Carl Gustav Jung, the Red Book and the future of books

Between 1913 and 1930, Carl Gustav Jung worked on the Red Book, also known as Liber Novus, a richly illustrated 205-page manuscript written in calligraphic text.

That is oddly comforting. To me it means that, even 500 years from now, there may still be a few lone souls printing books on paper.

(Picture: from the Rubin Museum of Art, whose exhibition marks the first public display of the book, and which has organized a stellar speaker program, “The Red Book Dialogues”, around the show).


5 thoughts on “Carl Gustav Jung, the Red Book and the future of books

  1. “In the history of our species, in the history of Homo sapiens, the book is anthropological development, similar essentially to the invention of the wheel. Having emerged in order to give us some idea not so much of our origins as of what that sapiens is capable of, a book constitutes a means of transportation through the space of experience, at the speed of a turning page. This movement, like every movement, becomes a flight from the common denominator, from an attempt to elevate this denominator’s line, previously never reaching higher than the groin, to our heart, to our consciousness, to our imagination. This flight is the flight in the direction of “uncommon visage”, in the direction of the numerator, in the direction of autonomy, in the direction of privacy”.

    Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Lecture, December 8, 1987

  2. i found an interesting mention of the red book here in connection with umberto eco’s recent article “the lost art of handwriting”.
    i wonder, are we a little less human, or less unique, now that we have almost lost handwriting and calligraphy? handwriting has to do with the human sense of touch – which can convey plenty of emotional, esthetic, even conceptual information. that is why i have always believed in graphology as a tool for understanding people’s personalities: nothing is as accurate as the traces left by the pressure of the hand on a sheet of paper in registering both an individual’s peculiar style and their momentary feelings

  3. Elisheba,

    I do not completely agree with Eco. He says that with ballpens “people lost any interest in handwriting because, with this product [ballpens], writing has not soul, style and personality”. Show me a diary written with a fountain pen – which, according with Eco, should be so stylish and personal – and I’ll show you a diary written by dip pen which, according to Eco school of thought, is «Ur-stilish», «Ur-personal».

    Coming back to Jung’s tie with books, handwritten as the red one or printed, in 1949 he wrote the foreword to the English edition of I Ching, “the book of changes”, by Richard Wilhelm. These are his final words:

    «If by means of this demonstration I have succeeded in elucidating the psychological phenomenology of the I Ching, I shall have carried out my purpose. As to the thousands of questions, doubts, and criticisms that this singular book stirs up — I cannot answer these. The I Ching does not offer itself with proofs and results; it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach. Like a part of nature, it waits until it is discovered. It offers neither facts nor power, but for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom — if there be such — it seems to be the right book. To one person its spirit appears as clear as day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night. He who is not pleased by it does not have to use it, and he who is against it is not obliged to find it true. Let it go forth into the world for the benefit of those who can discern its meaning».

    Jung seems to tie I Ching with archetypes. Extending this idea to include all books, I agree with Paola: archetypes will never die, books won’t either.

    • in graphological terms there are no substantial differences between writing with a fountain pen and a dip pen – the structure of the pen is the same (although calligraphers mostly employ dip pens with different nibs to differentiate the thickness and texture of the stroke, for esthetic purposes). but it is true that with a ballpoint certain marks and lines that reveal a lot about the writer’s personality are less evident.
      therefore, it’s fair to say that ballpoint writing has “less soul, style and personality” than fountain pen/dip pen writing

      • Indeed. This book is a reveal of his rich archetypal world through paintings and text. One of my favorite explorations into the human subconscious and collective unconscious.

        Love it!

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