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This essay was published in New York magazine this week:
The room didn’t spin like they say it does. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. I had no difficulty understanding the verdict: It was incurable.
They could offer no prognosis. They had some general ideas about how they might treat me; it was considered “manageable” in its normal form, but in my case, there was no telling what would or wouldn’t work. They told me that if they could find an effective treatment, I should expect to be on it “for life….”
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This subscription Seminar essay series will now begin to work its way through Jung’s “Visions” Seminar.
Because it is a very expensive book, and not easily available I will do my best to summarize and amplify what I see as the most useful and essential points of Jung’s teachings here – when and as I can. As you will soon see, the problematic aspects of this text and these historical events will require some direct and ongoing confrontation:
There is some truly extraordinary teaching in these lectures and discussions, but it is important that anyone reading these essays understand that the text we are exploring also reveals many of Jung’s personal, clinical, ethical and theoretical failures.
These weekly lectures were presented in English, a third language for Jung, to members of the Psychological Club at the Analytical Psychology Club House in Zurich. The Psychological Club was founded with funds from Jung’s wealthy American patient, student, trainee and admirer, Edith Rockefeller – John D. Rockefeller’s daughter – who he had treated for depression, and who went on to become a prominent Jungian analyst herself. The meetings of the Psychological Club were attended by Jung’s admirers, patrons, students, as well as former and current patients (many training to become analysts themselves) who often required additional structure and activities beyond their analytic sessions during their treatment stay in Zurich. In many ways, the Psychological Club functioned as a kind of chaotic combination of psychosocial club, group therapy, training institute, and fan club.
A majority (but certainly not all) of the club members were women, wealthy enough to travel to Zurich from all over Europe and America, and Jung was considered both a charismatic and handsome figure who attracted large admiring audiences as well as a significant amount of financial patronage. Jung supported many of these women in their own professional development, and throughout his life many of his closest collaborators and disciples were the women who he had first treated and then trained as analysts.
As we can imagine, the boundaries in this space were messy. Many of the attendees were actively in treatment with Jung – caught up in the throes of their own complexes and conflicts, acting out competitive feelings towards other club members, seeking attention and contending with thick idealizing transferences to the dynamic Dr. Jung.
Jung often used these seminars to form defacto group interventions targeted to the psychological development of his patients/audience and to emphasize themes that he felt were common to many of the members, as a kind of annex to their individual treatment.
These weekly lectures were to be a presentation and a discussion of his work with an American patient, scientist Christiana Morgan, one of the several patients who he first began to teach active imagination techniques. Active imagination was a method he had developed through the process of journaling his own contemplative visualizations in Liber Nous/The Red Book – in which he would sit in meditation, and allow a fantasy to emerge, and then would engage in imaginal dialogue with the characters in his fantasy. (for more information about active imagination see Seminar essay #25)
As Morgan engaged in this practice, she produced a long series of imaginal visions, and an accompanying set of paintings that Jung felt represented a deep archetypal template of a mythical initiation/integration process that was pertinent to Euro-American women generally, beyond Morgan’s own idiosyncratic healing and development. Jung’s intention was to present this to the Psychological Club as an archetypal journey through women’s developmental psychology. To that end, he chose to try to present the visions and the paintings completely detached from any personal or identifying information specific to Christiana Morgan.
Jung had presented these lectures in German to an earlier audience, and had done so with great excitement and respect for the un-named Morgan’s process and productions, and great enthusiasm for the archetypal template that he felt offered great insight into the psychology of women. But this lecture and discussion series proved to be very, perhaps, too stimulating for many members of the Club, seemingly activating significant envy in many of the attendees, who often attempted authoritatively dissect the visions and pathologize the anonymous visionary.
Jung’s responses and interpretations throughout the seminar grow increasingly irritable, likely in large part with the club members, but this also seems to spill over into his perceptions and presentation of Morgan and her visions themselves. Perhaps he began devaluing the content to make it less threatening to the seminar members – but whatever the trigger and there are many – this seminar becomes an outlet for Jung’s more toxic misogyny – as he begins to express sexist contempt and strong negative feelings both about the case he is presenting and the audience.
