Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 1

Over the years certain philosophers, psychologists or psychiatrists have grabbed my attention and they have been discussed widely in these posts. In the world of psychiatry Freud, Jung, Laing and Storr have long been favourites. In the area of philosophy I have long been enthralled by Nietzsche (late nineteenth century) and the existentialist school (middle twentieth century) in general. In the psychological/psychotherapeutic world I have read and studied the books and therapies of the likes of Carl Ransom Rogers, Rollo May, Erich Fromm and more recently Irvin D. Yalom. But there is still another psychologist, quite unorthodox, but in the Jungian tradition whom I admire and with whom I am quite fascinated, namely, James Hillman. 

Hillman (born 1926) is an American psychologist. He studied at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, developed archetypal psychology and is now retired as a private practitioner. So in the next few posts I will try to present a brief taster of his theories. As just indicated his big thing is the notion of archetype and what he terms archetypal psychology. Now, instead of diving straight into this rather intricate psychological approach let me start in an unusual way, attack from the side as it were, rather than head on, which would bring about too much intellectual bloodshed for this author. I will start with a well-known piece of wisdom which will form the heading of the next paragraph.

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

I rememeber hearing this piece of wisdom many years ago when I was a young student.  It was our lecturer in education, Sr. Marcellina Ó'Sullivan who mentioned this as a throw-away remark.  However, I have often found in life that it is the throw-away remarks that remain with me rather than the substance of the lectures.  This struck me as a young man of twenty as being a wonderfully rich insight.  Just think for a minute what a weighty piece of wisdom this is.  Let's take a few simple examples.  Take any set of words which we place randomly together.  Each can be defined, or the object or concept represented by them imagined by the hearer.  Now, say, we shape these words into a meaningful sentence, and we have something more than the sum of the meaning of all 7 random words.  We now have a sentence with an overarching meaning which indeed is greater than the sum of its parts.  Likewise take the concept of any random thing like chair, table, tree, flower or whatever and we find that truly the whole concept or object is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.  What is this thrust to "more" or thrust to "the greater" called.  The answer is that it is a reality represented by the strange word "synergy."  This concept/reality is defined as 'the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects' (New Oxford Dictionary of English).

Another Interesting Word: Syzygy

In psychology, Carl Jung used the term "syzygy" to denote an archetypal pairing of contrasexual opposites, which symbolized the communication of the conscious and unconscious minds: the conjunction of two organisms without the loss of identity. Examples include deities of Life and Death or of Sun and Moon, which are frequently depicted as male and female, and having a mutually opposing and mutually dependent relationship.  This word, too, brings with it a sense of this "moreness" in the essential nature of things, both animate and inanimate.

In the end, I believe, that archetypal psychology is a pursuit of whatever this "moreness" to the essential and real nature of the human person is.

Above, yet another picture which I took nei Musei Vaticani, Febbraio, 2010

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