The first time I saw a copy of the Red Book by Carl Gustav Jung, it was in a Zurich bookstore six years ago. I remembered I was mesmerized by this edition, which was a hardcover version of the original, with incredible images and some unusual format. But it was around $400 at the time, a small fortune for me, even when considering the fragile budget filtering that I applied when taken over by grandiose writing packed in a book. And it was in Germa.
Obviously, it didn’t come to my possession – today I am writing about The Red Book Liber Novus, a reader’s edition, edited and with an intro written by Sonu Shamdasani.
There are thousands of websites dedicated to the magnificent work of C.G.Jung, one of which that I find particularly enticing and inquisitive is Lewis Lafontaine Depth Psychology blog, whose author is the most generous devotee of Jung’s work to what I’m aware of, especially in terms of cutting through the massive volume of content with surgical precision and finding palatable pieces for the reflection-hungry reader.
And the ability to self-reflect was a skill Jung had in spades, one that set the base for The Red Book and the rest of his masterpieces, as well as one that is so important to understand if you want to connect to his work.
Some say that Jung was both a wealthy and educated man, which gave him the time to immerse so deep in the human collective psyche, but there’s more to it. Others claim that he went to write a unique piece in a state that included psychotic symptoms. However, the book was written at night, in wartime (during the First World War), and on the basis of a peculiar self-experiment which included self-induced phantasmagorical journeys by the great psychoanalytic himself.
If you aren’t a big fan of finding intricate connections in the web of the unconscious and its earthly personified concepts, you may not enjoy the Red Book as much. But if you are the person of dreams who lives at the edges of the inner and the outer world, you’ll find great pleasure in Jung’s work, as I did and I still do, only because this is not a text that could be read at one go.
Unfortunately, the version I have doesn’t include the vivid images of Jung’s core psyche, who poured his soul in his creations, as he himself describes vividly: “My entire life consisted in elaborating what has burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me.”
Jung’s work has been popularized by mainstream psychology, popular psychology, and even poorly projected by Hollywood which can have its downsides, as well as its advantages. Regardless of how you view it, it is important to remember that the perceptions disclosed in Jung’s overall writing work a product of years of practical work with people or as they call them in psychiatry – patients.
But this book contains perhaps the largest huge chunk of Jung’s inner world and if you are not familiar with the basics of his theoretical system, this reading may be too nutritious to be digested quickly. While reading it, it’s crucial to take into account the period in which Jung lived, as well as his personal history – after all, each author shares a piece of the self when revealing their writing to the audience.
To look at the captivating images, you can search for descriptive repositories online. You can also find plenty of Jung’s writings in PDF format if they’re still there. If you have a few hundreds of dollars to spend, then I definitely recommend getting a nice colored hardcover edition. The lucky chance for me in the version I got was that it comes with an introduction and editing work. It is evidently a labor of love and it includes extra information that can be helpful for first-time readers.
Jung was quite the writer and quite the illustrator – a rare jewel, for sure, one that comes once in a lifetime. But he was blessed with understanding the complicated amalgam of the material and the spiritual in a human, and above all, in himself.
Read the book with a fresh mind, and get rid of preconceived notions about life, death, science, philosophy, and religion. I was touched on many occasions by the acumen of Jung’s polymath abilities.
To extract the most potent juice out of his work, including The Red Book, you might just need to retrieve a bit of your childlike curiosity and become more capable of conjuring thoughts of spirit, sleep well, peel years of theoretical concepts that have shaped the person you are today, and get ready to read at your own pace. At least that’s how I do it because everything else is too much. Reading Jung involves plenty of shadow work and that is not the most pleasant or pain-free experience – let’s call it depth psychology at its best and its worst.
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