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Jung Becomes Jung: A Dialogue on Liber Novus (The Red Book)


C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus, his title for the long privately held work known familiarly as The Red Book, forms the subject of a dialogue between its editor, Jung historian Sonu Shamdasani, and Jungian analyst John Beebe.

Conducted in the third month after the work’s first publication in facsimile and English translation, their conversation touches on the book’s importance within Jungian studies and its unexpected popularity with a wider audience as Jung’s first best-seller.

They discuss how a close reading of this book’s text can help to dispel misconceptions about Jung and about the empirical ground of his later psychology.

They note that the self-experiment with individual vision that Liber Novus records, without recourse to psychological jargon or preconception, reveals Jung’s recognition of a need to sacrifice the hero archetype and accept responsibility for what he regarded as his complicity with the egoistic spirit that had shaped the lead-up to World War I.

A sense of duty, driven by what he felt was necessary to reconnect with his soul, gave him the energy to participate actively in the imaginations that emerged through encounters with figures that appeared in his dreams and waking reveries. In a personal variation of medieval theology’s imitatio Christi, Jung’s “I” was led to make a fantasized descent to Hell and to take up “the lament of the dead.”

The meanings of the sacrifices involved are explored to reveal their role in helping Jung to realize the nature of human individuation beyond mere ego development.


John Beebe (JB): You must be satisfied in some profound way by the initial reception of Liber Novus (The Red Book) after so many years of your work. I wonder if that’s a fair statement.

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Sonu Shamdasani (SS): I quite honestly never thought I would get to this moment to see it being published.

JB: Why?

SS: Because of the level of the travails along the way.

My first thoughts were simply relief that the publishers, who had spared no expense to produce the most beautiful edition possible, had their faith in it recouped.

Secondly, when you’re working on a project as I’ve done in this case for thirteen years, you imagine that people might think, well, can it possibly be that important?

And now we have a situation where people are seeing, well yes, this was not a case of hype, it really is significant.

JB: What would people be responding to when they quickly assume that this project was mostly hype?

SS: There’s been an attitude that we have already on the shelves all that is significant of Jung.

And some of the biographies of Jung have collectively downplayed the significance of Liber Novus or any of the other unpublished materials.

Because people have had no access to Liber Novus, rumors have circulated about it that are completely ridiculous.

One encounters the view that it’s just some sort of journal or diary, or that it’s jottings of dreams.

JB: Are you saying that these projections are coming because people had never seen the book itself so they had to make up stories about what it was?

SS: That’s one level to it.

The other is to protect interpretations of Jung based on the existing biographies, together with a reluctance to accept that such a critical piece of the jigsaw puzzle was missing.

There’s been a fear that there might be something that could overturn prior understandings of Jung.

JB: How many biographies have there been so far?

SS: It depends on what one classes as biography. . . .

You start with Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Jung/Jaffe, 1963) as the first biography, mistaken to be an autobiography.

You’ve got Barbara Hannah’s memoir (1976), which I still think is the only one of lasting value—at least the gossip in it is firsthand.

You’ve got Gerhard Wehr’s work (1987), Frank McLynn’s (1997), Ronald Hayman’s (1999), Deirdre Bair’s (2003), Vincent Brome’s (1978)—those are the main ones.

And I don’t see, apart from Barbara Hannah (with the exception of the original manuscripts and protocols that went into the making of Memories), that they significantly enhance one’s understanding of Jung.

It’s quite the opposite.

JB: We might add to that list, Henri Ellenberger in The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970). It’s not exactly a biography, but he devotes about 100 pages to surveying Jung’s life and work.

SS: It’s a biographical essay.

In my book, Jung Stripped Bare by His Biographers, Even (Shamdasani, 2005), I attempted to clear away some of the misconceptions, principally around Jung’s confrontation with the unconscious, to prepare the ground for the publication of Liber Novus.


JB: Do you know the piece by the personologist Irving Alexander (1990) where he talks about different people’s lives?

One of them is Harry Stack Sullivan and another is C. G. Jung.

That was an attempt to write about Jung in the manner of a book like Robert White’s Lives in Progress (1972),

to try to understand, using a rather Jungian way of understanding someone from the standpoint of individuation. I would add that to the list.

But I would imagine that your major concern is lack of complete information on the part of the people who’ve attempted these different biographies.

SS: I think that if you compare some of them—take Gerhard Wehr—I think that he’s quite respectful of places where he lacks knowledge.

He doesn’t try to fill in the gaps. It’s a work that is limited as far as it goes.  But it doesn’t add false information.

With some of the other biographies, as I’ve argued, that’s simply not the case.

JB: Is there a deeper issue here than simply the need of a biographer to make his or her own story?

I find that a problem in just about every biography I’ve ever read—that I sensed the biographer shaping his or her own story.

And that somehow the person being described eludes the net of the biographer. Would you agree?

SS: The first issue is: does a biographer have a compass? Do they know their character?

The first task of any biographer is reconstructing the subject’s own self-understanding.

. . . how the historical actors perceive their own actions, render the context intelligible, and leave it at that.

JB: Could you name a biography of another figure that—how can I put this?—either satisfies you or you’re comfortable with as a biography because you have a sense that the person is not replaced by someone else’s idea of the person?

SS: I would say Fernando Vidal’s Piaget before Piaget (1994). Or Janet Browne’s Darwin biography (1996, 2003).

JB: There is another problem with Jung.

Given the fact that Jung, to use his own terminology, moved beyond the idea of a personal unconscious to a collective unconscious that he said was ever busy shaping us, in one sense any biography that tries to paint a portrait in personal terms is going to fail, because it’s not going to bring in the collective aspect adequately.

SS: I think the first task of any biographer is reconstructing the subject’s own self-understanding.

That’s what I tried to do in my introduction to Liber Novus, in as far as one can make it out. That is a very difficult task.

The very act of doing that leads one to quickly see the risks of interpolating one’s own interpretation onto such a figure at a biographical level.

So at this point, that’s as far as I think one can go.

One can reconstruct someone’s self-understanding: how the historical actors perceive their own actions, render the context intelligible, and leave it at that.

JB: Leave it at that.

SS: And not fill in the gaps with fantasy and speculation.

JB: I think there are many analysts who probably will want to go in another direction.

