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Anthony Storr

C.G. JUNG


Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
Anthony Storr was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst whose practice was influenced by Jung although he was not an uncritical Jungian. In this book he adopts a biographical approach and emphasises how profoundly Jung's method of analytical psychology was influenced by his own psychological development.

Storr published his book in 1973, twelve years after Jung's death in 1961. Jung's contribution to our conception of human nature had so far been underestimated, Storr thought . He attributed this comparative neglect to Jung's inability to express himself clearly in his voluminous writings. In this he differed from Freud, who wrote with such clarity and conviction that he stilled criticism and was likely to over-convince the reader.

Half a century after Storr wrote the situation is perhaps rather different. Freud has received a lot of criticism in recent years and psychoanalysis no longer holds the dominant position in psychotherapy that it once did. As for Jung, his influence is still apparent but probably not for reasons that Storr would have welcomed.

Throughout his life Jung was interested in the occult. His early work was concerned with a medium, and although he took a "scientific" approach to his subject he did not dismiss her as deluded or psychotic. Later he was to write a lot about the paranormal, with his theory of synchronicity (meaningful coincidences) that led him to study the I Ching. Such ideas have made Jung appealing to New Age enthusiasts.

Storr is not impressed by this side of Jung.

Believers in ghosts, spiritualism and astrology seize upon this aspect of Jung's thought with avidity, but I must confess that his writings upon synchronicity seem to me to be both confused and of little practical value.
Another way in which Jung is still relevant is his view of religion. In this respect he was in advance of his time. Many people today describe themselves as not religious but spiritual. Jung would have understood this completely. He held that the ultimate cause of feelings of alienation and unfulfillment in the second half of life was religious. I think that if we replace "religious" with "spiritual", Jung's relevance to us in the twenty-first century becomes clearer. So for Jung, "individuation", which means integrating the different aspects of the personality into a balanced whole, depends on answering the kind of questions that religion claims to answer. But this does not necessarily involve assenting to any formal religious doctrine.

This emphasis on religious or spiritual development explains why Jung's psychotherapy was mainly focused on people in the second half of life. But not just anyone of this age, of course, which for some is grounds for criticism.

It may well be maintained that Jung was generalizing not only from his own experience but also from the experience of a highly specialized group of patients to whom his point of view particularly appealed because of their likeness to himself.
Nevertheless Storr thinks Jung was right to take this view of religion. although he believes that, for some, art may have the same role as religion in leading them to individuation, He admits that Jung would not have agreed with this idea; he was always dismissive of any suggestion that the work that he or others produced in analysys was "art".

Jung's interest in religion led him into pretty esoteric territories, including detailed studies of Gnosticism, alchemy, and theology where Storr does not feel able to follow him.

As is the case with so much Jungian psychology, the exploration of what at first appear to be relatively simple ideas leads into philosophical and religious problems which are beyond the reach of any but professional philosophers and theologians. Both ignorance and lack of space preclude me from following Jung into the complicated recesses of his arguments with theologians …"
Such recondite interests should not make us forget the important contributions that Jung made to mainstream psychology, for which he often fails to receive credit. Among ideas that we owe to Jung are the concept of the midlife crisis, the use of art therapy, and the categorisation of people as extravert or introvert (although Storr finds less value in Jung's later elaboration of this twofold division into a scheme of eight psychological types).

Storr has provided an excellent introduction to a complex subject. As he explains in the beginning, although he found it necessary to include a certain amount of biographical detail he did not set out to write a full biography of Jung. Perhaps for that reason there is little about Jung's marriage and no mention at all of his colleague and lover, Toni Wolff, who helped to maintain his sanity in the near-psychotic crisis he experienced during during the first world war and which was the source of all his later psychological ideas. Toni continued to influence him for many years subsequently. Perhaps her role should have at least been mentioned.

18-08-2015


%T C.G Jung
%A Storr, Anthony
%I Pantheon Books
%C Princeton
%D 1973
%P 116pp
%K psychology
%O Modern Masters series


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