||A Review of: Jung, a Biography
by Hugh Graham
The maternal grandfather of the great psychologist, Carl G. Jung,
had the habit of retiring to his study to talk with his dead wife,
and a generation later, Jung's mother had regular encounters with
spirits and visions. Imbued with this atmosphere since childhood,
Jung, as a young medical student, chose psychiatry (in those days,
around the turn of the century, the paranormal came under the rubric
of psychology). His choice continued to be vindicated: one day, as
he was studying, a table in the adjoining room split asunder of its
own will, and another time, a bread knife spontaneously shattered.
The intrusions did not stop with professional recognition. On his
first visit to Freud, in Vienna, a loud crack exploded from inside
a cabinet, without visible cause. A few years later, his young son's
nightmare, reflecting a vision Jung himself had had, provoked three
days of hauntings, upsetting the whole family until Jung exorcised
the demons by writing the Seven Sermons.
We owe these accounts to the excruciating detail of Deirdre Bair's
Jung, A Biography. Bair leaves these incidents to speak for themselves,
allowing us to wonder if his great discovery, the collective
unconscious, might be more eerily intrusive than we imagine. The
earthy paganism that surged up in his childhood dreams seem to bear
it out: the primitive life-force of a giant subterranean phallus,
or of God defecating on a cathedral, sent him on a life-long search
for the dark force in all of us that is so desperate to break out.
The beginnings were inauspicious. As a child in Basel, Jung was
sent to school in winter in bare feet inside leaky boots, and when
he joined the Bugholzli Clinic in Zurich as a psychologist, he had
scarcely a change of clothes. A period of insecurity was followed
by virtuosity and innovation, in which he developed the word-association
tests that are still used in psychiatry. Soon he became the overbearing
yet compelling force of nature that he remained for the rest of his
life: challenging the clinic's brilliant director, Eugen Bleuler
(the discoverer of schizophrenia), and marrying the wealthy Emma
Rauschenbach, who brought into her husband's life the material
security that allowed him to leave the clinic and to follow his own
The great break-through had already come in 1910 when Jung examined
a Burgholzli patient and schizophrenic by the name of Schwitzer.
Schwitzer believed that the sun had a phallus and that he could
control the wind that issued from the solar phallus' by shaking his
head. Schwitzer was uneducated, yet this grotesque vision turned
out to have its source in a piece of ancient Mithraic liturgy that
portrayed the sun equipped with a tube from which the wind blew.
It was thus that Jung discovered that ancient and innate reservoir
of symbolic knowledge known as the collective unconscious.
Like her account of the Schwitzer case, Bair's method is thorough,
but at times, Jung's trajectory barely survives the welter of facts:
names and thumbnail portraits of colleagues, relatives, patients
and connections of connections seem endless. As the burden of data
grows, we begin to beg for the succinctness of an essay rather than
the comprehensiveness of an archive.
Nevertheless Jung emerges. Perhaps only a man as bull-headed and
tactless could bushwhack his way through Bair's jungle of detail.
She sheds sharp light on the shadow cast by his association and
alleged sympathy with Nazi Germany; and it's his heedlessness, not
his politics, that is held to account. While the growing persecution
of the Jews demanded that he keep a strategic silence, Jung continued
to comment publicly on the unconscious in terms of racial and
national differences. With similar poor judgment he remained close
to the Nazi Psychological Society in an attempt control and correct
it, instead of keeping his distance. That he had no use for Nazism,
foresaw the "Blonde Beast" of the Germanic unconscious
in 1918, and despised Hitler, was all but forgotten when post-war
zealots named him in their search for Nazi sympathizers.
The tendency to be out of touch with his times was one more symptom
of his inability to act with subtlety. According to his own system,
Jung was an Introverted Intuitive' type, meaning that he saw the
world in terms of his own idea, rather than adapting his idea to
the world. His brilliant insights into culture and its role in the
collective past left him blind not just to politics but to any
culture produced after the nineteenth century. Picasso and Joyce
left him cold. It was the same profound feel for the past and
philistine insensitivity to the present that led to his rupture
Here, for once, Bair gives us a clear-cut drama. She provides, in
Freud, an Extrovert' foil to Jung's Introvert'. For both men, the
libido was central; but for Freud the libido and its ills were
purely sexual and sexual trauma an urgent problem of the present.
