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.

Friday, April 02, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 20






Esse est Percipi

This is the famous Latin dictum summarising the core of George Berkeley's philosophy, and it also forms part of the title of James Hillman's fifth chapter of The Soul's Code.  Now who was George Berkeley, pronounced "Barkley," though we Irish always pronounce it as it is spelt.  George Berkeley (1685 – 1753), was also known as Bishop Berkeley (Bishop of Cloyne, that is, Church of Ireland Bishop).  Briefly he was of Anglo-Irish extraction  and a philosopher whose primary achievement was the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism" (later referred to as "subjective idealism" by others). This theory contends that individuals can only know directly their own sensations, and any ideas they get are only intellectual reflections on those perceptions.  Hence we can never get to know objects qua objects, or objects in themselves.   In other words we can never get to know abstractions such as "matter". The theory also contends that ideas are dependent upon being perceived by minds for their very existence, a belief that became immortalized in the dictum, "esse est percipi" ("to be is to be perceived").  Anyway, I remember when I was studying this topic back in the late 1970s that the conundrum of whether something exists or not when there is no one around to perceive it was solved when Berkeley averred that it certainly did exist because it existed in the mind of God.  I also remember the famous limerick penned by the famous Ronald Knox and the equally astute anonymous response to that limerick, also in the form of a limerick.  I'll put them both hereunder as they are very witty and perhaps they also contain not a little wisdom:

There was a young man who said "God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Should continue to be
When there's no one about in the quad."


"Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God."

Now, Hillman does not go into any reflection upon the "esse est percipi" of Bishop Berkeley, but rather accepts it as an obviously valid statement.  Obviously he is no philosopher, and consequently is not into challenging its premises.  He is a psychologist, and an archetype psychologist at that, who merely sees here a good theory to back up his own theory of the accorn.  Our psychologist, then, takes the "esse est percipi" as a funamental principle which can support his own myth of the acorn.  In other words, Hillman points out that it takes others to point out or to perceive the acorn in others.

Examples of this would me a soccer or base ball scout, or indeed a scout in any sport, spotting talent.  He perceives the promise of the acorn in the young player.  Likewise in the Arts.  Often an experienced musician will spot the talent in a younger musician or a teacher or lecturer the talent in a student.  Other examples would be mentoring where often older men and women take younger men and women under their wing.  Once again here Hillman gives examples from various lives and biographies of real people he has either encountered or read about.  As I sit here now typing these words I think of the way the young Beckett was befriended by the older Joyce and how such an artistic and literary friendship grew between them.  Our psychologist calls these relationships "perceptual."  He then states quite wonderfully and wondrously that these are attractions, based on the Imagination and not on thge genitals. (See The Soul's Code, p. 121)  Once again he avers that "failures in relationships come down to failures of imaginative perception." (Ibid., p. 124)

Hillman advances some reflections on the God question with respect to the "esse est percipi" of Berkeley, but these points are beyond the scope of these musings here.  Perhaps later posts at some future date will find me exploring that great metaphysical question.

Above a picture of George Berkeley, Bishop and Philosopher.

In the footsteps of James Hillman 19





Intuition Versus Tuition

This is an interesting contra-distinction and we are not surprised that Hillman comes up with these more extraordinary insights.  It is wonderful to read an author who sets you thinking at every juncture as he questions accepted truths and traditions, and follows where his intellect, his feelings, his sensations and his intuition take him.  He is such a sui generis thinker that he reminds one of other such thinkers like Edward de Bono and Dr Ronnie Laing, and is as interesting and as riveting to read as they are.

Now for the distiction between Intuition and Tuition he takes his inspiration from one of the great American transcendentalist thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882).  Emerson sees In-tuition as Not-tuition, and correctly realised that many people who left formal education or Tuition early were anything but unsuccessful - in fact many of them got to the nvery pinnacle of their professions.  Then Hillman embarkes on a thoughful exploration of our schooling system.

School Days and Nightmares

Our author quotes many international studies and biographies which report that some three-fifths of successful people had serious problems at school, and they came from every type of school system im aginable.  He then embarks on a list of school drop-outs, or those who hated or did very badly at school, and went on to have very successful careers.  Hillman's list of such individuals name the following: the famous Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann, the great Indian scholar Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Sigrit Undset (Norwegian novelist), the Nobel physicist, Richard Feynman, Kenneth Branagh (actor and director), John Lennon, Robert Browning, and Paul Bowles.  Many of these, or all of them hated school, but they never resented learning.  In fact they were great learners - they were different learners! Any worthwhile philosophy of education will take account of this distinction.

Education is not co-terminus with the school system.  It is not confined to or merely contained in the systems we as a societry have put in place to communicate its rudiments.  Real education is life-long and exists both inside and outside of our schools and uniuversities.  My own late father used always say that atrtended the university of life, and how right he was.  He had to leave school at 13 in 1926 to go to work for a local farmer to earn a few shillings to support his family as his father had died tragically from T.B, but he never stopped learning.

Others who disliked school that Hillman lists are Edvard Grieg (composer), Thomas Edison (Inventor), Stephen Crane, Eugene O'Neill, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Cezanne, Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Albert Einstein, General George S. Patton, Winston Churchill, Paul Erlich (bacteriologist), Puccini, Gertrude Stein, Anton Chekhov, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and H.G. Wells.

