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Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was never one to shy away from controversy. When Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie endorsed Mein Kampf without his approval, Jung attempted to eradicate pro-Nazi influence from his publication.1 He parted ways with Sigmund Freud, who once called Jung “his adopted eldest son, his crown prince and successor,” over differing theories on the unconscious. And, as the sex scenes so dispassionately depicted in A Dangerous Method suggested, he was comfortable with disregarding sexual and professional taboos, including bondage, spanking, and a liaison with a patient-turned-student.2
For his final act, Jung cast an analytical eye on UFOs.
Swann Auction Galleries has unearthed a 1957 missive Jung sent to New Republic editor Gilbert A. Harrison on the paranormal phenomena, in which he anticipates a publication that would prove to be his last. “Being rather old, I have to economise my energies,” Jung concludes, politely declining what he vaguely refers to as Harrison’s “proposal.” The editor presumably solicited an article on UFOs; Jung had already committed to writing a forthcoming book on the subject. Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies would be published two years after the letter was sent, which was also two years before he died. 3
Jung’s approach to UFOs was binary. Although “the psychological aspect is so impressive, that one almost must regret that UFOs seem to be real after all,” his extensive research led him to conclude there was “no certainty about their very nature.” He reserved judgment as to whether or not the preponderance of UFO sightings meant that spacecrafts had actually visited Earth, manned or operated by extraterrestrial beings from other planets. Jung found “overwhelming material pointing to their legendary or mythological aspect,” suggesting the very concept of UFOs left an indelible mark on the human psyche. In Flying Saucers, Jung wrote:
In the threatening situation of the world today, when people are beginning to see that everything is at stake, the projection-creating fantasy soars beyond the realm of earthly organizations and powers into the heavens, into interstellar space, where the rulers of human fate, the gods, once had their abode in the planets…. Even people who would never have thought that a religious problem could be a serious matter that concerned them personally are beginning to ask themselves fundamental questions. Under these circumstances it would not be at all surprising if those sections of the community who ask themselves nothing were visited by visions,’ by a widespread myth seriously believed in by some and rejected as absurd by others.
Swann is auctioning the letter this week, which it estimates to be worth $2,000-3,000.00, as part of its three-day “Autographs” auction in New York City.
1 Jung appointed Carl Alfred Meier of Switzerland as the new managing editor of Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie, and continued to acknowledge the professional contributions of Jewish doctors. His ability to prevent anti-Semitism was greatly lessened in the succeeding years. He resigned as president at the beginning of World War II. (Nonetheless, Jung is still regularly accused of being a Nazi.)
2A Dangerous Method was marketed as a “historical film,” but it was based on a screenplay adapted from the 1993 novel by John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabrina Spielrein. Nevertheless, Spielrein was indeed treated by Jung at the Burghölzli mental hospital near Zürich; he later became her medical dissertation advisor. It is believed they engaged in an affair that violated professional ethics. Whether they did so in such a clinical fashion, as depicted in the movie, is debatable, and certainly disappointed critics.
3Princeton University Press reprinted a translated edition of Flying Saucers in 1979.
Alexis Coe is now a writer living in San Francisco, but not long ago, she was a research curator at the New York Public Library. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Slate, The Millions, and other publications. Alexis holds an MA in history. Follow her. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries, 104 East 25th Street.