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

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 25

Fate versus Freedom

Freedom has always been a contentious basic right among us human animals.  Unlike our brother and sister animals we have the freedom of choice, the freedom to travel, the freedom to express our views, the freedom of belief and so on.  We exercise this gift of freedom from morning till night, whether to get up or not, go to work or not and so forth.  Obviously there are limits.  If I have a family I have to work to earn a living to siupport them and this automatically delimits my freedom.  Freedom always has limits, and it functions within limits.  Society, obviously, is based on this principle.  If there were no laws (limits to people's actions) there would be no freedom.  Paradoxically, rules, order and laws are necessary to the exercise of our freedom.  In short, absolute freedom is a myth.

Then there are those common myths that we peddle to each other as we travel through life, like, "It's all in the genes and so it follows that we are predestined to have this or that IQ, this or that gift or ability or disability."  Another version of this myth would be, "It's written in the stars."  Both these myths are sheer fatalism really.  Deep down the rest of us know that there is more to life.  There are after all the not-so-subtle social influences on us as well as subtle and even less subtle psychological influences, and even our momentary whims to do this or that.  And then freedom lurks somewhere in the whole complex jungle that is our motivation.  Our being in the world, indeed our authentic existence in it is a much more complex thing than simply nature and nurture.  As we have seen Hillman argues for the influence of the mythical acorn theory, for this primordial influence of the archetypes in our unconscious.  There surely is much else at work, and to be a reductionist in the manner of attributing distinct causes to our being in the world is more than a little short-sighted.

Fate versus Fatalism

I had never before come across the distinction that Hillman draws between Fate and Fatalism.  This latter, Fatalism,  is the evil partner of the two mentioned here.  It is, our man argues, the blind belief that our futures are written in stone as it were, or in other words, "in the stars" as they say in common parlance.  Rather Fate, on the other hand, is a sort of wise hindsight, that sees a pattern or a route in our lives.  It is never a rigid this or that which will happen to X or to Y.  In short, it is the very opposite to fatalism and certainly opposite to superstition.  Let's listen to Hillman's own words here:

Rather, the Greek idea of fate would be more like this: Events happen to people.  "They cannot understand why it happened, but since it has happened, evidently 'it had to be.'  Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.  After the event (post hoc), we give an account of what made it happen (ergo propter hoc).  It is not written in the stars that the stock market must crash in October 1987.  But after it has crashed, we find "reasons" that clearly made it necessary for it to have crashed right then. 

For the Greeks, the cause of these untoward events would be fate.  But fate causes only events that are unusual, that oddly don't fit in.  Not each and every thing is laid out in a superior divine plan.  That sort of comprehensive explanation is fatalism, which makes for paranoia, occultist Ouija board prognostics...  (The Soul's Code, p. 193)
Ego versus Fate:

Another interesting comparison or contrast that Hillman alludes to is that of ego versus fate, which I find very interesting.  He illustrates this by taking an example of Amerca's original pioneers.  He talks about the "heroic ego" which landed on Plymouth Rock and was full of "testosterone" and followed the likes of the early pioneers like Daniel Boone into the wilderness with long gun, Bible and loyal dog.  This was the ego which led the early settlers to follow on in these pioneers' footsteps and eventually called the wagon trains  westward across the American plains.  And so man versus hostile nature, man versus opposition, man versus the competitors in life was born in the USA, or so our man Hillman argues.

