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Carl Gustav Jung and Facebook

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In 2009, I was involved in a most unusual exhibition for the Rubin Museum of Art. Beverley Zabriskie, who was at the time the president of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, approached me with the desire to mount a program revolving around the publication of Carl Gustav Jung's Red Book. The book itself -- a 15-year self-exploration by the father of modern psychoanalysis, fashioned in the style of a medieval illuminated manuscript bound in red leather -- would be on display in public for the first time ever.

But there was a problem. Besides the editor Sonu Shamdasani, virtually no one in the psychoanalytic world had read the Red Book, leaving its contents devoid of any scholarly authorities. Without enough experts to go around, was such a program revolving around the Red Book even possible? The only way to find out was in the mounting of a deliberate experiment, which turned out to be more successful than I could have ever imagined.

An analyst would be joined by a guest from some other walk of life, virtually anyone who had expressed an interest in Jung at one time or another in their lives. The analyst would pick one of the colorful and fantastical images from the Red Book and hand that folio to the guest, who had no prior knowledge of this selection. The guest would then, in a kind of a Rorschach moment, be invited to associate on the basis of what they could see in the image. Thus, under the inspiration of Jung, an enlightening dialogue would be fostered.

It was truly encouraging to see the sheer variety in personalities the interest in Jung brought, and the guest list was not short of talent, consisting of Marina Abramovic, Gloria Vanderbilt, Sarah Silverman, John Boorman, Charlie Kaufman, Alice Walker, Billy Corgan, Philip Taaffe, David Byrne, Adam Gopnik, Cornel West, Stefan Sagmeister, Jonathan Demme, John Adams, Mad Men's Matthew Weiner, Meredith Monk and, in a bit of surprise casting, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

The first guest to volunteer was Pulitzer Prize-winning John Patrick Shanley, the dramatist of Doubt. In order to prepare analyst Polly Young-Eisendrath for the session, I had printed off some of Shanley's dreams that he had posted on Facebook. Apart from the session being almost flirtatious (Young-Eisendrath compared this blind exchange to a blind date), the conversation kept returning to Facebook. As if it were some sort of male menopausal phase, Shanley confessed, "Facebook is something I'm going through," ultimately coming to the surprising conclusion that "the status update can be an artform." Proudly attracting 3100 "Friends," he continues to solicit responses by tempting them with poetry, obscure bits of information and even descriptions of his dreams. In theater, he revealed that whenever he expressed his deepest pain, the audience would scream with laughter, a certain kind of laughter that could only mean recognition. This at first shocked him, until he realized he wasn't alone, and that the part of him that was interesting was the part of him that was like everybody else. Not the part that was different. So with Facebook, Shanley found a new audience. On Broadway, Doubt played to a thousand people a night. On Facebook, Shanley had an audience of three thousand every day. (He currently has 4,899 Friends. That's three times larger than any Broadway house can accommodate.)

As this session was about Jung, it was perhaps inevitable that the unconscious would make an appearance by the end of the evening. The image of the Red Book certainly brought Shanley to reveal a great deal more about himself than might be gleaned in a regular interview. But, surprisingly, it was instead the analyst who had the true revelation: all the while the conversation revolved around Facebook, Young-Eisendrath had the sudden realization about ten minutes before the end of the session that the image she had selected for Shanley was made up entirely of, well, faces.