Thursday, August 6, 2015

When We Were Jung

by Giselle Renarde

I'm not sure why I have this book.

I found it at the back of my bookshelf last week. It's some kind of journal, I guess, published by the University of Toronto's Undergraduate English Student's Union. I was a student at U of T, but not an English student. Nothing I wrote back then was ever published.

I was about to get rid of it when I had two thoughts: 1) I wonder if that's a painting of Lisa Kudrow; and 2) Hey, I don't think I ever even opened this thing.

So I opened it. I flipped through it. And one paper caught my eye:

Oh my god, Fifth Business! OH MY GOD, JUNG!!!

Let me take you back in time. Back to high school. Back to Grade 12 English class and Fifth Business.

In case you haven't heard of it, Fifth Business is a novel by Robertson Davies. For a book that had me awestruck at seventeen, I actually don't remember much about it. Mind you, flipping through the Jungian interpretation in this student journal, I do remember how I felt the first time I read it--not just read it, but analyzed it. From a Jungian perspective, of course.

I was in Grade Seven the first time I read Jung. At the time, I was interested in parapsychology. I knew Jung was a respected psychologist, so I thought he might have something to say on the matter of psychics and ghosts and all that. He didn't, not really, but I didn't find that out until I'd walked to the public library and checked out the biggest book of Jung they had.

What I got from Jung was a kind of spiritual fulfillment I never found with religion. At thirteen, my parents allowed me to choose whether I wanted to continue (casually) attending church services or not. My mom and dad weren't religious, and my grandparents were atheists and agnostics, so they didn't really care, but I wanted to make the right choice.

When I was twelve, I researched world religions--in preparation. Thirteen would be a big year for my soul. Lots of responsibility. Better get this right.

Eastern religions appealed to me, but I ultimately decided that organized religion wasn't my bag. I think it was those eastern influences that drew me to Jung's writings. I would give you specifics if I could remember any, but my academic years are a haze now. Sometimes I think I've forgotten 90% of everything I've ever learned.

Anyway, by the time we studied Fifth Business in Grade Twelve, I'd read a lot of Jung. It isn't by chance that the book opens itself so neatly to Jungian interpretation. Jung is built right into to text.

Still, I was entranced by my teacher's lessons. He'd written his Masters thesis on Jungian influences in Fifth Business, so it was close to his academic heart.

Maybe that's how my teacher worked his way so close to my heart--both academically and romantically. I loved Jung. He loved Jung. We talked Jung. We talked and talked and talked. He seemed so impressed by my knowledge, and even now I don't think that was put on. I'd read a lot, for a seventeen-year-old.

In fact, I read the whole Deptford Trilogy, in part to impress him, and in part because Robertson Davies had a piece of my heart, too. I read the Deptford Trilogy, and we talked about it. Talked about it, talked about Jung. He bought me The Cornish Trilogy and I devoured that as well.

I felt proud that someone so intelligent could be infinitely interested in what I had to say. I had a hungry, hungry ego, and he fed it with attention.

When I wrote Audrey and Lawrence (a collection of short stories about a married man and his much younger mistress) I called his character Lawrence Galloway. For consistency's sake, I reused that name when I published Like It's 1999: Diary of a Teenager in Love with a Teacher (which, as you know, is my actual real life journal from my last year of high school).

Funny that it's taken me this many years to piece together the Jung connection. I really didn't see it before now, but we had a bit of a menage situation, Lawrence, Jung, Robertson Davies and 17-year-old me.

Jung brought us together, but if we'd been interested in analyzing ourselves as much as we were interested in analyzing Canadian literary fiction, we wouldn't have stayed together long. Our complexes were invisible to our eyes, and they kept us going for a good ten years after Jung had jumped ship.


  1. Wow, Giselle-
    Jung is pretty dense stuff for a 7th grader. Even as an adult I have to read him slowly. Much of my interest in so-called primitive arts has benefitted by his work on archetypal imagery. His work on synchronicity will make you rethink any coincidence.

    1. Yeah, I used to be smart. Those were the days...

  2. Feeling pretty jealous here - I never had that kind of connection with any of my teachers - I actually didn't like any of them, boring lot. Or maybe it was me. Haven't had an association with Jung I'm missing out all over the place!

  3. I didn't discover Robertson Davies until I was in my thirties (probably because Canadian authors are almost invisible in the US), but when I did, I was hooked. Now I want to go back and reread Fifth Business, looking for Jungian concepts (though I must admit I've never read much Jung, just ABOUT Jung).

    Actually, re Robertson Davies and sexual attraction, I remember very well that it was a sexy philosophy professor friend who first recommended the Deptford Trilogy, at a party with some academic friends. That may have been an added impetus to my seeking it out.

    But yeah, being taken seriously by someone intelligent is such a turn on. When I think back to my lovers, I remember long, deep and intricate conversations about the nature of reality as much as I remember sex.

    1. I never realized how invisible Canadian authors were in the US until I saw an interview with Aunjanue Ellis about her role in The Book of Negroes. She said that, until the script came her way, she'd never even HEARD of the book. She said nobody knew it, in the states. That blew my mind, because The Book of Negroes was HUGE in Canada. It was THE BOOK here, for a few years.

    2. Like Lisabet, I've never read much Jung, although I must have read some in introductory psychology in college. The ideas of archetypes and the collective unconscious do resonate with me, though, not necessarily as facts but as an appealing way of looking at humanity. Or perhaps I should say my very shallow understanding of those concepts.

  4. Giselle, I always enjoy your posts because of the references to Canadian culture. I didn't discover Robertson Davies in high school and didn't study him in university, but when I began teaching first-year English classes and was under some pressure to include Canadian content, I gave myself a crash-course in him. I taught Fifth Business several times. At first, I thought you were going to delve into protagonist Dunstan Ramsey's first love, Mrs. Dempsey (sp?). She seems fascinating enough as the woman who represents Dunstan's anima, but I've always wanted to know how she would have told her life-story.


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