Celtic Junction Arts Review

Clashing Geniuses: Carl Jung and The Irish Writer James Joyce

Patrick O’Donnell and Mary McCormick

This is the first of a series of articles on Jung and the Irish Writer.  Later articles will look at AE Russell, W.B. Yeats, and Samuel Beckett.

Jung and His Psychology

Carl Gustav Jung, c 1935. Source: ETH-Bibliothek. Public Domain (PD-US)

“He was convinced that the fate of the Western world depended to a considerable extent on the realization of those ideas [about the unconscious]. For as he saw it, it is not only the single individual who is liable to psychic illness, as a result of a wrong attitude to the unconscious; the same thing can also happen to nations as a whole,” states Marie-Louise Von Franz (C.G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time).

A profile of a somewhat pensive and moody looking Joyce in a dark overcoat.
James Joyce ca. 1918. Source: Cornell Joyce Collection. Public Domain (PD-US)

With his original and universal insights, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) was ahead of his time.  He reconciled science and myth as essential to a larger integration of the human psyche and its cultural artifacts.  He influenced physics, religion, anthropology, ethnology, literature, and the humanities. Initially antagonistic, Jung and the Irish writer, James Joyce (1882-1941) had an important mutual effect on each other.  “Yet both men pursued an individual calling that brought them into conflict with the collective, both struggled to embody life experience in terms of mythic narrative, and both saw life as an odyssey, the goal of which could no longer be limited to the traditional images of heaven or hell,“ observed the Dublin-born Jungian psychologist, John Hill.

Sigmund Freud in 1921 by Max Halberstadt. Public Domain (PD-US)

Let’s first review Jung’s career and ideas.  Jung disagreed with his mentor Sigmund Freud on the causes of neurosis and the nature of the unconscious, but the two men agreed on recognition of the unconscious and the use of dream interpretation in psychotherapy.

Most importantly Jung was the first to discover the spontaneous creativity of the unconscious psyche and to follow it consciously.  He considered himself an empirical natural scientist – the facts of Nature are the basis of all knowledge.  He believed that the collective human psyche is a piece of Nature, an objective something that is not made by our subjective ego.

Jung’s analytical psychology divided the human psyche into multiple components: Ego, Persona, Shadow, Animus or Anima, and the superordinate Self encompassing the other components.

Freud, Hall, and Jung, 1909 at Clark University. Public Domain (PD-US)

He saw the Ego, the center of consciousness, as characterized by the dominant of either extraversion or introversion attitudes and the dominant one or two of four functions—thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition.

Persona – Latin for mask – is the part of personality that one presents to the world to gain social approval or other advantages, or the public face, positive behaviors that conceal the negative qualities of the Shadow.  The Shadow refers to psychic contents that a person prefers not to show—weak, unpresentable, even evil—but qualities of the Shadow can be valuable if they are made conscious and developed.

Jung believed that a woman has a primarily feminine consciousness and a primarily masculine unconscious.  The latter, which he called the “animus” is apt to take the form of a hidden “sacred” conviction.  Conversely, a man has a primarily masculine consciousness and a primarily feminine unconscious, or “anima,” which is a personification of all feminine psychological tendencies in a man’s psyche.  Animus and Anima exist partly in the personal and partly in the collective unconscious.

Carl Jung, 1910. Source: Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division. Public Domain (PD-US)

The Self refers to the total personality, conscious and unconscious, glimpsed sometimes in dreams, as the image of a person embodying wholeness, like a priestess, sorceress, goddess for women, or a wise old man or guardian for men. The sage of the Irish literary Renaissance, A.E. Russell (1865-1935), whom Joyce approached in his Dublin home in August 1902 and who published Joyce’s first stories such as “The Sisters,” embodied this wholeness.

One of Jung’s unique contributions to psychology was the concept of Individuation, or the integration of the conscious and unconscious parts of the personality, which involves bringing the Shadow to light and integrating it, after which the Animus or Anima emerges, and projections are withdrawn, allowing the unique Self to bloom.  Jung used the symbol of a mandala to capture the idea of the actualized Self.  The mandala is a four-sided Sanskrit image that points to orientation in chaos, order, and meaning, and that includes both Animus and Anima.

The idea of the Collective Unconscious was Jung’s greatest and most characteristic discovery, empirical proof of a collective soul or collective psyche, using mythological images from the unconscious.  Jung saw the Collective Unconscious as a vitally important part of the present human psyche, and a source of creativity innate to humans. In this context, Jung studied Archetypes, centers within the Collective Unconscious, “typical modes of apprehension” or predispositions to images, appearing in virtually pure form in myths and fairy tales.  Examples include the Hero, Dragon, Wise Old Man, Divine Child, Great Mother, helpful animals, demons, anima and animus, Christ, mandala, marriage, death and rebirth, hidden treasure, alchemy, the Pyramid, the Wheel.

