Saturday, April 30, 2011

Where is the Soul 33?

Pushing the Boundaries

Murat Castle, Pizzo, April, 2011
As usual I’ll start with the predictable declaration I have made in the last several posts: Hillman and Ventura are challenging to say the least. More than that, even – they are positively provocative and subversive. I have also said that we need such individuals to be the proverbial “devil’s advocates” and Socratic gadflies.” Such characters make us think, and think more deeply again because they question our presuppositions, our very prejudices, our all-too-easily accepted certainties about life. They constantly stand all these certainties, which society spins as unquestionable truths, on their heads. For them everything is up for question. It’s not that they suggest that we should live without values at all. In fact, because they do such soul-searching, they are deepening the answers as well as the questions. They may be sceptical, but they are never cynical at all. In fact, anything but. And I would argue that while they are such radical questioners they are more likely to be more ethical in their own stances in life than those who question nothing; than those who, while never questioning central truths, fall often from grace by breaking those long-accepted rules which they proclaim with passion; than those of us who really live a sort of double or hypocritical life style. How often do we read in the papers about the defenders and proclaimers of truths – priests, bishops, policemen, doctors, teachers - who have suddenly fallen so far short of what they say they vehemently believe. Indeed there is a growing minority of the so-called defenders of the status quo who, all too often, fail to live up to their beliefs. I would argue that this is because they are very much non-questioners and such very poor thinkers in the best sense of that word. So now for that quotation from Hillman which really, I think and I feel, figuratively “sets the cat amongst the pigeons.”

Pushing the Boundaries beyond Acceptable Limits

Typical Street, Pizzo, April, 2011
I’m going to quote some of Hillman’s conversation for an extended few paragraphs here. Bear in mind the above introduction because what follows is indeed provocative and subversive:

"To everyone else it seems insane that you take better care of that car than of any woman or child or yourself, and stay loyal to it, but you are right, because your love of your car is the answer to personalised humanism...

A woman I know in Paris came back from Bahia in Brazil where everyone touches everyone all the time, either caressing and friendly or thieving, of course, but she saw a man make love to a banana tree. For us, that is perverse. The Church would say that you can only put it in a person, and only in one place in that person, and only for one reason, procreation, and only if The Church marries you. But she saw a man making love to a banana tree...

Right all those studies in Kraft-Ebing’s work – the fetishist, the sodomist, the coprophiliac who likes the smell and taste of shit – these are saying, “Look the world has immense possibilities for desire. Go for it, even if Descartes says it is dead. See, Descartes makes our love for the world into a perversion: It’s necrophilia because the world is just a dead body."
And to these comments Ventura replies:

To love the world, the planet, is necrophilia- because to the Cartesian and scientific way of thinking anything not human is dead. This helps explain the real disgust some people on the far right have for ecologists and ecological thinking – they’re disgusted by our love of the planet because unconsciously they feel it’s necrophilia! (Op. cit. pp. 182-183)
Remember the Context

Canons on  the battlements of Murat castle
If you have read at least some of the previous 32 posts on Hillman's and Ventura's conversation about the health and well-being of the soul, then you'll have a context within which to understand thre above comments. As I have already said in my opening paragraph they are both accomplished dealers in ideas, able intellects, adept in pushing thoughts as far as they can, and oftentimes language strains under such stress testing.  They are indeed "devil's advocates" and Socratic gadflies who aim to make their readers think. In so doing, we owe them both a debt of gratitude.  Whether we might agree or disagree with their contentions, at least we must read such great pioneers who make us question our previously all-too-easily accepted assumptions and presuppositions.  Good philosophers will heartily agree here, because no philosopher worth his or her salt will mind reading and taken seriously his oppenents' viewpoints as that is what makes his or her own beliefs all the stronger.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Where is the Soul 32?

The Myth of the Significant Other


Decorative Beast over an ancient doorway, Tropea, April, 2011


Hillman is nothing if not provocative. He has described his take on psychotherapy as ideationist or generative of ideas. He likes pushing the questions harder and harder, sharpening their edge, as it were. He seeks to deepen the questions, challenge all-too-easy assertions and accepted presuppositions, standing things on their head, looking at things from different angles, in short being the Socratic gad-fly. We need his likes and more commentators like him. Come to think of it, we must educate each other and certainly our youngsters to think like that!

Here he questions the commonly accepted myth of the significant other. In this respect he traces our obsession with the significance of the one other individual back to good old (or bad old?) Descartes. It’s that blinking Cartesian dualism again, that Cartesian split between body and soul. You see, Descartes, that good Jesuit-trained Christian declared to Western civilization that only human persons have souls. There were no souls anywhere else. Let us listen to the words of James Hillman continue the argument:

And since love always seeks a soul, you’ve got to have a “significant other”, as psychology calls it. That’s why we have all those images on billboards, in the movies, on the tube, of hungry mouths kissing, the divinely perfect man and the divinely perfect woman with lost soft eyes and luscious washed hair, flying into each other’s arms, getting it on. Notice those couples are always isolated. On an empty beach, a sailboat, a private bathtub. No other voices. Just us. They never ask or hear, “What are the people saying?”...

That’s Decartes. The world of trees and furniture and alley cats is soulless, only dead matter. There’s nowhere for love to go but to another person...

Our genitals are right. Our hungry mouths aching to kiss are right. If we don’t fall obsessively in love, we are all alone in a cemetery of Cartesian litter. What goes on between the legs in the muladhara chakra... (Op. cit., p. 178)

Now that was one brilliant paragraph upon which I must meditate for some minutes. It always repays me a hundredfold re-reading such paragraphs. Interestingly the muladhara chakra is the psychic centre at the base of the spine.

