"What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science... Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth. I can only make direct statements, only "tell stories." Whether or not the stories are "true" is not the problem. The only question is whether what I tell is _my_ fable, _my_ truth." (C. G. Jung, p. 3)
If you're looking for a book "about" the life of Carl Jung, keep on looking. This is not so much a biography as it is a window into the process of Jung's experience. Think of this as Jung's "case summary" of his life. We don't read many of the amusing anectdotes, or "objective" critical insights that other biographies offer in abundance. Instead we get to experience Jung's auto-mythos for ourselves.
Jung reveals much, imparts wisdom, offers us early memories, and paints the canvas of his life for us. It's an incredible gift from a wise and self-reflective man. Jung was not without his faults, as other biographers have pointed out, he had many--some quite appalling! More than one of his analysands became his lover--behavior that would cost him his license today. But again, this is material you should look elsewhere for. Here he ponders his fears, his weaknesses, the ones that he has already accepted and worked with.
I recommend this book for people who have never read Jung before. It teaches more about his approach than any of his other books. It finds the meaning in his own life, viewed through his approach to life. "Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore the equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable--perhaps everything." (p. 340)
on May 16, 2006
More than any other work in his oeuvre, Carl Jung's biography, 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections' (1961) takes the reader inside the mind of the eminent Swiss psychologist. Jung was both a self-admitted gnostic and an introvert, and this very personal account of his life, which he was completing at the time of his death, is correspondingly subjective in tone.
Jung had a difficult but remarkable childhood, to which he devotes a substantial portion of the text. Both blessed and plagued by heretical visions which he was unprepared to understand or interpret (among them: God defecating on a cathedral; an enormous cyclopean phallus enthroned in a subterranean chamber), Jung also found himself unable to seek advice from his father, a country parson suffering from a crisis of faith, or his mother, whom Jung believed to have a weird and "uncanny" "second personality" which only emerged at night. In time, the awkward young Carl came to believe that he had a guiding "second personality" of his own, which he perceived to belong to a mature and intellectually accomplished man of 18th century Europe (as an adult, Jung would adopt another "psychic being," whom he called "Philemon," as his personal "daimon," mentor, and guide). Already tending temperamentally towards remove from others, these experiences only acerbated Jung's boyhood sense of rural backwardness, loneliness, and social isolation.
Due to both its subjective nature and the enormous scope of Jung's experiences and speculative beliefs, 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections' is the sort of book that hardline scientists and skeptics may scoff at, especially since Jung is largely concerned with discovering the liminal crossroads where objective truth, physical law, spirituality, and human psychology converge. Throughout his life, he also placed a tremendous value on the meaning of personal and collective dreams, both those he considered merely informational as well as those he considered prophetic and of a collective nature.
Throughout the volume, anecdotes abound of seances, extrasensory perception, automatic writing, "poltergeist" phenomena, "meaningful coincidences," alchemy, visitations from the dead, unidentified flying objects (which Jung, who never claimed to actually glimpse one, did not believe to be vehicles from other planets, though he didn't absolutely rule out the possibility), alternate dimensions, the Holy Grail, and, in one bizarre episode, a seemingly endless parade of merry-making phantom boys who pass by his lakeside home in the dead of night. Though Jung interprets this particular "haunting" in terms of local history, it's remarkable that he, who believes "the mythic side of man is given short shrift nowadays," doesn't consider the trooping fairies of Celtic and Germanic folklore as any equally likely explanation.
In another incident, he and companion, while traveling in Italy, spend hours admiring the interior of a cathedral, only to discover later that the mosaics they found so unforgettably beautiful did not exist, and never had existed.
As unlikely a collection of first or secondhand experiences as the anecdotes may represent, Jung never allows his narrative to lose its tight focus or relate these incidences to his larger theme: the nature, development, and evolution of human consciousness. However, in genuine gnostic fashion, he is quick to remind his readership that human perception is always ultimately subjective, and that, while "facts" certainly exist, no man can claim to know what the absolute truth is about any facet of reality.
'Memories, Dreams, Reflections,' which was completed from notes after Jung's death by associate Aniela Jaffe, does not pretend to be a work of science (and, appropriately, is not an official volume in Jung's Collected Works), and is in fact far more concerned with ethics, spirituality, faith, and consciousness. One of the book's greatest achievements is its narrative power, which never flags, no matter how potentially obtuse the point is that its author is attempting to make. Throughout, Jung's tone is also uniformly humble and sincere, and his conviction in his beliefs, electrifying.
Jung's ultimate message for mankind and mankind's future is clear: "Man's task...is to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being."
on February 9, 2001
This book is less complicated than most of Jung's other writings and really explains the man Carl Jung. I highly recommend the book to anyone studying Jung. I would also recommend the book an Encounter With A Prophet.
