Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Red Book: Jung-Mania hits Manhattan

 Hmm. Well, The Red Book is the big story in publishing this season, which on one hand is exciting because it seems such an opportune time for it to be revealed, and unbelievably depressing since it sets us up for yet another round of the commodification of Jung. 

The Brits seem to get it right, discussing the book in a sober, respectful tone:
As World War I raged through Europe, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung embarked on a somewhat psychedelic journey of self-exploration. During long periods of "self-experimentation" he met heroes and goddesses, wise men and serpents, battled his demons and re-discovered his faith in God. "My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious," Jung said of this experience later in life. He documented his imaginary journey, illustrating the most powerful revelations by hand, in a leather bound tome he named the Liber Novus, or new book, but which came to be known as the Red Book - BBC
OK, but here's where the trouble starts:
..this week, as publisher W.W. Norton agreed to release its first ever full-length version, New York's Rubin Museum of Art announced it will display it on exhibit, the Associated Press reported. And in honor of its unveiling, the museum is launching a Red Book dialogue series, pairing each personality with a psychoanalyst to interpret the work. Sessions featuring Sarah Silverman and David Byrne have already sold out, though $25 tickets can still be purchased to see Billy Corgan, writer Alice Walker and philosopher Cornel West. Even Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is slated to grapple with the Red Book, though on a date still yet to be determined.- Paste
I'm sorry, what do any of these people have to do with Carl Jung? Here's Business Week's take on one of the big shows:
After spending an evening listening to Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar and current CEO of GoLoco, dissect one of Carl Jung’s paintings at the Rubin Museum of Art last week, I’m convinced that obsession is the core of the entrepreneurial spirit. The Rubin has invited numerous artists, intellectuals, and executives to sit on stage with a Jungian analyst and respond to a painting from Jung’s legendary Red Book diary, which famously chronicles the psychologist’s descent into madness. - Business Week
Entrepreneurial spirit? I'm missing something. But this "descent into madness" - is that the emerging narrative here? 

Here's the New York Times illuminating take on Silverman's appearance:

In 1914, after falling out of favor with Freud, C.J. Jung lost his mind. Some scholars say he lost it by design, cultivating a psychic crisis to plumb the depths of his unconscious. The “Red Book,” an illustrated manual of the Swiss shrink’s inner world, is the product of all that plumbing. The leather-bound volume was considered so bizarre — and dangerous — that Jung’s heirs kept it under lock and key until 2007. Now, W.W. Norton is set to publish an English translation, and the Rubin Museum, in New York, has Jung’s original manuscript on display. 
Amid all this psychic danger, in walks Sarah Silverman.

She began tentatively. “It looks like a very contained world. Snakes. Turtles. Really nice tiles. Um, fire and water,” she said. “Am I doing this right? There’s no wrong, right?”

...Silverman glanced again at the image. What else could she see?

“My father’s penis.” Her smirk was resplendent. “Kidding!”

Sigh. Well, all I can say is that as annoyed as I got with the mainstreaming of Jung in the 90s, the way the American media is treating all of this reminds me of some Saturday Night Live skit where Galileo or Issac Newton appears on Wheel of Fortune. The disconnect is pretty much the same. 

Jung doesn't belong in today's mainstream media. And certainly not in politics:

Pelosi has a sense of humor and an intellectual curiosity often obscured in partisan standoffs. She can't wait to get her hands on "The Red Book," the inner musings and torments of the late Carl Jung, and she diverts herself by reading cookbooks that her husband, businessman Paul Pelosi, says she never uses. - SFGate
This is a bit more to my liking:
The Flaming Lips have recorded my generation’s Dark Side of the Moon. Listening to Embryonic—the Oklahoma band’s 12th album—is like watching a movie: a strange, majestic, hypnagogic movie. Or are you watching a dream? Or are you experiencing the collective unconscious of eternity? Or taking a stroll through the dark corners of Wayne Coyne’s mind? 
Is it a coincidence Embryonic is being released one week before Carl Jung’s The Red Book, the 100-year old manuscript which will be a guided tour of Jung’s descent into madness and hallucination? No. The connections are manifest. The hallucinations are real. If you and I dream it, then it will be so. So buy Embryonic, turn out the lights, silence the phone, feed the dog, and drug the wife. Lie down in dark comfort.
This is very timely, since I've been thinking a lot of the cost of trying to cling to the superficiality of youth when middle age has its own rewards:
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung was the first to divide life into transitional phases. In his 1935 book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung argued that if the first half of life is devoted to forming the ego and establishing oneself in the world, the second is focused on a search for meaning in all that effort. 
For Jung, middle age didn’t hold negative connotations. Jung felt that if people treated the natural loss of physical prowess as a signal that it was time to develop new dimensions, then this transitional period could become truly transformational. But if the loss of youth was met with denial, fear or negativity, then decay and possibly breakdown was in store.
My wife and I had a discussion about this after a convention recently where we saw one too many middle-aged heavy metal heads trying to pass off as teenagers. Nothing looks so old than a middle-aged person trying to look like a teenager. Accepting the passage of time doesn't have to mean sitting down to die in a rocking chair. On the contrary. 

 This was brought to mind when I saw Ian Hunter back onstage rocking with Mott the Hoople, even though he's a mind-boggling 70 years old. I think the idea that rock 'n' roll is about youth is shallow, and ignores the ancient shamanic tradition that the best rock draws upon. It brought to mind martial arts masters and how their practice changes with the passage of time. The body will break down and beauty will decay. But soul is eternal.

But I'm confident the hype will blow over soon and the reader can then delve into Jung's psychedelic (in the truest sense) visions unmolested by the media and their ever-reductive impositions on complex ideas. I'll let the man have the last word...
"The knowledge of the heart is in no book, and is not found in the mouth of any teacher, but grows out of you like the green seed from the dark earth...But how can I attain the knowledge of the heart? You can attain this knowledge only by living your life to the full..." Carl Jung
UPDATE: Well, here's an unfortunate sync with the "head shrinker goes crazy" meme we discussed earlier: an Army psychiatrist goes on shooting rampage, killing 12 and wounding 31. 

SYNCH LOG UPDATE: Monday, I delved into my childhood experience in a heathen school play, and lo and behold this Village Voice report which reads: Holy Tyr! Queens voters made American history tonight, when they chose Dan Halloran as the nation's first openly heathen elected official.