Thursday, May 05, 2011

Where is the Soul 34?

Radical Questioning

The Victor Emmanuel Monument, The Wedding Cake, Rome
I will finish my musings on Hillman's and Ventura's book We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse in the next several posts.  I had not expected these musings to run on so long.  It was the very controversial, questioning, sceptical and subversive nature of their thinking that resulted in so many posts on the one book.  I'll repeat again here, at the risk of being boring, that we need such Socratic gadflies and devil's advocates as these as they do help up deepen the questions and consequently make us look more deeply and more critically at our own presuppositions, presumptions and prejudices.  Just because one is questioning, sceptical and subversive does not mean that one is unethical or that one accepts or promotes immoral or even amoral actions.  Far from it, such questions sharpen the mind intellectually as well as ethically.  Any good philosopher understands this point, because any good philosopher must, of necessity indeed, read the views of his or her opponents or critics.

Re-Animating the World

Photographer on bike, Rome, May 1, 2011
Another radical thought presented to us by these two controversial thinkers is precisely my sub-heading here, namely that of revivifying or re-animating the world.  For them the world is alive; it's an organism; it's a living unity; it has soul.  It is not just a collection of inanimate things like rocks and stones.  It is so much more and, they argue, modern humankind has taken away everything from the world that had given it life under pre-Christian thinkers and primitive believers like the animists who believed there were spirits behind every single thing/object in the world.   I remember reading somewhere the words of the great Romantic poet and philosopher, S. T. Coleridge who argued in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that modern human beings had "untenanted the world" not alone of its God(s) but of its soul.   I believe that Hillman and Ventura would vehemently agree with this older poet.  To this extent, then, Hillman argues that "(t)he only solution can come when the world is reanimated, when we recognize how alive everything is, and how desirable." (Ibid., p184)

Re-rooting Therapy in Philosophy 

They also go on in their wide-ranging conversation to discuss the roots of therapy in philosophy itself.  Our modern notion grounds therapy in healing, shamanism and medicine, probably mostly in this last area of knowledge rather than the previous two.  Going back to its philosophical roots in such questions as "who am I?" and in such dicta as "know thyself" may be more helpful to the individual than say yearning for help in such catch phrases as "self-help" and "healing." 

Know Thyself as better than Healing the Inner Child 

Again this subheading voices another contentious claim.  In fact Hillman declares that he literally hates the notion of "the inner child," because it reduces the notion of therapy to the state of the helplessness of the child.  The words and images that pop into my mind here are those of the brilliant pre-Romantic poet William Blake who wrote many lovely poems on the innocence of the "little child lost," the "little black child" etc.  Once again, whether I agree with this contention or not is beside the point.  What's important is that I go with their questioning and allow their method to sharpen my own thoughts on the matter.  Also, I rather like Ventura's point where he quotes Jung as saying that the sage advice of ancient philosophy to "know thyself" is the most terrifying thing in the world.  So, if we are really to get to know ourselves "warts and all," then we must be prepared to be terrified, to literally face all our fears head on, look the monster in the eye as it were, or as one of our great Irish poets, Patrick Kavanagh puts it, that we must summon up the courage "to stroke the monster's back."

Questioning the Abuse of the Word "Abuse"

Rome by carriage, May 1, 2011
Another interesting and controversial point here - and remember this book was first published in the early 1990s - is the over-use, misuse, even abuse of the word "abuse."  Ventura mentions modern society's preoccupation, nay obsession with incest and abuse.  He reports a woman friend's firm belief that to favour one child above another was in itself child abuse.  This, of course, is a misuse, even abuse of the very word "abuse."  I have personally long held that the misuse and/or abuse of language is one of the greatest faults of all oppressive regimes.  They abuse language for their own evil and cynical purposes.  Even spanking is regarded, according to Hillman as "a kind of re-entry into perversion." (Ibid., p.  188)  In short, they controversially argue that the present preoccupation and obsession with child-abuse over and above all the legions of other abuses in the world is evidence of the desire we moderns have to repress sexuality and to promote the cultural importance of innocence and virginity. (See ibid., pp. 188-189)

The Christian Fear of the Imagination

The Christian fear of the imagination is nothing new at all.  When I was studying for my master's degree in theology some twenty years ago I did my thesis on the theology of John Henry Cardinal Newman with emphasis on his arguments in opposition to the then atheistic scientists and liberalists against the existence of God.  Newman argued that belief in God was rationally acceptable because the "convergence of probabilities" pointed in that direction.  He said that human beings gave "real assent" (that is assent of the whole person, both rational and emotional/affective) to the reality of God, rather than a mere "notional assent" to a empty doctrine.  Now, Newman was a brilliant thinker and an equally wonderful writer.  How I struggled with his Grammar of Assent, but the struggle was so worth it for its passages of wonderful argumentation matched by an eloquence of style I have met with in few other writers over all the years since.  However, I am straying from my point here.  My point is that Newman had first thought of talking about "imaginative assent" rather than "real assent" for the pledging of one's belief in God, but gave up the idea because somehow that was to reduce the reality of the all-powerful God to an object of the human imagination.  That's my point.  Newman was also a victim of such suspicion and fear of the imagination.

Let me quote Hillman here on the Christian fear of the imagination which he traces back to Jesus Christ himself:

Jesus never turned around and said, "Don't take me literally.  "If you think you are committing adultery, you're committing it"  That destroys the imagination.  That's what made Christian culture terrified of its own imagination for two thousand years.  (Ibid., p. 196.)

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