The egg, the vessels and the words: From Izdubar to Answer to Job; For an imaging thinking by Christian Gaillard, Paris [Translated from the French by Anita Conrade]
Abstract: This essay on The Red Book seeks to underscore a characteristic specific to Jung’s approach to psychoanalysis. In this book, and more generally, in all of his writings, Jung’s thinking is based on his personal experience of the unconscious, in which he leaves himself open to progressive encounters. Some of them, in the years 1913–14 and 1929–30, particularly his meeting with the giant Izdubar, were quite threatening.
As a result, he forged an original way of thinking that is qualified here as ‘imaging’ and ‘emergent’. The Red Book served as the first vessel for theories Jung would later express. His way of thinking, with its failures and semi-successes, all of which are always temporary, of course, is compared to the art of the potter.
The author shows the kinship between the formation of the main Jungian concepts and the teachings of the French poet, professor, and art critic Yves Bonnefoy. He also considers certain recurrent formal themes in the work of contemporary German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer.
Lastly, this epistemological study, constantly aware of the demands of Jungian clinical practice, demonstrates the continuity in Jung’s work, from The Red Book to Answer to Job, where Jung ultimately elaborated a conception of history that defines our ethical position today.
The first time I opened Jung’s Red Book, and every time I return to it, I find one particular thing striking, whether I am looking at the handwritten pages or those more especially devoted to images.
It is, of course, the presence of figures: the characters and other creatures, both human and not. However, I must say that I am especially intrigued by and sensitive to the consistency of the scenes in which these characters are engaged.
Figures and configurations
In classical terms – classically Freudian terms, in this case – one might observe that The Red Book shows Jung’s remarkable figuration skills2 his capacity to represent a caterpillar, a serpent-dragon, a tree, a giant, a volcano, a flower, a diamond or a star, a big boy, a sage, a warrior, an urban or rural landscape, a fortress . . . .
But that would be missing the point. For The Red Book is unique. Were we to search the entire catalogue of psychoanalytical literature for a similar book, it would be in vain.
And if we narrow our scope to the body of Jungian writings, the few good sources we would find deal with the observation and study of insistently present, progressive figures, whereas works that develop an analysis of the configurations, the scenes showing such strongly organized, structured, progressive interactions are found far less frequently, and not often enough, in my opinion.
It was a great step forward for analytical psychology when, with and after Jung, we made a distinction between an archetype and an archetypal figure.
Likewise, we would progress in both our thinking and our clinical practice if we changed the focus of our attention from the figure, character, or presence we tend to describe as archetypal to a scene which could also be considered just as typical, in the organization and interaction it displays, and particularly in the structural dynamic of its progression and its transformations.
Since I have just mentioned figuration, configurations and interactions, let us consider two pages from The Red Book. In my opinion, they are good representations of the characteristics that distinguish the Jungian approach from any other, in the psychoanalytical movement.
The first is a calligraphic transcription of a dialogue. The passage in question is truly a dialogue, and is quite obviously rendered as such by the handwritten transcription on the page (fig. 1. A dialogue with Izdubar).
Two characters are playing out a scene. The first person singular, or ‘I’, is conversing with a second figure, and as we shall see, their dialogue can also be a conflict or even a combat.
Fig. 1. A dialogue with Izdubar (RB p. 36)
The second page, even more visually and clearly, shows a scene, and soon, we shall see how it evolves and changes
(fig 2. Izdubar).
Obviously, this is a picture of Izdubar. But why is he named ‘Izdubar’?
Sonu Shamdasani informs us, or reminds us, that for some time, the name Izdubar was given to Gilgamesh. He also notes that Jung mentions the Gilgamesh epic in his 1911–1912 edition of Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido5. We have then here a window onto what Jung was reading: his sources and company. But why on earth isn’t this character named ‘Gilgamesh’ here?
Everyone would immediately be able to identify him. Whereas ‘Izdubar’ is a much rarer and lesser-known name.
The crux of the matter is, from the first pages of this Book, a de-nomination effort is underway. By de-nomination, I mean the loss, abandonment, or even the deconstruction of names that had hitherto been more familiarly used.
True, the figure we see here comes from some source – visibly Mesopotamian, then, to judge by his closeness or kinship to Gilgamesh, or to an analogous figure from the mythologies we are acquainted with.
But here, by losing his usual name, the figure also loses the story we know, perhaps the story of his origins. He is freed. He lives his own life.
By presenting himself as Izdubar, under a new and unfamiliar name8, he is detached from the realm of what we have already known, seen and heard. For both Jung and the reader, he acquires a new presence, a presence that makes itself practically native and, as we shall see, with a will of its own.
Fig. 3. The volcano burst (RB p. 64)
Right before our eyes, from the outset, on the page, in dialogue, we have an approach to working with the unconscious that treats it as a living reality, surprising, rushing, for which we can learn to make room, with which we must learn to reckon and, when necessary, which we must also confront.
From there, let us take one more step, from late December 1915 to February 1917, and from page 36 of The Red Book to page 64
The primitive, caveman-like creature we saw before, wearing his animal skins and carrying a club in his right hand, has given way to a new image: an explosion of fire and flame.
It is an erupting volcano, shattering the earth’s crust, as the magma from deep below leaps out. And yet, according to the text, this is Izdubar, once again.
This illustration shows him after he has escaped from the egg that was supposed to contain him. Or perhaps he has been released from a bottle. Certainly, some of us remember stories of genies imprisoned in lamps.
I must say, I myself was fascinated by the stories in the Arabian Nights as a child. I read and reread them, even before reading Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
De-nomination, dis-figuration, and disproportion
Only the fiery event we see here isn’t even a genie. In any case, it’s not the type of genie who is bound to obey, who can be put back in his bottle – which is an egg, in this case – or who can be made to grant wishes, like the genies in the tales we read as children.
Moreover, not only is the creature in the image nameless, unidentifiable – we shall gradually pay more attention to all the repercussions of this work of de-nomination – but it barely even has a form.
It is entirely fire and flame, power and energy, out of all human proportion and reach. Indeed, in the image, de-nomination is paired with deformation. In other words, the loss, lack, or failure of words and names is doubled by a shattering of the shapes that would make it possible to recognize familiar territory, to know where one is.
