September 2, 2003

1. Early Man

I recently saw two documentaries on TV. One was called China in Revolution (or China: A Century of Revolution). It was written and directed by Sue Williams. I recommend it highly; the history of China in the 20th century is extremely dramatic and interesting, and this documentary brings it to life with six hours of interviews, archival footage, etc.

The other documentary that I saw recently is called The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, and was made by Spencer Wells. (Wells is also the author of a book with the same title.) Wells explores the early history of man by following DNA clues. Wells says that 50,000 years ago, man lived on only one continent: Africa. (Wikipedia calls this the Recent African Origin theory, and says it’s a “near mainstream position.”) The dispersion of man over the other continents, the differentiating of man into various races, the development of most of what we regard as languages and cultures — all this has occurred in just the last 50,000 years! One wonders how so much could have happened in such a short time.

Perhaps you’re not surprised by the extent of linguistic and cultural evolution. But isn’t it surprising that the human body could have changed, diversified, evolved to such a degree in such a short amount of time? I thought that physical evolution was a slow process, requiring more than 50,000 years.

“What prompted man to leave Africa 50,000 years ago? Was he the victim of his own success, of over-population?” No, he was driven out by an ice age, an ice age that was accompanied by drought, famine, etc. “And where did he go first? Mesopotamia?” No, it seems that he reached Australia before he reached Mesopotamia. “Had his nautical skills developed far enough to enable him to reach Australia?” No, he reached Australia largely by walking — down the west coast of India, then up the east coast of India, then down the coast of Burma and Thailand to Indonesia, then on to Australia.

“That course may not require long voyages by boat, but it still requires quite a high degree of nautical skill.” Not really, because water levels were lower during the ice age, and there were more land bridges on the way to Australia. “It must have taken a long time for these people to migrate to Australia.” Actually, indications of man in Australia appear shortly after the migration out of Africa; perhaps it took man only 2,000 years to reach Australia from Africa. “If early man followed the course that you say, how come he left no traces along the route — along the coast of India, for example?” True, there’s no archeological evidence in India of such early men. However, in one of the high points of the documentary, Spencer Wells went to India, took DNA samples, and found evidence of a link between the Indians of today and the migrants of 50,000 years ago.

Since I haven’t studied Wells’ work carefully, I won’t say anything more about it, but I hope I’ve given you a taste of it, and perhaps aroused a desire to pursue the subject further.1

2. Four Ideals

This piece has been moved here.

3. A Portrait of the Prophet as a Young Man:
The Autobiography of C. G. Jung

Our book group recently read Jung’s autobiography (Memories, Dreams, Reflections). It’s one of Jung’s most popular books — more readable than the books that comprise his Collected Works. It’s full of interesting and profound ideas; it has more meat, more to ponder, than any book our group has read since its inception five years ago. If you like to mark interesting passages as you read (as I do), you’ll find yourself marking almost every paragraph of Jung’s autobiography — or at least, more paragraphs than you mark of any other book.

When you finish the book, however, you may be less than enthusiastic about it; the last chapter or two is rather lame. Instead of ending on a high note, it peters out in appendices. Though Jung himself wrote some chapters, much of the book was dictated to his secretary, Aniela Jaffé, who edited the book. Instead of being concise, and leaving the reader hungry for more, Jaffé seemed to want to lengthen the book, and as a result the reader is left satiated. Now I want to read something different, so I chose novels for the next two meetings of our group; first, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, and then The Nigger of the “Narcissus”, by Joseph Conrad.

Jung’s autobiography is devoted largely to his unconscious life and to his theories, rather than to his external life. He doesn’t say, for example, how he met his wife, and he says almost nothing about his numerous children. There are, however, a few memorable descriptions of external events. For example, Jung describes a trip to Lucerne when he was 14. He had been sent to a health resort “in the hope that my fitful appetite and my then unstable health would be improved.... At the end of my stay my father came to fetch me, and we traveled together to Lucerne, where — what happiness! — we went aboard a steamship. I had never seen anything like it. I could not see enough of the action of the steam engine, and then suddenly I was told we had arrived in Vitznau. Above the village towered a high mountain, and my father now explained to me that this was the Rigi, and that a cogwheel railway ran up it. We went to a small station building, and there stood the strangest locomotive in the world, with the boiler upright but tilted at a queer angle. Even the seats in the carriage were tilted. My father pressed a ticket into my hand and said, ‘You can ride up to the peak alone. I’ll stay here, it’s too expensive for the two of us. Be careful not to fall down anywhere.’2 With a tremendous puffing, the wonderful locomotive shook and rattled me up to the dizzy heights where ever-new abysses and panoramas opened out before my gaze, until at last I stood on the peak in the strange thin air, looking into unimaginable distances. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘this is it, my world, the real world’.... I kept carefully to the paths, for there were tremendous precipices all around. It was all very solemn, and I felt one had to be polite and silent up here, for one was in God’s world. Here it was physically present. This was the best and most precious gift my father had ever given me.”3

