Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 13





A Note on Addictions

Hillman is nothing if not unique and almost eccentric in his ideas, but that, to my mind, makes this book and, indeed, his general writings all the more interesting.  We need sui generis thinkers like him to make us think.  Now, with regard to addictions and the human propensity to succumb to them, he argues that it is the "incommensurability" between the calling (the daimon) and life itself that causes them.  In this respect he continues with his biographical sketch of the life of Judy Garland who always believed that her calling was "inherited" to illustrate the dangers of addiction.  "Nobody ever taught me what to do on stage.  I just did what came naturally" and then she compared the rush she experienced when going on stage to "taking nineteen hundred wake-up pills." (Quoted The Soul's Code, p. 49)

This ruthlessness, or addiction to success (my words) made Garland's character an addictive one.  It stopped her having real friends, or in Hillman's terms it prevented her "growing down."  He quickly indicates why she is a good illustration of his acorn theory:

Her own explanation of "inherited" means less literally genetic... than innate, given "naturally," like her daimon or calling.  A thousand manipulating fathers cannot yield one Mozart anymore than can the pushiest mother in the world produce one Judy Garland.  I would rather attribute the startling magnetism of Frances Gumm, aged two and half, in Grand Rapids, to the acorn of judy Garland awakening onstage, an acorn that "chose" exactly those show business parents and sisters and circumstances for beginning its life on earth. (Ibid., p. 50)
Now, back again to the addictive nature of Judy Garland.  The sheer ruthlessness of her calling drove her ever onward on her lonely path of stardom.  She now had very few real friends and experienced much loneliness and exile in her life.

A Note on Loneliness:

Again Hillman attributes loneliness to the very nature of the daimon.  He argues rightly indeed that loneliness is not specific to stars in huge Hollywood houses, but that it innate in each and every human person:

Loneliness belongs to childhood, too.  That loneliness in a child's heart may be aggravated by fears of the dark, punishing parents, or rejecting comrades.  Its source, however, seems to be the solitary uniqueness of each daimon, an archetypal lonelinesss inexpressible in a child's vocabulary and formulated hardly better in ours.  (Ibid., p. 53-54)
In short we all feel lonely and isolated at times - the human condition is naturally heir to this feeeling.  This innate loneliness is exacerbated by modern living, where we are mostly engaged in impersonal work.  Indeed, as Marx would have it, we experience ourselves as alienated from the results or produce of our very own efforts.  We are, in short, cut off, alienated, disconnected.  This last expression, that is, the sense of disconnect, disconnection or disconnectedness is at the very heart of post-modern humankind.  Once again, Hillman's advice is nothing short of passionate and even poetic here, but nonetheless very true:

We are isolated because of the industrial economic system.  We have become mere numbers.  We live consumerism rather than community.  Loneliness is symptomatic of victimization.  We are victims of a wrong way of life.  We should not be lonely.  Change the system - live in a co-operative or a commune; work in  a team.  Or build relationships: "Connect, only connect."  Socialize, join recovery groups, get involved.  Pick up the phone.  Or ask your doctor for a prescription of prozac.  (Ibid., p. 54)
Hillman's take on Existentialism:

He summarises existentialism wonderfully.  Loneliness and isolation are accounted for in Heidegger's concept of humankind being launched out into the world from the safety of the womb - being thrown forth into an alien environment from the very comfort of its homely surrounds.  This experience, Heidegger calls Dasein or throwness.  Life is your project (Sartre): there is nothing to tell you what it is all about at all.  Because you don't know what it is all about, you consequentially feel anxious, that is, full of real pure existential angst or anxiety or dread.  It's up to me to get to grips with my own life project, to get to know my own identity, to co-operate with my own "acorn" as it were.  Once again, I'd like to return to Hillman's own words.  I am indeed conscious that maybe I am quoting too much from our unique and eccentric author, but still I'll persist.

It's all up to you, each individual alone, since there is no cosmic guarantee that anything makes sense.  There is neither |God nor Godot to wait for.  You make a life out of the deepest feelings of meaningless.  The heroic ability to turn loneliness into individual strength is the way that Judy Garland failed to find.  She was too dependent, too weak, too fearful to combine "solitary" and "solidary," a motto proposed by Camus in one of the tales collected in his aptly titled work The exile and the Kingdom.  9Ibid., p. 55)


To be continued.

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