Tuesday, March 2, 2010

For the Love of Tolstoy

Jungian psychology (or perhaps its representatives) has a little love affair with Russian literature. It was this discovery of mine that further sealed my love affair with Jungian psychology.

I have loved Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot), Nabokov (Lolita), and Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, War and Peace) since I was in my teens. With each book, I appreciated them for their unrivaled ability to captivate my attention with humanness, not with drivel nor earnestness, but poetic arguments for the importance of empathy. In Crime & Punishment, readers are seduced into loving an ax murderer; in Lolita, a child molester; in Anna Karinina, an adulterer. But the brilliance of the authors is that we do not fall for them without remembering, and loving, their victims too. We do not give up the realities of the black in favor of the white, but are moved into a state of gray that is the human condition. Through their books, we can appreciate and better understand the complexity of the human experience of being alive. As Roskolnikov does not forgive himself, we as readers forgive him a little; as Humbert Humbert does not even understand his own crime, we acknowledge his childishness that led him to commit it -- stuck developmentally many decades in the past.

I recently came across some quotes from Tolstoy and was struck once more by his work's relevance for all of us, as well as its relationship to Jung's work.

For instance, the following quote from Tolstoy explains precisely why Jung's autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections is so extremely human and relevant, showing us not his accolades, but his inner life. Tolstoy wrote, "A writer is dear and necessary for us in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul." Of course, this quote might also suggest why The Red Book is so important as it could be argued that no other book better shows the inner workings of a man's soul.

And this quote from Tolstoy reminds me of the incredible importance of Jung's core message (albeit often overlooked in its broader application): "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." In my post on Jung's take on saving the world, I illuminate that indeed, perhaps the central tenant of Jungian psychology is that it is by changing ourselves that we change the world.

And finally, the opening lines of Tolstoy's beautiful book Anna Karenina remind us too why human suffering will always be a tangled web and why so many people visit therapists and psychologists to help them make sense of it. Tolstoy began his book like this: "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

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