Travelling in Germany has meant coping with jet lag, eating unfamiliar foods (incl. some darn fine beer), visiting four families in five days, and conversing in the language of my youth. Not surprisingly, my dreams have been especially vivid, involving arrest by security staff at my place of work, receiving a written message from a patient asking me to stay at his bedside “until I die,” plunging from a tall building in full awareness of immanent death, and having erotic encounters with people of various preferences.
Two days ago I read a review of the recently published Red Book by the Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung (1875-1961) which had been kept under wraps since his death. In it, Jung details “an unabashedly psychedelic voyage” through his own mind, a Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a shifting dream scape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and detailed paintings. He likened this “confrontation with the unconscious” to rocks falling on his head, to thunderstorms, to molten lava. “I often had to cling to the table,” he recalled, “so as not to fall apart.”
Had he been a psychiatric patient, Jung might well have been told he had a nervous disorder and encouraged to ignore the circus going on in his head. But as a psychiatrist, and one with a decidedly maverick streak, he tried instead to tear down the wall between his rational self and his psyche. For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him. “In order to grasp the fantasies which were stirring in me ‘underground,’ ” Jung wrote later in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them.” He found himself in a liminal place, as full of creative abundance as it was of potential ruin, believing it to be the same borderlands traveled by both lunatics and great artists.
source of all quotes: Sara Corbbett. “The Holy Grail of the Unconscious.” New York Times Magazine, September 16, 2009.