- The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement by Richard Noll
Princeton, 387 pp, £19.95, January 1995, ISBN 0 691 03724 8
It has taken the entire century to bring Freud to the judgment of history. Whatever shall we do about Jung?
His beginnings were not promising and his father frankly worried about him. Dominated by a mother at once unreliable and eerily intimate, the child was an asocial miscreant, rejected by his peers. Home was no better – the atmosphere was ‘unbreathable’ – and when he could not escape to the countryside the boy began to explore his own interior. The father was chaplain to a nearby mental hospital, and the mother once a patient there, but the boy was too young to know that nervousness ran on both sides of his family and that inwardness was not a proper tack for a child with ‘hereditary taint’.
Imagination proved an ally. To relieve periodic choking fits he took to visualising golden angels against a blue background. And there were spaces inside spaces where one might be safe. He carved a tiny mannikin, hid it beneath the attic floorboards, and for a year ritually presented the little man with miniature scrolls written in a secret language.
Guilty in his demeanour when challenged, Jung was a natural target at school. His teachers punished him, the other boys tormented him, and he could find no better solution than to fake dizzy spells so that he might stay at home. He was so convincing in this role that the doctors worried his father into believing he might be incurable. It was too much for a pastor without private funds: ‘I have lost what little I had, and what will become of the boy if he cannot earn his own living?’
More startled than stung, Jung rallied and through sheer will power began to resist the faints, which had taken on a life of their own. It was his first experience of what it was to overcome a neurosis. He grew to the size of a Notre Dame linebacker, as the Harvard psychologist Henry Murray later estimated him, and his classmates learned to tolerate, even like him. Nicknamed ‘Father Abraham’ for his opinions on everything, and finally apprised of the fact that he would have to work if he was to excel, the sermonising Gymnasium student appeared to have found himself at last, but inwardly he still thought of himself as a ‘Corrupt and inferior person’.
His secret hope was to be somebody else. The romance of Jung’s second self, his ‘Personality No 2’, would later dominate his remarkable memoirs, composed in old age with the assistance of Aniela Jaffé and at the instigation of Pantheon’s Kurt Wolff in one of the great publishing coups of the century. But neither Wolff nor Jung was so simple-minded as to think the world wanted to know exactly who ‘Personality No 2’ was. By Jung’s own account, it all began in childhood – while he was being reprimanded by a neighbour for commandeering the fellow’s rowing boat. As he took the scolding, Jung began to feel that he was really somebody else, somebody who had lived a long time ago, somebody very important. A not uncommon family legend for the time had it that Goethe had been Jung’s great-grandfather. What Jung hoped, and sometimes believed, but would never tell for the record, was that he was a reincarnation of Goethe.
It did make sense. Had not Goethe winced at the sight of a crucifix? Had not Goethe known the sufferings of the inner self? Had not Goethe celebrated temptation and somehow made the world believe that one could find redemption that way? But it was no easy business to be Goethe. One should not disbelieve the statements of Jung’s memoirs, the first three chapters especially, which make it plain that adolescence continued to be a struggle and that keeping in meaningful contact with ‘Personality No 2’ was difficult.
‘The boy is interested in everything imaginable,’ his father commented within earshot, ‘but he does not know what he wants.’ Jung let his classmates think he might go into literature, but he opted for science, more properly for medicine, the safest road for a scholarship student to take. In his college years he took up the study of the occult by participating in séances with the secret connivance of his mother and by special courtesy of a teenage cousin who was in love with him and who could contact the illustrious ancestors of both sides of the family. In a past life, she had been Goethe’s mistress, and in yet another past life, mother to a previous incarnation of Jung.
College life had its own lessons. He learned through experience to moderate his alcohol intake and learned, too, that he could now read Nietzsche without risking his own sanity. His father died during the first year, leaving Jung the man of the house, but he returned regularly in Jung’s dreams, leaving Jung too embarrassed to tell him he was dead. Thereafter, Jung seriously wondered about survival beyond the grave. ‘He died in time for you,’ was the mother’s comment.