I’m thinking of myself as a Jungian analyst, and of my colleagues, and how I work with people in practice.

I guess an analyst always wants to add something more once they’ve heard it all. That’s the simplest way to say it.

So that I can feel the integrity of your, so to speak, refraining from interpretation that goes beyond the self-understanding of the person.

Yet I feel I have to speak up for the analysts’ right to make some kind of statement about what they see even if it moves in a different direction.

But only if they’ve heard it all, so to speak.

SS: I think that’s entirely appropriate, but that’s a different discipline.

When you look at that in the framework of biography, one gets into the problem of psychobiography.

I can’t name a psychobiography that I consider successful because of the mix of discourses.

JB: So by your standard, if an analyst is going to be analyzing what the evidence shows, that should be clearly framed as analysis and interpretation rather than smuggled in as if it were biography.

Is that a fair way to say it?

SS: Yes, or as speculation. There’s nothing wrong with speculation as long as it’s . . .

JB: so framed . . .

SS: . . . presented as such. But what becomes wrong, in my view, is when speculation is taken as fact.

JB: And that unfortunately has become the state of the art right now in Jung studies. There’s a great deal of speculation passing itself off as fact.

SS: Yes. So Mikkel Borch Jacobsen and I have coined this term “interprefaction” to explain this operation by which interpretations become taken as facts.

We have an article on this, “Interprefactions: Freud’s Legendary Science” (2008). It appeared in The History of Human Sciences.

JB: Is it about the Freud legend? Or are you saying that Freud is the source of this trend?

SS: We’re using it as a way of typifying Freud’s approach.

JB: Where will we see that in Freud?

SS: Right throughout!

JB: You mean the case of Dora, Leonardo, wherever you look, Freud is constantly rewriting the history of whomever along the lines of his own theory.

Am I right in saying that Jung picked this up in Freud very early?

SS: He does comment on it at certain junctures.

JB: Where can we find Jung’s critique of Freud’s approach to biography?

SS: Here’s one citation: Freud’s “findings are only apparent facts; in the main, they are interpretations.” That’s Jung (1966, p. 32).2 This puts it in a nutshell.

JB: I feel that I picked that up early in my reading of The Interpretation of Dreams (Freud, 1959), when one of Freud’s patients is described as having had a dream in which a university professor treating him in lieu of Freud “was pushing against his mouth with an iron rod, so that he lost one or two of his teeth.”

Freud assumed this had something to do with the homosexual leanings of the young man.

But I had the immediate, contemporary analyst’s reaction that the only possible interpretation of the dream that would satisfy me was that this was the patient’s reaction to having Freud’s theory pushed on him, which was a violation of the actual structure of the young man’s own complexes, whatever they were, represented by those two front teeth.

I could only see that dream as an amazing reaction of the psyche itself to having an interpretation forced on it.

I realize that that’s an interpretation that belongs to its time, the 1970s and 1980s when we were looking at the violation of patients by the analytic process as well as by analysts, but I stand by the interpretation.

I think it rhymes with what you and Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen are saying. But I have to admit, it’s an interpretation.

SS: Yes, but I think it’s one that does characterize what one reads in the case histories—quite frequently.

JB: How did Jung himself avoid this problem of the analyst overtaking the psyche?

I’m sure that he struggled with this as we all do. How did he approach a solution to the problem?

SS: I think first there’s a different understanding of the status of interpretation.

He’s got a different epistemology and ontology.

JB: I keep hearing arguments about both of those words these days. What do you mean by epistemology and ontology?

SS: First, theory of knowledge, and second, description of the world—describing what is.

JB: What is Jung’s theory of knowledge then? And I bring this up because I think it may be very connected to Liber Novus.

SS: There’s no single theory of knowledge in Jung. These things shift.

So looking at different periods, there is a question about the problematic of the status of interpretation that you find.

And the question of what is the status of science.

I dealt with aspects of Jung’s relation to science in the first section of Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science (Shamdasani, 2003, pp. 29–99).

What is the status of a comment about a phenomenon that itself is a part of the phenomena it’s attempting to describe?

I looked at how he tried to grapple with this issue there.

JB: He says in several places there is no Archimedean point, meaning Archimedes’ famous statement, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.”

SS: Yes.

JB: And Jung is saying we are what we observe.

There is no way to observe the psyche except via the psyche. I think that’s accurate to Jung.

SS: Which is quite radically different from Freud’s positivism where interpretation is merely the truth, where there’s an ultimate truth to a proposition.

JB: Are we right now at the heart of Jung’s difficulty proceeding post-Freud, that if you’re not going to be able to make these separate assertions about the nature of the psyche, apart from your own experience, then how

are you going to say anything at all—anything that could be useful generally?

SS: That’s one issue, but I don’t see it as central to Jung’s reflections in 1912–1913.

JB: What was he reflecting on?

SS: The first question was what was the myth of his life?

Did he have a myth that provided sustaining meaning?

JB: In 1912 when Jung starts looking for his myth, what did he mean by myth?

SS: In Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, Jung (1912) doesn’t provide a definition of myth.

He takes a collection of what are classically seen as myths—he’s not adding anything to that—and provides an interpretation in terms of libido theory.

His thesis was that what these stories describe is actually the typical progressions and transformations of the libido.

JB: En route to consciousness, one would have to add. In other words there’s already a theory of individuation implied.

That there’s purposiveness and there’s a rescue of consciousness in all the myths.

SS: He basically identifies one major motif.

That is the battle, the hero’s struggle, for deliverance from the mother.

In that work it functions as a monomyth, an organizing template.

JB: It’s a heroic idea.

The hero, who already has a measure of separation from the mother, does the most perilous thing of all, to go back into the belly of the whale to get that extra bit of consciousness that’s still trapped in the unconscious and rescue it so that it becomes truly his own.

Isn’t it something like that?

SS: Yes. This is Jung’s account there of human development.

After writing the book, when he speaks of his sense that he didn’t have a myth, he’s The issue of the hero, which we describe as the key model of Transformations and Symbols of Libido, is in this text completely abandoned.

. . . Liber Primus concerns the slaying of the hero and overcoming one’s heroism. using the word in a different way. He’d just written a book that had explained all mythology.

And it also, as we have been discussing, provided a template for a mode of understanding human development.

