Gunning for Jung

In the early 1900s a patient at the Burgholzli Mental Hospital in Zurich had a vision of the sun endowed with a phallus. From that vision hangs Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious.

Emile Schwyzer, who entered the annals of psychotherapy as the Solar Phallus Man, claimed the power to make that phallus wave, thereby creating the wind that brings the world its weather. Jung’s assistant Johann Honegger took notes on the Solar Phallus Man, and Jung himself preached that Schwyzer had unknowingly tapped the same mythological root as the pagan cult of Mithras, which arose in the Roman Empire around the time of Christ and had its own manly sun.

In the mid-90s an apostate Jungian, Richard Noll, called Jungianism a quasi-religion and accused Jung of appropriating Honegger’s work and of changing dates to hide the fact that Schwyzer easily could have read about the cult of Mithras in books on ancient mythology popular in Germanic countries at the turn of the century. Noll claimed that the notes Honegger left behind when he committed suicide in 1911 would settle the argument but that Jung’s heirs wouldn’t let him see them.

Zealous Jungians despise Noll–for his books The Jung Cult and The Aryan Christ, not to mention his 1994 op-ed essay in the New York Times in which he conceded Jung “the genius and medical credentials to make his own cult mainstream and meaningful” but nevertheless linked Jung’s name to those of David Koresh and Jim Jones.

In 1995 the New York Times dug itself a deeper hole with Jungians by reporting Noll’s theories about the Solar Phallus Man in a front-page story, “Scholar Who Says Jung Lied Is at War With Descendants.” The reporter was staff writer Dinitia Smith. Guess who just reviewed a new biography of Jung for the New York Times?

No one gets rich writing book reviews, but the psychic rewards are immense. The greatest is the critic’s opportunity to show in a handful of deft phrases that in perspective, insight, and wit his or her command of the subject puts the author’s to shame. Ideally the reader will end a review grateful for an excuse not to read the book nominally under discussion, since the wrong person so obviously wrote it.

Yet even within this tradition of critical condescension, Smith’s review of Deirdre Bair’s Jung: A Biography in the January 21 New York Times was extreme. It began: “Carl Gustav Jung was an insufferable egotist, cruel to his family, a womanizer, with bad table manners to boot. He was a founder of psychoanalysis, but today his teachings have little importance in the treatment of mental illness. His writings on flying saucers, astrology and parapsychology read like those of someone on the edges of sanity himself. He is remembered mostly for his psychological autobiography, ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections,’ and for terms he used: ‘New Age,’ ‘the Age of Aquarius,’ ‘archetypes,’ ‘anima’ and ‘animus.'”

Jungians were appalled. George Hogenson, a Jungian analyst in Oak Park, says that when his wife alerted him to this review he responded, “I really don’t think there’s any reason to read it because I know what it’s going to say.” He explains, “There has yet to be a review [in the Times] of any materials dealing with Jung that substantively addresses the book under review,” and that’s because a “preestablished ideological point of view” holds sway at the Times. Why it does is “a case of continuing speculation in the Jungian community.”

And it’s not only the Times. Hogenson goes on, “There’s a way in which Jung is viewed by a subset of the intellectual world in terms that are so extraordinarily negative as to at some level defy understanding.”

If Hogenson sounds overwrought, consider that Deirdre Bair not only agrees with him, but agreed with him before she started her research. The intense hostility Jung arouses was one of the reasons she wanted to write a book.

Describing earlier Jung biographies in the introduction to her own, Bair commented that, with rare exception, “all other books about his life ranged from the supercilious, smug, and condescending to the scathingly negative….What was there about Jung that inspired such strong negative feelings? How could so many writers spend so many years in the company of a subject they so clearly despised?”

Bair has some ideas. When Freud and Jung broke in 1913, she tells me, Freud dumped on Jung before Jung could dump on Freud: “He said, ‘I created psychoanalysis. I own it,’ and he went on to describe Jung as a deviant son. Jung was put into a box at that time, and I think that has really set the terms.”

