Thursday, November 7, 2019

#21 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Knight Errant #c)

Before we get too deeply immersed in a reductionistic version of “Knight Errant,” especially if considered a merely heroic characterization of any psychological model without complications let's pause. In his brief outline of archetypal psychology, James Hillman suggests paradoxically that rather than “having” the archetype, the archetype itself “has” the individual….and resists clear unambiguous definition. In his Revisioning Psychology, Hillman writes these words: (elucidation found by this scribe after six-plus decades of wondering, wandering and considering this life path as one dominated by misunderstanding, mis-perception, alienation and personal conflict)

From Revisioning Psychology, Harper & Row, 1976, p.161-162:

The Knight Errant is a wanderer, and his path has been deviant even since Parmenides* decried loose-limbed wandering as the way of error, deceptive opinion, going astray….The Knight Errant follows fantasy, riding the vehicle of his emotions; he loiters and pursues the anima with his eros, regarding desire as also holy; and he listens to the deviant discourse of the imagination. His arguments make use of the ‘straw man’; he personifies, makes the other position come alive, so that he can meet it as body and not only as thought….But the Knight Errant is also an outcast, a renegade wandering like Cain, never quite able to return within the structures of literalism, seeing through their walls, their definitions and so excluded by their norms, ---like Bellerophon#, who having fallen from his white winged horse of direct ascent, limped through ‘the Plain of Wandering,’ having to move on, from hero to vagabond to rogue. The Knight Errant of psychology is partly picaresque rogue, of the underworld, a shadow hero of unknown paternity, who sees through the hierarchies from below. He is a mediator betwixt and between, homeless, of no fixed abode…(Or) his home is in the ceaselessly blowing spirit, as Ficino place the home of thought in soul and the home of soul in spirit. ‘That is why man alone in this present condition of life never relaxes, he alone in this place is not content. Therefore, man alone is a wanderer in these regions, and in the journey itself he can find no rest’…(Ficino, Theologica platonica, II, cap. 14, 7 as translated by Trinkhaus, Image and Likeness)…On the road like the Knight Errant and the picaresque rogue, psychologizing is always questing after something while it wanders without goal; the narrative of its process is episodic and not epic. All the while it sees through the hypocrisies, the fixed positions of every convention…through family and charity, through class and money, through religion and love. This wandering spirit within becomes the private teacher of the negative learning, and none’s psychopathy is given a psychic function….It is he (KE) within who is driven out of stable connections, who cannot settle, cannot conform, because he is driven to unsettle all forms. But this fugue of the soul need not be condemned to play the antisocial criminal, since precisely his mordant insights are those that can awaken the callow unpsychological innocent---who also lives within us—to discern among ideas, discover new perspectives and survive. This the rogue can teach—psychological survival. Thus may our psychological shadow become a guiding psychopomp and bring about a reformation of the innocents from below, through the shadow—of the lamb by the wolf.

Was it the hours of hearing deep dark judgements of anyone and everyone whose public face evoked scorn in my mother that sewed the seeds of the KE (Knight Errant)?

Was it the incarnate hypocrisy of her abuse cast on the landscape of her public and perfect persona that nurtured a perspective that “appearance is definitely not the whole of reality?

Were the ‘hollywood’ performances of a picturesque garden of flowers, warm dinner dishes delivered to mourning families, winter coats delivered anonymously to impoverished nursing students and the extensive attention to the details of interior decoration and smocked dresses the stuff of a public face and performance, that lay bare the details of family violence and self loathing?

Did the chant, “You’re no good, you’ll never be any good, just like your father!” echoing off the walls in this diminutive saltbox of a brick house implant a belief that only through such a perspective would the truth be uncovered?

Did the “Hollywood” mother who envisaged her son performing in Carnegie Hall (not metaphorically, but literally) embed visions of inflated potential and the solitary path of stardom, in her vicarious pursuit of value, meaning, purpose and identity through her offspring, actually engender that Knight Errant, the picaresque odd-ball who never fit in?

Did ‘her’ pretense of upper-class superiority, especially compared to her spouse’s church-mouse poverty and perceived classlessness and glaring lack of professional education, (read worthlessness) forge a divided family ethos of Manichean reductionism? (Quote: “Only after you have a degree behind your name will you be welcome to debate me?”)

Was the inescapable and visceral competition between ‘her’ and her sisters-in-law (also practicing professional nurses with highly challenging and responsible positions in large urban hospitals) fodder for a kind of inherent perceptive insurrection within the family?

Were the images, sounds, wardrobe and attitudes of the nun-tutored R.N. so loud, heroic and incompatible with social norms that indoctrination on the aphorism, “If everyone jumps off the town dock, are you going to join them?” seemed mind-numbing until mid-adulthood?

“Don’t read, do something!” as a paradoxical maternal mantra, resulted ironically in a modestly successful career as an English instructor, in a parallel manner to the much later ‘education’ of the psyche, giving glimpses into an identity-pattern of a similar dark-to-light process: from hero to wanderer to rogue.