Critically, both of these were not satisfying for Jung after completing this work—neither the psychological explanation of human development that he had provided, nor his account of mythology.

What is crucial is myth as something that provides sustaining meaning.

And that’s what he’s in quest of, from 1913 onwards.

JB: To take an intuitive leap, what excites me about Liber Novus is the degree to which it is a post-heroic work.

I’m not going to say that it doesn’t have its heroic aspect because some of the things Jung does with his imagination throughout are quite heroic.

But since it starts so early on with the killing of the hero, Siegfried, I think it defines itself as a post-heroic work.

It’s somebody leaving the monomyth of the hero in writing this book. Would you say that’s correct?

SS: Absolutely.

You find that the issue of the hero, which we describe as the key model of Transformations and Symbols of Libido, is in this text completely abandoned.

So early on, Liber Primus concerns the slaying of the hero and overcoming one’s heroism.

JB: Can we say—and I’m going to frame this as interpretation—that Jung’s dissatisfaction with Freud and with the focus on the hero in Transformations and Symbols of Libido is all of the same piece?

Because isn’t Freud, in many ways, taking a heroic attitude toward the unconscious?

Like the famous statement about the analytic process as draining the Zuider Zee:

“Where id was, there ego shall be.” In other words a heroic work of construction, as if psychoanalysis were like the Panama Canal, a major feat of engineering?

SS: Well, there’s no place where Jung criticizes Freud because of Freud’s commitment to a heroic ideal.

JB: So if it’s true, that’s my interpretation. There’s no explicit evidence in Jung for that view.

SS: I don’t find that.

But it is true that the hero myth is what is central in Transformations and Symbols of Libido and that in the early sections of Liber Primus he has to sacrifice the hero. So it’s a very significant shift.

JB: The late analyst Jane Wheelwright used to say that intuitive people have a tendency to talk beyond where they are.

Jung writes a chapter on “The Sacrifice” in Transformations and Symbols of Libido, but it’s as if he actually makes the sacrifice in Liber Novus.

Would that be accurate to say?

SS: The theme in the chapter on sacrifice in Transformation and Symbols of the Libido is the necessity to sacrifice the infantile longing for the mother.

What he’s talking about in terms of Liber Novus is self-sacrifice. So it’s a different conception.

JB: How would you describe the level of sacrifice that’s enacted in Liber Novus?

SS: There’s this problematic of sacrifice and self-sacrifice, which he saw as literally being externally embodied within the carnage of World War I.

JB: In other words, so many people are sacrificing their lives and Jung is saying, “Why is this happening?”

SS: Yes, what is the inner meaning of what we see enacted in the carnage of World War I?

JB: That fits my idea that in many ways Liber Novus is a work of conscience in which Jung is trying to see what he can do about this suffering.


What he owes the people who’ve suffered.


In a way the dead that he later talks about were also those dying around him at the time he was having these

fantasies. Would you agree with that?

SS: Yes.

JB: He’s saying, in effect, that when we see mass sacrifice on this scale, we have a duty to understand why it’s really happening.

SS: Yes, and it takes him back to the central motif of the imitation of Christ.

JB: Why was it necessary for Jesus to sacrifice himself to become Christ? Something like that?

SS: Yes, and what does it mean to take up this way of self-sacrifice?


It’s a theme he expands on many decades later in “Transformation Symbolism in the Mass”: the motif of the identity between sacrificer and the sacrificed (Jung, 1969, p. 231).

JB: So there are two different themes here that come together.

One is Jung’s attempt to make sense of the central mystery of Christianity that I have found seems to be the dividing line between those who can go a Christian way and those who can’t.

It has to do with the attitude toward sacrifice.

But there’s another piece, a step that Jung takes that not everyone does, and that is that when he sees an outer event he assumes it has an inner meaning.

That, I think, is very characteristic of Jung.

He says the “psychological rule” is “that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate” (Jung, 1968, para. 126, p. 71)—fate being something like the assassination of the Crown Prince that started World War I.

But where did he get that idea? Did that come out like Athena fully blown from his mind? Or is it an idea that he derives in some way from anyone else?

SS: If you go back to Swedenborg, he developed a whole hermeneutic concerning reading the symbolic meaning of outer events.

You find this conception in many different locations.

What is critical at this juncture for Jung is the concurrence of his own crisis and World War I.

And he sees these as two parts of the same whole. This is what he’s trying to understand—how these fit together.

One of the themes of Liber Novus is that the self-conscious personality—one that is aware of what you are doing, and not just unconsciously identified with the spirit of the times—also has to be given up for you to descend to the underworld.

JB: One reason that Jung was either led to this conviction or confirmed in it was by his own psychological

experience, because he actually had precognitive dreams and visions, which showed him that the outer was speaking to him already inside, even before certain outer events happened.

Such as the sea of blood that becomes World War I (see Shamdasani, “Introduction” to Liber Novus, p. 202).

SS: He has experiences, fantasies, which he interprets as precognitive.

JB: I have to say, I can accept Jung’s experiences as precognitive.

I think precognitive dreams are more common than is usually thought.


 JB: I’d like to discuss a particular aspect of Liber Novus: what the Murder of the Hero in Liber Primus (pp. 241–242) actually meant for Jung.

Is it the psychoanalytic persona that has to be sacrificed to allow Jung to be himself, even if that more authentic self is one he will also, later in Liber Novus, have to sacrifice in a still more fundamental way?

SS: One of the themes of Liber Novus is that the self-conscious personality—one that is aware of what you are doing, and not just unconsciously identified with the spirit of the times—also has to be given up for you to descend to the underworld.

What is overcome in the Scrutinies section, which follows Liber Primus and Liber Secundus of Liber Novus, has more to do with egoical attachment.

That would be one way of putting it.

JB: At the beginning of Scrutinies, where the especially vigorous self-criticism that Jung engaged in during the spring of 1914 is described, he says, “I speak now to you, my I” (p. 333).

It’s clear that he’s confronting himself.

I am thinking that if he is capable of talking to his “I” in a critical way, that means that by the time of Scrutinies, Jung has clearly distanced himself from his “I” and in that sense perhaps overcome that “I.”

SS: A disidentification has occurred.

JB: He’s disidentified with his “I,” and that permits him to really criticize it.

This is quite an honest self-encounter, isn’t it?

