Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jung's latest biographer

The first moderately disappointing book from Gary Lachman - his biography of Jung.

It is excellent at catching the ambiguity of Jung's position: privately a mystic, charged by a profound, unfolding visionary experience; publicly a scientist, giving a phenomenological account of the experience of the psyche.

It beautifully describes the complexities of Jung's prose - and the tendency for the Professor to pile example upon example to make his case, as if to overwhelm his own uncertainty at his own scientific credentials.

It defends him brilliantly (and sensitively) from the charge of antisemitism and Nazi sympathies. This should now be a dead question, finally laid to rest.

However, it is much less assured in expounding Jung's key ideas.  It is as if he hesitates (as Jung did) to free them from their pseudo-scientific status and allow them to stand as a remarkable, if flawed, empirical mapping of the interiorl life. Flawed because it remains an incomplete 'Gnosticism' - that does not place itself intelligently towards the transcendent and its reality. The shadow of Kant lies long here - denying access to 'things as they are' trapped in the 'appearance of things' - with no prospect of fundamental liberation.

A genuine 'Gnosticism' is confident in its path from 'this world' to the 'next' and celebrates it, in clarity. You sense this is where Lachman's heart is - the unfolding of the sacred other into consciousness, transforming it. Jung's psyche is, however, aggrandizing, holding everything within itself, rarely opening openly and honestly out towards a transcendent (and transforming) other.

Yet he was a dedicated explorer of that 'middle space' of psyche that accounts for so much of the dynamic of our daily lives, between bodily need and spiritual aspiration. It is a space that traditional spirituality, especially in its post-Reformation guise, has tended to gloss past (or indeed demonize); and, so he deserves credit for opening it up, and if Jung is destined to be a way station, as he himself saw himself, he is an important one for placing 'experience' - individually assimilated, embracing the totality of a person's life - at the heart of religion once more.


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