De-nomination and deformation lead all the way to dis-figuration. How can what is presented be contained? How can it be shaped properly?
How can it be named, in order to understand? Answering these questions is quite a struggle. Jung struggled. And after him, so do we.
This is an important question. For what is at stake is the identification of what one is dealing with.
We have touched one of the themes of the Book, one that is among the most insistent, in my eyes. It is therefore related to ‘disidentification’, leaving the subject voiceless and lacking any sufficiently familiar representation.
But let us look even more closely at the two plates which have given us pause; let us compare them (figs. 2 & 3).
This time, let us pay attention not only to figures or objects represented in the picture, but also to the way they stand in relation to each other, as a configuration, or a whole.
Let us examine them as scenes in a drama, and make an effort to perceive their dynamic and the issues being worked out.14 In order to contemplate the scene as a whole, I suggest that we remove our attention from the centre. From the somewhat crude, brutal, paleolithic figure dominating the first plate, and the burst of fire consuming the second, let us move our attention to the tiny little man in each image. In the first scene, he kneels on the lower edge, his arms outstretched.
In the second, we find him again, bowing until his head almost touches the ground. Disproportion reigns.
De-nomination, dis-figuration, disproportion: the situation is extremely critical, even physically, to judge by the threatening gap that is evident between the enormous, explosive force we see, and the tiny creature, the little human being, who appears to be trying to disappear.
We wonder how he could ever succeed in rising again, or even raising his eyes. This gap and disproportion are aggravated by the defeat of representations and knowledge, likely to leave very little room, or perhaps no room at all, for belief – which says, or claims to say, what is going on, who is doing what. Belief names and shows, and therefore informs, or would like to inform, who or what we are dealing with, and how to go about it (Gaillard 2011a).
Where can we be headed, at that rate?
To the very worst The next step takes us to one of the most surprising encounters in the Book, doubtless the most terrifying (fig. 4. The Horrible Being).
Here the problem is not only de-nomination and dis-figuration, but a veritable de-formation that even leads to the totally formless. Jung went there, and so did some others.
In fact, some of them never came back. We might think of Nietzsche, Holderlin, and many more. Still others have indeed attempted to find themselves there, and to give this encounter a slightly more approachable face – and here, I am thinking in particular of Nicholas of Flue, who was so marked by the visions he had in the solitude of his hermitage that his face was twisted, until the moment when, finally, he was able, or believed he was able, to recognize the teachings of the Church of the moment on the Trinitarian God (Jung 1933; von Franz 1987).
In this regard, it is appropriate to speak not only of surprise – which remains one of the indications that one is indeed dealing with the unconscious – but even of fear, and even horror. Horror, because one is dealing with the ground,
the ground so deep it may be bottomless (Urgrund, one may say, in German), Fig. 4. The horrible being (RB p. 123)
practically impersonal, and as a result, practically inhuman, where in most cases, we are very careful not to venture. But this is the ground, this Urgrund, Jung was interested in exploring.
The venture is fraught with ambivalence, not only in relation to past teachings, especially religious ones, that have surveyed the territory, but also the most disturbing advances in contemporary arts.
There is a work by the Swiss painter Peter Birkhauser, which Jung commented on in one of his last books (fig. 5. Peter Birkhauser, The Fourth Dimension).
Here is what Jung wrote:
Water is flowing out of the mouth of the big face at the top, through the city. In fact, if we believe the indications supplied by the emphatic nostrils and abnormally wide eyes, this face is only conditionally human.
Of the other four faces, the only indubitably human one is the one at the top on the left. Another face, at the bottom left, is only obscurely recognizable. (Jung 1958, para. 737; see also von Franz 1964)
In 1932, then shortly after he finished The Red Book, Jung recalled such encounters in relation to contemporary art when he discovered Picasso’s work, at a retrospective in the Kunst Haus in Zurich, and also when, the same year, he felt compelled to express his thoughts about the impact Joyce’s novel Ulysses
had upon him – and us (Gaillard 1998, 2006, 2010a; Rowland 2005).
Likewise, shortly afterwards, when he discovered and explored the illustrations and writing of the alchemists, he recalled what he had experienced, written and then calligraphed and painted between 1913 and 1929/1930.
Fig. 5. The Fourth Dimension
Peter Birkhauser (Wertenschlag 2009)
In these two fields, that of contemporary arts, particularly the works of Picasso and Joyce, and that of the illustrations and writings of the alchemists, Jung recognized his own experience throughout the years when he had devoted himself to his Red Book, as well as the experience he had to accompany so many times in his clinical practice: the struggle that, in addition to being capable of dispossessing you of all your knowledge, may also literally, and more than savagely, demolish you.
There is a well-known page from a 15th century codex, currently conserved in the Vatican Library, showing a monstrous beast attacking and devouring some miserable human beings, who are striving to fight it, but are only increasingly overwhelmed in the struggle (fig. 6 Cod. Pal. Lat. 1066, folio 239).
Let’s associate it with the plate from The Red Book which also deals with a struggle, a dreadful combat (fig. 7. Wrestling with the snake).
What is required or threatened here is a veritable dismemberment.
Soon, Jung discovered that the alchemists, as well as many Asiatic traditions, were aware, like him and before him, of the ‘shattering’ a person may experience. To express this, Jung uses the German word ‘Zerstuckelung’, which literally means ‘breaking up’.
Those who experienced this shattering or dismemberment learned that it occurs at certain times or passages, many of which are required steps in the work or process underway.
I will have to return to this concept of process, a process that could well require some critical steps and painful moments.
But, for the time being, in order to progress towards that point, I shall skip forward in the Book, all the way to the final illustration (fig. 8. Last plate).
Fig. 6. Cod. Pal. Lat. 1066, folio 239, Vatican Library, Rome (Gaillard 1998, p. 151)
Fig. 7. Wrestling with the snake (RB p. 119)
There is a striking resemblance between this plate and the scene of the erupting volcano.
We see here a sort of ball of fire, or at least, a kind of living star.
The burst or bursting star is surrounded by heads, or rather outlines of heads, or remains of heads.
There is a whole crowd of them, and they seem to be somewhat lost. In any case, they are unfinished.