The proportions of ‘Jung’ could already be outlined. At the student drinking and literary society, he expounded on philosophy and science; among his favourite targets were the liberal Protestant theology of Albrecht Ritschl and the biological materialism of ‘the Berlin Jew’, the physiologist Emil DuBois-Reymond. As for making his living, he ultimately settled on psychiatry after reading in Krafft-Ebing’s textbook that it was a field where theory still bore the personal stamp of the author.
Jung arrived at the Burghölzli hospital on 10 December 1900. Thus began what could have been the greatest psychiatric career of the 20th century. No account of Jung is adequate that does not take note of how gifted he was in his chosen profession. He was an intuitive type, by his own later definition. He was sensitive to the point of clairvoyance and to the point where he had sometimes to protect himself from the company of people. He was also a voracious reader who could consume and retain huge tracts of literature. He had a commanding personal presence, instant authority and seemingly limitless physical energy.
As an endeavour psychiatry is necessary, tortuous and grimly paradoxical. What is dispensed is not sanity, but madness. The healing art consists in finding a kind of madness that the patient – and neighbours and family – can live with. Few men have possessed the sort of talent that Jung brought to this delicate, but potent encounter: the young R.D. Laing to a great degree, Harry Stack Sullivan when he was in the mood, D.W. Winnicott with children, and very few others. The patients loved Jung; staff were in awe.
For most of this century, the kind of madness people have been willing to settle for has involved such things as guilty childhood secrets, terrible traumas and the irrationality of sexual desire. More recently, chemical imbalances have also become acceptable. But at the beginning of the century, madness meant hereditary taint, nervous fatigue, endogenous toxins and the like, all girded around by a strange nomenclature and informed by the deepest resignation. Jung the psychiatrist was at the very heart of the movement from one kind of madness to another: the historical moment amplified his gifts.
The career was meteoric. It took Jung only six years to become internationally known for his pioneering work with the word-association test. An ordinary medical term, ‘complex’, took on a new meaning and became a commonplace. Jung held the copyright. Professionally, his opinions were sought on subjects ranging from the Ganser syndrome to schizophrenia. It was universally assumed that when his chief, Eugen Bleuler, retired, Jung would take over the Zürich chair in psychiatry and the directorship of the Burghölzli hospital.
What happened instead is well known: Jung bolted. A question that is not usually asked, but should be, is why he elected to join forces with Freud when he did. Jung certainly didn’t need to. One answer is that he was still trying to discover a reliable way of making contact with Personality No 2 – and for a time he thought Freud could help him. Then, too, as Freud was becoming controversial thanks to the Dora case, Jung could now play rebel on a grand scale.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 17 No. 8 · 20 April 1995
John Kerr’s review of my book The Jung Cult (LRB, 23 March) contains some misstatements and overstatements that need to be addressed. First, it should be made clear that the position that Jung was ‘psychotic’ and that he formed a ‘psychotic’ cull is Kerr’s and not mine. No-where in my book do I make the argument which so many others have that Jung was psychotic. That in 1913-14 he underwent a psychological disturbance of such magnitude that he almost blew his brains out with a pistol he kept next to his bed, in full view of his wife and children, is without question, since Jung himself said as much. But years of clinical experience on inpatient units have made me wary of the overuse and over-extension of the term ‘psychotic’, especially among those in psychoanalytic circles. Diagnostic reliability for psychotic disorders is notoriously poor when assessing living patients; diagnosing the dead, sight unseen, is a most dangerous method.
