Why read Jung’s works

By Frederik Huysamen

Carl Jung founded Analytical Psychology.

His psychology is about deeper knowledge of oneself. This is self-discovery focusing on the development of one’s personality. We know far too little about ourselves, says Jung. The thing that is closest to us, the psyche, “is the very thing we know least about, although it seems to be what we know best of all” (Jung, CW 6, p. 526: 920). “Everything good is costly, and the development of personality is one of the costliest of all things,” Jung pointed out. “It is a matter of saying yea to oneself, of taking oneself as the most serious of tasks, of being conscious of everything one does, and keeping it constantly before one’s eyes in all its dubious aspects – truly a task that taxes us to the utmost” (Jung, CW 13, p 18: 24). To Jung, the development of one’s psyche is not a matter of choice, but one which, when neglected, will cost dearly.

Jungian psychology entails the facts of the human soul, knowledge one cannot afford to go without. Jung wrote not only for academics, but for ordinary people. Jung liked to tell “the story of a poor and uneducated woman who wrote that she wanted to see him just once in her life. She ran a little newsstand with her brother in some small town. Jung invited her to come, and when he asked her if she had read his books, she replied; ‘Your books are not books, they are bread’” (A Jaffé, From the Life and Work of C.G. Jung, p 141).

Psychology without Jung is biology without Darwin or physics without Einstein. Psychology without the collective unconscious is biology without the theory of evolution or physics without the theory of relativity. In a paper published in 1916, Jung wrote: “I always think of psychology as encompassing the whole of the psyche and that includes philosophy and theology and many other things besides. For underlying all philosophies and all religions are the facts of the human soul.” Jung has shown “the potentialities of human consciousness for further development, pointing in the direction of an ever-deeper relation to the pregnant depth of the psyche and its reality” (G. Adler, Dynamics of the Self, p. 96). Jung called the idea of psychic reality the most important achievement of modern psychology (Adler, p. 94).

In his empirical research, Jung focused on the duality of the psyche and its potential wholeness. Individuation makes this possible. The duality of the psyche refers to the polarity between ego-consciousness and the unconscious. Jung was also concerned with the deeper meaning of life. “Jung never ruled out the possibility that life knew better than the correcting mind, and his attention was directed not so much to the things themselves as to that unknowable agent which organises the event beyond the will and knowledge of man. His aim was to understand the hidden intentions of the organiser, and, to penetrate its secrets, no happening was too trivial and no moment too short lived” (Jaffé, p. 118-9).

In Dynamics of the Self, Gerhard Adler summarises the impression Carl Jung made on him while studying with him in Zürich. When Adler went home for the semester break, he states: “only then did I realise how Jung, by an unnoticeable influence, had penetrated right into the depths of my psyche, how in an imperceptible way of creative passivity he had made myself clearer to myself.” “Then for the first time I understood what it meant to be in the aura of a deeply integrated person, how the healing radiation of such a person could affect one profoundly without any immediate outward sign,” concludes Adler (p. 88).

Jaffé describes Jung’s affect on people in similar terms but from a different angle. She writes: “What was so palpably impressive about him sprang from the superiority of a man who had engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the creative daemon and mastered him, but on whom the struggle had left its mark. This kind of powerfulness is profoundly human, does not arouse fear, is not crushing, does not embarrass or make you feel small, but changes you; it compels veneration and awe” (Jaffé, p. 116).

“Jung’s growing influence which often seems to work in a hidden way is difficult to access. But it seems to me that he plays a world-historic role through the profundity of his ideas. Jung proves himself the pioneer of transition and transformation, of a new aeon” (Adler, p. 101).

Thus, when one considers the statements and confirming experiences of those who have known Jung – one comes to the realisation that the quest of the human psyche and that of life itself is unlocked between the lines of Jung’s psychology. And, one way to access this is by your own experience with the life-changing hue of his literature.