And we cannot see or hear what they might be saying, what they might very well be saying, about the burst of fire.
The egg, the vessels and the words 309
Fig. 8. Last plate (RB p. 169)
The scene dates from between 1928 and 1930: 1930 is most probable.
From the time when Jung would abandon the writing and painting of the Book.
After all his previous work on the Book, why did he set it aside at the end of the 1920s?
What work, what other work, did Jung take up in his life and research? What vehicle did he adopt, to replace the Book?
Answering these questions should enlighten us about the issues in his life and work, and by reflection, about the function fulfilled, for a time – a long time, from 1913–1914 till 1928–1930 – by the Book.
It so happens that another German painter and sculptor works with writing,
like Jung, as well as paint and other materials. In the late 1970s, Anselm Kiefer produced a series of prints similar in composition to the last image of The Red Book at a decisive moment, a turning point, in his life and work.
In these prints, we see a circle of lost, frightened heads similar to the ones in the unfinished drawing Jung made in 1929–30.
Kiefer’s print shows them in a chaos that borders on insanity. The title of this print, and a whole series of similar ones from the same period, is Die Wege der Weltweisheit (Ways of Worldly Wisdom).
Kiefer wrote on them the names of the great minds who had an impact on the history of Western philosophical or religious thought, and on his own thinking, as well. On the print to which I refer, we see Kant, Jakob Bohme, Jean Paul, Eichendorff, Fichte, Kleist, and Holderlin, apparently lost in the crowd of stray, aimless, frightened, ectoplasmic heads. Like zombies lacking strength and voice.
One of the prints even shows . . . our own Carl Gustav Jung, placed by Kiefer in this apparently ghostly company. Poor Carl Gustav! It seems that for Kiefer, the German artist from a younger generation, he has no more consistency than the other faint, empty, obsolete minds of Germanic thought.
Jung is no more help than the other great minds he has solicited in vain.
The contemporary German artist’s desperation is so great that when we look at his prints, we can almost hear a mute appeal, inaudible but insistent: ‘Is anyone out there? Is anyone still there?’. Someone to talk to – someone who speaks, and who is able to say something even slightly pertinent to the events that are happening, the enormities that loom, that can barely be represented, but that are exploding before our eyes.
The basic and structural kinship between Kiefer’s print and Jung’s unfinished painting is impressive.
It seems obvious that Carl Gustav Jung and Anselm Kiefer are cousins.
It seems that both of them, and many others with them,
evidently, experienced a hope and an expectation that were disappointed, a cry left unanswered, questions without responses: at least, no responses that were not hollow shapes and empty words without body or meaning.
Both searched long and hard, reading and keeping company with good authors, the best minds of the past, from whom they expected a response to their own experience, to their questions – to their efforts to find their own place and role in history.
But for a very long time, they searched in vain. To create their own approach, to complete their individual journey, both Kiefer and Jung had not only to reconsider and reevaluate the past they inherited, but also and especially to seek elsewhere than in the past, which could very well be useless, to make their own way.
Note that we have just leaped forward in time, twice.
The second time, with Kiefer, I have gone outside the time of the book which, let me remind you, is practically closed by the end of the 1920s.
Moreover, the last image in The Red Book, an especially troubling scene, is unfinished. It leads us to wonder why the book ends there, in those years. And it also prompts us to go back to where
Fig. 9. Watering the Flowers (RB p.125)
we left off, in an effort to understand how it arrived at this point, the moment when the Book closes.
We recall the first encounter with and representation of Izdubar in 1915 (fig. 2).
In his second appearance, or avatar (fig. 3) he is much more difficult to recognize: in 1917, his powerful fires are flaming from the egg and spreading in space.
But he appears yet another time in the Book, in a painting dated January 1920 (fig. 9 Watering the Flowers).
Here the mood of the scene is entirely different. A curiously dressed man is pouring water down on flowers beneath him, while an Oriental-looking temple floats on a cloud at the top left.
If we follow the first actions and the course of this odd composite character through the Book, we clearly see that he bridges the distance between the encounters and dialogues with Izdubar and the rest of the Book.
Remember, in the first dialogue with Izdubar, the one asking questions was Izdubar, the primitive giant, while Jung, facing him, dispensed knowledge.
What knowledge or ‘science’ could this be? Obviously, it conflicts with belief.
In fact, it has even been qualified as a ‘poison’.
It’s about vessels We must take a closer look at the odd character watering the flowers.
Specifically, we have to examine the flowers growing on the lower border of the scene, as well as the vessel from which the life-giving water pours down on them.
Watering: often, we see that when a life is too dry, when it has been too poor emotionally since infancy, the most important thing to do, and right away, is to water.
Again, the medieval alchemists either understood it already or at least learned it (Fig 10. The Dew of the Alchemists): two people can collect the dew that condenses after night has fallen. It is quite a job, but it can lead
to new ways of being, with oneself and with others. In my opinion, the scene is an eloquent representation of the work one can do in the analyst’s consulting room.
But how can it be done? It is possible because there is a vessel.
Yet in this Red Book, the Horrible Being we saw is just opposite the scene with the vessel (figs. 4 & 9).
The second image follows the first. It is the answer to it.
And for me, this is the heart of the Book. The Red Book is all about vessels.
There is nothing here about the theories and promises that preach and claim that death gives rise to rebirth, God knows how.
Nor is there any metaphorical play that tells you that when you’ve sunk to the bottom, you can resurface with a kick of your heels. No.
The Book shows and says that we need a container: a vessel to hold what is presenting itself to us, asking us to live it.
For us and for our patients, our analysands, the container or vessel is ordinarily and primarily the protected, protective space of the analyst’s consulting room.
It is the container that is meant for this purpose, with specific rhythms and rules.
We know that Jung continued his clinical practice while working on The Red Book, just as he continued to write and teach using more conventional means of expression, the sort that one expects from an honorable psychiatrist and psychologist.
We also know that he invited some of his patients – or
Fig. 10. The Dew of the Alchemists
(Plate 4, Mutus Liber. Gaillard 1998, p. 159)
pupils – to make their own Red Books (Shamdasani 2009, P,.205).
