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Deidre Bair’s Open Letter to Sonu Shamdasani

ABSTRACT: In 2003, Bair published the monumental ‘Jung: A Biography,’ which broke new ground by relying on first-hand research in Jung’s home city of Zurich. However, all was not smiles as Bair was criticized by the Jung scholar Sonu Shamdasani for, among other things, relying on anonymous testimonies in her research. According to Bair and others, Shamdasani allegedly acted abrasively towards her at a scholarly conference and refused to confront her with his criticisms in a scholarly manner. This led Bair to release the following ‘open letter’ to Sonu Shamdasani, to be disseminated in Jungian circles. The letter was originally released around 2004. – OJJT.

By Deidre Bair

Dear Sonu Shamdasani:

I am writing this open letter to you because of your lecture to the London Confederation of Analytical Psychologists (CAP) on April 22nd. As you know, it was my honor to inaugurate the series on January 22nd and Christian Gaillard will conclude it on June 24th. We three were each asked to speak for 45-50 minutes about our recent books, in my case the biography of C. G. Jung, after which we were to respond to questions for 20-30 minutes. You attended my presentation but did not respond to my greetings when you entered the hall. You chose instead to snub me and you did not speak to me when you left. I was told by those in the audience who sat near you that you and your companion, Maggie Baron, were disruptive throughout my talk with loud, negative comments.

On April 22nd, you did not present a talk about your book, Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology. Instead, you dishonored your invitation to speak about your own work and chose through the cowardice of stealth and secrecy to attack me and my scholarship. You told none of the conveners in advance that you intended to dissect my book, which you did for one hour and forty minutes. I shall quote here from an email sent to me on April 27th by the chairman of the series, Martin Stone, who described what you did as a “100 minute attack on the research basis, standing, and accuracy of your [that is, my] recent biography of Jung.” Martin Stone also wrote that during the question period, you announced that you had no intention of presenting your criticisms directly to me because your “critique would be published by Karnac in book form.” Since April 27th, I understand that Martin Stone has asked you to do two things:

1. to present another lecture, the one CAP paid you to deliver about your own book. I believe this demonstrates the displeasure and dismay your lecture caused to the organizers and the audience.

2. to make the full text of every charge you made against my book in your talk available to me for my evaluation and response.

Martin Stone has informed me that you have refused to agree to the second request, and that you will not make any of the allegations and aspersions you cast upon my work available to me for my commentary and response.

I am a writer who has worked hard for more than three decades to establish a career that is praised for the thoroughness of its research, its integrity, and objectivity, I cannot permit you to make such unfounded allegations against me without demanding that you provide the specifics of your charges. If you are the genuine scholar you claim to be and if you have the interests of scholarship in general at the forefront of your work, you have the moral and ethical obligation to do so. Not to provide specifics is an act of intellectual dishonesty, hubris, and cowardice that I cannot allow to pass unchallenged. Nor can it be the case that material presented in a public lecture can be regarded as confidential. If you felt able to say what you said in public, there is no excuse for refusing on any grounds whatsover to convey your comments to me in a form to which I can respond.

I understand that although you refuse to make your charges available to me, you intend to take them directly to print through Karnac Press. If you do this, I must advise you for the record, that my publishers and their lawyers will scrutinize whatever you write for possible legal ramifications.

Besides Martin Stone, who maintained on behalf of CAP a scrupulous, non-partisan position in this sad matter you created, many other persons who were in the audience contacted me by email and telephone. First, I shall summarize their reactions and then I shall respond to the charges they can remember that you leveled against my book. Their reactions ranged from “shock,” “outrage,” “anger and horror” to “distress” and “dismay.” When I pressed for specifics, the correspondents told me they could not decide the veracity of your list of my “errors” because they were so taken aback by your “”shrill” and “vitriolic” presentation that they had difficulty at times in focusing on what you were saying and could only remember the most egregious remarks. The talk was not tape recorded, nor did these correspondents, stunned as they were by your unexpected attack, have the presence of mind to take detailed notes. Therefore, some of what they have told me may not be exactly what you said, but as you refuse to make your remarks available to me, I have no other point of reference and must respond to you through their communications.