Carl Jung and James Joyce

James Joyce, Carl Jung. Public Domain.

How do Jung’s concepts relate to Joyce?  First, Joyce self-dramatizes in his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922) under the Persona of the brooding artist, Stephen Dedalus – the Jungian mask that he shows to the world.  His character of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses is an Anima-dominated passive figure who nevertheless exhibits compassion and humor (suggesting the larger Self of Jung’s thinking).  Bloom is clearly a more individuated being than the gloomy and overly-rational Stephen Dedalus.

"Poldy" a sketch by James Joyce
“Poldy” by James Joyce – from a page of Joyce’s notes. Public Domain.

How did Jung and Joyce relate to each other?  Surprisingly, their encounters were hardly benign. The waspish Joyce, Hamlet-like in sedulously guarding his artistic integrity, refused to allow the great psychologist’s thinking to “pluck out the heart of his mystery.” Jung and Joyce had three direct encounters during their lives, which all ended in disappointment. Despite similarities (use of mythic narrative, openness to the Collective Unconscious, and excavations within their personal unconscious, since both were relentlessly autobiographical in their work), they saw each other as antagonists, especially Joyce, who viewed Jung as a literary critic, scientist, and diagnostician. Joyce the artist disliked science, failed and abandoned his medical studies, and remained skeptical of any claim to absolute truth.

Harold McCormick and Edith Rockefeller, 1895. Public Domain (PD-US)

Their first encounter in 1919 was over money and cast Jung as a powerful antagonist to Joyce. Joyce was getting financial support from Mrs. Edith McCormick, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, who was in analysis with Jung. McCormick wanted Joyce to analyze with Jung, too, at her expense, but Joyce flatly refused. Shortly afterward, McCormick cut off his credit, and Joyce suspected that Jung had a hand in her decision.

The second encounter involved an essay Jung wrote on Joyce’s novel Ulysses. In 1931, a Zurich publisher asked Jung to write a preface for a German edition of Ulysses. Jung opined that Joyce chose a style of writing that initiates a practice of radical detachment in order to achieve a work of destruction. Jung did not even believe the work was symbolic. He admitted he was irritated, bored, and vexed by the book, but persevered until he saw what Joyce was doing—and related it to his own studies in alchemy. Joyce complained to the publisher that Jung had read the book “without one smile.”  Later, Jung wrote a second, more positive edition of his essay, and wrote an appreciative letter to Joyce.

Paris 1924: Clockwise from top left – James Joyce, Giorgio Joyce, Nora Barnacle, Lucia JoyceBy James Joyce – Original publication: From the Poetry/Rare Books Collection, University Libraries, State University of New York at Buffalo. Fair use, Link

The third encounter was more personal, and involved the mental health of Joyce’s only daughter Lucia.  She began to show clear signs of mental illness in her early twenties, with jumbled thoughts, violent emotions, public breakdowns and a series of sexual escapades with famous writers and artists, showing clear signs of schizophrenia by the age of twenty-five. She embarrassed the young Samuel Beckett with inappropriate displays of obsessive affection. Joyce was determined not to put her in an institution and spent a lot of money trying to find relief for her. In September 1934, Joyce brought Lucia to the Brunner Clinic in Kusnacht, Switzerland, and asked Jung to treat her. Jung only saw her for a few sessions and was met with resistance. He put her under the care of Carey Baynes, an experienced associate, hoping to heal Lucia’s great hostility toward her mother Nora. Jung did not believe that Lucia could be cured. The family fiercely resisted his attempts to help Lucia gain distance from her father. Joyce was later grateful that Jung did not insist on putting Lucia in a psychiatric hospital but returned her to his care. Joyce became more reconciled and respectful of Jung’s assistance concerning his daughter.

Both geniuses were pioneers in exploring the realms of the Collective Unconscious through innovations in psychology and literature and, while initially antagonistic, a more mature acknowledgment and respect finally grew up between them.

As John Hill astutely observed, “Jung and Joyce held up a mirror to one another.  They could hardly recognize what was facing them. Nevertheless the encounters impacted upon them the hidden, often misinterpreted force of otherness.  In different ways they spent the rest of their lives working on what had been activated—Jung in alchemy, Joyce as the caretaker of his lost daughter.”


1. John Hill, “The Venom of Destiny: Reflections on the Jung/Joyce Encounters,” (Irish Culture & Depth Psychology: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Spring, Vol. 79, Spring Journal, Inc., 2008)  Used copies available at https://www.abebooks.com.

2. Marie-Louise von Franz, C.G Jung: His Myth in Our Time, (1915; English edition Toronto: Inner City Books, 1998). 

3. Mary Ann Mattoon, Jungian Psychology in Perspective, (New York: The Free Press, 1981).