Sex and Gender in Jung’s Red Book

In Numen, Old Men I have a good poke at those forms of men’s movement that claim to draw inspiration from Jung. These movements are called by numerous critics “neo-Jungian”: the “neo” suggesting they flirt with some Jungian themes rather than pursuing any Jungian orthodoxy (for example, Jungian scholar David Tacey charged the movement with “conservative and simplistic appropriation of Jungian theory”). Furthermore, I don’t much like Jungian orthodoxy.

About six months ago we saw the publication for the first time of Jung’s Red Book. Jung spent 16 years on this book, but for a variety of reasons never published it. The Red Book is basically an illuminated manuscript charting the topography of Jung’s interiority. It contains numerous visionary dreams and experiences which were later distilled in a more scholarly fashion in his published writing. The book’s editor, Sonu Shamdasani, claims The Red Book is “nothing less than the central book in his [Jung’s] oeuvre”, and that his other work cannot really be understood without reading this in tandem.

Following the way Jung is mobilised in the men’s movement we would expect to see plenty of material in The Red Book about masculine archetypes, and how these are unavoidable in the male psyche. We would also expect to read of complementarity: of both natural gender roles, and of the gendered aspects of the soul (anima and animus). We certainly read plenty about complementarity, but almost nothing about archetypes. There are only two relatively short passages which speak to these issues: one in “Liber Secundus”, the other in “Scrutinies”.

Specifically, quite early in the section “Liber Secundus”, Jung refers to “completeness” in both men and women: men, for example, must seek the feminine more in themselves rather than in women. This would resonate quite clearly with men’s movement literature. Gender wholism is also referenced when Jung states, “humankind is masculine and feminine, not just man or woman. You can hardly say of your soul what sex it is”. Indeed, Jung aspires to be free from gender: “This is the most difficult thing-to be beyond the gendered and yet remain within the human”.

However, Jung goes on to outline some problems in masculine performances, claiming men tend not to engage the task of identifying with the feminine within: “It pleases you, however, to play at manliness, because it travels on a well-worn track”. This suggests a critique of normative masculinity, as does his comment of “man despises you [woman] because he despises his femininity”, which speaks to both an awareness of misogyny and homophobia. Jung speaks either to the limitations of normative masculinity, or his own problematic issues about femininity when he claims, “It is bitter for the most masculine man to accept his femininity; since it appears ridiculous to him, powerless and tawdry”. Again, is Jung asserting a queer challenge to masculine normativity or his misogyny when he states, “It is good for you once to put on women’s clothes: people will laugh at you, but through becoming a woman you attain freedom from women and their tyranny”? The jury remains out.

Later, in the section “Scrutinies”, Jung speaks to issues of sexuality and spirituality, which is framed by various forms of binary thinking, of sexuality/spirituality and men/women: “Spirituality conceives and embraces. It is womanlike and therefore we call it MATER COELESTIS, the celestial mother. Sexuality engenders and creates. It is manlike, and therefore we call it PHALLOS, the earthly father. The sexuality of man is more earthly, that of woman is more spiritual”. This, and other comments in this section, reinforce tired false distinctions: the separation of sex and spirit, the assigning of particular roles to men and women (although it complicates the common assumption that the feminine is earthly and the masculine transcendent). This strategy has a long history of confining men and women to the roles they are given rather than those they choose. Indeed, Jung is very explicit about maintaining such distinctions: “Man and woman become devils to each other if they do not separate their spiritual ways, for the essence of creation is differentiation”. Furthermore, should anyone question the construction of such boundaries, Jung states, “no man has a spirituality unto himself or a sexuality unto himself. Instead, he stands under the law of spirituality and of sexuality”, and that in the end all we can do is be subject to these spiritual-sexual “daimons”. Doesn’t sound very empowering, does it?

In short, the themes of sex and gender in Jung’s Red Book offer significantly more nuance than anything found in men’s movement literature, but they are still bound up in a worldview which seeks to impose a structure upon spirituality and sexuality which is neither natural nor necessary.

Source Text

It flirts somewhat with the boundaries of fair use, but I include the source text below, as The Red Book is too expensive for the regular reader to access.

Jung, Carl. (2009). The Red Book (Sonu Shamdasani, ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.