Jung, by contrast, was concerned with the totality of psychic energy
accumulated from the historical past. For as long as he could, Jung
played the part of Freud's respectfully dissenting follower. Freud,
however, could not have allies, only apostles; and the break finally
came on the eve of World War One.
After freeing himself from the master, Jung turned out to be
authoritarian too, though not as doctrinaire. The Psychological
Club in Zurich, ostensibly a forum for discussion, became a vehicle
for his latest ideas and eventually a Holy of Holies' for the cult
that surrounded him. Though he abruptly quashed dissent, Jung
remained humble and in awe of things he did not yet understand. He
got on well with the tribe he studied in East Africa and was finally
chastened by the inscrutability of Africa's great unconscious. On
a trip to India he was dumbfounded by the relegation of good and
evil to the passing phenomenal world. There were also those in his
life whom he respected and upon whom he depended: at the death of
his colleague and alleged lover, Toni Wolff, and later, of his wife
Emma, he was immobilized by grief.
Women were central to his life and Bair uses their relations with
him to cast light on his prejudices. While he expected ordinary
Swiss women to play their traditional role, he treated as equals
the upper class, educated, (and especially foreign) women who came
to surround him like a phalanx. His awkwardness with the opposite
sex faded behind their adulation. He became known as a ladies' man
and there was much speculation on the nature of his liaisons with
two women who graduated from patient to student to colleague: Sabina
Spilrein and Tony Wolff. To explain the intensity of his intellectual
relationship with Wolff, he described her as his "anima",
the female counterpart in his own psyche. Emma-herself a student,
analyst and colleague to her husband-reluctantly acquiesced as Toni
Wolff became a regular part of the Jung household. Men, by contrast,
tended toward respectful dissent which Jung angrily rebuffed. In
the end he had his way in almost everything.
In the decade after the first war, he gradually left theory and
practice to move toward an exploration of the collective unconscious.
It was in ancient Gnosticism that he found the richest trove of
symbols and ideas that recurred in the unconscious. Gnosticism,
however, reached a dead end when he could find nothing that connected
it to the present world. But clues trickled in: a 1944 heart infarct
left him bed-ridden with dreams that embraced entire continents
suggesting a mission of uniting ideas from East and West. Henceforth,
two paradoxical theories were central: that individuation, the
therapeutic goal of becoming a whole individual lay in the impersonal,
that is, the collective unconscious; and the collective unconscious
itself could only be grasped in terms of the union of opposites,
particularly of the masculine and feminine.
Jung had entered old age when he finally found the deep vein of
symbol that connected Gnostic symbolism with the modern world. The
metaphor upon which the conscious and unconscious minds could be
seen to reconcile themselves lay in the symbols of medieval alchemy.
Since psychic health was a process of individuation and individuation
came out of the union of opposites, Jung's remaining mission was
to illustrate that goal, the culmination of his life's work, in
what he called the Mysterium Coniunctionis. The book of that name
remains his last major work.
As the constant expansion of his quest shows, Jung was less rigid
a thinker than Freud. If he was single-minded and impervious to
dissent, he used method only in his teaching while his analysis
with patients remained an adventure in unexplored territory. Bair
brings plenty of evidence to bear on Jung's open-mindedness, but
at the heart of her marvellous and infuriating storm of fact,
something is missing: she's curiously silent on his effectiveness
as a physician and the usefulness of his therapy. Somehow one wants
to have seen more of the man, who, in the words of a close associate,
"wanted to get his patients to integrate the necessary suffering
into their lives, to accept and bear it as part of their wholeness-for
without darkness and sorrow there is no life. To soothe it away or
exclude it would rob them of a vital experience, while the core of
the depression would remain and soon enough provoke new suffering."
In the end, Jung, A Biography is a little like a face on Mount
Rushmore: monumental, complete, but often as not, difficult to get