Saturday, April 03, 2010

In the footsteps of james Hillman 21






What is Love then?

As I have stated many times James Hillman is nothing if not controversial, and, indeed, this is what makes his thinking so interesting.  He wants to introduce "something else," as he says as a guiding factor, that is his unique and sui generis idea of the myth of the acorn.  He contends that the division of any subject of study into two alternatives has long been a feature of the Western way of thinking.  He sees pairs everywhere in our thinking: "Us and Them,"  "Good Guy, Bad Guy," the two party political system, Pros and Cons and so on, and once again Hillman is at his most lyrical and passionate here:

The twosome, with all its coupling and duplicity and pairing and opposing, feeds the "Passion of the Western mind," to quote the title of Richard Tarnas's history of Western Thinking.  Aristotelian logic cannot think in threes. 

From Artistotle's law of contradiction, also called the law of the excluded middle, to the binary logic - 0 or 1 - in our computer programs, our mind sets up its systems in pros and cons, in either-ors...  (The Soul's Code, p. 129)
He knows that his suggestion of the role of the acorn, this role of the extraordinary "acorn myth" in our very relationships is anathema to the Western, and certainly to the American mind.  He even suggests that we are too much in subservience to "comfortable thinking."  Once again, one can only laud our man here.  Let's not be just mere comfortable thinkers.  Let's be thinkers that disturb the accepted traditions, not solely to knock them, of course, but to enlarge on them, to add to thinking, to attack them from the flanks, from the rear as well as from the front.  I remember a theologian friend of mine often repeating that Jesus came to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.  I have always loved this formulation of ideas.

As regards Love, Hillman reckons that it cannot be written down simply to either nature or nuture, but also to that "something else", to that mythical image which chooses the soul at birth, namely, the acorn.  Now, I have to keep reminding myself that we are dealing with myth here, not with a material entity.  Then again, I am fully aware that even the very concept of the mind is in fact a metaphysical one, whose existence cannot be proved at all, either.  Hence, I proceed by being both open and a little wary of what Hillman proposes, yet I am enchanted and interested by this very fine and unique thinker.  If anything, we need as many unique and strong individual thinkers like this psychologist today.  Let's return to Hillman's passionate words:

After all, we can still be quite clear that from the evidence of our feelings, and from fateful idiosyncratic events, something else intervenes in human life that cannot be held within the confines of nature and nurture.  The remarkable singularity of individuals, the differences among the billions of persons, even between new-born babies, siblings, identical twins, as well as those raised in the same circumstances and subject to the same influences - these facts ask for answers to the question of uniqueness.  (Ibid., 129-130)
Hillman then embarks on a discussion of the "conclusions" offered by the various contemporary studies on how twins can end up being quite different, despite their genetic code being the very same.  Our man concludes that even identical twins will not have the same personalities because quite simply the third category or defining entity namely that of the acorn myth enters into the mix.

Hillman's argumentation here is very complex and I'm not too sure I managed to unravel the warp and woof of his thinking, but I am safe in saying that his thought is profundly influenced by Platonic thinking and by the theory of Plato's "innate ideas" especially.  His image of the acorn choosing the soul, all this predisposition to a calling in life has much in common with the notion of such ideas embedded in the soul or mind from the outset.  Also, he is at pains to point out that innate ideas can never be equated with the genetic pool at all, because quite simply they are of a more mysterious, angelic or divine origin. (Again, remember this is mythical not literal thinking!  It's to our own detriment that we become lieteralists.  I always remind myself that the truths of the imagination are as real as those of the senses.  That's another philosophical debate beyond my purposes here!)

He then embarks upon a description of threee theories  that account for the genetic aspects of the individuality of any particular person, viz., (i) Emergenesis, (ii) Epistatis and (iii) Chaos theory. (See op. cit., pp., 137 - 140).

Love, Hillman contends, really belongs to this third element, this "something else."  His notion of love is derived from both Plato and Carl Gustave Jung.  Anyway, to a great extent, one can argue that Jung was a Platonist or NeoPlatonist through and through, so to see connections between these two great students of human nature is nothing if not unsurprising. (See ibid., pages 142-143)  Fundamentally, for the three of these thinkers, love is a highly imaginative act, or a particular act of the imagination.  The soul of the man, Jung argued, is female, and is called the anima and it is the projection of his anima in the woman  with which the man falls in love.  Likewise, for the woman, her soul is masculine and is called the "animus" and it is her projection of this in the man with which she becomes enthralled.  This love is overwhelming because it belongs to the very nature of our souls.  This is what Hillman calls the Jungian love map, which he instinctively prefers to the more scientific love map of nature/nurture.

Love and Death:

Those reared in a scientific milieu will find this heading contradictory to say the least, while those of us reared in a more humanities/spiritual setting will be quite at home with it, despite its apparent paradoxical nature.  Let's listen to Hillman's passionate and lyrical words once again:

Death is a ponderous and repugnant term to connect with the intense vibrations of romantic love; but romantic love especially reverberates with romantic feelings with both the eternal and the shortness and fragility of life, as if death's call to a limitless "beyond" were always shadowing and inspiring romantic passion.  One takes the most extraordinary risks.  And when literature joins romantic lovers it also joins their love with death.  The eye of the heart which "sees" is also the eye of death that sees through visible presentation to an invisible core.  When Michelanegelo sculpted portraits of his contemporaries or of the figures of religion and myth, he attempted to seee what he called the immagine del cuor, the heart of the image, "a prefiguration" of what he was sculpting, as if the chisel that cut the rock followed the eye that penetrated his subject into its heart.  The portrait aimed at revealing the inner soul of what he was carving. (Ibid., p. 146)


Above the picture of the evening sky, Summer 2009.

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