calls his confrontation with the unconscious without it.
If you look at his work up to, say, 1914, he’d already formulated his conception of the emotionally-stressed complexes, of the unconscious, he’d developed his notions of the psychological types of the introvert and the extravert—characterized at that point by thinking and feeling respectively, the psychological mechanisms of introversion and extraversion, the non-sexual concept of libido, a phylogenetic notion of the unconscious, which he’d later call the collective unconscious, the primordial images which he’d later call archetypes, the notion that dreams were not wish-fulfilment but that they had a compensatory function that paved the way for the future.
The bulk of what one could call Jung’s structural theory is already established by 1914.
So when he says that the core of his later work was from his confrontation with the unconscious it clearly doesn’t pertain to the initial formulation of these concepts.
Now what I think I demonstrated in my work Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: the Dream of a Science is that to understand the concepts I’ve just mentioned, you only have to look at the synthetic way in which Jung drew notions from an intersecting array of debates within 19th century thought and synthesized them in an original manner.
What is distinctive and what is left out of that list is the notion of individuation and the concept of the self, namely the notion of how personality develops over time and also what Jung initially calls the subject imagos of the persona, shadow, anima/animus, and last but not least, the mana personality.
So those are what one could call the first theoretical fruits of the confrontation with the unconscious as in Liber Novus and most critically the notion of individuation.
It forms both an account of Jung’s process of individuation and the genesis of the articulated conception of the process of individuation at the same time.
Secondly, I am speaking at this level in terms of the theoretical fruits but this is not a theoretical book—he doesn’t use theoretical language and deliberately eschews it.
In his Preface to the revised version of Transformations and Symbols of the Libido or Symbols of Transformation, he says that the question he posed to himself soon after completing the book was what was his myth, and his endeavour was an attempt to understand what his myth was.
That project is embodied in Liber Novus—what the work develops or portrays is what I call Jung’s private cosmology.
This runs parallel to his public scholarly writings, but neither is reducible to the other, and this continues on after he stopped working on the book, in his murals and stone carvings in the tower at Bollingen.
AC: What motivated him to do it?
SS: It is critical to separate out different events.
He was motivated to engage in the process of self-investigation first in a sense in which that is what he had been doing—introspection, self-investigative work, which were respectable methods in psychology and medicine at that time, so in one sense it is simply a natural continuity between his own self-investigative procedures and practices that were common in psychology at that time.
Critically his 1913 visions or waking fantasies of apocalypse engulfing Europe led him to think that he was in a psychological disturbance and he wanted to get at the root of what was taking place.
At one level, his project can be seen as a continuation of his theoretical study Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, which had been a study of fantasy thinking and mythological thinking and its presence in modern day individuals so that in that sense it naturally follows on from the theoretical questions that he’d been posing, and this led him to engage in what he would later term the process of active imagination.
So this is talking about his actual self-investigation.
One needs to distinguish quite sharply between Liber Novus and the records of his self-investigation which are portrayed in The Black Books.
Liber Novus is a work—I call it a work of psychology written in a literary and prophetic form.
What leads him to compose this work is the outbreak of World War I, which leads him to believe that some of his fantasies were prophetic and precognitive and led him to view all his material in a new light as not merely being about his personal psychology but connected with events in the world at large.
It is this that leads him to write the first hand-written draft of the first two parts of Liber Novus – Liber Primus and Liber Secundus, in which he takes the active imaginations and adds a second layer of lyrical elaboration and commentary.
AC: Would you confirm all relevant dates relating to The Black Books (1913, active imagination), and The Red Book. Jung added the tempera paintings later to the text – is that correct?
SS: The first of the so-called Black Books is actually brown.
This is a notebook which he’d written up to 1902. He picks it up again in the autumn of 1913.
This is the record of an experiment—a combination of active imaginations and reflections on his mental states.
He commenced writing the handwritten manuscript of Liber Novus in the summer of 1914 and it’s not quite known when he finishes writing it, in all likelihood sometime in 1915.
He then has the manuscript typed and edits it and sends it out to some colleagues for comments.
