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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

A 'new' and different 'take' on emotions and morals....from Hillman and Blake

 Let’s explore the linkages between Hillman and Blake a little further; there are so many and they are not always discernible after a cursory readingfrom an empirical, scientific. perspective.

I have written many times about the importance of emotions, especially for men who have either consciously or not, locked down their ‘poetic heart’ for a variety reasons, some of them legitimate, others not so much.

Being ‘too emotional’ is a definitive descriptor for ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘‘unpredictable’ and even ‘sinful’ or ‘dangerous’ as they were depicted by an outraged catatonic bishop in a conversation about men needing to acknowledge, recognize and express emotions. Masculinity, at least the ‘alpha’ kind, has eschewed emotions for decades, if not centuries. Perhaps emotions are considered appropriate for playwrights and poets and novelists to share. However, in many corporate settings, sharing emotions, especially negative or doubtful emotions, is a sure path to irrelevancy, for the individuals who dare to ‘go there’. Optimism, especially in regards to ‘how to see’ a proposal, is the fist step in gathering allies. And openness, rather than tight closed ‘hearts and minds’ is considered a strength of character, so long as it is contained in verbal and body language that does not ‘offend’….as too heated, too enthusiastic, too obsequious, too immature…all descriptors of disdain.

Wearing our ‘hearts on our sleeves’ as the coach of the Winnipeg Jets NHL team, noted this week, can be a problem, especially if it conveys a truth to a public audience that some would have preferred kept in the dressing room, as his players noted about his expression of ‘disgust at the lack of push-back’ from his players in the recent Stanley Cup playoffs. On the other hand, cold, repressed, buttoned-up emotional distance is a sure way to be considered ‘calculating’ and unfriendly and even dangerous, almost reptilian, for some observers. “Calmness’ and ‘cool’ when ‘under fire’ is the epitome of proper, and perhaps even required, emotional consciousness for those engaged in military battle, surgical emergencies, birthing deliveries, and steeple-jack-iron-workers, on the skeletons of sky-scrapers.

There is a strong notion that our emotions are matters of personal choice, decisions made in the face of differing circumstances, situations, encounters and moods. In various treatment modalities, emotions are tranquillized in order to achieve what is considered a more ‘balanced’ perspective than one that compromises the effectiveness of one’s ability to function. Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, as a literary form, includes the ‘cleansing of the emotions of pity and fear’, called a catharsis.

Hillman proposes a further extension of the notion that emotions can be separate from humans. Rather than considering emotions as effeminate, “inferior, sinful, disordering….(O)ur distinction between human and emotion treats it as a ‘divine influx’, to use the poetical language that appealed to Blake. Emotion is a gift that comes by surprise, a mythic statement rather than a human property. It announces a movement in soul, a statement of the process going on in a myth what we may perceive in the fantasy images that emotion accompanies. This means that human beings are not responsible for their statements of emotion. Aesthetics recognizes this, finding emotion an incomplete artistic statement, which requires personal shaping to be considered valid art. Law, too, recognizes this, and so does common speech. We are not altogether ourselves in undergoing strong effects and so not humanly accountable for what is not our property. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, pps. 176-7)

The phrase ‘divine influx’ comes from Swedenborg: cf. K. Raine, Blake and Tradition, Bollingen Series, Princeton, 1968 (see footnote #12, page 251, Revisioning Psychology.) In his Varieties of Religious Experience, William James also wrote of emotions as gifts of the spirit. (p. 150-151)

Hillman extends his thesis about emotions, in a comparison with clinical therapy.

(C)linical therapy, which trades in emotions, insists that they belong to human nature; therapy makes its patients individually responsible and personally guilty for universal archetypes. We are made accountable not only for ourselves, but also for the doings of the Gods. Archetypal therapy, in contrast, attempts to envision emotions less personally, less as resultants of human forces. For when we are freed from human eccentricity, reverted to fantasies, and then to mythic patterns, emotions have a different quality of experience. The family quarrels, the lovers’ enthusiasms, the office explosions, all have profound backgrounds’ when epic, tragic, or comic they are always mythic, far larger than life and at a distance from life. (Hillman op.cit. p. 177)

Rejecting the literal interpretation of both emotions and the human ‘experiencer’ of those emotions, Hillman goes even further in challenging the conventional norm:

The literalizing of experience results in literalizing the experiencer…..I am suggesting further that we entertain the extreme view that the notion of human being as centered in the moral person of free will is also a mythical fantasy, an archetypal perspective given by a single Hero or a single God; our freedom to choose, our moral center and decisiveness, our free will---all is the code of a transpersonal dominant. Moral codes, including those which attempt the simplifications of universality (the Judaic, The Christian, the Kantian, or the Delphic) are the literalizations of an archetype. Here I am attempting to de-moralize the psyche from the moralistic fallacy which reads psychic events in terms of good and bad, right and wrong. This requires the fiction of a fixed subject, the Chooser, or a choosing subject, the Fixer, who can repair, amend, atone. The moralistic fallacy ic central to the myth of man in the middle, humanism’s psychology of a self-identified ego, the Hero whose decisive sword divides in two so that he may choose between good and evil….Again, we find Blake seeing through the moralistic fallacy. Kathleen Raine (quoted above) writes of his (Blake’s) view as follows: ‘Satan’s first step is to invent a moral code based upon the false belief that individuals can of themselves be good or evil. This is in direct contradiction to the real nature of things, by which the proprium (person’s sense of self) is merely the recipient of the divine influx. The morally ‘good’ specter is as satanic in every way as the morally ‘evil,’ since what is alike in both is their negation of the Imagination. (Revisioning Psychology, p.178)

