For LeonRead Now
My friend Leon Schlamm died suddenly a couple of weeks ago. He had just come through a rather long, difficult period of poor health, but after quitting smoking on his doctor's advice he seemed to be doing quite well. A mutual friend had spoken to him a few of days before he died and they made tentative plans for a meeting. But then, just as he was about to pin down the appointment, he received news that Leon had been rushed into hospital. I don't know the details of Leon's final hours, but I understand that death came fairly quickly after he was hospitalised. At sixty seven, he was really too young to die, especially as he was enjoying his retirement as a lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent. I first met Leon at Kent nine years ago when, as a mature student, I applied for a place in the MA programme in the Study of Mysticism and Religious Experience that he and Peter Moore had convened. The MA programme--which is now in younger hands--emphasises the psychology of religious experience over more theological or sociological concerns, which suited my interests perfectly. Leon and I also hit it off immediately as we had read many of the same books and found we usually shared the same opinions about them. But there was another, deeper reason for our friendship. Leon's academic speciality was C.G. Jung. In fact, Leon didn't just study Jung; he was a passionate Jungian (he was spending his retirement in close reading of Jung's Red Book, Liber Novis, for personal, rather than academic interests). As much as anything else, it was our great admiration for Jung that revealed our affinity for each other.
Because I have no formal training as a psychotherapist in analytical psychology, I am not able to call myself a Jungian. Even so, apart from Buddhism, no other school of psychology influences my thought and practice quite so deeply. So I call myself a crypto-Jungian to acknowledge my debt to Jung without claiming any credentials as a member of that elite guild. Yet, in spite of its great influence and wide renown, Jung himself remains a controversial figure who does not command universal respect. Many Freudian psychoanalysts, especially of earlier generations, could never forgive his break from Freud. But even to critics of other orientations, he is often regarded as little more than a crank whose spiritualistic views spoiled his claim to be a reputable psychological scientist. In fact, the early Jung was a ground breaking clinical psychologist whose research into psychological types is still used in such standard psychological tests as the Myers-Briggs. But after his split from Freud and suffering his creative illness (which was, in fact, nothing less than a psychotic breakdown) Jung seemed less the clinician and more of a visionary. This altered his reputation irrevocably and made him into the figure who still divides opinion so sharply. It isn't just that his ideas about archetypes and the collective unconscious took him into places that clinical psychology could not and dared not go. Nor is it his often unclear, sometimes even cryptic style of writing. It is also that his approach to the psychology of religion, which did take religion seriously, did not do so in terms that pleased many theologians or religious believers. Indeed, even in Religious Studies at Kent there were some members of the department who regarded Jung with scorn that matched any Freudian's. But none of this made Leon question Jung's genius. Like all Jungians I have known (my two psychotherapists were both Jungians), Leon was well apprised of Jung's faults and shortcomings.
It is now widely recognised that Jung was very much a man of his culture and times and his wide learning and sometimes narrow prejudices contributed to his world view. After nearly a century of critical scholarship, Jung's personal and professional shortcomings have been well documented. As a scholar and student of mythology, his science and anthropology now seem dated, as well as Eurocentric. Even worse, his questionable association with the Nazis before WW II showed his alarming willingness to dance with the devil. The idea, however, that Jung himself was a Nazi or that he had any admiration for Hitler or his movement is simply false (in an interview conducted in the 1930's, for example, he said that Hitler was a vacant personality who was leading Germany into the abyss). In fact, notwithstanding his somewhat racialist, if not racist views (the collective unconscious was, after all, first called the racial unconscious) Jung could be described as something of semitophile who, from the first, always had many Jewish admirers and followers (in fact, Leon himself was Jewish). There is also the troubling matter of Jung's rather complicated relationships with women, particularly his female patients, most notably Toni Woolf (who was involved in a menage a trois with Jung and his wife, Emma) and Sabina Spielrein. Having had affairs with both women, Jung claimed that they each matched his ideal anima and exerted an attraction that was as much spiritual, as it was romantic. In fact, both women possessed formidable intellects that Jung truly admired and Wolff in particular was an important collaborator in the development of many of his ideas. But Jung took liberties with his female patients that was no more acceptable then than it would be now. Yet, at least to his admirers, his achievements remain indisputable, no matter what his transgressions.
As a scholar, Leon had a somewhat different view of Jung than mine as a therapist. He was more interested in Jung's ideas about spiritual experience, whereas it is Jung's approach to psychotherapy and his understanding of individuation that has made him so important for me. The idea of individuation can be summarised easily enough. It is coming to terms with the unconscious forces and influences in one's life in an ongoing process of becoming oneself. But note that slippery word "unconscious" and the unfathomable depth that it conceals. One of my favourite quotes by Jung begins to suggest its depth of meaning: "The unconscious really is unconscious", he said in a famous interview with the BBC. What I think he meant by this is that unlike the Freudian idea of the unconscious, which regards it as a hidden mechanism of desire that has been made comprehensible by psychoanalytic theory, Jung saw the unconscious as progressively more unknowable the more deeply it is plumbed. At root, the unconscious connects to nothing less than the infinite mystery of being. But in the course of ordinary living we are scarcely aware of it and most of us may have little inkling that it influences us at all. Yet on the force of certain, usually traumatic experiences anyone can be plunged into an unconscious depth that reveals the provisional and constructed nature of conventional reality. Although this can be psychologically destabilising as well as terrifying, it also holds a potential for higher self development. Individuation, as Jung conceived it, must involve both psychological conflict and the discovery of the inner resources to deal with it. Discovering and developing such inner resources is much of what Jungian psychotherapy is all about.
In our last meeting together, I was trying to persuade Leon to start up a discussion group on Jung. "Let me think about it," he replied. Although he was enjoying the freedom his retirement was giving him, I thought that the prospect of having regular discussions on the subject to which he had devoted so much of his life would be irresistible to him. Moreover, it was in small groups of like-minded people where he seemed to express himself most freely. And I would have benefited from the stimulation that his conversation always gave me. When I first met Leon I had the feeling that he had been a friend long before I knew him. Now that he is gone, I will miss the deeper friendship that might have developed.
8/17/2015 08:52:15 pm
Sorry for the loss of your friend Bob. A fascinating read as always. My friends and family all seem to be into the 'Myers and Briggs' personality types tests at the moment. I was pleased to read that the test is influenced by Jungs work. Would like to know more. Apparently I am an 'ENFP' type - which rang quite true on reading what that means (I remain a tad skeptical)
8/18/2015 04:52:59 am
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Stefan. But you probably know more about the Meyer Briggs than I do. But I also think the later Jung-- the mature Jung, if you prefer-- stepped out of the waters of clinical psychology and went into a deeper sea where he had no choice but to swim and sometimes, to dive.
10/18/2022 07:07:47 pm
Necessary one over play radio rock agreement. Fear point weight per mention century.
Leave a Reply.