SS: I find this sharper than what he wrote in his later published writings, where he discusses this kind of self-criticism in terms of the confrontation with the shadow, because it becomes too easy, with the concept of the shadow, to distance one’s self from one’s flaws and shortcomings.

Anyway, in those writings the “I” remains sacrosanct and all the vices are heaped on the shadow.

JB: Psychologically, there’s an integrity to owning negative aspects as belonging to an “I” who is myself, rather than characterizing them as traits of my shadow.

Jung goes on to say, “After I had spoken many more angry words to my I, I noticed that I began to bear being alone with myself” (p. 334).

SS: He is completely alone with himself at this point, and at an earlier point of wondering what has happened, feeling that the soul or God has vanished and that he remains “in the night of pain,” which is where he leaves off at the end of his Liber Secundus, he says, “The touchstone is being alone with oneself” (p. 330).

It’s how can he live with himself? That’s the problem that he’s faced with.

JB: Yes, and I have to say from my experience as an analyst, that is the basic problem just about everyone in analysis comes to as well, after all his or her complexes have been exposed.

SS: Jung wrote a letter to James Kirsch noting in the course of analysis, one arrived at the most difficult problems.

This brought to mind Nietzsche’s comment, “You sought the heaviest burden and you found yourself!”

Jung added that everything necessary was expressed by this.

JB: Let’s return then to the passage of Scrutinies I just mentioned.


Now comes the beautiful line that follows right after the passage I read previously:


“But the touchiness still stirred in me frequently and I had to lash myself just as often. And I did this until even the pleasure in self-torment faded” (p. 334).

I think that is a criticism of self that’s quite different from the negative inflation that takes all the blame for one’s life, as in a depression, with the hidden wish that someone will come and rescue one from all that responsibility.

It’s a self criticism that’s more accurate, more fundamental, and almost more problematic, isn’t it, because he has to take it seriously.

SS: It’s just at this point, April 30, 1914, that he resigns his position at Zurich University.

JB: He gave up his post?

SS: He stops teaching others. The task he’s faced with is to be alone with himself.

He’s not going to teach psychology in a university context unless he can live with himself.

He can’t move forward and he’s got nothing to teach.

JB: He thinks: What good is psychology? What if it’s a lie?

SS: Or a desire to make an impression, a desire for fame in certain circles?

JB: Is there a deeper implication that the soul, the very topic of the depth psychology he was trying to teach, can’t even be adequately understood from such a perspective?

SS: In the opening sections of Liber Primus, he talks about how he himself turned the soul into an object of science and thought he had mastered it in so doing.

But that’s what brought about his own downfall. This is what he realizes at this stage in his life.

He thought he’d succeeded by explaining everything in Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, and realized he’d ended up by explaining nothing.

JB: This raises an essential question about Liber Novus.

Is it a record of the process by which Jung becomes Jung, or shall we say returns to the real Jung?

SS: Yes.

JB: And it would not be possible for Jung to have come to himself without the experiences recorded here in Liber Novus?

SS: I think it’s through this that Jung becomes Jung. That’s the outcome. Look back at his works up to 1912.

You can imagine a projection, a continuation of works, on that level. But you would not have got the psychology of individuation.

If you imagine works that are quite sophisticated and quite brilliant at a synthetic level with this rationalism, you could imagine Jung deciding to continue on the path of what he’d done with Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, turning that into a multi-volume, multi-work akin to The Golden Bough.

You could imagine that type of work resulting.

JB: Yes. It certainly would have been possible for him to be famous.

SS: But you would not have got the works that resulted.

JB: I am so impressed by the way when he writes, Jung seems to be taking responsibility for the unconscious as well as the conscious impact of what he is saying.

The work is a dialogue between self and other, and it has real integrity in that mode, because it is self-aware and other-aware at the same time, aware of how it will affect the developing selves of others.

It’s not only written about the psyche, but for the psyche.

SS: I think that’s well put.

JB: Is it fair to say that in Liber Novus, you can find evidence of Jung’s individuation as a writer, his becoming conscious of what it means to speak from psyche to psyche.

You can see him becoming a psychological writer in his language, can’t you?

SS: Absolutely. I’ve tried to make clear in the introduction and in the note on the translation, particularly, that I wrote with John Peck and Mark Kyburz (p. 222) that right from the beginning of Liber Primus, where the

spirit of the depths challenges Jung’s use of an “achieved” language that goes along with the spirit of the time, this is in a way also critically a linguistic experiment.

It’s an experiment with language. Finding the right way to write about psychology.

Compare the styles of works such as Psychology of Dementia Praecox or Transformations and Symbols of the Libido with something such as Relations between the I and the Unconscious.

You’re reading a whole different mode of articulation.

JB: I wanted to ask your opinion of Symbols of Transformation, which was published in 1952, as a revision of Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, which was published in 1912.

SS: In 1988 I did a line by line comparison with two editions and marked up by pencil all the changes in most of the work in my copy.

I thought it was important to have a variorum edition, but I couldn’t interest the relevant publishers at that time.

JB: I hope you can get someone to publish it.

SS: I do, too.

JB: What do you think of the changes Jung made to Transformations and Symbols of the Libido?

SS: What Jung did is he literally took a copy of the book and marked it up and had typed up sections and pasted them in.

It’s quite fascinating just to look at how he worked it over. I see that as explaining his procedure.

He started reading the book: at parts where it felt most objectionable in terms of his current understanding, he changed things, but not at all parts.

So it’s a very hybrid work. It’s a work that’s neither 1912 nor is it 1952.

But it’s got bits of both: for instance, his handling of the hero motif.

What you get there in 1952 (and it also gets repeated in a lot of primers on Jungian psychology) is, you could almost say, the unreconstructed hero model from 1912.

You don’t get what you have in Liber Novus, which is the confrontation of and the overcoming of the hero.

What gets taught as Jung’s model is the development of the hero.

JB: There’s a definite confusion of Joseph Campbell’s notion of the hero with Jung’s and a failure to distinguish the hero’s journey from the journey of the individuating person, who in moving from ego to Self has to get past the hero.

SS: Yes, that’s certainly the case.

JB: I recall Joseph Henderson saying once, do you see how hard it is to get beyond the hero?

Did Jung feel that his psychology begins, really, when the hero is overcome?

SS: What’s interesting is the word psychology does not appear in Liber Novus.

