A fastidious, full-scale biography of the Swiss psychologist.
Few characters in the history of psychoanalysis have been as gifted, pivotal, or personally fascinating as the polymorphous Jung, who, with Freud, was one of the two great figures of 20th-century psychology. Jung was born in Basel to a long line of patrician German and Swiss physicians and clergymen, but his own parents were poor and odd, and “Pastor’s Carl,” as he was called as a boy, was unpromising, to say the least. Haunted by visions and drawn to corpses and spiritual contact with the dead, he was silent, awkward, and inscrutable, even to himself. Medical school gave him a method and a focus; while studying schizophrenics in the Zurich asylum, he discovered an associative protocol that made him famous throughout Europe and gained him the attention of Sigmund Freud. Prizewinning Bair (Samuel Beckett, 1978; Anaïs Nin, 1995, etc.) painstakingly tracks Jung’s restless apprenticeship to the dominating Freud and his painful defection from Freud’s belief that an “incest complex” lies at the heart of all neuroses and psychoses. Jung became a colorful and dominating figure in Zurich, attracting patients—primarily wealthy, worshipful, sexually frustrated women—from all over the world to his office in the Victorian home he shared with his long-suffering wife and awe-stricken children. Through his active practice and through self-analysis, dreams, visions, séances, and a study of religion, mythology, and alchemy, in the 1920s and ’30s he created such concepts as introversion and extroversion, the collective unconscious, and synchronicity. Yet his family, junior colleagues, collaborators, and mistresses all paid the price of his growing self-obsession. Bair makes this clear without overt judgment, and her closing portrait of the elderly analyst in “a vanishing world,” trying to understand himself at last by writing his brilliant memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections, is riveting, inspiring, and unforgettable.
Apart from assuming a too-sophisticated knowledge of psychoanalysis by readers, this triumph of scholarship is also highly accessible.