Tuesday, April 06, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 24

Remembering or Constructing the Past

We all would like to think in our more "ethical" or "high moral" moments that we do not tell lies.  However, if we really reeflect upon it, we will truthfully admit that we all do, and quite often at that.  It is, as it were, an occupational hazard of being human.  Those of us who are addicts to that medical soap called House will recall one of the first episodes where Dr. House bases his whole logical pursuit for a proper diagnosis of some case or other on the fact that everyone lies.

Then, when it comes down to rembering our own past we, more often than not, embellish it considerably.  We read back into events, indeed construct them when we need to, and invent incidents all in keeping with our Ego, with who we think we are at a given time.  We are constantly inventing and re-inventing ourselves.  I have long been a reader of Jungian psychology and am still quite fascinated with the good Doctor's theories, and quite readily subscribe to his idea that our personality contains many sub-personalities which we put forward and embellish or shine up from time to time for this or that event, for this or that person.  Hillman calls the next chapter in his book The Soul's Code "Disguise" which is quite a disarming title.  He could have called it "Downright Lies."!  Anyway, what he is getting at is clear enough: basically all that I have written in the first paragraph.

In short, we are all condstantly constructing ourselves.  Existential psychotherapy would have us search for our real and authentic self, that is our very soul.  However, the soul hides behind many masks which the Ego would have us construct.  Once again, Hillman is at his provocative best, and calls in as his first witness the great writer and comic wit Mark Twain or Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 – 1910), whom he quotes as saying rather wisely and pithily that the older he got the more vividly he remembered things that had not happened.  This comic wit also maintained that as we go through life our story overtakes our history.  There is a lot in what Twain said.

One can even see how certain people, motivated by evil intentions, can falsly accuse others of crimes they never committed.  Added to that, there has been much written on how people can unconsciously falsely remember X, Y or Z as happening.  Let's listen once again to Hillman's magic and poetic words:

We rearrange the details and embroider them; we even appropriate the events from others' lives into our own.  Or we censor, as Josephine baker destroyed masses of old photographs... But, who is the storyteller creating your biography by these inventions and suppressions?  Who is the editor wanting to cut so much out and to compose a fiction of the facts?  (The Soul's Code., 172)
These are big and important questions.  How far is an autobiography true?  How far can it ever be a "primary source" for real history?  And biography, how near can that get to the real facts of an individual's life?  And history itself, how near can it get to the "real" facts?  What are "real" facts, anyway?  And, then, the philosophical clincher of all questions:  What is reality, anyway?

People constructed their own stories and embellished their past out of all proportion.  Jung liked to believe and indeed to state with authority that he had descended from one of Goethe's illegitimate liaisons and John Wayne lied about what his parents did for a living.  The list of embellishments goes on and on.  Maybe instead of embellishments we should just say that the list of lies is interminable - mendacity is at the very heart of human nature.

And, then, think of all those writers, scholars and politicians who burned their papers, fearing that they would leave certain "truths" exposed for future biographers.  Among those who openly burned their papers were such luminaries as:  William James, the great psychologist, Charles Dickens, Sigmund Freud and Lyndon Johnson, while others like William Makepiece Thackeray, T.S. Eliot and Matthew Arnold averred that they wished no biographies to be written about them.  What wishful thinking!

Then there are writers and scholars who won't even give interviews fearing, I suppose, that such is nothing short of prying and in a sense is a form of intellectual and emotional voyeurism.  One might think of the likes of J.D. Salinger, who recently died, here.


Identity is a complex issue.  Who am I?  If, as Jung suggests that my personality has a whole range of sub-personalities which come to the surface from time to time during my life, or even during one day in my life, and that one of the tasks he set for his Analytical Psychology was indeed the integration of those sub-personalities into the one whole personality, which integration, I hasten to add, was a life's task.

