Jung, Carl Gustav

Carl Gustav Jung
Carl Gustav Jung via Wikipedia

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and man of letters whose cultural impact is second only, perhaps, to that of Sigmund Freud.

While Freud is cited in most scholarly textbooks and dictionaries about society and culture, Jung is only mentioned in some. That’s probably because Freud, with all his limitations, was the first to systematically conceptualize the so-called unconscious aspects of the psyche—at least, Freud was the first to do so on a grand scale.

Jung, on the other hand, was at one time Freud’s favored disciple. As such, his model of the unconscious, as useful as many may find it, builds on Freud’s work.

Another reason Freud might still be more popular than Jung is that Freud speaks to a level of awareness that most members of 21stC culture — or at least, visible culture — can appreciate. Freud still hits, as it were, because his theory reflects the status quo.

However, from the perspective of those who envision the spirit as something different from culture and nature, it appears that not a few people confuse the idea of grace with mere biochemical or sensory impulses. For example, if a long distance runner has only experienced endorphin rushes, or if a canoeist has only delighted at the aesthetics of nature, these people might not understand that grace is something entirely different from biochemically or naturally induced pleasures. So Freud makes sense to these people because, arguably, they haven’t experienced anything else that would demand a better and more complete explanation than Freud’s theory can afford.

From the spiritual person’s vantage point, on the other hand, Freud may have some valuable insights but he’s also terribly reductionist. Along these lines, Jungians will usually say that, as a visionary of sorts, Jung’s full impact is yet to be seen. Mankind just has to catch up with Jung’s forward looking insights. But until that time, Jung will always be number two to Freud. (The jury’s still out on this, of course).

In his early days, Jung distinguished himself with his work in developing a word-association technique, finalized in 1906, which apparently identified unconscious complexes.

In 1907, Jung visited Freud and quickly became part of Freud’s inner circle in the newly arising school of psychoanalysis. As Freud’s protégé, Jung began to formulate his own theories, especially in relation to the libido.

Fearing his professional differences with Freud would rupture their mentor-mentee relationship, Jung withheld his ideas until 1914, at which time he publicly split with Freud. After that, the two never spoke again.

From 1913-1919, Jung underwent what he envisioned as a creative illness. He minimized his activities and generally withdrew from society. During this period he explored the collective unconscious in a somewhat pioneering and (apparently) controlled flight into the psychological underworld.

Jung apparently maintained his mental balance with the help of family ties, dream representation, inventive play and by developing the psychotherapeutic technique of active imagination. After recovering from his creative illness and returning to daily life, Jung began to make significant and lasting contributions to psychiatry and, more generally, to the history of human thought.

In the 1930’s, some controversy arose mainly because Jung headed the International Psychiatric Association, an organization that was funded by the Nazis in Germany. In his memoirs, Jung recounts that he was compelled to make a difficult ethical choice, deciding it best, in the long run, to work at advancing the field of psychiatry within the existing totalitarian political conditions in which he found himself. Scholars and writers still debate the ethics of his choice, their secondhand opinions being formed in hindsight.

Regardless of one’s take on Jung’s level of involvement with the Nazi’s, his work on synchronicity and numinosity are nothing short of groundbreaking. And his innovative work on personality types directly influenced the Myers-Briggs model (and its many offshoots) which are still used today. Moreover, Jung later openly criticized Nazi Germany, likening its sinister powers to the activation of the Teutonic Wotan archetype.

According to Jungian legend, at the time of Jung’s death, his favorite tree at Kusnacht was struck by lightning. And around this time, Jung’s old friend Laurens van der Post dreamed that Jung appeared to him saying, “I’ll be seeing you.”

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