This autobiography is unusual to say the least. It is replete with deep, profound, mystifying, eye-opening, tantalizing personal experiences rather than mundane happenings. It reads, at times, like a fantasy novel. I'd call this powerful book an impressionistic painting of Jung's life and work. It's very personal and very revealing. It's no wonder he left it to the very end of his life. Fortunately for us, he did provide the data & it was posthumously published. It provides a depth of context for his work that is available nowhere else. It is, however, expurgated--presumably by his family who didn't want all his dirty laundry (e.g. affairs with clients etc.) made public. After all, it was published not long after his death. There is much to learn from this book--even by those offended by it. As Jung says, p.247 "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." George MacDonald said "Those don't know England who only England know." Jung asks, p. 246 "How, for example, can we become conscious of national peculiarities if we have never had the opportunity to regard our own nation from outside? Regarding it from outside means regarding it from the standpoint of another nation." Similar to his more scientific works, this one contains innovative thinking & timeless observations.
PAST--pp. 143-4 Among the so-called neurotics of our day there are a good many who in other ages would not have been neurotic--that is, divided against themselves. If they had lived in a period and in a milieu in which man was still linked by myth with the world of the ancestors, and thus with nature truly experienced and not merely seen from outside, they would have been spared this division of themselves.
PRESENT--p. 131 To my mind, in dealing with individuals, only individual understanding will do. We need a different language for every patient. In one analysis I can be heard talking the Adlerian dialect, in another the Freudian. The crucial point is that I confront the patient as one human being to another. Analysis is a dialog demanding two partners.
FUTURE--p. 256 Man is indispensable for the completion of creation; that, in fact, he himself is the second creator of the world, who alone has given to the world its objective existence...Human consciousness created objective existence and meaning, and man found his indispensable place in the great process of being.
on February 23, 2007
I think Carl Jung was very ahead of his time and he was in sense an explorer like Columbus, except that his territory was the vast space of his own interior. My understanding of Jung is that he took his own explorations to the brink of psychosis in the service of understanding himself and the psyche. Whether you are a Jung fan or not, it has certainly been my experience that he has a lot of insight and wisdom to share with respect to the nature of the psyche.
This book is basically an autobiography and it is very dense reading. Jung was highly educated in a variety of fields and without some basic understanding of philosophy, major literary figures and mythology, it may be a difficult reading. However, if taken slowly, it is truly manageable and you will discover many gems.
I agree with some of the other excellent reviews that suggest that this volume presents Jung the legend more than being an objective account of his life. However, it offers a lot of insight into his thinking, major influences, etc. It is a fascinating story in itself.
I think this book is most useful and interesting to people who already know a lot about Jung. It is not the best introduction to Jung. If you want a good introduction, I would suggest Murray Stein's "Jung's Map of the Soul." Another concise introduction in Jung's own words is Aion. I would read one or both of these first before tackling this volume.
These writings come straight from Jung's own inner experience and it is his last book before his death in 1961. I have read and re-read this work because at different times in my life I needed to re-evaluate where I was and where I was going.
Other books by Jung are more intellectual and scientific, whereas, this autobiography has the wisdom of a person in the later part of life and it was written not so much to teach but to leave with us his legacy.
Having myself had a near death experience, I was especially re-affirmed by Jung's own near death experience and his dealings with this phenomenon. His acceptance of his own humanity and his returning from this state to share with us his knowledge and vision is a gift to all of us.
It is not easy to return to our humanity and deal with the sufferings we encounter but growth is the only evidence of life. We have to come down from the mountain top and work in the valley.
This brings to mind two books written by Hannah Hurnard called Mountains of Spices Mountains of Spices and Hinds Feet in High Places Hinds' Feet on High Places. Allegories about living our lives with others and not in solitude.
Solitude is a wonderful place but if we stay too long we become self-centered, afraid to reach out to others. Another author who gives a good perspective on life is Henri Nouwen and his books Out of Solitude Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Lifeand Reaching Out Reaching Out.
on December 27, 2004
I enjoyed this (simply from the standpoint of its being a very well-written autobiography). Though I do not pretend to be an authority on psychology myself - I find something in Jung that is almost more spiritual than scientific. Of course, Jung will not be readily excepted in modern circles for his lack of empirical evidence - but that is not what concerns me - he is a fascinating figure and writer. All I know is there will always be something in life and science that is inexplicable - and this is what makes people like Freud and Jung live on forever - they are so willing to search for what is unknown.
on March 22, 2002
Being 16 years old, i get a lot of strange looks from friends when i pull out this book and get absorbed in it. They can't fathom why i would find it so interesting. Well, for one, Jung's childhood experiences coincide with my own to a startling degree. I have had to keep myself from yelling out in public when reading this book and coming across something that i also experienced. Being something of a budding philosopher, i came across many ideas in the chapters to follow that coincide with my own formulated theories. I've never encountered such a beautifully written work in my life before, or a more touching one. Jung's description of the balance of his own psyche has aided me greatly in finding firm footing for my own wandering mind. This book entertains, teaches, and imparts invaluable wisdom to the reader. I wish that he were alive today, and i would do everything in my power to thank him for his impact on my life. If you like psychology, philosophy, or anything of sort, read this. If you're looking for answers to psychic questions, read this. If you've never cared for psychology, read this... it might change your mind. Jung is a genius and possesses rare insight into the matters that concern everyone.
on May 14, 2002
MDR is one of the few titles by Jung which is meant for general readership. Most of his works (his titles in the 20-volume Bollingen series) are very technical and, admittedly, soporific at times.