He then begins transcribing it again by hand onto parchment pages which he illustrates.
After this he commissions a leather folio volume into which he inserts these first parchment pages and continues the transcription of the texts.
One reason for this is if you look at the first parchment pages, you will see there is really a high degree of absorption.
It is clear looking at the pages in the red folio volume that they take the ink a lot better.
The first pages are oversaturated and there is a lot of bleed through.
He ultimately never completes the transcription into the calligraphic volume.
The active imaginations recommence in the summer of 1915, and in the autumn of 1917 he writes a further manuscript which continues where the handwritten manuscript left off.
The handwritten manuscript contained active imaginations up to February 1914 and the subsequent manuscript which he called Scrutinies picks up exactly at that point and contains fantasies up to 1916.
This forms really the final part of the work and he then has this typed as well.
At some point, which I estimate to be the mid-1920s, he takes the typed draft and he edits it again, at certain points modernizing the language.
He’s not editing the actual fantasies but editing the second layer of elaboration and commentaries.
The differences between the various texts are indicative of a psychological elaboration and his attempt at psychologically understanding what is taking place.
What’s striking about this is he’s editing also material he’s already left out of the calligraphic volume so that there is no one final text.
One is dealing here with an unfinished manuscript corpus and all of these levels are interesting and important.
AC: Apart from Toni Wolff to whom else in his inner circle did he show Liber Novus?
SS: In my researches, I often ask, did Jung show someone a copy of The Red Book? If he didn’t, it’s to me indicative that he didn’t consider them part of his inner circle.
This actually makes up the bulk of the people who were around him.
So the number of individuals that he gave copies to or showed it to as much as I’ve been able to reconstruct it is quite small. One figure whom he gave copies to was a friend and colleague, Wolfgang Stockmayer.
Stockmayer is not a name one hears of today in Jungian circles.
He gave access to the work to von Franz, Tina Keller, and there are other individuals whom he gave brief glimpses to such as James Kirsch—allowed them to look at it but did not give them a copy.
The number is not big.
One can assume by extrapolation that figures such as C.A. Meier or Franz Riklin, Senior, were also party to discussions around this but one can’t be absolutely certain.
AC: Toni Wolff being the most important?
SS: Well, she appears to have done the first transcription but the most important person is Emma Jung and not Toni Wolff.
AC: Liber Novus represents Jung’s esoteric thinking which, from then on, he leaks into his exoteric writing, for example, Answer to Job—would you agree?
SS: The situation one finds is that Jung’s writings post-1914 do not represent a straightforward evolution, in the manner in which you can trace his writings prior to 1914.
In this intense period from 1914 onwards, Jung had elaborated conceptions which he would take the next thirty years to sift, to elaborate and to put into print.
So, for instance, the central issues in the work are religious, but Jung does not embark in a serious manner in public on the topic of religion until something like The Terry Lectures and, ultimately the themes of the work and the theology embedded in Liber Novus reaches a true articulation in Answer to Job decades later.
AC: Would you say something about how the contents of Liber Novus impacted Jung’s analytical practice, for instance, where he states the main interest of his work is not concerned with the treatment of neuroses but rather with the approach to the numinous.
SS: Jung’s self-experimentation was in part a collective experiment, involving his patients.
Jung encouraged his patients to engage in active imagination and attempted to see to what extent the process of development he had undergone could be replicated and had typical phases.
If one reads diaries of Jung’s patients, one could describe aspects of Jung’s therapeutic practice as supervising the self-experimentation of his patients.
A distinctive aspect of Jung’s practice is what one could term the therapeutics of the individuation process, and in this regard, his statements about psychotherapy being ultimately concerned with the approach to the numinous are directly pertinent.
AC: Any idea about how it might impact Jungian theory and analytical practice?
SS: This is a question for contemporary theorists and practitioners. In as much as contemporary endeavours are directly related to Jung’s work—and there is clearly much in the Jungian field which isn’t—I would imagine that the unparalleled insight into the constitution of his work that Liber Novus affords would have a fructifying effect.
AC: Would you say something about the figure of Philemon?
