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Redeeming the Waste Land: Jung's Two Ideas for Older Adults

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) September 21, 2014: Arguably Marie-Louise von Franz (1915-1998), Ph.D. in classical philology (University of Zurich, 1943), is the most intellectually formidable follower of C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and psychological theorist. In 1933, when she was 18, she met Dr. Jung at a small picnic at his lakeside retreat. (By all accounts, Dr. Jung liked to cook and was a good cook.)

By her own account, she fell in love with him that day. In Jungian parlance, she had a transference. As a result, he became the father-figure of her adult life. She became his research assistant and understudy -- and the keeper of the flame after his death. In my estimate, no other keeper of the flame has yet arisen who can match her. In Jungian parlance, Dr. Jung embodied and carried the Wise Old Man archetype in her psyche. (I have not seen any suggestion that he had sexual intercourse with Dr. von Franz, as he is rumored to have had with certain other women -- after he was married.)

As Dr. Jung's research assistant and understudy, Dr. von Franz played a role in his life that I would liken to the role that Telemachus plays in the episode in the Homeric epic Odyssey that is known as the Slaughter of the Suitors. Dr. Jung and Dr. von Franz were in land-locked Switzerland. It was the two of them together against the rest of the Western world -- the proverbial suitors. I know, I know, Telemachus is Odysseus's son.

If I had to liken Dr. von Franz to a female personage in the Odyssey, I would liken her to the goddess Athena. As the story goes, the goddess Athena sprung from the god Zeus -- from his forehead. Athena had access to Zeus's thunderbolts. Athena was also known in the ancient world as Athena Nike -- the goddess of victory. War was a way of life in the ancient world. So you'd want Athena to be on your side in war -- as she was on the side of Achilles and the Greeks in the Iliad.

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The learned Dr. von Franz was on the side of the learned Dr. Jung, just as Athena was on the side of Achilles in his one-man battle with Hector, the leading Trojan warrior. Like Achilles, Dr. Jung was battling Hector and other Trojan warriors -- the secularist forces. Perhaps we could liken his famous battle with Sigmund Freud to Achilles' one-man combat with Hector.

In any event, as Dr. Jung's able research assistant, Dr. von Franz contributed mightily to his study of alchemy. His study of Alchemy culminated in his last big book Mysterium Coniunctionis (English translation, 2nd ed., 1973; German original ed. published in two parts, 1955 and 1956).

As a companion volume to his Mysterium Coniunctionis, Dr. von Franz contributed a translation into German and commentary on the 13th-century alchemical text in Latin known as Aurora Consurgens (German orig. ed, 1957; English translation, 1964). Frankly, I don't think that the learned Dr. Jung could have written a commentary on anything as learned as Dr. von Franz's abundantly footnoted commentary on this medieval text -- few people could have.

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Dr. von Franz argues that St. Thomas Aquinas may have been the author of Aurora Consurgens (pages 405-431). But I do not find her arguments entirely convincing. Nevertheless, I would call attention to Matthew Fox's book Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality (1992). In this book Fox constructs an elaborate conversation with Aquinas by constructing question after question that he (Fox) poses and then providing one answer after another by quoting selected passages from Aquinas' writings. Fox's creative presentation of Aquinas' thought could be used to support Dr. von Franz's argument that Aquinas was the author of Aurora Consurgens.

After Dr. Jung's wife, Emma Rauschenbach Jung (1882-1955), died, he asked Dr. von Franz to complete the manuscript that she had been working on about the Arthurian legends of the quest for the Grail. The completed manuscript was published as The Grail Legend (English translation, 1970; German original ed., 1960). As a result of completing this scholarly work that Emma Jung had begun, Dr. von Franz was steeped in the medieval legends about the quest for the Grail.

Briefly, the Grail vessel was supposed to contain the blood of Christ. In the admittedly cannibalistic symbolism of the Mass in the Roman Catholic Church, the priest celebrating the Mass eats the body of Christ and drinks the blood of Christ. In medieval times, the lay participants who received Holy Communion at Mass also were thereby eating the body of Christ. But somehow the blood of Christ came to be thought of as being contained in the Grail vessel, which was of course the goal of the Grail quest.

The medieval legends about the quest for the Grail were not as well known in American culture as they were in European culture -- and in the British Isles. Nevertheless, the American-born poet T. S. Eliot recycled famous imagery from the Grail legends in his lengthy poem "The Waste Land" (1922). He borrowed the imagery of the waste land and of the Fisher King directly from the Grail legends.

Now, the Grail vessel is the goal of the quest for the Grail. But could another kind of imagery be used as the goal of the quest, instead of the Grail vessel? As a matter of fact, Christian alchemists claimed that their goal was to make gold. As everybody knows, the goal for capitalists around the world today is to find gold, figuratively speaking. So the imagery of gold symbolizes something of great value, just as the Grail vessel had symbolized something of great value. For years, Dr. Jung studied texts written by alchemists, culminating in the publication of his big book Mysterium Coniunctionis.

After Dr. Jung died, Dr. von Franz published the book C. G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time, translated from the German by William H. Kennedy (1975; German original ed., 1972). In this encomium to Dr. Jung, Dr. von Franz plays the role of the keeper of the flame.

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In the culminating chapter of her learned encomium to Dr. Jung (pages 269-287), Dr. von Franz likens him to Merlin -- "the great magician, medicine man and bard of Celtic mythology" in the Grail legends (page 275). She says, "Merlin is an archetypal figure. [He] keep[s] alive the pattern of fate of the archaic shamans and medicine men" (page 278). In my estimate, she has aptly characterized Dr. Jung. By virtue of his professional training as a medical doctor, he was in effect a modern-day medicine man, as are all medical doctors to this day.

Merlin represents the Wise Old Man archetype -- the archetype that 18-year-old Dr. von Franz projected on to Dr. Jung when she fell in love with him at first sight in 1933.

However, even though Merlin in the Grail legends is the bard of Celtic mythology, I do not agree with Dr. von Franz's characterization of Dr. Jung as "a 'hidden poet'" (page 282). She says that Dr. Jung "was even one might say without distortion, a 'hidden poet'" (page 282). In English translations of his works, he does not come across as a hidden poet. In English, his prose does not seem poetic but verbose. But perhaps the supposedly hidden poetry has been lost in the translation.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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