The crown prince in deep waters

CARL GUSTAV JUNG: A Biography by Frank McLynn, Bantam pounds 25
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Carl Jung's childhood formed the basis for a lifetime spent searching for the hidden meaning of things. When he was very young his parents separated and his mother spent some time in a mental hospital. Carl came down with eczema and developed "a morbid fascination with death and corpses". He was accident-prone, imagined things walking in the house, and suffered from anxiety dreams, croup, choking fits and nightmares of suffocation. The psychoanalyst D W Winnicott later concluded that Jung had suffered a childhood schizophrenic breakdown.

Seeing his mother alternately happy and depressed, Jung felt that she was not one but two people, the "other" mother being more than a little mad and terrifying. From his mother's mad and sane selves were derived Jung's Number One and Number Two personalities. Strange goings-on occurred at home, including seances and hypnosis. Jung claimed that "psychic vibrations" remained in the house after the seances, causing freakish incidents like the splitting of a 70-year-old table and the breaking in two of the steel blade of a bread-knife.

Jung chose a career in medicine and then psychiatry, which he studied at the renowned Burgholzli Mental Hospital in Zurich. He paid particular attention to psychosis and schizo- phrenia, which led to his theories and papers on complexes and word association. Along with his fascination with psychosis and things that go bump in the night, Jung had developed a taste for food, wine, dancing - and women. McLynn presents a rather complicated theory of why Jung felt he was "doomed" to end up either a Don Juan or a homosexual because of his relationship with his mother. Jung chose the former, and, despite his not very attractive appearance, many women found him magnetic.

Jung believed the only way to endure marriage, and those nasty things known as children, was to be polygamous, and from day one of marriage to the wealthy Emma Rauschenbach he began having affairs. At Burgholzli he analysed Sabina Spielrein, who became his lover following an analysis with him. Sabina had all the right qualifications: "She was rich, she was educated, she was Russian, she was Jewish, and on admission she was classified as an hysteric." She was to prove both an inspiration and exceedingly troublesome throughout Jung's life.

In 1900 Jung read Freud's newly published Interpretation of Dreams. By coincidence, Freud and Jung had discovered the existence of the unconscious via different routes: Freud through dream analysis, Jung through word association. When Jung wrote to Freud for advice on a "transference problem", namely that he was "getting into deep waters with Sabina Spielrein", Freud responded immediately, and the two began to swap ideas. The Freud-Jung correspondence is copious and fascinating; McLynn has quoted little of this, which is a disappointment.

Although Freud chose Jung to be his "crown prince", there was from the start a major theoretical difference - Freud's theory of sexuality, the cornerstone of his work to date. Freud told Jung that such a theory was needed to protect psychoanalysis. When Jung asked him against what, Freud replied: "Against the black tide of mud - of occultism." When Jung began to concentrate on archaeology and mythology, it was akin to renouncing the family doctrine.

The final break came in 1912 when Jung told an American audience of psychiatrists and psycho- logists that it was necessary to abandon Freud's theory of libido and infantile sexuality. When Jung wrote to Freud boasting of his success, Freud dropped his usual "Dear Friend" and replied coldly: "Dear Dr Jung ..."

The break with Freud was traumatic for Jung, and led to a "descent into psychic turmoil that would take him close to madness". Whether he actually suffered a psychotic breakdown or not remains in doubt, and he continued to see patients and to write prodigiously. It was at this point that his theory of the collective unconscious was born.

McLynn believes that Freud lay behind Jung's relationship with Nazism - to which he was "at best highly ambivalent and, at worst, openly supportive". He claimed that Hitler had simply "plugged into the collective unconscious of 78 million Germans". Jung, says McLynn, "was not really an anti-Semite but he allowed his hatred for Freud to poison his mind and invade his thoughts ... it is almost always the case that when Jung says 'Jew' he means Freud, and when he says 'Jewish' he means Freudian ... Much if not most of Jung's anti-Semitic output was simply a transmogrification of his feelings about a particular Jew."

Jung was also controversial as an analyst, claiming not to enjoy working with "neurotics". There are many stories about his irritation with people whom he considered boring. Once, a patient who had been seeing Jung for some years arrived for his session and discovered that Jung had gone sailing. Furious, he found a boat and set off in hot pursuit. Catching up with Jung, he berated him through a loud-hailer: "Where the hell are you? I've been waiting at your house!" Jung tried to escape, the patient following close behind. Jung finally cried out, "Go away! You bore me!"

Jung could be foul-mouthed, abusive and insulting. He was notoriously bullying and authoritarian, though his moods could change in seconds from an inferno of rage to laughter and joking. McLynn gives a straightforward account of a complicated man. For those who need to idealise and idolise their heroes it will prove hard going; for those who want to know about the "real" Jung it is fascinating reading (though photographs and more quotations would have helped). The rapid switching from lovers, millionaires and politics to dream interpretation, archetypes and the collective unconscious is a bit like trying to read Kant and Joan Collins at the same time, often causing mental indigestion. McLynn does, however, demystify and de-terrify the most difficult of Jung's theories through the use of palatable metaphors, while conveying both the profundity and importance of Jung's intellectual achievements.

If, in the end, we find it difficult to reconcile Dr Carl Jung the Great Thinker with Dr Carl Jung the Great Creep, the problem probably lies in our own need to keep our heroes safely on their pedestals.

Victoria Funk is a practising psychotherapist