Later in his life, Jung often thought of revisiting these scenes, but he never did. “I still see myself, grown up and independent, wearing a stiff black hat and with an expensive cane, sitting on the terrace of one of the overwhelmingly elegant palatial hotels beside Lake Lucerne, or in the beautiful gardens of Vitznau, having my morning coffee at a small, white-covered table under a striped awning spangled with sunlight, eating croissants with golden butter and various kinds of jam, and considering plans for outings that would fill the whole long summer day.... For many decades this image rose up whenever I was wearied from overwork and sought a point of rest. In real life I have promised myself this splendor again and again, but I have never kept my promise.”4

Another memorable passage from Jung’s autobiography is his description of his father’s death, which occurred when Jung was 20: “There was a rattling in his throat, and I could see that he was in the death agony. I stood by his bed, fascinated. I had never seen anyone die before. Suddenly he stopped breathing. I waited and waited for the next breath. It did not come. Then I remembered my mother and went into the next room, where she sat by the window, knitting. ‘He is dying,’ I said. She came with me to the bed, and saw that he was dead. She said as if in wonderment: ‘How quickly it has all passed.’”5

Why did Jung’s mother say, “how quickly it has all passed”? In my view, that remark doesn’t refer just to her husband’s illness. Rather, it refers to her husband’s life, his married life — love, marriage, children, growing old. Then suddenly death. How quickly it all passed.

What was the cause of death? What did Jung’s father die of? Jung suggests that he died from loss of faith — that is, from religious and psychological factors, not from purely physical causes. And indeed, Jung mentions in his autobiography several people who died (in his view) from psychic, or psycho-somatic causes.

Jung complains about the Protestant theology of his time, and he says that his father was led astray by this theology. This theology had no place for the Dark Side, and Jung says that his parents tried to be too good, too virtuous: “As a country parson he lapsed into a sort of sentimental idealism and into reminiscences of his golden student days, continued to smoke a long student’s pipe, and discovered that his marriage was not all he had imagined it to be. He did a great deal of good — far too much — and as a result was usually irritable. Both parents made great efforts to live devout lives, with the result that there were angry scenes between them only too frequently.”6

Shortly before his death, “his irritability and discontent had increased.... From a number of hints he let fall I was convinced that he suffered from religious doubts.... Once I heard him praying. He struggled desperately to keep his faith.... His depressive moods increased in frequency and intensity, and so did his hypochondria. For a number of years he had complained of all sorts of abdominal symptoms, though his doctor had been unable to find anything definite wrong with him.”7 Jung’s father was never able to find peace with himself, with the world, with God, and his spiritual unrest contributed, in Jung’s view, to his health problems, and to his death.

Jung was a deep thinker, and he realized that his father’s loss of faith wasn’t just his father’s — Western society as a whole was losing its faith. The individual lives the history of his time; the spirit of the age and the spirit of the individual are intertwined. Jung’s own generation was ready to break away from orthodox Christianity; Jung was born to solve the religious problem, the problem of evil, the problem that his father suffered from.8 A thinker’s ideas are part of his being, and are with him when he emerges from the womb. My most original idea is my theory of history, and it seemed to be part of me before I was conscious of it; when I first heard about the Renaissance, as a youngster, I knew immediately that my generation was a Renaissance generation.

Another death that seems to have been the result of “Jungian causes” is the death of Richard Wilhelm. Wilhelm was a prominent Sinologist and translator of the I Ching. Wilhelm collaborated with Jung on a book called The Secret of the Golden Flower, a translation-with-commentary of an ancient Chinese alchemical work. After spending many years in China, Wilhelm returned to Europe and “began to feel [according to Jung] the pressure of the European spirit.... I went to hear some lectures of his and they turned out to be scarcely any different from conventional sermons.”9 Jung feared that “the European element might be gaining the upper hand over the Orient.... If such a process takes place without a strong, conscious attempt to come to terms with it, the unconscious conflict can seriously affect the physical state of health.”10

When Jung spoke with Wilhelm, Wilhelm was happy to discuss West and East in an objective, detached way “but whenever I attempted to touch the actual problem of his inner conflict, I immediately sensed a drawing back, an inward shutting himself off — because such matters went straight to the bone.... Wilhelm did not speak plainly.”11

Before Wilhelm died, Jung had a vision that foretold his death (such visions were not unusual for Jung, and many are described in his autobiography): “A few weeks before his death, when I had had no news from him for a considerable time, I was awakened, just as I was on the point of falling asleep, by a vision. At my bed stood a Chinese in a dark blue gown, hands crossed in the sleeves. He bowed low before me, as if he wished to give me a message. I knew what it signified. The vision was extraordinarily vivid. Not only did I see every wrinkle in the man’s face, but every thread in the fabric of his gown.”12

