Jung On Men And Women – A Review

Jung on Men and Women: a Swiss travelogue by Cheryll Barron.

Five stars for this one!

Available on Amazon U.S. and Amazon U.K.

Cheryll Barron has written a unique and informative meditation on the irony of Helvetia as the female symbol of Switzerland. Helvetia appears in a flowing gown with a spear and a shield, embodying the “anima” and “animus” about which Barron’s erstwhile intellectual mentor Carl Jung wrote. 

Helvetia is the name of the Gaulish tribe living in Switzerland until the Roman invasion. Gaulish or Gallic is a P-Celtic language spoken in Switzerland until Latin and Germanic languages supplanted it. Gaulish women were very different from Roman women in that they were occasionally queens or warriors, with property rights, and held in high regard by the society. Rigani or Boudica would not be possible in the Switzerland inhabited by Jung in the 19th century. 

She notes that Swiss women did not get the vote until 1971, but by December of 2010, Switzerland has a female president and women hold 4 of 7 Federal Council seats. 

However, the view of women ascribed to Jung by Barron: “He found more darkness than light in almost any female aspirations beyond a hausfrau existence” suggests that Jung (1875-1961) might be astonished and critical of the current state of affairs. Barron extends her observation to contemporary Swiss women, noting that once married they dress in drab unisex uniforms with short haircuts.

Helvetia evokes the positive aspects of the “animus.” But according to Barron “anyone who gets immersed in Jung’s writing about psychological types cannot help noticing that the manifestations of the animus are far more likely to be negative than positive. It is impossible to shake the strong impression that he casts nearly all women who use their heads in their work or who aspire to lead or guide other people in an unflattering light.” 

‘Jung On Men And Women’ is a travelogue, yes, but as much through the mind of  Jung and his cohorts particularly and through the minds of the Swiss generally, as it is through the frozen Swiss countryside on the way to Bollingen, the tower retreat Jung built for himself. Yes, it has a tower, and yes, he was a student of Freud. Curiously, there is not really any mention of Jung’s religious views in this book(individuation), nor of dream analysis, nor of his dabbling in alchemy and the occult. But other books cover those subjects. 

“What is she doing, anyway, on a sightseeing expedition half an hour from sunset with no map?” Barron asks the question before we do. The descriptive language is beautiful and evocative: 

“I waited at a bus stop at the drab edge of Jona-on-the-way-to-Bollingen, the only person standing there as a great, black, bruised eye of a sky wept in fits and starts onto grubby heaps of snow turning to sludge.”  Not only did she start out late in the day, ostensibly because of an argument with a credit card company (always appraising our worths), but as we join her “reluctant, foot-dragging excursion to his legendary abode” she is cold, bedraggled and lugging a computer, battery pack, and other accoutrements of modern exterior life.  The sun is setting on her enthusiasm and on the Zurich See. 

Bollingen is an unlikely Mecca for a British tourist.  Five changes of trains and buses and then a long walk.  We are told that Barron was already in Switzerland and decided to visit on the strength of a conversation with his great grand-son Daniel Baumann some 11 months earlier. Initially she goes to the wrong Bollingen, but then corrects her course. She protests that it is only the “weakest sort of curiosity” and “ambivalence” that draws her and that she is not easily drawn to shrines. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  She discusses her introduction to Jung’s ideas in her twenties and the captivation with archetypes and his understanding of cross-cultural patterns. But she also discusses what Rowland, Greene and Wheelright (Jungian scholars) have to say, and argues for balancing Jung’s misogyny against his contribution to modern psychology and literature. 

Barron discusses ambivalence and opposites in abundance: Jung’s long-term marriage to Emma Rauschenbach vs. his long-term affair with muse Toni Wolff. Then there is the study of the unconscious for signs of pathology by Freud vs. study of the unconscious for a source of creativity and culture by Jung. Can we separate the personal history of a thinker from what he/she contributes to the intellectual ether: Lawrence Van der Post’s understanding of Jung vs. his degradation of women in his personal life? Jung’s range and depth vs. his lack of understanding of women, and worse, his castigation of them as lesser creatures? Logos vs. Eros? To build vs. to be? Extraverts vs. Introverts? 

She writes of Regina Wecker, and Iris von Roten, Swiss feminists, in her quest to understand Swiss mentality, but more importantly Jung’s mentality and why he never attained self-conscious thought about his views on women. (His mother was apparently a schizophrenic and psychic.) Barron notes, however, that his culture’s xenophobia did not dictate his view on Native Americans or Asians. 

At long last Barron reaches the gate, and finds herself underwhelmed and wondering if there might be an outhouse closeby. The latch cannot be opened. Did she find the Golden Fleece?  I will leave you to your own reading of this intriguing and captivating book to determine what happened next.

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