Carl Jung’s “The Undiscovered Self”

In the winter of 1913, noted Psychologist Carl Jung embarked on a process of self-experimentation. He deliberately gave free rein to his fantasy thinking and carefully noted what ensued. He later called this process “Active imagination.” He wrote down these fantasies in the Black Books. These are not personal diaries, but rather the records of a self-experimentation.

When World War I broke out, Jung considered that a number of his fantasies were precognitions of this event. This led him to compose the first draft of Liber Novus, which consisted of a transcription of the main fantasies from the Black Books, together with a layer of interpretive commentaries and lyrical elaboration. Here Jung attempted to derive general psychological principles from the fantasies, as well as to understand to what extent the events portrayed in the fantasies presented, in a symbolic form, developments that were to occur in the world.

In the aftermath of World War II, with the advent of the Cold War, the erection of the Berlin Wall, and the explosion of the hydrogen bomb, Jung found himself once again confronted with “An apocalyptic age filled with images of universal destruction,” as he had been when he composed Liber Novus during World War I. Articulating there a direct linkage between what took place in the individual and in society at large, he argued that the only solution to the seemingly catastrophic developments in the world lay in the individual turning within and resolving the individual aspects of the collective conflict:

” [T] he spirit of the depths wants this struggle [the War] to be understood as a conflict in every man’s own nature.”3 In his personal confrontation, Jung’s endeavor was one of resolving the conflicts that were reflected on the world stage within himself. In 1917, he wrote, This war has pitilessly revealed to civilized man that he is still a barbarian. . .. But the psychology of the individual corresponds to the psychology of the nation. What the nation does is done also by each individual, and so long as the individual does it, the nation also does it. Only the change in the attitude of the individual is the beginning of the change in the psychology of the nation.”

Most people confuse “self-knowledge” with knowledge of their conscious ego-personalities. Anyone who has any ego-consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents.

People measure their self-knowledge by what the average person in their social environment knows of himself, but not by the real psychic facts which are for the most part hidden from them. In this respect the psyche behaves like the body, of whose physiological and anatomical structure the average person knows very little too. Although he lives in it and with it, most of it is totally unknown to the layman, and special scientific knowledge is needed to acquaint consciousness with what is known of the body, not to speak of all that is not known, which also exists.

What is commonly called “self-knowledge” is therefore a very limited knowledge, most of it dependent on social factors, of what goes on in the human psyche. Hence one is always coming up against the prejudice that such and such a thing does not happen “with us” or “in our family” or among our friends and acquaintances. On the other hand, one meets with equally illusory assumptions about the alleged presence of qualities which merely serve to cover up the true facts .

Carl Jung’s concepts are definitely not everyone’s cup of coffee but understanding them is definitely something that I am giving a try.

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