I love the image of Jung sketching and painting away at this book in between seeing patients, creating curlicues or painting scrolls, all the while at his easel.
That’s the tale that a few of his entourage at the time have recounted of his creation of The Red Book.
Although Jung didn’t share exactly what he was doing, he encouraged the fundamental idea of respecting what the unconscious brings forth.
So the images that assailed him in the period just before the First World War find form in this book.
It’s amazing that anyone should have created a work of such beauty, in an early 20th century version of the medieval illustrators.
Many of these have now been scattered to all corners of the modern internet. The snake that breathes forth a tree, the ‘E’ that contains every smaller repetitious shapes, like self-reproducing crystals that could be thoughts or cells. And the dragon-headed caterpillar, its legs representing the feelers by which we understand the world.
What’s more amazing is that few are aware of its existence, still, even five years after its wider publication.
That’s probably because of the obscurity of the material, drawing on interactions between Jung himself and figures in his dreams and imagination that few will understand.
There’s the wise old man in the form of the guide known as Philemon. Then there’s the father and daughter pair Elijah and Salome, each vying for domination but eventually achieving some kind of balance with Jung’s consciousness.
The language is sometimes obscure, the ideas even more so. And if you’re not in the mood for it, the over-wrought emotionality is sometimes unbearable.
But at other times the insights are simply astonishing.
Why do men not see their stupidity? Stupidity is a daughter of the God. Therefore men cannot stop murdering since thus they serve the serpent of the God without knowing it. It is worth giving one’s life for the sake of serving the serpent of the God…not wanting to murder and die amounts to deceiving the God…the God grows strong through human murder.
Jung is horrified by these words of Philemon, but has to be reconciled with them, as they speak to the dead, and to a part of him.
But what marks the Red Book out as against most of his other works is its feeling aspect. The colour and sometime even lack of intellectual rigour makes it a very different beast from his Collected Works writings.
…the image that I saw was crimson, fiery coloured, a gleaming gold. The voice I heard was like distant thunder, like the wind roaring in the forest, like an earthquake…
This is a floundering, non-structured descent into the unconscious. And the figures that emerge – in this case Elijah – will colour all of his writings from then on. As the new volume has in its inner pages: “The years of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this.”
So you could simply just look at the amazing images, stunning in their execution and ideation.
Or – and this is a much longer task – get to grips with the figures about whom he writes, which will inform you about your own internal conversations and relationships.
One other thing: I like the sound of Cary de Angulo (later Baynes), someone who I’d never come across before in relation to Jung.
Discussing the Red Book and whether Jung should publish it is recorded in Cary’s diary on 2 October 1922:
Then you said you had thought of making an autobiography out of it. That would seem to me by far the best, because then you would tend to write as you spoke which was in a very colourful way. But apart from any difficulty with the form, you said you dreaded making it public because it was like selling your house. But I jumped upon you with both feet there and said it wasn’t a bit like that because you and the book stood for a constellation of the Universe, and that to take the book as being purely personal was to identify yourself with it which was something you would not think of permitting to your patients … Then we laughed over my having caught you red-handed as it were.
She transcribed part of The Red Book and is mentioned in Sonu Shamdasani’s lengthy introduction. Cary seems devoid of the sycophancy of many of Jung’s followers, as well as the spite of his enemies. I’m going to research her life/work more I reckon.
But even more I intend to look at the figures in my own mind. That will be a huge task, but a lasting effect of this incredible work.