And it is to be noted that was long before psychologists began to use art therapy, the way they do today.
But Jung’s commitment to his Red Book was definitely an unusual, extraordinary journey, where he ventured alone.
What is it that made this adventure possible for him? How did he survive?
In fact, The Red Book served as the vessel.
You will note in passing that like the Book, the vase we see in the centre of this scene is also red.
The Red Book was his vessel, because it contains his encounters, all of which had the potential to be overwhelming, and his struggles throughout the years 1913–1914 to 1929–1930.
Within, it enables him to elaborate.
The containing and elaboration are essential, and consist in taking the time and carrying out the actions required by calligraphy and painting.
For though it may be relatively autonomous and spontaneous, the work of figuration does not necessarily and easily yield flowers that sprout and grow thanks to atmospheric conditions, or thanks to the virtues of spring or cosmic influences.
The young plants must be watered. And we know that the gardener’s art is made not only of intuition and improvisation.
It also demands ongoing, continual attention and even some learning, in most cases. Actually, the cultivation of one’s garden depends on staying in the here-and-now, while looking towards an expected and relatively foreseeable future you are preparing for the garden.
But it so happens that Jung is neither a gardener nor an artist, even though, as we know, he could have dreamed of being one.
Or others dreamed of that career for him.
Hence his interest in, and no doubt his struggles with, the ‘art’ of the alchemists, and even more with contemporary arts, particularly with the works of Picasso and Joyce.
Today, we know that after 1932, for a dozen years, Picasso was in a severe crisis (Clair et al. 2001). He had dried up, and was for a long time unable to muster the energy or the means to renew himself, to go further – something Jung had clearly seen in the work by Picasso he saw at the Kunsthaus in Zurich.
But we know that after this period, Picasso took off again. His art took off. It was different, of course. But it still involved painting, sculpture, ceramics, or printmaking. For Picasso had to be, and was, an artist.
Jung’s paintings are not those of an artist.
Jung had to be a psychologist in clinical practice.
Nevertheless, in 1929/1930, he was quite lost, the way Picasso was in 1932, on the brink of nothingness, unable to go forward.
And he was helpless. He could not go on. He was lost, without a map, without guidance.
He no longer had any father figure to trust. He closed his Red Book, and decided to write something else, differently from in the Book.
The process demanded a different way of working. And of thinking as well.
The ways of a psychologist and analyst.
Although, as we shall see, he still did it in his own way.
So far, we have seen some of the vases in The Red Book, and how the Book
served as a formative vase or vessel for Jung: a crucible. Yet, throughout his
life, even after The Red Book, Jung thought of his work as that of the potter.
This is what the Book taught him. Making it, he learned to shape his thinking
so that it fitted his primary and constant experience of the unconscious – an experience that would always serve as the raw material for his ideas, for his way of thinking.
Thinking that is both imaging and emergent Bachelard gave me the word ‘imaging’. In various writings, particularly in L’eau et les reves (Water and Dreams), Bachelard writes of ‘imaging forces’ (Bachelard 1942).
Then, in La poetique de l’espace (The Poetics of Space), he considers the ‘imaging consciousness’, opening a gateway to thought born of images (Bachelard 1957).
This was Bachelard’s way of working, and God knows it was a productive one.
Nevertheless, he was unable to see that psychoanalysis,
particularly as practised and conceived by Jung, offered an even more radical approach to the question.
The idea was to think in an imaging way, thereby rediscovering a type of thinking that one shapes the way a potter shapes the clay.
Recently, I discovered that Yves Bonnefoy, a contemporary French poet, art critic, and pre-eminent professor at the College de France, in a beautiful text entitled Pensée’s detouffee ou d’argile (Thoughts of Fabric or Clay), maintains that ‘making vases helped elaborate if not invent language’ (Bonnefoy 2010, pp. 29, 46).
I was delighted with the find, of course.
We must note, however, that Bonnefoy immediately issues a special warning: ‘Not all pots tell the truth’.
Yes, of course, ‘not all pots tell the truth’: pottery can only be the best possible expression or accomplishment, at a certain time, of something that could not be represented or experienced more entirely, in another way – the Jungian definition of the symbol.
The pottery or vase is there only to give the truth a turn. And this turn, as we know, is only temporary.
It is doomed to obsolescence. With and since Jung, psychoanalysis has enabled a temporary thought to form.
All this thought claims to be is a bridge, a symbolic means of approach.
Strictly speaking, all it is is a means of amplification, a way of recognizing, at a certain time, and always from some distance, something that needs to be recognized (Samuels 2002, pp. 84–85).
So it is often a good idea to renew or break vases, to change the China you inherited, or the China you’ve been using – at least, if you want to try to be creative in the relationship to the unconscious.
The word ‘creative’, with which the words ‘creativity’ and creation’ are associated, has now emerged in my writing.
However, they come only after we have also said and found the disturbing, distressing, and even destructive effect of the unconscious.
And only as long as we clearly see that every creation is only approximative, asymptotic, and temporary.
So Jungian psychoanalysis is disturbing. It has little sense of orthodoxy.
And it is even wary of intellectualization – along with aesthetization.26 Because it knows it must keep
changing to stay alive; that it is always an unfinished process, something that
is still underway. This has puzzled more than one thinker, especially when you want to teach. But we may as well know it, and get used to it.
Another step could broaden the horizons of our perceptions and thinking even more.
Finding a countenance Earlier in this paper, I brought in Yves Bonnefoy, and before him, Anselm Kiefer.
Let’s consider these two artists again. Why Yves Bonnefoy and Anselm Kiefer?
First of all, because I have loved Bonnefoy’s poetry for a long time, as well as the constant and diverse artistry of Anselm Kiefer.
And also because both of them, like all creative people, apparently, grope for creation, like the potter.
But also I see that, as they do so, they think their creation – or at least they try to. And they teach.
Yves Bonnefoy has been lecturing on poetry at the College de France since 1981.
As for Anselm Kiefer, he has just given a series of lectures at the same institution which means that both have managed to bridge the gap that is sometimes observed between the work of creation and that of thinking (Kiefer 2011)27.
To give further substance to our reflection, let us return to Kiefer, and through him, to Jung.
