Although I enjoy reading and mulling over the WordPress Daily Writing Prompts, I’ve never used one as a subject before. That changed on March 11 with a post called Ghostwriter by blogger Michelle W. who asked, “If you could have any author – living or dead – write your biography, who would you choose?” The answer for me is Carl Jung, and it has been fruitful to remember why.
When I was in high school, a teacher who was a mentor to me said, “You should really study psychology. Not all that behaviorist crap, but Jung.” As a college freshman, I remembered his words when I spotted a copy of Man and His Symbols, an introduction to Jung’s ideas that he began and his close colleagues finished after his death in 1961. After that, I read his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. These are excellent books to get the gist of his thought.
In our fast-food world, where medication and brief therapy are the norms, Jungian analysis survives at the margins. Two key exceptions, where Jung’s ideas entered the mainstream, come to mind. The Meyer-Briggs Personality Profile is structured on his theory of psychological types; even the words, introversion and extroversion were his. And through one of his patient’s contact with Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Jung’s insistence on the psyche’s spiritual orientation found its way to the core of 12 step programs.
More more widely known are Jung’s contributions to the study of literature and folklore. The theory of archetypes, which found expression in areas like Joseph Campbell’s work on the hero myth, were first stated for our times by Jung.
All these credentials, however impressive, are not the reason I’d choose him as a biographer. Here’s something he said in a lecture in London in 1939:
“We have no symbolic life, and we are all badly in need of the symbolic life. Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this mill – this awful, banal, grinding life in which they are ‘nothing but.’ . . . These things go pretty deep, and no wonder people get neurotic. Life is too rational; there is no symbolic existence in which I am something else, in which I am fulfilling my role, my role as one of the actors in the divine drama of life.”
When I first read these words, at about the age of 20, I recognized a kindred spirit, one who could articulate things I only felt and struggled with. I read the words now and still feel the sense of kinship.
There’s not that much in my outer life to write about. Any biographer I’d hire would have to be the kind of person who looks beneath the surface and understands that it’s really about the effort to find one’s role “as one of the actors in the divine drama of life.”
If you could have anyone do it, who would you pick to write your biography?