Jung also uses the N-word at several points, in discussing the psychic effect of interracial realities in the United States. It is unclear if he is mirroring language that he has absorbed from American patients, if he has, with a limited English, confounded the N-word, with “Negro,” if he used the word to seem skilled and proficient at American slang, or if he is enjoying and exhibiting an explicit belief in racial superiority.
(See: Visions: Notes on the Seminar Given in 1930-1934. Introduction by Claire Douglas, pp ix-xxxiii)
This is Jung’s unprocessed grandiosity and his white male supremacist shadow on full display – as he succumbs to the inflation of his devoted fan club, and asserts himself as an authority on women’s pathology, and seems to simultaneously enjoy and exert his authority and dominance while also trying to irritably extricate himself from the thick hero worship and its messy consequences in the room.
The Turning Point
It is also possible that Jung’s negativity is a response to his lost his faith in Morgan. For multiple reasons which we will discuss below, Jung becomes less enchanted by their treatment alliance, as is faced more and more with the aftermath of their work together- this presentation is four years after their termination. He seems increasingly upset with the visions and with Morgan, as he becomes hopleessly and destructively entangled in the longer term outcomes of the case and the boundary-less community that has he has built around him and that he resides in the center of.
Jung received direct updates from Morgan from the United States, where she became a Jungian analyst at Harvard – but he also learned far more about Morgan from other patients that that knew her intimately through the small and incestuous Jungian community in the U.S.
In fact, during the course of this seminar, Jung was contacted for consultation by a former American patient of his, Henry Murray, who was both Morgan’s co-worker at Harvard, and her current lover, and who contacted Jung for help in leaving Morgan for another woman.
Additionally, another Harvard man, Ralph Eton, a colleague both of Morgan and Murray, at the Harvard Psychological Clinic, described by his U.S analyst as “brilliant but unstable” – had been involved with Morgan previously but been rejected by her and was unable to get over their breakup, also presented to Jung for treatment, and began attending the Psychological Club. Eton actually recognized Morgan’s visions, because Morgan had showed her paintings to him early in their relationship.
Eton, now attending a weekly seminar that waded through his lost- lover’s fantasy life – decompensated into florid psychosis – fled Zurich and returned to Cambridge where required hospitalization. He escaped the locked ward and committed suicide in the woods near Henry Murray’s home.
All of this chaos, tragedy, and boundary crossing both exposes the messiness of Morgan, and the men in her world as well as the mess that Jung himself had made by establishing himself as the guru-leader of a school of thought, the entangled and enmeshed boundaries of his tight-knit community of disciples, his own poor clinical decisions, and his destructively inflated role in his patient/trainees’ lives.
“Finally, someone overtly breaks confidentiality about Morgan’s identity and the seminar ends abruptly” (Visions: Notes on the Seminar Given in 1930-1934. Introduction by Claire Douglas, p. xxiv)
Christiana Morgan found a place in the world and lived a flawed yet productive life, centered around her great romantic love for Henry Murray, and her work as a psychotherapist at the Harvard Psychological Clinic. Throughout her long life, Morgan returned again and again to the visions. She respected them as the core myth of her life but never succeeded in fully plumbing their meaning. (Visions: Notes on the Seminar Given in 1930-1934. Introduction by Claire Douglas, p. xxii)
So: as you can see, there is a lot to learn about Jung as a limited human being, as a wounded healer, as a white man contending with his own conflicts around supremacy and the feminine, who experiences the first hand and disasterous consequences of inflation and inflicts those consequences on others, about the historical development of a psychological discipline at time before secure boundaries were erected around transferences and before the community was large enough to avoid such enmeshments. There is also some thoughtful, humble, generous and beautiful teaching mixed in among the damage and chaos.
I will do my best to sort through the useful, the meaningful, the toxic and the intolerable. I will offer my own interpretations and responses to Morgan’s visioning. I will try to confront and cut away the contamination and the rot, and see what, if any, fruit remains when we are done.
If you are interested in subscribing to this essay series there is more information below: