How Carl Jung Inspired the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

There may be as many doors into Alcoholics Anonymous in the 21st century as there are people who walk through them—from every world religion to no religion. The “international mutual-aid fellowship” has had “a significant and long-term effect on the culture of the United States,” writes Worcester State University professor of psychology Charles Fox at Aeon. Indeed, its influence is global. From its inception in 1935, A.A. has represented an “enormously popular therapy, and a testament to the interdisciplinary nature of health and wellness.”

A.A. has also represented, at least culturally, a remarkable synthesis of behavioral science and spirituality that translates into scores of different languages, beliefs, and practices. Or at least that’s the way it can appear from browsing the scores of books on A.A.’s 12-Steps and Buddhism, Yoga, Catholicism, Judaism, Indigenous faith traditions, shamanist practices, Stoicism, secular humanism, and, of course, psychology.

Historically, and often in practice, however, the (non)organization of worldwide fellowships has represented a much narrower tradition, inherited from the evangelical (small “e”) Christian Oxford Group, or as A.A. founder Bill Wilson called them, “the ‘O.G.’” Wilson credits the Oxford Group for the methodology of A.A.: “their large emphasis upon the principles of self-survey, confession, restitution, and the giving of oneself in service to others.”

The Oxford Group’s theology, though qualified and tempered, also made its way into many of A.A.’s basic principles. But for the recovery group's genesis, Wilson cites a more secular authority, Carl Jung. The famous Swiss psychiatrist took a keen interest in alcoholism in the 1920s. Wilson wrote to Jung in 1961 to express his “great appreciation” for his efforts. “A certain conversation you once had with one of your patients, a Mr. Rowland H. back in the early 1930’s,” Wilson explains, “did play a critical role in the founding of our Fellowship.”

Jung may not have known his influence on the recovery movement, Wilson says, although alcoholics had accounted for “about 13 percent of all admissions” in his practice, notes Fox. One of his patients, Rowland H.—or Rowland Hazard, “investment banker and former state senator from Rhode Island”—came to Jung in desperation, saw him daily for a period of several months, stopped drinking, then relapsed. Brought back to Jung by his cousin, Hazard was told that his case was hopeless short of a religious conversion. As Wilson puts it in his letter:

[Y]ou frankly told him of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned. This candid and humble statement of yours was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our Society has since been built.

Jung also told Hazard that conversion experiences were incredibly rare and recommended that he “place himself in a religious atmosphere and hope for the best,” as Wilson remembers. But he did not specify any particular religion. Hazard discovered the Oxford Group. He might, as far as Jung was concerned, have met God as he understood it anywhere. “His craving for alcohol was the equivalent,” wrote the psychiatrist in a reply to Wilson, “on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

In his reply letter to Wilson, Jung uses religious language allegorically. AA took the idea of conversion more literally. Though it wrestled with the plight of the agnostic, the Big Book concluded that such people must eventually see the light. Jung, on the other hand, seems very careful to avoid a strictly religious interpretation of his advice to Hazard, who started the first small group that would convert Wilson to sobriety and to Oxford Group methods.

“How could one formulate such an insight that is not misunderstood in our days?” Jung asks. “The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a higher understanding.” Sobriety could be achieved through “a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism"—through an enlightenment or conversion experience, that is. It might also occur through “an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends.”

Though most founding members of AA fought for the stricter interpretation of Jung's prescription, Wilson always entertained the idea that multiple paths might bring alcoholics to the same goal, even including modern medicine. He drew on the medical opinions of Dr. William D. Silkworth, who theorized that alcoholism was in part a physical disease, “a sort of metabolism difficulty which he then called an allergy.” Even after his own conversion experience, which Silkworth, like Jung, recommended he pursue, Wilson experimented with vitamin therapies, through the influence of Aldous Huxley.

His search to understand his mystical “white light” moment in a New York detox room also led Wilson to William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. The book “gave me the realization,” he wrote to Jung, “that most conversion experiences, whatever their variety, do have a common denominator of ego collapse at depth.” He even thought that LSD could act as such a “temporary ego-reducer” after he took the drug under supervision of British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond. (Jung likely would have opposed what he called “short cuts” like psychedelic drugs.)

