Letters 1951-1961

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This volume of Jung’s later letters covers the 10 years in the last period of his life up to his death. It’s a time when the great man’s fame is increasing, but his energy is decreasing by the same token. So that there’s plenty of ‘sorry I can’t comply with your request’ responses!

But he still writes – this is a large volume stretching to 600 pages and beyond. And while Jung is constantly referring to his limitations as old age draws in, it also shows his mind developing in a richer way.

From the sanctuary of Kusnacht and Bollingen Jung finds the time to even respond to unknown correspondents – if their questions sufficiently interest him.

I am sorry you are miserable. ‘Depression’ means literally ‘being forced downwards’. If I had to live in a foreign country, I would seek out one or two people who seemed amiable and would make myself useful to them. I would raise animals and plants and find joy in their thriving. I would surround myself with beauty. I would eat and drink well…Anyway, that is what I would do. What others would do is another question. (p492, to ‘a woman’ in the US)

This is lovely: kind, thoughtful, wise. It’s so very different to the mental acrobatics of so much of his other letters. I must admit, I love it!

Then, there’s sarcasm, as to this unknown correspondent in Chicago, who had stated that “the whole situation would be simplified if we could stop imputing human characteristics to God, and accept the idea that God is Love”:

What an ass I have been not to see how simple things are: God is Love, that is the thing, and the whole of theology can go into the dustbin. Mineralogy is just stones, zoology simply animals, and mythology old fables of no consequence at all.(p556)

I enjoy this change of tone – too often he takes an intellectual approach with so many of the religious figures and philosophers. Here he addresses Dr John Grueson, a biologist at the Academy of Sciences in Washington:

You do not seem to have noticed that I speak of the God image and not of God because it is quite beyond me to say anything about God at all. It is more than astonishing that you have failed to perceive this fundamental distinction.(p260)

No he isn’t saying God actually exists when he postulates a numinous figure. And he’s not trying to create a logical, intellectual pattern, as Jung explains in this missive to Jolande Jacobi.

I always stumble over the frequent use of the term ‘theory’ or ‘system’. Freud has a ‘theory’, I have no ‘theory’ but I describe facts. I do not theorise about neuroses originate, I describe what you find in neuroses. I am talking about and naming facts, and my concepts are mere names and not philosophical terms (p293 Princeton University Press 1975).

This is linked to the fact that Jung always wants to combine the feeling aspect, or the mystical unknown, with thought. Thus he tells an English woman, Maud Oakes, interested in his sculpture work at Bollingen:

Since you want to hear my opinion about your essay on the stone, I should say that I find it a bit too intellectual, as it considers the thought images only, but as I have already called your attention to its ambiente I miss the all-important feeling-tone of the phenomenon…

Stories weave themselves in and out of the collection: the discussion and breakup with Father White, the BBC interview that brought Jung to a wider public in the UK, the question of extra-sensory perception.

By the end you get the sense of a man who is reconciled to old age, but not to the fact that his ideas do not appeared to have been accepted:

Your blessed words are the rays of a new sun over a dark sluggish swamp in which I felt buried. I asked myself time and time again why there are no men in our epoch who could see at least what I was wrestling with. (Herbert Read, p586)

Hopefully this blog shows some more understanding.

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