Friday, January 17, 2020

#44 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine cultural DNA #12)


I have often wondered why it is that men love to watch movies exploring the inner space of the imagination, and the outer space of that same dimension (given that the imagination is the root of both) and yet shy away from disclosing the outer reaches of our inner space. Ghoulish figures, monsters, dragons, skeletons, putrifaction pulverizing and dissolution are all characters and processes of the latest in visual effects. The technology, in fact, has so advanced as to be able to render any and all potentially imaginative characters in the most “dramatic” and memorable fashion.

The efforts to keep wired and turned “on” the electrified fence separating these movies from the inner space of one’s sense of self, however, while seeming heroic in a politically correct, tight-assed, buttoned-down, ‘preppy’ and hermaphroditically sealed culture aiming at the perfection of all personal performances, are, to be blunt, soul destroying. Repression, denial, avoidance, and the reduction of all things “psychopathological” as “dangerous” and “outside the realm of normality” is a kind of involuntary critical parenting that is not only not necessary, but also debilitating.
James Hillman, in Revisioning Psychology, writes these words:

Ideals and norms provide means for seeing pathologizing but they are not to be taken as means for measuring pathologizing. From the psychological viewpoint neither the statistical norm nor the ideal norm can offer the least relevance regarding the inherent value of a pathologized fantasy or experience. My nightmares, compulsions, anxieties may be essential to my work, life-style, and my relations with others. Norms are perceptual modes for seeing contrasts; they are staining methods which help un notice deviations more sharply. By realizing how strongly pathologizing an event is, we more immediately8 sense its importance. But the psychological worth of what is going on is stated not by the norm or the deviation, but by the affliction itself. It reports its own interior significance in its accompanying fantasy-images.

Pathologizing this afflicts the very fantasy of norms themselves, the idea that there are objective standards, bench marks for the soul, its fantasy, its madness, its fate. When a therapist insists that no two cases are alike, (s)he means this not merely in the details of its accidents but in the profound sense that human being is essentially “differing” being, and that individuality is given with the particular mix of soul, the complexity of its composition. Therefore, when Jung defines individuation as a ‘process of differentiation’ and differentiation as ‘the development of differences, the separation of parts from the whole,’ it means realizing our differences from every other person.
But it also means our internal differences deriving from our internal multiple persons.

Therefore, an individual cannot provide a norm even for himself. The many persons which play their parts through an individual have differing paths to follow, different moments of rise and decay, different Gods to obey….The falling apart of the individual at death, the dissolution of his complexity, which the Buddha taught in his last cautionary enigma-‘Decay is inherent in all composite things. Work on your salvation with diligence’- points to the absolute non-normality of each individual person. If the fundamental principle of psychological life is differentiation, then no single perspective can embrace psychological life. A standard for one figure may be pathology for another, and pathology for one part may be normal from another perspective within the same individual.  (James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, Harper, New York, 1975, p.87-88)

Try to juxtapose this notion alongside of the concept of the monstrous industrial, normalizing “machine” of the norms imposed, expected and heavily sanctioned by the state. There is a significant difference worthy of exploration between the “hard-wiring” (so called) of the individual (dubious at best) and the hard-wiring of the state. Normalizing, for the purpose of achieving something called “state and private protection” (really an aphorism for state control) within a narrow, highly starched, even fossilized set of norms, and then monitoring the compliance (or not) of millions of people may seem like a technological phenomenon worthy of man’s highest aspirations and ideals. It is, also, and perhaps paradoxically, a highly dangerous machine in the hands, and the internal compulsions of the state.

The dedicated purpose of achieving power, no matter how benign its design, implies a kind of inferential proposition that power is inherently “good” and its absence is inherently “evil”. Narrowing the definition of the human being into a straight-jacket that ‘fits’ neatly into a set of publicly acclaimed and rewarded attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and actions is a path to ironing out all the creases of who we are, differently from everyone else. And then, diving deeply into a theatrical world of grotesque images, and conflicts between good and evil, as a way of releasing our anxieties, while temporarily escaping the vicissitudes of hose anxieties, is a prescription for doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.

We have all lived through a thousand moments, many of them having been forgotten, while a few have the potential (although not easily accessed) of offering new insights in which can reveal the ‘information of the universe,’ the “groundwork and hierarchies of the imagination on archetypal principles. The ordering rubrics that provided that categories were mainly planetary Gods and themes from classical myths.” (Hillman, op. cit. p.92)

Those pathologized memories, events indelibly and retrievably embedded in our memory, are what Hillman calls, “true soul movers” since “if a soul is to be truly moved, a tortured psychology is necessary.” (Ibid, p. 92)
“Soul-moving” memories, such moments as an untimely death, a suicide, a birth, a divorce, a firing, an abandonment, a serious accident comprise the kind of experience that everyone of us can experience on any day in our lives. And once having gone through one or more, we are inevitably much more awakened to their potential for our lives. For many (if not most) of us, events pass “through” us much as our food passes through us, so “in our heads and minds” are we that we do not pause, (perhaps cannot) and let the event continue to reverberate, resonate, vibrate and engrave the fullness of its image on our soul. Task-focused men are especially likely to sideline such moments, both given their potential for bending us at our knees, and for opening the tear-ducts of our eyes, both of which possibilities are not “appropriate” at the moment.

