Wednesday, May 25, 2011

of those who do not toil in blindness

A Facebook friend recently put this in his status box:
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." -Carl Jung
Search the internet and you'll find that the quote appears many places, but nowhere — that I see — with a citation to source. Search jung, consciousness, fate and you'll probably fare no better (as was my experience).[1] If he did make this statement, where and when did he do so?[2]

Looking through his published works I find a transcript from a seminar he gave in 1931. It's participants expressed the sense of the quote without actually voicing it. The subject is a vision (a meditation or self-hypnotic trance) as reported by a woman who had undergone psychological analysis with Jung. Here's an extract. The text gives the vision first, then discussion.
Dr Jung: She sees an old man. She says:
I looked into his eyes and saw therein a great river full of writhing bodies. A few men stood upon the bank and called with a loud voice to the struggling masses in the rushing water. The water cast a few souls upon the bank. Then the men who stood there lifted them up and showed them a star and a sun. This I saw in the eyes of the old man. The old man said: "You have perceived" and he sank into the earth.
What is this intermezzo? Who would the old man be?

Mrs. Crowley: The wise old man.

Dr: Jung: Yes, in this case the animus, but in the disguise of the old man. She looks into his eyes — here is the eye again — meaning that she sees what he sees. This man is of legendary age, I don't know how many centuries old, he is the personification of the collective unconscious which is of immense age and in his eyes she sees with the vision of the collective unconscious: And what is the view the old man has in his eye? What·is this great river full of bodies?

Prof Eaton: The river of time.

Dr Jung: Do you remember the dream of the river of time in one of the former seminars? The bodies are the individual lives, twisting and turning and writhing themselves into a sort of pattern that dissolves and reforms again and again. It is the river of time, of life, in other words. Now why are those men standing on the bank? Why are they not all in that chaotic river?

Mrs Schlegel: Perhaps they are conscious.

Remark: The are individuated.

Dr Jung: Yes, these are the people of detached consciousness, people who are conscious of themselves and of life. And that they call to the struggling masses in the rushing water produces the effect that a few souls are cast upon the bank — they wake up and leave the great river. Then the men who stand there lift them up and show them a star and a sun. What does that mean?

Remark: Consciousness and individual fate.

Dr Jung: Exactly. The star is the individual fate, and the sun means the light of day, and it is also the symbol of the deity. Consciousness of the individual life and of the deity is the idea. Then the old man said, "You have perceived." and disappeared. What has he perceived?

Miss Sergent: The necessity of consciousness, I should say the difference between the people in the water and the people on the bank.

Dr Jung: The interesting fact is that what one gets from that wise old man has always a universal sense — if he is really a positive figure.

Prof Eaton: The old man said "you have perceived," without qualification, which to my mind means that he has perceived all.

Dr Jung: Exactly. What she sees is really a point of view, a Weltanschauung. It is a very simple thought, but of tremendous consequences. She sees the chaos of life, an interminable river of life that rolls on to eternity, making no sense whatever because everything is merely chaotic. Only a few are standing on the bank and are aware of it. And so in our world only a few are standing upon the bank and really understand, see with their eyes what is happening; all the others are just toiling on as blind as ever. The unconscious emphasizes here the extraordinary importance of consciousness, consciousness as a sort of redemption from the eternal wheel of death and rebirth. Like the wheel in Buddhistic philosophy, death and rebirth. the curse of that eternal illusory meaningless existence. In this vision we find the same principle as in Buddhism, the consciousness of what is happening as a redeeming principle. The people standing on the bank are aware of the individual fate, and the relation to the deity, or the star and the sun. Those are the two important principles. Now of what is this vision making our patient aware?

Mrs Crowley: That she is one of those people who are on the bank.

Dr Jung: But he tells her something more important, at least in my humble opinion, it is more important.

Prof Demos: That everything must perish is a very pessimistic fact; but to realize this fact in one's consciousness is somehow to rise above it, to conquer it. To accept the fact that you perish in time is a sort of victory over time, which is perhaps the meaning of tragedy in the drama. This vision is a presentation of the meaning of knowledge — a conquest of fate by accepting fate.

