Review of Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul Under Postmodern Conditions: Volume 3

Reprinted from the C.G. Jung Society of Montreal Newsletter 

Review written by Murray Shugar

Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul Under Postmodern Conditions

A third volume of a series on Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul Under Postmodern Conditions has been released and it continues the legacy of an adventure that Jung began more than a century ago. It gathers eighteen authors, some steeped in the tradition as well as those who have come lately to the dance. 

Among the veterans is Murray Stein, who, along with Thomas Arzt, is one of the book’s co-editors. Stein links Jung’s Red Book to the Aurea Catena—a Golden Chain of imaginative literature that spans the ages. It includes works such as TheEpicofGilgamesh, the Tao Te Ching, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the medieval alchemists, and Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

Stein is concerned with how Jung’s “spirit” is transmitted over time. He likens Jung’s legacy to religious traditions and expresses concern that the inspiration that produced The Red Book cannot be taught in institutions where it could become abstract learning and even dogma.

In his essay, the central role of Philemon is emphasized. As a character in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, he and his wife Baucis offered hospitality to the gods. In Goethe’s Faust, he suffered a tragic fate at the hands of the overweening scholar. And yet Philemon, a retired magician and counselor to the Dead, and perhaps akin to the unscrupulous Simon Magus, was the major player as Jung’s drama concluded in his garden and not that of Jesus. This pagan guide mediated between the human and divine dimensions.

Illustrative of Jung’s use of active imagination, Stein writes: “The human maintains its dignity before the Divine, respectfully, and helps the Divine to become conscious by letting it pass through the doorway of human consciousness and enter into relationship with the human world.” (p. 28)

Stein contends that the receptivity shown by the mythic Philemon was the same religious attitude that Jung needed to explore the inner reaches of psyche: to be open to the unconscious. Stein proposes that “the Red Book offers those of us who are entangled in the postmodern condition of turmoil and confusion, mythlessness, and the dismaying absence of a coherent master narrative a glimpse of the underlying tradition of wisdom that has sustained many generations and can sustain us as well.” (p. 28)

Remarkable insights can be gleaned in an essay written by Linda Carter on “Jung as Craftsman.” She summons Jung’s vulnerable childhood: his mother lost three infants, two still-born, before Carl Gustav was born. This fragility may have led him to a need for interactive relationships, a dimension of his life often overlooked in favour of Jung’s solitary and quasi-mystical adventures. She muses on the difference between deliberative and procedural knowledge. In her opinion, Jung demonstrated considerable procedural skills by the repetition of his art, as attested to by his masterfully-wrought illustrated manuscripts. … “With manual dexterity, the craftsman can … outside explicit consciousness, enter a state of creative resonance or reverie that allows for conjunction between imagination and the material world.” (p. 246)

Carter also points out Jung’s fascination with stone from an early age. His confrontation with the unconscious was famously aided by his play in sand and stone. Years later the construction of his Tower at Bollingen would provide a sanctuary in stone to his opus.

An inscription therein attested to its purpose: (Philemonis Sacrum; Fausti Poenitentia/Philemon’s Sanctuary; Faust’s Repentance). Moreover Jung’s interest in alchemy would take him on an assiduous and scholarly quest for the philosopher’s stone—lapis—in his later years.

Finally, Carter cites the influence on Jung of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century—a return to the Middle Ages and the importance of turning the immaterial to the material.

Stephen Aizenstat concludes this volume with a wonderfully written essay entitled “The Quest for One’s Own Red Book in the Digital Age.” He begins with his own personal experience of the numinous as a child playing on the tidewaters of Zuma Beach, just outside of Los Angeles. This wondrous memory led him to a life-long interest in exploring “digs” —inner journeys into the psyche—using a method he has called “dream tending.”

However as we spend increasingly more time in cyberspace, “our time in the dream space becomes ever more diminished.” (p. 378) While one expects that the author will advocate strongly for a focus on inner work against the overwhelming presence of technology in our times, instead Aizenstat contends that we must keep ourselves open to modern ways. Guided by a recurrent dream figure Aizenstat calls “Woman with Many Screens,” he argues that “advanced technology and deep imagination can coexist and enhance each other.” (p. 381)

He adds that the publication of The Red Book itself, with the high quality reproduction of its images, would not have been so successful in rendering Jung’s inner experiences without the aid of technological wizardry!

Finally, after mulling deeply on the imagination and its presence in The Red Book, the author adds a wish that Jung could not have mustered as he created this unique work. Aizenstat urges the current reader to consider uniting the spirit of the times with the spirit of the depths!

It is a mark of the importance of Jung’s Red Book that three volumes have been dedicated to its significance for our post-modern times. The authors range widely in their background and in their approaches. There are reflections from an astrological angle, from alchemy, and from Japanese fairy tales. Jung’s explorations ranged from the giant Sumerian god Izdubar (Gilgamesh) to the god-image in the psyche, a Gnostic allusion that Jung favoured. A clinical case evokes the appearance of the golden seed within the vile and misshapen. The creative power of soul as well as its unsettling effects are addressed.

An analysis of a modern film, “No One’s Child,” presents the crisis of the abandoned child—the current plight of the refugee—from a Serbian perspective. Another author invokes the Trickster as instrumental in economic boom and bust cycles. A Muslim perspective cites the mundus imaginalis as common ground shared by its mystic proponents and Jung’s own high esteem for the imagination. There are also perspectives offered on the nature of the serpent in Jung’s encounters from a Japanese angle; even the Red Book as Troll Music by a Swedish analyst!

One may wonder how such a text can be interpreted in so many ways. Perhaps a clue to the richness of the book is found in its symbolic content. A man and his symbols indeed.