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15683455_b1fc405d34Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post was originally published at

Volume I of Jung’s Collected Works is titled Psychiatric Studies, and begins with his dissertation, “On the Psychology and Pathology of the So-Called Occult Phenomena.”  The editor’s preface to Volume I characterizes the dissertation as reflecting “simple descriptive research,” while acknowledging that many of Jung’s later concerns are foreshadowed herein (vi). In our posts on Volume I we shall attempt to draw out some of these foreshadowings, while also taking seriously this most “scientific” of the phases of Jung’s career and work.

It is of course highly significant that occult phenomena signify in Jung’s first major published work, as Jung’s reputation, for better or worse, is to this day closely linked with the occult, mysticism, astrology, post-material synchronicity, and the unconscious archetype. That Jung refers to “the so-called occult phenomena” here is suggestive, on its face, of at least some measure of empirical leaning in the young Jung.  As we shall see in later posts, Jung waged a decades-long internal battle to preserve his belief in himself as a man of science, rather than an artist, and the question of whether he was primarily a scientist or an artist would play a significant role in his mid-life crisis which set in during the decade of the 1910s.  It is interesting to note here that Freud also held fast to the label of “scientist,” even as critics such as Roger Brown have suggested that he surrendered all claims to the title as early as 1896 (Storr, 24).

It is well known that Jung’s early years were suffused with religion and spiritualism, with several members on both sides of his extended family being parsons (MDR 42), and from his earliest writings, however much he clung to the idea of himself as an empiricist (understood in its more typically narrow sense), Jung’s interest in the faint intimations of the “other world,” in the liminal zone between normal experience and those experiences or states which stray over the borderline of normal consciousness and everyday apprehension and into the dark underbelly of the unconscious, betrays the awestruck and bemused metaphysical wanderer who at seven would sit on a stone and wonder “Am I the one who is sitting on the stone, or am I the stone on which he is sitting?” (MDR, 20).

“Liminality” is defined nicely by Wikipedia as “a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the ‘threshold’ of or between two different existential planes” (Wikipedia, “Liminality,) and from the first paragraph of “On the Psychology and Pathology of the So-Called Occult Phenomena,” we can see Jung’s interest in liminality at play:

“In that wide domain of psychopathic inferiority from which science has marked off the clinical pictures of epilepsy, hysteria, and neurasthenia, we find scattered observations on certain rare states of consciousness as to whose meaning the authors are not yet agreed.  These observations crop us sporadically in the literature on narcolepsy, lethargy, automatisme, ambulatoire, periodic amnesia, double consciousness, somnambulism, pathological dreaminess, pathological lying, etc.” (Collected Works Vol. I, 3).

The author makes no claims to being a psychologist or to having any detailed empirical knowledge of the difference between automatisme and somnambulism, but briefly, for the sake of clarity, epilepsy refers to an overly active electrical circuit in the brain which causes seizures, neurasthenia is an outdated term that referred to deep exhaustion, what Jung and Freud referred to as hysteria we would more probably call neurosis, narcolepsy is a threshold state between sleep and waking which may include hallucinations,  automatisme, ambulatoire , and somnambulism, as far as I can make out, all refer to sleepwalking or other actions taking while one is technically asleep. Read the rest of this entry »

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