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“Dearest Jung...”

Aryeh Maidenbaum
May 13, 2016

Erich Neumann’s Lifelong Correspondence with C.G. Jung

by Aryeh Maidenbaum

From the Spring 2016 issue of Jewish Currents

Discussed in this essay: Analytical Psychology in Exile: The Correspondence of C.G. Jung & Erich Neumann, edited by Martin Liebscher. Princeton University Press, 2015, 496 pages.

NeumannIN APRIL 2015, the Israel Jung Group hosted an important international conference discussing the contributions of Dr. Erich Neumann (1905-1960) to the field of analytical psychology (another name for the psychology and ideas of Carl Jung, 1875-1961). The impetus for this program, held at Kibbutz Shefayim, not far from Tel Aviv, was Princeton University’s recent publication of the correspondence between the Jung and Neumann, which began in the early 1930s shortly after Neumann arrived in Israel, and lasted until his death at 55.

The significance of this correspondence was clearly attested to by the attendance of over 250 people, both Israelis and participants from abroad. The letters not only highlight Neumann’s contributions to analytical psychology but reflect his taking Jung to task for some of Jung’s naïve comments on Jewish culture in general and “Jewish psychology” in particular.*

Born in Berlin, Neumann was one of Jung’s most important disciples, both admired and envied by some of Jung’s leading students in Zurich. After earning a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Eriangen-Nuremberg at the age of 22, he earned a medical degree at the University of Berlin, then fled from Germany to Palestine shortly after the Nazis came to power. For those who are familiar with his writings, Neumann is widely admired for the groundbreaking contributions he made in furthering Jung’s ideas, most notably through his books The Origins and History of Consciousness; The Great Mother; The Child; and Depth Psychology and a New Ethic.

Unfortunately, Neumann’s work is not as appreciated by the psychoanalytic and Jungian worlds as it should be, although many in the fields of literature, philosophy and theology have been aware of the substance and value of his contributions. For Jungians, especially those who strongly identify as both Jewish and Jungian, this collection should be read from cover to cover, for among these more than one hundred letters, Neumann, although in a clearly reverential way, called Jung to task for his naïveté regarding the events in Germany in the 1930s and tried to impress upon him a deeper understanding of Judaism and the importance of Zionism.

In one of his earlier letters, placed by the editors some time between February and May, 1934, Neumann writes: “I know I don’t have to tell you what you mean to me, and how hard it is for me to disagree with you, but I feel I simply must take issue with you on a matter that goes far beyond personal concerns.”

Neumann then refers to Jung’s sweeping generalizations concerning the psychologies of different ‘races.’ Acknowledging that Jews, having experienced persecution for centuries, are uniquely attuned to recognizing the “shadow side” of nations and peoples, Neumann nevertheless expressed upset about Jung’s own gullibility regarding the unfolding events in Germany.

I cannot comprehend why a person like you cannot see what is all too cruelly obvious to everyone these days — that it is also in the Germanic psyche (and the Slavic one) that a mind numbing cloud of filth, blood, and rottenness is brewing.... Most importantly though, I would wish to disabuse you of the conviction that Jews are as you imagine them to be.

Neumann also addressed Jung’s poorly timed and mistaken comments that Jews, while gifted as a people and in many ways possessing a deeper archetypal and historical level than Christians, still lacked a “cultural form” of their own. Neumann’s contention — which, I might add, could be aptly applied to many Jewish Jungians of today — was that those Jewish individuals who found their way to Jung and from whom Jung was drawing his conclusions about Jews and Judaism were for the most part assimilated, and ignorant of their own Jewish heritage.

The rather sad Jewish remnants that have wound their way to you are... the most diasporic, assimilated and nationalized Jews, individuals and stragglers, but from where, dear Dr. Jung, do you know the Jewish race, the Jewish people? May your error of Judgment perhaps be conditioned (in part) by the general ignorance of things Jewish and the secret and medieval abhorrence of them that leads to knowing everything about the India of 2000 years ago and nothing about the Hasidim of 150 years ago?

Suggesting that Jung’s difficulty with Jews stemmed from his rivalry with Freud, Neumann adds: “I fear you are confusing Freud with the Jew...” [For more about Jung’s complex and naïve comments and connection with Jews, Judaism and Freud, see Maidenbaum and Martin, editors, Lingering Shadows: Jungians, Freudians and Anti-Semitism, 1991; Maidenbaum, editor, Jung and the Shadow of Anti-Semitism, 1992.]

