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Rain Taxi
Monday, January 3rd, 2011
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C.G. Jung in the Humanities: Taking the Soul's Path

by Susan Rowland

Balancing the Myths

A review by Rinda West

The publication last year of C. G. Jung's Red Book, the extraordinary outpouring of words and images that represents his immersion in the unconscious, has ignited a new interest in his work and its relevance for the 21st century. Susan Rowland, in her new book, C. G. Jung in the Humanities, explores Jung's "quest to heal modernity by re-balancing the founding myths of consciousness."

Rowland, an internationally known Jung scholar, seeks in part to recuperate Jung's reputation, which has suffered in academia, where he has been tarred with "essentialism" and feathered with "anti-Semitism." As she has done at greater length in her books Jung: A Feminist Revision and Jung as a Writer, Rowland explores Jung's fascination with the Other -- both the cultural Other (Jung spent time in Africa and among Pueblo people in the American southwest) and the inner Other of the unconscious. In a world increasingly fraught with polarization, Jung's approach heals by bringing the inner and the outer Others into relationship.

C. G. Jung in the Humanities is an introduction to Jungian thought written for smart people who don't know much about Jung. Rowland engages Jung's reverence for the unconscious, the "absent center" that links each person to nature and to the cultural and personal Other. Believing that European culture had sickened through an over-reliance on the rational ego, Jung argued that healing, or wholeness, required reverence for the "hole" in the psyche represented by the unknowable unconscious. Healing takes place in dialogues between the ego and the unconscious, which occur in dream, express themselves in myth and symbol, and take form in art.

For the art part of the equation, Rowland looks at Shakespeare, Austen, Bronte, and Joyce, as well as film and popular culture, but it is Jung himself, as a writer, that most compels her interest. Describing Jung's writing as spiraling around the inexpressible, Rowland contends that reading Jung, one is drawn into a process that de-centers the ego and initiates the reader simultaneously into culture and the unknown. Like the visionary artist, Jung draws the reader into dialogue with symbols that represent what can't be expressed discursively.

The author includes a chapter on Jung and politics and gender that explores charges of anti-Semitism springing from Jung's role as President of the International Society for Psychotherapy. Another chapter covers Jung's work as a scientist, his interest in alchemy, and his concept of synchronicity. But threaded throughout is the contrast between the two foundational myths of western culture -- the Sky Father and Earth Mother. These return in Rowland's chapter on contemporary sciences of complexity and emergence. Again, Rowland emphasizes imagination and creativity, the Other, and Jung's reverence for mystery as vivifying elements mostly excluded from the over-developed rational ego that characterizes Western culture.


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