Sunday, March 21, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 6

A Sense of Bemusement

Quite often when I read a book like Hillman's The Soul's Code I am quite frankly bemused because it is at once unique and incredible.  Something in me says this is all "airy fairy" nonsense, while something else in me says "yes, there is some truth here, and it is worth struggling with."  So my bemusement lies in a rather healthy tension between these two feelings.  In this way, I find I a not an unthinking or gullible follower of the latest fad or fashion, but rather a questioner of the latest wonder that life has thrown up for me.

An interesting starting point

What intrigues me about Hillman as it intrigues me about Laing is that they dare to be different, to question the accepted truths, to propose their own theories at the personal expense of vilification - now, that takes great courage.  Also, they treat people as people, patients as real human beings not as "cases" to be dealt with.  Ronnie Laing went into the mental hospitals in Scotland and spoke to the schizophreniocs as people and really listened to them, rather than writing them off as "insane."  Hillman does something similar, and this is where I find what he says interesting.  Take the following unusual passage from quite early in the book:

In regard to children and their psychology, I want the scales of habit (and the masked hatred within the habit) to fall from our eyes.  I want us to envision that what children go through has to do with finding a place in the world for their specific calling... The entire image of a destiny is packed into a tiny acorn, the seed of a huge oak on small shoulders.  And its call rings loud and persistent and .... shows in the tantrums and obstinacies, in the shyness and retreats that seem to set the child against our world, but that may be protections of the world it comes with and comes from. (The Soul's Code, p. 13)
That this is nothing short of radical and unique for a psychologist to say is an understatement, hence the scepticism shown by orthodox psychology to Hillman's theories.  Yet this again intrigues me no end, because this man believes what he is saying, and is extremely passionate about it.  Also he is an international scholar of some repute and is well versed and well read in what he criticises and in what he advocates.  He continues with words that strike me to be wise and positive in the extreme, and could be quoted to encourage parents whose children might have disabilities of one kind or another:

This book champions children.  It provides a theoretical foundation for understanding their lives, a foundation that draws its own foundations from myths,  from philosophy, from other cultures, and from imagination.  It seeks to make sense of children's dysfunctions before taking these disorders by their lieteral labels and sending the child off for therapy. (Ibid., p. 13)

Above an ancient map of Italy from the map room in the Vatican Museum, February 2010.

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