Saturday, May 07, 2011

Where is the Soul 35?

Un carabiniere a Roma, 1 Maggio 2011
The novelist Thomas Pynchon has described Hillman's and Ventura's joint book as "provocative, dangerous and high-spirited," while the Los Angeles Times declared that it is a work in which "[a]ll sorts of fresh ideas dart back and forth as in a successful jam session."  These are more poetic ways of saying what I have been saying on several occasions about the provocative and subversive nature of We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's getting Worse.  We do owe such authors a debt of gratitude because they push forward the boundaries of knowledge by their courage to ask counter-cultural and very unpopular questions.

Being a Maverick and an Outsider

Most great organizations, the Church included, have long had mavericks out at their fringes - indeed, far too few of them, to tell the truth.  These mavericks, either in thought or in prophetic action, have helped push forward the boundaries of truth and knowledge.  Hillman and Ventura argue well in this book that once any science or institution becomes subservient solely to the state rather than to the truth, the heart or soul of it has been figuratively put to sleep or anaesthetized.  Hillman admits here that he is in the company of other subversive and prophetic voices like Ivan Illich, Ronnie Laing and Tom Szasz at the stultification of the soul and its creativity by subservience to society.  With them he argues that society itself has become dysfunctional.  He also admits that he is looked upon as a maverick and as an outsider and is quite content to be so regarded even when it means lack of prestige and power, not getting the academic chairs and receiving the inevitable low fees for one's services.  In short he admits to being marginalized by the psychological profession.

Support Groups

Hillman returns yet again to the modern preoccupation with support groups of one sort or another.  People don't go there to form friendships.  In fact, most if not all support groups, warn against the establishment of deep friendships or personal relationships within these groups because people are way too vulnerable and share very similar vulnerabilities.  People go to these groups to get personal support.  To this extent our learned author argues that "support groups are a symptom of our time because they further the individualism."  (Op. cit., p. 208)

The Importance of Human Touch

Jazz group busking, Rome, May 1, 2011
As a frequent visitor to the South of Italy I delight in the Italian sense of touch.  It has been my opinion for years, indeed it's a commonly accepted one, that the Latin peoples are way more comfortable and "at home" with physically touching each other in loving and caring ways.  We Celts of the North have problems with touching others unless in macho sports games like rugby, wrestling and football where somehow most of the taboos about hugging and kissing (among males obviously, given the sports mentioned) are forgotten.  The Italians have a way healthier attitude to holding hands, hugging and kissing.  When one witnesses such physical encounters one realises how natural they are.  In the Northern European countries we are less tactile and perhaps this has something to do with the climate which necessitates the covering of all limbs during long cold periods.

Hillman argues that in modern Western industrialized nations like the USA and Britain our sense of touch has literally been desensitized.  We are touching only artificial surfaces of things mostly, rather than real natural objects.  And what he says is so true that "the stuff that [we] touch... are plastic, styrofoam, cold metal, so in a way there's a slow anaesthetizing, [our] hands have become brutal." (Ibid., p. 212)

Sexual Abuse

South American group busk, Via dei Fori, Roma, Maggo 1, 2011
It would be interesting to compare figures on sexual abuse in the USA and Northern Europe with those in South Europe and in African Countries.  Are there any correlations, I wonder, between the more "repressed" or less physically demonstrative countries and the rate of say sexual abuse?  In other words, is sex abuse higher in more physically repressed countries than in more open and more tactile countries like those of the Latins?  I don't know the answer, but it is a question that I must research on the Internet, but that is a topic more appropriate for another post.   Once again ponder these subversive or challenging thoughts from Hillman:

In the old-fashioned bordello the imagination of a person was cared for.  Same for de Sade, which is a storybook of images.  When the imagination of a person is not cared for we are left not only with what they now call sex addiction and sex therapy (which is a technology of sex and not the art of sex), but we are also left with the grandfather and the uncle who finger the little girls.  Again, sex molestation and all that is partly a function of the repression of prostitution and of all sexuality not considered "normal." (Ibid., p. 215)

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.)