Friday, January 23, 2004

There was an old "Cheers" episode where Diane -- the overeducated sylph played to perfection by Shelley Long -- recalls writing a college thesis titled "Hello Jung Lovers." She could well have been talking about the people crowding into the New York Times' "Book News and Reviews" forum, following Dinitia Smith's review of Deidre Bair's Jung bio.

"Carl Gustav Jung," Smith begins, "was an insufferable egotist, cruel to his family, a womanizer, with bad table manners to boot. He was a founder of psychoanalysis, but today his teachings have little importance in the treatment of mental illness."

Smith says the book "exercises a kind of appalled fascination ... It was written with the cooperation of members of the Jung family, who, as beneficiaries of his royalties, have refused access to his papers to authors they deem unfavorably disposed to him.

"One feels sorry for Ms. Bair, having to wade through Jung's lectures ... Nevertheless it is unlikely that another biography can ever equal this in its scrupulousness and the depth of its research."

Smith goes into some detail about Jung's multiple weirdnesses -- once "setting a firecracker off between a daughter's legs, rendering her deaf in one ear" -- his long-time affair with a patient, and his oddball relationship with Freud, whom he literally pissed-off. ("Once, when they were arguing, Freud urinated in his trousers.")

"Perhaps to justify her work's thoroughness and the years she spent writing this book," she concludes, "Ms. Bair tries valiantly to make Jung sympathetic. In the end it's a losing proposition."

The Jungsters -- the "jung and easily freudened," perhaps, to borrow Joyce's phrase -- were not pleased:

* "...the sketchiest, most absurdly biased and simplistic toss-off I've yet read in the NY Times. Perhaps it was her daughter's high school book review that got sent in to the Times by accident. Please check into it, or have her checked out... ideally by a Swiss therapist, of course."

* "Dinita Smith seems poorly chosen for reviewer of Bair's biography of Jung. She limits her assessment to taking sides in the Freud v. Jung match, ignoring what Bair contributes to our understanding of Jung's debt to his cultural milieu, in particular to the developments in occultism and anthropology. She displays a rigid hostility toward Jung, rather than exploring the fascinating sources of his complex humanity. Despite Smith's unimaginative assessment, I look forward to reading Bair's biography." (How does he know what Bair's contribution is if he hasn't read the book?)

* "I have a different bias as a psychologist who has undergone Jungian analysis and studied Jung's original works. Jungian analysis turned my life around. Although Jung's personal life was flawed, you can also tell a tree by its fruit. My analyst was kind and ethical. I know many others dedicated to Jung's work and find much dedication, ability, and integrity to their work and their lives. Jung's personal flaws are overshadowed in my experience by his being an insightful pioneer who shed new light on deep transformation. It's all too easy to attack someone long dead who can no longer defend himself. The New York Times should take care to choose reviewers who don't have an axe to grind but actually know something about the area they're reviewing, unlike Ms. Smith."

* "This was so poorly written-- Since when does the NYT publish high school book reports? what is going on ?!"

Other posters, likewise, know exceedingly bright teenagers:

*"I agree with the gist of what some other posters have said about the review of the new Jung biography by D. Bair. For instance, one poster said it seemed like a high-school book report. I agree with that statement, with the qualification that I've actually seen many high-school book reports that were better than this review."

*"The review of the biography was a biased travesty."

*"...offers little more than the poorly informed and researched impressions and opinions of C G Jung. I doubt the biography which is reviewed would support the reviewer's ridiculous comments regarding the significance and continued influence of Jung today on a wide spectrum of professionals, artists,intellectuals and `laymen'."

*"Ms. Smith sounds like a candidate for a personality transplant, not like a bona fide critique of ideas. I am disappointed to see such a travesty committed upon Ms. Bair, who obviously has done due diligence to produce a biography that actually has something new to say about Jung. As far as Ms. Smith's feelings about Jung himself, she is crying out for help, maybe the editors could make a good referral. Try the Jung Institute ..."

* "...astoundingly uninformed review."

*"...little more than an occasion for the author to express her contempt and vitriol for a subject of which she reveals herself to be poorly informed."

*"...a disgraceful excercise in character assassination ... Please, someone help this reviewer learn her craft. This article harms not only the memory of a gifted and flawed human being (most of us only share the latter adjective), but also it hurts those sensitive people who have entrusted their souls into the care of hundreds of gifted and loving therapists who have learned their art at the feet of this flawed giant."

And so on and so on. You'd almost think Smith had reviewed an Ayn Rand bio.

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