Dr: Jung: Exactly, and that is again the Buddhist idea. So this vision is a sort of reconciliation of herself, or of her point of view, with the great nonsense of the world. It gives her a philosophical explanation; it points out that that river only make sense if a few escape and become conscious, that the purpose of existence is that one should become conscious. Consciousness redeems one from the curse of that eternal flowing on in the river of unconsciousness. This is an exceedingly important idea and is the next parallel to the central Buddhist teaching. Now, mind you, our patient has had no particular education in this respect. This really comes directly out of the kitchen of the unconscious; she is shown in a most impressive way the meaning of human existence.
The seminar took place in Zurich on March 25, 1931. It's reported in Visions: notes of the seminar given in 1930-1934 by C.G. Jung by Carl Gustav Jung, edited by Mary Foote and Claire Douglas (Princeton University Press, 1997).[3] Apart from Jung himself, the speakers are identified on page xxxiv of this book. The book's introduction tells how the seminar came about. Jung did not intend that its transcript be published, and the editor tells us that it was an informal affair, conducted in English (of which Jung was not a native speaker) with participants from varying walks of life who came from England, the U.S., Germany, and Switzerland.

The woman whose vision is being discussed was Christiana Morgan. A book review in the New York Times says she "was a talented, passionate and exceptionally beautiful woman who made a significant contribution to the early development of psychoanalysis. But she died unrecognized and, in the end, unloved." -- A Woman of Visions, a book review by By Ben Macintyre, New York Times, August 22, 1993; the book is Translate This Darkness, the Life of Christiana Morgan. By Claire Douglas (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993)

Once, back in the seventies, a person I consulted said it's helpful to watch yourself being yourself. I accepted this as wisdom then and still do. I like the way Jung and the seminar participants run with the version of this idea which emerges from the vision.

I also like the way the transcript reminds me of the psychoanalytic excesses of the 1930s and '40s. In that time many people credited Freud's writings with scientific validity, and, with some reservations, Jung's as well. Although now giving us no evidence of what we accept as science, the writings emerge as the works of art that they truly are and, when good, can, as good literature does, allow us to respond to them with deep and rewarding pleasure.

{Christiana Morgan (source: Dalum Hjallese Debatklub) and Carl Jung (source: wikipedia)}


Some sources:

Visions: notes of the seminar given in 1930-1934 by C.G. Jung by Carl Gustav Jung, edited by Mary Foote and Claire Douglas (Princeton University Press, 1997)

Christiana Morgan on wikipedia

Christina D. Morgan

A Woman of Visions, a book review by By Ben Macintyre, New York Times, August 22, 1993; the book is Translate This Darkness, the Life of Christiana Morgan. By Claire Douglas (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993)

"Christiana Morgan's Visions Reconsidered: A Look Behind The Visions Seminars" by Claire Douglas, in Library Journal, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer 1989), pp. 5-27

"Vying Visions" by Eugene Taylor, reviewing Love's Story Told; A Life of Henry A. Murray by Forrest G. Robinson, and Translate This Darkness: A Life of Christiana Morgan, the Veiled Woman in Jung's Circle by Claire Douglas in
Library Journal, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer 1994), pp. 43-46

Review by Paul Hannigan of Love's Story Told by Forrest G. Robinson in Harvard Review, No. 4 (Spring, 1993), pp. 214-215

'Whatever is not conscious will be experienced as fate' - Carl Jung



[1] The search turns up some variants, such as this: 'Whatever is not conscious will be experienced as fate' - Carl Jung, and a few reports of failure to find sources.

[2] It's reasonably likely that he was never recorded as having used these exact words. The internet is riddled with inexact, distorted, and non-existent "quotes."

[3] I've quoted from this work under fair use provisions of U.S. Copyright Law.


Angélica said...

Thank you so much for this information, I have been looking for the source oh the mentioned quote for quite a long time. Thanks again, greetings from México.

Anonymous said...

Thanks also from Australia. I too was searching for this quote.