Book Report: The Undiscovered Self by C. G. Jung (1958)

Book coverI picked up this trade paperback because I’m running out of good, smart-looking mass market paperbacks to be my carry book. As such, I could not stick it into my pocket for easy travel, but I guess I don’t need that as much as I thought, since most of my outside-the-home reading places have places for me to stow books when not in use.

I enjoyed this book, as you might guess by my posts quoting it (here and here). It’s styled as a psychology book, but Jung really gets more into philosophy than psychology. He discusses the role and experience of the individual relative to mass movements, both the State and the Church and discusses how the individual gets wrapped up in them and how they in turn enwrapture the individual to the individual’s detriment.

Of course, I agreed with the assessments of the individual versus the State. For people of a certain stripe, like me, trends have indicated the Federal government is creeping and sometimes bolting towards an omnipresent I didn’t agree with the assessment of the Church, though. Perhaps it’s because I attend a less centralized church than the Catholic church or because I’m up close and personal with the people who make up the church that I can see the atoms in the conceptual object, but I don’t see it as monolithic as the State. I guess one could say the State is likewise composed of well-meaning individuals who sometimes go astray in pursuit of well-meaning ends, but the State and the Church are different in that the Church has to operate through spiritual and moral suasion and the State has the military and law enforcement to compel its well-meaning urges. So they are very different indeed.

It’s been a while since I actually read this book (I finished it way back in July), but I’ve put off posting about it because I took a lot of notes on it and considered writing a really long, thoughtful post on it. In addition to the wisdom of posts linked above, I took some notes like this:

  • P46 Jung contra Objectivism; he says the world would not exist without consciousness. Jung says:

    Without consciousness, there would, practically speaking, be no world, for the world exists as such only in so far as it is consciously reflected and consciously experienced by a psyche. Consciousness is a precondition of being.

    Anyone who knows his or her Objectivism (and a bit of Existentialism) knows these hold the existence of an external reality precedes the consciousness that perceives/experiences it.

  • P58 wisdom. I have no idea what I meant.
  • P81 individual slipping into purely conceptual world. Does it contradict p46 above? Jung writes:

    Nothing estranges man more from the ground-plan of his instincts than his learning capacity which turns out to be a genuine drive for progressive transformation of human modes of behaviour. It, more than anything else, is responsible for the altered conditions of his existence and the need for new adaptations which civilization brings. It is also the ultimate source of those numerous psychic disturbances and difficulties which are occasioned by man’s progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation, i.e., by his uprootedness and identification with his conscious knowledge of himself, by his concern with consciousness at the expense of the unconscious. The result is that modern man knows himself only in so far as he can become conscious of himself – a capacity largely dependent on environmental conditions, knowledge and control of which necessitated or suggested certain modifications of his original instinctive tendencies. His consciousness therefore orients itself chiefly by observing and investigating the world around him, and it is to the latter’s peculiarities that he must adapt his psychic and technical resources. This task is so exacting, and its fulfilment so profitable, that he forgets himself in the process, losing sight of his instinctual nature and putting his own conception of himself in place of his real being. In this way he slips imperceptibly into a purely conceptual world where the products of his conscious activity progressively take the place of reality.

    It highlights the dangers, but it does not contradict the assertion of consciousness preceding reality.

  • P84 reiterates the primacy of the psyche. Jung writes:

    All the same, nobody can deny that without the psyche there would be no world at all, and still less a human world.

    So he’s all in on the consciousness first.

  • P92 church attendance is an expression of faith, not the source. I think I was arguing against what he wrote on p91:

    In view of the general ignorance of and bias against psychology it must be accounted a misfortune that the one experience which makes sense of individual existence should seem to have its origin in a medium that is certain to catch everybody’s prejudices. Once more the doubt is heard: “What good can come out of Nazareth?” The unconscious, if not regarded. outright as a sort of refuse bin underneath the conscious mind, is at any rate supposed to be of “merely animal nature.” In reality, however, and by definition it is of uncertain extent and constitution, so that overvaluation or undervaluation of it is pointless and can be dismissed as mere prejudice. At all events, such judgments sound very queer in the mouths of Christians, whose Lord was himself born on the straw of a stable, among the domestic animals. It would have been more to the taste of the multitude if he had got himself born in a temple. In the same way, the worldly-minded mass man looks for the numinous experience in the mass meeting, which provides an infinitely more imposing background than the individual soul. Even Church Christians share this pernicious delusion.

    This doesn’t resonate with the experience I have in church attendance, where it’s more an expression of faith, a reinforcement of it, and a time for fellowship with others who believe similarly rather than a place for direct divine interjection. But I don’t go to a snake-handling or speaking-in-tongues church.

  • p93 The Psychological Advantage of Communism. I think I refer to this passage:

    Communism has not overlooked the enormous importance of the ideological element and the universality of basic principles. The nations of the Far East share our ideological weakness and in this respect are just as vulnerable as we are.

    Aside: I confess I’m swiping text from this translation which differs from my text; in my text, nations of the Far East appears. In the online version, it’s coloured races. A quick reminder that this is, in fact, translated text subject to all the attendant risks.

  • p107 defense of modern art. I have no idea what this means.

So where was I? Oh, yes, digressing and rambling. The notes are as far as I got into a thoughtful post.

At any rate, Jung comes at the questions as a psychologist, which means his entry point into the questions is the discrete experiences of individuals, and he conceptualizes and generalizes from their to his conclusions. So where I disagree with him on the greater meanings and movements of Modern Man, it’s from these faulty macro-level concepts and less on the experiences and recommendations made for individuals in the milieu. Well, I also reject a priori the idea that the whole of reality depends upon the psyche. No, the individual’s experience and the shared and transmitted experience relies on psyche, consciousness, and communication, but not the world itself.

So I feel smarter for having read the book even though I didn’t agree with some of it. What a difference between modern books; is it possible to read something written in the last twenty years that won’t insult people who disagree?

Books mentioned in this review: