The publication earlier this month of The Red Book, Carl Jung’s famous, near-mythic journal that has, until now, been seen by only a few dozen people, is a publishing coup, an incredibly valuable revelation for Jung’s followers and a hugely important addition to the history of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. The book itself is remarkable, big (12″ x 15 ¾”), heavy (8.8 lbs!) and printed on thick, ivory coated stock. It’s an exact facsimile of the original that Jung worked on for 16 years, between 1914 and 1930. (The book is also expensive, with a suggested retail price of $195.)
A uniquely created, modern illuminated manuscript, each of the 205 pages is covered in exquisite calligraphy, with ornaments and drawings in the margins and borders and elaborately adorned initials. Full-page, tempura paintings of dreamscapes, mystical figures and creatures are interspersed throughout the text, featuring amazing detail and stylized graphic designs and mandalas in lush colors. The complete text was scanned one-tenth of a millimeter at a time with a 10,200-pixel scanner by technicians from DigitalFusion.
Jung, who founded the field of analytical psychology, was a disciple of Freud’s until they had an irreparable parting of the ways in 1912. Jung went off in a more spiritual direction, creating an original way of thinking about the human mind and becoming one of the “instigators of the New Age movement.” Considered one of the seminal, and still controversial, thinkers of the 20th century, Jung considered The Red Book his seminal work, the ultimate source of all his later theories and tenets, including the collective unconscious, archetypes, the process of individuation and synchronicity.
The journal describes his intense interior journey to refind his soul by breaking down the barriers between the conscious and unconscious that started in 1913 when Jung was visited by disturbing visions and inner voices. What began as a life-crisis (Jung himself said that he worried that he might be “doing a schizophrenia”), became a way for Jung to know and understand his spirit and to renew it. He went on to induce these hallucinations or “active imaginations,” as he called them, for years (just think what a little LSD might have done). The Red Book was never published, though there’s reason to think that Jung wanted it to be. It was kept in a closet in his Zurich home and ultimately, years after his death in 1961, secreted in an underground bank vault.
It took years of persuading to get the Jung family to agree to share The Red Book with the world. Now, edited and introduced by Sonu Shamdasani and translated from the German by Mark Kyburz, John Peck and Sonu Shamdasani, it can seen and studied by all. It has been called “possibly the most influential hitherto unpublished work in the history of psychology” and will surely shed new light on Jung’s life and work for his followers and his critics.
—Sukey Howard, Contributing Editor