She continues, “Freud at various times called Jung anti-Semitic. By the 1930s Jung was tarred with a very nasty brush.” As Robert Boynton noted in a second Times review of Bair’s book, the one carried in the Sunday book section on January 11, “Even as Jewish psychoanalysts were being purged in 1933, Jung accepted the presidency of the International General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, which meant working with Matthias Heinrich Goring, Hermann’s cousin.”

But the larger reason, Bair surmises, is that psychoanalysis in general is under siege, and Freudians attack Jung to guard their own threatened turf. (Bubbleheaded catchphrases such as New Age and Age of Aquarius–which Bair traces to a letter Jung wrote in 1940–surely make him an irresistible target.)

Bair, who had access to Honegger’s notes, devoted 20 pages to the Solar Phallus Man. She concluded that Honegger’s notes were too incoherent to support the accusation that Jung simply stole his work, and she failed to find evidence that Jung falsified dates to make his case. Dinitia Smith’s knowledge of the Solar Phallus Man debate might have caused her to focus on this key piece of Bair’s book, but her review made short work of the subject: “Jung’s student Johann Honegger kept notes on the patient, but Honegger was insane himself and committed suicide,” she wrote breezily. “[Jung] was accused of stealing Honegger’s research, but Ms. Bair sides with Jung.” That was that.

Bair is a formidable writer who won a 1981 National Book Award for her biography of Samuel Beckett. Smith acknowledged Bair’s “scrupulousness,” but instead of answering the question of whether she’d written a good book or a bad one decided to pity her for writing any book at all. “One feels sorry for Ms. Bair, having to wade through Jung’s lectures on the alchemist Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim or Paracelsus, for instance.” Those 880 pages Bair churned out–such an effort. “Perhaps to justify her work’s thoroughness and the years she spent writing this book, Ms. Bair tries valiantly to make Jung sympathetic. In the end it’s a losing proposition.”

Bair has read a lot of reviews, but Smith’s took the cake. “That one,” Bair says, “is almost impossible to describe because she’s so all over the place and she doesn’t really make any coherent or valid arguments.” Bair goes so far as to say Smith “should have recused herself” and written nothing at all. “It was she who wrote the story that put Richard Noll on the front page of the New York Times calling Jung a liar and thief. When she described how I wrote about the Honegger papers she was really justifying the earlier stories, not describing what I wrote. Which is a kind of dishonest journalism.”

Jungians are also unhappy with Boynton’s review. And having spotted his identification as director of New York University’s graduate magazine journalism program, they wonder why the prestigious Sunday assignment didn’t at least go to someone in the field. But again, it’s not just the Times. “It’s a larger–I don’t know, is it a cultural?–issue,” says Bair. “With my other books, reviewers liked them or didn’t like them, but they reviewed my book. With Jung, I keep paraphrasing Michael Moore. ‘Dude, where’s my book in this review?’ They make a respectful nod at me, and then wham, they bash Jung. I expected controversy, but I was just stunned, with the force of something hitting me, by the attacks against Jung. They’re just trotting out their personal prejudices without paying any attention to my book.”

I was surprised when Smith told me that her 1995 story on Richard Noll–a reason for her to review Bair’s book, despite what Bair thinks–had been discussed at the paper as a possible reason why she shouldn’t. “We try to take everything into careful consideration,” she said. But as for what she then wrote, “All I can tell you is that the review speaks for itself. That’s the way any reviewer would respond. A book review is not a news report.”

I find it hard to believe that a philosophy of anti-Jungian aggression–perhaps driven by a Freudian inner circle–dictates the contents of the New York Times. But the paper has done everything it can to make the idea credible. Bair told me that in the previous week she’d received copies of 11 letters of protest sent to the Times. Not one of them was published.