The drive to Communion in and through Community

The simplicity of the Vespa scooter says it all! Pizzo, 2011
So when the twin myths of individualism and significant other have been put to bed where does that leave us, Jim? Well, it leaves us as a soul with a drive to both communion and community. Hillman insists that the desire or drive for something else never leaves us. It is essentially physically expressed in our groins as human animals. So true. I find our archetype psychologist brilliantly at one here with the British philosopher John Gray who has argued cogently that we humans have over-estimated our significance in the scheme of things, that we are essentially human animals and our use of the expression “human being” somehow makes something metaphysical out of us. (See my posts on John Gray here at this link Straw Dogs) To return to Hillman’s own words is instructive for us here:

What I am saying is that this desire that never lets go is the drive in the human, not only for union with a significant other, which makes it too personal and Christian, but for communion with something wider. With community itself, the soul. We’ve identified communion with private intimacy. Our word for muladhara is privates. (Ibid., p. 179)

View of Tropea, April, 2011
Intimacy, or at least our modern take on it implies “anticommunity” according to our archetype psychologist. As I’ve said over and over in these posts on Hillman and Ventura’s brilliant joint book, individualism is a dirty word, a selfish ego-centric one, a view with which I agree strongly. This is a very strong idea, a radical one, a counter-cultural one. Indeed, all religions were originally countercultural, but as history has shown us as soon as they are accepted culturally and thereby legitimized, they become literally soul-destroying monoliths of control and power. Isn’t that a great irony? Was not Jesus Christ one of the greatest countercultural revolutionaries? As Dostoyevsky puts it in his great Grand Inquisitor scene in The Brothers Karamazov: if Christ were to come back he would not recognize the church because it has become so corrupted from the use and abuse of power. (Indeed, it is questionable as to whether he founded a Church or not, but that is a question for a different post and for another time!)

Hillman defines self brilliantly as “the interiorization of community” (see ibid., p. 180) and our hang up on the significant other and indeed finding the correct significant other, only reinforces individualism.

Therapy as Religion

This is another of Hillman’s and Ventura’s contentions that modern therapy is really only continuing the work of religion, because it still pushes the idea of private salvation. In this conception of therapy the counsellor or psychotherapist is the priest and the patient or client the sinner coming to be saved.

Western Culture’s Main Hang Up

It is hard not to disagree with our two authors and ideationists that modern Western culture’s main hang up is that of the notion of an ideal significant other and salvation through that relationship on a one-to-one level. This is essentially a hang up on tortuous love and all its labyrinthine intrigues. It’s really pathetic almost that our deepest cultural cry is “I want you,” “I need you and only you!” How many murders, and how much violence have been committed by an obsession with this twisted belief? Our culture sells all these worthless trinkets as priceless gems. The words of the song “I can’t live if living is without you” come to my mind as a culturally bankrupt statement. And yet, how many people among us swallow this lie?

Now, in conclusion, the important thing for us to take from this brilliant little book is its questioning spirit, its prophetic nature, its subversive tendency to turn things upside down, to question assumptions and presuppositions, even axioms of faith. All in all, it’s this spirit that reigns in this book. It never once presents us with stifling answers. The debate is only just begun, one feels and the conversation will continue. Nothing is ever set in stone while ideas live and generate others and so on and so forth.

Where is the Soul 31?

The Importance of risk taking


Beach Restaurant, Squillace, April, 2011
Playing it safe all the time means simply that the soul has little or no opportunity to grow. Those who play it safe will always have regrets. Journalists who take risks not alone get better stories, but they end up better human beings. They go to unsafe places, report on wars, riots and protests. Then there are the creative artists who risk saying something new in new ways, in different ways, who at once break with tradition as well as following the tradition of breaking with tradition as it were.

Ventura then says an interesting thing that both Hillman and he always take risks in their work, and whether their work “stinks or not is for others to judge, but it’s risky, that’s a fact.” (Op. cit., p. 171)

Again stretching metaphors to their limit, in taking risks it’s not enough to go out on a limb, but in fact when you do so it’s then that you must saw it off. In fact, Hillman argues that it’s more dangerous (to the soul) to close or even lock one’s door and sit on the sofa and try to keep the madness out. Indeed, you’ll probably go insane that way.

Speaking of cracks in things, indeed the inherent cracks in everything, the cracks in reality by its very nature, and accepting those cracks and working from there is the healthy way. As Leonard Cohen says so wisely in one of his great songs or poems: “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in, that’s how the light gets in” as it is very ad rem here indeed.

The rear view of a beach restaurant, Squillace, April, 2011
That is where therapy gets it all wrong in trying to cure the pathology, instead of seeing that the pathology is part of the crack or the broken window, and that something powerful and liberating is trying to get in. In this way, this kind of therapeutic approach is creating more and more pathology and keeping the Gods even further away.

The Importance of Community

Hillman and Ventura return again and again to the importance of community in their understanding of therapy and indeed in their understanding of reality. Come to think of it, surely therapy is essentially about encountering reality in all its length and depth and breadth, not in benumbing it, calming it down, boxing it in, taming it, domesticating it – use whatever appropriate metaphor you wish.

There’s a communal aspect to love. Love does not exist as a private tryst or trust between two people in a personal relationship. It’s a communal event, they argue.

Voices versus Voice

Sand being levelled for the summer season - Squillace beach
I remember some years ago so-called experts in poetry here in Ireland repeating a rather simplistic take on poem-making, that is, saying that this or that new poet had not yet found his/her voice, as if one voice was all a poet had at his or her disposal. A poet will have many voices expressed in his poems throughout his life as he hears different voices as he/she ages. Indeed he/she is constantly hearing multiple voices at any one time. In other words poets are fine-tuned psychologists if they are skilled at their craft. These voices represent the multiple sub-personalities that inhabit our psyche at any one time. The same is true for every person, poet or not – we are constantly hearing different voices from our psyche. It is up to us, though, to integrate those voices, I believe, to get them harmonised or rather orchestrated in a way that allows for integration (Dr Anthony Storr), individuation (Dr Carl Gustave Jung) or self-actualization (Dr Abraham Maslow) and so on and so forth.

Once again Hillman places all this in the important context of the community. He rightly comments that we live in the context also of the multiple voices of others in our community, and also within the tradition of the multiple voices of our ancestors. That’s why in traditional communities weddings and funerals were always communal events and people celebrated and mourned together within the context of the community. In this sense, then, a relationship is not just something private, a little private cocoon where the two are in this deep psychological relationship.