Second, there are several corrections I wish to add concerning Kerr’s account of how the transcript of the 1916 talk by Jung to the Psychology Club, probably at its inauguration, came to appear in my book. As Kerr clearly and truthfully states, by the time of my telephone conversation with him I had already independently found the document among the many boxes of the Fanny Katz papers during a research trip in August 1992, had photocopied it and other items, and had obviously read it and realised it was of some significance. What Kerr didn’t say in his review, and as he well knows, was that when I revealed my knowledge of the document to him I had already identified it as a mislabelled, unpublished lecture by Jung to the Psychology Club and knew that it contained a plethora of Germanic völkisch metaphors that constituted supporting evidence for my hypothesis that Jung had not only formed a mystery cult of spiritual redemption, but that it was an Aryanist cult of some sort. I told him so on the phone that day, also telling him that it was mostly filled with a lot of Jungian gobbledygook and was not of such signal importance as he seemed to think. I could say this because I already knew the völkisch background of the document and had much more compelling evidence of Jung’s cultism from other sources. Kerr told me it was evidence of Jung’s psychosis, and I told him I would go back and read the Jungian gobbledygook more carefully as I did not agree. To this day I do not attach the same significance to the document that he does. Unfortunately, Kerr overstates his influence, making it sound as if he tipped me off about the document, when in fact he confirmed what I already knew about a document already in my possession. I should mention that neither Kerr nor Shamdasani had realised the deeper significance of the document, as they were completely ignorant of its German völkisch references and context. According to Kerr, they both thought it was merely confirmation of Jung’s ‘psychosis’.
I do have Sonu Shamdasani to thank (and do so in my book) for suggesting I take a look at the Katz papers (among many other items I had already planned to examine) during my August 1992 research trip to Boston, but it is incorrect to infer, as Kerr does, that Shamdasani had told me about the existence of the document. He obviously did not. The truth of the matter is that, if Kerr’s story about the ‘finding’ of the document by Shamdasani five years ago is to be believed, and there is no reason not to, then obviously Shamdasani and I each independently discovered it. Why they did not publish it is a puzzle that only they can answer, but ethically I was well within my rights to do so and was given permission by the Jung estate to include it in my book.
One final point: Kerr makes it sound as if my telephone conversation with him in the spring of 1993 was the moment at which I realised Jung had formed a religious cult of some sort. In fact, in my article in the journal Spring that Kerr mentions in his review I explicitly make reference to Jung’s formation of his early movement and therapeutic techniques as based on the model of the ancient Hellenistic mystery cults of renewal and redemption, and indeed I focus on Jung’s experience of self-deification as the centrepiece of that article. The article appeared in published form in late December 1992. Both Kerr and Shamdasani had pre-publication copies of the original manuscript in their possession in the late summer of that year, which I provided during my very first contacts with them. My hypotheses, derived from my own scholarly research, of Jung’s self-deification experience and the neopagan cultic nature of Jung’s earliest movement predate any contacts with Kerr and Shamdasani, and predate any knowledge on my part that these two fine independent scholars even existed.
There is a time-honoured institution by which publishers send manuscripts for peer review to anonymous reviewers. The implications are serious when such procedures are contravened, and compounded when publisher’s readers subsequently come to publish reviews of these works and neglect to mention the full nature of their prior involvement.
In his review of Richard Noll’s The Jung Cult, John Kerr gives an account of how a document that I provisionally identified as being by Jung came to appear in the book. According to him it features as Noll’s prime documentary evidence that under the guise of founding a school of psychology, Jung in actuality founded a cult akin to those around Luc Jouret and David Koresh, as Noll claimed in a piece in the New York Times.
Contrary to the impression given by Kerr’s account, my research has led me to conclude that the thesis that the document constitutes the inauguration of a ‘Jung cult’ is quite erroneous. Noll’s transcription of the document in his book is appallingly corrupt: handwritten additions in various hands are not distinguished from the typescript, and all are attributed to the sole authorship of Jung. Further, Noll’s account is riddled with errors. To cite but one, he states that the document was evidently mailed by Maria Moltzer to Fanny Bowditch Katz in America. Why would Moltzer have done this, when at the time in question Katz’s address was Bergheimstrasse 8, Zurich? Contrary to Kerr’s evaluation, the injured party is not myself, but responsible scholarship, which has once more taken a back seat to journalistic sensationalism.
In my view, an understanding of the document in question requires a contextualisation of Jung’s work within the myriad attempts to establish dynamic psychologies of the unconscious from the last quarter of the century onwards, coupled with detailed research in European archives. This is lacking in Noll’s work, but has been accomplished in an outstanding manner by Fernando Vidal in Piaget before Piaget, his biography of Jung’s Swiss compatriot.