JB: Psychology doesn’t appear? What does he call what he is doing?

SS: Religion appears, psychology doesn’t. I mean, in a sense, it’s all psychological.

But the term psychology or any engagement with psychology in a professional sense is just not there.

JB: But after he’s done with the journey recorded in Liber Novus, he does try to translate some of the discoveries into analytical psychology.

SS: Yes, and also whilst he’s writing on it, he’s then trying to transmute into psychology.

Trying to take ideas and insights and create a psychology out of it.

JB: The psychology of the path of individuation.

To me Jung’s description of his individuation is psychology to the extent that it is related to a self, a center of experiencing.

I can relate to that because I have a center of experiencing too, and can recognize myself as having had similar experiences.

I can’t say that about theories of what the unconscious may consist of that leave out this center.

Many attributions of motive and dynamics, which are not related to a self that actually experiences them in some way, are to my mind not actually psychological.

SS: Liber Novus is a text that is articulating the way of the future.

It is not a teaching but something which is bearing witness to the writer’s own truth—to his rediscovery of truth and reconnection with his soul.

This is not a scientific or scholarly text.


JB: There’s a perception I have had on the basis of most everything published prior to Liber Novus that some of the formulations that later entered analytical psychology were not arrived at simply on the basis of dreams, but actually required the technique of active imagination.

That Jung would not have possibly come up with the formulation of the anima, for example, had he not actually met Salome in his active imagination.

I wanted to see if you agreed with that.

This is not someone who is simply being submerged or overwhelmed by material. The material fuels reflections.

Theory making, cosmology making emerge out of this active engagement.

SS: People will be surprised, when they study the text of Liber Novus, how few dreams are mentioned in it.

And the same holds for the corresponding Black Books during this period.

It is directly through the meditation on the active imaginations and the attempt to comprehend them that the main element of what Jung first terms as “subject imagoes” is formulated.

So I think it is a fair observation.

JB: I think it’s important to know that, because there’s something interactive about psychology as Jung understands it.

Psychology is not something that we have in the same sense that we have a liver or a brain or a kidney, even though he makes those analogies at times.

It’s when he’s actually making an effort to engage with the unconscious, that the figures make their appearance to him.

SS: It also underscores the fact that this is not someone who is simply being submerged or overwhelmed by material.

The material fuels reflections.

Theory making, cosmology making emerge out of this active engagement. You can see it in a very graphic way.

JB: There’s a big difference between Jung’s experience and that of a psychotic person, whom you might say is simply overwhelmed and is the passive recipient of voices and feelings and images coming unbidden, without much of a conscious standpoint to use to engage with them.

SS: I think this will be apparent to any reader of this text.

People will be surprised at the level of how worked the material is—the extent to which the work is comprised of theological, philosophical, and psychological reflections upon the nature of his undertaking.

JB: You used a word just now that doesn’t come up perhaps often enough in relation to Jung. Theological.

It’s my understanding that Jung, by the time he got to the dreams and visions of 1913 to 1915 and began what we now have as Liber Novus, was already quite well read in theology.

SS: That’s apparent in the text.

It’s already clear to some extent by the time of Transformations and Symbols of the Libido.

You also have the degree of immersion in scholasticism apparent in Psychological Types, which must have taken place somewhere between 1913 and 1920.

You have within Liber Novus an engagement with some central problematics of Christian theology such as: How should one understand the imitation of Christ?

How is self-sacrifice to be understood?

JB: We’ve been talking about the exact meaning of self-sacrifice, and how it’s a deeper process than simply the killing of the hero, with which the book begins.

That might be a precursor to getting to the self that has to be sacrificed. How would you say Jung’s view of self-sacrifice differs from the Christian view as we find it in the New Testament?

SS: Well I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s a difference.

The question for Jung is, how is the perspective outlined in the New Testament to be understood today and how is it to be used?

What does it mean to take up one’s cross?

So in his view this is an attempt to get at the core of Christian message.

JB: So can we agree that Liber Novus is in part a reading of Christianity? Of the Christian message?

SS: That is one part of it. A reading of it in an attempt to understand it anew.

One of the passages from the Handwritten Draft of Liber Novus (1914–1915) states,

“Not one title of Christian law is abrogated, but instead we are adding a new one: accepting the lament of the dead” (Liber Secundus, note 187, p. 297).

I think it’s a very clear formulation.

JB: What are some precursors to Jung’s understanding of Christianity?

SS: You have developments within Christian theology in the 19th century—or earlier than that, with figures such as Schleiermacher or, for instance, Auguste Sabatier, with his emphasis on personal experience as the source of religious experience.

These are some angles that inform Jung (see Shamdasani, 1999).

But the figure whom Jung said he most identified with, and I think that there is a very powerful argument in this text for that, is Meister Eckhart.

JB: At what time in Jung’s life was he reading Meister Eckhart?

SS: He mentions in Memories, Dreams, Reflections reading him in his youth, saying, if I’m quoting correctly, only in Meister Eckhart did he “feel the breath of life.”

JB: And by youth you would mean somewhere between fifteen and twenty?

SS: From fifteen on, I’d guess.

JB: Does the idea of the dead come up from Meister Eckhart?

SS: Not that I know of.

JB: That particular emphasis seems very original in Jung—the degree of emphasis that Jung places on the dead does not rhyme for me with what I know of Christian theology.

SS: In the statement we just discussed, he’s indicating that this is the aspect he is adding to Christian law: accepting the lament of the dead.

JB: When existential philosophy and psychiatry reached American shores in the 1950s with the book Existence (May et al., 1958), there was a claim that in effect the existentialists were important because they were dealing with the problem of death—as if it had never been dealt with by any other school of psychology.

And it seems to me this book gives the lie to that, that it’s absolutely part of Jungian psychology.

SS: Well, it’s an interesting point of comparison. Of course the issue of death was present within psychical research.

Clearly, the existentialists were discounting that completely.

JB: You mean William James, Mrs. Piper, and mediumistic research, that kind of thing?

And seances, which were a subject for psychology, including Jung’s own doctoral dissertation?

SS: Yes.

JB: One of the most moving statements in the entire Liber Novus is from the Seven Sermons to the Dead, which many of us have already had a chance to read because that section was already published privately:

the statement that the dead have come from Jerusalem not having found what they were seeking.

