Friday, April 09, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 26

The Bad Seed

Well, eventually the problem of evil rears its ugly head, as it does in any activity in which humankind is involved. Undoubtedly the Mystery of Evil , to give it its overarching title, is such that it presents us with many intellectual, moral, emotional and spiritual problems. Oftentimes a bad seed or fruit will contaminate others about it, so somehow it must be eradicated if the rest of the plants are to survive. We in Ireland live in the collective memory of a race who lost millions to the famaine - An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger) - of 1845 - 1847, so we are well aware of the contamination of seeds and plants and the "massa damnata" of the lost souls to its curse.  I have discussed the topic of evil, both formally and informally in these pages before, so if you are interested in other posts on this subject hit the relevant label on the right.  Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Hillman chooses the notorious figure of Hitler to illustrate the corruption of the bad seed.  Now, let's revise the insights of our psychologist into that absolutely rotten seed.

Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

Hillman begins his review of the life of this bad seed by entering a caveat of concentrating upon this worst of seeds is that lesser crooks and "smoother murderers" slip by.  He also issues this spine-chilling though all too true warning.  In Ireland our population has at last come into the real world and is now sceptical of the motives of so-called official representatives in all areas of our social architecture: politics, church, medicine, law, banking and so forth.  However, even given this new growth in wisdom, we might be chilled by Hillman's words here:

Anyone who rises in a world that worships success should be suspect, for this is an age of psychopathy.  The psychopathy of today no longer slinks like a dirty rat through the dark alleys of black-and-white 1930s crime films, but parades through the boulevards in a bullet-proof limo on state visits, runs entire nations, and sends delegates to the UN.  Hitler is therefore old-style and can divert us from seeing through the mask worn by the demoonic today, and tomorrow.  The demonic that is timeless nonetheless enters the world disguised in contemporary fashion, dressed to kill.  (The Soul's Code, p. 216)
Remember, as I have to keep reminding myself, the Hillman is no literalist.  When he refers to the "demonic" here he is being metaphoric and allegorical.  However, we are all well aware that we constantly personify all psychic forces in life whether good or evil or in between. By seeing how, from a single rotten seed, the fascinating power of the demagogue Hitler charmed millions into "a collective demonization", we can go on to understand how other individual psychopathic murders like Jeffrey Dahmer and Peter Sutcliffe and many other gruesome murderers could enchant many compliant victims.  I will list hereunder the characteristcs of Adolf hitler as our psychologist lists them in this little book:

1.  The Cold Heart:
Hitler, according to Hillman, had long values the qualities of the "cold heart."  In fact he admired Hermann Goring because he had an "ice-cold" heart like himself.  Our psychoilogist reminds us that in traditional literature the depths of hell were often imagined to be ice-cold.  What's associated with such coldness are the qualities of rigidity, immovability, obstinacy and sheer doggedness, the sheer inability to change.

2.  The centrality of the Polar Opposite:  Fire
Hillman lists all the fires in Hitler's life.  The association with hell, he says, is obvious:  The Reichstag fire at the beginning of his career, night marches with flaming torches, fiery images of his speeches, the burning of cities etc.  Had he not often asked his minions in his final months: "Is Paris burning?" Then, all we have to call to mind are the ovens and chimneys of the death camps.  Finally, his own suicide and his personally-ordered immolation of his body in the Berlin bunker, soaked in petrol and burned beyond immediate recognition.  He also liked to hum Wagner's Gotterdammerung - Twilight of the Gods when he thought of flames or fire and considered it a good way to end not only his own life but that of everyone. (See ibid., p. 218)

Hillman also adverts to the ultimate irony of Dresden's dreadful end in a virtual fireball of horrific temperature, burning to death thousands of innocent souls.

3.  The Wolf Image:
Interestingly in his early days Hitler was wont to call himself Herr Wolf, and he even had his sister change her name to Frau Wolf, so that he could not be got at through her.  Let's listen to Hillman's words here:

During his last days in the bunker he fed and stroked a pup, called Wolf, which he allowed no one else to touch.  This wolf spirit appeared in his boyhood when he derived his name, "Adolf", from "Athalwolf," "Noble Wolf."  He named three of his headquarters Wolfsschanze, Wolfsschlucht and Werwolf.  His favourite dogs were wolfshunde, Alsations.  "He called his SS, 'my pack of wolves.'... Often and absentmindedly he whistled, 'Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?' " (Ibid., p. 218)
The wolf is often referred to as a nefarious death demon in many separated cultures which would indicate that it is quite a universal symbol.

4.  Anality
Freud had a thing about the anus, and described various personalities as "anal" or "anal retentive,"  that is somehow they had failed as children to safely navigate through that particular stage in their development as persons.  Yet again there are demonic associations here.  Faeces, commonly called shit, is somehow the detritus of life and no wonder it stinks.  Hitler, according to Hillman, was obsessed with his digestive tract, from mouth to anus and was also obsessed with cleanliness.  Interestingly enough, for those of us who are a little voyeuristic, our man reports that Hitler liked being soiled by his women partners and that this gave him sexual pleasure.  That's why, this psychologist suggests, much punishment traditionally was focussed on the buttocks because it housed this devilish anal passage. This obsession with the anus also accounts for the evil dictator's rigidity and sadism.

5.  Suicides of Women
Six women who are recorded as having affairs with Hitler either took or attempted to take their own lives.  He was attracted to psychically off-beat women.  However, we might also suggest that his sexual dysfunction, Hillman argues, along with his coprophilia (obsession with faeces) produced such self-loathing in these women that they were driven towards death as a way of escape.

6. Freaks
Hillman lists a lot of freakish people who populated Hitler's retinue, but here I feel he is scraping the barrel for "marks of the demonic."  This section does not ring true and is lacking in a lot of credibility for this reader at any rate.  However, I do believe Hillman gets Hitler's obsession with freaks right where he instances the latter's drive to rid the world of physically and mentally handicapped persons.  Our psychologist also interestingly points out that the mad dictator's two favourite movies, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and King Kong were movies about freaks.

7. Humourless Hitler
Hillman points out that much of Hitler's preoccupations and obsessions were with freaks, costumes, theatre, pageant, but never, never comedy.  He simply had no sense of humour.  Hillman argues that humour which has a cognate association with "humus" implies a moistening or a growing down into the earth, a way of bringing life to dry soil, a way of making us more humble, earthy and indeed less superior and full of ego.  Let's finish this post with our psychologist's own words:

The laughing recognition of one's own absurdity in the human comedy bans the devil as effectively as garlic and the cross.  Chaplin's The Great Dictator did more than mock Hitler; it revealed the absurdity, the triviality, and the tragedy of demonic inflation. (Ibid., 222)
I like Hillman's own humour in this piece, his obvious delight in metaphoric language and his sheer abhorence of literalism, which I suggest humbly is another demonic mark as obvious as the cloven hoof.

Above, Hitler towards the end of his life with his pet wolfshunde Blondi

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