the process is the artwork

‘Man cannot stand a meaningless life’

RFTBAC_C.G. Jung - from The Red Book_800px

Illustration From C.G. Jung’s Red Book Liber Novus p.119

In a BBC-interview with John Friedman in 1959, the renowned Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung, then 84 years old, words some interesting perspectives on death.

John Friedman: You have written (…) some sentences which have surprised me a little about death. In particular I remember you’ve said that death is psychologically just as important as birth, which is an integral part of life. But surely it can’t be like birth if it’s an end, can it?

C. G. Jung: If it’s an end…and there…we are not quite certain about this end, because you know, there are these peculiar faculties of the psyche that aren’t entirely confined to space and time. You can have dreams or visions of the future (…) and such things. These facts show that the psyche in part, at least, is not dependent upon these confinements, and then what? When the psyche is not under that obligation to live in time and space alone (…) and in that extent it is not subjected to those laws, that means a practical continuation of life, of a sort of psychical existence beyond time and space.

John Friedman: Do you yourself believe that death is probably the end (…)?

C. G. Jung: I can’t…You see, the word ‘believe’ is a difficult thing for me. I don’t believe. I must have a reason for a certain hypothesis. Either I know a thing and then I know it; I don’t need to believe it. If I don’t allow myself, for instance, to believe a thing just for the sake of believing it, I can’t believe it! But when there are sufficient reasons to form a certain hypothesis, I shall accept these reasons, naturally. I shall say we have to reckon with the possibility of so and so.

John Friedman: Well now, you told us that we should regard death as being a goal and that to shrink away from it is to evade life and life’s purpose…what advice would you give to people in their later life to enable them to do this when most of them must in fact believe that death is the end of everything?

C. G. Jung: Well, you see, I have treated many old people and it is quite interesting to watch what the unconscious is doing with the fact, that it is a battle to threaten with the complete end. It disregards it. Life behaves as if it were going on. So I think it is better for old people to live on, to look forward to the next day as if he had to spend centuries. And then he lives properly. But when he is afraid, when he doesn’t look forward but looks back, he petrifies, he gets stiff and he dies before his time. But when he’s living on, looking forward to the great adventure that is ahead, then he lives. And that is what the unconsious is intending to do. Of course it is obvious that we are all going to die, and that is the sad finale of everything but nevertheless, there is something in us that doesn’t believe it, apparently. Does it mean to me that it proves something? It is simply so: for instance, I do not know why we need salt, but we prefer to eat salt because you feel better. And so, when you think in a certain way, you may feel considerably better (…)

(…) When I think of my patients, they all seek their own existence. And to ensure their existence against the complete atomization into nothingness or into meaninglessness, man cannot stand a meaningless life.

– Own transcript from Carl Jung: Face To Face (BBC, 1959.), Interviewed by John Friedman, at ca. 32:15.

 

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