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The work of Carl Gustav Jung (yoong) defies exact classification. A psychologist by training and profession, Jung conceded that medicine was for him a detour from his primary preoccupations, religion and philosophy. Jung always insisted that he was an empirical scientist, dedicated to the objective study of all psychic manifestations, but his psychological theories and therapeutic methods—called analytical psychology—ultimately led him back to his first loves. Jung’s erudition encompassed an astonishingly vast collection of subjects: world mythologies, history of religion, theology, mysticism, the occult, Eastern thought, philosophy, physical science, history of science, and art. Although he claimed to be scientific, his writings overflow with speculations, supernatural accounts (often personal), and mysticism; this is especially true of his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Jung is probably best known for his theory of the collective unconscious and its contents, the archetypes. He also originated the much debated concept of synchronicity, a noncausal but meaningful connective principle that has application all the way from parapsychology to the physics of the atom. In short, Jung developed a psychology of human culture—a universal psychology.

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Jung’s father, Johann Paul Achilles Jung, was a Protestant minister who had studied Oriental languages but whose intellectual development, as his son later judged, had been stunted by Christian dogma. This kind of dogmatic sterility, which no longer provides the living mythological symbols necessary to mediate the archetypes of the collective unconscious, later became Carl Jung’s chief concern. From about the age of eleven, Jung found himself drawn to philosophy, especially questions concerning metaphysics and the existence of God. Reading Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) convinced him that any pure reality that lay beyond conscious psychic categorization was in principle inaccessible to human reason (although in later life he sometimes expressed doubts about this theory). What mattered was God’s existence as psychic reality. Jung chose medicine as his occupation because it seemed to him that only scientific psychology permits meaningful and factual statements to be made on such matters.

After receiving his medical degree in 1902, Jung joined the staff at the Berghölzli psychiatric clinic at the University of Zurich. There, around 1906, he began a close professional and personal friendship with Sigmund Freud. Their partnership lasted until 1913, and during this time Jung became the most important international spokesperson for psychoanalysis, second only to Freud himself. Although Jung accepted many of Freud’s theories on the unconscious, dreams, repression, and mental illness, he found Freud’s dogmatic insistence upon the purely sexual nature of irrational unconscious forces too confining and narrow, especially in religion. This intellectual disagreement was the major cause of his break with Freud.

Around the period 1916-1918, Jung suffered a kind of mental collapse in which he was beset with dreams and visions. Although he did little writing during this time, he reached important conclusions. Within the dreams and visions of his patients, as well as his own, Jung noticed images and symbols of an extremely archaic nature—things that could not have been a part of the personal history or the result of repression.

Upon his recovery and for the rest of his long life Jung pursued his researches in mythology and religion, digging into the vast mountain of historical symbols and images from all times and places. Here was the empirical proof, Jung believed, of the existence of inherited forms of thought in a collective unconscious which manifest themselves in universal religious symbolism, dreams, theories—in short, the total psychic life of humanity. These structures are inherited thought patterns, which Jung labeled “archetypes.” Archetypes manifest themselves in conscious life as images and symbols that vary from culture to culture and time to time. Therefore archetypes can never be directly observed. They are known only through their phenomenological effects produced in conscious life. Yet analytical psychology can uncover and elucidate these archetypal patterns much as physicists infer the existence and qualities of subatomic particles from the results of their experiments.

The psychic vehicle that contains the archetypes and carries them down through the ages must, therefore, be collective and not personal. Jung called this vehicle the collective unconscious. He later speculated that the collective unconscious exists beyond normal time and space—a kind of psychic energy field similar to David Bohm’s model of quantum mechanics. The collective unconscious not only contains the archetypes but also, like a primordial sea, is the origin of all psychic life. The goal of life, and the absolute necessity for full mental health, both individual and collective, is to integrate the irrational contents of the collective unconscious into conscious life. This union of opposites is present in the most important archetype of all, one Jung labeled Selbst (the self), symbolically represented in the greatest of all unconscious needs, the desire for God. Failure to integrate the shadow of the collective unconscious through some sort of living, meaningful religious symbolism results in fragmentation and mental illness, in individuals and in society as a whole. After World War II Jung produced a universal psychological diagnosis of Western humanity’s self-destruction in his Answer to Job.

