Dear Mr. Shamdasani,
My name is Vlado Solc; I work for Psychology Today (Psychologie Dnes) – Portal Publishing Co., Prague, Czech Republic. I would like you to answer my question for the magazine on the occasion of introducing the translation of The Red Book to Czech and Slovak audiences.
1) The publication of the Liber Novus, or The Red Book has been long awaited by Jungians, clinical psychologists, historians, but also by the general public. Was it difficult to persuade Jung’s heirs to agree to the publishing of this book AND what moved them to finally agree?
– I started discussing the work with the heirs in 1997, and they eventually agreed to release the work for publication in 2000. I gave a talk, wrote several reports, and prepared an annotated draft of one chapter. Up to that point, no one in the family who was alive had studied the work, and once it was properly considered, it became clear that this was not an intimate journal or the ravings of a lunatic but a work written for publication which formed the basis of his later scholarly works. It was clear that the best way for the work to appear would be in a historical and scholarly edition. So there was no reason not to publish it.
2) According to your own words it took 13 years since you started to negotiate the publication of The Red Book until its English Translation came out in 2009. Why did it take that long?
– My full time work on began at the end of 2000, and I had completed a first draft by the end of 2003. What held the project up was negotiations with publishers, and finding a publisher with a vision to produce the work in the correct way, which I am glad to say was found. As these negotiations were dragging on, I then continued to polish the notes, so in some ways I regard it as the ‘third revised edition.’
3) Can you, briefly, tell the readers of Psychology Today what is The Red Book and why they should look forward to reading it?
– In the winter of 1913, Jung gave free rein to his fantasy thinking and carefully noted what ensued. He later called this process active imagination, and promoted its use as a psychotherapeutic method. He wrote down these fantasies in the Black Books. When the First World War broke out, Jung considered that a number of his fantasies were precognitions of this event. This led him to compose the first draft manuscript of Liber Novus, which consisted in a transcription of the main fantasies from the Black Books, together with a layer of interpretive commentaries and lyrical elaboration. The chapters of Liber Novus follow a particular format: they begin with the exposition of dramatic visual fantasies, in which Jung’s ‘I’ encounters a series of figures in various settings and enters into conversation with them. He is confronted with unexpected happenings and shocking statements. He then attempts to understand what had transpired. This leads Jung to take up a number of interlinked questions: to understand himself and to integrate and develop the various components of his personality; to understand the structure of the human personality in general; to understand the relation of the individual to present day society and to the community of the dead; to understand the psychological and historical effects of Christianity; and to grasp the future religious development of the West. The overall theme of the book is how Jung regains his soul and overcomes the contemporary malaise of spiritual alienation. This is ultimately achieved through enabling the rebirth of a new image of God in his soul and developing a new worldview in the form of a psychological and theological cosmology. Liber Novus presents the prototype of Jung’s conception of the individuation process, which he held to be the universal form of individual psychological development.
4) Jung’s The Red Book became an Amazon best-seller despite of its relatively high price. Why is this book so popular?
– The work tells the story of how one of the brightest figures in the field of modern psychology and psychiatry lost his way in his life, and what it took for him to recover meaning through turning to his fantasies and dreams and valuing inner life – I think this has struck a chord in many people
5) Jung showed The Red Book to a few of his closest colleagues but he did not agree to its publication. Perhaps this was because he was concerned that it might have negatively impacted his reputation in the scientific circles. The Red Book was published almost 50 years after his death. Do you think Jung would be pleased with the fact that the book has finally been released to press?
– Whilst I was editing the work, my aim was that if Jung was ambivalent about the publication, it was important to me that he would have approved of the form of its publication. I think he would been heartened by how receptive so many ordinary people have been to the work, and critical of the pundits who claim to instantly know what it is all about.
6) The Red Book was referred to as Jung’s personal cosmology and has been compared to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Goethe’s Faust, (Part Two), or Dante’s Divine Comedy. What would you, as a historian of psychology, compare this book to? [if it could be compared to any literary work]
– I think that those are the works that Jung had as prototypes. In addition, there are also strong resemblances with the illuminated prophetic works of William Blake.
7) Being the birthplace of Sigmund Freud and Edmund Husserl, analytical tradition is strong in CzechRepublic. Jung and analytical psychology is here popular more than ever. Do you see any special value The Red Book will have for the Czech readers?
– A writer who Jung considered was exploring the same material from a literary angle was Gustav Meyrink – who lived in Prague for many years, and used it as the setting for his novels, the atmosphere of which is close to The Red Book.