We saw Kiefer, lost, wandering, wondering, at the end of the 70s, at his wits’ end.
At that time, he was struggling to come to terms with destruction, with disaster.
He was born under the sign of disaster, in Germany, in 1945.
He grew up in the period just after the war.
The disaster that surrounded him and shaped him, into which he was born, was not only material.
The war had ruined men, and ravaged a whole culture: its ideals, values, and nearly all of its cultural references.
It devastated an entire world as can be seen in the ravaged landscape of May Bug, Fly.28 Disaster rules.
It pushes the horizon back to the top of the picture.
The land is so cluttered with desolation that there is barely any room left for a little sky. You gasp for air.
And what does it say, at the top, in the distance? A few lines of words can barely be made out.
They resist the thick clods of wounded soil as best they can.
They’re the words to a song, a German nursery rhyme: ‘Maikafer Flieg – der Vater ist in Krieg – die Mutter ist im Pommerland – Pommerland ist abgebrannt’.
It’s a German version of ‘Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home’, but it’s about a May beetle: ‘Father’s at war – Mother’s in Pomerania – And Pomerania is all burned’.
From memory, Kiefer writes the nursery rhyme, a wartime lament, incorporating it into his canvas. So as not to forget, no doubt.
It came to him from far away, from his childhood, or maybe his parents’ childhood. One generation after another. A fragile and stubborn memory of lost presences, doomed, death written in filigree on absence.
An anonymous incantation. Kiefer remembers. But his work is still in search of itself, on the brink of itself.
Now a shape that is fairly enigmatic at first appears in his paintings.
It appears to be a rather basic object, but it isn’t easy to identify (Palette on a field of ravaged land).
It is roundish. Actually, it is a contour more than a real object, an almost conceptual container, although it is at the same time so exactly, so tangibly, the right size for a human hand, the painter’s hand: a form of equilibrium despite the fact that it is off-centre – or perhaps that helps.
It is a Palette, like an eye, watching.
It overlaps the scenes of devastated German land. And its presence effectively contains and measures the disaster, observing it, so that with the painter, steadied by the Palette, we can face it.
In 1916–1918, at Chateau-d’Oex, we recall, Jung was also dealing with a world war, the first one. Three or four years earlier, he had embarked on his Red Book, trying to draw mandalas, which did not turn out to be especially harmonious.
He did not yet call them mandalas, of course.
And he had yet to speak of the self. Kiefer might be surprised that I discuss his Palette this way.
Yet the Palette is at work here, doing what it can.
Like the star in Jung’s Red Book (fig. 11. Star and Dragon).
It does what it can to shine and spread its light and balance, circumvented by the elementary violence of the dragon, the archaic, terrifying serpent-dragon – while our world below awaits, in the dark, suggested in a style that is partly Klee and partly Chagall.
But let us note and observe that once it has been set down, Kiefer’s Palette lives its own life in his work.
Or at least, it tries to. In fact, Kiefer is searching for his soul, just as Jung was seeking his own from page to page in The Red
Book. Seeking the proper place for it.
How to put it in the most proper place.
The Palette would like to forget about the cataclysm (see Palette with Wings).
It flaps its wings. It would like to take flight. To fly away. It would like to be an angel. Kiefer gives it wings.
It does what it can. Actually, it’s a bit ridiculous, but touching, and a bit of an ordeal.
Soon, indeed, the Palette is struggling.
The painter does what he can to give it some lift, and yet the Palette must reconcile itself to its weaknesses.
A winged Palette – with black wings, this time – is crashing down to earth, which is Fig. 11. Star and Dragon (RB p. 129) again the devastated German land.
The canvas is called Icarus. A soaring ideal sometimes has trouble maintaining its altitude.
In fact, the Palette appears to be threatened. For example, Palette on Wire, from 1977.
We see the Palette hanging by a thread, the way filmmaker Wim Wenders might have visualized it.
Adding to the sense of impending peril, the imminent fall, Kiefer has painted short flames licking at the thread.
This painting is even more powerful than Icarus, because the fall is not explicit: the myth is not even mentioned.
The fall is felt, expected. Physically. Emotionally.
The painting is as powerful as we might wish.
Even though it teaches us to give up.
For apparently the Palette is suffering.34 It looks like an animal.
Like a wounded bird. Kiefer, who has just learned to paint black wings, is now employing the use of lead. The leaden Palette hangs from a tree, and ribbons
Fig. 12. Impregnatio
(Fig 7 Rosarium. Jung 1946, p. 269)
made of lead – real lead on the canvas – fall from its body, subjugated by gravity.
This work dates from 1978. In my opinion, it is one of Kiefer’s most beautiful of this period.
But flight is not part of it. It is beautiful, without taking flight.
The Palette remembers flight: it has kept the gestures of flight. But it has returned.
Now it struggles, stuck between its impulse to fly, like a bird or butterfly, and the gravity that nails it to the ground.
At this cost, the work took on a body. In fact, the body is in the scene.
Kiefer has entitled this scene Resumptio. There is no such word.
It’s a play on Assumptio, the Assumption.
Perhaps Jung would have been surprised to see this treatment of the Assumption, he who was so happy to see the Roman Catholic Church proclaim the dogma of Mary risen to heaven (Jung 1952b).
However, after closing his Red Book, he would surely have recognized the same serious path and eroticism he was able to make out in the arcanes of alchemical iconography.
He too struggled between taking flight and the weight of matter, between sublimation and the gravity of grief as can be seen in The Rosarium (fig. 12).
He would then certainly have recognized the low centre of gravity in this representation of Kiefer’s. Gravity can indeed make us flap our wings – thank God – but it is one of the laws of nature.
The meditation and reflection at work here are far reaching. On one level, the painter is meditating and reflecting upon painting, on the meaning of art.
Can painting do anything at all, can the painter be of any help at all, amid the disaster? So as we see here, the painter has also become a sculptor. And he’s looking for his words.
I like the way Kiefer shows us flight and grief, so graphically we experience them. And the soul and death.
Here, thought and substance merge and add meaning to each other, without any clue as to which came before the other. But we know that art – the art of the poet, painter, sculptor, and also the musician – endeavours to pierce the mystery.