Then we have the growth of that notion of life as struggle, competition for survival, or in more Darwinian terms, the survival of the fittest.  And so fatalism is the seductive otherside which allows us to dump all our struggles onto the shoulders of sheer superstition.  Fatalism, our man argues, would have us hand all responsibility over to fate - we would, with this crooked logic, cease to vote, cease to go to AA meetings, to fight for gun control, no need even to have a fire department, since shit happens anyway.  I remember years ago learning in the theology of prayer the dictum, "Pray yes, but do go to the Doctor and take the medicine prescribed."  I suppose by Fate, Hillman means the sort of thing expressed in the last dictum, that we must co-operate with our Fate, use our freedom within whatever limits are placed about us by the structures of the physical world.  Our man further argues that fatalism comforts us,  for it asks no questions at all.  The Fates would have us reflect on life and ask those questions of life that we should ask.  And so once again Hillman goes back to Greek myth and language:

The Greek word for fate, moira, means a share, a portion.  As fate has only a portion in what happens, so the daimon, the personal, internalized aspect of moira, has only a portion in our lives, calling them but not owning them. 

Moira derives from the root smer or mer, meaning to ponder, to think, meditate, care.  It is a deeply psychological term, requiring us to scrutinize events with respect to the portion that comes from elsewhere and is unaccountable, and the portion that belongs to me, what I did, could have done, can do.  Moira is not in my hands, but moira is only a portion.  I can't abandon my actions or my abilities and their realization - and there frustrations and failures - to them, the gods and goddesses, or the will of the daimonic acorn.  Fate does not relieve me of responsibility; in fact, it calls for more.  Particularly, it calls for the responsibility of analysis.  (Ibid., p. 195)
Causality versus Teleology

These two terms I have come across many times in my study of theology and philosophy back in the 1970s, but it is somewhat refreshing to have a psychologist interpret them, rather than a theologian or philosopher.  Causality is that theory by which classical philosophy, mainly through Aristotle, attempts to answer the question, "what started this whole action off?" or "What began X or Y?"

Teleology is basically about where things are heading.  The Greek word "telos" means the "end" or purpose of something.  To that extent, it gives a purpose to life, or, if you like, a pull.  If causality pushes us, then teleology pulls us forward towards a goal or an end.  It provides a rational acoount of life's long-range purpose.

Events and the Soul

We all remember what Maurice Harold Macmillan (1894 –1986), erstwhile PM of the UK, said when asked  by a journalist what was most likely to blow governments off course: "Events dear boy, events."

Well, events do happen, and unexpected ones at that.  Oftentimes those events are sheer crises, like we had at school some three years ago where one young boy of 15 dropped dead, one of eighteen was murdered on his graduation night and another died tragically at 16 after a night of wreckless drinking.  These were all tragedies and events totally unexpected.  There are numerous less serious events that happen us all on a daily basis.  Hillman reminds us that the acorn is more concerned with the soul aspect of events, "more alive to what's good for it [the acorn]than to what you believe is good for you."  Now, that's hard to get the mind around.  But, Hillman might say that we are more than just a "mind," whatever that may be!


At the moment I am reading the beautiful, if tragic, novel of Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise, and in that there are so many tragic accidents, all too real as they were obviously based on her personal experience of the fall of France and its occupation by German troops during World War 2.  It's written with passion and obviously in haste as Irene was to die in the Auschwitz death camp.  In all of this, where lies the soul and where lies the acorn?  In the tragic lives of everyone recounted in these two short novels their acorn was seeking to make sense of events for them. 

Once again Hillman quarries biograpohies and autobiographies for stories of accidents after which individuals set a new course in life in keeping with the influence of their acorn.  He mentions accidents from the lives of Bette Davis, Pierre Franey, James Beard and even Winston Churchill.  He argues that the young Winston found himself intellectually at 18 years after badly injuring himself playing heroic battle games.  James Thurber was blinded in one eye, and this helped his creativity and led to his unique way of cartooning.  Likewise, with the likes of the writer of fantasy, J.M. Barrie.

Hillman reminds us of all the synonyms for acorn, viz., image, daimon, calling, angel, heart, acorn, soul, pattern, character, and indeed we do need reminding.

