ed Anthony Storr: The Essential Jung

June 14, 2022

     I’ve been delving into some of Jung’s writings lately, finding a number of his ideas and insights helpful in terms of understanding and interpreting my own life and where I am at currently. This is a selection from the vast corpus of his life’s work, presented by Anthony Storr, who also provides an excellent summative introduction to the salient parts of Jung’s life and thought.

There’s a vast range of extracts, presented thematically to show the stages and development of Jung’s work and his theories, along with very helpful commentary that links, enlightens, and above all for me shows process; in a single, selective volume like this, the presentation is vital.

The early years, work with mentally ill patients, the friendship and then the quarrel with Sigmund Freud is a bit amorphous; it’s when Jung turns his attention to developing an understanding of how healthy minds work, and what’s going on deep beneath the surface (I oversimplify appallingly here!) that it all becomes really interesting and eye-opening. I find myself led to reflect on my own life and experiences in different ways, from different perspectives. The gradual development of Jung’s own methods of psychoanalysis, and the humility, I think, of recognising any therapist’s own limitations is also very interesting; there is much that we can know or find out, and even try to change, but there is much more that we can never know, or know with certainty…

Jung lived adventurously, in terms of taking all sorts of risks at various points, with his own life and sanity in terms of advancing his understanding of workings of the human mind; I was certainly conscious of a man driven to want to know, to explore, to find out and to explain. He saw life as an ongoing process, a part of which necessitates our coming to terms with ageing, and the prospect and inevitability of death, things which we naturally prefer to avoid or hide from ourselves.

This led Jung on to wrestle with religion, and the psychology of religion; there’s an awful lot of very good sense in what he has to say which I do not think invalidates the idea of faith. There is some rather over-the-top stuff where he’s wrestling to make Christianity fit in with his theories, and then when he moves on to alchemy, he lost me completely. I could see why, though everything in this book of extracts is obviously part of Jung’s life and work, a good deal of it is no longer widely referenced. It seems as if he felt he had to explain everything and integrate everything into his theories, which led me to think that here was yet another scientist who was attempting to explain and rationalise religion, ie attempting the impossible.

The final very pessimistic section on the potential future of humanity chimes in all too well with our age, and a feeling that though we may be an intelligent species, we’re not that clever, and the problems we are faced with may be too many and too complex for us to surmount. He foresaw the world of Trump, Johnson, Le Pen and Orban and where such men may lead us, whether we will or not, because – and I have to agree with him here – people are too easily led, and not self-aware enough.

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