Through the fog of history, loss, misadventure and wandering, the image of the Knight Errant is slowly and hesitatingly casting both its light and its shadow into its own memory diary, as well as into the immediate present and the impending future.

“As a defense mechanism, projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common form of projection occurs when an individual, threatened by his own angry feelings, accuses another of harbouring hostile thoughts.” ( However, such an insight is available neither to an adolescent in the 1950’s nor to his mid-fifties father.

Clearly, after decades of reflection, rumination and discomfort, it seems reasonable to characterize many, if not most, of the untenable, unsupportable, unconscious, viscous and irreconcilable statements, platitudes, judgements, observations and cracker-barrel epithets uttered by our mother as projections. Whether they emerged from a sense of self-loathing, and/or a box-car, solitary childhood, and/or an authoritarian(father)/creative(mother) parenting pattern, some mix of genetic materials, and/or a dichotomized religious life (protestant/Roman Catholic), or more likely some fluctuating, flowing and ebbing river of influences, seems only speculative today.

However, similar waters, especially about the perspective of scepticism verging on iconoclasm and suspicion toward authority figures and the institutions they serve have shaped many of the perspectives that have informed many of my encounters with people in those roles. Looking back, I can count on one hand the supervisors whom I did then and still do today hold in high esteem. And those I revere are universally painted, in my imagination, with a palate of colours including courage, intelligence, compassion, empathy, creativity, high ethics, and a perspective of the eternal in time. Conversely, anality, narcissism, perfectionism, dogmatism, obsequiousness, scrupulosity and self-righteousness are some of the flags to which I seem highly resistant, if not downright hostile.

Of course, the second list is the one for which I must accept a considerable share of accountability. At my worst, I fall into the very trap I hate, in a pattern shared by many humans. Living in the “in-between” between the first and the second list of attributes, has the short-term advantage of being able to “intuit,” (in that 30-second first impression phase) a “comfort with” or a “resistance to” both situations and the people fronting them. However, resisting the binary, and the Manichean characterization of both people and situations, one still has to start somewhere. It is only through a continuing process of questioning both my own perceptions and the actions, words, attitudes and associations of others that first impressions shift.

From the closet of memory, especially of those who have incarnated many of the traits in the first list, I recall English instructors in both secondary school and in undergraduate courses. Mentors, too, have found places on the pedestals of “value” sin my imagination. And sadly, friends have been few and far between, primarily from a perception that few if any have indicated a willingness/capacity to share need. Holding to a bar far too high for convention, as well as too high for reasonable expectations of others, I have paved my own path over with my own resistance to full engagement with friends, whether professional or personal or both. However, after sharing what I have considered a reasonable need, and waiting for another to express even a hint of need/vulnerability, I have actually had to announce the end of a then-growing relationship, especially with another man, given the silence of what I considered reciprocity of shared need. If men especially refuse to share their real and authentic needs, (not dreams, escapes, or highest and loftiest ambitions), my contention is that we/they sabotage ourselves. However, the risk in sharing such needs is that other males will consider me weak, effeminate, unmanly, and especially frivolous and thereby immature.

Friendships, however, seem to require, if not demand, disclosure of fear, disclosure of frustration, disclosure of discomfort, embarrassment and private moments. And such disclosure is not exclusive to our female partners, friends or colleagues. Or at least it need not be. Wrapping our male ego’s in armour of steel, iron, or the suit, the robe, the scrubs, the clerical collar, the executive title, the BMW, or the corner office, is a short-sighted, self-sabotaging strategy and tactic.

We men are a lot more than a “role” playing a scripted part in some other person/organization’s drama. Kant reminds us that we are not to be the means/agents for another’s ends. And such a caveat is also not exclusive to men or women. We are not a revenue-generating widget in a profit-sharing scheme of the corporation. We are not merely the agent of new sales, new prospects, new recruits, new adherents, new converts, as if “to market” (pitch, sell, present, convert to the sale) is the primary purpose of any job description.

And our compliant tilting the playing field, the ice, the court in favour of the behemoth organization (whether for profit or non-profit) while surrendering, if not actually abdicating our whole persons, including our needs, our fears, our insecurities and our aspirations can and will only generate our own exacerbated insecurities, neuroses and even psychoses, whether we are prepared to acknowledge that prospect or not.

If men could/would unlock our fears, needs and anxieties, at least to those (other than our spouses) in whom we do have confidence that we will not be betrayed, and with whom we are not in open or secret competition, we would all breathe more deeply, see more fully, experience others in a new and more complex perspective and evolve a sense of both empathy and compassion as gift to ourselves, our families and our medical practitioners.  

*Parmenides held that the multiplicity of existing things, their changing forms and motion, are but an appearance of a single eternal reality (Being), thus giving rise to the Parmenidean principle that “all is one”. From this concept of Being, he went on to say that all claims of change or of non-Being are illogical. (

#Bellerophon, in his arrogance, decided that he could ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus and visit the gods. Zeus quickly put an end to his trip by sending the gadfly to sting Pegasus and dismount Bellerophon. He survived his fall, but was crippled. He spent the rest of his life wandering the earth. No man would help him because of his offense to the gods. He died alone with no one to record his fate. (

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