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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Attempting to peel the onion of demon/daimon in Hillman's depiction of Hitler

 Any and all attempts to discern, diagnose, analyse, and deal with what the world calls evil, is fraught with perils of many kinds. In the Western world, one of the primary sources of evil, promulgated in and by the Christian church is Augustine.

A short look at his view is that moral evil is not some thing that God created, but rather a corruption in human will. The ‘way’ one chooses, rather than the ‘thing’ is central to his approach. While the existence of evil helps humans appreciate the good, God does not cause or permit evil, as it is not a thing. Whether one approaches the problem of evil from a logical or evidential perspective, the focus of any discussion of evil tries to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering in our world view. The existence of evil juxtaposed to/with a loving God, lies at the core of the conundrum. And, while the question of a theodicy (an attempt to justify God in the face of evil) is relevant for theologians, here we are searching for a psychological approach to evil.

What is there about a human being that either causes, or implicates or provides evidence of an evil person, per se, and how do we go about attempting to first relate to that person and then how to address the question of mediating that dark impulse? Levi Asher, on litlicks.com, on July 17, 2010, in reference to a book by Lars Svendsen, a Norwegian philosopher, entitleds, ‘A Philosophy of Evil,’ writes:

Friedrich Nietzsche advised us to give up on morality and follow him ‘beyond good and evil’ in 1886, and it’s probably fair to say that academic philosophy has remained in that Nietzschean zone—beyond any common or widely accepted agreement on the meanings of the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’—ever since. ….(A) useful breakdown of what Svendsen considers to be the four types of evil:

Demonic Evil is evil for its own sake, performed for the express purpose of harming others or for the enjoyment of the experience of watching others suffer.

Instrumental Evil is evil that occurs in order to carry out some other purpose.

Idealistic Evil is evil that is ‘justified’ by some greater cause…..Adolf Hitler, Chairman Mao and Osama bin Laden were all motivated by what they considered to be lofty ideals.

Stupid Evil is evil that occurs based on human incompetence, despite the fact that nobody wished it.

James Hillman begins a chapter in “The Soul’s Code,” entitled ‘The Bad Seed,’ with these words:

Crooks, criminals, sadistic guards and serial rapists—all the creatures large and small of the underworld—did their souls descend from the lap of Necessity? …Plotinus asked the question centuries ago: ‘How could a wicked character be given by the Gods? (p. 214)

He then goes on to inquire into the ‘figure who was the ultimate criminal psychopathic murderer of modern times, if not of all times: Adolf Hitler. (p. 214)

Differing from Svendsen who doubts the existence of demonic evil, Hillman writes: To be a conscious citizen in the Western post-Hitler age, not only must one recall the images and the lessons of the first half of this (20th) century, Hitler’s time in Western history, but also one is obliged to reflect about Hitler as a demonic potential in this same Western world. To reflect upon Hitler is to do more than present a case study in psychopathy or political tyranny, and more than a literary departure such as performed by Mailer, Capote, and Sartre on their psychopathic subjects. It is a ritual act of psychological discovery, an act as necessary to the claim of being a conscious human  as remembering the Holocaust and reviewing the Second World War. A study of Hitler is an act of contrition by all who share the Western psyche for that psyche’s unconscious participation in Hitler’s actions; and it is an act of propitiation of the particular demon who selected Hitler for its host. (The Soul’s Code, p. 215)

For some, the concept of the ‘demon selecting Hitler,’ may be a step too far. It stems in part from the basic notion in archetypal psychology that an image is not what one sees but the way in which one sees. An image is given by the imagination perspective and can only be perceived by an act of imagining. The autochthonous (original, earliest known) quality of images as independent of the subjective imagination which does the perceiving takes Casey’s* idea one step further. First one believes images are hallucinations (things seen); then one recognizes them as acts of subjective imagining; but then, third, comes the awareness that images are independent of subjectivity and even of the imagination itself as a mental activity. Images come and go (as in dreams) at their own will, with their own rhythm, within their own fields of relations, undetermined by personal psychodynamics. In fact, images are the fundamentals which make the movements of psychodynamics possible. They claim reality, that is, authority, objectivity, and certainty. In this third recognition, the mind is in the imagination rather than the imagination in the mind. The noetic (relating to mental activity or intellect) and the imaginal no longer oppose each other. ‘Yet this is still psychology’ although no longer science; it is psychology in the wider meaning of the word, a psychological activity of creative nature, in which creative fantasy is given prior place.’ (Jung)…Corbin**(1958) attributes this recognition to the awakened heart as locus of imagining, a locus also familiar in the Western imagination from Michelangelo’s imagine del cuor (the image within the stone). This interdependence of heart and image intimately ties the very basis of archetypal psychology with the phenomena of love (eros). Corbin’s theory of creative imagination of the heart further implies for psychology that, when it bases itself in the image, it must at the same time recognize that imagination is not merely a human faculty but is an activity of soul to which the human imagination bears witness. It is not we who imagine but we who are imagined. (Hillman, Archetypal Psychology, A Brief Account, pp.7-8)

Images of the demonic, then, seem, for Hillman, another, and perhaps one of the more cogent and relevant, windows into the character of a man like Hitler, after having checked several other boxes of possible identifications of the invisible including: ‘the cold heart, hellfire, wolf, anality, female suicides, freaks and humorless Hitler’ (TSC p. 217-221) Hillman distinguishes between the vernacular ‘demon’ as an evil spirit, and the daimon an image he introduces in these words:

A theory of life must have a base in beauty if it would explain the beauty that life seeks. The Romantics grasped this essential truth. Their exaggerated overreach toward cloudy glories meant to bring into this world forms of the invisible they knew were necessary for imagining what life is. A last member of these Romantics, the Connecticut poet Wallace Stevens, makes clear these cloudy thoughts:

                   ….The clouds preceded us

                   There was a muddy center before we breathed.

