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The Black Books: Toward a Visionary Science:

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the Black Books

Toward a Visionary Science: Jung’s Notebooks of Transformation ~Sonu Shamdasani


In 1935, Jung said: “A point exists at about the thirty-fifth year when things begin to change, it is the first moment of the shadow side of life, of the going down to death.

It is clear that Dante found this point and those who have read

Zarathustra will know that Nietzsche also discovered it.

When this turning point comes people meet it in several ways: some turn away from it; others plunge into it; and something important happens to yet others from the outside.

If we do not see a thing Fate does it to us.”

By 1913, he had established himself as one of the leading lights in European psychiatry and was president of the burgeoning International Psychoanalytical Association.

As he recounted in Liber Novus, “I had achieved everything that I had wished for myself.

I had achieved honor, power, wealth, knowledge, and every human happiness.

Then my desire for the increase of these trappings ceased, the desire ebbed from me and horror came over me.”

He had reached a turning point that was to transform his life and work: through this, Jung became Jung, and analytical psychology emerged as a general psychology and as a school of psychotherapy.

This transformation took place through the exploration of the visionary imagination, charted in the Black Books, from 1913 to 1932.

These are not personal diaries but the records of a unique self-experimentation that Jung called his “confrontation with his soul” and his “confrontation with the unconscious.”

He didn’t record day-to-day happenings or outer events in them but rather his active imaginations, depictions of his mental states, and reflections on these.

From the fantasies therein, between 1913 and 1916 he composed the Draft of Liber Novus, the Red Book, which he then transcribed in a calligraphic volume, illustrated with paintings.

The paintings from 1916 onward in the Red Book relate to Jung’s continued explorations in the later Black Books.

Liber Novus and the Black Books are thus closely intertwined. The Black Books cover the period before, during, and after Liber Novus.

Liber Novus was born from the Black Books.

It includes Jung’s meditation on his fantasies between 1913 and 1916, and his understanding of the significance of his experiences up to that point.

In Jung’s view, his undertaking pertained not just to himself but to others as well; he had come to view his fantasies as

stemming from a general mythopoeic layer of the psyche, which he named the collective unconscious.

From the notebooks of a self-experimentation, a psychological work in a literary and theogonic form was created.

Jung’s continued explorations of the visionary imagination in the Black Books from 1916 chart his evolving understanding and demonstrate how he sought to develop and extend the insights he had gained and embody them in life.

At the same time, they enable his paintings from 1916 onward to be understood in the context of the evolution of the iconography of his personal cosmology.

Given the intersection of the Black Books and Liber Novus, particularly between 1913 and 1916, this introduction of necessity reprises in a reworked and expanded form sections from the introduction to Liber Novus, now taken up from a different angle, as both works arise from one context and shared chronology.

The introduction at hand focuses more on the unfolding of Jung’s visionary self-experimentation, and provides a fuller contextualization of the later period, 1916 to 1932.

Similarly, a share of the notes from the 2009 Norton edition of Liber Novus have been carried over in the first part of this edition.

In the early twentieth century, it was not uncommon for a work to be expanded and recast through several editions.

A number of Jung’s pivotal publications, such as The Psychology of the Unconscious Processes, are prime examples of this.

This introduction is part of that genre. ~Sonu Shamdasani, The Black Books, Vol. 1, Page 11-12