Kerr states that after he read Noll’s manuscript, in which Noll had used the document, he understood that Noll would remove all references to it. He neglects to mention that he read the manuscript in the capacity of an outside reader for Princeton University Press.
When I was informed that the document was to appear in the book, I requested Noll to send me the relevant sections of his manuscript to judge for myself whether Kerr’s account of the appropriation of information (of which I had just learned) was true. He refused to do so. When Kerr learnt that Noll had no intention of removing the document from his book, he officially reversed his reader’s report and stated that Noll’s actions had undermined the integrity of the review process. This forms the hidden history of his review.
In his review of The Jung Cult, John Kerr followed his psycho-biographical précis of Jung’s life with a long discussion of the provenance of a hitherto unpublished document presented in Richard Noll’s recent book. Kerr’s account speaks of it, if not as the Lacanian lettre volée, then at any rate as the purloined ‘pep-talk’: purportedly the inaugural address that Jung gave to the Psychology Club, Zurich in 1916, which was recently discovered by Sonu Shamdasani but subsequently published by Noll. But however the document came to light, and whoever got there first, there remain some interesting questions about this text which Kerr might also have addressed.
First, it should be noted that there are at least 12 inconsistencies between the original document and the version published in Noll’s book, some of which have been pointed out by the Jung scholar William McGuire. Most of these, as well as the changes in punctuation, are minor, but two – the replacement of ‘devined’ by ‘defined’, and the omission of the sentence ‘The recognition and the acceptance of the personal life’s task leads to the Menschwerdung’ – might be considered more important.
Second, there is the question of style. The language of this ‘inaugural address’ does not remotely resemble Jung’s writing in the essay ‘The Transcendent Function’, apparently referred to within the document and written in the same year. On the other hand, it is equally dissimilar to another text from 1916 (which in turn looks completely unlike ‘The Transcendent Function’), Jung’s quasi-Gnostic Seven Sermons to the Dead. That work consists of seven exhortations to ‘the Dead’, who return from Jerusalem in the first part, and fall silent, ‘rising up like smoke rises over the fire of the shepherd’, in the final part. Clearly, it is likely that there is a connection with the ‘struggle with the Dead’ referred to in the ‘inaugural address’. Such stylistic divergences might not be inconsistent if, as Kerr puts it, ‘Jung went half mad’ during this period. But how these three texts relate to each other still needs to be satisfactorily explained.
Third, there is the question as to why this document was not published immediately when it was found five years ago. Of course, both John Kerr and Sonu Shamdasani may have good reasons for this; but, over and above their own research activity (which I’m in no way seeking to question), this issue leads on to the more general and more important question of access to other unpublished documents relating to Jung. Although I have found the Jung family and estate most courteous and co-operative in my own dealings with them, it is clear that making such primary source material as The Black Book, The Red Book and the notebooks in which Jung recorded his dreams available (to all scholars who are interested) would substantially advance the state of Jung scholarship. Doubtless the Jung estate are right to protect the privacy of patients whom Jung treated. Nevertheless, so many years after Jung’s death, and after his own case-history has become so exemplary in the 20th century, for numerous clients and psychoanalysts as well as for countless writers and intellectuals, the immense significance of these documents surely requires that they be considered in a different way.
Finally, what about the problematic status of the purported inaugural address? As I’ve suggested to Jung’s family and literary executors, it should not be hard to use the invaluable expertise of the Wissenschaftshistorische Sammlungen department of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Library, where other Jungian documents are housed in a special archive, to investigate the paper, the typeface and the handwritten corrections (apparently by Jung) of the document. If this were undertaken – and why not immediately? – it might be possible to solve the doubts surrounding the authenticity or otherwise of this potentially hugely important document, even if not the specific quarrel about who should or should not have published it.