Jung had visions not only of death, but also of life; Jung himself survived a life-threatening illness, and this survival was accompanied by a vision of survival. “At the beginning of 1944 I broke my foot, and this misadventure was followed by a heart attack. In a state of unconsciousness I experienced deliriums and visions which must have begun when I hung on the edge of death and was being given oxygen and camphor injections. The images were so tremendous that I myself concluded that I was close to death. My nurse afterward told me, ‘It was as if you were surrounded by a bright glow.’ That was a phenomenon she had sometimes observed in the dying, she added. I had reached the outermost limit, and do not know whether I was in a dream or an ecstasy. At any rate, extremely strange things began to happen to me.

“It seemed to me that I was high up in space. Far below I saw the globe of the earth, bathed in a gloriously blue light. I saw the deep blue sea and the continents.... From below, from the direction of Europe, an image floated up. It was my doctor, Dr. H.... Dr. H. had been delegated by the earth to deliver a message to me, to tell me that there was a protest against my going away. I had no right to leave the earth and must return. The moment I heard that, the vision ceased....

“In reality, a good three weeks were still to pass before I could truly make up my mind to live again.... Life and the whole world struck me as a prison.... I had been so glad to shed it all.... While I floated in space, I had been weightless, and there had been nothing tugging at me....

“I felt violent resistance to my doctor because he had brought me back to life.... Suddenly the terrifying thought came to me that Dr. H. would have to die in my stead.... I was firmly convinced that his life was in jeopardy. In actual fact I was his last patient....

“During those weeks I lived in a strange rhythm. By day I was usually depressed. I felt weak and wretched, and scarcely dared to stir. Gloomily, I thought, ‘Now I must go back to this drab world.’ Toward evening I would fall asleep, and my sleep would last until about midnight. Then I would come to myself and lie awake for about an hour, but in an utterly transformed state. It was as if I were in an ecstasy. I felt as though I were floating in space, as though I were safe in the womb of the universe — in a tremendous void, but filled with the highest possible feeling of happiness. ‘This is eternal bliss,’ I thought. ‘This cannot be described; it is far too wonderful!’....

“I would never have imagined that any such experience was possible. It was not a product of imagination. The visions and experiences were utterly real; there was nothing subjective about them; they all had a quality of absolute objectivity. We shy away from the word ‘eternal,’ but I can describe the experience only as the ecstasy of a non-temporal state in which present, past, and future are one.”13

Could such visions occur to anyone? Are such visions typical of a near-death experience? Jung thinks that such visions presuppose a certain development of personality, a “coming to oneself”, an achieving of wholeness; Jung refers to this wholeness as “individuation”. “The objectivity which I experienced... in the visions is part of a completed individuation. It signifies detachment from valuations and from what we call emotional ties. In general, emotional ties are very important to human beings. But they still contain projections, and it is essential to withdraw these projections in order to attain to oneself and to objectivity.”14

While these visions indicated (in Jung’s view) that Jung had developed to the point of individuation, they also helped him to develop further: “After the illness a fruitful period of work began for me. A good many of my principal works were written only then. The insight I had had, or the vision of the end of all things, gave me the courage to undertake new formulations. I no longer attempted to put across my own opinion, but surrendered myself to the current of my thoughts. Thus one problem after the other revealed itself to me and took shape.

“Something else, too, came to me from my illness. I might formulate it as an affirmation of things as they are: an unconditional ‘yes’ to that which is, without subjective protests — acceptance of the conditions of existence as I see them and understand them, acceptance of my own nature, as I happen to be.”15

Much more can be said about Jung’s remarkable autobiography, and perhaps in the next issue of Phlit, I’ll return to this subject.

© L. James Hammond 2004
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Footnotes
1. Update, 9/8/04: Another popular book on this subject is The Seven Daughters of Eve, by Bryan Sykes. It argues that everyone of European descent can be traced back to one of seven women. Perhaps the most well-known writer in this field is Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, author of Genes, Peoples, and Languages and other works. back
2. I myself recently traveled to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where a cogwheel railway climbs to the top of Mt. Washington. We considered buying tickets, but decided that the price of a ticket was too high for any of us! back
3. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books Edition, 1989, ch. 3, p. 76 back
4. ibid, p. 78 back
5. ibid, p. 96 back
6. ibid, p. 91 back
7. ibid, pp. 92, 94 back
8. As Jung put it, “The peculiar ‘religious’ ideas that came to me even in my earliest childhood were spontaneous products which can be understood only as reactions to my parental environment and to the spirit of the age.”(ibid, p. 90) back
9. ibid, Appendix IV, p. 376 back
10. ibid back
11. ibid, p. 377 back
12. ibid back
13. ibid, ch. 10 back
14. ibid back
15. ibid back