The Undiscovered Self

The late Jungian analyst Barbara Hannah knew Jung well. That’s why her book, Jung: His Life and Work – A Biographical Memoir, holds a lot of weight with me.

In Chapter 17, “Late Years, 1955-1959,” she writes that in the nearly six years after Jung’s 80th birthday, “he produced a great deal of his most interesting work, though much of it is too little known.”

His most interesting work? Too little known? Hmm.

Hannah explains that during his last years, Jung wrote a short book called Present and Future. The English translation was re-titled The Undiscovered Self. She said he wrote it based on the many questions he’d received about the future.

Because I found it both “interesting” and “too little known,” I decided to type up an excerpt from that chapter:

There was more trouble over the translation of this work than with any other book or paper by Jung that I remember. I must place on record the fact that though, as is expressly stated in more than one of the volumes, I am sure that Jung did authorize all the larger changes that were made, they were mostly made in the way I have already described: Jung very seldom wholeheartedly liked these changes (at least I always had that impression when we discussed them), but if they were persisted in he just ‘retired to his estates’ sometimes explaining it by saying that he supposed if the translator, Richard Hull, did not understand neither would the public. Jung’s correspondence was always overwhelmingly large and was almost – at times quite – beyond what he could cope with. This was sometimes much increased by letters from his translator, also from the editors, but much less as they restricted themselves for the most part to one long meeting a year. Richard Hull proposed such far-reaching changes in Present and Future, that Jung’s almost inexhaustible patience gave out. He asked me to go down to the Tessin (where the Hulls were then living) to remonstrate. Hull accepted Jung’s remonstrances willingly and the work now follows the German much more exactly. I do not know when and why the title was changed from the German Present and Future to the English The Undiscovered Self. Both titles describe the content well.

It was, it seems to me, very touching that most of what Jung wrote in these last five years [1955-1959; he died in 1961] was full of anxious concern for the future of the world. Most people are inclined to think that what happens after their death will no longer concern them but, though he knew he had only a short time to live, Jung had a love of humanity which made him more, rather than less, concerned with its fate after his death. We can find this anxious concern in all he wrote in these last years, though only The Undiscovered Self is directly devoted to this theme and even begins with the question ‘What will the future bring?’

This short book of Jung’s, which goes deeply and most constructively into our most urgent problems, is far too little known. He asked, for instance, the meaning of our living ‘in an age filled with apocalyptic images of universal destruction,’ and inquired into the significance of the split in humanity ‘symbolized by the iron curtain.’ He further asked: ‘What will become of our civilization, and of man himself, if the hydrogen bombs begin to go off, or if the spiritual and moral darkness of State absolutism should spread over Europe?’

It is this spiritual and moral darkness, in other words, the unconsciousness of man, that is by far our greatest danger. It is utterly useless to project this darkness onto the other side of the ‘iron curtain,’ for it is only the individual who can become conscious. It is true that he has lost his freedom far more disastrously in the countries where religion has been repressed and his faith demanded for the fiction called the ‘state,’ but, as Jung pointed out, the idea that the individual human being is the central problem is ‘enough to arouse the most violent doubts and resistances on all sides, and one could almost go so far as to assert that the valuelessness of the individual in comparison with large numbers is the one belief that meets with universal and unanimous assent.’ The non-Communist world is just as bad in this respect as the people on the other side of the curtain. Our churches also proclaim the valuelessness of the individual, in comparison with the congregation, and organize and believe ‘in the sovereign remedy of mass action.’ They do not realize that the ‘individual becomes morally and spiritually inferior in the mass,’ and have apparently entirely forgotten that the process of individuation is the central theme of original Christianity. Jung asked: ‘Are not Jesus and Paul prototypes of those who, trusting their inner experience, have gone their individual way in defiance of the world?’

This distrust of the individual comes from the widespread error that the individual is identical with the ego and with its conscious fiction of what it is. But Jung was speaking of an individual who knows the eternal being in himself and who – like Jesus and Paul – sacrifices his egotistical desires to his inner experience of this being. Jung even said: ‘Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.’ And this is the crux of the matter: this organization of oneself can be reached only by self-knowledge, by enormous effort and willingness to take the full responsibility for oneself. Unfortunately, most people prefer to be infantile in this respect, and to leave the responsibility to others. But they are thus ‘already on the road to State slavery and, without knowing it or wanting it, have become its proselyte.’

This short book is perhaps Jung’s most vivid exposition of the myth of modern man that revealed itself to him on the Athi Plains over thirty years earlier. It really leaves the reader with the choice between becoming conscious enough to create ‘objective existence and meaning,’ or becoming unconsciously the slave of the state and those who know how to manipulate it, and thus going down to his unknown end ‘in the profoundest night of non-being.’”

~Barbara Hannah, Jung: His Life and Work – A Biographical Memoir, pp. 334-336

Gravesite of Barbara Hannah and Marie-Louise von Franz at the Swiss Reformed Church and Graveyard in Küsnacht, Switzerland. Photo by Laura London, Nov. 24, 2015.

Barbara Hannah {1891-1986} was born in Brighton, England, the daughter of the Bishop of Cheshirshire. She studied art in Paris in the twenties and later traveled to Zürich to consult with Jung after reading his article, Woman in Europe. Eventually she made Switzerland her home base and became an analyst and lecturer at the C.G. Jung Institute. She spent her later years, at Jung’s suggestion, living in Bollingen with fellow analyst Marie-Louise von Franz.

I visited Ms. Hannah’s grave in Küsnacht in 2015. She is buried beside Dr. von Franz in the same cemetery as Jung.

You can watch a video interview with Barbara Hannah in the Remembering Jung series produced by the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles.

~Laura London
May 3, 2019, Chicago IL