SS: Jung gives particular significance to the figure of Philemon, as we know from the comments reproduced in Memories, where he describes him as being like a guru.
Now who is Jung’s Philemon?
As we know, at the first level the figure derives from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and also Goethe’s rendition in Faust: Part Two where Faust is wanting to build on reclaimed land.
Faust wants Philemon and Baucis removed and Mephistopheles simply kills them.
Philemon, as he appears in Liber Novus, is a magician and Jung first goes to him to learn magic, which is an interesting critical theme in the work that doesn’t ever really surface in his public writings.
In the course of Liber Novus, Philemon is quite an ambivalent figure. Philemon reaches his apotheosis in Scrutinies.
It is there that he really takes on the significance of the role ascribed to him in Memories.
So, for instance, one finds that in Scrutinies, The Sermons to the Dead are addressed by Philemon to the dead and after each Sermon, Philemon adds his elucidating commentaries.
Also, in Scrutinies, Jung realizes that much of what he’d written in the early part of the book was given to him by Philemon.
In a certain sense, he comes to see Philemon as the implicit author of the first two books, which is represented in the prophetic style.
This is the language of Philemon which Jung then increasingly disidentifies from, i.e., realizing there is this figure in him who thinks and writes in such a way.
This encounter with Philemon is an attempt to establish a right relation to Philemon, and is portrayed elliptically in the chapter on the mana personality in the relations between the ‘I’ and the unconscious in 1928.
In terms of his later writings, Philemon is an example of what Jung would call the archetype of the Wise Old Man but that term doesn’t convey the richness of this figure—as William James would say, it’s a ‘thin’ language compared to the thick description one finds in Liber Novus itself.
AC: Would you want to say something about any of the other figures in The Red Book?
SS: One critical figure is that of Izdubar.
If you look at the painting of Izdubar, he resembles the representations of Izdubar in Roscher’s Lexicon of Classical Mythology. Izdubar was an earlier name given to Gilgamesh, which was based on a mistranscription.
Jung himself was aware of this, so in 1912 in Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, he is referring to Gilgamesh, using the modern form.
It is interesting that he goes back to what he knows is a mistranscription, which seems to indicate the manner in which this figure was related to, but not identical with the figure from the epic.
There is a great deal of pathos in the encounter with Izdubar. Izdubar, who’s seeking to go to where the sun goes, to be reborn, to seek immortality, encounters Jung, or Jung’s ‘I’ to put it more accurately, and is almost mortally paralysed by science when he realizes that he will never reach immortality.
The manner in which Jung or his ‘I’ attempts to seek healing for his God—is one of the most spectacular sequences in the whole work at a visual level.
Izdubar is his God, who is regenerated and in effect reborn as Phanes, the figure from Orphism.
If you look at the paintings in the calligraphic volume, there is a whole series of paintings depicting the incantations for the healing of Izdubar.
AC: Do you want to comment any further on the content of The Red Book?
SS: That’s quite a question! Just point me in a certain direction.
AC: What does Liber Novus offer the next generation of Jungians, in particular, training candidates? Will it bring them closer to Jung?
SS: Undoubtedly so, but this is a question which I am unable to answer.
If you think of the texts people often encounter Jung through, it’s often Memories, Dreams, Reflections or Man and his Symbols or else it’s one of these small popular works such as Anthony Storr’s Fontana book, or it’s one of these dreadful biographies.
If you think of the level of misinformation that is there concerning Jung, and try to imagine the scenario where the first work one might pick up might simply be Liber Novus, such a reader would be starting with the source and therefore on a whole new plateau.
Over time this would just simply completely transform the level of understanding of Jung in that they are starting on the basis of primary documentation of what happened with Jung in his confrontation with the unconscious.
They will see how he elaborated this in his subsequent works.
This change will be something that will take generations, but it will be seismic.
Individuals will then be in a position to quite simply leave aside much of the dross that has encrusted and almost completely buried the figure of Jung within myths, fantasies and misunderstandings.
And, also, one critical element is that this is Jung in the first person.
That’s the voice which has been most missing from the published canon.