Hillman declares that exams test more than your endurance, ability and knowledge; it tests your calling.  It's as if they are such questions as: Does the daimon want the path you have chosen?  Is your soul really in it?  A failed exam could mean that the soul does not want us to go in that particular direction.  Sometimes "failed at school" should read "saved from school."    Then our author gives an interesting insight for those of us involved SEN:

Not every child will... profit from missing school, but for those of us who watch over them and supposedly guide them, this door to the invisible factors at work in their disorders must be kept open , just in case it is an angel knocking and not just a malady.  (The Soul's Code, p. 108)
In all of this, and as its greatest implication for our very culture(s), the aim or goal must be the fostering of, the safeguarding of, the promotion of, the advocation of the bridges between the Visible world and the Invisible World.  The great task of any life-sustaining culture, then, is "to keep the invisibles attached," by using all our traditions and rituals and habits and customs, all that makes every culture rich beyond its own imaginings.

Above myself teaching in Coláiste Árainn Mhóir, Iúl 2003.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 18






Four Bridges

In my last post we spoke about the Visible and Invisible worlds, and how Hillman suggested that there were three bridges which we can cross between each, viz., the Bridge of Mathematics, the Bridge of Music and the Bridge of Myth or Mythology.  Now, in this chapter, he goes on to suggest a fourth - the Bridge of Mysticism.  However, he points out that Mysticism may not be a valid bridge qua bridge as it in effect unites visible and invisible.  For the mystic, he argues, there is no chasm or no problem or no river to be bridged.  Let's return to ponder Hillman's deceptively simple words embodying complex ideas or notions:

The equations of math, the notations on a musical score, and the personifications of myth cross the limbo land between two worlds.  They offer a seductive front that seems to present the unknown other side, a seduction that leads to the delusional conviction that math, music and myths are the other side.  We tend to believe that the real truth of the invisible world is mathematical and might be put into a single unified field equation, and/or it is a musical harmony of the spheres, and/or it consists in mythical beings or powers, with names and shapes, who pull the strings that determine the visible. (The Soul's Code, p. 94)
Hillman argues cogently that the Invisible or the Mystery that is the Invisible is transformed or rendered visible by recourse to the three bridges and that often the human mind confuses the Visible Bridge with the Invisible:

So enchanted are we by the mystery transposed into these systems that we mistake the systems for the mystery; rather they are indications pointing towars it.  We forget the old lesson, and mistake the finger that points at the moon for the moon itself. (Ibid., 94)
Hillman continues with his text in a flourish of poetic, nay lyrical passion.  He writes beautifully, like an angel if I may be permitted to sustain an metaphor of invisibility here.  He brings all invisibilities in under his poetic archetypal remit: the abstractions of physics, both theoretical and applied, the atoms we conceive of and the collocations of them we bump into, the invisibles of philosophy and theology that we kneel to; even the invisible ideals that led young men and still do to their deaths on the battlefields of the world; even the passionate invisible ideals that have led and still lead to sexual liaisons and marriages; not to mention the invisibilities of all our various madnesses.  Then, he finally mentions the most obvious of the invisibles, that is, the very mystery that is time.  On page 96 of his book Hillman gives a very long list of other invisibles which is worth reading.  There are too many of them to mention here, and I recommend the reader to go get the book and read it if he or she still needs convincing that we live among invisibilities as well as visibilities.

Hillman briefly gives a short summary of the thrust of the Romantic Movement associated with Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Byron and S.T. Coleridge those quintessential poets of that movement.  He refers to their mythical beliefs, their conviction in the existence of the Invisible or Unseen World as they called it that dwelled beyond the visible one.  he then hastens to add that what the Romantics called the "quickening soul" that dwelt within the human person is today called "the psychic reality" (Ibid., p. 97)

Intuition

Hillman now goes on to give a rather good description of what is meant by Intuition.  In psychology, he tells us, that this intuition is "direct and unmediated knowledge." (Ibid., 97)  He points out that intuitions occur to us in a very immediate way, a way in which no process of cognition is involved, that is, absolutely no reflective thinking is going on.  We intuit what kind of person an individual may be when we first meet them or in our first sequence of encounters with them.  We simply do not have any hard evidence to go on, yet we are sure that they are like this or that, that they are feeling this or that way etc.  In short intuitions occur, we simply do not make them. Let's return to Hillman's insightful words here:

Our perceptions of people are mostly intuitive.  We take them in as a whole - accent, clothes, build, expression, complexion, voice, stance, gestures, the regional, social and class cues - all delivers itself at once, as a full gestalt, to intuition.  The old diagnosticians of internal medicine used intuition; so do photographers and astrologers and personal managers and baseball scouts and deans of admissison, and pronbably also CIA analysts, retrieving the field information and seeing in a mass of tedious data an invisible significance.  Intuition perceives the image, the paradeigma, a whole gestalt. (Ibid., 98)
Then, Hillman refers to that moment of insight or indeed intuition that he calls an "aha" moment.  I was first introduced to this notion by a former wonderful lecturer Professor Michael Paul Gallagher, S.J., now lecturing away in Fundamental Theology in The Gregorian University in Rome.  He was an erstwhile English lecturer who taught me in the old days.

