Saturday, March 27, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 8

The Neglect of Beauty - The greatest Sin of Psychology

Who can forget the immortal lines of the great Romantic poet John Keats who perished so young to the scourge of tuberculosis?  Here he is writing about beauty, and indeed the poem can be looked upon as a foundation for a take on aesthetics:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
These words are suffused with an almost naive passion for things natural and beautiful, typical of the poets of the Romantic movement.  However, they are so impressed upon my mind after my schooling, which insisted on our memorising such verses of "fine poetry," that they insist on being remembered here.  Whether our aesthetics is as naive and as passionate or childlike, one can only agree with Hillman that psychology has totally neglected the aesthetic aspect of life, that things are not just there to be analysed away, to be quantified by figures, to be explained away with theories of various hues.

Going too far?

However, I have the sneaking suspicion that Hillman goes a little too far with his avowal that this book avoids the usual terms encountered in most psychological texts, and he lists these "infectious agents" as follows: "performance, growth, creativity, thresholds, continuum, response levels, integration, identity, development, validation, bouindaries, coping measures, operant conditioning, variance, subjectivity, adjustmeant, verifiable results, test results, emergence, hope." (The Soul's Code, p. 37)  Such a list is far too radical, I believe, as it is practically "throwing out the baby with the bath water" to use a very ugly cliché.  I can understand the dismissal of the more rigidly scientific terms like verifiable results, test results and validation and such like terms, but the excision of such words as growth, creativity, integration, identity and hope I find somewhat unbelievable. However, I do see the drift or direction or intention of his arguments.  Let us return to a direct quotation from our guru once more:

You will find few diagnostic labels and no acronyms.  This is a psychology book without the word "problem."  Little mention of "ego", of "consciousness" and none of "experience"!  I have also tried to prevent the most pernicious term of all, "self," from creeping into my paragraphs.  This word has a big mouth.  It could have swallowed into its capacious limitlessness and without a trace all the more specific personifications such as "genius", "angel", "daimon" and "fate"... As civilization subdivides into its own waste deposits, it doesn't matter whether you are feminine or masculine or any composite of them.  We all dissolve together.  For more urgent matters than gender call out to the passion of psychology. (Ibid., p. 37)
Our man Hillman wishes us to embrace a new conceptual framework, or rather a renewed conceptual framework based on the archetypes found in our ancient human myths.  Afterall, he does call his approach to psychology archetye or archetypal psychology.  His psychology is visionary and expansive and passionate and it embraces the very narratives that humankind writes for itself in story, in verse, in art and in myth.  Hence, all technical terms are anathema in his verbal armoury, even though I fail to see how many of the terms he dismisses above are in any way technically toxic.

For Hillman, mainstream psychology is too preoccupied with cause and effect; far too preoccupied with searching out causes and cures, in searching out answers to the wrong questions.  This type of psychology is a very unhappy and indeed dry pursuit.  In this respect he sees that practically all modern psychologies are anxiety provoking in their pusuit of answers to problems that they are trying to solve:

Everything seems to call for studies, researc h, analyzing: aging, business management, sports, sleep, and the methods of the research itself.  Restless inquiry is not the only kind of knowledge, self-examination not the only kind of awareness. (Ibid., p. 38)
However, he argues that the cure is often easily overlooked in the context of modern society which is driven by financial motives, by new toxic myths like progreess and success (this author's words not Hillman's) and by blinding greed.  And so he propounds this cure thus:

Appreciation of an image, your life story as studded with images from early childhood, and a deepening into them slows the restlessness of inquiry, laying to rest the fever and the fret of finding out.  By its very definition, given by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, beauty arrests motion.  Beauty is itself a cure for psychological malaise. (Ibid., p. 38)

Above the Belvedere Torso, an ancient piece of sculpture from the first century B.C.E.

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