Excerpt from C.G. Jung’s Liber Novus (The Red Book)

I have been lucky enough to obtain a PDF copy of The Red Book, originally titled Liber Novus, written and illustrated by C.G. Jung. This is an extremely fascinating document. He wrote the book over the course of about 15 years, from 1914 to 1930. Jung began writing this book after his infamous falling-out with Sigmund Freud which occurred in 1913.

Freud was most certainly an influence on Jung.The two men had very frequent correspondence throughout their careers until this point, writing many letters back and forth over the years, in a few letters Jung gave descriptions of his own dreams and asked for Freud’s interpret them. Both of the men were concerned with the matters of the unconscious, as well as the meaning of dreams. Their relationship became strained as Jung began to formulate his own ideas concerning the unconscious and diverge from Freud’s theories. In 1912, Jung is reported to have felt extremely slighted after Freud visited nearby colleagues without visiting Jung at his home in Zurich. Jung and Freud met in person for the last time in 1913, Jung was about 40 years old at this time. This disconnect with Freud was followed by a period of isolation in Jung’s professional life characterized by psychological conflicts, some say he even went a bit mad for a time.

Jung viewed Freud’s conception of the unconscious as incomplete. In general, he agreed with Freud’s model of the unconscious,   what Jung termed as the “personal unconscious,” and was not the only component to the unconscious. He would eventually come to formulate his notion of the “collective unconscious” which exists deep in the human psyche, below the personal unconscious. Both Freud and Jung agreed that dreams were manifestations of the unconscious, and by interpreting one’s own dreams one could potentially uncover unconscious contents. Jung felt that Freud depicted the unconscious solely as a storehouse for repressed sexuality, repressed desires, and traumatic memories; and subsequently adhering to a  Freudian interpretation of one’s dreams leads always to an explanation of that dream having occurred due to a repressed sexual desire in the unconscious trying to break loose.

For Jung, underlying repressed sexual desires and the repressed trauma of psychosexual development were not complete enough explanations to explain dreams. This thought came about from one of his own dreams of which he gave particular importance, but Freud was unable to interpret. Jung reports that it was this dream that made him decide to begin a relationship with a woman who he met 3 years ago. Here, Jung was perceptive to the power of dreams, and their capability to influence one’s decisions in waking life. He states that it was this dream that “was the beginning of a conviction that the unconscious did not consist of inert material only, but that there was something living down there.”

He began to focus on his own inner world, by writing about his inner states metaphorically, his dreams, and his fantasies. The Red Book is Jung’s documentation of his journey into his own unconscious. Some people who knew him personally say that he was taken over by a psychosis or frenzy during this time, he himself considered the project a “voluntary confrontation with the unconscious.” Jung was not always so sure of what he was doing, and why he was doing it or to what end it would lead, and he frequently expresses his confusion with himself in The Red Book. However, despite the uncertainty which was present at the beginning of his engagement with the unconscious, he later recognizes that period as the most crucial of his life, stating:

The years . . . when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then (from Memories, Dreams, & Reflections).

Jung sketched and wrote in what he called the Black Books, before assembling the content into The Red Book. The Black Books were written for Jung’s personal use, but the Red Book (Liber Novus) is written in form which addresses the public and to be read by others. The content of the Red Book reveals itself as highly personal , mystical, and religious. Jung often retells his conversations with his own soul, his search for God, his descent into Hell, etc. He describes these happenings of the inner world to the reader, followed by words of wisdom and poetic statements on the nature of the soul, mankind, and God ;which these inner happenings have caused him to realize.

Here is the first excerpt (below the text I’ve posted a link to audio of Jung reading) from the Red Book which I heard, at a presentation on the Red Book by Sonu Shamdasani in New York in 2008. I remember being amazed and in awe when hearing this:

My soul . . . Where are you? Do you hear me? I speak . . . I call you . . . Are you there? I have Returned. I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you. I am with you . . . After long years, of long wandering, I have come to you, again.

Should I tell you, everything I have seen? Experienced, or drank in? Or do you not want to hear, about the noise of life and the world?

But one thing you must know, the one thing I have learned, is that one must live his life . . . This life is the way, the long sought after way, to the unfathomable which we call divine.

There is no other way. All other ways, are false paths. So I found the right way, to let it let me to you, to my soul.

I’ve returned, tempted and purified. Do you still know me? How long, the separation lasted. Everything has come so different.

And how did I find you? How strange my journey was. What words should I use to tell you? on what twisted path a good star has guided me to you.

Give me your hand, My almost forgotten soul. How long, the joy, at seeing you again. You long disappointed soul. Life has let me back to you. Let us thank the life I have lived, for all the happy, and all the sad hours, For every joy, for every sadness.

My soul, my journey, should continue with you . . . I will wander with you, and ascend to my solitude.

                      – C. G. Jung, The Red Book, Liber Primus, “Refinding the Soul”



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