From “Liber Secundus”:

What about masculinity? Do you know how much femininity man lacks for completeness? Do you know how much masculinity woman lacks for completeness? You seek the feminine in women and the masculine in men. And thus there are always only men and women. But where are people? You, man, should not seek the feminine in women, but seek and recognize it in yourself as you possess it from the beginning. It pleases you, however, to play at manliness, because it travels on a well-worn track. You, woman, should not seek the masculine in men, but assume the masculine in yourself since you possess it from the beginning. But it amuses you and is easy to play at femininity; consequently man despises you because he despises his femininity. But humankind is masculine and feminine, not just man or woman. You can hardly say of your soul what sex it is. But if you pay close attention, you will see that the most masculine man has a feminine soul, and the most feminine woman has a masculine soul. The more manly you are, the more remote from you is what woman really is, since the feminine in yourself is alien and contemptuous.

If you take a piece of joy from the devil and set off on adventures with it, you accept your pleasure. But pleasure immediately attracts everything you desire, and then you must decide whether your pleasure spoils or enhances you. If you are of the devil, you will grope in blind desire after the manifold, and it will lead you astray. But if you remain with yourself as a man who is himself and not of the devil, then you will remember your humanity. You will not behave toward women per se as a man, but as a human being, that is to say; as if you were of the same sex as her. You will recall your femininity. It may seem to you then as if you were unmanly; stupid, and feminine so to speak. But you must accept the ridiculous, otherwise you will suffer distress, and there will come a time, when you are least observant, when it will suddenly round on you and make you ridiculous. It is bitter for the most masculine man to accept his femininity; since it appears ridiculous to him, powerless and tawdry.

Yes, it seems as if you have lost all virtue, as if you have fallen into debasement. It seems the same way to the woman who accepts her masculinity. Yes, it seems to you like enslavement. You are a slave of what you need in your soul. The most masculine man needs women, and he is consequently their slave. Become a woman yourself and you will be saved from slavery to woman. You are abandoned without mercy to woman so long as you cannot fend off mockery with all your masculinity. It is good for you once to put on women’s clothes: people will laugh at you, but through becoming a woman you attain freedom from women and their tyranny. The acceptance of femininity leads to completion. The same is valid for the woman who accepts her masculinity.

The feminine in men is bound up with evil. I find it on the way of desire. The masculine in the woman is bound up with evil. Therefore people hate to accept their own other. But if you accept it, that which is connected with the perfection of men comes to pass: namely; that when you become the one who is mocked, the white bird of the soul comes flying. It was far away; but your humiliation attracted it. The mystery draws near to you, and things happen around you like miracles. (pp. 263-4)

Therefore, because I rise above gendered masculinity and yet do not exceed the human, the feminine that is contemptible to me transforms itself into a meaningful being. This is the most difficult thing-to be beyond the gendered and yet remain within the human. (p. 264)

From “Scrutinies”:

But ΦΙΛΗΜΩΝ stepped before them, and began to speak: (and this is the fifth sermon to the dead):

“The world of the Gods is made manifest in spirituality and in sexuality. The celestial ones appear in spirituality, the earthly in sexuality.

“Spirituality conceives and embraces. It is womanlike and therefore we call it MATER COELESTIS, the celestial mother. Sexuality engenders and creates. It is manlike, and therefore we call it PHALLOS, the earthly father. The sexuality of man is more earthly, that of woman is more spiritual. The spirituality of man is more heavenly, it moves toward the greater.

“The spirituality of woman is more earthly, it moves toward the smaller.

“Mendacious and devilish is the spirituality of man, and it moves toward the smaller.

“Mendacious and devilish is the spirituality of woman, and it moves toward the greater.

“Each shall go to its own place.

“Man and woman become devils to each other if they do not separate their spiritual ways, for the essence of creation is differentiation.

“The sexuality of man goes toward the earthly, the sexuality of woman goes toward the spiritual. Man and woman become devils to each other if they do not distinguish their sexuality.

“Man shall know the smaller, woman the greater.

