The Jung-White Letters (Philemon Series). Edited by Ann Conrad Lammers and Adrian Cunningham


consulting editor Murray Stein . Pp. xxxi, 384 . London and New York , Routledge , 2007 , £50.00.

Until the publication of The Jung-White Letters, the presentation of the correspondence between C. G. Jung and the English Dominican priest and theologian, Victor White, had been largely one-sided. As the editors note, a number of Jung's letters to White, along with Jung's letters concerning White to other individuals, were previously published in C. G. Jung Letters. It was not, however, until Ann Conrad Lammers' 1994 book, In God's Shadow: The Collaboration of Victor White and C. G. Jung, that both scholars of analytical psychology and theologians began to understand the failure of the Jung-White relationship from White's perspective. It comes as no surprise, then, that Lammers is one of the editors of this collection, comprised of the seventy-six previously unpublished letters White wrote to Jung, all of Jung's previously unpublished letters to and about White and six valuable Appendices, of which a memoir of Victor White by Adrian Cunningham is especially useful. In many ways, Lammers, Cunningham and consulting editor Murray Stein not only contribute to the Philemon Project's aim of making available all of Jung's previously unpublished work, (which, surprisingly, far outweighs what is currently available), but continue the difficult task of facilitating a dialogue between analytical psychology and Christianity, a task begun so many years before by Jung and White.

And this is exactly what The Jung-White Letters is – a highly nuanced human dialogue. It is a story of unrecognized projections and theoretical disagreements, packed with moments of hostility and flashes of true respect. It is a tale of unrestrained friendship, its breakdown and the subsequent attempt to mend the inevitable wounds before White's death. The narrative created by these letters, moreover, is reminiscent of a modern myth as told by Franz Kafka: a chronicle of a giant and his theorizing with the Human ‘protagonist’, White, attempting not only to court this impressive character but trying to understand his psychology by filtering it through the familiar lens of theology; a chronicle of an archetypal betrayal reaching a climax in the letters when both players realize, much as Kafka's elusive anti-hero, K., realizes, that understanding may not be accessible to those inside the castle of Jungian psychology (let alone those without). In many ways, from the viewpoint of analytical psychology, Jung's relationship to White exemplifies an enantiodromia in which Jung's unbridled passion for having found his ‘white raven’ turns into its exact opposite – a suspicious distrust of White that, it may be argued, was never satisfactorily resolved.

Such multiple levels of interpretation and analysis, remain, of course, subjective and arbitrary but are stimulated by the publication of The Jung-White Letters. By preserving and making public these primary documents, the editors invite Jungians and theologians alike to analyze the historical traces of this relationship at first hand, not having to rely on secondary sources for their information. Furthermore, the commentary of those who have had previous access to these documents can now be more fully scrutinized. Fresh interpretations of the Jung-White relationship may now foster a more highly informed debate that will provide a solid ground for future analysis. These letters, moreover, forewarn all those drawn to the Jung-White relationship of the ‘stumbling blocks’ that would preclude the cross-fertilization of both disciplines.

Jung's divergence from White resulted over the problem of evil as privatio boni, White's scathing review of Answer to Job and the personal attacks made against Jung in it. (The damaging passages, as well as the footnotes, were later removed when the review reappeared in White's final book, Soul and Psyche. White's original review of Answer to Job for Blackfriars, Vol. 36, No. 420 appears as Appendix 6 of this book). Initially, White had warmed to the text, referring to it as ‘the most exciting and moving book I have read in years’ and stating that ‘it arouses tremendous bonds of sympathy between us [White and Jung], and lights up all sorts of dark places both in the Scriptures and in my own psyche’ (p. 181). Yet White's initial endorsement is qualified by a more reserved statement: ‘Of course, this is not a considered judgment on all it says! The first impact is too strong for me to dare any such thing’ (Ibid.). Clearly, Jung's stance in Answer to Job– that God possesses a dark side, that evil is real and substantial in the world, that Christianity needs to integrate this shadow aspect in order to be psychologically complete, that God had to incarnate as man to realize this wholeness and accordingly, that man holds a higher place than God – was sure to clash with that of a theologian, no matter how open White was to dialogue and regardless of the extent to which he might have been questioning his own faith. Yet it becomes clear that White is at odds with Jung not merely because of his insistence on the reality of evil, but for what White understood as his violent misinterpretation of theology, which failed to fully recognize and appreciate the theological position (pp. 201–203).

The letters convey an increasing sense of alienation, frustration and confusion on both parts, but especially on that of White. This becomes evident when one compares White's letter of 18 January 1955 with that of 17 March 1955. In the former, he writes that he is ‘rather relieved that ‘Answer to Job’ [had] not yet appeared in [the] USA’ (p. 254, emphasis added) but in the latter, asks ‘what induced [Jung] to publish it [in English]: when [he] gave [White] the MS. to read [he was] so emphatic that [he] would not!’ (p. 259). The letter in January indicates that White possessed some inkling that the text would be published, yet in the latter, conveys a sense of his feeling betrayed for not having been told of its impending publication. As the editors note, there is no record of Jung having ever promised White that he would refrain from publishing Answer to Job in English (p. 259, footnote 24).

With his wife's failing health and his feeling of having been betrayed by White (p. 268, footnote 55), Jung ceased to respond to White's sporadic letters for nearly four years, until word of White's accident reached him. Though the correspondence was resumed, the fervour and passion characteristic of their earlier letters is replaced by a tone of somber reservation. It seems that time had not healed all wounds, their final attempts at reconciliation resembling well-intentioned platitudes rather than a lasting sense of mutual forgiveness. When approached by Michael Fordham in late October of 1960 to write a personal statement about White after his death in the Journal of Analytical Psychology, Jung refused on the grounds that he was under doctor's orders to avoid mental exertions, since he had recently been ill (p. 296, footnote 20). Yet if it is true that Jung continued to work on the manuscript of Memories, Dreams, Reflections until shortly before his own death on 6 June 1961, one is left to wonder whether his polite refusal to acknowledge White's contribution reflects the hurt he felt at White's harsh, public scrutiny of not only his work, but of him as a person. Perhaps Jung's reply to Fordham was his answer to White's response to Answer to Job.

The publication of the Jung-White Letters is important in many respects. First, it further contributes to what we know of ‘Jung the man’ rather than ‘Jung the guru’, or any other position that would over glorify and deify his life and work. Second, a feature of letter writing is the tendency for correspondents to let their guard down, thereby expressing more explicitly and definitively their true viewpoints. Though Jung was aware throughout his correspondence with White that the letters would be preserved for potential future publication (and that this may have in turn affected Jung's writing), his insights remain more to-the-point, fresher and attain a clarity of expression lacking in his formal essays on the subject found in Volume 11 of the Collected Works. Third, we finally get to observe the relationship from White's perspective, which further enhances and complicates what we know, or thought we knew, about White. Fourth, not only does this text contribute to our knowledge of both Jung and White as individuals but to their relationship and the relationship between analytical psychology and Christianity. In noting the critical points of convergence and divergence between Jung and White, evident in these invaluable letters, the editors provide an important opportunity for a deeper understanding of the ‘love-hate’ relationship that has existed between both fields since Jung and White first entered into dialogue. While it may be neither possible nor desirable for all disagreement to be resolved, a more constructive conversation may now arise from the ashes of what was once perceived to be a complementary pairing by two great thinkers. This book is not only valuable to Jungians and theologians, but constitutes an indispensable contribution to the historical record, providing a necessary, fertile middle-ground on which true critical dialogue may once again be cultivated.