Few people these days can still excite my interest on climate change. The topic has been excessively reported, argued to death, and converted into more than a few apocalyptic box office hits. This week we’ve been hearing about it even more, throughout the fifteenth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Many observers expect this round of climate talks will be different, with U.S. support influencing China and India to join an accord — at last overcoming the three powers’ notorious reluctance to engage on such issues. The anticipated result of the eleven-day conference will be a new climate treaty to enhance the Kyoto Protocol that’s been in force since 2005.
Why even the debate? First and foremost, because we remain far from any pervasive agreement about the immediacy and impact of climate change. While some scientists argue that environmental catastrophe will soon result from carbon dioxide emissions, others believe that this has been drastically overstated. Moral and political discussion is another hot topic. Supporters of climate change resolutions often approach the topic with moral indignation and a doom-and-gloom mentality, but also the firm belief in a worldwide commitment to curbing carbon emissions. The opposition posits that the costs of climate change policies far outweigh their environmental benefits, and may reallocate resources away from more immediate global concerns such as poverty and health.
Last Tuesday, four well-informed and passionate experts had it out on this very subject — i.e., whether “climate change is mankind’s defining crisis and demands a commensurate response” — during the fourth instalment of Toronto’s Munk Debates. Their lively discussion focused on policy priorities and public will.
The pros, Elizabeth May and George Monbiot, began the debate with a decided advantage. Among the 1,100 people in attendance at the Royal Conservatory of Music, a pre-debate poll showed that 61 percent of the audience supported the resolution, while the remaining 39 percent voted against. However, 79 percent were open to changing their vote. Lord Nigel Lawson and Bjørn Lomborg argued the con position. (more…)
“He whose desire turns away from outer things, reaches the place of the soul. If he does not find the soul, the horror of emptiness will overcome him, and fear will drive him with a whip lashing time and again in a desperate endeavor and a blind desire for the hollow things in the world.”
— From the first chapter of Carl Jung’s The Red Book
I am sitting in an office sparsely adorned with Aboriginal artwork, facing a middle-aged, white-haired gentleman: well-dressed, cross-legged, with a slight, soothing English accent. Here, I feel likely to spill about my neuroses, fears, and dreams. Instead, I discuss Carl Jung’s The Red Book with Robert Gardner, Jungian analyst and president of the C.G. Jung Foundation of Ontario.
The Red Book is the germination of Jung’s avant-garde theories about the unconscious, the basis for the famed Jungian method. The manuscript, a product of sixteen years of work, is replete with the Swiss psychiatrist’s own images from dreams and mythologies, alongside his interpretations of and reflections on such matters. Jung wrote and illustrated it between 1914 and 1930, but it is only now accessible to the public. The Red Book is on display at The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City until January 25. It’s also available in print, though mostly back ordered due to unforeseen popularity: only 5,000 copies were printed for its first edition (which retails for $153 on amazon.ca), a publishing miscalculation that anticipated slim readership in a recessionary market.
Carl Jung spent many years collaborating with Sigmund Freud before their paths diverged. Both are known for significant contributions to the field of analytical psychology and for their influence on the arts, humanities, films, and popular culture. They popularized the notion that one’s inner life merits examination, but it was Jung who turned psychotherapy away from the treatment of the sick to a focus on individuality. He is best known for his theories on the psyche and descriptions of universal, primordial images, known as archetypes of the collective unconscious. Jung was fascinated by how civilizations sealed off from one another share symbols and mythologies, and concluded that in order to change collective perspective we need to understand the soul of the individual. His insights on personality types are integrated today in the Myers-Briggs personality test, which classifies people within four dichotomies, notably extroversion versus introversion.
After separating from Freud and in the lead up to World War I, Jung faced a period of great depression and introspection. What emerged is considered the most influential unpublished work in the history of modern psychology — a beautiful, illustrated personal diary that documented his dreams and fantasies. The Red Book is colourful and intricate, with paintings of mandalas, reptiles, serpents, and Greek deities. It is undeniably important from a historical perspective, showing the preliminary ideas and concepts of one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. Yet for many years it remained locked in the Jung family home, and in a bank vault in Zurich. Carl Jung left no specific instructions regarding what to do about the manuscript when he passed in 1961. His family, respecting his uncertainty and fear of disrepute among his science-oriented colleagues, kept it mum for decades.
The tug of war for control of The Red Book pitted Jung’s descendents against Stephen Martin and Sonu Shamdasani, co-founders of the Philemon Foundation, which dedicates itself to preparing Jung’s unpublished works for wide release. The family finally conceded in 1997, after the passing of Jung’s son Franz, who had vehemently opposed the intrusion into his father’s personal life, and the publication of two critical books about Jung (Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung and The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement) by prominent U.S. psychologist Richard Noll. From that point, it took another dozen years for The Red Book to reach retail shelves.
Searching for The Red Book at a Toronto Indigo store this weekend, however, elicited blank stares and the following response from a sales associate: “No, we don’t have it. Has he written anything else?” I was tempted to reply with a quote from the text — “The spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul, to call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul” — but decided to move on.
When I turned to the Jungian community to decipher the significance of this work, I found a divided group and a publication engulfed in controversy. “The disquiet of it, and my own reluctance of getting into it, is that it’s a man’s story of his life when he was struggling and disoriented. It’s very personal. I feel [the publication is] a bit voyeuristic,” says Gardner. But I suspect there is something more to it than that: Jungians fret about the misunderstanding of their teacher’s theories — and, by extension, their profession as well. They maintain that The Red Book alone cannot produce an understanding of Jung’s work, which instead requires devoted academic study of his ideas about religion, mythology, folklore, and psychopathology. It all seems rather esoteric, but Gardner assures me that Jungian therapy and analysis is very practical and relevant today — the goal being to rediscover oneself, who one was meant to be from the beginning. “By connecting with deeper imagery, one is also connected to the deeper level of our being, but also the deeper levels of our culture of humanity,” he says. “In doing so, one becomes much less alienated, which to me, is really the biggest problem of the day.”
Another concern put forward by the Jungian community is that Jung’s critics may use The Red Book as proof that he was psychotic — and his work, therefore, the ravings of a lunatic. On its own, the book certainly lends itself to misinterpretation for being overwhelming and seemingly new age. The Rubin Museum, however, has provided a strong context, distilling the breadth of its contents into a few prevalent themes. In Canada, in the hands of Penguin Group (published by W.W. Norton & Company), nothing has been done to bolster the launch: there is neither context nor publicity for The Red Book’s release. (At this time, Penguin Group has not responded to questions about its sales and promotion strategy for The Red Book.)
Today, the field of psychology is moving toward a science orientation with brain imagery and controlled experimentation. Personality psychology and social psychology are still taught at top institutions like McGill University, but are falling in favour. In that way The Red Book appears to have missed its moment of peak relevance by several decades. Yet, whether we choose to admit it or not, the quest for one’s soul is everlasting and ubiquitous. Here is a book about humanity’s personal journey, brimming with lessons and insight about our collective unconscious. But few people, it seems, have clued into this. Perhaps this is because the book has been under-promoted, or its price is too expensive, or its ideas are too challenging to decipher. Fortunately, the answer to that question won’t take decades to reveal itself: in several weeks, 10,000 copies of The Red Book’s second edition will become available to the public. After this much time, the extra wait seems well worth enduring.