“Jung: A Biography”(2004) by Deidre Bair

I have wanted to begin some posts on the life and theories and practice of Carl G. Jung for some time, and decided to begin with what may be considered the most thorough and balanced biography by Deidre Bair. While she is not a psychotherapist or analyst, she has won awards for her biographies of Samuel Beckett, Anais Nin, and Simone de Beauvoir. I will refer to some other biographies and Jung’s inimitable autobiography, “Memories, Dreams and Reflections” , as I consider the life and theoretical ideas of Jung as represented by Bair.

Bair addresses fairly the most controversial aspects of Jung’s career and life, particularly his break from Freud, his role in possible support for the Nazis and anti-semitism, and his relationship with Toni Wolff, while not allowing these topics to dominate her treatment of Jung’s ideas and contributions.

Some other biographies and books about Jung’s ideas which I may refer to briefly are: Jolande Jacobi’s ” The Way of Individuation”(1967); Colin Wilson’s “Jung: Lord of the Underworld” (1988); June Singer’s “Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung’s Psychology” (1973); Richard Noll’s “The Jung Cult”(1997); Don McGowan’s “What is Wrong with Jung” (1994; and “Lingering Shadows: Jungians, Freudians, and Anti-Semitism”( 1991), edited by Aryeh Maidenbaum and Stephen A. Martin.

I do not intend to survey a series of biographies of Jung as I did with biographies of Freud, but I have noticed that a similar phenomenon which I referred to as “who’s or whose Freud?” is also evident regarding biographies of Jung. A few biographies tilt toward hagiography, while a few , such as Noll’s and McGowan’s tilt toward “Jung bashing”. Bair’s treatment is basically a favorable one and her explanations of Jung’s more controversial ideas or behavior can at times seem too protective of Jung’s reputation.

I am not particularly interested in Jung’s and Emma’s relationship with Toni Wolff other than the fact that their arrangement of an informal polygyny was particularly unusual during their era and relied on Emma’s incredible forbearance. Toni Wolff may be worthy of her own biography, as she was also a successful analyst. And I posted a brief review of Catrine Clay’s biography of Emma Jung, who was also a successful analyst as well as wife to Carl and mother of his children.

I am also only moderately interested in Jung’s supposed anti-semitism and involvement with the Nazi party. Much has been written about this already and there is not a clear cut case to be made. I will comment about this later. I am most interested in what distinguishes Jung’s analytic psychotherapy from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and approach and how Jung’s ideas have influenced others and evolved over time. Some of Jung’s ideas which seem to have continued to influence other analytical psychology advocates and which set him apart from other theorists are: the collective unconscious, psychological types, the influence of archetypes, synchronicity, anima and animus, individuation, and active imagination. I have commented elsewhere that I have observed a few different groups of Jungian “followers”. There have been a number of mostly women who were part of the Jungian inner circle (the Psychological Club): Toni Wolff, Jolande Jacobi, Marie-Louise von Franz, M.Esther Harding, Barbara Hannah, Aneila Jaffe, and Emma Jung. There were also those who formed the Jung Institute for education and training in Zurich, as well as the many Jungian analysts throughout the world, many of whom were trained at the Jung Institute. There are also a considerable number of Jung Society groups around the world. These are not typically analysts, but people who are interested in Jung’s ideas. Many of these groups meet and discuss ideas from Jung’s Collected Works. Some of this is the topic of Noll’s “The Jung Cult”.

I am also interested in Jung’s ideas about narcissism and how his ideas may be similar in some respects to those of Heinz Kohut’s. For this I will be referring to Mario Jacoby’s excellent “Individuation and Narcissism: The Psychology of Self in Jung and Kohut”(1991). This will likely act as a segue to a review of Charles B. Strozier’s biography of Kohut, “Heinz Kohut: The Making of a Psychoanalyst”(2001).

Bair treated each of the ideas Jung innovated within analytic psychotherapy in an adequate manner. Her attention to some events, such as the evolution of Jung’s “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”(1961) and the various interpersonal conflicts around it’s development and eventual publication seemed to me to be obsessive. For me the most important part of the story is Jung’s struggles in the process and the significant role played by Aniela Jaffe, who is listed in the publication as “secretary, collaborator, editor”.

Regarding Jung’s split from Freud, most sources, including Bair report the rationales given by Jung which he wrote about in “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”(1961), in the chapter, “Sigmund Freud”. Jung wrote much of this memoir during his 81st year, so his memory of the details and even his unconscious reshaping of his rationale may be questioned. Nevertheless, Jung justified his split based on his need to have his own independent theoretical freedom and because he had challenged for some time, and on several public occasions, Freud’s insistence on the sexual libido drive theory. Freud had earlier asked Jung not to “abandon” the libido drive theory and this caused some internal turmoil for Jung, because he was still somewhat in awe of Freud. The split with Freud definitely affected Jung strongly for years, and I detect in reading “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” that it continued to affect him all his life. In the “Sigmund Freud” section in his memoir, Jung frames his criticism of Freud in somewhat respectful terms, though he clearly points to where he believes Freud’s fixation on the sex drive was an incomplete idea and that Freud was unwilling to consider any alternative theories. Jung writes, “He (Freud) considered the cause of the repression to be sexual trauma. From my practice, however, I was familiar with numerous cases of neurosis in which the question of sexuality played a subordinate part, other factors standing in the foreground. Later I presented such cases to Freud, but he would not grant that factors other than sexuality could be the cause.”(p.147)