From his studies of Chinese philosophy in the 1920’s, specifically the I Ching (a classical Chinese text), Jung speculated that the archetypes might somehow be projected into physical nature. The correspondence between physical events and psychic contents could not be causal (mind acting upon matter). Rather, Jung decided that the connection was meaningful—a seemingly random, noncausal connection between events that nevertheless revealed new insights into the individual’s psychic condition. Jung labeled this principle “synchronicity,” an acausal connecting principle he used to explain many paranormal events.

Jung’s universal psychology was a tremendous lifelong attempt to establish scientifically the fact of and the need for the numinous, religious instinct in humankind. During a radio interview in 1959 Jung was asked if he believed in God. Jung replied that he did not need to believe that God existed; he knew.


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Barnaby, Karin, and Pellegino D’Acierno, eds. C. G. Jung and the Humanities: Toward a Hermeneutics of Culture. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Brome, Vincent. Jung. 1978. Reprint. New York: Granada, 1980. A popular biography.

Hall, Calvin S., and Vernon J. Nordby. A Primer of Jungian Psychology. New York: New American Library, 1973. A standard and thorough introduction to the basic Jungian concepts of the structure, dynamics, and development of the normal personality.

Hayman, Ronald. A Life of Jung. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001. A comprehensive and thorough study that was originally published in England in 1999. Includes a bibliography and index.

Hopcke, Robert H. A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung. 2d ed. New York: Random House, 1999. A very useful source for understanding Jung’s works. Includes a bibliography.

Jacobi, Jolande. The Psychology of C. G. Jung. Translated by Ralph Manheim. 8th ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973. In this introductory work, consisting of a profile of Jung’s major theories, Jacobi gives an overview of Jung’s contributions to the field of analytic psychology.

Jaffé, Aniela. From the Life and Work of C. G. Jung. Translated by R. F. C. Hull. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. A good personal account by someone who knew Jung.

McLynn, Frank. Carl Gustav Jung. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. This evenhanded, unbiased biography chronicles Jung’s life from birth to death. McLynn not only explains Jung’s theories and documents his contributions to psychotherapy but also provides insights into the controversies of Jung’s life.

Meurs, Jos van, and John Kidd. Jungian Literary Criticism, 1920-1980. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1988.

Moreno, Antonio. Jung, Gods, and Modern Man. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970. Examines Jung’s influence on theology and philosophy.

Papadopoulos, Renos K., ed. Carl Gustav Jung: Critical Assessments. 4 vols. New York: Routledge, 1992. This substantial collection of essays covers Jung and His Method in Context (volume 1), The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (volume 2), Psychopathology and Psychotherapy (volume 3), and Implications and Inspirations (volume 4). Includes a bibliography.

Singer, June. Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung’s Psychology. New York: Anchor, 1994. Recognized as the classic introduction to Jungian psychology, this book explains key elements of Jung’s thought. It provides examples of the applications of Jungian psychology both clinically and in the business world (such as the concept of personality types, masculine/feminine relationships) and also incorporates case histories into the understanding of psychotherapy and the inner workings of the human mind.

Stevens, Anthony. Jung: A Very Short Introduction. 1994. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. An excellent place to start. At 175 pages, the work is a solid introduction.

Wehr, Gerhard. Jung: A Biography. Translated by David M. Weeks. Boston: Shambhala, 1987. A balanced assessment of Jung’s life and work.

Whitlark, James. Behind the Great Wall: A Post-Jungian Approach to Kafkaesque Literature. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991.

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