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Carl Jung’s Red Book at the Rubin Museum of Art

September 21, 2009

Jung Red Book 1

The NYTimes Magazine recently published a very interesting article about Carl Jung’s mysterious Red Book, in which he recorded his hallucinations and imaginings for sixteen years starting in 1914. At the time, Jung worried that he had turned schizophrenic and described visions so intense that he had to “cling onto the table so as not to fall apart”. The book, which until now was fiercely guarded by his descendants, contains Jung’s descriptions of these imaginings and is illustrated in brightly colored illuminations that seem almost medieval. Since being moved to a bank vault in 1984, only a handful of people had actually seen the book since Jung had left no specific instructions on what to do with it after his death. Many people have speculated on the book’s significance, pointing out that  the book greatly affected Jung’s theories and therapeutic methods. The historian who did the translation  has said the book’s basic message is “Value your inner life”.

After years of convincing and planning, the book is finally being published in October 2009 . The book will contain 212 color illustrations and is a pixel by pixel scanned copy of the original. I might have to read this if only for the illustrations since it seems the perfect intersection of early 20th century symbolism and medieval art with some science thrown in (though not directly)… Uncannily similar to the exhibit “Pen and Parchment” at the Metropolitan a few months ago which  displayed medieval manuscripts that illustrated the order of the universe and genealogy of humankind. The book is translated from the original German and extensively footnoted by Sonu Shamdasani, a preeminent Jung historian and Reader in Jung History at Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London. Incidentally, the Wellcome Centre is a museum I’ve always wanted to visit – it covers the weird place between art and science and there is currently a neat exhibit on human body models used in medical schools. I remember one of their first exhibits was on the heart and its cultural significance.

Jung Red Book 2

The Red Book can be purchased on Amazon once it is released. If you want to explore the book in person before buying, the Rubin Museum of Art is exhibiting the original book along with sketches and paintings relating to Jung’s work on the book. The exhibit, “The Red Book of C.G. Jung: Creation of a New Cosmology” runs from October 7 through January 25. Though the Rubin Museum is typically known for dis playing art from the Himalayas and Buddhist art, the connection to Jung’s book is through the many Mandala-like drawings he made in the book.

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