This is Jung’s own account of the most critical epoch in his life.
To date, individuals wanting to find a first personal account have relied on Memories, which I have indicated in my own researches is quite unreliable.
This is not Jung’s authentic voice.
Or, aside from that, one simply has the 1925 Seminar which is insufficiently read.
But there’s a massive lacuna mainly on first-hand, first-person writing of Jung rather than the impersonal authorial ‘I’ of The Collected Works.
This is what Liber Novus provides.
It is a spiritual autobiography and as such a human document and hence is one where regardless of whether you accept any of its conceptions or not, it is paradoxically the most approachable way to Jung as a human being, because he is simply stating this is what happened to him and this is what he made of it.
AC: As you’ve mentioned the 1925 Seminar could you say a few words about that.
SS: It’s a Seminar that Jung gave in English at the (Zurich) Psychological Club.
In the first half of it he gave an account to his audience of the genesis of his conceptions leading up to several of the active imaginations in Liber Novus.
In fact, the hub of the chapter on the confrontation with the unconscious in Memories, Dreams, Reflections was simply excerpted from the 1925 Seminar by Aniela Jaffe but excerpted in an unscholarly way, because you don’t actually know where each passage belongs to or to what.
It’s an account where Jung talks about the genesis of his ideas, his encounter with Freud, his self-experimentation.
It also has to be read carefully, because as he himself says quite candidly, don’t think I’m going to tell you everything about the byways and detours of my thinking—to use the language he uses—a man will no more tell you about the background of his thought than a woman would let you into the secrets of her erotic life.
So he’s revealing as much as he’s concealing, which is the way with Jung.
Also, he’s using himself as a case, a teaching exemplar.
He’s highlighting certain episodes for pedagogical, didactic reasons, and, in certain ways, testing out his audience in terms of how they’re responding to what would happen if he made this work public.
That’s a speculation of mine.
In the Seminar, midway through, Jung splits the group and assigns certain readings and they then carry on discussing the readings and it abruptly changes stream.
He’s no longer speaking about himself and one almost gets a sense of, again speculatively, that he’s possibly feeling he’s said too much.
He wasn’t going to carry on going deeper into the material.
AC: What new things did you discover in The Red Book that surprised you?
SS: I would say that the whole thing was a surprise in that it simply didn’t correspond to the myths about The Red Book which were there in the public literature starting from Memories.
So that the whole work itself didn’t bear much relation to what I’d come to expect.
To take one example, the impression which I and I think many others had from reading Memories is that this is a spontaneous influx, and this would lead one to assume, for instance, that you might get text written in something like automatic writing.
But what one actually finds is the most carefully composed work when set beside all of Jung’s published and unpublished writings.
There is no other work that I have come across in his published writings—I’ve studied the manuscripts of the published corpus as well as the unpublished corpus—which went through such a high degree of elaboration and correction in editing.
Paradoxically, there’s more spontaneous writing in many of the manuscripts of texts that go into The Collected Works, and sometimes one would say they could actually have done with a bit more editing.
He often starts with a train of thought and elaborates it in a way that has an imagistic logic but doesn’t have the structure of a logical argument.
This work, by contrast, is highly elaborated and heavily revised.
AC: How has it changed your impression of Jung?
SS: It’s hard to answer that question because given the period of time I’ve worked on it.
I would have to sort of try to reconstruct how I understood Jung up to about 1996 when I first started working on it, as it’s become so much part of the way I think about Jung—this is the single most important work in his canon as far as I’m concerned, and also the work that enables you to have the most direct view into the workings of his thought.
Now this is not to say that you can’t read and understand his existing works as they stand, which you obviously can, or study the genesis of his ideas from an historical context, which you obviously can and a number of people have contributed significant works in this light.
But you don’t have access to the full elaboration of his personal cosmology.
You don’t have access to understanding the man and the way in which his fantasies mesh with the scholarship to create a would-be science.
These are questions that you can only begin to approach through this work, and re-reading The Collected Works after studying this material is an illuminating experience.
It’s an experience that anyone interested in Jung in a serious way has to undertake.
