☀ You can borrow and read Memories, Dreams, Reflections free below. ☀
In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung*, founder of analytical psychology and creator of the concepts of archetypes, synchronicity, and the collective unconscious, analyzes his life as he recounts it.
jung revisits his early days
Jung was at first resistant to the idea of an autobiography. “I have suffered enough from incomprehension and from the isolation one falls into when one says things that people do not understand.” The chapters about his childhood represent the first time he had ever really thought about those years, and the only reason he revisited them is because he felt compelled to do so for his personal development, in his eighties. He soon found that if he didn’t write down his early memories, even for a single day, he was beset with unspecified “unpleasant physical symptoms” which vanished as soon as he started writing.
It’s clear starting with his youngest years that Jung had an original mind and was a deep thinker, and was also extraordinarily odd, with some impressive neuroses. Here he writes about his problems in school learning mathematics.
But the thing that exasperated me most of all was the proposition: If a = b and b = c, then a = c, even though by definition a meant something other than b, and, being different, could therefore not be equated with b, let alone with c. Whenever it was a question of an equivalence, then it was said that a = a, b = b, and so on. This I could accept, whereas a = b seemed to me a downright lie or a fraud. I was equally outraged when the teacher stated in the teeth of his own definition of parallel lines that they met at infinity. This seemed to me no better than a stupid trick to catch peasants with, and I could not and would not have anything to do with it. My intellectual morality fought against these whimsical inconsistencies, which have forever debarred me from understanding mathematics. Right into old age I have had the incorrigible feeling that if, like my schoolmates, I could have accepted without a struggle the proposition that a = b, or that sun = moon, dog = cat, then mathematics might have fooled me endlessly — just how much I only began to realize at the age of eighty-four. All my life it remained a puzzle to me why it was that I never managed to get my bearings in mathematics when there was no doubt whatever that I could calculate properly. Least of all did I understand my own moral doubts concerning mathematics.
an autobiography founded on inner experience
He emphasizes that his memories of the outer world have lost any importance they had and he has let them go, that it’s the inner world that matters. And this book is very different from the usual biography, following his inner experience more than his activities. He describes his patients and their problems, and his thoughts about them at length, but the only mention in the book of his wife Emma — who played a large part in his work and success — seems to be a few letters written to her on his trips to America and North Africa. If he mentioned any of his five kids while telling his life story, we missed it. Here’s the table of contents.
Jung and Sigmund Freud influenced each other’s work, and Freud, who called Jung “his eldest adopted son”, hoped his “crown prince” would carry Freud’s creation, psychoanalysis, forward. Reportedly, when they first met, they talked for 13 hours straight. They worked together for six years. But they increasingly disagreed on questions of the libido and the unconscious. After Jung published Psychology of the Unconscious (borrow by the hour, or buy*), he felt soundly snubbed and censured by various actions of Freud’s, and they had a falling out. Jung founded analytical psychology to distance his ideas from psychoanalysis.
psychosis or “creative illness”?
Soon after the split with Freud, Jung spent some years “pursuing the inner life”, which has been construed as actually having a psychotic break. Jung himself said, “To the superficial observer, it will appear like madness.” He talks about this time in the chapter “Confrontation with the Unconscious”. He kept journals of his visions — what he called his “imaginations” — during this “my most difficult experiment” and copied some of them into an illuminated calligraphic work of art that became known as the The Red Book — mysterious and long-unpublished. We couldn’t find a copy on the Internet Archive, but a hardcover* is available on Amazon for $140. There’s a Kindle version, without the art and color — just the text and some commentary — for much less.
In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung speaks of his personal experience of God and his thoughts about the afterlife. He is relentlessly honest, curious, and analytical. It’s not clear, though, that, for all his brilliance, he was what we’d call well-adjusted psychologically:
I have had much trouble getting along with my ideas. There was a daimon in me and it … overpowered me…. I have offended many people, for as soon as I found they did not understand me, that was the end of the matter so far as I was concerned. I had to move on…. I was able to become intensely interested in many people; but as soon as I had seen through them, the magic was gone. In this way, I made many enemies. A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon.
more books by or about Carl Jung you can borrow for free
*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.