I’ll bring today’s post to an end with an apposite quotation from our archetype psychologist:

Somehow we’ve got to see that “personal relationship” is a symptom of our culture. Read what the Muslims feel, what tribal societies feel, what we know of antique cultures, of Chinese culture today: they weren’t hung up on romantic love, as we are, expecting all our sexual fantasies, to be fulfilled by the person we sleep with. Why are we in our Western American culture of the nineties, in the therapeutic culture of the white bread world, so hung up on the significant other for fulfilment? (Ibid., p. 177)

(Interestingly Dr Anthony Storr makes a similar point in his brilliant little book, Solitude which I have commented on expansively in these pages. See this link here)

Where is the Soul 30?

Ancient doorway, Isca Superiore
Now that the letters are finished, Hillman and Ventura tape another dialogue which they transcribe for the final part of their book. Their talk takes place in an apartment high over Sheridan Square in New York City. Stan Passy, another psychologist, phones them during this long dialogue.


Their conversation begins with Hillman musing on the nature of love. They agree that love is connected mainly with the soul. One of them quotes the great early modernist poet T.S.Eliot of whom I have written many times in this blog who apparently said that love costs “not less than everything!” Now that’s a huge price indeed. Even love gets sacrificed for love!

Then our archetype psychologist quotes the old Jungian adage that one’s beloved is one’s anima projection. Ventura is of the belief that love is a form of madness. This has a lot of resonances with the history of literature in many languages. In Gaelic literature we traditionally speak of “galar an ghrá” or “the disease of love,” the only cure of which is a kiss from the beloved which needless to say should lead right on to a passionate relationship! Ventura pipes up and says that “God is Love,” an old Christian belief, or more correctly an old monotheistic belief.

However, Hillman is at his questioning best and wonders what the madness of love is looking for. In love or in falling in love there is an “obsessive madness” going on which is in search of something, but what? However we define this madness they both agree that it can never be reduced solely to hormones. To say that the madness of love is God-driven is the same as to say that it is DNA-driven according to Ventura.

Then Hillman makes an insightful comment on the nature of madness which is worth reproducing here below:

Another ancient doorway, Isca Superiore
 “I think that madness is the messenger of the Gods. And that’s Plato, not Freud. Different forms of what Plato calls mania, each of them associated with a different God. So the madness is calling us to the Gods, in one way or another, either as a frenzy or as a love or as a ritual initiation into a new kind of life. Something more important than usual life is going on. It is drawing us out of one thing and toward something else.” (Op. cit. P. 169)
Then Michael Ventura makes an interesting intervention quoting Michael Meade that the difference between blessed madness and insanity is that the latter is caused by following the wrong God. I find this interesting because remember that each of the Gods in the Pantheon is an image or representation of one or other of our multiple sub-personalities.

Madness or mania, then, is the way the Gods reach us (Plato), and indeed they come to us essentially in all our diseases, too (Jung). This is all wonderfully crystallized for us in the Greek tragedies, don’t forget. Then Hillman makes a brilliant intervention by quoting the poet Theodore Roethke on the nature of madness – madness or mania, not insanity: “What’s madness but nobility of soul/ At odds with circumstance?” (Quoted ibid., p. 170)

Interestingly again, and one can always count on Hillman to be nothing if not supremely interesting, our archetype psychologist suggests that we all must acknowledge our own madness or mania, acquaint ourselves with it, figuratively open the doors of our mind and let it in. Most often than not this is where our addictions come in, that is, when we have befriended our madness to a supreme degree and have become addicts to drink, drugs or gambling. However, interestingly again, they keep us from going insane – how interesting, yet how strange!!

Then, to finish this post neatly Ventura quotes a line from a song by Waylon Jennings which runs: “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where is the Soul 29?

Mediocrity

Once again Hillman begins yet another letter with provocative ideas. First of all he tells us that much of what passes for therapy is nothing more than an effort to benumb the client; an attempt to calm the patient down, to sedate him/her with the magic of therapy, to blend medical and non-medical terms if I may; a trial to help the client relieve stress; an effort to relax the person; in short an attempt at total mediocrity. This is Hillman at his very best, at his most provocative.

Tropea Beach - a bird's eye view from the town
Therapy, on the other hand, according to Hillman should be the opposite of such bland benumbing mediocrity. It should be a means of waking the patient up to burning issues. He says that the real goal of therapy should be “to encourage, maybe even enflame, the rich and crazy mind, that wonderful aviary (the image is from Plato) of wild flying thoughts, the sex-charged fantasies, the incredible longings, bloody wounds, and the museums of archaic shards that constitute the psyche.” (Op. cit., p. 151) This is classical Hillman, the archetype psychologist at his poetic and provocative best. Such gad-flies as he are needed, not alone in psychotherapy and psychology but also in philosophy and even in the natural sciences as well as the social.

I also like, as a dyed-in-the-wool Irishman, his allusion to the poems of W.B. Yeats. He refers to that brilliant poem from that poet’s pen, The Second Coming. Therein Yeats refers to the “rough beast,” which is actually in itself that very coming. In other words, what Hillman is arguing for here is that the patient or client has to be helped to face his/her own inner beast. Indeed, have we not all heard our friends who attend one form of support group or another talking about “befriending their demons.”? There is yet another Irish poet, perhaps no way as great and certainly not internationally acclaimed, who writes about befriending his own inner monster, too. That poet is Patrick Kavanagh who speaks about the courage to “stroke the monster’s back.” One cannot fault Hillman for not knowing the marvellous poetical works of Patrick Kavanagh. However, I was delighted to read on some webpage or other that James Hillman had studied for some time here in Dublin at Trinity College. I can now forgive him anything!

