Jung’s Books as Bread

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.  Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.

 Jung’s Books as Bread

“Your books are not books, Herr Professor, they are bread.”

A Newstand Proprietor, speaking to Jung[1]

“Are you the man who writes those books? Are you truly the one who writes about these things no one knows?”

A Traveling Salesman, speaking to Jung[2]

In September of 1959, the French-Swiss writer Georges Duplain interviewed Jung about the “frontiers of knowledge.”[3] At one point in this interview Duplain asked Jung if his “explanation of man and the world [was] understandable to simple people or reserved for the intellectual elite.”[4] By “intellectual elite” Duplain probably meant people with lots of education.

I have often said to students at The Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences that Jung is very easy to read for someone who is fluent in Latin, Greek, French, German, mythology, numerology, astrology, symbology, Gnosticism, mysticism, cabala, Hermenticism, esoterica, and alchemy.[5] But who has his degree of fluency in these sorts of subjects these days? Even 70 years ago Jung’s mastery of such a disparate array of subject was unusual. So, we would expect that Jung would reply to Duplain that his was not an oeuvre for the “simple.”

But no! Jung gave a very surprising answer. First, he made a distinction in his work, between the psychotherapeutic aspects of his writings and the rest:

“There are two distinct things: the use of psychotherapy is reserved for medical specialists–not everyone can fool around with that–but what you call the ‘explanation’ reaches a lot more people than I would have thought possible.”[6]

Clearly, Jung recognized his more general works had a wider readership than he or Duplain might have expected.

Then he told Duplain about two experiences he had had which illustrated his point. The first recounted a visit Jung had from a most unlikely reader:

“I always remember a letter I received one morning, a poor scrap of paper, really, from a woman who wanted to see me just once in her life. The letter made a very strong impression on me, I am not quite sure why. I invited her to come and she came. She was very poor–poor intellectually too. I don’t believe she had ever finished primary school. She kept house for her brother; they ran a little newsstand. I asked her kindly if she really understood my books which she said she had read. And she replied in this extraordinary way, ‘Your books are not books, Herr Professor, they are bread.'”[7]

The second encounter that illustrated the wider readership Jung had occurred one day on the street, when Jung was stopped by a traveling salesman.

“And the little traveling salesman of women’s things, who stopped me in the street and looked at me with immense eyes, saying, ‘Are you really the man who writes those books? Are you truly the one who writes about these things no one knows?'”[8]

“These things no one knows” calls to mind Jung’s investigations into the unconscious, the nature of the soul, the reality of the shadow and all the “unpopular” subjects that grabbed Jung’s attention, e.g. Ufos, parapsychology, Hermeticism, and alchemy.[9] Obviously some ordinary people–non-scholars, non-psychologists–followed Jung’s work, and still do. Jung noted that the first edition of the French version of Modern Man in Search of His Soul sold out in three months.[10]

Ten months after his interview with Georges Duplain Jung was interviewed by an English journalist, Gordon Young.[11] Young asked Jung how he was planning to celebrate his 85th birthday, which was a week away. Perhaps Young expected to hear about a big party or some such gathering of family and friends, but Jung had quite a different idea:

“What am I planning for my birthday? Why, to keep away from visitors, of course. Especially the highbrows. Most of them haven’t the remotest idea what I am talking about. Trouble is, they don’t bother to read my books because they’re too high-hat…. Do you know who reads my books? Not the academic people, oh no, they think they know everything already. It’s ordinary people, often quite poor people. And why do they do it? Because there’s a deep need in the world just now for spiritual guidance–almost any sort of spiritual guidance.”[12]

Jung did not have much use for “highbrows,” the intellectuals whose heads are full of theories, attitudes and assumptions that result from the “training into orthodoxy”[13] that is the core of most educational programs. Thanks to the predominance of materialism and atheism at the core of scientism,[14] the modern academy has scant interest in Jung’s pursuits or his concern for spirituality.

