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The Johnston Letter, Volume 5, Number 1
Red Alert

By Jill Johnston
Copyright 2010 Jill Johnston

Won si eht retniw fo ruo tentnocsid, as we wait for it to be over. Will Obama survive the Tea Party people, or his own presidency, and bipartisan aspirations? Does anyone really believe that two warring political parties are enough for 300 million people? Does it matter, when we are dying anyway? Do we hope for utopia before we go? Can we create our own, even as we know we're on a sinking ship called America? Can't we get off this thing? It's going down with a ton of money, never shared with us, but taking us with it. Atlantis here we come, with tons of useless money. While we chunter on about our lives and interests, the immortal Nero is flying in from Rome with his fiddle. Meantime, I've become hooked on the really low-brow Bachelor show. I want to know how it turns out. After weeks and weeks of the Bachelor voting off all but two of the 25 girls provided him to select his bride for life, the one he chooses has got to be interesting. I drew Ingrid into it, and she thinks he'll take the sensible Tenley, who says she has slept with only one other man and that was her ex-husband; while I think he'll go for the sexier Vienne, pron. Vienna, who did a bungee-jump with him early on, impressing him as a girl who will not only do anything, but be maternally protective as well. He was scared to do the jump, and she reassured him with hugs and murmurings while they were lashed together and launched over a cliff into a deep ravine. As a pop follower, my scandalized friends shouldn't worry. My intellectual elitism is still intact. The other day a book heavier in weight and content than any in my library arrived from the city. It needs to be conveyed on airport travel wheels. It's Carl Jung's "The Red Book" of course -- the psychiatric profession's equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls.(1) Two Jung scholars talked Carl's family out of keeping the book under lock and key in a Swiss bank vault, and springing it on an invisible or dwindling egghead public. It's a wonderfully incomprehensible volume, requiring lifetimes of deconstruction. It's also a very beautiful work of art -- written entirely in exquisite German Gothic calligraphic script and facsimiles of richly, obsessively detailed, colorful paintings and drawings, either phantasmagoric or Mandela-like in nature -- not dissimilar to Outsider art by the hospitalized insane. A striking comparison can be made to the extraordinary work of Adolf Wolfli (1866-1930), incarcerated for 34 years in the Waldau Sanatorium near Bern.(2) It took Jung 16 years, beginning in 1913, to create his 'Red Book.' An illuminated manuscript, it's as post-medieval as can be. This man's head was crammed with otherworldly visions and arcane thinking. I lead quite a prosaic life, and rarely remember my dreams. During the night, Ingrid works on prompting me without much success to recall the lives I've led, trying to distract me from realizing I can't sleep. My old lives bore me now, and I don't approve of some of them. I'd like to take them back, or do them over again, or be somebody else, and become a fiction writer. I tried to write my father's memoir, and foundered after the first page. I can't make things up at all. I should be happy I became a practiced investigative reporter to cover his worldwide bronze. The subject of one old life I had keeps appearing in newsprint in a ho-hum way: how one state or another will or will not pass the s-s marriage act. However, a single line emerged in the S.F. trial challenging the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 banning s-s marriage (a Bush, pere appointed judge ruled in the plaintiffs' favor last week) that sounded new and promising. One lawyer in the case asked his client, "What does it mean to be a lesbian?" What a great question! I've wondered that myself. And the client's answer was so revolutionary. She told the curious Court how she had 'slowly fallen in love' with her s-s partner. Wowie! Atlantis, we're on our way. You guys can hold on to the soggy money. We'll zoom down in a Cousteau craft to keep my 'Red Book,' subbed Liber Novis, dry and pristine. Never fear, we'll still be 'guys.' When the Bachelor was first confronted with all 25 of his prospective brides, he addressed them gratefully for coming, using the salutation, 'You guys.' During the time of a White House state dinner, I noted Michelle Obama plying the same two words over and over while speaking informally to a large group of girls about their future, or something. The future makes me think inevitably of the past. I was accused recently of living in the past, the implication being that I live nowhere else. It's true. I'm not a futurist (though I think planning is good, and speculation not a bad pastime), and I tend seriously to think the present doesn't exist. I have lived to create memories, which can be useful in trying to get to sleep. They can also be therapeutic and exculpatory, showing how even the worst things one did could never have happened otherwise. Old lives unearthed are ever at hand. One is a big trip I made to Zurich in 1976 for an appointment with Carl Jung's daughter Gret Baumann-Jung to have an astrological reading. I had been enduring my Jungian phase (most everyone I know has had one or more), excitedly reading Carl's "Memories, Dreams and Reflections"(3), and his wife Emma Jung's book, "The Grail Legend."(4) Carl's interests, much too extensive for him to pursue all by himself, were picked up as specialties by ex-patients, his women friends (also extensive) or family members. And Gret, the second of Carl and Emma's four daughters (they also had a son) had appropriated astrology. I had no interest in or understanding of astrology, but I thought if there was anything to it at all, a daughter of Carl Jung might make it meaningful. And perhaps provide guidance, which I needed desperately on a daily basis, never mind futuristically. But really at the time I just liked the idea of meeting one of Carl's close relatives. Ms. Magazine paid for the trip, and the Voice ultimately published what I wrote about it, omitting a foray I had also made to Scotland to try to locate a castle said to belong to the Johnston clan.