Be that as it may I cannot emphasize enough how important the ideas and discoveries of Jung are. Had he lived two or even five centuries ago his ideas would be just as cogent to us today, or perhaps even more so, in the face of ongoing and seemingly interminable political-military crises that overwhelm us, in a time when we have enough technology to obliterate entire nations via remote control.
Indeed Jung resurrects such ancient ideas as soul, psyche, daimon, gods but he contextualizes them anew. No longer are deities entities that live in the firmament above, but rather they are our projections of the psychological goings-on deep within us. And here Jung strikes at the heart of all our problems (and opportunities) for Jung always circles around and orbits the phenomenon of the unconscious, from whence our consciousness is born and in which it is and will forever be rooted.
In my opinion, in MDR, Jung shares his most crucial ideas in the last three chapters, namely, "On Life After Death," "Late Thoughts," and "Retrospect." Always Jung is dedicated to reality and the truth. He does not acquiesce to the tastes and sensibilities of his readers. For instance in "Late Thoughts" he underscores the point that the "recognition of the reality of evil necessarily relativizes the good, and the evil likewise, converting both into halves of a paradoxical whole." And on the last page of the last chapter he both muses and avers: "The world into which we are born is brutal and cruel, and at the same time of divine beauty. Which element we think outweighs the other, whether meaninglessness or meaning, is a matter of temperament... Probably, as in all metaphysical questions, both are true: Life is--or has--meaning and meaninglessness." These are very somber perhaps even depressing revelations, but for Jung the only way we can rise above our neuroses is to acknowledge such painful truths.
I have perhaps quoted more from this work of Jung's than from his other titles. Not only is it easier to digest, but since it was written just 4 years before his death I believe it contains some of his best thoughts, thoughts congealed and shared when he had reached the peak of his mountain, thoughts from a very, very wise old man.
on April 4, 2004
This is not a typical biography. Rather than the usual record one might expect about an individuals life, that is, chronological time, events of significance, famous personages met and their influence, etc, Jung records momentous aspects about his inner life, his life long and extraordinary relationship with the unconscious. As he states from the beginning, this book is a reflection concerning his self-realisation of the unconscious and its manifestations. In old age, he realised that so-called outward memories, the temporal existence of the senses, had faded, and what remained were memories of his inner life, which manifested in dreams and visions. He found that he could only write his life in terms of a personal myth, because he believed 'autobiography', as a form of truthful expression, was at best, unreliable. Memory, in other words, cannot be trusted. Thus, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, is a personal 'story' about a man's journey of spiritual enlightenment and self-realisation, the process of the unconscious finding expression in the outer world.
Jung's inner life was certainly extraordinary. From an early age, the sheer power of the unconscious made itself known to him in terrible visions. Jung must have been an unusually grounded child in order to withstand the psychic forces that pushed their way into his consciousness at such a young age. He survived these onslaughts, I believe, because he didn't resist them, but chose to grapple with the images, follow his instincts and, along with the violence of these images, came also a knowingness and feeling of safeness, that he was, even at a young age, following what he was meant to do. It is no wonder he became a psychiatrist, a "doctor of the soul" as he calls it; because by helping others through their personal journeys of realisation, he came to better understand his own.
At the end of Jung's life he maintained that he was not a mystic, a wise man or a sage. He admits that he drank from the stream of knowledge and life, but was not the stream itself. But what is a mystic in the traditional sense of this term? A mystic is one who, through meditation, prayer or other means, achieves direct intuitive experience of the divine. A mystic experiences these 'other realities' and brings their experiences back, in some cases, to share with the rest of us. To the mystic these experiences are real. Taking this definition at face value, Memories, Dreams and Reflections is a record of one man's intuitive experience with the divine. Jung made it his life's mission to express these experiences in such a way as to make them real, and to then formulate them into a psychological method, in the hope of helping others lost and searching for meaning in their lives. Jung was most assuredly a mystic. His writings tell us that there is something greater than ourselves within us, and our task is to grapple and understand this power, that he has chosen to call the unconscious; and by better understanding this greater part of ourselves, we can become more human.
This is a wonderful story about the inner life of a man, a mystic and original thinker.