                   There was a myth before the myth began

         Venerable and articulate and complete

(Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, p. 383)

The tale we take from Plato about the soul choosing its particular destiny and a being guarded by a daimon ever since birth is such a myth—venerable, articulate, complete; and it is there before you began the other myth you call your biography. (TSC, p 39)

For many of us, the notion of a ‘myth before the myth we call our biography’ is outside our range of both language and thought. Indeed, it requires a leap of our imagination even to approach the paradox, as we might see it. And yet, if we enter into that state of suspended disbelief, as we are urged to do when we enter the theatre physically, emotionally and in our imagination, we might begin the process of opening to the possibility and then the imaginative reality of both a dark and even demon and a supportive, guiding and life-giving daimon. The relationship between these two mythic images, however, is not merely another way to envision the relationship between good and evil within humanity. It is Hillman’s way of distinguishing the daimon as a potential guardian ‘angel’ for each of us, from the demon that emerges if and when the daimon “goes south” into its own darkness.

In his depiction of the demonic, Hillman writes:

August Kubizek, a school friend of Hitler, said his mother was afraid of Hitler’s eyes—light blue, startingly intense, and lashless. Hitler’s high school teacher described his eyes as ‘shining’. Kuzibek also wrote: If I am asked where one could perceive, in his youth, this man’s exceptional qualities, I can only answer, ‘In the eyes.’…Hitler practiced ‘piercing glances in front of a mirror’ and played the game of ‘staring down’ other people….Once when he was seventeen, fortune did fail him, (although bullets seemed to miss him). He had taken a lottery ticket and had grandiose plans for what he would do with the winnings. He did not win and jhe went into a blind fury. He had been let down by the same ‘providence,’ Moira, Fate, or Lady Luck in whom he had absolute faith…He spoke of the goddess of fate, destiny, and history. Mein Kampf, setting forth his vision , opens with his version of the Platonic myth. He states that Brunau, Austria, had been selected by fate for his entry into the world. Hitler’s call gave him the self-appointed right to be a sleep-walker outside the human world. Outside also means transcendent, where the gods themselves live. Hitler’s certitude also confirmed his sense of always being right, and his utter conviction utterly convinced his nation, carrying it forward in its wrongs. Absolute certainty, utter conviction---these then are signs of the demonic. Already at age seven, ‘Hitler was imperious and quick to anger and would not listen to anyone,’ said his half brother Alois, just as later he would not listen to his generals. No woman had his ear, either; it heard only his daimon, his sole true companion. We begin to see how power corrupts as the guiding whisper becomes a demonic voice obliterating all others. The seed comes with sure and uncanny knowledge. But while a god is omniscient, a human becomes a know-it-all, and so Hitler has no use for exchange with others. There was nothing they could teach him. To show his omniscience he memorized masses of facts-locations of regiments and reserves, displacement and armature of ships, kinds of vehicles—all of which he used to overpower his questioners and embarrass his commanders. This information ‘proved’ his transcendence and disguised hie lack of thought and reflection and his inability to hold a conversation. The demonic does not engage; rather, it smothers with details and jargon any possibility of depth. (
TSC, pps. 224-225)

Drob l. Sanford, in newkabbalah.com, in a piece entitled, ‘The Depth of the Soul: Hames Hillman’s Vision of Psychology, writes:

For Hillman, like the kaballists, good must be drawn through the portals of chaos and evil.

It is in and through the chaos and the evil that we pass that we are enabled to sift the wheat of the daimon from the chaff of the demon, as illustrated in and through the depiction of Hillman’s Hitler.Hillman does exhort his readers, however, to acknowledge the demon, and all of its darkness, without dismissing it as too toxic, or too uncomfortable, or too threatening, to confront, prior to searching for our daimon. And, by inference, it seems he would hold that in North America we  have slipped into a kind of superficial, literal, nominal and objective grasp of ‘reality’ while ignoring, denying and thereby defying the demon. Unfortunately, for the world, Hitler’s daimon devolved into his demon, leaving only death and pain, destruction, from which we all still, these many decades later, trying to emerge….only to witness another ‘demonic take over of another political leader.

Prescient as is the daimon, we can only surmise that it was Hillman’s daimon who authored these words of warning as far back as 1996:

The demonic does not engage; rather it smothers with details and jargon any possibility of depth. Our republic (United States) should learn this lesson from Hitler, for we might one day vote into power a hero who wins a giant TV trivia contest and educate our children to believe the Information Superhighway is the road to knowledge. If one clue to psychopathy is a trivial mind expressing itself in high-sounding phrases, then an education emphasizing facts rather than thinking, and patriotic, politically or religiously correct ‘values’ rather than critical judgement may produce a nation of achieving high school graduates who are also psychopaths. (TSC, p. 225)

One has to wonder how Hillman would write about the last decade in American political life and whether any of those 74 million who voted for trump would take note.

*Casey, Edward S., Toward an Archetypal Imagination, Spring, 1974:1-32

**Corbin Henry, (1958), L’Imagination  creatrice dans le Soufisme d’Ibn’Arabi. Paris: Flammarion, 1958, (in translation Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, Bollingen Series, vol. 91, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969)

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