Realistically and logically enough, Hillman, referes to the fact that on some occasions intuition can be alarmingly wrong, but even allowing for such errors, and often gross ones, it is nonetheless a valid way of perceiving things provided that it is balanced by good and logical thinking. These last thoughts are mine not Hillman's, or rather they are my own interpretation of what the author is saying.  Intuition in short, shares then in the mythical sensibility, in the very process of mythical thinking.

Because Intuition can be wrong when taken alone, Hillman argues with Carl Gustave Jung that Intuition needs the balancing effect of the other three functions viz., Thinking, Feeling and Sensation.  In short, then, the four functions of Consciousness rely on one an other to get things right.

To show where Intuition gets it badly wrong, Hillman adverts to people marrying the wrong partner, making false allegations, jumping to rash judgements, believing that they may have this or that disease quite erringly, that is, hypochondria.  In short, then, though certain, Intuition may not be accurate.  He defends his excursus on Intuition by saying that we need an acceptable term for the kind of perception that sees mythically and to make such perceptions psychologically plausible.  He points out that this function, viz Intuition, is at work in the crossing of the Three Bridges named in  our last post in this blog.  All discoveries and advances in Mathematics and Music (and indeed all areas of Knowledge)  rely on the insights gained from initial and indeed on-going Intuition.  Quoting the famous mathematician Henri Poincaré, Hillman finishes his excursus on Intuition thus: "Most striking at first is this appearance of sudden illumination."  (Ibid., p. 100)

Above a picture of myself on the Ponte Vecchio in Firenze, some time in 2004 or thereabouts.  A bridge connecting visible and invisible,  perhaps?

In the footsteps of James Hillman 17





Back to the Invisibles

A Note on the Visibles and Invisibles: Towards a more open Epistemology

Science deals with the measurable and with the visible.  So goes the common misconception.  Such an opening sentence as this is more at home in the seventeenth and early eighteen centuries than in the twenty first.  Believe it or not, it was John Locke (1632 – 1704), widely known as the Father of Liberalism, who was an English philosopher and physician and also regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers who put forward in quite a strident manner that only the measurable and the visible were the proper domain of science.  This theory was called empiricism and Locke is looked upon as the founder of British empiricism. The term "empirical" was originally used to refer to certain ancient Greek practitioners of medicine who rejected adherence to the dogmatic doctrines of the day, preferring instead to rely on the observation of phenomena as perceived in experienceJohn Locke argued that the mind is a tabula rasa (he actually used the words "white paper") on which experiences leave their marks. Such empiricism denies that humans have innate ideas or that anything is knowable without reference to experience.


In short, therefore, according to the empiricist view, for any knowledge to be properly inferred or deduced, it is to be gained ultimately from one's sense-based experience.  However, the world has moved on.  Not all of our knowledge is observable to the senses - both at the micro and macro levels.  There is much at the atomic and subatomic levels that is not observable, not alone to the naked eye, but also to the technologically-assisted eye which we know about today.  Likewise, there is much at the cosmological level that we know exists, not all of it observable by the technologically-assisted eye, either.  Nor do we need the words of the great contemporary physicist and cosmologist, and wonderfully clear science writer, Paul Davies to convince us, as he so well does in the opening chapter of his book The Goldilocks Enigma, marvellously called "The Big Questions" that we know far more than meets the eye of the observer.  Davies , in this book, asks the big questions from a physicist's and cosmologist's view point, not from a philosopher's or theologian's, I hasten to add, yet he asks questions of the kind they ask.  Let's listen to a few of his musings, in this book, which seek to answer, or at least gain some insights into why the universe is just right for life.  Here are some of Paul Davies' words:

How has this come about?  Somehow the universe has engineeered, not just its own awareness, but its own comprehension.  Mindless, blundering atoms have conspired to make, not just life, not just mind, but understanding.  The evolving cosmos has spawned beings who are able not merely to watch the show, but to unravel the plot.  What is it that enables something as small and delicate and adapted to terrestrial life as the human brain to engage with the totality of the cosmos and the silent mathematical tune to which it dances?  For all we know,  this is the first and only time anywhere in the universe that minds have glimpsed the cosmic code.  (The Goldilocks Enigma, Penguin, 2007, pp. 5-6)
Now those of us acquainted with the history of philosophy will know that philosophical empiricism is commonly contrasted with the philosophical school of thought known as "rationalism" which, in very broad terms, asserts that much knowledge is attributable to reason independently of the senses. However, this contrast is today considered quite rightly to be an extreme oversimplification of the issues involved, because the main continental rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz) were also advocates of the empirical "scientific method" of their day. Furthermore, Locke, for his part, held that some knowledge (e.g. knowledge of God's existence) could be arrived at through intuition and reasoning alone.

Now back to our man of the moment, James Hillman.  He calls the current chapter "Back to the Invisibles."  Now, I would argue, with many scientists as well as psychologists and psychiatrists that we know and are capable of knowing much more than we can observe and deduce from those observations, and that in consequence of the explorations of the unconscious, begun formally by Freud, yet explored creatively for generations by creative writers in all cultures, that we know more than we are even aware of.  In other words not all knowledge is even conscious knowledge. In short, that's what I mean when I stated above in my title that our epistemology must always be an open one, and never a closed one.

