Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where is the Soul 18?

Letter Writing

Tulip at Ballintubber Abbey, April, 2011
I learnt to write letters from a young age as my father loved writing them.  In fact there was a great ceremony about writing letters in our house.  As the head of a poor working class family my father certainly had no study and he used often write his letters (mostly to his brother and cousin who lived in New Zealand and the USA respectively) on the kitchen table while we youngsters were doing our homework.  From then on I became a committed letter writer.  However, with the advent of the computer or word processor I abandoned the hand-written letter, though I miss its intimacy and simple personal appeal.

James Hillman writes a wonderful letter to Michael Ventura on this exact subject - namely letter writing.

The Talking Cure

Psychotherapy has long been called the "talking cure" ever since the great founding father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud used this very phrase to describe his therapy where the patient was invited to lie down and freely associate, speaking out loud whatever ideas came into his/her mind.  Eventually with Carl Gustave Jung therapy developed into a dialogue.  Hillman makes a very interesting assessment of the transcripts of such dialogues: "They are universally the same and utterly boring.  Not that the hours themselves were boring, but the written records certainly are... the language contains dead words, clichés, rhythmless repetitions, generalized conventional terms without the luster or the lilt of the souls songs of itself." (Op. cit., p. 89)  I would tend to agree with Hillman here now that I recall the sort of conversations I have had many a time with a counsellor.

Hillman goes on to state that while the soul seems reluctant to speak eloquently of itself, it does so very well indeed in written form.  Somehow the hand, with its marvellous flourishes, lends depth to the soul by giving it structure, shape and form.  Once again our archetype psychologist is himself very lyrical in praise of the art of writing:  "As if the soul needs to find a way out of its own inarticulate morass by means of the hand's deft linear skill.  Writing as the thread out of the labyrinth." (Ibid, p. 90)

Blurted (Spontaneous) Truth versus Written (Composed) Truth:

Ballintubber Abbey, Mayo, April 2011
Once again Hillman never ceases to surprise me by putting things simply yet brilliantly by stating that we in the West somehow prefer the spontaneous or blurted type of truth that goes with contemporary talk therapy.  We assume that the blurted truth is the real thing, the real essence of the truth as it were.  We in the West prefer the truth of immediacy while those in the East (Japan is the country quoted by Hillman) prefer their clients to write a written confession which the therapist will read carefully. Let us finish this post by listening once again to this archetype psychologist's magic words:

You need to see here a BIG contrast with most usual Western therapeutic methods, which do not truth reflection as much as immediacy.  Blurted truth is more true, we believe than burnished truth.  In fact, we believe, that burnishing tends to cover up so that the raw is better than the cooked.  This distrust of the articulate form betrays the Romantic roots of therapy and its distance from the carefulness of classicism.  Therapy might find its literary antecedents in Rousseau, Whitman, and garrulous Eugene O'Neill, whose characters go on and on as if they were at an AA meeting.  (Ibid., p. 90)

To be continued

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