And so does the art of thinking (see Book with Wings). Let’s note and underline here that in addition to being a painter and a sculptor, Kiefer has also published a number of remarkable books, and he is also demanding and creative in the design and printing of the catalogues of his exhibitions (Kiefer 1990).
It is also true that he teaches. The series of lectures he just gave at the College de France was also published in a book of great quality (Kiefer 2011).
Indeed, a book collects and contains, and at the same time, it can be opened, given – or closed again.
With Jung’s Red Book, the subject is indeed the art of thinking, of formulating a thought, which also signifies writing, and having someone read.
At least, if one is a psychoanalyst, and especially if one is Jungian.
Then the concepts themselves, arising from experience and theory, seek their proper shape, their most appropriate vessel – groping a bit, as I was saying before.
The way Jung sought his path at Chateau d’Oex, and from one page to the next of his Red Book, which is finally open to us today.
Undoubtedly, Bachelard would have been delighted and mobilized by the discovery of this Book.
He knew so well how to read, and also how to write.
Sometimes, he grapples with concepts, of course. So does Bonnefoy.
They are fond of attacking or even condemning them. But Jung’s concepts could enable Bachelard and Bonnefoy to make peace with the concepts.
When I speak of an anima figure, I am naming a certain presence I am more or less attentive to, as well as certain ways and manners I have to keep in touch, wrongly or rightly, with the persons, the objects, even the ideas I am addressing – a certain taste and a certain colour, a certain breath of my encounters, of the relationships I experience with the world and with the most intimate and so often unconscious strings of my life.
An anima is for me as consistent, dynamic, amazing, and surprising as the inner landscapes dwelling
Fig. 13. Vessel on head (RB p. 125)
within me and which may suddenly pop up in one of my dreams, or may again appear at my side when I’m reading or travelling.
The shadow and the self are also living and therefore dynamic realities for us.
One can learn to keep company with them, represent them – and even sometimes make them evolve.
Our psychoanalysis is animated. It invites us to recognize and encounter presences which are invariably surprising.
In fact, they are continually playing tricks on us.
Our concepts are generic, of course – otherwise, they would not be concepts. However, at the time, they are figurative and dynamic, and not only figurative and dynamic, but also dramatic and even sexual – which is quite out of the ordinary for a concept.
They are also singular: their usage is personal, and depends upon the circumstances. Which is even less common.
Jung himself experienced this flash of consciousness initially by striving to think as an analyst and psychologist in parallel with his work on The Red Book.
And later as well, in the flow and at the pace of his research post-1929/1930, when he had closed the Book.
Another plate from The Red Book shows a vessel (fig. 13).
It occurs after the image of the flowers being watered (fig. 9).
I am not sure whether this composite creature, this Harlequin, who seems to be related to one of Picasso’s, holds his vessel so high aloft because he wants to protect it from any harm – or because he is about to throw it overboard. We cling to certain
ideas we have learned. It can be difficult to let go of them.
But we have also learned, particularly thanks to The Red Book, that our thinking is a process, a work in progress, that tries to contain what is seeking to emerge, and to be represented.
Rising and living concepts, as travel companions
Our thinking is an artisanal, handcrafting thinking, which gradually forms, the way a potter forms a piece – and it is creative, so it is always surprising. Instead of seeking to interpret, it welcomes.
And for a time, it accompanies that which asks to be accompanied. It offers a shape, or several shapes.
They are always temporary, of course, but good enough to be uttered and heard – emotionally as well, emotionally especially – that which asks to be heard.
It is special in that it is a conjunction of intellect and the senses.
Imaging thinking is emerging, in the hollows and shadows rather than under bright lights.
It speaks attentively, not shrilly – in a low voice. It is rising, welling up from below.
This is why the analyst is seated, with a low centre of gravity.
And it is also why it can be a good idea, sometimes – sometimes, not always – for the analysand to be reclining. The position provides perspective and weight – another form of breathing, another spirit.
It fosters emergence. And becoming.
And one may come to enjoy emergence, becoming, and transformation.
How the creative process gives us perspective on our history I have mentioned that there are steps in Jung’s life and work, that we have to deal with a work in progress, or rather in process – a process, or rather a set of processes, that go through crucial moments, passages that may prove to be more than difficult.
This means that, in the relationship to the unconscious, we meet our match. I mentioned disproportion. We remember the first encounters with the creature named Izdubar, in December 1915 and then in February 1917 (figs. 2 and 3).
We wondered how the tiny little man we can barely see will be able to confront the energy emerging there, and even he might raise his eyes.
Jung experienced such an encounter again in 1951, years after he concluded his Red Book. In a dream, he remembered his 1936 visit to Fatehpur Sikri, in India (Jung 1963, p. 255).
In this dream, Jung, who is one of the main characters in the scene, bows very low, kneeling until his forehead touches the ground – in an attitude and position apparently quite similar, remarkably similar, to the one in the image of the little man facing the giant or the volcano burst in the scenes of 1915 and 1917.
It looks in this dream as though he is bowing down to the ground – but he isn’t. Between the ground and his forehead, there is a tiny gap, he noted, a Fig. 14.
Fatehpur Sikri today (photo AGD)
short distance he maintains, a reserve: the gap and reserve of his consciousness, maintained in the very relationship with ‘the highest presence’.
Today, if we enter the temple of Fatehpur Sikri, we see it just as Jung saw it and experienced it in his dream (fig. 14).
And if we search carefully, we can find a representation of this temple from a different point of view, showing the throne room where Sultan Akbar ruled, surrounded by sages and scholars, his counsellors (fig. 15).42
Structurally and dramaturgically, the scene in the dream adopts the configuration we saw, of the first encounters with Izdubar.
But at the same time
Fig. 15. Fatehpur Sikri, from another angle (Gaillard 1998, pp. 100–01)
it plays out differently. In 1951, the point was to face differently that which was presenting itself.
And the point was to find words to fit this encounter, words other than the ones in The Red Book.
For the point was for Jung to take his position as a psychologist and analyst, in particular with regard to the Judeo-Christian cultural tradition to which he belongs, and therefore to play his role in our history as it unfolds.
And we know that this 1951 dream prefigures and in fact already contains the essence of his Answer to Job.
