Big Red Book Dreams

Back in September of last year, in the build-up to publication of The Red Book of Carl Jung, there was an article by Sara Corbett in the New York Times in which she wrote about traveling to Zurich and reporting on the rather top-secret preparations for publication.

Now in April of 2010, The Red Book sits in a case at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, a copy of that big beast sprawls enormously on my nightstand, and a dream that Sara Corbett shared in her article comes back into my mind:

“One night during the week of the scanning in Zurich, I had a big dream. A big dream, the Jungians tell me, is a departure from all your regular dreams, which in my case meant this dream was not about falling off a cliff or missing an exam. This dream was about an elephant — a dead elephant with its head cut off. The head was on a grill at a suburban-style barbecue, and I was holding the spatula. Everybody milled around with cocktails; the head sizzled over the flames. I was angry at my daughter’s kindergarten teacher because she was supposed to be grilling the elephant head at the barbecue, but she hadn’t bothered to show up. And so the job fell to me. Then I woke up.”

Sara ran her dream by a couple of the Jungians she was hanging with as part of her reportage, but their responses seemed generic (mostly that elephants were maternal, one said, and related to Ganesha added the other). It seemed to me that Sara dropped this big dream right in these Jungian laps, but they were too busy revering the Master (Jung) to notice that the collective was erupting right before their eyes.

Even though I am not a Jungian (even Jung thanked God that he was only Jung and not a Jungian), I wanted to share Sara’s dream in this blog because it strikes me truly as a “big dream,” meaning that it is not just about Sara, but about the collective as well.

A problem with many psychologists (at least the ones who pretend to “ask questions” at museum talks when all they really want is to get some sort of gold star from the speaker) seems that they’re always wanting to be the smart ones (I’m working through this issue, God help me, as I’d rather be of use, to contribute to the group things that truly work… and thus get my humanly-needed love from helping rather than appearing smart).

I wrote to Sara to share my own interpretation, which she seemed to find somewhat resonant (I told her that she’d been hanging with the Jungians and had gone native, gone archetypal on their asses).  In any case, my point is that her dream is not so much about her (at least not only her), but about all of us.

Now dreams are like poems, with many layers of potential meaning (and potential nonsense), however, Elephants are huge, literally; they are considered to have good memories (they never forget), they are exploited in the circus and caged at the zoo, they carry people around and they are forced into labor for humans; Babar is also a beloved elephant who is orphaned, socialized in the city and returns home to be king of the elephants, ending with an unlikely image of he and Celeste floating away in a hot air balloon.  In short, the elephant is a good symbol for the everything, sort of like Moby Dick (but in land-locked Zurich it’s just slightly more probable).

In a way, Sara is asked by her dream to step into hotly contested waters—to try to report to the general populace on arcane and obscure things of sacred import to the Jungians (one can only guess what the spirit of Jung would think of all this).  A cut-off elephant head could be seen as the separation of the thinking and the feeling—a mirror of our brain world disconnected from its heart or soul.  Jung speaks of religion dying if it loses its wildness, and so the elephant could be a symbol of Jungian psychology itself, now-dead and ready to be served up to people who would rather not think, live, love and suffer for their own damn selves.  The dream confronts Sara with the current situation, something too big for her to serve up all on her own.  It’s in that spirit that I choose to grab a spatula and baste the beast, even if I can’t understand it or serve it up any better than her; it’s in the joining and the trying to help the group that we find the way out of the mess, I hope.

Sara is in the unenviable position of tending to the suburban barbeque alone—a potential symbol of the altar, of sacrifice, of apportionment.  She is tasked with cooking (meaning to transform something from a raw state to a digestible one), and she recognizes that this is too much for any one person—and that is the point, I believe:  Jung was interested in the collective, he did not wish for there to be Jungians, and I hope he would have liked Sara’s dream as I like it—a smart but non-“religious” and non-Jungian sort of wrestling with the beast of the collective unconscious—something that might feed us all, and re-connect us with our collective memory.

Everyone milled about with cocktails in the dream—drinking in “spirits,” but not in the least helping Sara.  Sara is vexed with her daughter’s kindergarten teacher who is a no-show—maybe symbolizing that her own inner teacher is absent, forcing her to step up and “teach” this big subject to us kindergarteners of the psyche, whether she feels ready or not.

To me the dream represents a collective situation.  The Red Book is itself a symbol for wider consciousness, elephantine consciousness, and America is hungry for this wild beast of raw and real consciousness, for this ethic of taking the psyche seriously, and of coming to a point where we realize that it is the collective consciousness that is our nourishment, our sacrifice that lets us be closer to the divine, and thus to each other and all our collective children.

The Red Book is selling exceptionally well (suggestive that Sara’s dream was prophetic as far as hunger for this Red Elephant is concerned, its head sizzling in flames of life-spirit), and is already in it’s fifth printing, and at a cost of closer to two hundred than one hundred bucks… and almost ridiculously huge (when I read it I think of the “Jew Hunter” in Inglorious Basterds pulling out his outsized pipe), it is a big event in the collective surface of Western consiousness.  HOWEVER, it is not Jung’s specific tales of his inner figures that matter so much as the attitude he represents of striving to reconcile that which is within with that which is outside.

Just as the three little pigs must ultimately do more than just build a brick house of Self, they must cook and eat that big bad wolf before they are truly safe to live, we must cook and eat the elephant of our collective memory, history and identity—cooking and eating together—if we hope to bring soul and life spirit back into a world that has been in a 400 year spiral into the Hell of a soul-killing rationalism.  Ganesha is a god of new beginnings and remover of obstacles, but if we are going to eat Ganesha, then we must be Ganesha, not as individual heroes, but as a collective consciousness that works for both the earth and the sun— and all their collective “children,” from rocks to ants to birds and human beings—the living and the dead, the material and the spirit.  Jung tolls the bell, and he fires up the grill, yet ask not for whom that elephant sizzles, it sizzles for not only for thee, but for all of US.

Namaste, Bruce

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4 Responses to “Big Red Book Dreams”

  1. Larry Says:

    Brilliant. Did I say brilliant. You’re a smart one but at least asking questions that we can all participate in and make our own. Love the take on the dream.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Thanks for the gold star, but I truly think that kind trumps smart every time. It’s together that we’re really brilliant, and together that we’re really kind—and I so appreciate your being here with me to take on this dream and join me in these questions.

      Here’s to relatedness—Namaste

  2. Anonymous Says:

    So wonderful !thanks from China.Wqs_7@163.com I wish to write a essay about The red book to Chinese,Thank you for your wisdim.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      How wonderful that Jung’s most private journey creates this point of connection—helping us see how the collective unconscious unites us in ways that we are only beginning to understand at any conscious level. All Good Wishes to us All

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