Jung

Carl Gustav Jung

and the Study of Literature

A Personal Essay with Links to Sources

by Bert Harrell
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"Jung in his office"

Photo used with permission of Flemming Neft. Click on the picture for link to Flemming Ravn Neft site in Denmark.

I first became aware of Carl Jung's theory of personality as a Psychology Major at Texas Christian University in the early 1970's. Jung was the subject of my seminar in a senior level Theories of Personality class. I was struck by a fundamental difference in his approach to the study of the human personality; namely his basic conviction that at the heart of the human condition is a deep and irrevocalbe urge toward transcendence. While Jung was a trained medical doctor who understood matters of scientific method and discipline, he was not willing to reduce his discourse on the human personalilty to areas circumscribed by medical categories. His development of the theory of the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious engaged the literary and spiritual dimensions of human life, not rejecting biological data, but rethinking the whole question of human personality in light of data that lie outside the medical and scientific realms. Naturually such a step also forces us to rethink what things we see as determinative of human activity. If there are, as Jung postulates, deep underlying structures that are universal and so powerful that they shape our very way of perceiving ourselves, it is only a short step for us to consider very seriously the implications of the imago Dei of Christian Theology. Jung's concept of the archetypes and their function in what he calls the collective unconscious opens the door to a much more dynamic understanding of such human activities as writing and the creation of literature. Indeed, once we begin to think this way, the very idea of a lilterary tradtion that endures over time and grows in scope and depth becomes the most exciting aspect of being human.

 

 

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For reasons that I cannot entirely explain, my fascintation with Jung over the last 30 years has slowly grown. At times I have laid him aside, even attempting to dismiss him, often because of excesses and trendiness exhibited by enthusiasts who dabbled in things Jungian but never really read and pondered Jung himself. The most critical period for me, the experience that made it clear to me how much Jung had to offer us, was a period of almost three years (1981-1984) in which I met regularly with the Zurich trained Jungian analyst Elizabeth Lockwood in Fort Worth, Texas. Under her direction I kept a dream journal which became the starting point for our discussions, and the writing that I did during that time, both the recording of the dreams and the subsequent interaction in writing about them, opened up Jung's theory for me at the most brutally personal level. As theory shifted out of the abstract and into the concrete, the weight and power of Jung's thought became absolutely compelling. I cannot overstate the impact of those years of work done in Fort Worth on the evolution of my thinking and experience of my own interior life, continuing to the present. As is the case with most things, it is as a student of Jung's theory that I approach this material with my students in British Literature. The Anglo-Saxon Beowulf epic is just the kind of literature that Jung's theory is built upon. In reading again parts of Jung's theory, my interest in this text (the beautiful translation by Seamus Heaney) has been ignited. It's implications for how we understand the human condition with all of its difficulties and striving have "stood up on the page" under the light of Jung's thought. I hope my students will discover in the literary tradtion and in Jung the impetus to discover themselves as the remarkable mysterious persons that they truly are.

 
Carl Jung 1875-1961

Comprehensive Jung Link: Look for button to "Essay by C. G. Jung"