Perhaps that is so moving to read today because Jerusalem is still a battlefield.

And political leaders, so to speak, have returned from Jerusalem not having found what they were seeking in the form of any kind of peace or understanding.

Many have died as a result of that misunderstanding. So it seems like Jung is pointing to an open wound.

The symbol of Jerusalem is very powerful still. It moves me very much to hear that sentence from the Seven Sermons.

There, however, the dead that have returned were the Anabaptists, a sect of radical Protestants from the time of the early Reformation.

I find myself wondering what they didn’t get in Jerusalem in their day.

SS: Ezekiel the Anabaptist is quoted as saying, “We were wandering to Jerusalem to pray to the most holy Sepulchre.”

They were making a pilgrimage to all the holy places.

JB: Which would mean literally in the Holy Land?

SS: I presume so.

JB: There is another possible meaning.

Am I not correct that the Anabaptists were a radical political movement to end poverty and class distinctions, to create a kind of radical Christian communal living?

They actually succeeded in taking over certain cities in Germany during a major upheaval called the Peasants’ War at the time of Martin Luther in the 16th century.

SS: It is generally held that the movement was initiated in Zurich in the 1520s.

JB: So it was a Swiss movement.

SS: That’s where it started.

JB: And were they among those who were interested in creating a New Jerusalem?

SS: They were trying to restore the spirit of the old church.

JB: But did that actual phrase “the New Jerusalem” come up for them as for others?

SS: The city of Mu¨ nster in Germany was supposed to become the “New Jerusalem.”

JB: Because if it did, then one thing they may not have gotten was their chance to make that New Jerusalem.

You see the idea? In one sense the Jerusalem where they didn’t find what they were seeking was also in their quest, in their time, to make that particular political heaven on earth, you might say.

SS: It’s possible.

JB: I will say it’s a guess that I’ve had. Many, many people died in that upheaval.

There had been a Peasants’ Revolt a century or two before.

But I’m referring to a later uprising that took place in Germany in 1524–1525—a full-scale war.

And I understand that more Europeans lost their lives in that war than in any other up until World War I.

In that one sense, maybe Jung is looking back, at the time of World War I, to the last time there was such widespread upheaval in Europe.

SS: This could be the case. We would need to check whether that was informing him.

There does seem to be a reference to the Peasants’ War on page 254 of Liber Novus.

JB: All of this is of interest to me because it links to what Jung feels we owe the dead—as if the dead had certain problems and also certain solutions.

We have to go back and engage with those problems and those solutions ourselves, too. Is that essentially correct?

SS: You have to supply them with answers!

JB: We have to answer the problems our dead left unresolved.

Would it be fair to say that’s just about the most central idea in Jungian psychology, in a way?

SS: I am not sure about this, but I would say it’s a central aspect of what I was describing as Jung’s theology of the dead.

That’s something he clearly articulates within his own work.

One critical point here is that he’s not talking purely metaphorically, he is speaking about the dead.

JB: Now various personal traumas have been attributed to Jung on the basis of the glimpses we get of his childhood from Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

You’ve often criticized the attempt to push everything over to personal issues, but would it be fair to say that one personal issue was pretty important, and that was the early death of his father?

That there was a work of mourning that involved Jung in problems his own father was unable to solve around issues of Christian faith particularly?

Would it be fair to say that there one can find a certain personal spur to take up this project?

SS: Well, in a way Jung is himself indicating that—that an act of redemption is taking place.

That leads me to state that if you look at the timing of Jung’s composition of his first draft—not what’s published in Memories but the composition of his memoir “From the earliest experiences of my life,” which takes you up to when he was about nineteen or so—in a critical sense the memoir is a prelude to a reading of Liber Novus. Again, if you look at it sequentially . . .

JB: When was the memoir written?

SS: In 1958. If you read the memoir in the original version, that will take you up until Jung was about 19.

You then have a hiatus, which is his psychiatric career.

The narrative picks up again with the opening of Liber Primus and refinding of the soul.

For eleven years he had lost his soul, and now it’s a point of return.

You have the basis of Jung’s own account of his own life. It hasn’t been read like that up to this point.

JB: No, I’m hearing it. It’s exciting. So the eleven years began in 1902.

That’s when he feels that he started pursuing the spirit of the times and abandoned the spirit of the depths.

SS: In 1902, he’s left the solitude of the soul and wandered away into the world.

JB: Now 1902 is the year he went to Paris, isn’t it?

SS: Yes, he’d been at the Burgholzli for about two years.

JB: By 1902 he has already finished medical school, hasn’t he?

SS: Yes.

JB: So all through that time in Switzerland he’s still connected to his

soul. He has not yet left private study and meditation.

Even his work with psychiatric patients has not interfered with his own connection to himself.

Even going through medical school. But then he gets worldly, and it starts with his going to Paris, I guess.

SS: I’m not sure that we can be that precise about it. We just don’t have enough information.

All we do have, where the records pick up, is with the publication of his dissertation.

There you see his intent to recast his early involvement with spiritualistic phenomena within a rigidly natural scientific perspective, which doesn’t give any hint of his prior direct interest or concern with such things.

JB: Oh.

SS: We’re reading in 1913 Jung’s statement that he lost contact with his soul in 1902.

JB: Yes.

SS: One has reached the point where he stops writing in his notebook. It’s then just a blank.

The record of personal meditation seems to stop.

JB: It was when he stopped writing in the notebook that he basically abandoned his soul for the life of a developing author.

SS: And family man.

JB: All the things that professional people do.

SS: It’s what he would later call the tasks of the first half of life, to which he dedicated himself.

JB: And for this he has to apologize in Liber Novus?

SS: He had the realization that he achieved a great deal, but something essential was missing.

He couldn’t carry on any longer in the manner in which he had been proceeding.

JB: This makes me want to go back to the history of Jung’s notebooks.

When do the notebooks that he stopped writing in actually start?

SS: In his adolescence.

JB: Do we know the age?

SS: No, we don’t. But the act of retaking out the same notebook after his hiatus is clearly a significant one.

JB: I want to ask now if going to Hell, which is something Jung does, is linked in an important way to what we owe the dead.

SS: One of the motifs Jung discusses was Christ’s descent into Hell as portrayed in the Apocryphal Gospels.