To put one’s hand over one’s mouth?
From the beginning, and throughout the first six chapters of Answer to Job (1952, paras. 564–631), Jung does indeed emphasize the disproportion between Job and the God he is dealing with.
He cites the Book of Job at length as well as the texts that are traditionally associated with it.
Rereading the story of Job grappling with Yahweh in this way, he draws his attention and ours to Job’s puniness, his impotence when faced with the violence determined to crush him.
How can we fail to recall, ever more insistently, the image of the tiny man in The Red Book, kneeling with his arms out when the first Izdubar manifests himself, and then prostrating himself on the ground, when the so-named Izdubar bursts from the egg or vessel that was supposed to contain him, but that actually exploded, spread, and erupted in the fire and flames of a volcano?
Only, gradually, in the same chapters, and those which follow, Jung changes the accent of his text to emphasize the inconsiderate brutality of this Yahweh, who is obviously devoid of any proportions – any weights or measures which would enable Him to evaluate His own actions and deeds, a consequence related especially to His almost total lack of consciousness.
Jung contrasts this divine recklessness with poor Job’s relatively higher level of consciousness, which is precisely what differentiates him from God and makes him superior.
The idea is that Job takes nothing for granted, even though he gives every
required sign of reverence and even submission. ‘How can a man be just before God?
Though one wished to dispute with Him, he could not answer Him but one time out of a thousand’, is the Biblical quote to which Jung refers at the beginning of his book (Job 9, 2,3; Jung 1952, para. 566).
Jung also cites: ‘How can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer; twice, but I will say no more’ (Job 40: 4,5; Jung 1952, para. 564).
But this is where Jung resorts to the disturbing Psalm. The theme of this psalm is an attitude that is quite the opposite of displaying reverence to an infinite omnipotence. The singer goes so far as to protest against God, and even remonstrate with him: ‘How long, Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself forever? Shall thy wrath burn like fire?/ Remember how short my time is: / Lord, where are thy former loving-kindnesses, Which thou swarest unto David in thy truth? (Psalm 89, verses 47–49).
The Book of Job then clearly takes another turn, which is audible in the change of accent, and especially tone, in Jung’s interpretation and reflection.
Jung is then committed to following, step by step, Job’s affirmation, still cautious, of course, but fully assumed, in the match with God’s near omnipotence – and his own affirmation, the affirmation of his own position, as he accompanies Job.
Thus Job, grappling with the divinity Yahweh for whom he is no match, continues to rebel, and says so. As for Jung, he not only accompanies Job, but in fact, he actively supports him.
He even goes so far as to reply to Job’s doubts and terrors, by writing the book – hence its title, Answer to Job.
Jung supports poor Job by accompanying him with his own work of thinking and writing, in our time.
For starting with Chapter 7 of the Answer, the progress of the story is what concerns himself in his own life and work. Not only the progress of the history of Job and Yahweh in their times – but also Job’s position and advancement in our collective human history, and our own, which recalls this encounter, and continues even now, seeking and creating its becoming.
A history played out in ‘la longue duree’ (‘over the long term’), as the French historian Fernand Braudel, a great scholar and the leader of the Annales School, would say (Braudel 1958).
The ability of this book to put our collective history in perspective is what makes it so powerful.
It is a retrospective power, of course, in that Jung thereby shows us the genealogy of Christianity, and hence that of his current position as analyst and psychologist.
But it is also a prospective power, for it places us where we need to be, to confront the present and begin reflecting on the future – a reflection that is ethical by nature, distanced from the teachings of religious dogma.
They are, by contrast, rigid: as belief systems, they are supposed to be quite immutable, whereas Jung attempts to meet the challenge of taking into consideration these beliefs and the transformations they have undergone.
The 1952 book clearly takes up the questions and struggles with him-who-is known-as-Izdubar, written and painted in The Red Book, but it looks at them in a different way. As a result, beginning in the late 1920s, and even more definitely in the early 1950s, the Book will turn out to be apparently obsolete, irrelevant, and no longer of any use.
But only apparently: for Jung, it was essential, as an initial structuring and framing of his reflection, a first and necessary attempt at understanding and enabling others to understand a number of ideas – notably, the place and role of his analytical psychology and clinical practice in relation to religions and a post-Christian world.
This is indeed the kernel that was forming in the story of Izdubar reduced to the size of an egg, and thereby brought closer, actually almost interiorized, which might have given rise to hopes and possibilities of rebirth.
And it is definitely the kernel that was forming – and may already have been waiting – in the scene of the vessels pouring water on the flowers below, while the building floating peacefully on a cloud might very well be a reminder – perhaps a somewhat nostalgic one – of the happy times before the destruction of the Temple.
From the first visionary encounters in The Red Book to putting our history in perspective and implementing it
One of the most powerful effects of Jung’s research, throughout his life and his writings, is to lead us to think history.
In harmony with the thinking of his time, he initially, and for a long time, envisioned psychic functioning in terms of space, as a geographical phenomenon, or, to be more exact, a geological one.
Hence his many metaphors, in which he speaks of digging through successive layers, or descending into depths to be discovered and explored, or multiple caves, one opening onto the next, leading the seeker to go ever deeper and farther inside.
Only very gradually in his life and his work did his thinking make the transition from these spatial representations to an investigation of the passing of time, and therefore of history (Gaillard 2010b).
This transition was facilitated by the fact that the representations in terms of space were already practically an invitation to advance step by step.
They therefore required time, introducing the idea of a process to be lived, with its own rhythm or rhythms.
In this respect, it is especially significant and thrilling to observe, in parallel, from year to year, the advancement of The Red Book and the lectures and texts Jung published between 1913 and 1929/1930 (Vieljeux 2004).
It is particularly interesting to examine the themes of his reflection and published work in the late 1920s and through the 1930s.
It becomes clear to us that, at the same time as he put aside The Red Book, he was wondering about the place and task of modern man, and arriving at keen insights into it – in Prague, in 1928 (Jung 1928/1931; Serina 2011; Gaillard 2011c), while he would soon resume and develop his reflection on Gnosticism (Shamdasani 2012, pp. 123; 153; 201) and, moreover, on the place of alchemy in the history of our culture.
