Jung Letters Vol 1 1906-50

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This is Carl Jung’s correspondence minus most of the Freud letters – and what a contrast to that collection do they form.

The early letters show him in more scientific vein as in his Collected Works. Later on, a very human, simple but wise Jung emerges.

This is characterised by his method of dispensing advice lightly. He is not one to tell people how to behave, but rather to gently admonish. It’s a method that Jung pronounces as essential to proper psychotherapy, and you see it in his letters here.

One thing emerges from this – Jung is constantly apologising for his tardiness in writing. You could say, well fair enough he should answer immediately. Or on the other hand with his huge workload – teaching, lecturing, writing books – should he really be apologising?

Hard to say, as we live in a different age when letter writing is almost obsolete. Perhaps then immediate answers were as expected as they are by email today.

I just haven’t worked out what it is yet in Jung – for the reader it’s certainly repetitive!

That aside, there are some great gems though, as when he insists that therapists should not understand his patients too much, in a letter to Hans Schmid on 6 November 1915:

The devil is the devourer. Understanding = comprehendre and is likewise a devouring. Understanding swallows you up. In wanting to understand, ethical and human as it sounds, there lurks the devil’s will. Understanding is a fearfully binding power, a veritable murder of the soul as soon as it flattens out vitally important differences. The core of the individual is a mystery of life, which is snuffed out when it is ‘grasped’.

It’s just brilliant writing. And a warning against the doctor who wants to know too much about his subject. Don’t work too hard to find something in them, leave them to unearth their own symbols, Jung adds. Then, he concludes:

True understanding seems to be one which does not understand, yet lives and works.

It’s paradoxical, typically Jung, but actually as close to the truth as you’re going to get.

He can be gentle and kind as to an Anonymous correspondent on 10 July 1946:

By parental power is usually understood the influence exerted by any person in authority. If this influence occurs in childhood and in an unjustified way, as happened in your case, it is apt to take root in the unconscious. Even if the influence is discontinued outwardly, it still goes on working in the unconscious and then one treats oneself as badly as one was treated earlier. If your work now gives you some joy and satisfaction you must cultivate it…

Jung’s slight distance here is what makes this piece of advice so generous. But then he is also wonderfully direct, as in this letter of 25 April 1949 to an anonymous recipient:

I have glanced through your symbolical essay. You have all sorts of good ideas, but you lack the intellectual discipline and scientific method which are of the utmost importance in this field. I would ask you to get in touch with Fräulein Dr Schärf at the Institute, so that she can give you the necessary methodological guidance. Doctors seldom have differentiated thinking, since their studies give them no training in this respect.

Pretty dismissive of the medical profession! When it comes to a German who writes to him after the war, Jung is rigid in his adherance to his own beliefes. They may be an individual, but they are part of a collective, the Germany that has created a major world war, as this extract shows to someone Anonymous on 7 October 1946:

It is not a simple matter to write to you. I am trying to put myself in your shoes so as to give you an intelligible answer. You are obviously not yet in a position yourself to form any conception of the mood of the world towards everything and everybody that comes from Germany. Every personal relationship is overshadowed by what has happened, since everybody was affected by it in the most personal way.

In effect he cuts off any correspondence with Germans after the war. In another letter Jung says that they seem to be living in denial of what has happened.

However he reserves his sturdiest approach for Arnold Künzli, a student at the University of Basel and someone who disputes his work:

I reject the term ‘romantic’ for my conception of the unconscious because this is an empirical and anything but a philosophical concept. I do not ‘posit’ the unconscious. My concept is a nomenwhich covers empirical facts that can be verified at any time. People can only prove to me that certain facts do not exist. But I am still waiting for this proof.

If pushed for a sense of these letters, I would say that they round out Jung, in giving more of his everyday life away, but also adding sense to some of the sometimes difficult passages in his Collected Works. And I just love his kindness and consideration mixed with tough, direct words: for me the essence of Jung.

In other words, do grab a copy and read on.

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