Centre for Intercultural Germanistics
John Kerr’s review made me uneasy on several counts. First, the generally sceptical tone through which, under a thin mask of academic objectivity, Jung’s work and that of his successors was made to seem insubstantial or woefully eccentric. For example, Jung’s reasons for becoming a psychoanalyst are treated in terms of purely personal agendas (the need to make contact with Personality No 2, and to ‘play rebel on a grand scale’). Or the dismissive tone in which the emergence of analytical psychology is described, as the ‘promise’ of a new kind of analysis ‘which was supposed to surpass the Viennese kind by recognising the forward strivings of the patient’ (whatever that means), as though nothing had really come of it. To describe ‘active imagination’ as a ‘dissociative technique’, as though that somehow disqualified it, is to ignore Jung’s concern with getting the ego to acknowledge its limitations and to recognise the psychic reality of other voices, other ‘characters’. And the way in which a mythological perspective is described as being irrelevant to ‘the reason people become psychologically ill’ misunderstands the difference between the psychiatry that Jung quit and the depth analysis he subsequently developed. And so forth. The point is not that Jung is beyond criticism – many of the shortcomings cited are real enough – but that Kerr’s summary and disdainful manner gives a false edge to his reassessment of Jung.
A more important point has to do with the issue of ‘founding fathers’ such as Freud and Jung, and the mythologising they undergo, not only at their own hands (and Freud with his rings and his ‘inner circle’ is just as secretively cliquish as Jung), but at the hands of their followers. I have not read Noll’s book, only his article in Spring: but while I can believe that Jung cast himself as a Mithraic solar and leonine figure, I think it is important that we recognise that this mythologising is not necessarily to be pathologised, either in Jung or his followers; or rather, that seeing such moves as in effect purely personal delusions of grandeur misses some important things out.
It is not just Jung’s career, nor that of analytical psychology, that is riddled with initiatory, charismatic or sectarian features: it is the field of psychoanalysis as a whole. Furthermore, Freud himself admitted (in a letter to Einstein of September 1932) that psychoanalysis, like ‘every natural science’, was ‘a sort of mythology’: Jung made this a much more explicit part of his theories, while still claiming (like Freud) that he was basically a ‘man of science’. Rather than just playing off these contradictions, so that they cancel out or detract from Jung’s contribution, I would credit him with a greater willingness to explore beyond the limiting framework of the scientific attitude, and to envisage a psychology founded on something other than the traditional divisions between self and others, inner and outer worlds, mind and matter.
Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies
Vol. 17 No. 10 · 25 May 1995
May I add a few points to the debate about Richard Noll’s book (Letters, 20 April)? It is striking that little has been written so far about how the Psychology Club of Zurich actually functioned. From my researches, published in the Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences, it seems that Jung’s club of 1916 had its immediate roots in the Psychoanalytical Club of Zurich, which was formed when the Freud Society collapsed following the Jung-Freud split in 1913. The Freud Society had been formed in 1907.
There seem to have been a number of reasons why Jung instigated the formation of a club. I will focus on two that have not so far been mentioned. First, he had the idea of a ‘silent experiment in group psychology’ on the grounds that conventional two-person analytical treatment was ‘one-sided from the collective and personal point of view’. It is clear that everyone involved knew about this, so perhaps the experiment wasn’t as silent as all that. There was an interest in what would now be called group process, and the criticism of individual analysis has a rather modern ring to it. Second, Jungian analysis involves linkages being made between the material of the individual patient (dreams, fantasies, transference projections and so forth) and so-called ‘amplificatory material’ drawn from myth, legend, art and literature. As Thomas Kirsch has pointed out, the patient needed a suitably stocked library in which to look up his or her amplifications.
The procedure of amplification is not as odd as it sounds to modern ears when one considers a possible parallel with contemporary psychoanalytic practice wherein the here and now of the clinical interaction is, so to speak, ‘amplified’ by reference to infantile and other early or primitive mental and emotional processes held to be inaccessible to the patient’s consciousness in the session itself. There always seems to be this need in analytical therapy to turn up the volume, make things that seemed a bit thin more ample, convert one kind of material into another kind, and to establish that individual experience has shared elements – cultural, social, political – in it.
The club model eventually proved itself inadequate for the formation of the modern profession that Jungian analysis has become. To the extent that today’s Jungian analysis is a cult, this would surely be something it has in common with psychoanalysis or psychotherapy in general.
Society of Analytical Psychology