Sunday, February 21, 2021

Jung the Mystic by Gary Lachman


2010 publication 

When I finished this book and recorded my completion on my Goodreads account, I was immediately asked to rate it on their 1-5 star system. I don't give lower than a 3 (I'd likely wouldn't bother to start let alone complete a book that I didn't find at least solid, worthwhile), and this book is clearly beyond that baseline. So a 4 or a 5? Normally, I award a 5 if a book is a game-changer, one that significantly alters or expands my perceptions or beliefs about a topic. This requires a book to be both well-written and in some way unique. A 4 then is something less than a game-changer, but still rates as a high-compliment. (N.B.: I rate fiction on somewhat different criteria, and I less often review works of fiction.) I should note that I'd previously read Lachman's biographies of Emmanuel Swedenborg and Rudolf Steiner, and I gave them both a 4-star rating. How did the Jung book rate more highly? Let me explain. 

First of all, let's look at the full title and subtitle: Jung the Mystic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung's Life and Teachings--A New Biography. Thus, when I opened and began this book, I knew, in a broad sense, what I was going to get. My reading record on Goodreads currently shows I've completed 14 of Lachman's books along with one in progress, several on deck, and numerous shorter pieces. I wouldn't keep coming back to his works if they weren't rewarding. In fact, on topics and persons related to the esoteric, occult, spirituality, subterranean philosophy, consciousness, and so on, I've found Lachman a thorough, reliable, and well-grounded reporter. This book doesn't vary from Lachman's modus operandi that I just described. I came to this book with a wide but somewhat shallow and incomplete knowledge of Jung. I realized as I read this book, that I'd read very little written by Jung himself (more about this in a bit), although I'd read a fair amount by "Jungians." Also, I'd never read a biography of Jung. Lachman's account provides a thorough account of Jung's life above and beyond its aspects that are related to the esoteric or occult, although the publisher wants us to know that the "bonus" of this particular biography is its willingness to delve into the "non-scientific" aspect of Jung's life and body of work that Jung was quite hesitant to share. Jung wanted, like Freud, to be thought of as a "scientist" and his work thought of as "science," so pioneers of psychoanalysis emphasized the aspects of their work that they hoped would receive scientific acceptance. But as Lachman points out about Jung, without Jung's openness and experience with the "paranormal" (my term, not Lachman's), Jung's thought would not have been the Jung we know. In this regard, Lachman's book provides a real service. In addition, because of his deep knowledge of the field, he can draw interesting parallels and comparisons between Jung and contemporaries like William James, Rudolf Steiner, and Gurdjieff, among others. 

Lachman also is fair and balanced (really!) in his treatment of Jung's strengths and foibles. Lachman does his homework both in Jung's writings and those writing in his tradition or about him. Lachman points out that Jung's prose can be, at least at times, prove quite dense and taxing, what Lachman describes as Jung's "Herr Doctor Professor" mode. Also, Jung had affairs with patients and he could at times be a real horse's ass toward those around him. He, like Freud, could become rigid with followers and dogmatic about his practices. That any of us--but especially persons of genuine genius--often fail in human relationships is no newsflash and doesn't undermine (necessarily) their body of work. The thoughts and the person are (at least in some measure) separate. And as Jung was, in some measure, an artist--a producer of beautiful thoughts and images--we know that there's always a measure of dissonance between the beauty and perfection of the art and the uglier realities of th artist (as it is with all of us). Lachman deals with both the beauty and value of Jung's work and his personal strengths and foibles with an admirable even hand (as I've come to expect of him). Lachman also dispenses with claims that Jung was a Nazi sympathizer after thoroughly reviewing the evidence of such claims. (Jung, but the way, was a Swiss national.) In fact, it turns out that Jung cooperated with Wild Bill Donovan and OSS (precursor to the CIA) during the war. 

At the end of this work, Lachman provides some brief but quite useful comments upon those who've continued the line of thinking initiated by Jung, including many of the women ("Valkyries," as someone dubbed them) who worked directly with Jung, as well as later and more independent figures such as James Hillman and Anthony Storr. And last but not least, Lachman explores Jung's Red Book, a journal that Jung kept around 1915 to 1930 but which wasn't published until 2009. This work didn't prove to be the Holy Grail of Jungian studies, but, according to Lachman's account, it did shed new light on Jung's project and obviously provides a valuable contribution to understanding the man and his project. 

Now back to this Goodread's rating. If I could award a finer-grained rating, I'd go with a 4.5, somewhat around the B+/A- designation. But, like my alma mater, a "B+" on the comments or on the professor's posted sheets was still just a "B" on the official transcript, and an "A-" was still an "A" on the transcript. The grader has to choose. What tipped me to an "A" for this book? In the end, I gave it the small boost it required because Lachman is such a consistent student (and teacher) in his writings, a "career achievement" bonus if you will. When I begin and complete my next Lachman book, I have little doubt that I'll find the occasion both an enlightening and enjoyable read, and that's merits an "A" rating for an author in my book. 

Gary Lachman, "A" student

No comments: