Rudnick on Sherry, 'The Jungian Strand in Transatlantic Modernism'

Jay Sherry. The Jungian Strand in Transatlantic Modernism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. xix + 168 pp. $79.99 (e-book), ISBN 978-1-137-55774-2; $99.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-57821-1.

Reviewed by Lois Rudnick (University of Massachusetts Boston)
Published on H-NewMexico (February, 2019)
Commissioned by Tomas Jaehn (Special Collections/Center for Southwest Research)

Printable Version:

Carl Jung’s Influence on American Modernism

Jay Sherry’s concise book on Carl Jung’s place in what he calls “the master narrative of modernism” is an important addition to Jung studies and the history of American modernism, most particularly in terms of the significant figures in literature, education, theater, dance, and painting, whose lives and works were influenced (directly and indirectly) by Jungian theories of psychology, creativity, and the collective unconscious during both the first and second waves of modernism (approximately the 1910s through the 1950s) (p. xvii). Included among the best-known individuals are D. H. Lawrence, Eugene O’Neill, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Martha Graham, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock. More surprising, and less well-known, are the progressive educators who adapted his theories in their conception and praxis of teaching, learning, and child development, such as Margaret Naumburg (cofounder of the Children’s School in New York City, which later morphed into the international Walden School). He also influenced early twentieth-century feminists, who found his “nuanced ideas about gender” much more palatable than Sigmund Freud’s, such as his most influential therapist acolyte in the United States, feminist Beatrice Hinkle (p. xviii).

Jung made three visits to the US: in 1913, 1924—a trip during which he met and interviewed a spiritual leader from Taos Pueblo, “Mountain Lake,” who profoundly moved him—and 1937. Unlike Freud, who visited once (1913), loathed America, and never wished to return, Jung was fascinated by the intellectual openness and cultural diversity he found in the US. Among the most surprising of his influences (to me, at least) was his direct influence on the founding principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Sherry makes a good case for Jung’s “suppression” by more orthodox Freudians, who dismissed his “unscientific” embrace of world religions and Eastern philosophies and who dominated the practice of psychiatry during this period although Jung’s sometimes praise for archetypes embraced by the Nazis did not help his cause. Sherry’s description of Jung as “an avant-garde conservative” is a helpful lens through which to view his paradoxical ideals and behaviors that were, on the one hand, more enlightened on issues of gender, religion, and creativity than Freud’s, but on the other, rigidly authoritarian (p. xviii).

It is worth quoting Sherry’s summation of Jung’s influence on shifting the politically conservative paradigm of US psychology and psychotherapy to a more radical dynamic that embraced “a holistic perspective in which the imagination had as much to contribute to the understanding of reality as the intellect.” Sherry’s book makes a good case for Jung as a pioneer in “a psycho-dynamic understanding of the human personality.” His research “encompassed spiritual traditions from around the globe,” and his writings about and advocacy for the “cross-cultural evolution of symbolization” have had to this day a continued impact on the thinking and practice of therapists, intellectuals, and creative writers and artists (p. 139).

Citation: Lois Rudnick. Review of Sherry, Jay, The Jungian Strand in Transatlantic Modernism. H-NewMexico, H-Net Reviews. February, 2019.

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