“How does the Times choose its book reviewers?” asked one letter. “Dinitia Smith’s vile and essentially dishonest ‘review’ of Deirdre Bair’s important and much anticipated biography of C.G. Jung…was filled with such personal antipathy for Jung, such clear misunderstanding of the history of depth psychology, and such disdain for the content of Ms. Bair’s work that it was useless as a review. It was as if you had assigned a vehement creationist to review a book on Darwin.”

I tried to talk to the editor who chooses the letters the paper prints, but my call was diverted, ridiculously enough, to corporate communications. Eventually the PR manager of the New York Times Company e-mailed me the following responses:

“1. Did The Times receive letters protesting the two unfavorable Carl Jung book reviews?


“2. If so, why weren’t any of them published?

“The Times generally does not run letters unless they raise serious issues of fact–that the letter writer disagrees with the review or the book is usually not sufficient. We feel that the reviewers wrote about the books within the bounds of accuracy and taste.”

Yet the Times did publish one letter on Jung. It showed up in last Sunday’s books section, where Boynton had said in his review that the Nazis manipulated Jung. He wryly commented, “Bair makes a convincing case that Jung was neither personally anti-Semitic nor politically astute.” The letter writer accused Jung of “virulent racism” and Bair and Boynton of making a “lame excuse” for him. Passing over the letters of protest from Jung’s champions, the Times chose one that wished the paper had been even nastier.

Tribsters Are People Too!

“The Tribune’s not much for promoting its people,” I wrote in Hot Type last summer. “It doesn’t want to treat anybody as bigger than the paper.” That’s still true. But now the marketing department has recognized the difference between turning workers into stars and reminding the public that they’re human.

“How do you literally start creating a relationship with readers in a different way than we have in the past, i.e., through human beings?” says Kelly Shannon, director of brand marketing. “We’ve always been a product. The idea here was to show there was a lot of humanity behind the news. We’re not just a commodity.”

“Our Passion. Your paper,” says the catchphrase of the marketing campaign the Tribune has been running the past few months. Shannon explains that the paper wants to “debunk” the old presumption that, in her words, “you are a high-class, excellent newspaper, but you’re white male, you represent the North Shore, you’re a little bit aloof and maybe not very approachable.”

She goes on, “We fundamentally don’t believe that’s the case.” The Tribune, she insists, “is not this monolith.”

The paper hired Aaron Freeman and hotshot LA photographer Timothy White to interview and photograph individual staffers, who say their piece in radio spots now running on 14 radio stations, and who look terrifically urban and soulful staring out of the ads carried in the paper. “I look for the stories no one else is telling,” says reporter Meg Breslin, her hands resting on an open car door. “You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists.”

Freeman’s job has been to tap the passion. “Terry Armour just adores meeting the celebrities,” Freeman tells me. “He just loves doing it, he really does, and frankly I’d like to do it too. I’d like to hang out with Catherine Zeta-Jones. But he loves doing that.”

Freeman’s two-hour interviews on the journalist’s craft have been distilled into the few seconds that wind up on radio. An important historical document? I ask him, thinking of all of that tape.

He doesn’t think so. “But it is interesting. There are some people like Ann Marie Lipinski–you thank God people have got her on a newspaper, because she’s just so smart and passionate and such a do-gooder, just a freakin’ do-gooder.” He interviewed her after 9/11 for a radio spot on the Tribune’s response to that catastrophe.

“Now there are other people,” he goes on, “who do a job, and the job is to have an opinion, and so they exaggerate their opinions because they’ve got a job to do. Their joy and passion is in their craft. Ann Marie Lipinski is a great professional who wants to go and save the freakin’ world. There are other great professionals who want to be great professionals and keep their freakin’ jobs. And I respect that.”

News Bite

8 “Bush Defends Pretext for War.” Headline spotted at after the 4 PM update on February 9.

“Bush Defends War Rationale.” Headline that had replaced the above headline by the 4:42 PM update.