The knee-jerk response of many males, as leaders of organizations in which trauma has occurred is to “find a “Churchill” to get the organization and the people to “move on” and to take their grief, or trauma “home” where it will not impede the “getting on with it” by the organization.” This is especially counter-intuitive in an ecclesial organization, where inevitably trauma occurs rather frequently, and, to this scribe, unsurprisingly. Considering grief, for example, even the most dramatic and public display of its depth, as counter-intuitive to the “smooth running” of the corporation, and thus justifying its removal from the scene of a profound tragedy, is not merely expressing a conventional, and even normative “fear” that such emotions threaten the stability of the organization and its capacity to “weather the current storm.” And in an organization, the church, supposedly dedicated to the spiritual, psychological and social development of the individuals under its roof, and dedicated to the principle of embracing and comforting the “suffering” and to upset the comfortable, histories in which that aspirational goal has been thwarted have deeply impacted those present.

In fact, the intersection of social, cultural norms, whereby private trauma is deliberately and dismissively ostracized from the public arena, as is the case still with suicide in North America, (both Canada and the U.S.) is a case in point in which the normalizing of repression, invalidation, and effectively denial of both the empirical reality and the emotional impact, is a theme in which we all, consciously or unconsciously, participate. Untimely death, at one’s own hands, is a public issue and a private reality at different ends of the numerical continuum. We are willing to talk about its depressing numbers of incidents, and to focus on the age demographics, or the indigenous demographics, without really facing the individual lives of desperation faced by those whose lives we mourn.

Of course, each incident leaves deep and profound remorse, and even deeper shame and guilt among those still living. “What could I have done to prevent this?” is the question each engaged person asks. The culture, on the other hand, picks up its morning coffee, shakes its head, and utters something like, “It’s so sad!” as it walks out the door of the coffee shop. And yet, if we are going to begin to acknowledge the “monsters” in our own imaginations, we will need to acknowledge that there are ‘monsters’ in each of our imaginations.

Trying to imagine the deep and profound depression, anxiety, fear and potential shame that prompted a father of a classmate, my childhood pharmacist, a young male church member, an elderly and highly respected widower, a former Ontario Premier who had suffered a debilitating stroke, a brilliant heart surgeon, a distraught clergy, a highly sensitive, creative wannabee-writer, and my grandfather, all of whom either committed or attempted suicide in my lifetime is an impossible task. Sadly, there is a known and unforgettable name on each of the faces of those lives with which I am familiar. Imagine how many others, each of them known to someone, and to some community, whose lives were ended by their own hands, or who attempted to end their lives. However, not to bring their lives, their memories and their desperation back to life, as a canary in the coal-mine of our own culture and time, is and would be an omission of a full acknowledgement our cultural DNA.

Our cultural dismissal as “something wrong with each of them” is no longer palatable, thankfully. However, our openness to our own vulnerabilities, fears, anxieties, and the imaginations that create our most treasured poems, films, plays are also inhabiting our own memories. And we are each, potentially, alchemists, with our own fire, and sulphur and salt and lead, as symbols of our bitterness, and metaphoric combustion. We can burn both the chemicals and those “infections” still inhabiting our soul in our own alchemy, if Hillman is to be believed.

Nevertheless, the especially masculine filing of the imagination, the deep imprints of traumatic memory, and all things that disclose and even hint at weakness, an integral part of our complexity, under “for a later date” is a penchant that cannot be allowed to be deemed part of our permanent hard-wiring. Nor can we revert to the medication of some prescribed (or not) drug or potion, as our pathway through the underground tunnel of our unconscious as our key to its discovery.

If each of those men were depressed, and who would argue that they were not, and we continue to see depression as the great evil, Hillman posits a reasonable, if complicating explication of how the “christian” culture came to this point….

“Because Christ resurrects, moments of despair, darkening, and desertion cannot be valid in themselves. Our one model insists on light at the end of the tunnel; one program that moves from Thursday evening to Sunday and the rising of a wholly8 new day better by far than before. Not only will therapy more or less consciously imitate this program (in ways ranging from hopeful positive counseling to electroshock), but the individual’s consciousness is already allegorized by the Christian myth and so he knows what depression is and experiencers it according to form. It must be necessary (for it appears in the crucifixion) and it must be suffering; but staying depressed must be negative, since in the Christian allegory, Friday is never valid per se, for Sunday—as an integral part of the myth—is pre-existent in Friday from the start. The counterpart of every crucifixion fantasy is a resurrection fantasy. Our stance toward depression is a priori a manic defense against it. Even our notion of consciousness itself serves as an antidepressant; to be conscious is to be awake, alive, attentive, in a state of activated cortical functioning. Drawn to extremes, consciousness and depression have come to exclude each other, and psychological depression has replaced theological hell….
Yet through depression we enter depths and in depths find soul. Depression is essential to the tragic sense of life. It moistens that dry soul, and dries the aet. It brings refuge, limitation, focus, gravity, weight, and humble powerlessness. It reminds of death. The true revolution begins in the individual who can be true to his or her depression. Neither jerking oneself out of it, caught in cycles of hope and despair, nor suffering it through till it turns, nor theologizing it—but discovering the consciousness and depths it wants. So begins the revolution in behalf of soul.” (Hillman, op. cit. p.98-99)

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