Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Red Book by Jung at the Rubin Museum

"Formation, Transformation, the Eternal Mind's Eternal Recreation" 
  --  Geothe, Faust

In Geothe's Faust, the realm where the Mothers dwell is visible to the secret vision of the Poet and the Artist. The Goddesses only see ""wraiths"; around them is "Formation, transformation"; there is no way to them, and no spot whereon to rest.  It is thought that the Mothers represent the unconscious mind.

Another vision is that of Philemon, shown here to the right.

Such are the visions of the unconsciousness by Carl Jung in the Red Book: part journal, part mythological novel that takes the reader through Jung’s fantasies.

I went to see the Red Book exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art.  Very interesting exhibition.  The Red Book, written by Carl Jung, contains his thoughts as he was formulating his philosophical break from Freud and laid the tenets of his central ideas on the collective unconscious and the power of archetypes.  “All my works, all my creative activity,” he would recall later, “has come from those initial fantasies and dreams. (contained in the Red Book)”.

The Red Book is about the rebirth of God in the soul.  The book explores this rebirth  by analyzing different myths and religions from across the world from the Egyptian gods and Eastern religions through early Christianity.

The Red Book exhibition is coupled with a second exhibition on cosmology or the study of the universe.  Jung coupled his ideas of man and his place in the universe on the psychological level with a greater understanding of the cosmos across time and culture.  While a Tibetan scholar may not agree with Jung's interpretation's of mandelas or his efforts to use a mandela, nonetheless these efforts illustrate Jung's attempts to unify the inner world of his soul, with timeless archetypes, and with the greater universe outside.

The Second Exhibition at the Rubin was a comparison of various cosmologies from Buddhism, Jain and Hindu  through Christian cosmologies of the Middle Ages.  Mandelas are used in Tibetan Buddhism to help a practitioner reach enlightenment.  One form of mandala represents the entire universe, which is traditionally depicted with Mount Meru as the axis mundi in the center, surrounded by the continents.  Another form of mandala is an offering of the entire body with the spine as Mount Meru and the limbs as the various continents.  A secret or hidden mandala is an offering of a blissful awareness or of a nonconceptual blissful awareness of voidness with a clear-light mind. Finally, an offering of a mandala of  reality itself, unifying mind, body, and spirit.

Eastern representations of cosmology are shown side by side with pre-Renaissance Christian cosmology showing the Earth as the center of the universe.

 "While not scientifically supportable, this cosmology was eagerly embraced and adapted to fit Medieval theology. The Prime Mover became the Christian God, the outermost sphere became heaven, and the earth was the center of God's attention. The spheres, moved by the Prime Mover, existed and rotated in perfect harmony, creating the “music of the spheres.” Man, habitant of the sublunary sphere which was corruptible since Adam's fall, could no longer hear this music. This worldview gave rise to further Medieval philosophical explanations of man's place in the universe, such as the concept of corresponding planes, and the idea of the Great Chain of Being, so prominent in Boethius and Chaucer, for example." -- read more at

This cosmology was replaced by Copernican view of the world where the Earth moves around the Sun. Later on, also began the Cartesian split between mind and body which paved the way for modern cosmology as exemplified by a showing of the magnificient American Museum of Natural History's film of the Known Universe,  a virtual trip through the universe as we currently understand it.  The video is truly worth seeing.

Additionally, the exhibit has been accompanied by a  lecture series of noted intellectuals from a variety of domains conversing with neuroscientists and psychologists on Jung's Red Book.  If you can imagine that Dr. Cornell West rendered speechless by one of Jung's drawings!  There are a variety of speakers ranging from comedienne Sarah Silverman through Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, writer, Alice Walker and composer Meredith Walker.

I think what the lecture series is trying to point towards is a need to develop a new cosmology for our times.  To start to integrate modern developments in the environment, technology, and art with a new understanding of neuroscience and psychology.  I am going to return to some of the thoughts provoked by this series later on:  Where am I in this universe of the 20th century and how does having limited sensibility brought on by physical/mental disability affect my awareness.
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