There are places where he speaks that this is precisely what he himself lived through: “No one knows what

happened during the three days Christ was in Hell. I have experienced it” (Liber Primus, p. 243).

Jung’s reading of the significance of Christ’s journey into Hell is that without this, the Ascent would have been impossible.

JB: It’s a thrilling idea to hear that, but logically I don’t see why it’s the case.

Can you explain where Jung got the idea that you can’t ascend to Heaven unless you’ve also gone to Hell?

Or is that a reading of the Apocryphal story in which Jung is, in effect, assigning an intuitive meaning to it?

SS: I think it’s his reading of the significance of the episodes in the Apocrypha.

What Jung stresses is the fact that it was through the descent into Hell that Christ saved or redeemed his Anti-Christ.

JB: But are you suggesting that the Anti-Christ was already in Hell when Christ descended to Hell?

SS: That’s what Jung is suggesting here.

JB: So it’s a lost piece of Christ’s self, you could say, that is being rescued.

He’s imitating Christ by going down to Hell to connect with a lost piece of himself.

Now can you link that to what is owed the dead? Did the dead themselves fail to make the journey to Hell? Or are the dead in Hell?

SS: When Christ goes there, he is said to have preached to the dead in Hell.

It is, in that sense, an attempt to redeem the dead—to present the new revelation to the dead, who are in Hell.

JB: I have heard you speak about the dead Jungian analysts and your sadness that they spent their lives reading Jung but didn’t have Liber Novus available to them.

SS: Yes.

JB: So in a way we who are now lucky enough, thanks to your efforts, to read Liber Novus are in a sense redeeming the dead who didn’t get this chance in Jungian psychology.

We all have dead we owe something to who weren’t able to get somewhere.

And we can’t just ignore the fact that they didn’t get there.

We have to pick it up and carry it forward. I think it’s fair to say that there will be resistances to doing this.

It was the outbreak of the war that gave [Jung] the courage to say what he’d written about in the early parts of the book.

Without that, he wouldn’t have had the courage to do so.

SS: Of course.

JB: Isn’t that same resistance something Jung is actually talking about here?

That people resist taking up their duty to the dead?

It’s easier to just let the dead be dead than to go back and take up the problems that they weren’t able to solve.

SS: Of course.

JB: Well then, did Jung himself have a resistance to doing this work?

Was there some part of Jung that did not find this easy to do?

SS: You find it indicated right throughout this text.  He balks at the undertaking.

He has to come up for air repeatedly and struggles with his own resistance.

JB: I want to ask you about Jung’s courage. You experience Jung as a courageous man?

SS: I think it’s graphically portrayed within this text.

The energy with which he continues on this attempted self-comprehension is unstinting, as well as the manner in which he overcomes the states of discouragement.

JB: How did he overcome them?

SS: There’s one statement in Scrutinies where he’s indicated that it was the outbreak of the war that gave him the courage to say what he’d written about in the early parts of the book.

Without that, he wouldn’t have had the courage to do so.

JB: That comes back to the idea that this book is a work of conscience, and that the courage is coming from Jung’s conscience.

SS: Conscience is not a term that comes up here.

The way that the opening sections portray it is that it’s what his soul requires him to do.

It is the obligation that is being placed upon him.

JB: The reason I chose to use the word conscience is from something Murray Stein said to me—that Jung was connected in some way to a Protestant conscience tradition, that certain duties are presented by the soul.

I probably am adding the words “by the soul” to anything that Murray said.

But it’s not inaccurate to say that Jung was well aware of a conscience tradition.

And he actually wrote a paper on it, “A Psychological View of Conscience,” late in his life (Jung, 1970, pp. 437–455).

SS: Yes.

JB: Isn’t there some tradition in Protestantism, particularly, that you pay attention to what’s happening inside yourself?

And that certain duties emerge as a consequence of that?

The problems of World War I were presented to Jung from within, in the form of visions that he interpreted as prophetic.

And I personally would agree: They convince me that they are prophetic.

If these things happen to him as inner experiences, then would it be part of his understanding that it’s his own soul that has presented these issues to him?

SS: To use the language of the book, it’s the spirit of the depths.

JB: Meaning that he should take the issues up. In other words, he needs to think about what’s behind this war.

He’s being called to engage in these psychological or spiritual issues that are behind the war.

SS: There’s a quote from Liber Primus: “But before I could pull myself together to really do it, I needed a visible sign that would show me the spirit of the depths in me was at the same time the ruler of the depths of world affairs” (pp. 230–231).

JB: That was a passage that spoke to me very deeply—that the spirit of the depths gave him that sign.

He asked for the sign in a way.

SS: He needed a sign to continue in his undertaking.

JB: And that’s the answer to where the courage comes from.

It provides what Jung called in his published writings, the libido, the energy, having the energy to do it.

He got the sign. And with the sign he had a task. Does that word appear in Liber Novus?

SS: Yes, the word task is in the translation.

JB: When a task was at hand, essentially his consistent attitude was, you take it up.

SS: He states, in effect, to live one’s self means to be one’s own task.

JB: And is there some sense that he has concluded that the war has come because too many people did not do this?

SS: It’s a graphic illustration of the consequences of not taking up one’s own burden.

JB: Did Jung have a sense that Liber Novus would eventually be published?

SS: That’s my reading—he knew that it would eventually be made public.

JB: So rightly or wrongly he left its publication to a later generation. And the later generation is now.

SS: Yes.

I’ve had quite moving letters from people. . . . Some are from people who didn’t even have prior knowledge or interest in Jung.

They’ve found the book like a message in a bottle that speaks to them directly.

JB: Now, on his deathbed Jung supposedly told von Franz about a vision—something about “the last 50 years of the human race.” And of course that was in 1961.

We’re in 2010, so next year is 2011, which would be 50 years after that vision on his deathbed.

We have been going right on, many of us, neglecting the spirit of the depths.

And at just this time Liber Novus comes out. The world today is not unlike the lead-up to World War I.

The book is a reminder of the dangers of neglecting the depths—and the possibility of taking them up in an individual way.

SS: The work has already found an extraordinary public resonance. There is a substantial echo.

JB: Can you say something about that echo as you’ve heard it?

I mean, I know that it’s become a bestseller on the extended New York Times list.