(5) En route to Zurich, I stopped off in London to see if I could find out what time I was born -- a necessary key, Mrs. Baumann-Jung had told me on the phone, to an astrological reading. I looked up the nursing home in Finchley where I once left my mother's womb, hoping it would have records, but it had long since become a machine shop. Gret was a half hour by train from Zurich, and after my session with her, I spent time in the city, where the most interesting thing I saw was James Joyce's grave. A total likeness of himself in bronze sits on top of his interred bones and those of his wife Nora. Why is this famous Dubliner buried in Zurich? I have no idea. That castle in Scotland by the way turned out to be a mound sprouting a few Plantagenet ruins. Lately I have been re-reading Obama's "Dreams from my Father," imagining I might discover clues there to his paralyzed presidency, as media and many people see it.(6) His last chapter on finding Kenyan roots brings his tribalism into focus. His extended family is huge, and surely he sees the U.S. as an expansion of it -- a tribe of 300 million people. But first he has to tribalize the Senate and Congress, whose members are educated to war and conquest. His deviation in Afghanistan, an appeasement to the joint chiefs as I see it, and the gun they hold to his head, must be a waiting game to let the post-9/11 invasion peter out and go the way of the Russians and turn our military into a ceremonial reminder of the days when it was necessary for peoples not to get along together. After his success with exhausting the obdurately hostile American government, Obama will turn to Europe and the rest of the world and tribalize all of us. Nice vision, huh? Not as fantastic as Jung's, but a start. Jung began his 'Red Book' on the eve of the Great War, which he had foreseen in vivid detail in one of his dreams, awake or asleep. He said the dream 'indicated an unusual activation of the unconscious,' a realm he would of course turn into his concept of the Collective Unconscious, where we all mill and muck about. In his 'Memories' book, he gives a convincing account of a crack-up (i.e., psychotic episode) he had, though never identified as such by himself or his colleagues and rivals or vast domain of followers. But the results are clear to see and read in "The Red Book," also long available in the overwhelmingly abstruse ideas and mythologems strewn through the Bollingen Volumes, fully 20 of them, each of over 400 pages -- Jung's Collected Works. In Jung's everything means everything world, you can pour out your interests and thoughts indiscriminately. I hope to find a circulatory boot that will promote blood flow to my nether extremities. I always wanted to live in a caboose or a houseboat. I find Obama-like significance in 'the Jihadist next door' whose father was an immigrant Syrian Muslim married to an Alabaman Christian. If Chimps can talk, why don't they? If Oedipus was simply an adoption case, can we get him away from Freud? Does self-fulfillment mean you are what you do? Is Roberto Bolano kidding? Is Tiger now a golfer and a sex addict? Has Ingrid become a master of the Times crossword puzzle, Monday through Sunday? Yes she has, and I'm still stuck with Monday only. And she's Danish. In one old life I had as a column writer, I postured over non-sequiturs and other damages to the language, making as little sense as possible, much influenced by my own crack-ups in the mid- to late-1960s. When I told Gret B-J, a substantial, mild-mannered post-Victorian lady, that something 'severe' happened to me back then, her astrological computation was that "Pluto and Uranus were on your moon, and Saturn was opposing it." I thought as much! In re my missing father, she had the best idea to date, even without my exact time of birth, saying, "Not having a father, you had to look for something." And she added, "The father planets are better than the mother planets." You bet they are, and she would have known that well. But had she ever seen "The Red Book," now brought to light? She died in 1995. Here is her father on page 188 of his "Memories, Dreams and Reflections," pondering his 'Red Book': "It is of course ironical that I, a psychiatrist, should at almost every step of my experiment [experience] have run into the same psychic material which is the stuff of psychosis and is found in the insane.... This is the fund of unconscious images which fatally confuse the mental patient." Someone asked me why I thought Jung's family was reluctant to publish "The Red Book" -- so there it is, in his own words. I had no such protection myself, and at length, in prose beautified by grammatical convention and contextual sense, I wrote a book as much an indictment of the psychiatric profession as a description of my 'fatal confusions' while inhabiting astral worlds.(7) Some panacea must be at hand. A Haitian boy who survived the recent earthquake says, "I am now focusing on what is essential to life: love and friendship." Amen and women. A key to a loving friendly world is always equality. Before our two warring political parties go further, they need to halt in their quicksand tracks, revive the ERA and pass it, and fix the Declaration of Independence to read,"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal?."


1. Jung, Carl Gustav. "The Red Book: Liber Novus." New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2009.
2. Morgenthaler, Walter. "Madness & Art: The Life and Works of Adolf Wolfli." Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
3. Jung, Carl Gustav. "Memories, Dreams, Reflections." New York: Vintage Books, 1961.
4. Jung, Emma and Marie Louise von Franz. "The Grail Legend." London, Sydney, Aukland, Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, 1971.
5. Johnston, Jill. "A Visit with Gret Baumann-Jung: You're only Jung Once." The Village Voice, August 2,1976.
6. Obama, Barack. "Dreams from My Father." New York: Three River Press, 2004.
7. Johnston, Jill. "Paper Daughter." New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985


©Jill Johnston. Previously published on www.jilljohnston.com. To read more about Jill Johnston, please click here. To read more of Jill Johnston on the Dance Insider, click here.

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