8) Jung started to work on The Red Book during a very critical period of his life that was marked by events such as visions of apocalypse in Europe, theoretically and personally breaking with Sigmund Freud, developing a controversial relationship with Toni Wolff, and so on. How are his personal struggles reflected in the book? Is The Red Book an attempt to deal with those?
– These struggles are not depicted in the work. In important respects, Jung’s self-experimentation precedes his break with Freud – it became clear to him that he could no longer have a conversation with him about matters that concerned him. In The Red Book, he is moving in a universe that has nothing to do with psychoanalysis. It is a different matter with Toni Wolff – she accompanied him during this period, though there is documentation concerning her precise role.
9) For how long had Carl Jung worked on The Red Book?
– He worked on it for 16 years, and then spent the rest of his life trying to translate its insights into a scholarly form.
10) Jung himself said about the process of the working on The Red Book: “The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.” Many have speculated that Jung experienced severe psychological crisis or even psychosis (Anthony Storr). Did the book provide the ground for any of such speculations?
– On the contrary, I think that it provides the strongest evidence that there wasn’t nothing psychotic about what Jung went through.
11) Many believe that Jung absolutely had to undertake this process to “save his soul”. Is it valid to encourage others to follow his path, or we should consider it as only one man’s journey?
– I think this is a question one should leave to the readers of the book – many have attempted to follow his path and have found it beneficial.
12) What are the greater aspects of Jung’s life and perhaps of the time he lived in, which moved him to take the “plunge” and develop this amazing book?
– In Europe at this time, there was a widespread sense of cultural and spiritual catastrophe, and the necessity to find something new. Many figures in the avant-garde were engaged in this struggle, and Jung’s work takes place in this context.
13) Images and text of the book reveal a gifted artist who with discipline and patience composed his opus. Were you surprised not to find free spontaneous expression of the imagination process but rather highly elaborated art?
– The formalism and structure of the work was quite different from what one had been led to expect from the myths surrounding it.
14) How does The Red Book reflect Jung’s archetypal theory, theory of the Self (Das Selbst) and his theory of individuation?
– It presents his realisation that the process in which he was engaged had an orderly sequence which had as its goal the realisation of the Self, or the wholeness of the personality.
15) Does the book provide any manifestation of Jung’s struggle with the Feminine?
– It presents his realisation that it was necessary to accept the feminine within himself.
16) Is this book equally valuable for both men and women?
17) In 1921 Jung published his conceivably most important and in the same time the most undervalued work Psychological Types. Can you speak on how is the evolution of his typological theory reflected in The Red Book?
– The most important chapter in Psychological Types is the fifth chapter, “the type problem in poetry.” – In an indirect manner, this presents a distillation of several chapters from the The Red Book – in particular the theme that the conflict of opposites can be resolved through the development of the reconciling symbol.
18) Do you believe that The Red Book will significantly change views on Jung and his theory, AND do you believe that it will influence the practice of clinical psychology?
– It will completely transform one’s understanding of Jung and his views. Concerning clinical psychology, it is harder to say – there are signs that it has led to a renewed interest in the practice of active imagination.
19) Has it changed your perspective?
– It completely changed my understanding of the genesis of his works.
20) How important is this book from [psycho-analytical] historical perspective?
– From a historical perspective, it is a unique case where one can see the steps from an individual’s fantasy, their reflections on this, and attempt to develop general psychological concepts from this.
21) Has the study of Jung’s work made you to be a Jungian in the spiritual sense of the word; meaning have you adapted “Jungian paradigm” as the way of your Weltanschauung?
– No. I am sympathetic to what he was trying to do, but don’t understand my life in his terms.
22) Have you had any personal experience of “The Spirit of the Depth”, similar to the one which inspired Jung’s book?
– My time working on the book took me to some of the depths he describes in it.
23) Jung once said that he could no longer live the values of “The Spirit of the Time”, especially its rationalism, and needed “The Spirit of the Depth” to connect with the authentic self. Is there a universal message The Red Book can provide in the time we live?
– It is an intensely human document, that shows what it took Jung to sort himself out, and try to create something that could sustain others in similar situations – as such, it is hard for it not to be of interest.
24) Would you like to add anything further? – No.
Thank you very much for your time Mr. Shamdasani. It was an honor to conduct this interview with you.
Vladislav Solc je psycholog (1972, Presov). Vystudoval klinickou psychologii na FF na UK v Praze. Nyni pracuje jako psychoterapeut v Glendale (Wisconsin). Clen Institutu C. G. Junga v Chicagu (Illinois). Autor knih Archetyp otce (a jine hlubinne psychologicke studie), Triton, 2009 a Psyche, Matrix, Realita, Amos, 2007.