Connecting You with Susan Tiberghien. Our final Jungian event is this weekend! Susan Tiberghien has graciously answered a few questions to warm us up to what is sure to be an illuminating Saturday in her Red Book for Today lecture/workshop. Thank you, Susan.
Can you explain a bit about the development and publication of the Red Book? Do you think there are more volumes still to be published?
The story behind the Red Book fascinates. It was in late 1913, after CG Jung broke with Freud, that he realized he had lost his soul. Overcome with visions of monstrous floods, he decided to confront the unconscious. “I was sitting at my desk once more, thinking over my fears. Then I let myself drop. Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths.” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.203) So begins Jung’s search for his soul, the story of the Red Book.
He calls out, “My soul, where are you?” After long years of wandering, Jung has come back to her. “Who are you, child?” His dreams have represented her as a child, a maiden. She leads him into the desert, the desert of his own self. After thirty nights in the barren, hot desert, his soul emerges as a mature mentor, who will accompany him in his inner journey to selfhood, to wholeness.
Soon Jung catches sight of an old man and his beautiful daughter who identify themselves as father and daughter, Elijah and Salome. We can understand his astonishment, the Old Testament prophet and blood thirsty Salome. But Jung addresses them, speaks to them as real people, discovering the process he will later call active imagination.
These are the imagined encounters that Jung writes into his journals, his black books, with lengthening commentaries and then transcribes into a large, beautifully bound red book. He fills folio after folio with ancient Gothic calligraphy and stunning paintings. For thirteen years he continues, until 1929, when he leaves the book unfinished to turn to the study of alchemy.
The book stays on a shelf in his office. Often Jung considers the possibility of publication but resists, fearful for his scientific reputation. In 1959 he tries anew to conclude the book, but again stops, in mid-sentence. After his death in 1961, the family places the Red Book for safe keeping in a UBS vault.
Close to fifty years later, the Jungian scholar, Sonu Shamdasani, persuades them that the book deserves a wide audience, indeed deserves to be shared with the world. Liber Novus, its original title, is finally published in 2009 in a handsome replica of the original, edited by Shamdasani, with an introduction, translation, notes, and brilliant reproductions of his paintings.
It is the Philemon Foundation that assured this colossal work and then published A Reader’s Edition, the size of a hymnal, easier to read but without the paintings. In October 2020, the Foundation made possible the publication of Jung’s Black Books, from 1913 to 1932, again in a facsimile edition. The Black Books are the records of Jung’s self-experimentation, the very genesis of the Red Book. Today we are fortunate to have now a complete record of Jung’s confrontation with the unconscious, in which he elaborates his personal cosmology and the early makings of analytical psychology.
Why is the Red Book and Jung’s Journey that it encapsulates so important for us today when we are faced with a relentless pandemic and growing concerns around climate change?
The Red Book is the story of how Jung found his soul, and then his own self, in the harrowing years of the first World War. It is an invitation to us today to find our own souls and selves in the harrowing years of an ongoing pandemic, threatening climate change, and disastrous economic conditions, especially for the less fortunate.
At midlife, Jung realized he had lost his soul. He no longer knew where he was. How many of us today feel the same loss. How many of us want to cry out, “My soul, where are you?” Our situation today finds an eerily similar situation in Jung’s world of the early 20th century. We have lost our bearings. Where are we? Where is the world of tomorrow that we dreamed of? Instead we see hunger, disease, poverty, violence, and inequality. We are awakening to our own racism. Where is our soul?
In reading the Red Book slowly, one chapter – one encounter—at a time, with the commentaries, a way opens up for us to live the chapters of our lives. A way for us to reach out to our soul, to hold her hand as we encounter the images hidden away in our unconscious. It will be our way, unique to each of us. “There is only one way and that is your way.” (p. 125) If we listen to Jung’s words and confront our own unconscious, we too will find anew our soul and our way toward wholeness.
Then, and only then, will we be able to enter through the door of this devastating pandemic to a new tomorrow. To a new tomorrow washed clean of prejudice, racism, violence. A new tomorrow where we join hands around the globe to create a world of justice and peace for all.
Briefly discuss the role and importance of imagination in the Red Book.
The entire Red Book is a work of the imagination. From the very first pages, Jung enters the imaginal world. He finds himself in complete darkness. He calls out to his soul. Here he is at midlife, at the height of his powers, recognized scientist, professor, married, five children, now speaking to figures of his imagination.
In order to grasp the fantasies that were stirring in him ‘underground’, he knew he had to meet them. There was only one way: through his imagination. From one vision to the next, Jung listened to each figure, be it his soul seen as a maiden, a bird or a snake, be it Elijah or Salome, or many others. Jung treated them as real beings, and they in turn revealed their wisdom.
It is in this imaginal world, between the conscious and the unconscious worlds, that Jung the scientist accepted the irrational. That he made the discoveries of his analytical psychology, that the “self” emerged as the subject of his totality, and that he envisioned a new image of God
To illustrate the role of imagination in the Red Book, let us look at the painting Jung did to accompany the chapter, The Gift of Magic. His soul is whispering to Jung to accept the gift. After intense hesitation, Jung accepts. He recognizes that the power of the way is magical, uniting Heaven and Hell, the Above and the Below. Night sinks blue and deep from above, earth rises black from below. (p.310) He paints the essence of the lesson his soul has given him. He imagines the Above descending blue, the Below rising black, and in the center a mandala of light.
I turn now to the reader. As imagination is the key for Jung to access the unconscious, so imagination is the key for the reader to grasp the immensity of the Red Book.