Here is a summation of what they remember: you began your talk by chastising the audience for having allowed a “con [artist]” to “con” them into a “fete” for a “worthless” book. You told the audience they should be “ashamed” of themselves “for being taken in” by me. You alluded to “hundreds of errors” in my book. Here is a summation of what they remember of these alleged “errors” and again, it may or many not be exactly what you said but the gist is certainly there: Some of the “errors” you cited concerned misspellings of German words. Despite an excellent copy editor and two full-time proofreaders who were all fluent in German, it is indeed regrettable that so many misspellings crept into the book during the production process. Many of my readers (genuine scholars all) wrote thoughtful, constructive letters pointing them out to me and my excellent German translator of the German edition caught the rest. These will all be corrected in the forthcoming English language paperback, due in October, 2004.

Some of my correspondents remember that you dwelt on another “typo” or “slip” (my words, not yours) on p. 432, where I referred to the “International” General Medical Psychotherapy Association. In that particular clause it is not correct for it did not become “international” until the “hereafter” clause that follows. This unfortunate “slip” (again, my word) was pointed out by several collegial scholars and has since been corrected. It was due to carelessness, not to the “lack of knowledge” you implied and it is hardly of enough magnitude to merit your using it to condemn the entire book, as you did. I will myself call attention here to a very serious “typo” which many kindly scholars have pointed out and which members of the CAP audience disagree over whether or not you cited it: the caption for the photo of the Weimar Congress in the first edition is incorrectly given as 1912, when it should be 1911. This, too, has been corrected for the paperback.

To discuss what I consider your most serious allegation, I shall quote again from Martin Stone’s email: “Sonu made remarks about Deirdre Bair’s sources and her probity and trustworthiness.” These remarks apparently concerned the documents and conversations that came to me from “private sources, private archives.” According to various correspondents, you stated that I had “made them up” or “invented them.” You said that I had made “so many misreadings and misuse of what is publicly available” that my interpretations of the “private sources, private archives” could not be trusted. You said that unless I made the confidential documents available to you, the audience should disregard the veracity and accuracy of my scholarship because confidential information can never be regarded as trustworthy. My dear Sonu Shamdasani, I cannot believe you are so naïve as to think that I will betray these confidences to satisfy your curiosity, nor can I believe that you, as a self-proclaimed scholar, would discredit or call into question the confidential sources of a respected biographer. May I remind you also of “Deep Throat,” who contributed to the downfall of a government as an honest, off-the record source?

Actually, you are directly responsible for bringing one of my “private sources, private archives” to me. You contacted this particular person and, “acting like a thug and a bully” (I quote my source here), you demanded that this person surrender all relevant family documents to you because you are the “Intellectual Advisor to the Jung Heirs” (your term for being in their employ) and as such, have the right to claim possession of all documents pertaining to C. G. Jung in private hands for his heirs. This person told you quite firmly that the documents belonged to that family’s archives and not to the Jung heirs. The person’s family then made the decision to let me use these archives because they knew I would treat them honestly and they feared the “slanted” version you might present should you gain access to the materials. I cite this anecdote to show why so many persons who all knew of your scholarship refused to have anything to do with you. Perhaps this has contributed to your rage and anger toward my work.

In my four biographies, all of which have been continuously in print since the first was published in 1978, no major errors of fact have been found by other scholars (and believe me, there were many who tried!). This being the case, I must leave it to my readers to decide for themselves who they wish to believe – you or me – regarding my use of information in “private sources, private archives.”

The next major charge you made, as various correspondents recall, concerns what I must call your deliberate lie. You said that when I began my research I asked the Jung heirs to prohibit any other scholar from consulting any or all documentation about C. G. Jung throughout the years it would take me to finish my book. This is a complete and utter falsehood. I have NEVER asked for such status for any of my four biographies. As a scholar, I recognize and respect the need for full and open access, not only for my own work but for all other scholars as well. In fact, Sonu Shamdasani, it was YOU who asked the Jung heirs to refuse to grant me access to the archives they control and if they could not do so, you urged them to limit my access as much as possible. And shortly before my book was published, you convened a meeting in Zurich of the Jung heirs and their legal and publishing representatives to ask them to take measures to stop publication of my book. I understand that everyone present informed you that you had no grounds for such action and they took none.

