Friday, March 26, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 7


Hillman uses the quasi-religious terms "calling" or "vocation" quite frequently in this short book.  He gives two examples of people who heard such callings or answered such callings. viz., the English philosopher R.G. Collingwood (1889-1943) and the brilliant Spanish bullfighter Manolete (1917-1947).  As a young boy of eight the former had lifted down a volume of philosophy from one of his father's bookcases and had become entranced and enchanted by the words and by the ideas that lay behind them.   Even though he did not understand the full meaning of the concepts involved and many of the words at all, he knew that the book contained a deeper knowledge about our world.   Ever since then he had become besotted with philosophy and consequently ended up a one of England's more well-known philosophers of his time .  Hillman argues that the seeds of Collingwood's vocation were already there in him, or in the more metaphoric formulation of this concept, the acorn was already within him.

James Hillman argues that the acorn or daimon or calling or vocation or guardian angel or genius or jinn inside us refuses to be treated like a child, and hence often the rebellious intolerance of the child is a sign of the daimon calling.  He goes on to quite rightly criticize the theory of compensation put forward by Alfred Adler to explain artistic inspiration - indeed he quite rightly ridicules it (see The Soul's Code, pp. 25-26).  He is also highly critical of Freudian sublimation to explain this same artistic inspiration.   Indeed, the psycho-biographer, he argues, often indulges in sheer reductionism, and reads far too much into childhood and Freudian interpretations. Needless to say, Hillman is adamant that his own theory of the acorn explains such artistic prowess more thoroughly.  Let us listen to the psychologist's own words here:

A theory so degrading to inspiration deserves the derision I am giving it.  Compensation theory kills the spirit, by robbing extraordinary persons and acts of their sui generis authenticity.... For, as almost every extraordinary life shows, there is a vision, an ideal that calls.  To what precise actuality it calls usually stays vague if not altogether unknown. (Ibid., p. 25)

The Tyranny of Time

I find it hard not to agree with Hillman that time is the greatest tyrant in modern culture.  He traces this obsession with time back to Thucydides and Herodotus who invented history and also to the writers of the Hebrew Bible who continued to chronicle time.  He quite rightly sees therein the seeds of our obsession with progress.  On time, Hillman is nothing short of poetic:

Progress depends on it, evolution requires it, measurements without which we would have no physical sciences, are based on it.  The very notions of "new" and "improved" that lure your consumer desires are inventions of time.  The Western mind has trouble stopping its clock.  It conceives its inmost life as a biological clock and its heart as a ticker.  The electrronic gadget on the wrist encloses in a concrete symbol the Western time-bound mind.   (Ibid., p. 34)

The Neglect of Beauty

The price we have paid for our obsession with time has been very high indeed: the neglect of beauty.  Falling in love makes time stand still, transforms it into something of beauty and, therefore, something with an "eternal" aspect to it.  Hillman maintains, and indeed it is very hard to disagree with him on this that the greatestest fault of contemporary or any psychology is its neglect of beauty.   This he calls psychology's "mortal sin," "the sin of deadening heaviness" which, in short, is the neglect of beauty.  (See ibid., pp. 35-36)  This is psychology's affliction for which it has no self-help manual.

To be continued.

Above a picture I took in the Vatican museum this February.

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