As regards "invisibility," Hillman reminds us, not that we need much reminding, that the very concept perplexes American common  sense and indeed American Psychology.  Of course, we know Hillman is going to throw a "spanner in the works" here, to use a crass cliché.  Now lets listen briefly to his eccentric and poetic words:
A passion to cage the invisible by visible methods continues to motivate the science of psychology, even though that science has given up the century-long serach for the soul in various body parts and systems.  When the serachers failed to find the soul in the places where they were looking, psychology gave up also on the idea of soul. (The Soul's Code, p. 92) 
Hillman adverts to three bridges between the Visible (Seen) and the Invisible (Unseen) and names them as: Mathematics, Music and Myth.  These are three wonderful areas of exploration and three wonderful bridges to cross.  The world of the invisible, the world of the soul, the world of the passions, the world of the heart, the world of the imagination, the world of our dreams, the world of our hopes - call it what you want - none of it is visible, yet it is all so real for us, figment of our imagination or not.   And, once again I marvel at how Davies (on mathematics, physics and cosmology) shares so much with what Hillman (on psychology, mythology and story) and Anthony Storr (on music and harmony and communication).  No wonder, they are all crossing Hillman's bridge between the visible and the invisible.

Above, another picture of a painting from the Vatican Museum - very appropriate to Holy Week, depicting perhaps another bridge between visible and invisible, at least for Christians.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 16





The Parental Fallacy

Hillman argues that modern society, sociology, psychology and all other "-ologies" ascribe too much importance to the role of the parents in a person's life.  Here it is about over-valuing or over-rating rather than valuing and rating them with their due and proper importance.  An interesting point.  Once again Hillman is very radical and sui generis in his thinking - call it unique, eccentric or weird if you like.  Now, I am entranced and enthralled with this "guru's" thinking.  However, I am not a dyed-in-the-wool unquestioning follower.  I am merely marvelling at what he has to say, nor subscribing to it.  I like to think that I have an open mind about these questions.  To ask questions is far more important than to have poor  and unsatisfactory answers.  He is at his lyrical and poetic best when he questions the over-rated status of the family:

Yet all along a little elf whispers another tale: "You are different; you're not like anyone in your family; you don't really belong."  There is an unbeliever in the heart.  It calls the family a fantasy, a fallacy.  Even the biological model has puzzling gaps.  Contraception is easier to account for and practice than conception itself.  What goes on in that massive, virginly intact, single round ovum that allows only this particular miniscule sperm among millions to enter?... Or is it just the randomness of "luck" - and what is luck really?  (The Soul's Code, p. 64)
Needless to say, Hillman avers that it is his new take on the ancient Myth of the Acorn that can properly explain the mystery that life is, or what making sense of our path through life is.  He maintains that everyone's unique daimon selected both the egg and the sperm and consequently the resultant uniqueness of that human animal life which is uniquely you and no other.  Their union results from your necessity and not the other way around.  Now, this certainly is standing cause and effect on its head, and is paradoxical to say the least.  I should imagine a similar paradox would be Wordsworth's contention that the child is father of the man in his little beautiful lyric The Rainbow. (see this link here WW's Poem )

Once again Hillman advances instances from different biographies to back up his strange theory.  He gives examples of these wonderfully mismatched and incompatible partners in life and avers that their attraction happened solely at the behest of the acorn wishing to grow from this partcular couple.  Whether they stayed together or not is inconsequential.   The only thing I would say here about this "seemingly outrageous and strange" idea is remember that Hillman is preposing it as a myth, not as a literal truth.  It is an imaginative truth, but a truth nonetheless.  Truth can be many things: scientific, psychological, social, mythical, imaginative, religious and much else, but a truth nonetheless.  These thoughts, I confess, are rather hard to get the twenty-first century mind around.  However, such thoughts are worth wrestling with.

Hence the daimon or acorn myth is being proposed here to replace the mother myth, the father myth and the family myth.  Again, the stress is on the word "myth" and I have repeated it here to keep this aspect of the truth in our minds, mythical, not scientific truth.  Think psychological as you think mythical here, and that will help, I feel.  This myth, then, exalts the image of the daimon with which each soul is impregnated, if I may mix metaphors and much else here in trying to get my mind around these eccentric ideas.  In fact,  Hillman avers that the daimon predates the mother, maybe even predetermines the mother (see The Soul's Code, p. 70)

In this chapter, our author sets about deconstructing the myth of parental influence - indeed, it is an effort at demythologizing them somewhat to replace them with re-mythologizing (if I may be so bold to compose a neologism) the acorn or the daimon in our modern minds.  Let's listen to Hillman's own words:

The parental fallacy depends largely on this fantasy of one-way vertical causality, from larger to smaller, from older to younger, from experienced to inexperienced... Suspicion of vertical causality, particularly suspicion of the mother as a primary factor in determining fate... [which is] "a scientific fiction"... (Ibid., pp. 74-75)
He goes on to argue that we should get rid of the word "bonding" entirely with respect to the mother, because we are born with completely different personalities.  Further, he avers that we are less victims of parenting than of tghe ideology of parenting. 

Hillman also adverts to the contemporary overriding myth of the Apocalypse - the end of the world as we know from the eponymous book in the New Testament.  Given, the state of economic recession, even economic depression in which the world, Ireland in particular, languishes in, it is no wonder our man argues that suicide is on the increase.  We need our myths, all of them, indeed, but not a magnified focus on a negative one solely.  We need other sustaining myths, like that of the acorn to give balance to life.