Let me now briefly return to the dulcet tones of Hillman’s own words:

Psychotherapy has to take sides with the beast, walk with it, touching its shaggy fur, remembering it lives at the edge, along with Robert Bly’s Wildman, demanding a place in the mall, like the Greek Furies were given a place in Athens. This is the “relationship” on which therapy must focus, the relationship with the beast; otherwise psychotherapy’s clients become Barbie and Ken “working on their relationship,” plastic dolls like Dan Quayle. (Ibid., p. 153
Then, our archetype psychologist goes on to regale us with further statistics. Remember once again that he was writing in 1990 or thereabouts, so these statistics may have changed greatly. He tells us that 3% of all adult males in America are involved in the penal system: in jail, awaiting trial, appealing, booked, fined, subpoenaed, on parole, on probation, being pardoned or even being executed. In other words, society is pushing these unacceptable ones out of it; sweeping the dirt under the carpet or repressing the demons or The Unacknowledged Monster (my term here, not Hillman’s)

Another bord's eye view of the beach
However, we all know that a problem will not go away, even if it is ignored. Repression simply does not work. The Unacknowledged Monster comes back again and again, not alone to frighten us, but also to wreak havoc on our lives or, more correctly, in our little lives. Freud, of course, was right. The repressed keeps returning until it is finally acknowledged.

Once again, Hillman is quite radical in what he suggests that we can do. He tells us that our real choice is not between the Punitive (lock them up and throw away the Key) and the Permissive (anything goes). The real choice, he says, is between Repression (Ignore, Ignore, and Ignore!) and Art (Express the Monster’s desires artistically in all its possible forms!)

The Mediocrity and benumbing offered by contemporary psychotherapy is no answer at all to violence and all the works of evil. In fact, Hillman argues, it probably invites violence to stem the boredom and benumbing. I love these two sentences from this letter as they appeal to the creative artist within me: “To cool violence you need rhythm, humour, tempering; you need dance and rhetoric. Not therapeutic understanding.” (ibid., p. 153)

On the following page, he informs us that he has been straining for decades “to push psychology over into art form rather than a science or a medicine or an education, because the soul is inherently imaginative.” (Ibid., p. 154) Hillman’s re-visioning of psychology (in the eponymous book) is based on the primacy of images. In other words in this letter and in his books he has proposed a poetic basis of mind and a psychology that starts in the processes of the imagination, rather than in the physiology of the brain or even in the structure of language or in any other “-ology” one might propose.

In Hillman’s view the role of therapy must be one of helping people to protest rather than to cope and be calm (or shut up!); to rebel rather than to adapt quietly to the status quo. In the currently accepted model of psychotherapy one is encouraged to collaborate with a society that stifles the psyche by being taught simply the skills of coping. Coping is collaboration according to our archetype psychologist and I’m inclined to agree with this great man of ideas. He admits, then, that he is an idealist who still believes therapy should be all about “raising consciousness,” as its authentic and real roots require. (See ibid., p. 156)

Once again I should like to return to Hillman’s poetic words to finish this post:

I am talking about myself now, Michael, myself as a dysfunctional therapist. Imagine my predicament. I love therapy – and have come to hate it. I was the truest believer who ever walked the streets of Zurich when I first began, and mostly ever since. I still love working on the conundrums of the soul. The psyche is incredibly fascinating, and it forces you to the edge in every hour. It’s always turning things upside down, demanding the most radical thoughts you can come up with. It disturbs your usual patterns, your usual feelings. It wants the upside down so you have to think revolution. (Ibid., 156-157)
Final Questions:

Eric Hoffer once said: “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want” (Quoted ibid., p. 159). With Hillman we must surely ask questions like “Why can we humans never get enough of anything at all, whether we want it or not?” “Where does all this wanting come from?” “Why can we never be satisfied?” “Are we really all junkies at heart?”

Where is the Soul 28?

Peak Experiences


Easter Sunday ceremony at Isca Superiore!
 It was September 1976 and I was eighteen years young. I was now at college studying Theology, Philosophy, Education and English Literature. While I was not an especially religious young man, I was open to all experiences both in the learning environment and on a personal level. I found the subjects of Philosophy and English Literature especially mind blowing, though theology also gave us some interesting ideas to wrestle with. One of those ideas was termed at the time “Peak Experiences.” As far as I can remember it was in a little book Rumour of Angels by the great sociologist Peter Berger that we first encountered this term. Another term our theological lecturers gave us was that of “moments of transcendence.” One lecturer spoke excitedly about the “turn to experience” in theology. No more did we need to accept doctrines as mere “intellectual givens” or as dry, stale and rigid unchanging dogmas set in stone as it were. No we could test all these doctrines, dogmas and indeed all our beliefs “on our pulses” to use a beautiful phrase from S.T. Coleridge, the great and brilliant Romantic philosopher, critic and poet. Suddenly, after the ferment caused by Vatican II and in the wake of the student revolutions both in the colleges of the USA (against the Vietnam war) and in the universities across Europe (especially in France) we could now do our own religious experiencing rather than just intellectually assenting to dry dogma.

The procession to the the two churches, Easter Sunday, 2011
That’s what the terms “peak experiences” and “moments of transcendence” refer to, that is, we are all capable of having such extraordinary experiences which link us into a transcendent world or with a transcendent God. Then, I remember some years later how theologians debated whether a human being could actually experience God. Some argued very learnedly, embracing complex philosophical and theological abstractions in doing so, that we could not experience God per se, but rather experience the influence of his grace in our souls. However, such hair-splitting debate is no longer of interest to me at all. What is of interest to me is the fact that monolithic structures like the Roman Catholic Church, which is a very centrist in its working, is a power-broker interested in controlling its believers. Hence, it is always suspicious of “religious experiences” per se because anyone saying they have such experiences are by-passing the controls which they have put on beliefs and the expression thereof. Hence, the split of the Christian churches at the time of the Reformation: Protestants proclaiming they could go their own way, through their personal encounter with God in and through His Son Jesus Christ without the help of tradition in all its encrusted beliefs, doctrines, practices and tenets – it was as if the barque of Christ had literally become encrusted with the barnacles of layers and layers of popular and superstitious devotions and practices. It was this suspicion of personal access to the truth that also led to the Roman Catholic Church’s deep suspicion of the mystics who claimed they had personally encountered the divine in one way or another. No, the Roman Catholic Church preferred control of the faithful, control of its doctrines and dogma and proclaimed that there was only the one route to the Divine Godhead, and that was through the official sacraments – seven and seven only of them.

