Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where is the Soul 29?

Mediocrity

Once again Hillman begins yet another letter with provocative ideas. First of all he tells us that much of what passes for therapy is nothing more than an effort to benumb the client; an attempt to calm the patient down, to sedate him/her with the magic of therapy, to blend medical and non-medical terms if I may; a trial to help the client relieve stress; an effort to relax the person; in short an attempt at total mediocrity. This is Hillman at his very best, at his most provocative.

Tropea Beach - a bird's eye view from the town
Therapy, on the other hand, according to Hillman should be the opposite of such bland benumbing mediocrity. It should be a means of waking the patient up to burning issues. He says that the real goal of therapy should be “to encourage, maybe even enflame, the rich and crazy mind, that wonderful aviary (the image is from Plato) of wild flying thoughts, the sex-charged fantasies, the incredible longings, bloody wounds, and the museums of archaic shards that constitute the psyche.” (Op. cit., p. 151) This is classical Hillman, the archetype psychologist at his poetic and provocative best. Such gad-flies as he are needed, not alone in psychotherapy and psychology but also in philosophy and even in the natural sciences as well as the social.

I also like, as a dyed-in-the-wool Irishman, his allusion to the poems of W.B. Yeats. He refers to that brilliant poem from that poet’s pen, The Second Coming. Therein Yeats refers to the “rough beast,” which is actually in itself that very coming. In other words, what Hillman is arguing for here is that the patient or client has to be helped to face his/her own inner beast. Indeed, have we not all heard our friends who attend one form of support group or another talking about “befriending their demons.”? There is yet another Irish poet, perhaps no way as great and certainly not internationally acclaimed, who writes about befriending his own inner monster, too. That poet is Patrick Kavanagh who speaks about the courage to “stroke the monster’s back.” One cannot fault Hillman for not knowing the marvellous poetical works of Patrick Kavanagh. However, I was delighted to read on some webpage or other that James Hillman had studied for some time here in Dublin at Trinity College. I can now forgive him anything!

Let me now briefly return to the dulcet tones of Hillman’s own words:

Psychotherapy has to take sides with the beast, walk with it, touching its shaggy fur, remembering it lives at the edge, along with Robert Bly’s Wildman, demanding a place in the mall, like the Greek Furies were given a place in Athens. This is the “relationship” on which therapy must focus, the relationship with the beast; otherwise psychotherapy’s clients become Barbie and Ken “working on their relationship,” plastic dolls like Dan Quayle. (Ibid., p. 153
Then, our archetype psychologist goes on to regale us with further statistics. Remember once again that he was writing in 1990 or thereabouts, so these statistics may have changed greatly. He tells us that 3% of all adult males in America are involved in the penal system: in jail, awaiting trial, appealing, booked, fined, subpoenaed, on parole, on probation, being pardoned or even being executed. In other words, society is pushing these unacceptable ones out of it; sweeping the dirt under the carpet or repressing the demons or The Unacknowledged Monster (my term here, not Hillman’s)

Another bord's eye view of the beach
However, we all know that a problem will not go away, even if it is ignored. Repression simply does not work. The Unacknowledged Monster comes back again and again, not alone to frighten us, but also to wreak havoc on our lives or, more correctly, in our little lives. Freud, of course, was right. The repressed keeps returning until it is finally acknowledged.

Once again, Hillman is quite radical in what he suggests that we can do. He tells us that our real choice is not between the Punitive (lock them up and throw away the Key) and the Permissive (anything goes). The real choice, he says, is between Repression (Ignore, Ignore, and Ignore!) and Art (Express the Monster’s desires artistically in all its possible forms!)

The Mediocrity and benumbing offered by contemporary psychotherapy is no answer at all to violence and all the works of evil. In fact, Hillman argues, it probably invites violence to stem the boredom and benumbing. I love these two sentences from this letter as they appeal to the creative artist within me: “To cool violence you need rhythm, humour, tempering; you need dance and rhetoric. Not therapeutic understanding.” (ibid., p. 153)

On the following page, he informs us that he has been straining for decades “to push psychology over into art form rather than a science or a medicine or an education, because the soul is inherently imaginative.” (Ibid., p. 154) Hillman’s re-visioning of psychology (in the eponymous book) is based on the primacy of images. In other words in this letter and in his books he has proposed a poetic basis of mind and a psychology that starts in the processes of the imagination, rather than in the physiology of the brain or even in the structure of language or in any other “-ology” one might propose.

In Hillman’s view the role of therapy must be one of helping people to protest rather than to cope and be calm (or shut up!); to rebel rather than to adapt quietly to the status quo. In the currently accepted model of psychotherapy one is encouraged to collaborate with a society that stifles the psyche by being taught simply the skills of coping. Coping is collaboration according to our archetype psychologist and I’m inclined to agree with this great man of ideas. He admits, then, that he is an idealist who still believes therapy should be all about “raising consciousness,” as its authentic and real roots require. (See ibid., p. 156)

Once again I should like to return to Hillman’s poetic words to finish this post:

I am talking about myself now, Michael, myself as a dysfunctional therapist. Imagine my predicament. I love therapy – and have come to hate it. I was the truest believer who ever walked the streets of Zurich when I first began, and mostly ever since. I still love working on the conundrums of the soul. The psyche is incredibly fascinating, and it forces you to the edge in every hour. It’s always turning things upside down, demanding the most radical thoughts you can come up with. It disturbs your usual patterns, your usual feelings. It wants the upside down so you have to think revolution. (Ibid., 156-157)
Final Questions:

Eric Hoffer once said: “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want” (Quoted ibid., p. 159). With Hillman we must surely ask questions like “Why can we humans never get enough of anything at all, whether we want it or not?” “Where does all this wanting come from?” “Why can we never be satisfied?” “Are we really all junkies at heart?”

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