Carl Jung: 20th Century Visionary

The Holy Grail of the Unconscious by Sara Corbett

Henri Cartier-Bresson

This article is what I consider great journalism.  For one, Jung was a great thinker and so makes for a more than interesting subject.  Also, the research that went into this article was extremely thorough.  The author considers all of the people involved and paints a vivid picture of the Liber Novus which Jung seemingly considered a full accounting of his psyche, a direct expression of his soul.  I’ve never seen the thing myself, but I’d love to get my hands on a copy of it.

(Click here to see larger image.)

There are two reasons I’m writing a post about this.

First, this article is the type of thing that The New York Times does best.  Many articles about Jung have been written in that publication over the years, but this particular article is above average even for the New York Times.

More importantly, I simply want to recommend the article.  If you enjoy Jung and all things Jungian, then this is a must read.  Or if you’re just a curious person who enjoys intelligent writing, then this article probably will satisfy.  Jung isn’t for everyone, but he was one of the most influential men who lived in the 20th century.  You really can’t understand the world we live in without understanding one of the greatest visionaries of his time (and, I would add, without understanding the relationship between Freud and Jung and the flourishing of scholarship in the 19th century that influenced both).

For whatever reason, our culture at present doesn’t give much respect to visionaries.  The 19th century produced many visionaries, but the visionary as a respectable profession seems to have mostly died out in the middle of 20th century.

Even great thinkers influenced by Jung never quite live up to Jung’s greatness.  Jung covered massive intellectual territory, and did so with a creative flair and a depth of insight.  Some of my favorite thinkers such as Terrence McKenna and Philip K. Dick were influenced by Jung and they were innovative thinkers, but I doubt they’ll have the influence Jung had and continues to have.  Philip K. Dick probably comes the closest to Jung’s fearless explorations into madness and also Jung’s prolific output.  Sadly, though, thinkers like Philip K. Dick grew up in a time when visionaries were forced into the margins of society (science fiction in the case of PKD).

However, even Jung was marginalized by Freud’s fame.  Are all visionaries doomed to be only understood by mainstream society in retrospect?  Maybe so, but there do seem to be periods of history that create the right conditions that encourage the visionary profession.

I do hope that eventually the respect for visionaries will be renewed.  Present day visionaries are more of the flavor of Ken Wilber.  I appreciate Wilber’s scholarship but his visionary ability pales against that of Jung.  Joseph Campbell came closer to Jung’s level, but still fell short.  The world needs a new Jung.  So, who will be the visionary of the 21st century?

11 thoughts on “Carl Jung: 20th Century Visionary

  1. Thorough as Thoreau. You captured the life of the visionary in this post and in just one line too; is the visionary only a vision in society’s rearview? It amazes me sometimes when they repeat the marginalisation with so many examples of their mistaken judgement.

    Interestingly, there have been times when I have considered whether those we call lunatic are actually just different and as so aptly put ‘abnormal’. That, just cos they act contrary to our beliefs, they are taken as lunatic. I haven’t been on the subject ‘nough but there’s this persistent boy in my head saying you’ll get there, you just don’t have the gear yet.

    You asked why I am interested in Jung? It’s just that he like me had not the mindset of the community to which we belong, science. With my grounding in mysticism no matter how an observer grades that foundation, I have always thought of something more though I proceed with skeptic’s caution; ‘I could be mistaken’.

    But a dreamer’s existence is what I live and knowing I have a cohort in such a looked-up-to man like the forever young -by virtue of his adventurous, avant-garde nature- Jung, brings tranquility to my soul.

  2. I understand your admiration and of course I share it. Jung is quite an inspiration for all of this. This newly published Liber Novus offers even more inspiration. Jung experienced a psychological breakdown, but he faced his demons and came out the other side with even greater insight. He was a flawed human and didn’t seem to be afraid of admitting his flaws.

  3. A priori vs. A posteriori, I have been examining this and I disagree with Kant for the reason that he thinks we can distinguish between the origin of truths and the justification of propositions in which those truths are while accepting that those truths are experiential.

    Unless some inherence is introduced to the truths then prior exists after posterior.

    Then that analytic-synthetic problem is such that like Quine said synonymy is required for analytic to exist. If one talks about concepts correlating which is the basis of the analyticity argument then some intrinsic correspondence between the two is imperative. So it is just a matter of synonymy.