The Isca Brass Band adds beautiful music to the procession
Thankfully, the whole population here in Ireland at long last has moved out of this medieval mindset of control and people feel free to accept or reject the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church into which most of us are born here in Ireland. However, things have changed. I recently attended the funeral of a son of a friend of mine and his father was literally the celebrant or secular priest at a humanist funeral ceremony. It was a touching and moving experience. One might even say it was a “peak experience,” “a moment of transcendence” or a “religious experience” in the broadest sense of the meaning of those terms.

In other words what I am getting at is that we humans are capable of deep and profound experiences which at this stage in my little life (all 53 years of them) I believe to be psychological or psychic both intra-psychic and inter-psychic – experiences common to all human beings no matter what their religious or non-religious persuasion.

Back to Ventura

This was a rather long introduction to today’s post, but it was necessary for me to set the scene as it were. Ventura begins his letter to Hillman by recounting one such “peak experience” or “moment of transcendence” he had while making love. I’ll let the man speak for himself here:


“I am making love, and I look down, and I don’t see a face; I see an orb of light. This is not a metaphor. I don’t see a face; I see, in the dark, an orb of fuzzy, barely glowing light, and through that light, just barely, a kind of face. The light glows stronger. I lift myself higher and I see not a body beneath me, but a vague bodylike outline of shimmering gray-white light. It looks like I could reach my hand through it. This dazes me, frightens me a little, because I know for a moment or two we have slipped into the Other World.” (Op.cit., p. 147)

Ventura goes on to state in this moving and testimony-like letter that people are communicating non-physically a lot of the time without even being aware of it. It is, as it were, that people are communicating telepathically or inter-psychically (if this is a word) most of the time, but they are doing so unconsciously. I’m at one with Ventura in this contention.

He further goes on to contend – a point with which I also agree – that there is a great deal of pressure on us to see only what our culture permits us to see and literally to refuse to see or not to see at all what is not permitted. Even if we do admit to ourselves that we have experienced such a moment of “depth of being” (my coining here) we will not publicly, or even privately, admit to it lest we be deemed mad or cracked or crazy. No wonder Mary or Joe are in the loony bin!!

Once again, Ventura is right when he contends that more primitive cultures like those of the Aboriginal Australians, or the Native American Indians and so on and so forth are more in touch with “things of the spirit” (or with “dreamtime” as the Aborigines call it) than modern Western People.

Ventura finishes his letter by stating that the Western Mind is literally blinded by its own refusal to accept other more primitive experiences as outlined above. It has, he tells us, shunted aside onto a side-track these primitive, though for all that very authentic, experiences because it simply hasn’t the conceptual framework to deal with them.

Where is the Soul 27?

Ideas versus Practicality

The following letter which Hillman sends to Ventura is thankfully quite simple and not at all like his previous one. Once again he raises interesting questions for us. In any group or committee on which I have worked over the years it is great to have a few idea generators in the group as well as the more practically-minded people. Interestingly Hillman follows de Tocqueville from the early nineteenth century in proclaiming that the USA is not a land of ideas. Rather it is a land of action, doing, practicality and pragmatism. This contention is of course an exaggeration, yet the tendency to pragmatics and practicality is very much an American inclination while Europe is more a centre of thinking and ideas rather than action and pragmatics.


A view of Caulonia from the lungomare
 What Hillman is about in this letter is attempting to find the soul in things as well as in actions and not just in people. He maintains that the main psychological ideas that Americans practise come from Europe, especially in child psychology and depth psychology. Therapy is literally choc a bloc with what Hillman terms “furriners” or what we in Ireland would call foreigners. He lists the likes of Laing, Bateson, Erikson, Frankl, Minuchin, Alice Miller, Kubler-Ross, Watzlawick, Gendlin and Szasz.  William James is probably the one exception but he spent many years in Europe as did James Hillman himself. He spent many years in Geneva, Switzerland, learning and training in Jungian therapy and so he admits that he is essentially idea-driven. Therefore he readily admits that he has never quite made a comfortable connection with the American way of doing psychology.

Burning up Ideas:


America is the greatest consumer of things in the world, and in ideas she is no different, Hillman argues. No sooner do ideas come to the fore in the USA than people wish to try them out in practice. He claims that there is in fact a rush to consume ideas as quickly as there is a rush to consume things in American society. Now this, I believe, is a very interesting observation. It would seem that we in Europe allow our ideas to incubate for longer and so these ideas have a greater generative power. He then uses a brilliant Greek phrase which I really like, that is “logos spermatikos” literally a “spermy idea” or more correctly a generating word or “seminal thought.” The plural of this wonderful term would be “logoi spermatikoi” if my Biblical Greek serves me well after a gap of nearly 30 years. Hillman readily admits that his take on psychology is largely ideational as he is essentially a generator of ideas and only secondarily a therapist. Interesting, too, is his contention that a rush into practice with an idea, or even to explain the idea in too speedily a time frame is to risk destroying the idea’s generative power by explaining it away. Too much logos applied to a creative idea can kill it stone dead, I believe.

Me on the lungomare of Caulonia
Then, I also find myself in agreement with Hillman where he argues that those who rush to put ideas into action or who rush to explain them away are really lazy thinkers. Good thinkers and good ideas need time in one another’s company if I may use a rather tortuous metaphor here. We need to have fun with ideas, to play with them, to allow them bump into and influence one another before leaping too hastily into action. Another metaphor he uses with respect to generating ideas is that we need to entertain them – which literally means that we must hold them in a space between us and them where they can begin to incubate. Hence, we must learn to value ideas as ideas, not just as precursors to action or practicality. Once again, because Hillman is such a true scholar, he readily proclaims that ideas can never belong only to scholars. They are the rightful property of all. I have long felt that any real education must teach our children to think and to question. At this juncture our psychologist friend describes his focus in thinking, his real intellectual gift as that of ideation or the generation of ideas, rather than practical and useful invention.