Much that was obscure becomes clear, whilst some that was thought clear becomes obscure.
However, it clearly illuminates much of the constitution of his work.
AC: What do you hope this enormous project will achieve?
SS: I’ve no doubt that eventually Jung’s work will be understood starting from here, and that one will literally be able to start from scratch, revise the prior biographical and scholarly literature and, thereafter, a secondary literature will be established on an accurate basis.
But as one sees in other areas of scholarship, such a level of change takes generations.
There is a lot invested in certain understandings and misunderstandings of Jung so that there are pre-existing templates into which the reading of the work will be cast.
I’ve no doubt people will look at the work and simply see a confirmation of preexisting templates of perception.
For instance, I’m sure people will look at the work and find it as evidence of Jung’s so-called psychosis.
I think this is completely groundless.
Individuals will look upon it and see it as simply the sequelae of Jung’s supposed traumatic break with Freud, which again I think is completely fallacious.
Or they will look at the images and claim to divine, as has already been in print by certain authors that Salome, for instance, is Sabina Spielrein, whereas this has nothing to do with the figures that are there.
So I don’t look forward to the initial wave of responses, because this work will take at least a year to study critically. If you simply think about it in terms of time, Jung spent sixteen years working on it.
He then spent the remainder of his life attempting to understand the material and relate it to historical contexts that he ultimately found most richly provided by medieval alchemy.
I myself have spent thirteen years working on it and editing it and the experience that I found throughout is that in the process of editing, one often tries to go through a text quickly for technical reasons, and this is a book I could never read quickly.
I have always had to take it at its own pace, which is a slow one.
Even now, it’s a text that I have by no means exhausted.
What I have attempted to establish in this edition is simply to provide an initial framework to understand the text.
I have by no means attempted to exhaust and represent everything or present this edition as the final word.
This edition is the first word that opens the study of text.
As I was saying earlier, to read this text you have to go back and reread The Collected Works or vast swathes of it from 1914 onwards, and study the relation between the two and see how Jung takes up, transforms and modulates certain statements.
This cannot be done quickly, so my recommendation is that people do this work before beginning to comment on it.
I see that people are already announcing series of lectures and symposiums on a text that they simply haven’t read which quite frankly strikes me as absurd.
Also, as I indicate in the work, I recommend that the reader doesn’t simply read the text from beginning to end but also reads through the active imaginations consecutively and, then reads the second layer of commentary consecutively, in the order of their composition, and then finally, study the calligraphic plates. Ironically, given the layout of the book, most readers will approach it the other way around, and start with the plates and then go to the text.
So the work requires at least two readings.
The introduction, text and apparatus come to about 220,000 words, which set in normal type would be something in the region of five hundred pages of at times extremely complex and condensed material that takes a lot of time to absorb and to reflect upon.
AC: Did Jung not wish to publish it in his own lifetime as he was ambivalent about its impact on his reputation as a scientist?
SS: It’s clearly a work that was intended for an audience.
A frequent refrain is the expression ‘dear friends’, and, as we know, he did share it with a number of associates.
It was intended for publication, as is clear from the team that Jung assembled to transcribe and re-transcribe and edit it.
He certainly was ambivalent about its publication, as is detailed in his discussions from 1922 onwards with Cary Baynes.
And, yes, the issue of his reputation in medical and scientific circles is one issue of concern amongst others.
When he finally left it aside, as one can see from the Epilogue that he wrote in 1959 in the calligraphic volume, he knew this work was going to be studied.
There are various verbal indicators that the work should be placed into archive at a place like the University of Basel, and released after a number of years.
Interestingly enough, he gave a similar spread of dates as he gave at the same time to the Freud/Jung Letters.
I think the view he took was this was going to be studied, it was going to be made available, but it wasn’t something he himself wanted to do in his own lifetime.
AC: Do you think he was mistaken in not publishing it in his lifetime?
SS: He left the work aside in the 1930s; he stopped the transcription in the calligraphic volume and turned to the cross-cultural study of the individuation process.
