The Red Book

I keep a diary. If anyone ever read it they would probably think I have a major emotional and mental problem. That’s because I only write it in when I am in a very low and dark place or when I am feeling on top of the world. It’s a memoir of extremes. I write drivel I don’t even mean. I write whatever thought cruises into my head. It feels good. I highly recommend it.

My diary features x-rated material and dozens of poems and it showcases all my deepest desires and regrets. It features more than a hint of evil and some of the most mundane things imaginable, like the fact I washed my sheets and ate tuna for dinner. My diaries also feature innumerable sketches of trees. And apples. If my journals were ever made public I would most likely die of shame and embarrassment and exposure.

It happened to one guy. Carl Jung. You’ve probably heard of him. He’s a pretty big deal. Carl Jung was a Swiss psychologist back in the day (1875 – 1961). He was mates with Freud and together they studied the unconscious mind and dreams and psychology and whatnot (until they had a falling out, but that’s another story). From what I understand, Jung believed that to achieve wholeness you need to expose your unconscious mind and then bring it into line with your conscious mind. It involves a lot of dream interpretation. Read more about his theories here.

Point is, Carl Jung was a little crazy himself. A lot crazy at one point. He said so himself. In his late 30’s he started hearing voices and seeing things. He said he was being menaced by a psychosis. However, instead of freaking the hell out, he thought, “Awesome! Perfect chance to do some real research. Case study… Moi!” And so he studied himself. He would purposely trigger hallucinations in order to test his theories. He documented it all in The Red Book. A diary, if you will. For the next 16 years he tracked his personal journey through his unconscious mind. That is, he drew and wrote all the messed up shit going on in his head.

It is a very intimate book. It’s a man at his most vulnerable. It’s honest and raw and a hell load freaky. There’s mixed up religion imagery and depictions of his nightmares and lots of incredible art. I reckon they are a couple of masterpieces in the mix, but judge it for yourself.


Photograph: Foundation for the Works of C. G. Jung


Photograph: Foundation for the Works of C. G. Jung


From: The Red Book W.W. Norton 2009


From: The Red Book W.W. Norton 2009


From: The Red Book W.W. Norton 2009

When Jung died his family had no idea what to do with it and so they locked it in a vault.  It wasn’t until half a century later (and a great deal of coaxing and begging from scholars) that the book was published (2009).

Here’s what Carl Jung said about his Red Book:

The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this… My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life.

I wonder how Carl Jung would feel if he knew that his Red Book was now in the public domain. Just sitting in your local bookshop or a couple of clicks away online. Maybe he would feel exposed. Maybe he’d be delighted that there’s such great interest in his studies. Who knows. All I know is that The Red Book is both an intrigue and a great comfort. I’m not the first person to pour my heart and mind onto paper and then look back at it and think, “Oh my, well that’s a tad mad.” And I’m definitely not the last.

Now, let’s not go overboard here. It’s not like I’m delving into the inner reaches of my unconscious self and dragging out a new school of analytical psychology or anything near as significant as that. But, you know, I just feel a little less crazy now.


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