The genesis for this book was a TV interview by the journalist John Freeman, for the BBC in 1959. It was to be the last book to bear Jung’s mark, though it is in fact a collaboration between Jung and several of his closest colleagues in the psychoanalytical movement at that time – namely Joseph Henderson, Marie Louise Von Franz, Jolande Jacobi and Anielia Jaffe. Snatches of that original interview appear on You tube from time to time, to be shot down by the copyright police, then to reappear. You can try here, but the link may be broken any time. It’s an important interview. Freeman sounds somewhat dated with his BBC accent, even a bit stuck up, but his respect for Jung is clear and his questions are spot on. Jung is utterly compelling.
The result was an even bigger mailbag for Jung and the realisation there was a hunger for his ideas outside of the rarefied and to some extent privileged realms of psychoanalysis. It was Freeman who later approached Jung with a view to him writing a book, this time aimed at a general audience – the book that was to become “Man and his Symbols”. According to Freeman, Jung listened to him patiently for a full two hours, then said no. For Jung all of this was coming at a time in his life when he knew his own time was running out.
Then, Jung had a meaningful dream. In the dream he was speaking to ordinary people in a marketplace – literally to the man in the street – and the people understood him. So, he had a change of heart, decided there would be some value in writing such a book after all, but insisted it was to be a collaboration. He would write the opening keynote section, titled “approaching the unconscious”, while the remainder would be left to his closest colleagues.
Jung passed away in 1961, ten days after punching in the final full stop. The book itself wasn’t published until 1964.
Jungian psychology has a potentially wide application, far beyond the analytical couch. Private analysis is strictly for those who can afford it of course, and this is to be regretted, but anyone with sufficient motivation can uncover the basics and the basics are this: if we want to restore a sense of direction and meaning to our lives, if we want to understand the world in a truly global context, we have to re-establish relations with our unconscious mind, and we can do this simply by paying attention to our dreams.
In our conscious lives we identify objects by the names we give them, but the dream deals with symbols. Symbols are objects too but their names are not as important as the emotional charge they carry. The dream speaks to us in the language of symbols and we can learn a great deal about our selves by paying attention to our dreams and the symbols that arise. But there’s more – for Jungians the unconscious mind has both a personal and a collective dimension. On occasion then we find things surfacing in our dreams of a deeper, mythic nature. These things may be of significance to us personally, or they can be prescient of happenings in the world at large. No one teaches us our old stories any more, least of all what they mean, and for Jungians a knowledge of myth, of the stories told since the earliest of times, is invaluable in understanding what is going on, both inside the individual, and in all the trouble spots of the globe that suffer under man’s influence.
There are many decent introductions to Jung, but I find this one the most accessible. His work is widely embraced now by the self-improvement movement and there’s hardly a single new age fad that is not in some way reliant on ideas that first came out of Jung’s head. But a reading of his deeper works does make for occasionally disturbing reading. The book was written at a time of dire tensions between the West and the USSR – an escalation in weapons technology that threatened to wipe out the world ten times over. But for the cold war of 1964, you can read the middle eastern crisis of the latter day, and the analysis, in Jungian terms is the same, and compelling, that what ails the West, then and now, is a loss of soul, that what we see nightly on the TV news is merely a reflection of the very thing we are incapable of seeing in ourselves. The message of Jung, outlined so succinctly in Man and his Symbols is as relevant today as it ever was.
Much of the thinking of Jungian psychology does not chime well with the rational world and he can attract the most vehement and irrational criticism. If you are of a rational frame of mind, yet drawn to psychology at all, it will probably be the work of Freud you prefer. But for the soulful and the spiritual wanderers, and for those just trying to understand the ills of the world from a global perspective there is much in Jung to guide your path, also to explain the experience of your own life and to guide you around the occasional pothole.
So, how in touch are you with your own unconscious? Well,… tell me, do you recall what you dreamed of last night?