Our archetypal psychologist ends his letter with a peon to the beauty and truth of ideas:


Viable ideas have their own innate heat, their own vitality. They are living things too. But first they have to move your furniture, else it is the same old you, with your same old habits, trying to apply a new idea in the same old way. Then, nothing happens at all except the loss of the idea as “impractical” because of your haste to make it “practical.”   (Op. cit., p. 146)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where is the Soul 26?

A copy of one of the Riace Bronzes at Caulonia
Hillman’s next letter to Michael Ventura is complex, provocative, radical and subversive. As I have said in many of the preceding posts, that is what makes anything written by this great archetype psychologist so interesting in the first place. In this letter, Hillman discusses the topic of recovery, especially recovery as it pertains to recovery groups. He also discusses community versus individuality in connection with our identity as human beings. Somewhere within these two poles he ranges over such wide topics as rape and other forms of sexual abuse. He even suggests that he himself may be a recovering psychotherapist and we note his irony, if not sarcasm, but probably self-deprecating humour here.


The Recovering Rapist and the Recovering Victim

Hillman discusses rape as it pertains to a letter he read in a newspaper about a man who described himself as a “recovering rapist” attending an Incest Survivors Twelve-Step program. His former girlfriend was reported to be in a support group for women who have been raped. Now the issue as to whether the woman had been raped or not was in itself questionable for a number of reasons, the main one being that it was the man himself who told his girlfriend that he had made love to her while she had passed out from drinking alcohol. The woman in question “felt raped” and the man consequently felt he had been a rapist. Now, one would possibly need to speak to the couple in question to get at the whole truth of the matter, but I believe Hillman has reported its essence as recounted in the man’s letter very well for us. Of course, the sexual encounter here was non-consensual, but it was also obvious that there was no force, terror or pain as the man reported the incident. Again, our psychologist marvels at the fact that the woman in question is in a recovery group to slowly heal from something she did not experience. Again, it’s important to note that it is the need for support groups our psychologist friend is exploring, and not rape per se.

Ethics Needed

Ethical issues relating to counselling that Hillman brings up in his letter are how far do therapists influence their clients with respect to date rape? Is there a new Puritanism creeping into therapy and counselling? Our psychologist further suggests that there may even be what he terms “a creeping therapeutic invasion of private relations.” (Op.cit., p. 133) He then compares such therapeutic invasion to the statist propaganda that persuaded children to denounce their parents, and lovers to denounce each other in Germany in the 1930s. A reduction of “what really happened” to “I feel X or Y happened” is not good enough to stand up in any court in any land. In like manner even in therapy such feelings must be questioned in the hope of bringing out the truth of what really happened for the client to become whole again. Now these sentences here, I aver, are mine only, my construal of what I believe Hillman is saying in his letter to Michael Ventura. As I say, his letter is complex and provocative and I certainly do not want to be guilty of putting words in his mouth. He is too much of a scholar, expert and sensitive writer for that.

Rape and Power

I will quote in full the following paragraph as it shows us yet again how nuanced and provocative Hillman’s mind is:
Of course the rape issue has been complicated by power struggles between the genders. Always it is discussed as happening between strong males and weaker females. As Weiss says, [I]f all sexual relations took place within the context of potential violence against women... [then] it follows that the individual man is always responsible for the general problem...” But recast the scene. Let it be played out by two lesbians or two gays; then it is not a gender issue at all, but one of who initiates, and all responsibility falls on the initiator. Result: Don’t initiate, make no sexual advances, for any move can be felt as rape, even if it is not actually felt. Puritanism wins again, achieving its aim of controlling the sexual impulse through internal fears. [Ibid., p.134]

A Very Complex Letter

As I have stated this is a complex, long and nuanced letter with some radical things to say about support groups. Please note that I’m not so sure if I am doing Hillman justice in my assimilation of what he is saying, because I like the posts in this Still Point blog to be anything but a verbatim summary. It is also worth re-stating here that our psychologist friend is in no way denying the seriousness of all forms of sexual attack whether rape or other forms of sexual abuse. His concern is with the ethics and practice of therapy as well as the nature of the powerful phenomenon of recovery groups which are now literally universal.

Let all the Gods in:

One of the "stone" Riace bronzes from behind
Another thing that I love about Hillman is his passion for archetype psychology and his deep and wide knowledge of mythology from all cultures, though ancient Greek and Roman mostly. I love the fact that when speaking about these mythologies he quite rightly speaks in a wide plurality of gods, each of which represents the various aspects of the human psyche in its breadth and depth. I am in agreement with him, now as I grow older, that monolithic (I use this word purposely) and monotheistic religions - obviously I’m viewing religions here as a purely psychological phenomenon - have concentrated way too narrowly on one or two aspects of the human psyche only. Polytheistic religions allow for wider and fuller descriptions of our psyche.

In this regard I believe that Hillman is very correct in saying that Logos (intellect/the word) (Apollo) all too often represses (Eros) Dionysius in the more Christian/Puritan take on counselling and psychotherapy. When the Dionysian element is repressed I suppose it would be correct to say that it rears its ugly head in all forms of sexual crimes from rape to the various forms of sexual abuse. If I am interpreting Hillman correctly, we must find healthy ways of allowing the powers of Eros or Dionysius to express themselves. [Presumably also that’s why legalized and well-monitored prostitution is the healthier option to driving it underground into possible and likely violence and most definitely into the largely unmonitored sexual health problems associated with the illegal variety.]

Therapy as Conversion/Religion: Moralsim

Hillman goes on to quote yet another letter to a well-known newspaper where the correspondent informs the reader that she is in therapy to cope with the fear of flying after a plane crash. In fact, not alone is she and many of her friends in therapy, but she has decided to become a psychotherapist herself. She then informs us that she prefers to date men who are in therapy or who at least intend to enter it. In a superficial throw-away comment I would say she is certainly limiting her choices! Anyway, cheap comments aside, this is what Hillman thinks about this letter:

Is this the language of insight or conversion, of psyche or spirit, of therapy or religion? Does “recovery” know a difference? Notice the moralism, the exclusivity in her dating preferences. Eros trapped in the new church. Let’s move this in time warp back to Rome, the year 300 or 400: Most of my friends are in the new sect of Christians, and I prefer to be with men who are in the community or at least willing to attend our meetings. I am studying to be a minister of souls myself. (Ibid., p. 135)

Once again, what I marvel at here in the comments by our psychologist friend is his ability to question radically what he encounters in the world around him. Also, notice that there is very little or no moralism in what he himself says, as he keeps posing questions of us in order to sharpen the questions, give the axe of debate a sharper edge as it were.