In this regard, Auden stated that his life was "superfluous," that is not of any interest to others.  The only reason anyone would possibly want a biography of him was because he was an author or a poet in the first place.  Therefore, if the audience sought to find the "real" him they should go to his written work - "The I you are searching for is there!" (quoted ibid., p. 176)

Hillman goes on to contend that the acorn in each person wants to protect the "I" from biographies, which seek to tie it down or put it under a microscope, as it were.  He then goes on to say, quite truly, that childhood only makes sense in retrospect.  In like manner, when I look back on my own life I can see a certain pattern or outlines of a journey coming to light. That, I suppose, is true of a lot of us.

Another Deviation according to Psychiatry

I have always found looking through medical and psychiatric tomes interesting to say the least.  Hillman refers in this chapter to another old psychiatric term, viz., pseudologia fantastica or mythomania or pathological lying, is one of several terms applied by psychiatrists to the behavior of habitual or compulsive lying.  This is all about the invention of tales.  No pathological lying or pseudologia fantastica is that indeed, fantastic, the stuff of wish-fulfilment, sheer fiction, fact misconstrued and bent out of all proportion and out of all recognition.  Hillman's words are interesting, once again, here:

All these phenomena belong to a psychological shadowland where two worlds collide: fact and fable.  Psychiatry reads the fable as fictitious, factitious, pathological lying.  (Ibid., p. 179)
Fable does not want to be tied down to scientific and dry facts.  It seems to abhor them, unless they add to the magic of its story.  Yet, fable deals with another dimension of truth, but truth nonetheless, namely, the truth of the imagination.  We want, in our own fabulous world, to conjure up a world which presents a "truer" version of who I believe I am.  To this extent, Hillman, adverts to the precise German word for this phenomenon, viz.,  doppelganger.  This is someone else who walks the earth literally in your skin, an alter-ego who is your identical twin.  When we talk to ourselves, scold ourselves for this or that action or even thought, stop ourselves in our track, we may be, perhaps, addressing this doppelganger.

Even, our nick-names and pet names somehow sum up a hidden part of us:

The nickname contains some inner truth that may stick through life and be perceieved before the genius shows in larger style.  Nicknames are not mere tokens of affection to humanize shortcomings.  This feeling interpretation likes to understand the nickname as a way of bringing the star down to human dimension, so that we can relate and not be overawed by genius. (Ibid., p. 181)
One can only agree with Hillman where he avers that genius in essence can never be captured and is properly described as "the anti-biographical factor." (Ibid., p. 187)  The great conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882 – September 1977) was a constant and diligent subscriber of the school of autobiographical duplicity and literally invented much of his past while stating, at least once, " I think that one should cultivate memory ... I think that one should also cultivate forgetfulness." (quoted ibid., 186)  Hillman goes on to quote the great contemporary biographer Michael Holroyd who says succinctly: "Whenever... any man of imagination is made a subject oif biography, his light may be extinguished." (quoted ibid., p. 187)

The Value of Hiding

The mystery ceases when we pour out our souls at every opportunity.  We lessen its strength as it were.  So maybe there is a strength is a certain amount of hiding.  I recall here the famous song of the Beatles:  "You've got to hide your love away."  I also recall how lecturers who are "mystifiers" seek to obfuscate the truth, seek to make themselves into gurus and confuse the rest of us.  They seek to over-awe us and send us away confused.  I always had and still do have an extreme dislike of this kind of person, even if they do manage to hide the mystery away.  And hence, with these qualifications in the back of our minds let's listen to the poetic and lyrical words of our man of the moment, Hillman:

Of course, the biographer must pry and peep, since what is searched for is invisible - but it is invisible not because of my concealment but because of the archetypal nature of the kernel itself.  "Nature loves to hide," said Heraclitus.  The acorn of human nature does too. It hides all through the invisible, displaying itselkf in the very disguises in which it hides.  Biographers get to the invisible by sorting through the disguises, but only if the eye that seeks is intent upon the invisible, bringing to its task the same love that nature has for hiding.  Maybe it takes genius to see genius.  (Ibid., p. 190)

Above the great autobiographically duplicitous genius of a conductor Leopold Stokowski (in typical baton-less pose!), the famous conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra among many others.

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