Mark Vernon, in The Guardian, August 17, 2014) in a piece entitled, William Blake’s picture of God, writes about a gallery exhibition of Blake etchings: Blake thought it is laughable to imagine the divine as a father-figure, as God is found within and throughout life, he believed, hence referring to Jesus as ‘the Imagination’) Instead Urizen is the demiurge, a ‘self-deluded and anxious’ forger of pre-existent matter, as Kathleen Raine Explains….Blake loathes the deistic, natural religion associated with Newton and Bacon. He called it ‘soul-smothering.’ Materialism he dismissed as ‘the philosophy in vogue.’ He thought Enlightenment had created a false deity for itself, one imagined by Rousseau and Voltaire as projected human reason. The ‘dark Satanic mills’ of Jerusalem are the mills that ‘grind out material reality,’ as Peter Ackroyd writes in his biography of Blake, continuing: ‘These are the mills that entrance the scientist and the empirical philosopher who, on looking through the microscope or telescope, see fixed mechanism everywhere. Urizen is theirs. The demiurge presides over a world that suffers under the tyranny of the laws of nature, and Urizen is as imprisoned by the constraints of space and time as are the individuals who follow him. ‘He who sees the Ratio only,’ Blake mused. The materialist’s view of the world is a prison because it’s a world created by limited perceptions.

So, for Hillman, not only are emotions deemed “divine influxes” so too are morals. They (morals) are effects of Gods who structure our consciousness according to definite principles. There is a morality of Hermes where cheating belongs, of Ares where raging destruction belongs, of Dionysius where victimization belongs. The necessity that rules the Gods gives a necessity to each of their imaginal positions and prevents any single one from overstepping the limits presented by the images themselves. The principles of one mythical perspective do not go beyond the myth itself and are not general rules for all conduct. Conflicts between these perspectives are the themes of the human comedy and its tragedy…So-called amorality is also an archetypal enactment, whether of Cain, Prometheus, the Trickster, or another….Rather than looking at myths morally, archetypal psychology looks at moralities mythically. By considering morals as the claims of the imaginal powes, morality itself become imaginal.

Morality is rooted in psychic images and psychic images are moral powers. These images remind us that we are not alone, choosing and deciding, but that in our choices and decisions we are always reflecting mythic stances. To follow a morality literally is the fallacy that forgets morality’s imaginal background; it is even an immoral or impious stance, for it forgets the God in the morality. So when Blake says that choosing in terms of good and evil negates Imagination, it is implied that the first step in recovering the imaginative perspective is to set aside all moral points of view toward the images of fantasy, dream and pathology. Images are to be left free of judgements, good or bad, positive or negative. We have been so dominated by the heroic ego that questions of free will and self-determination have become central concerns of Western thought. Let us return morality to the imagination, and instead become concerned with its free play and free workings in order to understand the soul’s images and changes exempt from taxing burdens of moralisms…(W)e have come to believe that responsibility, commitment, standing for our every word and deed are psychological notions, whereas they are moral ideologies…(T)he persons of the psyche are not mine. I do not own them, and so I do not own their feelings and actions either. These other persons give me ethical dilemmas and crises of conscience; but when I own up to all their events as mine in the name of moral responsibility, I commit the even greater sin of satanic self-hood, the ego who owns what is archetypal. The very recognition of the ‘others’ as not mine, disowning them, limits their scope of action. They can be heard but not literally obeyed….Archetypal reflection of each psychic movement returns the morality of actions to the Gods from whom all morality supposedly comes.
(Revisioning Psychology, pps. 178-9-80)

In contemporary culture, we often deploy the epithet, ‘they are soul-mates’ in reference often to two people who seemed eminently fitted for each other, as if the relationship had been determined by forces beyond a sharing of mutual interests. Reading Hillman, and his mining of the thought of William Blake, evokes the same epithet, “soul-mates” from very different backgrounds, histories, cultures and biographies.

Central to Hillman’s thinking, and also a primary focus of  his argument is the  ‘deconstruction’ of the heroic ego, in all of its many forms and faces. The implicit heroism, as well as what he calls the ‘faith in human feeling is nothing other than a new religion, a religion with teachers and terms, rituals and doctrines, but without Gods…The historical base of humanistic religion is not the humanism of the Renaissance…but the intellectualism of the Enlightenment. When the Goddess Reason was enthroned, subjective feelings were reduced to her inferior, irrational opposite. They are still as ideationally vacuous today as when they saw first daylight in Rousseau’s arms….Feelings too are metaphors, expressions of fantasy, indicative of psychic images. They are not immune to ego and its literalizations: feelings are no more truths than are ideas, no more facts than are perceptions. Feelings too are subject to archetypal power that govern their ethical values, their aesthetic judgements, their styles of relating, expressing absorbing. Feelings are not a faultless compass to steer by; to believe so is to make Gods of them, and then only Good Gods, forgetting that feeling can be as instrumental to destructive action and mistaken ideologies as any other psychological  function….Organizational loyalties can make us commit perjury; class solidarity and military pride can make us intolerant and cruel; and feelings of personal attachment can make us defensive, possessive and sentimental. (Revisioning Psychology, pps. 181-182)

The power of the human imagination, an energy that, through our dreams, fantasies, and even our emotions and our morals, through the images conjured therein, is also a pathway toward a far more complex, and even far more realistic and ‘humble’ attitude, than that riding the various waves of the ego. One of the more universal situations that illustrate these notions is our often highly simplified and one-dimensional notions of love.


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