    Synthetic is grounded in fact but actually all are. The distinction is moot. The concept is definite so we can say we can extract some meaning that is always same from it. The whole thing is the players in the proposition and the concepts themselves are factual so why try to say differentiate?

    What you think?

    • I think I may be in alignment with your view. I’m an empiricist in the traditional sense. I trust experience, but I don’t value any particular type of experience over all others nor do I perceive different types of experience to be entirely distinct.

      All experience blends together. Also, experience trumps all because all begins and ends in experience. We know a priori and a posteriori in our experience. We know analytic and synthetic in our experience. We know thought, reality, and perception in our experience. And there are many ways to experience reality.

      I’m attracted to phenomenology, enactivism, and integral theory as ways of understanding such matters. In terms of Jung, I’m attracted to psychological types and other personality research. George P. Hansen, in his book The Trickster and the Paranormal, analyzes Hartmann’s boundary types in terms of scientific knowledge. I find Lenore Thomson’s view of psychological types to be particularly helpful. There is a nice wiki about Thomson’s ideas. To get a general idea, check out these two pages of the wiki:

      To put it simply, I’m more interested in the motivations behind particular styles of thought. Arguing which type is most true misses the point. What is most true depends on the context and on the purpose.

      As someone pointed out, Kant’s criticism is a Thinking types evaluation of the limits of the Thinking function. It’s correct as far as it goes, but it’s just one view on one aspect of the human psyche.

      I don’t know if that answers your question.

  4. Benny, hope short is ok, are you disillusioned with life and what keeps you going? I know you said it before but this time it is a main topic because I seriously am and I maintain that only the hunt is the motivation now. BTW, I have been reading on semiotics.

    • Short is fine.

      Am I disillusioned? Yes.

      What keeps me going? What keeps me going more than anything is my idealization of truth. This world is filled with so much suffering that if I didn’t believe that some kind of greater meaning existed then it wouldn’t be bearable. Even if one were happy, what would be the point to living in a meaningless universe?

      To give a more cynical answer, the reason I keep going is that humans seem to have an even greater fear of death than they do of life. I honestly believe that if people weren’t afraid of death, there would be a massive increase in suicide.

  5. Well said. That second point is what I too have been saying. Like a fisher said ‘All this you do because death is your greatest fear’.

    But our very nature is to live. Coming from a physiological point of view, the human has design and all other efforts within that same are aimed at following that design. Outside of this however, there is philosophy to give some extra to existence.

    Verily, if it were down to science, suicide is not bad, even it is ok. Science gives no fantasy.

    • In my view of life, I’m somewhere between the stark realism of the pessimists and the spiritual hope of the gnostics. Both have a dark vision of this world. The difference is that the latter believes there is another world or another way of being.

      I’m drawn to the honesty of the pessimists. I respect anyone who is willing and able to glimpse past the fantasies which keeps the vast majority of humanity ignorant and contented. And I’m drawn to the sense of truth that the gnostics idealize. They too realize that what normally gets taken as truth by most is in reality ignorance and delusion, but they take their dissatisfaction as a sign of something true existing nonetheless.

      Where I disagree with both of these is that the extremes of either position are too strongly certain. Ultimately, I’m a militant agnostic. I just don’t know, and embrace the fact that I don’t even know what I don’t know. But what keeps me going is often just simple curiosity… just wondering what it’s all about and where it’s all heading. If it weren’t for curiosity, I wouldn’t last very long in this world.

  6. Couldn’t have put it different. Why do I agree with you so much? I am with you in the same kayak. See how close we are on this path?

    I have been ok till now. Basic problem is a conflct of interest. My truthseeking self has always been the person I meet when I go from this world. When I learn, for a different reason, no matter, subconsciously, that boy is at the blackboard, drawing a convolution I can’t understand.

    My mind is never idle, so I wonder what is that idle mind they speak of. Right now that conflct of interest is like this: I’m in a physiotherapy course, training to be a professional health provider, meanwhile, I am dancing on the porch of knowledge to gift me a sign. I don’t even believe in that which I’m taught. How do I work? Considering how devoted I am to honesty borne by my admiration of Bushido, how do I proceed without being a hypocrite?

    That conception of something more is my most valuable treasure too and I have not an interest in these things they call markers of success.

