Marxists: What exactly is wrong with Carl Jung?
June 7, 2011 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Hi there Marxists, or psychologists, or Jungians, or what have you. My book club recently voted to read The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung. One member quit, insisting that she couldn't read Jung because she was a Marxist. Why?

Let's leave aside the inanity of her basic notion for just a moment. ("I can't read this book because on some abstract philosophical level I disagree with it. I quit.")

Is there a fundamental beef between Marxists and Jungians?

I've read Marx's Concept of Man by Erich Fromm, and I know he has some connection to Jung at least in his foundation, influences, and studies, but otherwise I'm grasping at straws. Please explain to the best of your understanding.
posted by kensington314 to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also: I gather this might have something to do with religion?
posted by kensington314 at 1:21 AM on June 7, 2011

Maybe she's a Freudo-Marxist?
posted by elektrotechnicus at 2:13 AM on June 7, 2011

There is no reason a Marxist shouldn't read anything at all even Ann Coulter...
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:36 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Her objection probably stems from Jung's advocacy for individuation which underpins a lot of his socio-political theories.

It is probably best summed up by this quote:

"In general, [individuation] is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated [from other human beings]; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology."

Marxists, generally, aren't really down with all that.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:00 AM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also: I gather this might have something to do with religion?

My understanding is that Marx thought religion was a kind of mass delusion and a form of suppression. There's a lot of spiritual mumbo-jumbo in Jungian thought and he seems to look quite favourably on religious experience and religous motifs, as if they are expressions of the individual's psyche. Certainly not delusions, anyway. According to Wikipedia, he was in favour of spirituality and had a hand in setting up AA.
posted by londonmark at 4:20 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is she, like, sixteen? Or maybe she's old enough to have been around for the Leninist/Stalinist era where there was a lot of top-down control of who "good revolutionaries" were allowed to hang around with, read, etc.

My favorite part about reading Jung was looking at it through a Marxist lens, and being able to call him out on all his gender-essentialist, pseudo-mystical, nationalistic crap. It's not like you're asking her to believe it, only to read it. Lots of people do believe it, and it's important to understand it so it can be argued against from a point of knowledge, not just dogma.

Maybe she quit because she didn't want to have to drag all you (presumably) non-marxists through such critiques because she assumed it would annoy you? It really can be annoying sometimes
posted by Jon_Evil at 4:30 AM on June 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

Did she maybe mean something a little more complicated, like, "Ugh, not fucking Jung. I've been down this road before, in college, and the Marxist in me just can't stomach this crap. I know my abhorrence of the material is going to make me miserable and drive the rest of the group nuts, so I better just sit this one out..."

Because as a feminist in the Second Wave mold, I can see myself quitting a book group that planned to read Freud. Not because I can't handle reading things I disagree with, but because I did that in college and pretty much got whatever I was going to get out of it back then. At this point it would just be boring and probably unfair to everyone else who hasn't read it and doesn't share my very specific semi-doctrinaire approach. I'd sit there biting my tongue the whole time.
posted by Sara C. at 5:16 AM on June 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

The Undiscovered Self seems to take the position that Marxism is a problem in the modern world, but that the materialist views prominent in "the West" are just as problematic. Background: this would have been the early-to-mid 1950s, "Marxism" in this definition seems to have been primarily Stalinism, "the West" would have implied west of the Iron Curtain. (This is after flipping through my copy for a quick review.)

So yes, a person who is self-described as a Marxist would probably find themselves trying to redefine or refute assumptions made in the book.
posted by gimonca at 6:00 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Extremists, as one, are incredible sectarians. Many Marxists have cohabitated Freud and Lacan into traditions, but there are just as many Marxists who resent this cohabitation of temporal "bourgeois" sciences into Marxism, along the same lines of criticism that are made against Althusser for being a structuralist or Sartre for being an existentialist. These criticisms vary in range from being groundless to being substantial.

I don't know Jung enough to really comment on his relation to Marxism. I've read a few of his things (I did a brief tour of his red book, and have read anthologized pieces of his work on nature-spirituality) but nothing strikingly fundamental really appeared.

That being said, I think your friend is simply immature on a number of levels. I constantly do what Jon_Evil described, but as you put it: your friend can't read the work - not engage with others, but can't read - because of her ideological commitment. She doesn't have an open mind. It she scoffs him off as if it's not important. But quite the contrary - what does engaging in dogmatic work amongst comrades do? It's simple circle-jerking. The difficulty comes in engaging with an opponents work on a serious and critical level and attempting to set them or their adherents straight.

I consider Marxism as a tradition of work, and so I'm doubtful that there is a fundamental problem with Jung, outside of perhaps methodical reasons. I'm sure some of his conclusions could similarly be reached. Marxism is a diverse tradition. Issues of nationality are far from settled. Mystical-spiritual faces aren't as incompatible as some may have pointed to. Look respectively for instance at modern Marxist attempts to address utopianism (Althusser's criticism of a latent idealism in Marx, Bloch or Benjamin's (I forget) declaration for the necessity of a utopian outlook in theoretical writing) and man's relation to nature (through technology, production organization, and so on).
posted by SollosQ at 10:37 AM on June 7, 2011

To clarify: What Jon_Evil and Sara C. mentioned about basically refusing to participate because we are more than self-consciously aware of how set apart we are from others, and realizing the proper thing to do is to basically sit out from discussion for everyone's benefit.
posted by SollosQ at 10:50 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

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