9.19.2009

The Red Book

From the New York Times, September 16, 2009:
This is a story about a nearly 100-year-old book, bound in red leather, which has spent the last quarter century secreted away in a bank vault in Switzerland. The book is big and heavy and its spine is etched with gold letters that say “Liber Novus,” which is Latin for “New Book.” Its pages are made from thick cream-colored parchment and filled with paintings of otherworldly creatures and handwritten dialogues with gods and devils. If you didn’t know the book’s vintage, you might confuse it for a lost medieval tome.

And yet between the book’s heavy covers, a very modern story unfolds. It goes as follows: Man skids into midlife and loses his soul. Man goes looking for soul. After a lot of instructive hardship and adventure — taking place entirely in his head — he finds it again.

Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.

Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.

I remember when I was in high school seeing a reference to Carl Jung’s The Red Book in, I believe, a footnote of another book. It mentioned that the book had never been published, which struck me as odd. Why would a book by such an important author not be published so many decades after his death?

I didn’t think much of it, and even forgot that The Red Book existed, until I came across this fascinating story (“The Holy Grail of the Unconscious” by Sara Corbett) in the New York Times.

Apparently Jung laboured over it on and off for sixteen years, and it held enormous personal significance for him. He was ambivalent about publishing it, however, as he feared it might invite ridicule from his peers. He left no instructions for his family about what to do with it, and two generations of very protective Jungs argued with each other over whether or not it should be published or not.

This October, finally, it is being published. It was written in German and features beautiful paintings by Jung himself (some of which have been shown here). An English translation of the text will be included in the back of the book.

The cover price is $195 US, but it’s selling for $105 US on Amazon. I’m very, very tempted.

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1 Comments:

Blogger crystal said...

Nice paintings! I hadn't heard of this book before. For a minute I thought iyou were going to say it was just fictional like the Necronomicon :)

3:57 AM  

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