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Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections

May 28, 2007

These, then, were the conditions under which my career in psychiatry began—the subjective experiment out of which my objective life emerged. I have neither the desire nor the capacity to stand outside myself and observe my fate in a truly objective way. I would commit the familiar autobiographical mistake either of weaving an illusion about how it ought to have been, or of writing an apologia pro vita sua. In the end, man is an event which cannot judge itself, but, for better or worse, is left to the judgment of others  (113).

In C.G. Jung’s autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, I am interested in the way he mythologizes his early life as he explores the story of how he became a psychiatrist. In the above quote I am intrigued by Jung’s process in which he turns the analytical lens back on himself. It highlights the futility of one to truly be objective about oneself. I like his word choice in this selection. Man is an event, or a thing that happens. One cannot objectively see what is happening while inside this event. The event is doing and things are happening. It is an unfolding process. This event can only attempt objectivity when it directs its attention towards others or “events” outside of itself.

I remember reading years ago in Jungian disciple Marie-Louise von Franz’s book Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales that the qualities that most annoy or bother someone in somebody else are usually qualities that someone processes himself or herself. These qualities are referred to as the Shadow. These are the negative or undesired traits that one doesn’t see in oneself. We don’t see them in ourselves, but we can definitely see them in others. I like Jung’s idea that people subconsciously attract people who have similar shadow selves. There is a certain poetry to the idea that when we judge those around us, we are also placing judgment vicariously on ourselves for those attributes we also possess.

Jung states that “for better or worse”, he cannot judge himself, but instead must save his judgment for those around him. He then intends to state the facts and leave it up to the reader to judge. The irony is that his recounting of his formative years is beautifully filled with illusions of how things ought to have been and seeped with attributed after the fact importance.

In his early childhood he recounts stories that are fraught with allusions to metaphysical realities he later explores in his studies. He is exploring the seeds of his later insights, but he often attributes them as fully formed ideas in his youth. I think there is an intriguing development going on in this process of Jung creating his autobiography. Jung formulated this whole process of analyzing people’s stories and picking through each detail to give insight into their psyche. How difficult must it have been for him to select which elements, details, and stories should be included to create his full portrait, knowing that each element would be scrutinized and analyzed for clues to his subconscious workings? How did he weigh what was important? The beauty is that he knew he could not be objective, and instead focused on telling his story as he thought it should be told. He helped to create his myth.

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