Hillman goes on to refer to many other interesting ideas like: (i) fallacies make bonding a bondage (ibid., 78), (ii) myths make life livable (p. 79), (iii) the myth of Dad - whose task is to maintain the connection with elsewhere (p. 80), (iv) the person who loses his/her angel becomes demonic (p. 82), (v) oftentimes in parenting the adults spend so much time looking after the child that they neglect their own daimon (p. 83), (vi) the real meaning to life, or rather reason to live, is to make the world receptive to the daimon (p. 84) (vii) that the world is made less of nouns than of verbs. (p. 86),  (viii) imagination and environment are closely related (p. 87), (ix) the parental fallacy is deadly to the individual awareness and it is really killing the world (p. 87) and that (x) the neglect of the relationship with the environment, with animals, with nature, which are all very important to the health of the soul, is one of the greatest weaknesses of psychology and psychotherapy. (p. 88)



Above, yet another photo taken in the Vatican Museum, February, 2010.

In the footsteps of James Hillman 15





Ways to Grow Down

Hillman rather briefly - the final paragraph in fact - at the end of chapter two of this book outlines the four ways that the Myth of Er suggests that we might learn to grow down.  Perhaps, he could have spent more time going into each of these via examples.  However, that's a small criticism.

First Way

The soul descends from "above" through the medium of the body.  This involves getting to know and trust the body, but more than that to learn to accept the body as it is and as it can be, giving it as much care as we can realistically and practically.  That means looking after it (excuse the us of the impersonal direct objective pronoun rather than the personal one here - I fully realise that my body is in fact me!) through exercise and proper diet.  It also means accepting what growing up and ageing means.  It means coming to terms with the body's vicissitudes, its strengths and weaknesses, and indeed with its very mortality.  On the way, it most likely will mean the coming to terms with illness, and fighting that illness by co-operating with it, rather like a judo expert stops his attacker by using the attacker's own strength and force against him/her.

Second Way

The second way the soul descends from "above" is through the parents.  Of the many millions of spermatazoa only one manages to make it through and fertilize the egg - so each human being, rather like an individual salmon, is very unique.  The soul, according to the myth, is a unique compatriot for each new life.  The parents are charged with caring for the new little life.

Third Way

The third way of descent is through the place that the soul is "born" in.  Think of all the countries in the world and all the corresponding cultures.  Ponder on the fact that even in the same country so many different regional customs and even dialects exist.  The late great John O'Donohue (1956-2008, see this link JOD) the wonderful expert on Gaelic and Celtic sprirituaity, always maintained that the very landscape makes the people of any particular area.  I remember well attending a few of his wise and erudite lectures, and in one of them he adverted to Liam O'Flaherty's (1896-1984) connection with the very stones of the Arann Islands.

Fourth Way

The last way is through circumstances.  Circumstances can make or break us.  We have to deal with many ups and downs, happenings and chances as we progress through life.  For many poor souls of the twentieth century which witnessed two great World Wars it was either death or suffering on the battlefields or death and suffering through what is now euphemistically called "collateral damage" that comprised such circumstances.  Years ago I remember meeting survivors of the North Strand Bombing (31st May, 1941 - see some photos here - N.S. Bombing) which happened during the second World War.  There were and are many other "soul making" (John Keats: "The vale of Soul-making." See this link Soul Keats 1795 - 1821) events through which we must live as we traverse the course of our individual lives on this earth.  The great Carl Gustave Jung referred to such chances as more often than not being more than mere chances, that there were more graced happenstances which he called synchronous, that is he proposed a rather elaborate theory of synchronicity which is, I think, really a spiritual or at least a parapsychological take on the law of cause and effect.



Above, the great John Keats on his deathbed.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 14





Sexual Licence and the Daimon

Hillman continues with his eccentric take on addiction.  He has already described in detail the excesses and addictions of Judy Garland's (1922-1969) life.  He then outlines a brief biography of the sexual excesses of the licentiously talented dancer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) who in October 2, 1925 opened in Paris at the Théatre des Champs-Élysées, where she became an instant success for her erotic dancing and for appearing practically nude on stage. After a successful tour of Europe, she reneged on her U.S. contract and returned to France to star at the Folies Bergères, setting the standard for her future acts. She performed the danse sauvage, wearing a costume consisting of a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas.  The famous detective writer Georges Simenon of Maigret fame who was an inveterate womaniser and sex addict spoke of Baker's nether regions as being like a "croupe" which translates as a horse's hindquarters.  Here are Hillman's interesting words:

Sexual relations were essential to Josephine Baker's performance.  She did it in the wings; standing up before going on; with every dance partner, gay or not, with big shots who paid; with the famous; with everyone she wanted, wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted.  Once she lay on the floor of her stateroom to entice an indifferent co-dancer: "Look at my body, all the world is in love with that body, why are you so arrogant?
We all wish that we could have known this over-sexed woman - certainly we men!  There was also some little of this compulsive eroticism in Judy Garland also.  Hillman says that the main thing that both these divas had in common was in their ability to fascinate all that came to listen to and see them perform.  They could reach out to that transcendent desire in the human soul which everyone in the audience aspired and still aspires to.  In short, they were wearing their daimon on their sleeves, were showing it off for all to hear, see and feel.

