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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Carl Jung on why he would not write an Autobiography




To Gustav Steiner

Dear friend, 30 December 1957

Your assumption that I already have more than enough to occupy me is only too true.

I drown in floods of paper.

You are quite right.

When we are old, we are drawn back, both from within and from without, to memories of youth.

Once before, some thirty years ago, my pupils asked me for an account of how I arrived at my conception of the unconscious.

I fulfilled this request by giving a seminar.

During the last years the suggestion has come to me from various quarters that I should do something akin to an autobiography.

I have been unable to conceive of my doing anything of the sort.

I know too many autobiographies, with their self-deceptions and downright lies, and I know too much about the impossibility of self-portrayal, to want to venture on any such attempt.

Recently I was asked for autobiographical information, and in the course of answering some questions I discovered hidden in my memories certain objective problems which seem to call for closer examination.

I have therefore weighed the matter and come to the conclusion that I shall fend off my other obligations long enough to take up at least the very first beginnings of my life and consider them in an objective fashion.

This task has proved so difficult and singular that in order to go ahead with it, I have had to promise myself that the results would not be published in my lifetime.

Such a promise seemed to me essential in order to assure for myself the necessary detachment and calm.

It became dear that all the memories which have remained vivid to me had to do with emotional experiences that stir up turmoil and passion in the mind-scarcely the best condition for an objective account!

Your letter "naturally" came at the very moment when I had virtually resolved to take the plunge.

Fate will have it-and this has always been the case with me-that all the "outer" aspects of my life should be accidental.

Only what is interior has proved to have substance and determining value.

As a result, all memory of outer events has faded, and perhaps these "outer" experiences were never so very essential anyhow, or were so only in that they coincided with phases of my inner development.

An enormous part of these "outer" manifestations of my life has vanished from my memory-for the very reason, I now realize, that I was never really "in" them, although it seemed to me then that I was participating with all my powers.

Yet these are the very things that make up a sensible biography: persons one has met, travels, adventures, entanglements, blows of destiny, and so on.

But with few exceptions they have become phantasms which I barely recollect, for they no longer lend wings to my imagination.

On the other hand, my memories of the "inner" experiences have grown all the more vivid and colourful.

This poses a problem of description which I scarcely feel able to cope with, at least for the present.

Unfortunately I cannot, for these reasons, fulfil your request, very much to my regret.

With best wishes for the New Year,

Your old fellow Zofinger,

Carl ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 406-407