cover image Lament of the Dead: Psychology after Jung’s ‘Red Book’

Lament of the Dead: Psychology after Jung’s ‘Red Book’

James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani. Norton, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-08894-6

A gnarly urtext by psychologist Carl Jung is extolled but not illuminated in this incoherent series of transcribed dialogues. The late Jungian psychoanalyst Hillman (The Soul’s Code) and historian Shamdasani (C.G. Jung: A Biography in Books) engage in 15 redundant conversations about the Red Book, a tome recently unearthed, edited, and translated by Shamdasani, in which Jung explored the archetypal, mythic figures that populated his fantasies. The dialogues’ deep-sounding yet unproductive theme is that these figures represent “the dead [who] are animating us”—figuratively, the collective human memory that shapes our psyches. From this dramatic but poorly developed restatement of Jungian mysticism, the authors proceed through sketchy, meandering discussions that touch on Jung’s testy relationship with Christianity, the obscurantism of latter-day Jungian analysts, and the need to infuse the Red Book’s literary, humanistic approach into psychology’s current scientistic model. Unfortunately, the authors’ exposition and elaboration of Jung’s arcane and often vague ideas is very unsatisfying, in no small part because of the discussion format. Their conversations are rambling, repetitive, and unsystematic; since both authors are experts, they understand each other’s vague allusions without explaining them to uninitiated readers, who will gain little understanding of Jung from this project. There are reasons that most authors write books rather than just transcribing conversations, and this ill-conceived endeavor spotlights them. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency LLC. (Aug. 26)