However, Hillman argues that Josephine Baker was able to "grow down" and embody her daimon which unfortunately Judy Garland was not.  Baker was able to embody her daimon step by step into the political and social world by becoming involved in la Résistance during WW II in her adoptive country France. She smuggled information, hidden in musical scores, across the borders of France and Spain into Portugal.  She was often in danger of deportation, if not execution being black.  In Morocco she worked at saving Jews from round-ups.  She also did much else, so much so that she was awarded the Légion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre.  She also was an early participant in The Civil Rights Movement.

Contrasting the deaths of these two great women in the context of the gift of the daimon Hillman waxes passionately lyrical and one is enchanted:

Rise and fall.  It is one of the archetypal patterns of life, and one of its most ancient, cosmic lessons.  But how one falls, the style of coming down, remains the interesting part.  Judy Garland's was a heroic and sad decline into collapse.  Her efforts aimed at the comeback; she tried again and again connect with the upper world of stardom, a struggle that ironically led to that dismal death in a London flat.  The thirty minute ovation Josephine Baker received in Paris that final week was both for the daimon in her body ("the people did not want to leave the theatre") and for her long and slow history of growing down into the world of "social evils": fascism, racism, abandonment of children, injustice. (Ibid., pp. 61-62)

To be continued.


Above, once again, a picture I took in the Vatican Museum of,  I presume, some Peter Pan figure or some other alluring young musician - surely the sexual enticement and addiction of Baker and Garland could be captured in this sculptural piece.

In the footsteps of James Hillman 13





A Note on Addictions

Hillman is nothing if not unique and almost eccentric in his ideas, but that, to my mind, makes this book and, indeed, his general writings all the more interesting.  We need sui generis thinkers like him to make us think.  Now, with regard to addictions and the human propensity to succumb to them, he argues that it is the "incommensurability" between the calling (the daimon) and life itself that causes them.  In this respect he continues with his biographical sketch of the life of Judy Garland who always believed that her calling was "inherited" to illustrate the dangers of addiction.  "Nobody ever taught me what to do on stage.  I just did what came naturally" and then she compared the rush she experienced when going on stage to "taking nineteen hundred wake-up pills." (Quoted The Soul's Code, p. 49)

This ruthlessness, or addiction to success (my words) made Garland's character an addictive one.  It stopped her having real friends, or in Hillman's terms it prevented her "growing down."  He quickly indicates why she is a good illustration of his acorn theory:

Her own explanation of "inherited" means less literally genetic... than innate, given "naturally," like her daimon or calling.  A thousand manipulating fathers cannot yield one Mozart anymore than can the pushiest mother in the world produce one Judy Garland.  I would rather attribute the startling magnetism of Frances Gumm, aged two and half, in Grand Rapids, to the acorn of judy Garland awakening onstage, an acorn that "chose" exactly those show business parents and sisters and circumstances for beginning its life on earth. (Ibid., p. 50)
Now, back again to the addictive nature of Judy Garland.  The sheer ruthlessness of her calling drove her ever onward on her lonely path of stardom.  She now had very few real friends and experienced much loneliness and exile in her life.

A Note on Loneliness:

Again Hillman attributes loneliness to the very nature of the daimon.  He argues rightly indeed that loneliness is not specific to stars in huge Hollywood houses, but that it innate in each and every human person:

Loneliness belongs to childhood, too.  That loneliness in a child's heart may be aggravated by fears of the dark, punishing parents, or rejecting comrades.  Its source, however, seems to be the solitary uniqueness of each daimon, an archetypal lonelinesss inexpressible in a child's vocabulary and formulated hardly better in ours.  (Ibid., p. 53-54)
In short we all feel lonely and isolated at times - the human condition is naturally heir to this feeeling.  This innate loneliness is exacerbated by modern living, where we are mostly engaged in impersonal work.  Indeed, as Marx would have it, we experience ourselves as alienated from the results or produce of our very own efforts.  We are, in short, cut off, alienated, disconnected.  This last expression, that is, the sense of disconnect, disconnection or disconnectedness is at the very heart of post-modern humankind.  Once again, Hillman's advice is nothing short of passionate and even poetic here, but nonetheless very true:

We are isolated because of the industrial economic system.  We have become mere numbers.  We live consumerism rather than community.  Loneliness is symptomatic of victimization.  We are victims of a wrong way of life.  We should not be lonely.  Change the system - live in a co-operative or a commune; work in  a team.  Or build relationships: "Connect, only connect."  Socialize, join recovery groups, get involved.  Pick up the phone.  Or ask your doctor for a prescription of prozac.  (Ibid., p. 54)
Hillman's take on Existentialism:

He summarises existentialism wonderfully.  Loneliness and isolation are accounted for in Heidegger's concept of humankind being launched out into the world from the safety of the womb - being thrown forth into an alien environment from the very comfort of its homely surrounds.  This experience, Heidegger calls Dasein or throwness.  Life is your project (Sartre): there is nothing to tell you what it is all about at all.  Because you don't know what it is all about, you consequentially feel anxious, that is, full of real pure existential angst or anxiety or dread.  It's up to me to get to grips with my own life project, to get to know my own identity, to co-operate with my own "acorn" as it were.  Once again, I'd like to return to Hillman's own words.  I am indeed conscious that maybe I am quoting too much from our unique and eccentric author, but still I'll persist.