Then Hillman lists the topics that appeared on an agenda at a Psychological Symposium he attended. One of the items listed was “Client Resistance.” Is it any wonder that clients often drop out of therapy after the first session – Hillman gives statistic here that varies from 20% to 50%, depending on the documents one reads. Maybe such clients take fright at therapy’s proselytizing approach.

Reading and Studying our Critics:

Once again, I also agree with Hillman in his call on therapists to read and study even those who question what mainline psychiatry and psychotherapy is at. This is very good advice indeed. He calls on them and us to read Ronnie Laing and Thomas Szasz, both of whom I have discussed already in this blog. Years ago, when I was studying philosophy we learned that it was a poor philosopher who did not study his opponents’ books. In like manner it’s a poor psychotherapist who does not study the books and writings of his critics. That’s why we need the likes of Hillman. They raise the thorny questions and make us question our beliefs and motivations.

Interesting Statistics:

Then Hillman gives us yet another brilliant statistic – and it’s hard to believe that it is one from around 1990 or so, yet it is so very relevant to society of 2011 no matter where in the world we reside. In Boston in 1990, the Pine Street Shelter housed half a thousand mentally ill people each night, making it the state’s then largest mental institution. Then he offers us another chilling statistic that the largest de facto mental hospital in the United States is the Los Angeles County Jail, 3,600 of whose inmates are mentally ill.

Another interesting statistic I have learned from this richly complex letter from Hillman to Ventura is that in the USA in 1990 some 20% of the populace moved every year. This meant that in a period of five years every statistical citizen had changed address, all 250 million of them. Are the statistics the same now, I wonder?

Community versus Individualism

This is a theme Hillman returns to again and again. He prizes community more than individualism. While admitting that recovery groups do lift men and women off their sofas and away from the riveting television set to meet regularly and faithfully with others who share the strength of their emotions he questions their long-term results. They are very much individual-focused or me-focused rather than community focused. One might say that they are group-centred, but they aren’t really, because the group only exists to help me, hence “support groups” are what they are called. Where does the community come into all this? The answer is “nowhere.” Hillman once again hits home with brilliant wit and perspicacity by saying that none of us can recover alone or even in support groups. We need our families and our communities to help us in the long run. He tells us that we urgently need communal recovery and I am at one with him here. We need a recovery of communal feeling.

Then Hillman returns to the early roots of psychotherapy by referring to the work of the great Alfred Adler, one of Freud’s early followers along with Carl Gustave Jung. Adler spoke about “Communal feeling” or “Gemeinschaftsgefuhl” (Isn’t the German phrase wonderful, even I know very little of that language?) as the very goal of all therapy. Adler broke from Freud as did Jung needless to say.

I am one with Hillman that individualism may be vastly over-rated and that the communal spirit and communal feeling are richer realities. However, I cannot agree with him at all in his assertion that meditation is a purely selfish act that can be at times obscenely so. That, to my mind is to miss the point of meditation which is to achieve an objectivity, a Watcher or Witness or Observer state, a Still Point of being which refreshes and renews the consciousness or awareness of the meditator which strengthens him or her to engage in community because it increases his or her compassion not alone for self but also for others and indeed for every sentient and non-sentient being in the universe. While I wholeheartedly disagree with Hillman here, I am glad he brought that question up as I had never really thought of it at all.

As I have stated too many times here, dear reader, this is a rich and difficult letter, which repays its reading and contemplation many times (I have now read it at least five or six times to write this rather fulfilling if tortuous blog entry.) Apologies for its length, but you see I had not simply got the time to write a shorter more succinct entry.

As we say in the Gaelic language here in Ireland, “Beannacht leat, a scríbhinn!” which translates, “May all blessings go with you, o letter!”

Where is the Soul 25?


Io a lungomare Caulonia, Aprile, 2011
 Hillman traces the history of psychotherapy thus: At the beginning of the twentieth century Freud dealt with patients (mostly women) who presented with hysteria while Jung dealt with patients who suffered from schizophrenia. In trying to understand these strange manifestations of the psyche, depth psychology was initiated by these two founding fathers.

Today, when modern psychologists try to follow the presenting symptoms they are faced with new unknowns. In the modern world we are assailed by pollutants of all types. – mercury in our fish; preservatives in our hot dogs; cigarette smoke in the diner, not to mention the dangerous rays from the microwave. In a sense we are all slowly being poisoned.

Then, Hillman introduces us to his aesthetic theory which is based on Plato and Plotinus. In short, the bad magic, as it were, in all those things I have enumerated above and in many more polluted things as well comes both from their material as well as their formal causes. This is pure Aristotle, for example a piece of sculpture has two causes (i) the material cause (stone or wood or marble etc) and (ii) the formal cause – the idea or design in the sculptor’s mind. The form of things is essentially their aesthetic quality. In other words we can be harmed by the ugly forms of things, e.g., Styrofoam cups, fluorescent lights, unpleasant chairs or bad doorknobs. The soul, which has classically been defined as the form of living bodies, could be affected by the form of other bodies (design, shape, colour, innate idea or image in the same way as the matter in our bodies is affected by the matter of other bodies (pesticides, additives, preservatives).

Hillman argues that we are literally assaulted by the ugly. We are assaulted by pretentious buildings, noisy ventilation, oppressive meeting rooms, irritating lighting and vast un-detailed parking spaces. He links his aesthetic thinking here back to Plato and Plotinus. We are consequently bent out of shape by the world in its sheer ugliness. According to Plotinus “a thing is ugly when it is not mastered by some shape.” (form, morphe) (Op. cit., p 125) According to Hillman the ugly makes us neurotic.

