The atmosphere of nervous embarrassment that's surrounded the reputation of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) in recent years was only deepened last week by the frantic efforts of his family to protect him from a distinguished American biographer, Deirdre Bair. The author of earlier books on Samuel Beckett, Anais Nin and Simone de Beauvoir, she spent 10 years working on Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst who began his career as a colleague of Sigmund Freud's but then went his own way after their angry breakup in 1913. The result, Jung: A Biography (Little, Brown), appeared two years ago in English to mostly admiring reviews.
But his children and grandchildren don't like it. They resent the fact that Bair gives her views rather than theirs. For instance, her research (including interviews with 10 Jung relatives) indicates that Jung's wife had warm feelings but difficulty showing them. Not so, say the heirs, that's an insult to the family. They threatened to sue her German publisher, Knaus Verlag, for invasion of privacy. The spectre of a costly trial so terrified the publishers that they agreed to add a list of 40 family grievances in the German-language edition. When it comes out this fall, it may be the first book in history with a hostile review bound into the final pages.
Outsiders may see this as a comic story, another little event in the steady decline of Jung's once-grand reputation. Bair, understandably, is not amused: She says the family has dishonoured their illustrious patriarch. Bair never does that, at least intentionally. She wrote a measured, conscientious book, a scrupulously precise account of a man who was notoriously imprecise. She always takes him seriously, though she must know that his words and actions will sometimes raise smiles or even laughter from the reader. For instance, she treats with deadpan respect the story of Toni Wolff, who was his patient and his assistant before starring as the long-running Other Woman in the drama of the great man's life.
In 1914, about the time Emma Jung was carrying their fifth child, Carl started a liaison with Wolff, who was 13 years younger. As a husband, Jung was a scoundrel. Two weeks after Emma gave birth, Jung and his new girlfriend went on a two-week holiday together, leaving his wife and her mother to look after the baby while his own mother cared for the older children. Later, Jung explained: "Back then I was in the midst of the anima problem," the word "anima" being his term for the inner personality and also the feminine element in a male personality. He added, "What could you expect from me? The anima bit me on the forehead and would not let go."
Jung obviously believed that if you own the jargon, you make it work for you. His ideas never sound so much like gibberish as when he applies them to himself with bad-faith explanations of cruel behaviour. He and Wolff were intimately connected for the rest of their lives; he called her his "other wife" and sometimes showed up at professional receptions with a wife on each arm. Emma Jung, drafted into a permanent emotional triangle, decided to tolerate this distasteful arrangement. As an extremely wealthy heiress who held onto her own money, she could have made painful legal trouble for him. But she, too, loved him, and believed in his greatness.
On the issue of anti-Semitism, with which he was often charged, Bair treats him gently. She notes that in the Nazi period he tried to help Jewish analysts while making slyly malicious remarks about Freud that played into Nazi racism ("insofar as his theory is based in certain respects on Jewish premises, it is not valid for non-Jews"). But Bair doesn't skate around facts like the 10% membership quota the Psychological Club of Zurich imposed on Jews in 1944. It was pushed through by Wolff, almost certainly with the approval of Jung.
Bair makes it clear that the solemn and even grim Swiss seer, who was famous around the globe half a century ago, was also an irresponsible flake. The more detailed the biography (and Bair's, at 881 pages, is seriously detailed), the more we eventually learn about his habit of falling for every superstition he encountered. Tarot cards and astrology, I Ching and UFOs, parapsychology and ghosts -- his writings bestowed respectability on these subjects and made him a New Age guru. The latest edition of the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology gratefully celebrates him as a "psychologist who made the study of various occult ideas valid within the framework of psychology."
Canada was among the places that felt Jung's effect. Robertson Davies began reading him in the 1950s and eventually became so caught up in Jungian theory that he built his 1972 novel, The Manticore, around an unlikely but highly detailed Jungian analysis. Because astrology interested Jung, Davies (who usually scorned the fads of the ignorant) consulted an astrologer in New York. Northrop Frye used Jungian terminology as a way of structuring his own ideas. Frye reworked concepts like synchronicity and collective subconscious into terms he found useful. He warmed to Jung's belief that humans desperately need myths and can't function without them.
Did Jung imagine his family would create its own myth, casting him as its secret god? To this day it jealously guards every piece of paper in the archive; even the card catalogue is classified, apparently because the mere existence of a file might become scandalous material for a vicious author.
Families often whitewash the distinguished dead, and right after Jung's death in 1961 the Jungs battled over what could be included in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the book he wanted published posthumously. The text upset various Jungs by showing inadequate respect for official religion, a typical concern of heirs. Authors worry about truth, style, authenticity, originality, etc. Families, on the other hand, worry about propriety.
That book did appear, after a couple of years, but four decades later his descendants still cherish the fantasy that they own and can control his image. Their attitude, provoking speculation about what they have to hide at this late date, will only diminish his stature. Meanwhile, Bair's German publisher has done literature a disservice and betrayed its own author by bending under an ill-judged pressure campaign.