It's all up to you, each individual alone, since there is no cosmic guarantee that anything makes sense.  There is neither |God nor Godot to wait for.  You make a life out of the deepest feelings of meaningless.  The heroic ability to turn loneliness into individual strength is the way that Judy Garland failed to find.  She was too dependent, too weak, too fearful to combine "solitary" and "solidary," a motto proposed by Camus in one of the tales collected in his aptly titled work The exile and the Kingdom.  9Ibid., p. 55)


To be continued.

Monday, March 29, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 12





Cosmological versus Scientific Myths

I have explained before in these pages that I use the terms "myth" and "mythology" to denote and connote the imaginative and the creative - if you like, the genius of inspiration in humankind.  To some more rigidly scientific minds, and even to more literalist religious minds, this may seem very much anathema.  Mythology contains within it deep psychological messages about our pursuit of meaning and purpose as human beings.  Hence religion, spirituality and science of all kinds share in this mythological expression of humankind.  Unfortunately, extreme religionists and extreme scientists who lke to explain away the mystery of humankind miss this point completeely.

Our man Hillman is fascinating here once again:

[The ancient] cosmological myths place us in the world and involve us with it.  The cosmologies of today - big bangs and black holes, anti-matter and curved, ever-expanding space going nowhere - leave us in dread and senseless incomprehensibility.  Random events.  Nothing truly necessary.  Science's cosmologies say nothing about the soul, and so they say nothing to the soul, about its reasons for existence, how it comes to be and where it might be going, and what its tasks could be. (The Soul's Code, p. 47)

The Call of the Daimon can be Destructive too

Once again Hillman is nothing if not honest and real.  His acorn theory is not a panacea for life's ills.  In fact, he realizes that it can also be destructive, and wreak havoc on the individual to whom it is attached.  Here again, our author is very practical and alludes to the life story of Judy Garland.  Hillman argues thus:

The addiction to perfection is another term for the call of the angel.  The voice that cautions speaks only part of the daimon's message.  Another part calls to the ideal... Though everyone feels at times the press of the calling, it is in the exaggerated life of celebrities where these demands are most apparent and best documented.  Riches and acclaim never compensate; stars always seem displaced persons, haunted by unspoken tragedy that is blamed on parents or betrayals in love, on ailments or forced inhuman schedules.  The blame belongs to the angel, to the difficulty of the inhuman attempting to come down into the human.  Addictions that keep stars estranged and "out of it," suicide attempts, and early death may result from the incommensurability between calling and life... (Ibid., p. 48)
Hillman goes on and sees the awakening of the acorn in Judy Garland at the age of two and a half years only as a good illustration of his theory.  Today we could add so many other examples: most especially the magically sad life of Michael Jackson - always and ever the "puer eternus," the Peter Pan of Pop, the child star who never did come down from the ageless clouds, who never did alight on the earth at all.  The ruthlessness of both Garland's and Jackson's life stopped their having real friends, stopped them growing down into reality, into the earth as it were.

Loneliness and Exile:

Hillman argues that there is a loneliness, the very loneliness of exile in every human heart, indeed at the very heart of the acorn itself which is growing up and indeed down into the world of reality:

But if there is an archetypal sense of loneliness accompanying us from the beginning, then to be alive is also to feel lonely.  Loneliness comes and goes apart from the measures we take.  It does not depend upon being literally alone, for pangs of loneliness can strike in the midst of friends, in bed with a lover, at the microphone before a cheering crowd.  When feelings of loneliness are seen as archetypal they become necessary; they are no longer harbingers of sin, of dread, or of wrong.  We can accept the strange autonomy of nthe feeling and free lonelinesss from identication with literal isolation.  Nor is loneliness mainly unpleasant once it receives its archetypal background... [it contains]  a yearning imagination for "something else" not here, not now... Nostalgia, sadness, silence, and imaginative yearning are also the inmost stuff of religious and romantic poetry in many languages and many cultures.  They remind the acorn of its origins.  (Ibid., p. 56)

To be continued.

Above another picture I took in the Vatican Museum - this time we have an empty sarcophagus. Where has the mummy gone?

In the footsteps of James Hillman 11





Ascent and Descent

I have already alluded to the way we use language metaphorically.  When we seek to explain more absract terms we are forced to stretch our metaphors as far as we possibly can to cover the concept we seek to elucidate.  The concept of "ladder" has long been a metaphor in religion, spirituality and literature of all genres.  No wonder we loved the game of Snakes and Ladders when we were children.  I also alluded to Height Psychology and Depth Psychology (Viktor Frankl) and to Growing Up and Growing Down as Hillman so graphically puts it.  These thinkers are indeed sharp, and I find myself somewhat like Denis Diderot languishing in an "esprit d'escalier" when I have long left the company and an appropriate riposte has just come to mind.

The Tree of Life

No matter what culture one studies, no matter what mythology one explores one inevitably comes across the centrality and sacredness of the tree.  No wonder. After all a tree provided cover and shade, wood for implements and furniture and fruit for living.  Trees were and are central to our lives.  Indeeed, we do need to touch wood - in thanks, not in superstition.  According to The Encyclopædia Britannica, the tree of knowledge, connecting heaven and the underworld, and the tree of life, connecting all forms of creation, are both forms of the world tree or cosmic tree. Then some scholars argue that the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, portrayed in various religions and philosophies, are the same tree.  Then, think of the wonderful and wondrous film Avatar which I have reviewed already in these pages and how James Cameron used this metaphor or symbol of the tree so well and so beautifully.  Likewise, if you have seen the Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy or have read the books you will be well acquainted with the centrality of the tree motif.  Then again, if you are a poetry lover you will be well acquainted with the centrality of the symbolism of the tree in the poems of W. B. Yeats and with his poem "The Two Trees", viz., the trees of life and death respectively.

