The first page of the Red Book.
  • The first page of the Red Book.
This isn't exactly "hanging," but it is sitting on high, and you can simply waltz up to the info desk at the new Elliott Bay, ask to have it taken down from its shelf behind the attendant, lay it down on the nearby table, relax into the comfy chairs, and fall down its rabbit holel for as long as you like.

And it's wild. It's Carl Jung's Red Book—that's what he called it—an illuminated manuscript that's the latest addition to the canon of outsider art. (It was just the subject of an exhibition at the Rubin Museum in New York.)

Jung wrote and illustrated it between 1914 and 1930, then locked it away in a cupboard for the rest of his life, though he always maintained that its contents were an essential part of the foundation of his analytic psychology. It was published, finally, only six months ago, and the New York Times Magazine told its epic story, calling it "The Holy Grail of the Unconscious."

There he was, in his 30s, married with kids and just carrying on as psychiatrist treating patients and writing academic essays, until...

It has been characterized variously as a creative illness, a descent into the underworld, a bout with insanity, a narcissistic self-deification, a transcendence, a midlife breakdown and an inner disturbance mirroring the upheaval of World War I. Whatever the case, in 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia.”

He later would compare this period of his life — this “confrontation with the unconscious,” as he called it — to a mescaline experiment. He described his visions as coming in an “incessant stream.” He likened them to rocks falling on his head, to thunderstorms, to molten lava. “I often had to cling to the table,” he recalled, “so as not to fall apart.”

Had he been a psychiatric patient, Jung might well have been told he had a nervous disorder and encouraged to ignore the circus going on in his head. But as a psychiatrist, and one with a decidedly maverick streak, he tried instead to tear down the wall between his rational self and his psyche. For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him. Between appointments with patients, after dinner with his wife and children, whenever there was a spare hour or two, Jung sat in a book-lined office on the second floor of his home and actually induced hallucinations...

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Jung recorded it all. First taking notes in a series of small, black journals, he then expounded upon and analyzed his fantasies, writing in a regal, prophetic tone in the big red-leather book. The book detailed an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through his own mind, a vaguely Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a curious, shifting dreamscape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and with richly hued, staggeringly detailed paintings.

...The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. (“I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.”) At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful.