Friday, November 13, 2009

Carl Jung's "Liber Novus" (The Red Book)

My recent trip to Hudson was only a couple of days, but you’d think I’d been gone for a couple of months. I’ve had so much to catch up on at home and at work, and I hate it when writing has to take a back seat to everything else. Now I’ve caught up with the essentials, so I’m hoping to be more consistent with my posts.

While in Hudson, both John Foxx and Arthur Price mentioned an exhibition going on in New York City that featured Carl Jung’s Liber Novus, or “The Red Book.” The exhibition is at the Rubin Museum of Art on 17th Street, and it runs until early January. I took some time on Wednesday after work to head into Manhattan to see the exhibition.

Some background on the Red Book—it contains some 35 accounts of experiments in “active imagination” undertaken by Jung while he was developing his psychological theory. After fulfilling many of the ambitions of his youth, Jung had a disturbing dream that led him to feel that he had lost touch with his own soul. These experiments in active imagination were an attempt to reconnect with his soul. The active imagination work is not dream work—Jung undertook this work in his quiet time, fully awake, using his fantasies as a means of uncovering the rich imagery of the Soul. Much of his own psychoanalytic technique developed from this private work. Dr. Sonu Shamdasani, who is the general editor of the new W.W. Norton edition of the Red Book and guest curator of the exhibition, said that this particular book is a critical key to all of Jung’s other work. It provides a context for Jungian theory.

The book itself is beautiful, created like an illuminated manuscript. It is huge—probably 40-48 centimeters in height, and from what I understand, almost 1,000 pages. Jung’s highly symbolic mandalas and other drawings illustrate the book, and it is written in calligraphic script, mostly in German and Latin. The Norton edition provides a translation after the facsimile. Jung created the pages on parchment, one at a time, and eventually had them bound together. He had the manuscript typed up and sent to colleagues for review. It appears that he had every intention of publishing it before he died, but it didn’t happen until now. The exhibition also features some of Jung’s original notes and drawings for the book. There is also a recorded interview with Dr. Shamdasani that is about 8 minutes long, and he offers some background about the book. The gallery is having two other types of events in conjunction with this exhibition—one is an “interpretation” of different pages of the Red Book by famous musicians, writers, and authors paired with a psychoanalyst, and a series of films inspired by Jung’s theories. There is more information about these events at the link given above. I haven’t been to either, but I am hoping to make it to at least one of the interpretation series, and one of the films before the exhibition closes.

I’ve made no secret about the fact that my writing is hugely influenced by Jung—all of the stories I’ve been getting published as of late are part of an interpretative collection of stories based on Jungian archetypes. And while my graduate school days were dominated by Erikson’s thinking (and I’m also very influenced by that), Jung is still quite central to my own worldview. I am looking forward to getting a copy of the Red Book in the near future, at which point I will be able to comment on it further. In the meantime, I highly recommend the Jung exhibit, especially if you have an interest in depth psychology—it’s a fascinating peek at Jung’s interpretation of collective imagery.

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