Carl Jung’s “Psychology of the Unconscious” and the Value of Primary Texts

Jung’s seminal work is a treatise on the universal unconscious manifestations of the human libido, in religion, in art, and -most importantly- in religion and myth. Is there any reason for someone who is not involved in the study of the history of psychology to read a primary text like this, a (possibly) pseudo-scientific examination of the mind of mankind that is over one hundred years old, predating the wealth of information the modern age has provided us through fMRI scans and contemporary neurology? I would argue that there is.

Jung always strove to be considered a scientist, but his obsession with the study of mythology, the convergence of Eastern and Western philosophy, literature, and all manner of spiritualism (astrology, myth, alchemy) led many to construct a more mystical persona. Neither of these do him justice -Jung is, above all, a voracious student of the common truth behind the  stories Humanity tells itself. As such, his observations are not of a kind that is rendered obsolete by modern medicine. His driven inquisition into the greater mysteries revealed by the inescapably religious nature of storytelling man is just as important to consider in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. The man would have a wonderful time deconstructing the recent preoccupation with superhero movies…

As to the nature of reading primary texts, I have to admit that they occupy their own niche. Without a knowledge of the framework that has come to be built around his ideas (which includes everything from Joseph Campbell to our widespread cultural adaptation of the idea of “memes” from evolutionary biology) the primary text itself has a hard time standing on it’s own in 2015. Context is everything. At the same time, so much of modern thought can be traced back to the work of Jung, it seems to me that any reasonably intelligent person who is even remotely well-read or observant will find plenty in this book to grab onto.

Recommendation: Read it if you like the idea of knowing where so many of your schemas for understanding the world have come from, and if you don’t mind a few archaisms (and be sure to look up Onanism if you don’t already know what that means).


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