July 14, 2010

posted by Heather McShane

While at Ox-Bow for two weeks, I finished writing and drawing a book called For the Love of Beatrice. I like calling this book an illuminated manuscript, which means that it’s a book written and decorated by hand (however, the strictest definition of an illuminated manuscript means the manuscript is decorated with gold or silver). Although I did hand-write and draw the book, I have intended since its inception for the book to appear online (it has sound and video components as well as links to Websites).

While creating the book, I wasn’t really thinking about it being an illuminated manuscript; I was merely inspired to make it. I showed it to my friend Carmen Price who subsequently lent me Carl Jung’s The Red Book, which Carmen happened to have at Ox-Bow with him.

I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Carl Jung before Carmen let me borrow The Red Book. I knew about Jung’s former friend and mentor Sigmund Freud, especially Freud’s theories about dreams and his ideas about the uncanny. But, for example, I didn’t know that concepts as familiar to me as the archetype and the collective unconscious are attributed to Jung and that his theories indirectly brought about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Alcoholics Anonymous. And I really wasn’t aware that Jung wrote an illuminated text. Here’s just one page of the 205-page book:

Jung worked on this mystical book written in calligraphic text with painted illuminations for 16 years. According to an article titled “Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious” in the New York Times, The Red Book tells a story about a man searching for his soul. Was this man Jung himself? Carefully, with clean hands, I looked at each page, noting that the book ends with the word Möglichkeit, which means “possibility.” What did Jung intend to happen with the book? He did keep it a secret.

To read more, see here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/magazine/20jung-t.html

Jung Book Found

September 28, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

The New York Times published an interesting article about Jung–It’s funny because the article begins like a Dan Brown novel and yet…

The Holy Grail of the Unconscious

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Published: 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.

So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.

Which is why one rainy November night in 2007, I boarded a flight in Boston and rode the clouds until I woke up in Zurich, pulling up to the airport gate at about the same hour that the main branch of the Union Bank of Switzerland, located on the city’s swanky Bahnhofstrasse, across from Tommy Hilfiger and close to Cartier, was opening its doors for the day. A change was under way: the book, which had spent the past 23 years locked inside a safe deposit box in one of the bank’s underground vaults, was just then being wrapped in black cloth and loaded into a discreet-looking padded suitcase on wheels. It was then rolled past the guards, out into the sunlight and clear, cold air, where it was loaded into a waiting car and whisked away.

THIS COULD SOUND, I realize, like the start of a spy novel or a Hollywood bank caper, but it is rather a story about genius and madness, as well as possession and obsession, with one object — this old, unusual book — skating among those things. Also, there are a lot of Jungians involved, a species of thinkers who subscribe to the theories of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and author of the big red leather book. And Jungians, almost by definition, tend to get enthused anytime something previously hidden reveals itself, when whatever’s been underground finally makes it to the surface.