The acorn theory says that Churchill's fall, Thurber's lost eye, Barrie's mother's mourning, Coco Chanel's monastic  adolescence belong appropriately to their acorns.  These accidents in youth were not foretold by the acorn as if laid down in a divine plan, nor were these untoward events determinants of alater career, focing it forward along a defined path.  Rather they were necessary accidents, necessary and accidental both.  They were means for the soul's calling to come forth, ways the acorn expresses its form and formed their lives. (Ibid., p. 207 - 208)

Now I find it very hard indeed to get my mind around the idea of necessity.  Necessity with a capital N, which is the English name of the goddess Ananke as she appears in Plato's myth of Er.  It is she who decides what is necessary for our acorn or for our soul.  But surely this is fatalism?  No, it's not, it's necessity.  For Plato there was two great cosmic forces, viz., Nous or Reason or Mind and Necessity or Ananke.

When something doesn't fit, seems odd or strange, breaks the usual pattern, then more likely Necessity has a hand in it.  Though she determines the lot you live, her ways of influencing are irrational.  That is why it is so difficult to understand life.  Your soul's lot comes from the irrational principle.  The law it follows is necessity, which wanders erratically. (Ibid., p.p. 208-209)
So Necessity is the Irrational principle in life, in some sort of healthy tension with Rationality or Nous.  Scientists might call the principle of Irrationality by the name Chaos and supply their very own myth for this reality, i.e., Chaos Theory.  It is "a wandering off track,"  a breaking into consciousness and living of "something else;" it is the mentors' sudden perceptions of the beauty and potentiality of their students.  This is all the work of Ananke who, as Hillman traces its etymology, literally takes us by the throat ("narrow passage"), holds us prisoner and drives us like a slave.  This is where Hillman interprets Jung's famous saying as summing up all we have said in this paragraph: "The gods have become diseases."  The point is there is no escape from necessity.  It will not yield, cannot submit: ne + cedere.

Then, Hillman finishes this chapter with a paragraph on where necessity and death entertwine, where the soul and death consort.  The truer we are, he argues, to our own daimon the closer we are to the death that belongs to our very destiny.  And this, my friends, is a destiny we are fated to make alone.

Above a picture of the evening sky over Malahide, April 2010

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.

Monday, April 05, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 23

How do we Select the Nutrients to Nourish the Acorn?

Given the theory or rather myth of the acorn which Hillman has discussed in detail, teased out at length and come at from so many angles, he now asks the above question which I have made the title of this short paragraph.

Home Education

In these modern times we tend to dismiss the value of home education, indeed we tend to scorn it.  Hillman advances once again details from the biographies of the great thinkers and movers throughout the history of Western civilization.  He begins by adverting to the fact that the great John Stuart Mill was schooled entirely at home by his father who taught him Greek at three and Latin at eight.  He notes that by the time J.S. Mill (1806 – 1873) was fourteen  he had read most of the major ancient texts in the original.  His was a great, erudite and sensitive soul, and he is manily known today for his theory of Utilitarianism and his ideas of Liberty.  As a scholar and M.P. he advocated the Rights of Women and pleaded for an "easing of the burdens" on Ireland.  This sensitive soul, also, experienced a nervous breakdown as a young man.  Anyway, Hillman's argument is that his father and his father's friends had a great influence on and nourished his acorn as it were. 

Other "freak Victorian masterminds"  and polymaths listed by Hillman are our very own William Rowan Hamilton (1805 –1865) and Francis Galton (1822 – 1911).  Our man lists many other exceptionl individual and scholars who had their acorns nurtured by the system of education given them primarily at home, by scholar friends of their parents and only secondly at school and university.  However, he does mention other genuiuses who read penny dreadfuls and who engaged in pure fantasy.  Thank goodness, there has to be a more or less "normal" genius somewhere, or is "normal" the incorrect adjective to use with genius with by its very nature shares in the extraordinary?  I get the feeling that the great Victorian masterminds lived in a sort of "hot house atmosphere" where they were likely to explode - no wonder poor J.S. Mill had a nervous breakdown, given the intensity of instruction which his father put him through!  Let's listen to Hillman's passionate and poetic words once more here and marvel at them:

