Sunday, September 16, 2018

A cult classic


“The Jung Cult” is Richard Noll's slaughter (or perhaps Freudian fratricide?) of Carl Gustav Jung, the world famous Swiss psychoanalyst. Published in 1994 (new edition 1997), the book created quite the controversy in the United States. Jungian psychoanalysts prohibited their patients from reading it, while Jung's family quickly retrieved potentially compromising documents from American archives lest Noll got to them first. The Jung family even demanded that the publisher stop the book outright! On one level, the meltdown was slightly surreal, since “The Jung Cult” is a scholarly, difficult-to-read and frankly boring book. On another level, however, nobody was much surprised by the bro-ha-ha.

Noll, after all, had accused Jung of some pretty serious deviations. The harmless-looking and incomprehensible old man was really a charismatic cult leader heavily inspired by German Völkisch nationalism and mysticism. The real goal of Jung's analytic psychology was to get the patients in touch with the old pagan gods and merge with them. After experiencing mystical union with the ancient Persian god Mithras, Jung imagined himself to be the Aryan Christ. He was probably anti-Semitic, too. In other words, the sage of Küsnacht was a proto-Nazi, or as we would say today, literally Hitler!

Thus, “The Jung Cult” belongs to a common genre of skeptical books which debunks alternative knowledge claims as pseudo-scientific (Noll is particularly incensed against Jung's “vitalistic” tendencies), exposes cult leaders, and paints non-standard forms of spirituality as “Nazi”. It's interesting to note that the only scientist attacked by Noll is Ernest Haeckel, who had been defrocked at the time as being another insidious proto-fascist. It's also typical that the author takes time to attack a small Asatru group which was inspired by the Jungian concept of the archetypes, calling the group “disturbing”.

That said, you don't have to be a psychologist to realize that the hysterical reactions of the Jungians to Noll's book show that they did have *something* to hide. For the Jungians – and Jung himself - are also typical products of our times. Jung really was a religious mystic, a kind of chthonic Gnostic, if you like. However, he also claimed to be an empirical scientist. This combination of spirituality and science (or at least the “science” label) is what gives many new religious movements their authority. The charismatic prophet has been transformed into the great and genial scientist. Noll tore away the scientific masks of the Gnostic Jung and his disciples. Of course, your friendly psychotherapist might not like being singled out as the local version of Heinrich Himmler, either. (It would be interesting to know how many Jungian therapists are actually Jewish!)

While I personally don't like C G Jung and his chthonic, infernal and navel-gazing form of Gnosis, perhaps we can finally settle down and take a more dispassionate look at the Jungian corpus after 20-something years? Nobody denies, I think, that Jung was connected to “alternative” spirituality. This is obvious even from a canonical work such as “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (MDR), Jung's faux autobiography. So what's the problem, really? But perhaps we can't. The recent election of Donald J Trump to the presidency of the United States, and the liberal reactions to this unexpected turn of events, probably means that the Nazi shtick is just as potent a polemical weapon as ever before.

“The Jung Cult” will remain a cult classic for some time to come.

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