    In the end, I am on my own, resolution is all on me but still, what did you do when you were in your rut or what can you say? I don’t want to waste time and money. Some will say the knowledge gained is not a waste but the way I am, I can get it with or without help.

    • Why do we agree so much? Couldn’t tell you. I’m not sure how common is this view of life. My best friend has a similar perspective. I’ve only met one other person who is similar. This other person is Quentin S. Crisp who is a writer of weird fiction who blogs at My Opera. I learned of Crisp from my friend and I’m now a regular follower of Crisp’s blog.

      You might find Crisp’s blog interesting. I haven’t read much of his fiction, but I just ordered his newest book. He is published in the small presses and isn’t well known outside of the horror/weird genre. I got to know Crisp because he asked me about the International Writers’ Workshop here in the town I live in (Iowa City). He is a nice guy and I resonate with his sense of the world… dark but with a sense of the spiritual and a sense of wonder.

      If you enjoy weird writing as it relates to philosophy and religion, you might enjoy two other sites. Matt Cardin is another weird writer who has a blog (The Teeming Brain). Cardin also combines a sense of the weird with a sense of the spiritual. The other site is Ligotti Online which is a fansite for Thomas Ligotti who is one of the best weird/horror writers alive right now. Ligotti Online has a forum where many small press writers and their fans congregate. I know Crisp and Cardin sometimes post comments there.

      By the way, your mention of Bushido caught my attention. That is one topic I know nothing about. What is the Bushido attitude towards honesty? What does honesty mean to you? I used to value honesty more and I still value it, but it’s just that I now value authenticity and integrity more than mere honesty. Even though I sometimes feel compelled towards honesty, I don’t feel I owe anyone honesty.

      As for your last question, about my rut… mmm… well, I still at times feel like I’m in a rut. The mundane details of life are rather repetitious and just plain tedious… the same old same old. There is always the tension and conflict between my truth-seeking and everything else. My depressive tendencies fuel my search but also constantly drag me down.

      I’m not sure what you mean about wasting time and money. My theory is that I’ll prostitue my body (not literally) for an hourly wage because that is the way the world works, but I’d rather keep my mind to myself. I’ve always tried to work jobs that pay the bills all the while allowing me the time and energy to do my own thing. I like having a job that allows some free time to read and that doesn’t leave me exhausted at the end of the day. I haven’t always had jobs I’ve liked, but the job I have now is good enough for my purposes.

      What attracted you to the career of professional health provider? Does it actually interest/inspire you? Or does it simply seem like a good way to make money?

  7. Health? At the time I was at a junction. Seeing as my mind has never been set on one particular ‘occupation’, I went with examining my attributes and finding a concordant occupation for myself. I always liked to help others and making others feel good sometimes at my expense is one.

    But I did not like orthodox medicine with my grounding in Eastern practice, the mystical and the natural. With that I chose that which matched these with a view to expanding it with attachments. Exercise is the bed of PT so I was happy with it. Those martial art masters fascinated me young with their impeccable health and that mind over matter business also influenced me and I thought I could give it to others while developing myself in it. Summarily, I was going into complementary medicine but starting where would be most convenient given my circumstances so money or a substantial, steady wage went into my decision-making. I am addicted to exercise myself.

    At the time, I figured I had found my way and That was how it was pre-ordained. But that truthseeking boy inside only grew stronger and then I found the futility I would be chasing if I joined the human race or contest.

    Bushido, way of the warrior. A set of codes of conduct with its chief code which protected the other codes by being external to that set while being internal all at once. That was ‘Honor before Life’. And honor was dictated by the code set. Grounding in Zen, Confucianism, Shinto gave it a character of moderation and peace. Made for and by warriors, death was embraced not because of their lethal ways but by their belief that ‘all this shall pass away’.

    As a result, living a second at a time was the way with an asceticism borne by Zen. The focus was on improving self mentally and militarily. Life in Every Breath was written in the hearts of adherents. Suicide(Seppuku or hara kiri) was prescribed to defaulters of the code. No thought for the morrow and a life of meditation and reflection was central. Every occurrence was first and last.

    The code included:

    Self-development is paramount. That is Bushido, way of the warrior. For a scholarly account, get ‘Bushido’ by Inazo Nitobe.

    To me, honesty is saying what is, not changing anything, the truth no matter how hurtful because what is, is why say not when it is. That is one of the sources of my integrity and I will exchange it for nought. But society takes it from me.

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