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- Published on Amazon.com
From the beginning of the 20th century Jung championed a secular psychology that also viewed the human as essentially sacred and irreducible and by so doing set himself apart from and against the strictly positivistic science that the western world espoused at and since that time. Jung's ideas, far from succumbing to collective bias and oblivion, have disseminated themselves substantively throughout the entire world for the last 100 years in the form of the many psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and professional and lay groups who presently identify themselves with Jung's ideas. Kirsch's book is a history of exactly how and through whom that dissemination has occurred and in whom and in what organizations it resides. Although Kirsch says his is a social and political history and not an intellectual one, that is not entirely correct, for, as he tracks people over time and about the world, he differentiates what aspect of Jung's spirit each tends most to embody (and defend): the philosophical, the clinical, the religious, the archetypal, the developmental. And in this weaving arise the confrontations, conflicts, and confluences that finally shape the ongoing state and living drama of Jungian psychology. No one other than Kirsch could have written this book. His life, like none other, has been part and parcel of the events and people he describes (see the Preface). Far from having become a passive cipher in the play, he has had a hand in its evolution and yet, in his story, he steps outside of the fray to portray its horizons. For a professional within the field itself, like myself, this gives rise to a dual gift: first, an invaluable aid in locating oneself and one's own ideas within the collective of the movement, and second, the spurring of intimations of what lies beyond the knowns of the present Jungian world. Concerning the book itself, Kirsch is a master of the matter of fact. In sweeping but trenchantly accurate statements (the accuracy is the gift) he avers simply what is and what isn't. In a brief paragraph he explains how the introduction of Jung's continental philosophying into England has given rise to a British traditionally empiricist reaction (and then spells out that reaction in the splits and vicissitudes of the English groups). In addressing Jung's monumentally injudicious gaffes of the mid 1930s, he says, "As we analysts know, timing is critical in analysis, and the same holds true for politics" His summing ups share the same precise and parsimonious qualities: "In my experience, almost all Jungians, in addition to amplifying and interpreting dreams, recognize the primarily symbolic nature of the unconscious, the importance of working with the transference/countertransference relationship, and the necessity for maintaining strict professional boundaries." In the reading, lesser known gems fall from the pages from time to time. I did not know that Jung had met Lacan. Kirsch says where and how. Nor did I know that he had spoken in England before 1925 (he gave a seminar in Cornwall in 1923; I do not think it is published as yet). The chapter on Germany alone is worth the price of the book. Kirsch has ferreted out and redacted material in strict temporal sequence that is more complete than any I have read before. This involves the history of Jungian psychology in Germany but, more importantly in my opinion, Jung's relationship to the Nazis. Kirsch is more even-handed and straightforward in his accounts than in any other I have read, including his father's extensive statements on the same subject. And Kirsch (the son) arrives at what feels to be extremely fair judgments, plainly delivered and patently devoid of polemical covering up. A second chapter of particular worth is the last one, "Observations and Conclusions." Again, it is the precision and the matter of factness that make it valuable for seeing in one place and through plain language the present edges of things Jungian. In the foreword, historian Peter Homans says that Kirsch is "generous" in this history. In my opinion, it is true beyond a doubt. Generous in its plethora of material, its reader-friendly expression, and in its sharing of personal information. In its historical place, its importance for the Jungian world resembles in kind the book Bollingen by William McGuire in which he, like Kirsch, fleshes out an intellectual movement related to the Jungian world in the specific details of the persons and places and modus operandi served by the foundation set up (now defunct) by Mary Mellon. Both books make people whose names and writings are synonymous with Jungiana come to full sentient life. Besides Kirsch and McGuire, we have only histories of Jung and his ideas. I highly recommend Kirsch's book as a very interesting read, a source of new information, and a singular documentation of Jungian ideas and their embodiment in the world. For the lay person, even one not familiar with the Jungian world, the book is a history of how a little known psychology - one that is unique and friendlier than probably any other to the spiritual - becomes a part of the culture of nations and the world.