The Father of Analytical Psychology: What a Guy

How to sum up a really fantastic collection of C.G. Jung’s writings? Overall, this volume, edited by Anthony Storr, gives the impression of a guy completely devoted to others’ mental health, and to figuring out how best to achieve it, even if that meant risking the ridicule of scientism, via open-minded explorations of mythology and the psychological aspects of alchemy. I get a sense of a much more compassionate, curious, and humble individual than, say, Freud, and of a foundational figure who would probably bemoan the stats-laden and -dependent “behavioral sciences” we get to deal with today.

(Exemplary aside, re: an obsession with statistics: A few years ago, I got assigned to a miserable “research committee” headed by a statistics-worshipping chair. I told the woman she’d probably have to school me in some of her terminology, as well as explain to me why she was using only stats to address particular issues, since my philosophy-ethics-religion-literature background often approached the human condition in entirely different ways. She cheerfully said even I could make great use of statistics in pondering the state of the soul: “You can ask someone, for example, how many times he’s read Dante’s Inferno.” Probably rudely, I replied, “Which would tell me nothing.” Not that long before, a business prof had made a similar pitch to me, re: statistics’ ability to be of use in existential investigation: “You can use them to keep track of church membership.”)

Anyway, my only true beef with the guy’s thought is centered around his assumptions regarding gender and its easy division into two clearly differentiated types. Given, from what I understand, what Jung defines as the anima/animus isn’t prescriptively advocating for a particular idea of what a woman or man is, but instead, is a sort of historical “spiritual” conglomeration of assumptions about what constitutes “feminine” and “masculine”– and so of course, each of these figures would largely be made up of baggage (whether well- or ill-founded) that’s been carried through the collective unconscious since, essentially, the beginning of time. What I’m wondering is whether, according to Jung, as collective beliefs about the characteristics of biologically male, female, or other (a category not really extant at the time of his writings) are transformed, images and characteristics of the anima/animus are thought to change as well– and whether, in the light of such changed beliefs, our psyches will continue to operate according to gender-based polarities, when such things grow ever less relevant or acceptable in the public sphere.

There’s really too much in this book to explore in one post, and so I’ll probably be coming back to it in the next few days and/or weeks. (I did go out and buy Answer to Job, and I’m particularly excited about it.) But far from being a lamentable state of affairs, the abundance, and potential overload, of so much rich material, is a real joy; I wish I came across such things much more often.

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