Saturday, April 02, 2011

Where is the Soul 15?

The Child is Not always Innocent

Boy playing ball Nicastro, July 2008
It does help to be reminded, that is should we need reminding, that the child is not always innocent.  As adults we have a tendency to romanticize the past.  The days of our youth were apparently always bright and the summers were always long.  Winters were also apparently snow-covered paradises where we once played for many a long blissful hour.  Then, those of us my age will remember learning by heart the wonderful poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called My Lost Youth, and the repeated two lines like a chorus at the end of each stanza always haunted me: "A boy's will is the wind's will, //And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."  Thankfully, one of my favourite poets of all times held a more realistic slant on life by ensuring that his Songs of Innocence were just one side of a very balanced diptych, the other being called, reasonably enough, Songs of Experience.  The Soul for this brave writer/engraver/poet/mystic/artist - I allude doubtless to the wonderful if eccentric genius William Blake (See this post here-William Blake) was very much to be found in the interplay of both innocence and experience, or again in the interplay of both good and evil.  Not for our Blake a lopsided understanding of the Soul.

It is good therefore to remember that the Puer Aeternus should not be raised onto a pedestal above its station.  (See this post here - Puer Aeternus) That's why Michael Ventura's letter of response to James Hillman's is important here.  Ventura entitles his letter, "Little Demons, Little Daimons," thereby ensuring that we should never romanticize or idealize our youth.  The child can at once be wonderfully innocent, creative, vulnerable and indeed beautiful but s/he can be the opposites of these, namely mature beyond their years (sexually etc), destructive, unaware of their vulnerability and quite ugly.  They can be imps as well as angels.  Children and adolescents can manipulate adults very well too to get their own way. 

Ventura argues strongly against the overuse or possibly abuse of the innocent Puer Aeternus myth, that is, that modern psychology and psychotherapy have both romanticized, idealized and indeed mythologized the innocence of the Puer.  His words sound harsh here, if a little sensationalized - though I do believe there is some truth in what he is saying:

The inner child is a fictional character produced by an ideology and introduced into one's memory, and, like a computer virus, its ultimate result is to repress, distort, and eventually even erase memory.  (Op.cit., p.74)
Now when I was reading these lines I wrote in the margin the following comment: "But this can be said of all the archetypes surely?"  Yes indeed it can, but perhaps what Ventura is getting at is the modern preoccupation with the Puer Aeternus to the detriment of all the others.  We must get balance into our myths must we not?

La Fontana, Nicastro, July 2008
Again, both Hillman and Ventura are calling on us to be aware of the fallibility of our memories which we have a tendency to read back into from certain strong biases and prejudices.  Remember that this book was written in the early nineties of the last century before the furore over false allegations of abuse made by certain children against their parents.  These children as older adolescents and young adults seemed to remember abuses which they would later acknowledge did not happen.  I think they called this phenomenon false memory.

Then Ventura goes on to make an interesting and very radical point that oftentimes we can become victims of diagnoses given us by the various medical professionals.  In other words a person like me who has been diagnosed with clinical depression (diagnosed at forty) could read back all manner of things related to depression into my own personal history.  Ventura specifically mentions this phenomenon with respect to all Twelve Steps groups like the AA and Narcotics Anonymous, Over-Eaters Anonymous where everything in one's life is interpreted around alcoholism or drugs or eating or abuse.  Now he uses a lovely term to describe this phenomenon namely "a kind of psychological monotheism" (Ibid., p. 74)

Quoting More Poets

Ventura goes on in this rather long letter to quote the Mexican writer, poet, and diplomat, and the winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature one Octavio Paz Lozano (1914 – 1998) whose words are most apt to the author's contentions:

North Americans want to understand and we want to contemplate.  They are activists and we are quiteists; we enjoy our wounds and they enjoy their inventions... North Americans consider the world to be something that can be perfected... we consider it something that can be redeemed. (Quoted ibid., p. 75)

The North Americans then, like a lot of us modern Europeans are victims of our own linear thinking.  I believe we owe this penchant for linearity in our thinking to The Industrial Revolution and to the philosophy that spawned it, viz., The Enlightenment.  And so the myth of the perfectibility of humankind was born.  History became once and for all a line tracing our growth and development, ever changing and progressing for the better.  Unfortunately two World Wars and hundreds of other minor wars along with nuclear catastrophes have helped us see how blinkered such linearity of thought really is.  Now these are my thoughts and my words here, inspired by the thoughts and words of Michael Ventura.  All good writers make us think and develop our own thoughts, no?  Maybe a more ancient approach of circularity might be more apt, no?

Then Ventura does what I consider to be anathema, adding a postscript which is 4 and a half pages long - almost as long as the actual body of the letter!  However, in these extra pages he gives examples from his own life and from the lives of those he knew of the daimon or acorn or genius within us when we are youngsters.  They make interesting but not mind-blowing reading.  However, he does finish with an insight which I like.  He quotes the contemporary scorning of mythology and indeed of the teaching tales of the likes of the brothers Grimm as being short-sighted and psychologically destructive especially since they have been condemned by both certain elements in Academia and by Fundamentalists.  We should be very suspicious, he avers when both Academia and Fundamentalism have equal hatred for the same modes of thought. (My emphases and capitals) He quotes a lovely phrase from the writer Isak Dinesin (Karen von Blixen-Finecke (1885 – 1962), née Karen Christenze Dinesen) who maintained that Academia and Fundamentalism are two locked boxes, each of which holds the key to the other.  Now I'll be pondering that statement for many a long day! 

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