The Jung-White Letters

White letter

The correspondence between Carl Jung and Victor White covered an important part of both men’s lives.

For Jung, some of his greatest works emerged in the 15 years of writing between the two. Answer to Job, Aion and Flying Saucers appeared during this time.

This was also the period when he touched on sychronicity, astrology and continued his researches into alchemy.

With these works and many more famous tomes in the background, initially, the relationship between the two men was unbalanced. Jung was established as a psychotherapist of repute; Victor White a Catholic priest little known beyond his Oxford milieu.

His earlier letters are verging on sycophancy. In the first (p3) White starts:

Although I have never had the honour to meet you (outside of my dreams!) I am taking the very great liberty of sending you some of my writings concerning your psychology.

Despite this awkward tone, repeated in many ways in later missives from White, I really like this publication from the Philemon Foundation. Yet again they are breaking new ground with an array of Jung material.

Some of the scribbling from Jung’s side are in the previously published Letters, edited by Gerhard Adler. But many aren’t. That, however, is not the only reason for reading this book.

For a start, the editors, Ann Conrad Lammers and Adrian Cunningham, have sought where possible to keep the original style and syntax of the two men. This contrasts with the improvements made by Adler and Hull in the former Letters volume.

They’re less concerned with fluffing up the image of Jung, paying uncritical homage to his works.

But the biggest difference is that both men have a say. In Jung’s letters there is no voice but his own, no sense of what the letter truly is – a response, and a vital cog in an ongoing conversation.

That is lost in the ‘Letters’, where you have to scour the footnotes to find out what is going on.

Strictly speaking, some Jungians might shy away from reading the White part of the letters because this is not the great man speaking. But the effect of including both sides is profound. It offers an ebb and flow and aids both reading and understanding.

The problem, however, is that you have to read White’s inferior thinking and formations! Apologies for this does of intellectual snobbery, but it’s just true.

I am aware of bias in my approach to these letters, and a vast sense of frustration at White’s clinging to his idea of the ‘summun bonnun’, the idea that God is wholly good.

The contortions he goes through to make this fit human psychology leave me scratching my head, as with this (p255) from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica:

Evil is the privation of good, and in the real world, privation is simply a lack of the opposite positive good…

Eh? As Jung says (p257):

Your quotation from S. Thomas is a marvellous puzzle. I have brooded over it for many hours and I can’t make head or tail of it…

If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I just want White to shut up and be persuaded. From this point of view it seems incredible that Jung stays in contact, as after ten meetings between the two, and countless letters arguging the case for the shadow – the dark side of man and also of God – White still desists.

You almost find yourself willing Jung to break off the relationship. If White is not going to be pursuaded after a few length talks face-to-face as well as on paper, then it’s just not going to happen, however times you repeat the issue.

White’s attack on Answer to Job is personal, petty and snide:

Remarks about Christian ideas of love and goodness, otherwise unintelligible or merely abusive, become clear commonsense if they be understood as the reactions of a consciousness which, religiously, speaking, has become fixated at the oral phase, for which ‘love’ means the egotistical ‘I want’

It’s the writings of a man who just will not admit his own shadow, and persists himself in the childish belief that all is good, and evil has no substance.

Yet there’s another side to this. Jung, the man used to having his acolytes in Zurich hang on his every word, is in the unusual position of not persuading someone else of his arguments.

And in part this is his issue, that he keeps trying to argue the case when it’s obviously a waste of time.

The frustration of arguing and getting nowhere/not being listened to by his father is echoing again in the interaction.

The fact it’s another failed correspondence with a man – vis a vis Freud and Schmid-Guisan – is relevant. It’s indicative of how he needed to pursuade people of his arguments, especially if they were men.

Ultimately also you have to credit White for providing Jung with the buffeting that inspired the masterpiece Answer to Job, as well as on a slighter scale, Aion.

For that you can thank him, even if you sometimes just want to tell him to belt up!

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