I suspect that Freud’s responses were more nuanced than Jung remembers them. Jung then suggests that Freud may have been fixated on sexuality for his own subjective issues: ” I could see that his sexual theory was enormously important to him, both personally and philosophically. This impressed me, but I could not decide to what extent this strong emphasis upon sexuality was connected with subjective prejudices of his, and to what extent it rested upon verifiable experiences.” (p.149). Jung’s unwillingness to carry forward unquestioningly the sexual drive theory was one of two key reasons Jung gives for his falling out with Freud. The other was Freud’s alleged criticism of “occultism”. Jung writes, “I can still recall vividly how Freud said to me ‘My dear Jung, promise me never to abandon sexual theory, That is the most important thing of all. You see we must make a dogma of it, an unshakable bulwark.’ In some astonishment I asked him ‘A bulwark against what?’ To which he replied ‘ Against the black tide of mud – of occultism.’ This was the thing that struck at the heart of our friendship. I knew that I would never be able to accept such an attitude. What Freud seemed to mean by ‘occultism’ was virtually everything that philosophy and religion, including the rising contemporary science of parapsychology, had learned about the psyche. To me the sexual theory was just as occult, that is to say, just as unproved an hypothesis, as many other speculative views.”(p.151) Jung knew that Freud was suspicious of Jung’s interest in parapsychology and various spiritual aspects of human behavior and had cautioned Jung about not becoming swayed by these “occultisms”. Jung continues to distance himself from Freud in his memoir by suggesting that Freud was blind to his own numinous unconscious influences:”Although I did not properly understand it then, I had observed in Freud the eruption of unconscious religious factors. Evidently he wanted my aid in erecting a barrier against these threatening unconscious contents.” “One thing was clear: Freud, who had always made much of his irreligiosity, had now constructed a dogma; or rather, in the place of a jealous God whom he had lost, he had substituted another compelling image, that of sexuality.” (p.151) I doubt that Freud would view his concerns about “occultisms” this way. I will consider Freud’s reflections on this soon.

Jung claims that Freud could not see the spiritual aspect of sexuality: “If Freud had given somewhat more consideration to the psychological truth that sexuality is numinous- both a god and a devil- he would not have remained bound within the confines of a biological concept. ” (p.154) I doubt this claim. I am reasonably certain that Freud considered sexuality as more than simply a biological concept, yet he was convinced of the sex drive as a biological imperative, and as an imperative, we are forced to negotiate it as it influences our behavior. Whether we agree with Freud’s essential theory or not, even Jung had to admit the critical importance of the sexual drive. He imputed his notions of spirituality as a way to incorporate his own extra-biological thinking. Freud continued to argue that psychoanalysis was a science and biology , to some extent, is destiny. He was suspicious of speculative theories which either ignored biology or assumed to be more important than biology. His very early concerns about Jung’s interest in parapsychology and other “occult” ideas, were materialized when Jung began distancing himself from the sexual drive theory and claiming he had enhanced Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis by including notions such as the collective unconscious, archetypes, synchronicity and alchemy.

Freud also recounted his interpretation of the reasons for the split with Jung in his 1914 paper, “On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement”. Freud was greatly disappointed in Jung because he had hoped Jung and the Swiss psychologists who followed Jung would act as missionaries for psychoanalysis beyond the Vienna and Jewish group. At one level Freud considered Jung’s theoretical defection as a betrayal – perhaps of a son wanting to kill the father in an Oedipal conflict. Since Jung was 19 years younger, there was something of a father-son relationship between them. Others have commented on this and Freud himself referred to it a number of times. But Freud also saw the danger in how his particular theory in psychoanalysis was being distorted and misrepresented by Jung and others.

Freud compares how Adler and Jung tried to change the essential theory of psychoanalysis. Regarding Jung he says: “Jung’s modification disconnects the phenomena from their relation with impulse- life; and further, as its critics (Abraham, Ferenczi, Jones) have pointed out, it is so unintelligible, obscure and confused that it is difficult to take up a standpoint in regard to it.”(p.93) Karl Abraham, Sandor Ferenczi, and Ernest Jones, are, of course, at this time (1914) the most solid followers of Freud. Freud continued this line of critique and when referring to Jung, he also generalized to “the Swiss”: “I did not admit the innovations of the Swiss to be legitimate continuations and further developments of the psychoanalysis that originated with me. Outside critics had already before this perceived the state of things, and Abraham truly says that Jung is in full retreat from psychoanalysis.” (p.93) Freud then levels a point by point critique: “All the changes that Jung has wrought in psychoanalysis flow from the ambition to eliminate all that is disagreeable in the family complexes, so that it may not evidence itself again in ethics and religion. For sexual libido an abstract term has been substituted, of which one may safely say that it remains mystifying and incomprehensible to fools and wise alike. The Oedipus complex was intended merely as something ‘symbolic’; the mother in it means the unattainable, which one must renounce in the interests of civilization; the father who is killed in the Oedipus myth is the ‘inner’ father, from whom one must become free in order to be independent. Other ideas of the material of sexual ideas will undoubtedly undergo similar reinterpretation in the course of time.” “Thus a new religious-ethical system was created, which, just like the Adlerian system, must necessarily lead to new interpretations of the actual results of analysis, or else distort or ignore them.” (p.95)

My reading of Jung’s and Freud’s explanations of why they split would suggest that they each had their ambitions to create a movement, to which Freud would admit and Jung would claim he only wanted the “truth”. Jung, in his old age in the memoir, presents himself as a humble truth seeker, yet his split from Freud and his later exploits belie this presentation. Jung’s ego was a match for that of Freud. He was not the first or the only Freud follower to break with Freud, but he was likely the most influential.

I will continue to investigate Jung’s conceptual contributions in my next post.