The Freud/Jung Letters

I must confess that I was disappointed with this vast collection of letters, a record of the six-year interaction between Jung and Freud.

I was looking forward to an exchange of ideas between the two great men, of revelations about the way that they thought in ways that I hadn’t come across before.

Yet the tone throughout is one of bitchiness, a series of interactions in which they lay into contemporaries with glee.

When they’re not doing this there are an incomprehensible references to the psyche. In other parts it’s train times, hotel bookings, and lots – and I mean lots on the various publications they attempted to edit.

Fair enough, these were ambitious men on the move and they had a lot to plan, so I can accept the recounting of endless arrangements to a degree.

The scientific bluster I mention in fact tends to be mostly shortlived at the start of their relationship, when they’re trying to impress each other, and not much after.

But the slating of others is harder to take. This is Freud:

Moll’s book on the sex life of the child is both meagre and – dishonest. What a mean, malicious soul, and what a narrow mind he must have

Freud is referring to German psychiatrist Albert Moll here.

Jung is by no means innocent, either:

Yesterday and again today I felt furious with Weygandt, who has published an exceedingly stupid article in Ziehen’s Monatschrift. It is one of the worst bits of drivel I have ever read.

For the record, Jung was writing about Wilhelm Weygandt, professor of psychiatry at Wurzburg.

So ok, perhaps they needed somewhere to let out all the dirt that accumulated psychically from their patients. But does it have to be done like this?

What really struck me too about these letters is just how wedded Freud is to his sexual theory, to the exclusion of others – hence Adler too split with the man. But also to the extent that he rejects Jung’s experiments into schizophrenia.

It must be all down to repression, he says. The psyche cannot create anything of itself. Why, how do you know Sigmund? These letters put Freud in an extremely poor light, both as a theorist and as a person. In fact at some points you wonder how his ideas ever gained traction in the first place.

Actually, scrub that: it’s quite obvious why Freud’s theories were so popular: because they went against the sexual taboos of the 19th century. Freud was the warrior of his time, fighting against what had gone before. And that is how he should be seen and respected. Beyond that, his theories just seem not just narrow, but also obsessive in the way that the man insists that they have to be believed wholeheartedly:

I am especially gratified to learn that you have converted Bleuler. Your writings have long led me to suspect that your appreciation of my psychology does not extend to all my views on hysteria and the problem of sexuality, but I venture to hope that in the course of of the years you will come much closer to me than you now think possible. 3F

Soon after Jung comments:

Certainly in my small experience I have seen only sexual complexes and shall say so explicitly in Amsterdam.

He says this in 1906 ahead of a conference in Holland in which he goes out to bat for Freud yet again, defending his half-baked sexual theories.

This is one of many examples in which Jung verges on sycophancy is his writings to Freud. I found myself wanting to get to the end of the collection, but this wasn’t in fact driven by the sheer quantity of bile directed at other psychotherapists.

No, thinking about it closely, it’s more so that I can read Jung changing his approach. Because like the story of the sinking of the Titanic, you know it’s going to end badly and you just want that end to come as quickly as possible.

The heavy praise goes beyond being courteous, it leaves out what Jung really thinks. And, yet, and yet…Jung has said that as early as 1909 he was struggling with Freud’s idea that everything boiled down to sexuality.

So what on earth is going on when Jung writes, in March 1912:

I am ready at any time to adapt my opinions to the judgement of someone who knows better, and always have been. As one who is truly your follower, I must be stout-hearted. 303J

I simply can’t explain it. Perhaps he was sticking close to Freud in order to advance his career. Perhaps he had a problem with being direct and truthful.

Freud is the great father, the man who conveys the mantle of leading light in psychology on Jung:

It is strange that on the very same evening when I formally adopted you as eldest son and anointed you as my successor and crown prince, you should have divested me of my paternal dignity. 139F

Leaving aside the irony of the religious references, who the hell does Freud think he is? ‘Pompous’ is one word that would describe what he is here.

But you can feel Jung trying to wriggle free of these shackles – these are the words that cause Freud such consternation:

That last evening has freed me inwardly from the oppressive sense of your paternal authority. My unconscious celebrated this impression with a great dream which has preoccupied me for some days. 138J

Jung’s hiding of his real self in most of these letters, however, is probably down to the fact that he knew that if he expressed what he really believed he would be alone. He knew Freud, he knew that you had to completely agree with him or you were out in the cold.

And he was right. He was cast out by Freud’s followers, leaving the University in Zurich as well at the same time. He faced years of wilderness that were in fact to make him.

But because he couldn’t share his real thoughts with Freud, you don’t get the real Jung in any of these letters. That is, until fnally, thank God, we get this one from Zurich:

If ever you should rid yourself entirely of your complexes and stop playing the father to your sons and instead of continually aiming at their weak spots took a good look at your own for a change, then I will uproot the vice of being in two minds about you. 338J

Hoorah, at last some honesty!

But for me the problem with these letters is not so much that there isn’t enough of this. It’s more that there is a complete lack of warmth towards humanity, of the basic kindness and wisdom that for me so characterises Jung.

You find it in Jung’s other letters, at times, as my other blogs will make clear. But not here.


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