9780393019674 / 0393019675

A Life of Jung


Publisher:W. W. Norton & Company



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About the book:

According to composer Nikolai Medtner, Goethe had foreseen psychoanalysis as "a psychic cure in which insanity is sent in to cure insanity." Jung fitted the bill and for many years he actually believed himself the great-grandson of Goethe (he wasn't). In the hands of accomplished biographer Ronald Hayman, the founder of analytical psychology emerges as a magnificently flawed colossus, with a Jeffrey Archer-like capacity to recycle negative energy, and a similarly mythic bent. When "aiding" Aniela Jaffe with Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he was to write in the prologue, "In the eighty-third year of my life I have undertaken to tell the myth of my life." For those who like their idols with feet of clay (and Anthony Storr included Jung with Freud in his book of that title), Jung is irresistibly magnetic.

In a portentous dream aged 12, he saw God defecate mightily on the cathedral at Basle. He claimed consistently throughout his life that his career was an attempt to make sense of such a wicked thought. The tales of his eccentricity are legion: Loudly greeting pots and pans in the morning, a belief that plane travel meant leaving bits of one's psyche in the air, an advocacy of marital promiscuity (of which he was an active example, with a steady line of female patients who willingly traipsed from his consulting room to his bed to their own consulting room, now fully qualified to practise; late in life he was to justify flirting with a pretty patient by saying "It was my Self that did it"). Easy targets, especially out of context, but they are the payoff for breakthrough modes of thinking, such as a restored belief of ancient, instinctual wisdom, the concept of a collective unconscious, mythological archetypes and a spiritual reaching out beyond facts, like Swedenborg and Blake, which saw him seriously entertain seances, astrology, UFOs and ghosts, and detrimentally give too wide a berth to anti-Semitism and the Nazis. And then there was Freud. Where sex was a subset to religion for Jung, the opposite was true for Freud, who gladly took the young Swiss under his wing for a symbiotic relationship which ended, as gurus do not easily tend to work in tandem, with both distinguished men caught in a blank-firing duel, each accusing the other of neurosis. Glorious, but the breakdown Jung was to suffer lasted for six years and severely changed him.

Self-dramatising, outrageously intoxicating, his theories as baggy as Freud's were claustrophobic, Jung finds his perfect complement in Hayman, with his detached, less than reverential but nevertheless boldly erudite analysis, which somehow maintains its pace and poise to the close. This is ideal for Jungian Freudians, Freudian Jungians and those who just like a rollicking good tale of genius and folly. --David Vincent

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