The Red Book (LIBER NOVUS) by C.G.Jung
The Red Book (LIBER NOVUS) by Carl Gustav JUNG
Since 1962, the existence of C. G. Jung’s Red Book has been widely known. Yet only with the present publication is it finally accessible to a broad public. Its genesis is described in Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, and has been the subject of numerous discussions in the secondary literature. Hence I will only briefly outline it here.
The year 1913 was pivotal in Jung’s life. He began a self experiment that became known as his “confrontation with the unconscious” and lasted until 1930. During this experiment, he developed a technique to “get to the bottom of [his] inner processes” , “to translate the emotions into images” , and “to grasp the fantasies which were stirring underground”.
He later called this method “active imagination. ” He first recorded these fantasies in his Black Books. He then revised these texts, added reflections on them, and copied them in a calligraphic script into a book entitled Liber Novus bound in red leather, accompanied by his own paintings. It has always been known as the Red Book.
Jung shared his inner experiences with his wife and close associates. In 1925 he gave a report of his professional and personal development in a series of seminars at the Psychological Club in Zurich in which he also mentioned his method of active imagination. Beyond this, Jung was guarded. His children, for example, were not informed about his self-experiment and they did not notice anything unusual.
Clearly, it would have been difficult for him to explain what was taking place. It w’as already a mark of favor if he allowed one of his children to watch him write or paint. Thus for Jung’s descendants, the Red Book had always been surrounded by an aura of mystery. In 1930 Jung ended his experiment and pur the Red Book aside – unfinished. Although it had its honored place in his study, he let it rest for decades.
Meanwhile the insights he had gained through it directly informed his subsequent writings. In 1959, with the help of the old draft, he tried to complete the transcription of the text into the Red Book and to finish an incomplete painting. He also starred on an epilogue, but for unknown reasons both the calligraphic text and epilogue break off in midsentence.
Although Jung actively considered publishing the Red Book, he never took the necessary steps. In 1916 he privately published the Septem Sermones ad Mortuos (Seven Sermons to the Dead), a short work that arose out of his confrontation with the unconscious. Even his 1916 essay, “The Transcendent Function,” in which he described the technique of active imagination, was not published until I958.
There are a number of reasons why he did not publish the Red Book. As he himself stated, it was unfinished. His growing interest in alchemy as a research topic distracted him. In hindsight, he described the detailed working out of his fantasies in the Red Book as a necessary but annoying “acstheticizing elaboration.”
As late as 1957 he declared that the Black Books and the Red Book were autobiographical records that he did not want published in his Collected Works because they were not of a scholarly character. As a concession, he allowed Aniela Jaffe to quote excerpts from the Red Book and the Black Books in Memories, Dreams, Reflections – a possibility which she made little use of.
In 1961, Jung died. His literary estate became the property of his descendants, who formed the Society of Heirs of C. G. Jung. The inheritance of Jung’s literary rights brought an obligation and challenge to his heirs: to see through the publication of the German edition ot his Collected Works. In his will, Jung had expressed the wish that the Red Book and the Black Books should remain with his family, without, however, giving more derailed instructions.
Since the Red Book was not meant to be published in the Collected Works, the Society of I Heirs concluded that this was Jung’s final wish concerning the work, and that it was an entirely private matter. The Society of Heirs guarded Jung’s unpublished writings like a treasure; no further publications were considered The Red Book remained in Jung’s study for more than twenty years, entrusted to the care of Franz Jung who had taken over his father’s house.
In 1985 the Society ol Heirs placed the Red Book in a safe-deposit box, knowing that it was an irreplaceable document. In 1984 the newly appointed executive committee had five photographic duplicates made for family use. For the first time, Jung’s descendants now had the opportunity to take a close look at it. This careful handling had its benefits. The Red Book’s well preserved state is due, among other things, to the fact that it has only rarely been opened in decades.
When, after 1990, the editing of the German Collected Works – a selection of works – was drawing to a conclusion, the executive committee decided to start looking through all the accessible unpublished material with an eye to further publications. I took up this task, because in 1994, the Sociery of Heirs had placed the responsibility for archival and editorial questions on me.
It turned out that there was an entire corpus of drafts and variants pertaining to the Red Book. From this it emerged that the missing part of the calligraphic text existed as a draft and that there was a manuscript entitled “Scrutinies,” which continued where the draft ended, containing the Seven Sermons. Yet whether and how this substantial material could be published remained an open question.
At first glance, the style and content appeared to have little in common with Jung’s other works. Much was unclear and by the mid – 1990s there was no one left who could have provided first – hand information on these points.
However, since Jung’s time, the history of psychology had been gaining in importance and could now’ offer a new approach. While working on other projects I had come in contact with Sonu Shamdasani. In extensive talks we discussed the possibility of further Jung publications, both in general terms as well as with regard to the Red Book .
The book had emerged within a specific context with which a reader at the turn of the twenty-first century is no longer familiar. But a historian of psychology would be able to present it to the modern reader as a historical document. With the help of primary sources he could embed it in the cultural context of its genesis, situate it within the history of science, and relate it to Jung’s life and works.
In 1999 Sonu Shamdasani developed a publication proposal following these guiding principles. On the basis of this proposal the Society of Heirs decided in spring 2000 – not without discussion – to release the Red Book for publication and to hand over the task of editing it to Sonu Shamdasani.
THE YEARS, OF WHICH I HAVE SPOKEN TO YOU, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.
C. G. JUNG, 1957