Much of what happened in the development of complex psychology, analytical psychology, Jungian psychology—whatever name one uses—has to be seen as a result of the decision not to publish the work.
The whole subsequent shape of the institutions of this discipline, of the readership and response to his work would have been radically different.
This has to be taken on board.
The question one has to pose from a historical angle is what was enabled by this non-publication, and what was lost.
With hindsight I think it’s fair enough to say Jung never really achieved the level of status in medical and scientific circles that he himself aspired to.
My own view is that the understanding of his work would have been enhanced considerably by all that took up its study if he had published it, and I think it has been a great loss that one has had generations of people that have dedicated in many instances their lives to understanding his work, to attempting to practise in a way that has been inspired by his work, and haven’t had access to the text.
I think that when individuals have dedicated their lives to a particular enterprise in a sincere way, there’s some sense in which they have a right to be able to read and reflect upon the text that actually led to the enterprise that they’ve been involved in, and this is what the publication, which some have opposed, affords.
AC: What impact will Liber Novus have on the Jungian community?
SS: It’s hard to say. I think that for many it will be business as usual.
For others, it will be an opportunity to encounter Jung and to comprehend his work in a manner that simply has never been possible before.
AC: What impact will it have worldwide on Jung’s reputation? What are the most likely responses to it in your view?
SS: By the time that this interview comes out we will have had the first wave of critical responses so this is in a way testing my abilities as a prophet!
I think to refer back to what I indicated earlier, I think that in terms of initial response, someone trying to respond to his work within a matter of weeks or even months of just dipping into it or skimming through it is unlikely to be able to do anything but find pre-existing templates of perception confirmed in it.
So that those that consider Jung to be a mystic and a visionary will find that confirmed therein; those that consider him a psychotic will find that confirmed therein; those that consider him to be a charlatan will find that confirmed therein and so on and so forth.
One can run through the whole gamut of the manner in which Jung’s work has been received and understood or misunderstood and all the usual suspects will emerge and present it in this way.
But if you take a certain point of comparison, no one today goes back and reads what was written by pundits immediately after the Freud/Jung correspondence was released.
It took quite a number of years before scholars really began to read it and make use of the first proper apparatus for a Jung correspondence where all the figures were identified and the contexts were indicated.
To read the correspondence, not just read it through as a play, but read it through tracing all the debates and inter-connections that weave their way through it—it took decades before people began to read it in that way.
And I think it’s likely to be the same case here.
AC: Would you like to add anything further?
SS: With a text like this, it is unusual for the first edition to be an historical scholarly edition.
In intellectual history it often takes at least half-a-century before the appearance of an historical edition.
I’ll be interested to see how this affects the reception of the work.
There are things which took me many years to figure out and understand which a reader starting with this edition will be able to get to very quickly, and this will enable them to start, on the other hand, at an advanced level.
I think this will open up the potentiality of further vistas of the text when individuals are able to take this edition as a springboard.
On the other hand, with the images in particular, I do feel that individuals will take these as somewhat akin to Rorschach inkblots and cover them with symbolic interpretations which I’m not questioning the validity of, but when one studies this text and one looks, for instance, at the images that Jung himself commented on, it’s quite a hard task to be able to reconstruct Jung’s own personal iconography, rather than simply interpolate into it.
In some senses one can already consider the subsequent Collected Works as in part direct or indirect amplification of contents of Liber Novus.
There is a critical sense in which the text doesn’t require interpretation.
In one sense, layer two of the text already amplifies, already interprets, already elaborates the material in layer one.
What I’ve tried to do in this edition is to point to interconnections between various statements, various notions in the text and the later elaborations in The Collected Works, so that one already sees the manner in which Jung himself took up particular notions and elaborates them.
What I recommend is to remain focused on trying to reconstruct Jung’s own self-understanding, try to look at how Jung himself understood the material and how he himself interpreted it before then moving, if one wants to, to one’s own level of interpretation of the text.
That task is a very time-consuming one, but one that is immensely rewarding.
AC: Thank you, Sonu, for sharing these insightful thoughts with the Journal.
SS: Thanks for your questions and interest.