The soul, they say, needs models for its mimesis in order to recollect eternal verities and primordial images.  If in its life on earth it does not meet these as mirrors of the soul's core, mirrors in which the soul can recognize its truths, then its flame will die and its genius wither.  Ideal heroes and heroines provide the ectypes on earth that release the guiding archetypes of the soul.  (Ibid., 159)
Now an ectype is a copy of an original, and, therefore different from a prototype.  Consequently such ectypes can and do have the capacity to release the guiding archetypes already innately in the soul.

Parental Fantasy

Hillman writes several pages on this interesting topic namely, how far does both parents' or even one parent's or indeed the guardian's fantasy of what the child might become influence the child's acorn?  How do parents imagine the child?  "What do they see in this little person who has dropped in their laps?" (Ibid., 161) 

Then, our author is interesting on teachers and mentors, because while the parents' main role is the nurturing of the child in as holistic a way as possible, it is not necessarily their role to nurture the acorn per se :

To expect primary caretakers, for example, parents, to see through the child into the acorn, to know who is there in nuce, and to tend to its concerns - is far too much.  That is why teachers and mentors come into the world.  He or she is another special person, often someone whom we fall in love with early, or who falls in love with us; we are two acorns on the same branch, echoing similar ideals.  What heartease and bliss in finding a corresponding soul who singles us out!  How long we move about, desperate to discover someone who can really see us, tell us who we are.  One of the main seductions of early love, and early therapy, arises from the desire to meet a person who can (or who you believe can, or who can at least pretend to) see you. (ibid., 163)
Hence, it is difficult for a parent to teach their own child to the fullest extent.  If they do so, they have to say to themselves and to their child: "I am your teacher now, not your parent," and "you are my student now, and not my child."  Such a distinction is indeed hard to make, and, therefore, many teachers choose never to send their children to the school in which they teach if they can at all help it.  This is one reason why they should not send their child to their own school - among many other reasons indeed, I hasten to add.

The Power of the Written (and Spoken) Word

As an existentialist psychotherapist, I am always doubly enchanted when an author quotes another author whom I love.  Needless to say, I have long been a student of R.D. Laing's wonderful existential psychotherapy.  He was a once off - a true and beautiful acorn to sustain the archetypal psychological metaphor here.  It does not surprise me when Hillman says that libraries and books and reading can also nourish the acorn, and that R.D. Laing was a lover of books and that he worked himself through his small local library from shelf to shelf until he was overwhelmed by one book by Kierkegaard.  Let's lsiten to Laing's words as quoted by Hillman:

eating my way through the library, I mean I was looking at all the books... working my way from A to Z...  The first major thing by Kierkegaard that I read ... was one of the peak experiences of my life.  I read that through, without sleeping, over a period of about 34 hours just continually... I'd never seen any reference to him ... that directed me to it.  It was just this complete vista... It just absolutely fitted my mind like a glove... here was a guy who had done it.  I felt somehow or another within me, the flowering of one's life.  (Quoted ibid.,  165)
In a sense it's all something magical, sometrhing connected with wonder.  I'm thinking of the wonder associated with Patrick Kavanagh's early poems, the magic of Lewis Carroll's writings, the sheer imaginative power of the likes of J.R. Tolkien and the later incarnation of a similar but unique daimon in J. K. Rowling.  These are just a handful of imaginative geniuses whom our world is so lucky to have known, for we are truly endebted to them. 

And so, as teachers there is a burden on our shoulders, but not a heavy one once we are aware of it, and that is, our true vocation as educators is the cultivation of the seeds of wonder, beauty, truth, magic and myth, the elusive thing special to all geniuses whether they work within the Sciences or the Arts.  Bryan MacMahon, one of Ireland's greatest short story writers, also a brilliant primary school teacher, knew the magic of wonder and the power of story telling to excite young minds and to help nourishing the daimon innate in each young mind.