“Man shall differentiate himself both from spirituality and sexuality. He shall call spirituality mother, and set her between Heaven and earth. He shall call sexuality Phallos, and set him between himself and earth. For the mother and the Phallos are superhuman daimons that reveal the world of the Gods. They affect us more than the Gods since they are closely akin to our essence. If you do not differentiate yourselves from sexuality and from spirituality, and do not regard them as an essence both above and beyond you, you are delivered over to them as qualities of the Pleroma. Spirituality and sexuality are not your qualities, not things you possess and encompass. Rather, they possess and encompass you, since they are powerful daimons, manifestations of the Gods, and hence reach beyond you, existing in themselves. No man has a spirituality unto himself or a sexuality unto himself. Instead, he stands under the law of spirituality and of sexuality. Therefore no one escapes these daimons. You shall look upon them as daimons, and as a common task and danger, a common burden that life has laid upon you. (p. 352)

13 thoughts on “Sex and Gender in Jung’s Red Book

  1. Thanks for this article, Joseph. I’ve been curious about your anti-Jung position since reading your book, and this helps clarify some things for me. While I do think Jung was a genius in many ways, his views of gender and spirituality are a cause for concern. The neo-Jungian mythopoetic men’s movement and related groups are even more concerning to me, for many of them argue that they don’t need to know about issues in sociology and feminism, and so don’t engage in any sort of critical inquiry into the concepts that they indoctrinate men into in their intensive weekend workshops.

    1. Jung was certainly a visionary. The problem, for me, was that he articulated things with such certainty which could only ever have been stabs in the dark. Now we have archetypes and complementarity (Jung wasn’t the only one on these issues) accepted as if they are eternal truths, when at best they are crude approximations of realms possessing far more depth and nuance. Not sure why more people don’t see him as being simply of his time: valuable, but largely historical.

  2. Hi Joseph,

    I like this post. The language of Jung often vacilates from speculative and undetermined to broad statements. He wrote so much I am sure I could find things he wrote that contradict some of the statements he provides here. But the basic statement he made about archetypes was that they manifest largely in cultural terms and only the basic pattern is universal. Here he obviously writes his very personal perspective based on his cultural bias which I think he would readily admit. And if Jung would be writing today he would write something quite different.

    The mytho-poetic men’s movement (and women’s movement – Bolen & others) often distort Jung’s ideas, but all would say that a God or Godess is not particular to a gendered psyche, but in my opinion both Bolen and Bly emphasize gender too much.

    However one area I strongly agree with Jung is:

    “Spirituality and sexuality are not your qualities, not things you possess and encompass. Rather, they possess and encompass you, since they are powerful daimons, manifestations of the Gods, and hence reach beyond you, existing in themselves.”

    What I have seen and experienced is men and women are often “posessed” by sex and spirituality to such a degree that it is like they are in a trance. This is what Jung meant. What the men’s movement focused on often is how men are often “posessed” by wanting to please “mother” via their wifes and girlfriends when what is really going on is a certain codependence where they sacrifice their individuality. But what the men’s movement has not critiqued very well is how men become “posessed” by their own assumption of their own gender.

    What Jung was pointing out and believed was “there are things in the psyche that “I” do not produce but produce themselves” – this is what he called an autonomous unconcious. This phenomenon is one thing I do not find in post-modern theory other than Gilles Deleuze and his following, who believe in a far more radical idea of an autonomous unconcious than any Jungian.

    The problem with using Jung like the Jungians do or the mythopoetic men’s and women’s movement do is they are very eager to find something concrete “a universal gendered archetype” when closer inspection reveals a puff of smoke or a bag of hot air.

    1. Yes, he’s certainly one of those people where it’s easy to find a passage to support most positions.

      I simply don’t know enough about Jung to critique him with confidence: I stick more to critiquing the neo-/mythopoetic-Jungian position on gender, which is sufficiently simple (and simplistic) to grasp without embarking on Jung as a discipline in himself (although an awareness of Jung remains important, of course).

      The problem is that when more people read the mythopoetic Jung than actual Jung, the former becomes the new orthodoxy. Arguing what Jung himself would have thought becomes a technical exercise way beyond the interest of all the folks on the ground performing neo-archetypal patterns.

      You make some good points here. I can buy the idea that sex and spirituality possess us, but I can also see it the other way around. The deeper I get in to these subjects, the less certain I am: a decade ago I’m sure I would have had a definite opinion!

      These days I find myself confronting the barriers of language on these issues. I see the temptation to retreat into a pre-individuated psychoanalytic space, as the pre-linguistic Ocean of Stuff offers a quick fix, as does the Ineffable Mystery so beloved of my Catholic heritage. But I know them both to be red herrings. There’s a way to articulate this somehow: more individuated than the Real, more accurate than myth and metaphor, more mundane than a mantra or incantation. I plan to crack it before I’m dead: it will be a good life’s work, even if the answer is a single sentence.

