Gunning for Jung: from the Chicago Reader

Smith's review of Deirdre Bair's Jung: A Biography in the January 21 New York Times was extreme. It began: "Carl Gustav Jung was an insufferable egotist, cruel to his family, a womanizer, with bad table manners to boot. He was a founder of psychoanalysis, but today his teachings have little importance in the treatment of mental illness.  --Michael Miner, Feb. 13, 2004, Chicago Reader.

The following excerpt is from Michael Miner's article, "Gunning for Jung," that appeared in the Chicago Reader for the week of Feb. 13, 2004. In the article, he challenges the New York Times' publication of Dinitia Smith's biased and ignorant review of Deirdre Bair's biography of Jung. You can find Miner's article at the following URL:  http://www.chireader.com/hottype/2004/040213_1.html 

Excerpt:

Describing earlier Jung biographies in the introduction to her own, Bair commented that, with rare exception, "all other books about his life ranged from the supercilious, smug, and condescending to the scathingly negative. . . . What was there about Jung that inspired such strong negative feelings? How could so many writers spend so many years in the company of a subject they so clearly despised?"

Bair has some ideas. When Freud and Jung broke in 1913, she tells me, Freud dumped on Jung before Jung could dump on Freud: "He said, 'I created psychoanalysis. I own it,' and he went on to describe Jung as a deviant son. Jung was put into a box at that time, and I think that has really set the terms."

She continues, "Freud at various times called Jung anti-Semitic. By the 1930s Jung was tarred with a very nasty brush." As Robert Boynton noted in a second Times review of Bair's book, the one carried in the Sunday book section on January 11, "Even as Jewish psychoanalysts were being purged in 1933, Jung accepted the presidency of the International General Medical Society for Psychotherapy, which meant working with Matthias Heinrich Goring, Hermann's cousin."



 

 

But the larger reason, Bair surmises, is that psychoanalysis in general is under siege, and Freudians attack Jung to guard their own threatened turf. (Bubbleheaded catchphrases such as New Age and Age of Aquarius -- which Bair traces to a letter Jung wrote in 1940 -- surely make him an irresistible target.)

Bair, who had access to Honegger's notes, devoted 20 pages to the Solar Phallus Man. She concluded that Honegger's notes were too incoherent to support the accusation that Jung simply stole his work, and she failed to find evidence that Jung falsified dates to make his case. Dinitia Smith's knowledge of the Solar Phallus Man debate might have caused her to focus on this key piece of Bair's book, but her review made short work of the subject: "Jung's student Johann Honegger kept notes on the patient, but Honegger was insane himself and committed suicide," she wrote breezily. "[Jung] was accused of stealing Honegger's research, but Ms. Bair sides with Jung." That was that.

Bair is a formidable writer who won a 1981 National Book Award for her biography of Samuel Beckett. Smith acknowledged Bair's "scrupulousness," but instead of answering the question of whether she'd written a good book or a bad one decided to pity her for writing any book at all. "One feels sorry for Ms. Bair, having to wade through Jung's lectures on the alchemist Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim or Paracelsus, for instance." Those 880 pages Bair churned out -- such an effort. "Perhaps to justify her work's thoroughness and the years she spent writing this book, Ms. Bair tries valiantly to make Jung sympathetic. In the end it's a losing proposition."

Bair has read a lot of reviews, but Smith's took the cake. "That one," Bair says, "is almost impossible to describe because she's so all over the place and she doesn't really make any coherent or valid arguments." Bair goes so far as to say Smith "should have recused herself" and written nothing at all. "It was she who wrote the story that put Richard Noll on the front page of the New York Times calling Jung a liar and thief. When she described how I wrote about the Honegger papers she was really justifying the earlier stories, not describing what I wrote. Which is a kind of dishonest journalism."

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