In the letters between Wilson and Jung, as Ian McCabe argues in Carl Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous, we see mutual admiration between the two, as well as mutual influence. “Bill Wilson,” writes McCabe’s publisher, “was encouraged by Jung’s writings to promote the spiritual aspect of recovery,” an aspect that took on a particularly religious character in Alcoholics Anonymous. For his part, Jung, “influenced by A.A.’s success… gave ‘complete and detailed instructions’ on how the A.A. group format could be developed further and used by ‘general neurotics.’” And so it has, though more on the Oxford Group model than the more mystical Jungian. It might well have been otherwise.

Read more about Jung's influence on AA over at Aeon.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When Dracula Author Bram Stoker Wrote a Gushing Fan Letter to Walt Whitman (1870)

Every artist starts out as a fan, and in general we see the marks of early fandom on their mature work. The best, after all—as figures from Igor Stravinsky to William Faulkner have remarked—steal without compunction, taking what they like from their heroes and making it their own. But what exactly, we might wonder, did Dracula author Bram Stoker steal from his literary hero, Walt Whitman? I leave it to you to read the 1897 Gothic novel that spawned innumerable undead franchises and fandoms next to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the book that most inspired Stoker when it made its British debut in 1868.

First published in 1855, then rewritten over the rest of Whitman’s life, the book of poetry boldly celebrated the same pleasure and sensuality that Stoker’s novel made so dangerous. But Dracula was the work of a 50-year old writer. When Stoker first read Whitman, he was only 22, wide-eyed and romantic, and “grown from a sickly boy into a brawny athlete,” writes Meredith Hindley at the National Endowment for the Humanities magazine.

Whitman—himself a champion of robust masculine health (he once penned a manual called “Manly Health & Training”)—so appealed to the young Irish writer’s deep sensibilities that he wrote the older poet a gushing letter two years later in 1870.

Stoker’s fan letter certainly shows the Whitmanian influence, “a long stream of sentiment cascading through various emotions,” as Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova describes it, including “surging confidence bordering on hubris, delicate self-doubt, absolute artist-to-artist adoration.” Whitman, flattered and charmed, wrote a reply, but only after four years, during which Stoker sat on his letter, ashamed to mail it. “For four years, it haunted his desk, part muse and part goblin.” When he finally gathered the courage in 1876 to rewrite the emotional letter and put it in the mail, he was rewarded with the kind of praise that must have absolutely thrilled him.

“You did so well to write to me,” Whitman replied, “so unconventionally, so fresh, so manly, and affectionately too.” Thus began a literary friendship that lasted until Whitman’s death in 1892 and seems to have been as welcome to Whitman as to his biggest fan. A stroke had nearly incapacitated the poet in 1873 and sapped his health and strength for the last two decades of his life, leaving him, as he wrote, with a physique “entirely shatter’d—doubtless permanently—from paralysis and other ailments.” But “I am up and dress’d,” he added, “and get out every day a little, live here quite lonesome, but hearty, and good spirits.”

One also wonders if Stoker would have received such a warm response if he had mailed his original letter unchanged. The “previously unsent effusion,” notes Popova, “opens with an abrupt directness unguarded even by a form of address.” Put another way, it’s blunt, melodramatic, and overly familiar to the point of rudeness: “If you are the man I take you to be,” he begins, “you will like to get this letter. If you are not I don’t care whether you like it or not and only ask that you put it in to the fire without reading any farther.” Contrast this with the revised communication, which begins with the respectful salutation, “My dear Mr. Whitman,” and continues in relatively formal, though still highly spirited, vein.

Stoker had mellowed and matured, but he never left behind his adoration for Whitman and Leaves of Grass. When he eloquently sums up the effect reading the book and its original 1855 preface had on him—he echoes the feelings of millions of fans throughout the ages who have found a voice that speaks to them from far away of feelings they know intimately but cannot express at home:

Be assured of this Walt Whitman—that a man of less than half your own age, reared a conservative in a conservative country, and who has always heard your name cried down by the great mass of people who mention it, here felt his heat leap towards you across the Atlantic and his soul swelling at the words or rather the thoughts.

Read Stoker’s original and revised letters and Whitman’s brief, touching response at Brain Pickings.

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Horror Legend Christopher Lee Reads Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Here’s John Steinbeck Asking Marilyn Monroe for Her Autograph (1955)

When asking a celebrity for a special favor, it helps to be a bit of a celebrity yourself.