NEUMANN WAS CLEARLY upset by some of Jung’s formulations in his 1934 article, “The State of Psychotherapy Today.” To Neumann, Jung seemed to be relegating the Jewish psyche to a lesser level than the Germanic by commenting that “the Aryan unconscious has a higher potential than the Jewish one.”

Today, the very theory of a ‘collective psyche’ is problematic for many, even in Jungian circles. Neumann, however, accepted the concept, but had a problem, expressed especially in his early letters, with Jung’s bias and obtuseness about Jews, as exemplified in an August 8, 1934 letter that Jung wrote to Neumann, asking, “What is the meaning of ‘Galut’ psychology? A Puzzle.” To anyone familiar with Jewish history and culture, galut (exile) would be readily understood as a dominant experience of Jews since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

Neumann’s own struggle with Zionism, as an educated, worldly Jungian living in an embryonic Israel, also comes across in this correspondence. Arriving in Tel Aviv in 1934, Neumann from the outset felt tension between his inner and outer worlds, between staying true to his own individuation process while maintaining his connection to the Jewish people and what was unfolding in Palestine. In 1939, he lamented to Jung: “My slogan: it is no longer about Judaism but about Jewish people... along with the dissolution of the old Judaism, [which seems] to require and to signify something like a new Jewish beginning... how should I believe in it, why must I believe in it?”

Neumann also had to deal with Jung’s disciples in Zurich, who competed with him for Jung’s admiration and approval. That the sibling rivalry inherent in garnering Jung’s admiration might well have been tinged with a bit of anti-Semitism among some of the Zurich Jungians is a consideration demanding further research, but regardless of motives, one particular issue that arose was whether or not to include Neumann’s groundbreaking work in a series of books being published by the newly formed C. G. Jung Institute of Zurich. Notwithstanding that Jung, in his private correspondence with Neumann, had endorsed his writings and ideas and assured him that it would be part of the emerging series, others around Jung told Neumann unceremoniously that his work was not welcomed. (One gathers from the correspondence that Jung himself was trying to please both his followers in Zurich and Neumann.) Neumann did not take this insult lightly, and in a pique of sarcasm he wrote to Jung (October 11, 1949):

I have been informed by the Curatorium of the Institute that bears your name and whose president you are that it is not desirable that my book The Origins and History of Consciousness... be published as a publication of the Institute.... The spurious justification of the vice president that, as the “New Ethic” [Neumann’s Depth Psychology and a New Ethic] is an object of controversy, they have decided only to publish monographs, is galling in its inelegant untruth because it seeks to obscure a clear fact. But the fact is that that they do not want my — compromising — name associated with the Institute. With this, Esteemed President, you have declared yourself in agreement.

The personal relationship between Neumann and Jung nevertheless transcended professional differences and personal hurts. It was a strong and close friendship on many levels, and included deep respect on both sides. An interesting point to note is their changing salutations over the years.

At first, Neumann addressed his letters to Jung as “Dear Doctor,” or “My Dear Doctor, dear Professor,” with Jung responding “Dear Colleague.” Years later, we see Neumann beginning his letters with the greeting “Dearest Jung,” with Jung responding “My dear Neumann.” (Only many years later, in the last published letter from Jung to Neumann, did Jung’s salutation read “Dear Friend.”)

In the field of analytical psychology, Erich Neumann stands out as a giant whose ideas about individual and social psychological development, consciousness and creativity, and the feminine aspects of the psyche were particularly groundbreaking and are still challenging. There was also something profoundly Jewish in his quest for a “universal humanism,” as described in his essay, “Art and Time.”

How can the individual, how can our culture, integrate Christianity and antiquity, China and India, the primitive and the modern, the prophet and the atomic physicist, into one humanity? Yet that is just what the individual and our culture must do. Though wars rage and peoples exterminate one another in our atavistic world, the reality living within us tends, whether we know it or not, whether we wish to admit it or not, toward a universal humanism.

His personal connection to Jung is important to understand and factor in if one wants to understand Neumann’s life and work more fully. Their correspondence makes for fascinating reading.

Aryeh Maidenbaum, Ph.D., co-director of the New York Center for Jungian Studies, is a Jungian analyst in private practice in New York City. He is editor of Lingering Shadows: Jungians, Freudians, and Anti-Semitism (1991) and Jung and the Shadow of Anti-Semitism (2002). He was a contributing writer to Current Theories of Psychoanalysis (Robert Langs, editor, 1998) and has been published in numerous journals.