In your diatribe against my biography of Jung, you cited a 1978 review of my biography of Samuel Beckett, written by the late Richard Ellmann in The New York Review of Books. With mockery in your voice, you referred frequently to Ellmann’s creation of the word “factoid” to describe my Beckett book (winner of the National Book Award among its many honors and citations). You did not tell your CAP audience the context of Ellmann’s remark: that as the biographer of Joyce and Yeats, he expected Beckett to anoint him to write an authorized biography. Because Beckett cooperated with me instead, Ellmann was enraged. I have correspondence from other worried scholars to whom Ellmann wrote even before he read my book that he would “savage Bair” and would “destroy her.” In his review, Ellmann insinuated that the only reason I was permitted to write the book instead of him was because the “mere girl” had seduced Samuel Beckett. You neglected to tell this to your CAP audience.

I am not clear on whether or not you connected the Ellmann review with the following charge because my correspondents differ, but some insist that you connected it with how I wrote about the genesis of Jung’s “Seven Sermons.” You faulted me for describing the “oppressive atmosphere” surrounding the scene as being “in the heat of summer.” My sources for this were my personal interviews and the Harvard Countway interviews with three of Jung’s surviving children: Agathe Niehus-Jung, Gret Baumann-Jung, and Franz Jung. All three remembered it this way. So, too, did Helene Hoerni-Jung, in information conveyed to me by her son, Ulrich Hoerni. So, too, did the Barbara Hannah “private archive” I consulted, and so, too, did Jung’s grandchildren repeat it in interviews with me. You apparently held up a document for the CAP audience dated “January” and said it proved my account “false” and “wrong.” Perhaps it is, but isn’t’ it interesting that the entire Jung family shares such a collective memory? If it isn’t true, how did it come to be? Concerning the document dated “January”: Do you have proof that this is the first and original composition? Did you provide full documentation to support this claim for the CAP audience? In summation, I regret that you chose such confrontational tactics throughout your entire talk, but I especially regret it in this instance. This was not the place for rancorous hostility but rather, the place where cooperative scholarly discussion between you and me might have led us to a definitive solution and conclusion.

To finish up with your deliberately misleading misuse of Ellmann’s review, may I direct your attention to the introduction of his revised edition of the Joyce biography (Oxford University Press, 1983) in which he begs his readers to read this version rather than his original text, for “readers of the first edition will discover that more pages have been altered than not, by insertions ranging from a line to a page or more.” Joyce scholars who have counted tell me there are more than 536 textual changes or corrections. This, I am also told, is par for the course with most biographies. Not so in mine: I invite readers to consult the various editions of each biography to see for themselves that this is not true of my writing. Perhaps it will become true for the Jung biography, and if so, I stand ready to make changes and to correct errors of fact or event. So far, about twenty persons have contacted me in the spirit of collegial scholarship. Where they have pointed out errors, I have eagerly corrected them; where they have differing opinions, I have managed in many cases to incorporate them into both text and notes so that both sides of the story, theirs and mine, are given. Here again, Sonu Shamdasani, I regret that you have chosen to attack and destroy rather than to cooperate as one scholar with another.

I must remind you that historical scholarship (of which biography is a genre) consists of collecting as many facts as can be found. After that, the historian/writer must weigh these facts carefully to sift their weight and veracity and then must present the most accurate, sensitive, and truthful account possible. This is not “artistic license” as you accused me of writing, but rather, it is a genuine scholarly effort to sift the evidence in order to convey the “truth” in every sense of that much- debated concept. Naturally this falls within the realm of the writer’s opinion, a fact you disparage where it pertains to the work of others but which you insist upon conveniently forgetting when you employ it within your own writing. In your arrogance, you insist that only your version of the facts or events of Jung’s life is the correct one. I could not help but think that your comment about Freud on p. 93 of your book applies equally well to your conduct of Jungian scholarship: “Freud’s failing was that he could never see beyond his own conception, which he took to be universal.”

