Review of Reading Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul under Post-Modern Conditions: Volume 2

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

Review written by Murray Shugar

Reading Jung’s Red Book For Our Time: Searching for Soul under Post-Modern Conditions: Volume 2

The eighteen Jungian analysts in this second volume of Reading Jung’s Red Book For Our Time almost unanimously point out the dilemma facing the postmodern individual in light of the secular values that dominate our lives and that have driven the religious dimension almost into oblivion.

Australian analyst David Tacey argues that after a long period of secularism that has dominated Western culture—a critical feature of postmodernism—a repressed religious impulse has returned with violent force. He identifies radical Islamism as “a medieval mindset indignant and angry over the relativization of values, the annihilation of traditional structures, and the arbitrariness resulting from a free and open society.” (p. 46) “We cannot capitulate to a premodern demand that a totalitarian expression of the sacred be worshipped.” (p. 47)

Tacey proposes a dive into the spirit of the depths that could produce a cosmology that will “draw on ancient sources, contemporary science, and personal experience … (from which) the future religion will be formed. “ (p. 48)

John Dourley eloquently describes the principle of individuation: … “the drive toward being an individual, moving progressively away from a regressive dissolution in the wealth of its source, the Pleroma, to an ever deeper engagement in the demands of finite life and the making of the individual.” (p. 91)

Anne Ulanov evokes Jung’s humble spirit: “one blunders into the work of redemption … neither beautiful nor pleasant … and so difficult and full of torment that one should count oneself as one of the sick and not as one of the overhealthy who seek to impart their abundance to others.” (p. 72) Furthermore, “the time has come when each must do his own work of redemption.” (p. 83)

For Gary Sparks the Gnostic god Abraxas plays a pivotal role in Jung’s Seven Sermons. “Abraxas represents everything the ideals of an age restrict from typical awareness, but which, in fact, break out in mass, often in savagely destructive, behaviour.” (p. 113) He presents Jung’s work in 1926 with Christiana Morgan, whose monstrous and violent visions gave way to erotic and creative expression. “Through our inner images generated in emotional storms, we recover the lost sacred in life, denied by centuries of dismissal.” (p. 124)

In “The Red Book as a Religious Text,” Lionel Corbett concludes: “I see Jung’s myth as undermining many of the assertions of the reigning monotheisms …deviations from tradition … (include) Jung’s attempt to synthesize good and evil as components of the self, the need for a renewal of the Western god-image, the notion of the dark side of the self, and the stress on the birth of God in the soul rather than in a transcendent domain.” And further, “he implies that the material that arises from the objective psyche is sacred, consistent with his belief that contact with the objective psyche is a religious process.” (p. 65)

Mexican analyst Ramon Madera addresses Nietzsche’s bold proclamation that “God is dead” and proceeds to elaborate on the idea that the Holy Spirit is still alive and well. He cites the twelfth-century Italian theologian Joachim of Fiore as someone who tried, like Jung, to reconcile the opposites through it. Madera asserts that Jung’s quest for meaning after the death of god has not proven to be successful; chaos seems to be in the ascent, a perplexing and dire dilemma that we face.

In “On Salomé and the Emancipation of Women,” Joerg Rasche explores Jung’s “encounter” with the blood-thirsty femme fatale of Biblical notoriety. Salomé was the dark and fascinating subject of late-nineteenth century artists like Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss. The author complicates matters by adding the personage of Lou Andreas-Salomé, a leading advocate of women’s emancipation, who had among her admirers Friedrich Nietzsche and Rainer Maria Rilke. She attended the 1911 Psychoanalytic Conference in Weimar alongside Jung, Freud, Toni Wolff and Emma Jung. Although fiercely independent, she may ultimately have leaned more towards Freud’s ideas. Rasche presents Jung’s complex relationships with four distinctly gifted women—Sabina Spielrein, Toni Wolff, Andreas-Salomé and Emma Jung—as a struggle to understand his anima. He imagined a blind Salomé in the Mysterium chapter of his Red Book; she regained her sight after challenging Jung to love her. The author suggests that it was Jung’s own blindness to his feelings about women that would be healed by his efforts. Rasche underlines several moments in the Red Book when Jung urged his female counterpart to find her own footing. With or without Jung’s encouragement, these women possessed impressive intellectual gifts.

In an intriguing concluding remark, the author reflects on the biblical Elijah, a pivotal figure in Jung’s encounter with the seductress: Elijah championed Yahweh against the pagan gods of his day and subsequently experienced His awesome power, not unlike Job’s encounter. Rasche seems to contend that Jung’s experience was of such magnitude that he too was almost overwhelmed.

In “Soul’s Desire to Become New” Kate Burns elaborates upon the inner calling that summons an individual to enter the “thickest darknesses …” (p. 224). “Jung’s retreat into himself engendered an initiatory crisis that revealed the wisdom waiting to birth the word and image of inner experience and to unlock an attendant meaning that brings relief to suffering.” (pp. 218-19)

Qi Re Ching offers an eloquent Odyssean essay on the subject of aging. A gay man in his 60’s, he explores his declining sexual proclivity. Having lived through the AIDs epidemic in his native San Francisco, he grieves the loss of many friends at that time and realizes the importance of each stage of our lives and the distinction between restorative and reflective nostalgia. Along the way he also encounters a spider woman, an imaginal companion who supports and challenges him.

Noa Schwartz Feuerstein’s essay on India in the Red Book points out the substantial references that Jung found within the Indian wisdom tradition, especially the Upanishads. Having turned his gaze inward, Jung found in the Indian holy books allusions to the Self in Brahman and atman and qualities that supported his challenge to western attitudes, such as detachment from the sensory world, waiting and non-intentionality. In “A Lesson in Peacemaking: The Mystery of Self-Sacrifice in The Red Book,” Günter Langwieler invokes Jung’s account of his heart and soul-rending experience on the cross. Only through this suffering could he break the violent cycle of heroes too willing to take the lives of their brothers.

In an effort to understand the current American political scene, Randy Fertel has written “Trickster, His Apocalyptic Brother, and a World’s Unmaking: An Archetypal Reading of Donald Trump.” He cleverly riffs on subjects such as Improvisation and the Rhetoric of Unmediated Spontaneity; Jung and Trump: Embracing Spontaneity; Lord of Liars: Trickster, Subjectivity and Alt-Facts; The Improviser-in-Chief: Culture Bearer or Destroyer. For all its cleverness and its cathartic intent, this essay somehow fails to convince.

In “Dreaming the Red Book Onward: What Do the Dead Seek Today?” Al Collins identifies three dark twentieth century creations of critical import—T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and two Sci Fi films: “Dark City” and “She.” Referring to the importance of the virtual world in the 21st century and seeking a better story, Collins concludes that “it is a cosmic selfhood we are playing with in our nascent mythology …” (p. 380)

The Red Book is a complex multi-vocal work. The eighteen distinct voices in this volume offer deeply considered musings that encourage fruitful reflection.