The sheer ugliness of our modern cities, with little attention to architectural design, their noisy ventilation, the lack of amenities of one kind or another, their few green spaces and literally their masses of concrete structures which are purely functional are causing our various illnesses. No wonder our soul is sick, because the world is sick.

Graffiti, Caulonia, April 2011
If we are people of the soul we require that design of our living spaces should surely take cognizance of the psyche and its needs. Depth Psychology and design must be linked intimately if we are to live healthy lives.
And depth means a lot more than just profound things of the spirit. Depth brings a lot of strain and pain and toil with it. If we are to mine for coal (even gold, come to think of it) we must get our hands dirty. Anything good requires blood, tears and sweat. Nothing comes without some price. After all there can never be any free meals in this world. Returning to Hillman’s expressive prose we read:


Depth means death and demons and dirt and darkness and disorder and a lot of other industrial strength d-words familiar to therapy, like dysfunctional, disease, defence, distortion, drives, drugs and despair. So design that invites depth will indeed focus on form, but this focus will not exclude the pathological. The problem for the designer, like that for the therapist, is to co-ordinate the pathological within the design, so that psyche’s d’s are neither excluded like in a Disneyland mall nor running around loose like an urban sprawl. Therapy has to be sublime. Terror has to be included in its beauty. So too in design. It seems only our war equipment so far shows this sense of the sublime in design.

If we revision therapy as an aesthetic activity there will be interesting consequences for us. For one the hierarchical model that we in the West have inherited with the psychiatrist on the top of the pyramid, next in order the psychologists with Ph.D.s in various expert areas, then the psychiatric nurses, social workers, psychotherapists and so on down until we meet the expressive arts people with such therapies as those of art, music and drama would all, yes all, be turned on its head. Therapy would become an aesthetic or artistic enterprise with those at the bottom going to the top and vice versa. Revolutionary, dear readers, to imagine this. Once again, that’s what makes reading Hillman so provocative – he comes up with good questions, questions with an edge and suggests interesting ideas, ideas that cut to the root – in short, radical ideas. We need such idealists, or could I coin the word “ideationists.” I don’t suppose that word exists but it does sound good, does it not?

The turn to the aesthetic or artistic in therapy would de-anaesthetize the populace, or at least those who come in search of therapy. In a certain sense what Hillman and Ventura are at is questioning the ground rules, questioning the motives and motivations, indeed questioning the presuppositions of the whole psychiatric profession. In questioning the very foundations, or roots of psychiatry (to use two different metaphors for the same thing), they are also questioning its very axioms. Hillman argues that this attempt to aestheticize (another of my coining here, dear reader!) therapy will be a way of deanaestheticizing , a way of awakening the client/patient, a method of lifting the “psychic numbing” that Robert Jay Lifton claims to be the disease of our times. (See ibid., pp. 128-129)

Hillman interestingly traces the opposition to beauty in the U.S. A (and in the Western World indeed I should imagine) back to the Puritanism of the founding fathers. It is worth quoting a brilliant sentence from our archetype psychologist here: “But for me the greatest moral choice we can make today, if we are truly concerned with the oppressed and stressed lives of our clients’ souls, is to sharpen their sense of beauty.” (Ibid., pp. 129-130) He then quotes what I believe is a wonderful definition of beauty, one that captures the antipathy of the USA to that very beauty: “Beauty is pleasure objectified. Beauty is pleasure perceived as the quality of an object.” One can see easily from this definition why Puritans would have a problem with beauty. By the way this quotation is one from the philosopher George Santayana.

Where is the Soul 24?


Old tyres make a good fence at the donkey sanctuary, Caulonia!
 Ventura continues in another letter to Hillman on his ideas of therapy. In his last letter he used the metaphor of the therapist helping the client or patient to “get his/her act together” as the central task of therapy. In the present letter he uses yet another metaphor, this time it is the age-old religious one of being lost versus being found. The patient is, as it were, lost like the sheep in the New Testament while the therapist is the Christ-like Good Shepherd who helps him to find himself. In this understanding of it, therapy is all about orientating the patient or client, setting him or her on the right or true path.


Ventura also adverts to boundaries and which of us has never heard of that old therapeutic chestnut of knowing and appreciating boundaries? Especially in issues of relationships and abuse, we have all heard of overstepping or crossing boundaries. However, Ventura widens out our notion of boundaries here to include boundaries between intimate time and business time; between home and work; between night and day; between individual and corporate; between private space and public space; between environment and psyche. These are what he calls succinctly “fuzzed boundaries” or “[a]reas once distinct that now bleed into each other. Dislocated time. Timeless space.” (Op. cit., p. 115)

Ventura also uses the word “avalanche”, yet another metaphor, this time to describe the huge pressures and changes in society which literally sweep modern man away from his real identity. Adding to modern humanity’s alienation are the multitudes of “expressions of voracious collective hunger that is, in effect, eating the boundaries of sanity on all sides.”

View of Lungomare, Caulonia!
I’m not so sure if I understand Ventura as clearly as I should but I believe he goes on in the present letter to describe how humankind was literally catapulted from a primitive world of light and darkness, divided only by the movement of our little world in reference to our sun to one which we could then bring into focus by the use of artificial light anytime we so desired. This literally freed us from the prison of darkness. Quite literally the world which was strange and other and huge and frightening was brought down to size, and all because of the invention of the light bulb. There is a lot of wisdom in Ventura’s contention here!

In all of this onward development there emerged the gradual sense of the individual and individualism. Judaism, according to Ventura always had and still has a sense of nationhood and of being a chosen people saved as a race while “Christianism”, his word by which he obviously means Christianity, helped develop the sense of the individual as the person was saved by knowing Christ as their personal saviour.

Tree, Lungomare Caulonia, April, 2011
This sense of individualism or individuality has come with a price – a dear and expensive one at that – that of alienation from the physical world, from the intimate connection with the motion of our planet through the movements of the earth in dividing day from night and vice versa; alienation from our own real self and the frightful feeling that we are really lost, and in the prophetic words of one of my favourite poets, songwriters and singers, Bob Dylan, literally, lost “with no direction home.”