By Sonu Shamdasani

W.W. Norton and Company | 2012 | 224 pages

Reviewed by Emily Rosen

First, let’s get physical. This 11 ½ by 10 coffee table book, is, before anything else, an artistic treasure. Your eyes will linger on the front cover for many minutes, before you venture beyond. The heavy high quality paper, the reproductions of color plates and lithographs of treasured writings in every form and, yes, even the heavily inked fragrance within its bindings are all momentary distractions from the actual copy. If ever there was a book to “fondle,” this is it.

Sonu Shamdasani,  considered to be the ultimate authority on Jung, is the Philemon Professor of Jung History at the Centre for the History of Psychological Disciplines at University College London. Born in Singapore in 1962, he grew up in England, and first discovered Jung in his teens when traveling through India in search of a guru. There he came across the text for The Secret of The Golden Flower, his first encounter with psychology. Engaged in further study, he concluded that psychology and psychotherapy “was in a mess” and he was determined to figure out how it got that way, thus his immersion in its history.

In this book, we enter the virtual world of Jung’s library, an almost holy place where learning is elevated to a transcendent  experience. This is not only a book of Jung’s writings. It is mostly a book of writings that made Jung the person he became.

The pages, abundantly illustrated with photographs of previously unseen manuscripts, copies of rare first editions, and annotated books by some of Jung’s favorite writers, scholars, and philosophers, are an open sesame to a very private library, and they trace Jung’s intellectual development through the massive readings which lead him to formulate new conceptions of human nature.

Using his training in psychology, as well as his extensive knowledge of Western literature, Jung integrated his study of religion and mythology into a combination of all of those elements, and produced a cohesive psychological oeuvre.

In a sense this book is a mystery as it unravels Jung’s investigative tools: the literary and mythological sources that informed his own fantasies and how his own self reflections were the seeds from which sprung his new psychology.  These pages include reproductions of his notebooks, (many illegible) wherein he wrestled with the symbolism and meaning of alchemy ( any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value), and sought to find connections between science and religion. Other pages include reprints of original manuscripts in German and Swiss.

   The opening paragraphs describe Jung’s recurrent dream, about two adjacent houses containing libraries with 16th and 17th century literature, books with strange symbolism, and references to alchemy. That dream, of an unknown library actually became a reality in the discovery of the library of  Martin Bodner, possibly unknown to Jung, but nonetheless a bibliophile radiating the same passion for knowledge  as Jung. This book draws from both of these collections and is likened to a stroll through both libraries.

As far back as his youth Jung had a craving for books and the written word, with an eclectic taste, delving into poetry, religion, drama, travel, and science. When he was 15, he read Goethe’s Faust, happy to have discovered someone who took the devil seriously, recognizing the existence of evil and its mysterious role in the individual psyche.  From Faust, he migrated to Schopenhauer and Kant and was haunted by the concept that all knowledge could not be derived from experience alone, and that another component had to be “things as they were in themselves–and that phenomena” is part of the knowledge base.

He chose to study medicine as a means of making a living, but continued his studies and extra-curricular reading and came to accept the concept of the influence of the unconscious on human personality and behavior. Correcting the “conventional wisdom”  that he had derived his concept of the unconscious from Freud, he noted, ‘I had these thoughts long before I came to Freud. Unconscious is an epistemological (relating to the branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge) term deriving from von Hartmann”  (Eduard von Hartmann (1842-1906) a scholar whose major work, The Philosophy of the Unconscious, was another significant influence on Jung’s thinking).

The text covers much of Jung’s writings and noteworthy concepts and theories, spending much time on his use of fantasy and dreams, his conclusions about archetypes and the shadow side of life, and about the collective unconscious as well as references to his Red Book. The text also includes countless citations of his readings in science and philosophy and literature, with comments on their influences on his thinking.  The footnotes are prodigious and tell their own story.

This is a kaleidoscopic overview of Carl Gustav Jung in all of his professional manifestations. And it feels good, too.

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