As Keith Ferrell details in his biography, John Steinbeck: The Voice of the Land, the Nobel laureate had little patience for autograph seekers, pushy young writers seeking help getting published, and “people who never read books but enjoyed meeting authors.”

The shoe went on the other foot when Mrs. Steinbeck let slip to her nephew that Uncle John had met the boy’s movie star crush, Marilyn Monroe.

Suddenly, an autographed photo seemed in order.

And not just some standard issue publicity shot, but ideally one showing the star of The Seven Year Itch and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in a “pensive girlish mood.”

Also, could she please inscribe it by name to nephew Jon, a young man with, his uncle confided, “one foot in the door of puberty”?

The star-to-star tone Steinbeck adopts for the above letter seems designed to ward off suspicion that this nephew could be a convenient invention on the part of someone desiring such a prize for himself.

Sixty years after a secretary typed it up, Steinbeck's message fetched $3,520 at Julien’s Auctions, one of a wide range of items culled from hardcore Marilyn Monroe collector, David Gainsborough-Roberts as well as the estate of Monroe's acting teacher, Lee Strasberg.

In addition to other correspondence, the Marilyn auction included annotated scripts, an empty prescription bottle, a ballerina paperweight, stockings and gowns, some pinup-type memorabilia, and a program from John F Kennedy’s 1962 birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden.

One lot that is conspicuous for its absence is Steinbeck’s promised “guest key to the ladies’ entrance of Fort Knox.”

Could it be that the boy never got his customized autograph?

We'd like to think that he did. Perhaps he's still savoring it in private.

H/T Alan Goldwasser/Letters of Note/Flashbak

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this Monday, March 11. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Art of Letterlocking: The Elaborate Folding Techniques That Ensured the Privacy of Handwritten Letters Centuries Ago

Occasionally and with diminishing frequency, we still lament the lost art of letter-writing, mostly because of the degradation of the prose style we use to communicate with one another. But writing letters, in its long heyday, involved much more than putting words on paper: there were choices to be made about the pen, the ink, the stamp, the envelope, and before the envelope, the letterlocking technique. Though recently coined, the term letterlocking describes an old and varied practice, that of using one or several of a suite of physical methods to ensure that nobody reads your letter but its intended recipient — and if someone else does read it, to show that they have.

"To seal a modern-day envelope (on the off chance you’re sealing an envelope at all), it takes a lick or two, at most," writes Atlas Obscura's Abigail Cain. Not so for the likes of Mary Queen of Scots or Machiavelli: "In those days, letters were folded in such a way that they served as their own envelope. Depending on your desired level of security, you might opt for the simple, triangular fold and tuck; if you were particularly ambitious, you might attempt the dagger-trap, a heavily booby-trapped technique disguised as another, less secure, type of lock."

Beginning with "the spread of flexible, foldable paper in the 13th century" and ending around "the invention of the mass-produced envelope in the 19th century," letterlocking "fits into a 10,000-year history of document security — one that begins with clay tablets in Mesopotamia and extends all the way to today’s passwords and two-step authentication."

We know about letterlocking today thanks in large part to the efforts of Jana Dambrogio, Thomas F. Peterson Conservator at MIT Libraries. According to MIT News' Heather Denny, Dambrogio first got into letterlocking (and far enough into it to come up with that term herself) "as a fellow at the Vatican Secret Archives," previously featured here on Open Culture. "In the Vatican’s collection she discovered paper letters from the 15th and 16th centuries with unusual slits and sliced-off corners. Curious if the marks were part of the original letter, she discovered that they were indications the letters had originally been locked with a slice of paper stabbed through a slit, and closed with a wax seal."

She and her collaborator Daniel Starza Smith have spent years trying to reconstruct the many variations on that basic method used by letter-writers of old, and you can see one of them, which Mary Queen of Scots used to lock her final letter before her execution, in the video at the top of the post.

