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The Red Book

Definition: Alternately called a work of "infinite wisdom" and the ramblings of a psychotic.

 

Carl Jung was an influential psychiatrist considered to be the founder of analytical psychology. Jung collaborated with Sigmund Freud for years and was noted for his work with schizophrenic patients. In 1913, Jung's professional relationship with Freud dissolved and he began to develop serious mental health issues of his own, admitting to both auditory and visual hallucinations in what he described as a "confrontation with the unconscious."

During this period, Jung scribed a book he titled Liber Novus, Latin for "New Book," but which has since been deemed "The Red Book." Scrawled with hand-drawn devils, conversations with deities, depictions of incest, and travels through the underworld, it has been alternately called a work of "infinite wisdom" and the ramblings of a psychotic. He worked on the book for 16 years, locking it away until his death in 1961.

When describing the book, he cryptically revealed: "The years . . . when I pursued the inner images, were the most important times 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, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then."

After his death, the Jung family locked the Red Book away for nearly 50 years. Only a handful of people had ever seen it until it was published in October of 2009. The original has since been shown in Manhattan's Rubin Museum of Art. What devils drove Carl Jung's hand, what he was truly attempting to express in "The Red Book," and precisely why his family attempted to keep the work hidden for so many decades remains quite mysterious.

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