Finally, this path led him to reflect on the genealogy and history of Christianity, up to our times, and that of his psychology in this heritage (Quaglino et al. 2007).
At the same time, he was increasingly curious about the analogies and differences between his approach and those of the Oriental traditions, especially yoga.
In 1925, three years before he gave the lecture in Prague, when The Red Book was still a work in progress, this transition – actually an epistemological mutation – occurred.
Therefore, it has a bearing not only on the formation of the first specifically Jungian concepts, as I outlined above, but it is also pivotal in the transformation of his spatial representations of psychic functioning into a reflection on history.
And this mutation took place in Africa.
In the summer of 1925, Jung took part in an expedition that enabled him to travel through East Africa and Egypt, from Mombasa to Khartoum, discovering landscapes and peoples that aroused his attention all the more in that they made him wonder about his own relationships to the world, to our past and our becoming, as we are led to experience them today (Jung 1963, Ch. 9; Bair 2004, Ch. 24).
At the time, he experienced a state that could be described as elation, stimulated by an almost infinite participation in a world that is so perfectly and righteously there, so perfectly primitive and immobile, it seems to be outside time and history – and least, outside our own.
However, his elation soon gave way to a drama: he immediately began thinking that this perfection has disappeared, or is in danger of disappearing.
And this is so precisely because it is the source of an inevitable becoming, a quest for a path: ‘At that time, I understood that within the soul from its primordial beginnings there has been a desire for light and an irrepressible urge to rise out of the primordial darkness’, Jung noted, in his ‘autobiography’.
And he added, ‘The longing for light is the longing for consciousness’ (Jung 1963, p. 264; 269).
As a result of the way he experienced this movement, this longing to become conscious, Jung’s thinking about time and history formed, ripened, and emerged in his writings.
It is indeed a way of thinking, a way of thinking about history, that Jung was always tearing down and reconstructing in the rest of his work, starting in 1933 and especially energetically in the mid-1930s, in conjunction with the series of lectures he was then giving at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and at Eranos.
This coincides with his work on the alchemists’ illuminated illustrations and literature, and how they are related to or different from our psychology and our clinical practice – and, of course, this work is continued in Aion (1951), Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955–6) and ‘The Undiscovered Self (Present and Future)’ (1957).
This thinking took shape initially in a dream, a dream that was itself highly elaborate and powerfully demanding – in its own way, of course.
in question, the dream scene, had come to Jung five years earlier, in 1920. It coincided with an earlier visit to Africa – to North Africa, this time.
The night before he embarked in Tunis to return to Europe, he had a dream that he gives a careful and lengthy account of in his ‘autobiography’.
In this dream, Jung is struggling with a young Arab prince who is attacking him.
They wrestle for a long time, in a match which long seems uncertain, until Jung has the prince read a book that is open between them, which he himself has written.
The scene of hand-to-hand combat thus turns into a debate centred on a book, which finally resolves it.
Jung later said that he did not understand this dream fully until his next journey to Africa.
His thinking and reflection in 1925, which he enjoyed presenting as his ‘myth’, proceeds or derives from the image – the drama – that already contained it in 1920.
But apparently it was present only in a remote way, far from the controllable exercise of consciousness, and thereby largely enigmatic.
The power of Jung’s thinking, in its finest essence specific to Jung, is the wisdom to continue grappling with its source, the imagistic work of a psychic life that is still largely unconscious.
For decades, this work found its best expression in The Red Book. And Jung also had the wisdom to continue ‘imaging’ in his later work – an approach that, by feeding from its source – makes his thinking ‘emergent’ as well, as I said earlier. And, because it is emerging, it is also surprising, and deliberately dramatized and dramatizing – not only when it reaches towards the conceptual, as I outlined above, but just as much when the
issue is representing and experiencing history. In both of these areas, that of theorization, and that of the conception of history and putting it in perspective, this approach is good for the becoming-consciousness.
So it is quite possible that since the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos the Temple has been destroyed – or that, more discreetly, from one page of The Red Book to the next, it tends to vanish into the distance, above the clouds, no longer containing what we sought and found within it.
But the Book remains.
The Book, and all the books after it, particularly, this Red Book, at last open among us, opening onto the answer Jung would give Job in 1952, an answer with roots in both of Jung’s journeys to Africa, an answer that will never cease evolving in his later works – an answer that even today has the power to move and mobilize us (see Eco 1962).
Thus, this journey we made as we looked at The Red Book took us from the egg to the vessels, and from the vessels to the words, and at the same time, from Jung’s Red Book to his last works, a journey that can teach or, or rather remind us, of certain characteristics specific to Jung’s approach to psychoanalysis and our own, characteristics I find essential.
First of all, this reading can teach us or remind us that our psychoanalysis is born from an experience, an experience of the unconscious faced as a dynamic, strangely living, enigmatic and largely independent and autonomous reality, endowed with powers of expression, representation, personification, dramatization, and symbolization which continually astound us.
Indeed, these forces are so powerful they may prove to be lethal.
However, we may also learn to cooperate with them, in order to make more room for the unconscious, the better to acknowledge and deal with it.
This first observation is a practical invitation, addressed to each and every one.
The Red Book also teaches us that because Jungian psychoanalysis is sustained by such an experience with the unconscious, it has the creative boldness to suggest a type of thinking that I have qualified as imaging, hence an entire set of concepts distinguished by their propensity for being virtually figurative themselves: often personalized, at the same time as they are deliberately dramatized.
As a result, their purpose, rather than being to describe a psychological functioning from outside, is to represent it, and especially to give it a voice and a figure, thereby making it possible for the subject to better acknowledge and experience emotionally the engagement in the relationship to the unconscious at a particular moment. The scope of this second observation is both epistemological and clinical.
Lastly, this Book teaches us – and we will stop here, for the time being – that the Jungian approach tackles these questions, and enables us to tackle these questions, over a long time frame, on a par with the time required for cultural transformations.
Therefore, the question of heritage and becoming is posed and imposed, and, by that very token, the question of our duty to the present. This third observation is of an ethical nature. ~Christian Gaillard, The egg, the vessels and the words.
From Izdubar to Answer to Job, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2012, 57, 299–334