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Jung's "Modern Man in Search of a Soul" resonates today, just as much as it did in '33

Harcourt
Republished in recent years, Jung's "Modern Man in Search of a Soul" was originally published in 1933.
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BOOK REVIEW: Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Carl G. Jung (Harcourt) 1933

It is most interesting, in retrospect, to think about the period of history when Carl Jung’s book Modern Man in Search of a Soul was published.

It was in 1933. The same year that Adolf Hitler, fuhrer of the Nazi Party, was named chancellor of Germany. It was a time of Stalin’s purges in the USSR. It was a time of depression in the United States. Frankly, things were not going all that well in many parts of the world when Jung wrote his provocative and enlightening book, which was collected from a series of lectures Jung gave earlier in his storied career, which seemed ever shadowed by his peer Sigmund Freud.

As a student of synchronicity, a term created by the Swiss psychoanalyst during his development Jung’s willingness to explore the unconscious mind – wherever it took him – struck me as groundbreaking. Where Freud was more worried about what his peers thought, Jung delved into “dream analysis,” something that in the world of psychotherapy was considered controversial (as it is in a large degree even today).

But Jung ascribe importance to “the psychic activity manifested in dreams” and to consciousness itself.  Jung addresses this in his "Dream-Analysis" opening chapter, concluding that in time there will be more known about "unconscious, psychic growth" in human beings, and that physicians (as they tended to in his day) jump to conclusions about thinking the issues surrounding dream analysis are connected to a pathology, in the negative sense. Of course, Jung was ahead of his time in this regard. It took many years for others to catch up.

Jung continues, focusing on both the problems and the aims of psychotherapy, as he notes in two separate addresses. Regarding the "problems," Jung said that our "young civilization," which is achieving "higher cultural levels" of development, should be approaching this new science in a more positive fashion, but Jung knew that there was an "abyss" between his time and that unknown future time where more sophisticated and helpful methods were implemented. Or, as Jung puts it, there is no bridge over this "abyss" and that it must be built by us, "stone by stone." 

And with the aims of psychotherapy, Jung knew that he and his peers were on "perfectly new ground" and that rationality, while important, cannot be the only way psychotherapy is approached. Symbols must be considered and, as he says: "To the psyche the spirit is no less the spirit even thought it be called sexuality." Food for thought, eh?

And while Jung takes the reader through a list of his theories of "types" and the contrasts between himself and Sigmund Freud (a bit too lengthy, and in parts - unnecessary) he later delves into more "esoteric" areas of psychoanalysis and explains how everything we experience is "psychic" and goes on to say that his "fear of a ghost" cannot be explained simply by rational, mental processes. It's something else, deeper within ourselves. 

"General conceptions of a spiritual nature are indispensable constituents of psychic life," notes Jung. We can point them out among all peoples whose level of consicousness makes them in some degree articulate." 

The final two chapters in Modern Man in Search of a Soul are the two the previous nine chapters were building up two - "The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man" and "Psychotherapists or the Clergy." Indeed. Where does that line stop between doctor and priest? Perhaps it does not?

With rapid change taking place in Europe, with the rise of Nazism and Fascism and Communism, it was clear that "modern man" was looking for answers in "isms." Yet, Jung had his finger on the pulse of modern society of the 1930's, noting that a man who calls himself "modern" is - like today - "solitary." And the growing gap between humanity's "psychic and physical" life. Whereas there was a shared, collective experience in centuries before, this new era was taking  psychic toll, Jung thought.

And he framed it as being the difference between "aging Europe" and "young America" or the "American tempo," which continues today, although it is rapidly being overshadowed by the tempoes and youthfulness of other nations. The 21st century is not America's alone. And I think if Carl Jung were alive today, looking out at the Internet-connected world, where reflection is truly a thing of the past, he might suggest that conscious man is trying to "cheat the laws of nature" but at what cost?

This is a truly important collection of lectures by Dr. Jung, one of the most important voices of the 20th century and one who continues to influence me and many others to this very day.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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