I have seen this same dichotomy in the people who participate in the programs at the Jungian Center. Not a one is an academic. Only once have we had a college professor present a program (besides myself). Jung’s readership and those who gravitate to his work all are “ordinary” people: artists, students, housewives, school teachers, consultants, counselors, small business owners, and therapists of various sorts.

Books as Bread Full of Things No One Knows

The little newsstand operator regarded Jung’s writings as “bread.” Knowing nothing at all about any of the disciplines mentioned above, this poor woman responded to Jung’s ideas intuitively. Operating on some level having nothing to do with the logical, linear brain, Jung’s work spoke to her soul. She came away from her contact with Jung’s ideas feeling nourished spiritually.

Many people wrote to Jung asking for interviews.[15] As an introvert,[16] Jung was not keen to be famous, or to have people beating down his door to talk. But this woman–a most unprepossessing individual, writing on a scrap of paper–made an impression that moved Jung to grant her face-to-face time.[17]

While the “chattering”[18] class dismissed Jung’s interests as embarrassing or superstition, the man-in-the-street (literally, in this case) was very enthusiastic and grateful that Jung took up investigations in rarely-treated, esoteric subjects. The appreciation and gratitude by these “simple” people gave Jung hope, as he noted to Georges Duplain: “Yes, in the long run I am very optimistic.”[19]

In other words, Jung put his hopes for the future of the world not on the global elite, the “high-brows,” or the intellectuals all full of themselves, but on us, ordinary people, using an osmosis approach: We can refuse to get hung up on the foreign terms and big words and just allow his wisdom to seep into our pores and take up residence in our souls.

From my own experience of 30+ years reading Jung, it has been helpful to me to be able to translate the foreign languages Jung used, and to explicate for my students some aspects of the abstruse subjects he dealt with.[20] But I also know that scholarship is not necessary in order to appreciate Jung. His books can be “bread” and the “things no one knows” can enrich the lives of people who have no book learning at all.


C.G. Jung (1977), C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, ed. William McGuire & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Skolimowski, Henryk (1996), “The Methodology of Participation,” Revisioning Science, ed. S. Mehrtens. Waterbury VT: The Potlatch Press.

Tart, Charles (2003), The End of Materialism. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications.

[1] Jung (1977), 414.

[2] Ibid.

[3]“The Frontiers of Knowledge,” ibid., 410-423.

[4] Ibid., 411.

[5] As a Swiss, Jung picked up French and German as two of his country’s official languages. He also became fluent in English. Latin and Greek were taught as part of the rigorous gymnasium curriculum. The abstruse subjects Jung took up as part of his quest for corroboration of his own experiences. Ever the true scientist (i.e. a person with an open mind and a readiness to learn), Jung was willing to follow wherever his curiosity led him.

[6] Jung (1977), 415-416.

[7] Ibid., 416.

[8] Ibid.

[9] For a more in-depth treatment of Jung’s fascination with “unpopular” subjects (his word), see the essay “Unpopular Things: Jung’s “Uncanny Attraction” to Unorthodox Topics,” archived on this Web site.

[10] Jung (1977), 416.

[11] “The Art of Living,” ibid., 443-452.

[12] Ibid., 443.

[13] Skolimowski (1996), 160-169.

[14] Scientism is the degenerate form of science, characterized by objectivism, reductionism, materialism, mechanism, and positivism; see Tart (2009), 24-25, 192-195, 241-242.

[15] Some of the most significant of the interviews Jung agreed to have can be found in Jung (1977).

[16] Jung described himself as an Introvert, in his 1995 interview with Stephen Black; ibid., 256.

[17] Jung (1977), 416.

[18] I have encountered this adjective used to describe the literati, who publish the literary magazines, e.g. The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic etc.–not the sort of publications that focus on Jung.

[19] Jung (1977), 416.

[20] I see this explication as part of my teaching role at the Jungian Center, and, as well, in writing these essays for our Web site.

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