Standing things on their Head

Then we come to Hillman. To attempt a rather corny pun, our man wishes to engage in a "root and branch" reformation of psychology.  Let's listen to his rather powerful, if strange, words:

Organic images of growth follow the favourite symbol for human life, the tree, but I am turning the tree upside down.  My model of growth has its roots in heaven and imagines a gradual descent downward toward human affairs.  This is the tree of the Kabbalah in the Jewish and also Christian mystical tradition.  The Zohar, the main Kabbalist book, makes it clear that the descent is tough; the soul is reluctant to come down and get messed by the world. (The Soul's Code, p. 43)
Growing downwards then is a motif in Kabbalist, Jewish and indeed Greek mythology - that is, the Myth of Er, also already discussed in these posts.  In the Myth of Er, the soul selects the image we live with, this image it describes as "paradeigma" or "pattern."

Plato's text calls this image a paradeigma, or "pattern," as translators usually say.  So the "lot" is the image that is your inheritance, yout soul's portion in the world order, and your place on earth, all compacted into a pattern that has been selected by your soul before you got here - or better said, that is always and continually being selecvted by your soul because time does not enter the equations of myth.  ("Myth," said Sallust, the Roman philosopher of paganism, "never happened but always is.")  Since ancient psychology usually located the soul around or with the heart, your heart holds the image of your destiny and calls you to it.

Unpacking the image takes a lifetime.  It may be perceived all at once, but understood only slowly.  Thus the soul has an image of its fate, which time can show only as "future" (Ibid., p. 46.)


Above a photograph of a gas lamp in the foreground some trees of life - Phoenix Park, January 2010.

In the footsteps of James Hillman 10





A Brief Summary of the Role of the Daimon

James Hillman suggests that the acorn myth is a good modern myth to live by.  It claims that each life is formed or shaped or fashioned by its own unique image.  This image or daimon is the very essence of that life and calls it to a particular destiny.  It is the force of fate and this image acts as a personal daimon or guardian angel, an accompanying guide who remembers the individual's calling in life.

How the Daimon works

When our native calling or daimon is opposed, it will make itself known by forcing deviance and oddity upon its keeper, by even making its owner ill.  It cannot abide innocence because its call is a call to self-knowledge and to wisdom which often means tasting the bitter as well as the sweet fruits of life.  Innocence is a state of unawareness, while experience is a state of awareness.

The daimon has much to do with search for the true self, (my words here, I hasten to add, as Hillman loathes the use of the word "self") with that restlessness of heart which St Augustine possessed in abundance.  Hillman insists that the daimon wants to be seen, "witnessed, accorded recognition, particularly by the person who is its caretaker." (The Soul's Code, p. 40)

Above, ancora un'altra foto che ho presa nei musei vaticani febbraio 2010. And death what is it? And the soul an elusive identity?

In the footsteps of James Hillman 9





What's in a Preposition?

This question is simple, but its answer not quite so.  Those of us who have learnt several other languages are well aware of the complexity of prepositions.  The prepositions in Italian I found wondrously hard but fun to engage with.  Years ago I remember studying both theology and philosophy for the first time in my late teens.    Anyway here I wish to advert to some prepositional adverbs with respect to these two subjects. God was always assumed to be "up there," "on high," "beyond us" or indeed to be "the beyond in our midst" (as some theologian whose name I quite forget termed the supposed ineffable source of our being.)  Contrariwise the devil, or putative source of all evil, is supposed to abide "down there."  So "up there" and "down there" are basic terms in our metaphorical use of language.

Going Up and Going Down

These two metaphors have lent themselves to the social sciences and the humanities quite readily. We read widely of Depth Psychology (bringing in the notion of going down into the various strata of the mind in the tradition of Freud and Jung et al.)  Viktor Frankl, if I remember correctly, suggested that there is also a Height Psychology as well as one which explored the depths of the psyche, i.e., Depth Psychology.  To this extent, one can say that Up(wards) and Down(wards) are the two sides of the one coin to mix metaphors rather clumsily here, but I feel the reader will get my drift.

With the above thoughts as a prolegomenon of  sorts, I return now to Hillman's classic The Soul's Code.  Chapter two of this little book he entitles "Growing Down" in contradistinction to "Growing Up."  Once again, this "lateral thinking,"  a playfulness with language which manages to stretch thought somewhat and thereby enrich it, as Edward de Bono always seeks to have us do.  Hillman writes inspiringly and naturally and advises us to recall that all plants grow downwards as well as upwards.  I well remember studying this in biology many years ago as examples of heliotropism - growth upwards towards the sun - and geotropism - growth downwards through the soil. Growing up, Hillman reminds us, is part of the ascensionist model of progress or growth.

For our archetypal psychologist in our struggles to deepen into self-knowledge we must of necessity grow down as well as growing up.



To be continued.



Above, another photograph of a painting from The Vatican Museum, February, 2010.