Electric Dreams

Review of
Jung: A Biography
by Deirdre Bair

Jeremy Taylor 

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Taylor, Jeremy (2004 January). Review of Jung: A Biography by Deirdre Bair. Electric Dreams 11(1).

Reprinted with permission of Jeremy Taylor.

Originally prepared for a manual for students at the Marin Institute for Projective Dream Work.

I have just finished reading the new biography of Carl Gustav Jung by Deirdre Bair, JUNG - a Biography, (Little Brown, New York, 2003), all 880 pages of it. I also read Troy Jollimore's review from the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle of December 7th, in which he praises the book (with faint damns), and reluctantly admits it, "...is a must-read for anyone with a serious interest in Jung, or in any of the fields and disciplines in which he played an important role."

I agree completely, but rather than trashing the book for its voluminous detail, (the way Jollimore and others have done), I would say it another way: Bair's book is just NOT the biography to read first.

If you are not already familiar with the broad outlines of Jung's life and work, or of the seminal importance of his ideas in a startlingly wide range of academic disciplines and popular arts, then I would suggest starting off reading Claire Dunne's brief biography, Carl Jung: Wounded Healer of the Soul - An Illustrated Biography, with a (charming) introduction by Jean Houston, (Parabola Books, New York, 2000), and/or Laurens van der Post's wonderful work, JUNG and the Story of Our Time, (Pantheon Books, New York, 1975.)

Prior to reading Bair's book, the van der Post biography was my pick as "best full-length biography of Jung", and it's still the best one to read first. Gehard Wehr's, An Illustrated Biography of Jung, (Shambala, Boston & Shaftsbury, 1989), is also worth your attention.

202 of the book's 880 pages, (that's 23%!), of Bair's book are devoted to footnotes, (in tiny print.) Most of them are elaborate references to the multiple sources that she uses to verify the details of Jung's life that she provides in the text. I wish I could tell you all to just ignore them, but for me, some of the most important information in the book appears in the occasional substantive footnotes that are scattered among the references.

The index is excellent, but alas, given the fascinating and important information that is hidden away in many of the footnotes, the index does not cover people or events that appear only in the notes and not in the text. For example, it is only in the notes that I discovered that Jung "...said he read seven volumes of Swedenborg's writings." (p. 665) Emmanuel Swedenborg was a scientist in the dawning age of modern science whose researches took him past thephysical/phenomenal world into the realms of psychological and spiritual experience with a totally fresh and compelling perspective. Swedenborg was a contemporary of, and a tremendous influence on William Blake, and Swedenborg's influence on Jung is very important, in my view. Had I ignored the footnotes, I wouldhave missed this indication of the depth and breadth of Jung's spiritual research, and his kinship not only with the Gnostics, but also with the Romantics and the roots of liberal, non-credal religion.

It was also only in the footnotes that I discovered that another of my great intellectual and artistic heroes, the American poet Charles Olson, had an extended public conversation with Jung at the close of a lecture Jung gave at Harvard in 1936, in which Olson "...questioned Jung on the mandala figure in Moby Dick." This information is as important to me in my pursuit of influences on Olson's life and work, as the Swedenborg connection is to my interest in the influences on the life and work of Jung himself. Alas, neither Swedenborg nor Olson appear in the index.

Bair also offers many of her most important opinions and conclusions in the footnotes. After giving Richard Noll, (perhaps Jung's most vocal and determined detractor at the beginning of the 21st century), extensive credit for his scholarship and research, Bair finally rejects the implications and conclusions of Noll's work, in a footnote : "Noll's thesis is so submerged in bile and damnation-by-analogy that his considerable scholarship (for which I have great respect, and from which I have benefited) must be called into question." (p, 741)

Perhaps the greatest service that Bair's biography provides is that she gathers the verifiable data that answers so many of the distressing accusations and rumors that still swirl around and surround Jung's life and work, as they have for more than 70 years.

Was he a compulsive womanizer? He most certainly was, as documented in many journals and interviews with the descendants of many woman who were in analysis with him. Was he a Nazi sympathizer and/or an anti-Semite? Clearly not, as demonstrated by his indefatigable struggles with the Nazi psychiatric and mental health establishment, his continuous efforts on behalf of Jewish refugees, and his work with Alan Dulles, the prime American OSS agent stationed in Switzerland. At Dulles' request, Jung prepared regular and extensive analyses of Nazi propaganda and German culture for Churchill and Eisenhower, and even recruited secret agents to work for Dulles from among his friends and analytic clients.

Were his formulations of the archetypes associated with masculine and feminine a reflection of the unquestioned institutional sexism of his time? Very clearly they were, as evidenced by the ways in which he treated the men who wanted to become analysts differently from the way he treated the women, demanding that the men all acquire medical degrees and training, when he made no such demands on the women, whom he discouraged from medical careers. He also actively prevented his own daughters from attending university, or receiving any higher education, while at the same time urging many of his closest women clients and associates to devote themselves to scholarly research on obscure topics, research that he then made extensive use of in his own writings, most often without giving them any public credit for their scholarly work.

Bair also clarifies a situation that has distressed me personally since I first read Jung's "so-called autobiography" (his own words), Memories, Dreams, Reflections, many decades ago - namely that Jung's actions and opinions during World War II are all but totally ignored in that work. It turns out that Jung did write an extended chapter on his experience in that era, but since Jung died before that book made it into print, his family heirs all insisted that his revelations about that period of his life be stricken from the text.

The final chapters of Bair's book make it very clear that the struggles between Jung's heirs, who wish to keep the details of their family history completely private, and the needs of a larger world who require the best information we can get about the life and times of this important shaper of world culture, continue with undiminished vigor, partisanship, and venom, even today. There is also an indication, (also hidden away in a foot note), that the heirs are "in negotiation" to allow Jung's famous and stunningly beautiful Red Book, filled with his psycho-spiritual explorations and his exquisitely beautiful paintings, to be published in their "entirety". Once again, what constitutes "entirety" is apparently being hotly contested...

Jung's "feet of clay" throughout his life are made abundantly clear in Bair's research, along with constant indications and intimations of his genius. She concludes, correctly in my estimation, with a sentiment given shape by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his Notebooks more than 100 years earlier:

"He looked at his own Soul with a Telescope. What seemed all irregular, he saw and shewed to be beautiful Constellations: and he added to the Consciousness worlds within worlds."

The Rev. Dr. Jeremy Taylor is the founder/director of the 'Marin Institute for Projective Dream Work', a co-founder and a past president of International Association for the Study of Dreams. More information about his training and certification program for dream workers can be found at: http://www.jeremytaylor.com