      1. I see the temptation to retreat into a pre-individuated psychoanalytic space, as the pre-linguistic Ocean of Stuff offers a quick fix, as does the Ineffable Mystery so beloved of my Catholic heritage. Perhaps because I come from a similar brand of German Protestantism as Jung where we were taught bread and wine is just bread and wine, the lesson “it is a metaphor” meant interpreting all of it as metaphor. So reading Jung at that time made “sense”. But I also may share with him religious hunger for bread and wine that will actually transubstantiate. As I mentioned before didactic Protestantism has just as many limitations as experential Catholicism.

  3. “In short, the themes of sex and gender in Jung’s Red Book offer significantly more nuance than anything found in men’s movement literature, but they are still bound up in a worldview which seeks to impose a structure upon spirituality and sexuality which is neither natural nor necessary.”

    This I believe to be true. But the contents of the Red Book were a “personal mythos” just as William Blake’s work was. I am primarily an artist rather than a scholar and creating a personal mythos is one tool amoung many used in creating engaging fictions. Perhaps the problem with Jung is he does not, and oftenrefused to, frame his work as fiction, but did ask what is my personal mythology the answer was the Red Book.

    As theory it is certainly bound up. But the reason why so many are attracted to and use Jung is not that it is natural but out of their necessity to appropriate a mythology, and a religion, rather than doing the harder work themselves. Everyone can be the author of their own fiction but not everyone is good at it.

    1. Yes, I can agree with this. I think the element of myth-making in general is insufficiently acknowledged in both the academic study of individuals and their—allegedly non-fictitious—work, and in the construction of academic discourse itself.

      If you take two characters I wrote about in my book such as Robert Bly and Ken Wilber, they both make more sense as myth-makers than people writing about the “real life” of men and/or spirituality. Unfortunately, their readers almost always read them in the latter mode, which leads either to the perpetuation of nonsense, or being read at cross purposes. I’m not even sure if Bly (even as a poet) and Wilber are aware of how they move between these two modes.

      Further still, the academic study of this phenomenon can engage a similar process. Take Luce Irigaray’s technique of mimesis which assumes the literary voice of the medium she critiques: I mobilise this technique myself sometimes (which are the bits that get read as “absurd conclusions”): but where does the mimesis stop and the “genuine” voice begin? There is no clear line, which is the whole point. And then of course, we prance around with this myth of academic objectivity, as if we do not construct our own personal myths via our critiques of others. There’s an element of showmanship in all this: the skill is holding it in—perhaps paradoxical—tension with playing a straight game and telling it like it is.

      1. If Wittgenstein can be applied here, once you take language out of the context of “real life” and into the metaphysical you get what he called “frictionless ice” and you can say whatever non-sense you want. Most philosophical problems can be then dissolved by “real life” rather than solved. However the imaginal, the magical, the absurd, the non-sensical has an important function and it’s function is not Truth it is Play. Perhaps if we approached much of the spiritual, the psycological, and the philosophical as not a problem to be solved but a game to be played and see just how much fun we can have, even serious fun, on serious topics discourse will change. Perhaps I will not approach this scholarly but write a play making fun of everyone and myself, far more enjoyable. But on the other hand someone has the task of refuting the serious implications of non-sense in cases of foul play, and I would say the men’s movement has engaged in foul play, perhaps by taking the game so seriously they forgot it was a game.

  4. In my reading Jung he is hetero-sexist but also challenges heteronormativity, he is sexist and challenges sex and gender roles, he is ethnocentric but challenges Euro-centric viewpoints, sometimes effectively sometimes not. Much should be “discarded” simply because contemporary Queer theory, Feminist theory, and Post-modern theory does a better job than Jung. But for me regarding spirituality Jung’s perspective is far superior to postmodern theory and it is probably the single reason it has survived. If I decide to pursue Jung scholarly it would be an attempt to reconcile post-modern theories lack of spiritual discourse with Jung’s problematic ideas of gender and culture.

    1. This is exactly what Wilber would probably say he does with integral spirituality (although unfortunately he doesn’t pull it off). It’s a necessary exercise though, and the time is right for it.

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