Friday, January 8, 2010

Carl Jung, Boy Plant Geek

In my ongoing quest to read more and watch TV less, I've been hitting a lot of bases simultaneously. I've already mentioned my first year with Henry Mitchell, but another tome I've been slowly working through for a while now is Carl Jung's 1961 semi-autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. It's a truly eccentric approach to memoir, with no false advertising in its title. Hard facts are downplayed in favor of dreams about divine turds and such.

At the very end of "School Years," the chapter on Jung's boyhood, I came across this intriguing and characteristically wacky passage as our hero is pondering his future academic studies:

Plants interested me too, but not in a scientific sense. I was attracted to them for a reason I could not understand, and with a strong feeling that they ought not to be pulled up and dried. They were living beings which had meaning only so long as they were growing and flowering--a hidden, secret meaning, one of God's thoughts. They were to be regarded with awe and contemplated with philosophical wonderment. What the biologist had to say about them was interesting, but it was not the essential thing. ... How were plants related to the Christian religion or to the negation of the Will, for example? ... They obviously partook of the divine state of innocence which it was better not to disturb. By way of contrast, insects were denatured plants--flowers and fruits which had presumed to crawl about on legs or stilts and to fly around with wings like the petals of blossoms, and busied themselves preying on plants. Because of this unlawful activity they were condemned to mass executions, June bugs and caterpillars being the especial targets of such punitive expeditions. My "sympathy with all creatures" was strictly limited to warm-blooded animals. The only exceptions among the cold-blooded vertebrates were frogs and toads, because of their resemblance to human beings.

Wild! There's a lot in that paragraph to mull over. I admit I have never thought much about the role of plants in regard to the negation of the Will, for one, nor I have ever considered insects as winged flowers. Then again, I'm not a late-19th century Swiss kid with a preacher dad. On the other hand, I think he's on to something with that business about the "hidden, secret meaning" of plants. Hard to pin down--but then that's what makes it secret.


Dirty Girl Gardening said...

Nice post! I bought The Red Book as a xmas gift to myself and love it! the illustrations are incredible.. nothing yet on plants from him - but to be honest it's taking me weeks to get through the vast introduction... I have to keep a dictionary to look up words!

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