Though we in the age of round-the-world, round-the-clock instant messaging — an age when even e-mail feels increasingly quaint — may find this impressively elaborate, we won't have even begun to grasp the sheer variety of letterlocking experience until we explore the letterlocking Youtube channel. Its videos include demonstrations of techniques historically used in EnglandItaly, AmericaEast Asia, and elsewhere, some of them practiced by notables both real and imagined. Tempting though it is to imagine a direct digital-security equivalent of all this today, humanity seems to have changed since the era of letterlocking: as the aphorist Aaron Haspel put it, "We can have privacy or we can have convenience, and we choose convenience, every time."

via Atlas Obscura

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Stan Lee (RIP) Gets an Exuberant Fan Letter from 15-Year-Old George R.R. Martin, 1963

martin-LETTER

The letter above goes to show two things. George Raymond Richard Martin, otherwise known as George R.R. Martin, or simply as GRRM, had fantasy and writing in his blood from a young age. Decades before he wrote his fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, which HBO adapted into Game of Thrones, a 15-year-old George R. Martin sent a fan letter to the now departed Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the legendary creators of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four (called "F.F." in the letter).

When you read the note, you can immediately tell that young Martin was steeped in sci-fi and fantasy literature. He could also string together some fairly complex sentences during his teenage years -- sentences that many adults would struggle to write today. Above, you can watch Martin read his 1963 fan letter note, and Stan Lee's short reply: "We might want to quit while we’re ahead. Thanks for your kind words, George." We're all surely glad that Lee and Kirby kept going.

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George Washington Writes to the First Jewish Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island: “The Government… Gives to Bigotry No Sanction, to Persecution No Assistance” (1790)

In the early United States, devout Christians who would impose their beliefs on others were in the minority among the country’s founders. Thomas Jefferson’s views on the subject are well-known. Much more conservative than Jefferson, fellow Virginian George Washington made frequent statements on religion as part of the essential texture of public life. But while Washington discussed religion as a communal affair with important social and political dimensions, like Jefferson he endorsed religious liberty and freedom of conscience and belief.

Washington went further in defense of religious minorities than the hugely influential theorist of religious toleration, John Locke. The principle of toleration was unique in Europe and England, where “state-sponsored religion was the norm,” as Newport, Rhode Island’s historic Touro Synagogue explains.

But the idea was usually taken to mean that “non-Christians were to be ‘tolerated’ for their beliefs” in a paternalist sense, “with the hope that ‘Jews, Turks, and Infidels” would become Christian.” Washington, however, declared:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

These words come from Washington’s short 1790 letter to the “the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island,” the first in a series of letters written to citizens of Newport after he and then-secretary of state Jefferson made a visit. The address responds directly to a letter of welcome read to him on his arrival in the city by Moses Seixas, an official of the first Jewish congregation in Newport, which states:

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine….

As did many such proclamations, the document glosses the brutal contradiction of slavery, indigenous slaughter, and actual discrimination religious minorities faced. Nonetheless, the democratic principles Seixas outlined so accorded with Washington’s ideals that the first president repeated key phrases verbatim. This is no mere pandering. When Washington arrived in Newport in 1790, state legislatures were in the process of ratifying what was then the Third Amendment to the Constitution, which we know as the First, prohibiting the establishment of state religion and granting freedom of the press.

Arguments over religious liberty were fierce, and toleration had strict limits. In some states “the rights of minority groups such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics and Quakers were restricted,” notes Touro. “In most states, non-Christians were denied the rights of full citizenship, such as holding public office. Even in religiously liberal Rhode Island, Jews were not allowed to vote.” While the First Amendment “did little to erase these injustices,” Washington’s letter set out ideal conditions in which the country’s “enlarged and liberal policy” granted “liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship” to all.

That Washington would make such claims in Rhode Island bears particular significance given that the state is “most noted as the place where religious freedom was actually born,” writes former Ambassador and UN Delegate John Loeb. The colony’s 1663 charter “set forth the first political entity in the world to separate the church from the state.” Washington’s statement one hundred and twenty-seven years later “applied—and continues to apply—to every American,” Loeb argues, despite its specific address “to a small group of Jewish citizens.” But that specific address matters. It promised inclusion and protection to a community that had faced centuries of terror.

As historian Melvin Urofsky writes, the letter “to the Hebrew Congregation,” like many other such statements made by the founders, “is a treasure to the entire nation"—a nation that “recognized," at least in words, "diversity for what it was, one of the country’s greatest assets, and took as its motto E Pluribus Unum—Out of Many, One. The separation of church and state, and with it the freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, has made the United States a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples everywhere.”