Above, the library of a good friend in Paris.

In the footsteps of James Hillman 22

A Note on Genetics and a Warning to Psychiatry

Hillman, along with one of his oft-quoted scholars, Robert Plomin, issues a timely warning against interpreting genetics in a simplistic manner.  He quotes this sentence from Plomin, which is indeed well worth pondering and allowing its implications to penetrate into our minds: "Genetic effects on behaviour are polygenic and probabilistic, not a single gene and deterministic."  (quoted in The Souls' Code, p. 151)

The implications of this scholarly and scientific statement mean that to attribute or seek to attribute both the individual strengths and weaknesses of any one person to this or that gene is in itself reductionist and simplistic to say the least.  There are combinations of genes at work and a probabilistic combination of them at that.  I am reminded of the quotation from Macbeth where Shakespeare for first time in that play uses a metaphor for growth, viz., seeds and plants. (interestingly Arthur Miller also uses it in his wonderful little play Death of a Salesman).  This metaphor is used is in Act I, Scene II, lines 58-61 when Banquo says to the witches:

"If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favors nor your hate."

In this, Banquo is questioning the validity of the witches' prophecies. He is asking them that if they know "which grain will grow and which will not," or which people will prosper and which will become overcome by evil, to tell him. This could be taken as foreshadowing for the rest of the play, because after he said this, the witches told of their prophecies for Macbeth.

Be thais all as it may, let's not get side-tracked - after all, we are discussing Hillman not Shakespeare.  However, the point is very clear who can attribute this or that specific strength or weakness to this or that specific gene.  Genetics is not as exact as we would wish it, so let's be careful and scientific, not reductionist and simplistic.  There is so much more at play in how life pans out than genetics.  Hillman is nothing if not aware of the manny influencing factors on our individual lives as human beings.  Once again, needless to say, he sees his mythical acorn playing a central role in how life does pan out for us.  And so we have Plomin's and Hillman's warning to psychiatry:

I gather from him a warninmg to psychiatry: Do not capsize your noble vessel under the weight of pharmaceutical, insurance company, and government gold, and do not set your compass towards Fantasy Island, where genetics will define "disease entities in psychiatry." (The Soul's Code, p.151)
Hillman adverts, rather astutely, to the French disease of mechanism, or more correctly mechanistic thinking.  He mentions the great mechanists in that tradition: Mersenne, Malebranche (17th century), Condillac, de la Mettrie (18th century), de Tracy and Comte (19th century) where all mental events were reduced to biology.  Hillman's warning against such a reductionism is correct because the psychiatry of the thirties to the fifties implemented such a reductionism and ended up making zombies of human beings.  Let's listen to our man's wise words here:

From 1930 into the 1950s, correlating specific brain areas with large emotional and functional concepts provided tha rationale for the violence of psychosurgery and the lobotomizing of many a troubled sole at odds with circumstance. (Ibid., 152)
What is the oppsite to reductionism, I ask myself?  Expansionism?  Does such a word or concept exist.  Anyway, it would seem to me that what Hillman wants us to do is to have a psychology of humanity which is open and all-encompassing, which is expansive and all-embracing.  I'm sure there is such a term somewhere, but I am not aware of what it is.  This now leads us on neatly to our next heading.

Deep Ecology

Hillman argues cogently and eruditely about the need to broaden our notion of the environment in terms of what he calls a "deep ecology."  By this he means that we must become aware that our planet Earth is a living, breathing, and self-regulating organism:

Since anything arouns can nourish our souls by feeding imagination, there is soul stuff out there.  So why not admit, as does deep ecology, that the environment itself is ensouled, animated, inextricably meshed with us and not fundamentally separated from us? (Ibid., 153)

Above, a picture I took of some trees at Newbridge House around 2000.