It reached, I think, number 18, so that this is Jung’s first bestseller in that sense, on the American book market.

SS: In terms of the significance of the book, worldly success is almost irrelevant, but it highlights the fact that the bulk of the readership of Jung takes place outside of Jungian circles—such as the generations of readers of Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

This is the book people wanted to read.

So in one sense you have readers who are interested in what Jung has to say without particularly attending to the professional enterprises of analytical psychology today.

I’ve had quite moving letters from people writing about experiences that have been confirmed and validated for them in a totally unexpected way by reading this book.

Some are from people who didn’t even have prior knowledge or interest in Jung.

They’ve found the book like a message in a bottle that speaks to them directly.

JB: Every working analyst meets people like that.

Readers of Jung who are outside of Jungian circles and people who are having the kinds of experience that Jung describes, but it never occurred to them that there could be anyone else who was.

When they come to psychotherapy, it’s always extraordinarily humbling for an analyst to meet such people.

And I would have to say that it’s precisely from such people that I’ve learned the most.

In his lifetime many such people found their way to Jung.

And that gave him tremendous access to psychology that he never could have gotten from colleagues alone, although he had many interesting colleagues that he learned from as well.

I wonder what you would say about the normality of the people that are having these experiences.

SS: My sense is that we are considering things that are widespread but are simply not often talked about. It is just below the surface.

If you start asking people about unusual experiences they have had, you’ll find nearly everyone putting their hand up.

JB: If you were to say one reason why Jung was ambivalent about publishing Liber Novus, what do you think stayed his hand from letting it out in his lifetime?

SS: I think there were many reasons. One was the social location of his psychology. How the work would have been perceived . . .

JB: He was really scared of being seen as a theosophist.

SS: That’s one aspect of it—something akin to theosophy or anthroposophy.

At the same time that he was making the transcriptions and the calligraphic volume, he was engaged in trying to mine the text for a universal psychology to test out whether its conceptions are generic and universal.

You could say, using the language of the biographical memoir, he doesn’t want to appear on the world stage in language of Personality Number Two and of Philemon.

In a way it turns back to the earlier task of trying to see how much of Personality Number Two or the spirit of the depths he can cast in language of Personality Number One or the spirit of the times.

That’s the task Jung takes upon himself: to recast his conceptions within an idiom acceptable to a medical and scientific audience.

JB: There is that statement he makes in a rather depressed letter late in his life in which he says, “I’ve failed in my chief task of convincing my contemporaries that there is a soul . . . .”

Was that a passing depressed thought? Or did he really feel that?

SS: I don’t think it was passing, because there were a number of statements towards the end of his life of a similar sort.

JB: The final dream that he has—showing him trees with gold around the roots—reassures him that he actually did do a solid piece of work.

There’s a sense of solidity and a centered rootedness in the ground of being.

That sounds to me like a compensatory dream to an anxiety that he had, or a depressive feeling, that he really had . . . failed in that task.

At least the conscious attitude was that he had failed.

SS: If I recall the way that Barbara Hannah presents and writes the dream, it is in the context of Jung’s individuation—“as a sign of wholeness.”

Now I don’t think that that’s necessarily contradictory to this—whatever the level of personal integration he himself maybe achieved, the separate issue was that of this historic task he took upon himself, i.e., the collective task.

He’s not saying, and I don’t think that he felt, that he failed in terms of his level of personal integration.

JB: Is it the fate of someone who wants to convince people that there is a soul, to fail?

Was that part of Jung’s fate, or part of his individuation, to also have that failure?

SS: In the way that he formulates it in those late letters: Can he show modern man that he has a soul?

Was it even possible for one individual to do that? And at another moment in his life would he have conceived that as a possibility?

JB: You’re saying that there might have been a time when someone put that question to him, he might have come back and said, but that’s impossible.

No one could do that.

SS: There are certain moments in Liber Novus where he would not have indicated that as a possibility.

JB: In Liber Novus then, is he alive to the possibility of failure, or that failure is part of what happens to people who are engaged with themselves— that it’s not all about success, in other words?

SS: The way I see a fear of failure coming up is through the extended engagement with what one had not accomplished.

Or, the need to take up one’s unlived life—to accept the lowest in one, affirming what one would prefer to disown.

JB: To me the most exciting part of psychological types, which I’ve given a vast amount of attention to, is that the transcendent function, or what I call integrity in depth, is only reached through the inferior function.

And that includes an acceptance of its actual inferiority, that is, the shame around how the inferior function lets one down as well as opens one up to one’s depth.

The way into one’s depth is through humility. That’s in Liber Novus pretty clearly, isn’t it?

SS: So now we can go back to the problem of the dead.

The dead are going to have unsolved problems, which they will leave unsolved.

And we owe it to the dead to take up those problems that they left unsolved. And we owe it to ourselves.

JB: It’s also the case that we who are living are going to have to leave certain problems unsolved, too.

And that’s part of our fate, which then others will have to hopefully take up.

SS: As you’ve commented, one of the tasks that Jung was leaving unresolved or unfinished himself was what to do with Liber Novus.

And for some reason that landed up on my desk.

JB: Yes, it echoes. We are now in the process of taking up what Jung left unsolved. That’s very touching.

These interviews took place on December 17, 2009; January 7, 2010; and January 10, 2010.

Sonu Shamdasani is the Philemon Professor of Jung at The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London, and the General Editor and Co-Founder of the Philemon Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to the publication of the complete works of C. G. Jung.

John Beebe, a member of the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, founded the Institute’s first quarterly journal, now titled Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, and served as the first U.S. editor of the London-based Journal of Analytical Psychology. He often writes and lectures on Jungian psychology.


  1. Jung’s own title for The Red Book was Liber Novus. The sections of the book in the published edition (Jung, 2009), which are titled Liber Primus, Liber Secundus, and Scrutinies, are given here without italics.
  2. According to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Nietzsche’s 1880s notebooks also repeatedly state, ‘there are no facts, only interpretations.’ ”
  3. This dream was added to the text in 1909.
  4. In his 1952 preface to the fourth Swiss edition of Symbols of Transformation, Jung says:


“Hardly had I finished the manuscript when it struck me what it means to live with a myth, and what it means to live without one. . . . I . . . had to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust (Jung, C. G., Collected Works, Vol. 5, 1967, pp. XXIV–XXV).