Read Washington's concise "Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island" here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Frida Kahlo’s Passionate Love Letters to Diego Rivera

The truth young idealistic lovers learn: relationships are messy and complicated—filled with disappointments, misunderstandings, betrayals great and small. They fall apart and sometimes cannot be put back together. It’s easy to grow cynical and bitter. Yet, as James Baldwin famously wrote, “you think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” You read, that is, the life stories and letters of writers and artists who have experienced outsized romantic bliss and torment, and who somehow became more passionately alive the more they suffered.

When it comes to personal suffering, Frida Kahlo’s biography offers more than one person could seem to bear. Already disabled by polio at a young age, she found her life forever changed at 18 when a bus accident sent an iron rod through her body, fracturing multiple bones, including three vertebrae, piercing her stomach and uterus. Recalling the old Gregorian hymn, Kahlo’s friend Mexican writer Andrés Henestrosa remarked that she “lived dying”—in near constant pain, enduring surgery after surgery and frequent hospitalizations.

In the midst of this pain, she found love with her mentor and husband Diego Rivera—and, it must be said, with many others. Kahlo, writes Alexxa Gotthardt at Artsy, “was a prolific lover: Her list of romances stretched across decades, continents, and sexes. She was said to have been intimately involved with, among others, Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky, dancer Josephine Baker, and photographer Nickolas Muray. However, it was her obsessive, abiding relationship with fellow painter Diego Rivera—for whom she’d harbored a passionate crush since she laid eyes on him at age 15—that affected Kahlo most powerfully.”

Her letters to Rivera—himself a prolific extra-marital lover—stretch “across the twenty-seven-year span of their relationship,” writes Maria Popova; they “bespeak the profound and abiding connection the two shared, brimming with the seething cauldron of emotion with which all fully inhabited love is filled: elation, anguish, devotion, desire, longing, joy.”

Diego.
Truth is, so great, that I wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep, or listen, or love. To feel myself trapped, with no fear of blood, outside time and magic, within your own fear, and your great anguish, and within the very beating of your heart. All this madness, if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion. I ask you for violence, in the nonsense, and you, you give me grace, your light and your warmth. I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.

So begins the letter pictured at the top. In another, equally passionate and poetic letter, pictured further up, she writes:

Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days. you are the mirror of the night. the violent flash of lightning. the dampness of the earth. The hollow of your armpits is my shelter. my fingers touch your blood. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-fountain that mine keeps to fill all the paths of my nerves which are yours.

Kahlo and Rivera fell in love in 1928, when she asked him to look at her paintings. Over her mother’s objections, they married the following year. After ten tumultuous years, they divorced in 1939, then remarried in 1940 and stayed partnered until her death in 1954. Over these years, she poured out her emotions in letters, many, like those above, first written in her illustrated diary. Letters to and from her many lovers have also just emerged in a trove of personal artifacts, recently liberated from a bathroom at Casa Azul where they had been kept under lock and key at Rivera's behest.

Both artists’ many affairs caused tremendous pain and “created rifts between them personally,” notes Katy Fallon at Broadly, although “their relationship has been mythologized past recognition,” in the way of so many other famous couples. In the most egregious betrayal, Rivera even slept with Kahlo’s younger sister Cristina, his favorite model, an act that inspired Frida’s 1937 painting Memory, the Heart, a self-portrait in which she stands with a metal rod piercing her chest, her hands seemingly amputated, face expressionless. We learn the wrong lessons from romanticizing “everything” about Frida and Diego’s life, Patti Smith suggests in her tribute to Kahlo’s love letters. But there is also danger in passing judgment.

“I don’t look at these two as models of behavior,” Smith says, but “the most important lesson… isn’t their indiscretions and love affairs but their devotion. Their identities were magnified by the other. They went through their ups and downs, parted, came back together, to the end of their lives.” In a 1935 letter to Rivera, read by pianist Mona Golabek above, Kahlo forgives his affairs, calling them “only flirtations…. At bottom, you and I love each other dearly, and thus go through adventures without numbers, beatings on doors, imprecations, insults, international claims. Yet, we will always love each other…. All the ranges I have gone through have served only to make me understand in the end that I love you more than my own skin.”

Read many more excerpts from Frida's letters to Diego at Brain Pickings.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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