Memories, Dreams, Reflections

by Carl Jung

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The most haunting images in Jung’s autobiography are from dreams and visions which came to him from his earliest years and which he kept secret for most of his life. When he was only three, he dreamed of an underground shrine that was consecrated to a phallic god. At twelve, he had a vivid mental image of God defecating on the great cathedral at Basel. At twenty, he dreamed that he was carrying a tiny candle in a dark wood, with unknown shadows in pursuit. As he tried to understand what was happening to him, he read voraciously and discovered that he really had two personalities: one growing and full of imperfections, the other ageless, wise, confident, still as a stone. After reading the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, he decided that this must be a normal enough phenomenon though ignored by most people. After reading some of Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings and seeing what the “No. 2” personality could do even to a man of culture, Jung determined to communicate exclusively through his “No. 1” personality and to explain the nighttime world in a daytime voice.

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung seems to speak in the accustomed voice of No. 1 but to speak quite openly about the experiences of No. 2. To some extent, the two personalities merge as the aging man becomes the archetype of the wise old man. No longer constrained to write in a scientific style, Jung abandons the long, numbered paragraphs and extensive bibliographies of his other books for a much more personal style. Without trying to summarize his work, much less to popularize it, he shows a continuity that would otherwise be difficult to see. His early psychiatric work taught him the importance of dream analysis; the study of dreams made him an early champion of Freud, who was then an outcast from the academic world; and his inability to discover why Freud insisted on sexuality as the sole basis of mental illness made him search for the symbolic power behind the biological function. His differences with Freud led inevitably to a severance of personal relations, and the break prompted Jung to study the way that one’s personality type influences one’s thought and action. The break also threw him headlong into the occult world that Freud had shunned, and his efforts to understand the primal elements of his own unconscious provided the impetus for his extensive research in the history of alchemic symbolism. Jung remarks:My life is what I have done, my scientific work; the one is inseparable from the other. The work is the expression of my inner development; for commitment to the contents of the unconscious forms the man and produces his transformations. My works can be regarded as stations along my life’s way. All my writings may be considered tasks imposed from within; their source was a fateful compulsion.

Jung’s handiwork in stone at his lakeside retreat is described as a similar expression of an inner vision: Here he could live as a medieval man, as he did in his dreams and studies. Similarly, his travels took him to places where he could observe the primitive in himself; he learned more from conversations with Pueblo Indians in New Mexico and Elgonyis in Uganda than from many “civilized” Europeans, for native people speak the language of myth. The autobiography itself is an exercise in personal mythmaking, in which the hero confronts the monster of the unconscious and through his quest discovers his true identity. It provides a myth for modern man, who has largely ignored the stuff of which dreams are made.

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Critical Context