I also wish that you had heeded what you wrote on p. 56 when you quoted Jung on how he thought a book should be reviewed. You quoteJung as stating that “In many cases, reviewers failed to deal with the essence of a work, and overcompensated for their lack of competence through irrelevant and unjust criticism.Individuals who had already achieved something in the same field do not consider that anyone else knows as much as they. Consequently, ‘one arms oneself against new ideas as against the evil enemy and reads each line onlywith the aim of finding the supposed weak point.’ Due to this, one picked up on trifles such as errors in citations, grammatical errors, etc. without seriously engaging with the work.” –I regret that this is exactly what you have done with my book.

I regret even more that you dishonored your invitation to address the CAP audience about your own work and chose instead to attack mine through stealth and cowardice. For me, the writing of this letter has been much the same as shadowboxing with an invisible assailant, as I have only the testimony of concerned members of the Jungian community who were in your audience to guide me .

To continue with a boxing metaphor, I quote the great Muhammad Ali: “you can run but you can’t hide.” Your version of Jung’s reality has so far been based on your privileged status as an employee of the Jung heirs: when you say you have read manuscripts and letters, others have been inclined to accept your conclusions because you have had access to materials that are restricted and therefore unavailable to the rest of us. It is unfair for you to criticize me as you did in your CAP presentation because I stated some of the difficulties I encountered when I asked the Jung heirs for access to certain archives. You stated that you had never had a single problem of this nature, which as an employee of the heirs you no doubt escaped. I am delighted for your good fortune but: your statement of the ease with which you consult materials constitutes a clear defense of the Jung heirs made by one in their employ and who seeks to remain in their good graces. Don’t you think you had the moral obligation to declare this to the CAP audience, and to make this known as well within your writings?

I knew from the beginning of my research that you enjoyed this privileged status and therefore, I never took what you said or wrote at face value. I always scrutinized your conclusions and indeed, I challenged a major one many years ago at the Sebasco Conference in Maine. You presented your version of the creation of Memories, Dreams, Reflections which included a strong defense (if not a total absolution) of the Jung heirs in the “auntification” debate. In the question period, I stated that, as you and I had both read the same documents (all of which I used in Chapter 38 and the Epilogue of my book), I wondered why you chose to ignore relevant information that contradicted some of your pronouncements. Your reply to me was “Because I chose to do so. Sit down.” I, and many others in that audience, have never forgotten it.

On the positive side, because you are in the employ of the Jung Heirs and because you are privy to information that others do not have, you are in the fortunate position of being able to make a genuine contribution to the history of psychoanalysis and to Jungian scholarship. This can only (and here I stress ONLY) happen if you are willing to write honestly, and then to hold your own writing to the same exacting standards by which you judge (and unfortunately, mainly condemn) all others. You can not be permitted to issue a fiat by which you cavalierly seek to destroy the scholarly reputations of others without providing full documentation for your allegations. You must realize that you are merely a rival author to all other scholars. You are not the be-all and end-all, the ultimate authority. Therefore, you cannot continue to make claims of absolute certainty unless you provide the proof. If you do continue to make your claims without making the proof available for scrutiny, your behavior will indeed be, in the words of my “private source” that of a “thug and a bully,” and in my words, an act of moral cowardice. It was especially distressing for me to learn that in the dinner hosted by CAP following your talk, you raised your glass and invited others to join you in toasting to “Jung without Bair.” This is not the behavior of a scholar.

This will be my only response to you. I will not engage with you further until or unless you provide me with the full text of what you said in your CAP presentation. I conclude my open letter to you by once again apologizing to CAP and to the international Jungian community on your behalf because I do not believe that you will have the decency to do so. Because you intend to attack me in print, I must ask all the Jung websites to post this letter and journals to print it. I willl also send it to selected individuals. I regret that I must involve the Jung heirs, but because you claim to be acting on their behalf, they should be informed of the very real damage your behavior does to their reputation.

With deep regret, and most sincerely,

Deirdre Bair

Published in Deidre Bair