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Friday, May 26, 2023

Diving a little deeper into "psyche as generator/metabolizer of image"

“To mythic consciousness, the persons of the imagination are real” (In the Words of Hillman, accessed March 7, 2009).By encouraging imaginal figures to flow forth in and through the image towards the ‘maker’ of the image - moving from the image rather than towards it - the development, recognition and appreciation of its autonomy will become manifest, and a process of reciprocity between self and ‘other’ (image) becomes possible. This is an important point in terms of considering the ‘organism’ of psyche as being that of generator and metabolizer of image with the capacity to include and engage beyond its present parameters. A growing organism.

The nature of psyche is image. As an image-making organism, the psyche spontaneously produces images from the unconscious. These images then move quite naturally towards making some sort of sense or meaning on behalf of the personality. A simple analysis of this meaning-making process would include tracking the connecting of spontaneous images towards story, a linking of images into a cohesive narrative of sorts, which then creates a sense of continuity and hence, self. Again, self as process.

From www.academia.edu/3257834/James Hillman as Researcher of Psyche as Image and Myth, by Susanna Ruebsaat.

One of the most challenging junctions, for this scribe, in the initiative of mining of Hillman’s archetypal psychology, is the shift in and through the imagination from literal, cognitive, empirical, classical, rational to the poetic. Having explored various pieces of literature, both original creative works of the imagination like novels, poems, plays, as well as the critical pieces like ‘The Educated Imagination,’ I am aware, like most readers and students, of Frye’s notion of metaphor as linking as one two things that are not identical is one of the central components of the language of the imagination. However, this awareness omits or avoids the psyche as image-maker, image-generator, and ‘metabolizer’ as Ruebsaat describes it.

In our conversations, as well as in the multiple essays and seminars in which one participates, never, at least in my memory or consciousness, did the concept of the image ‘having me’ rather than the other way round arise. To consider each of our psyches as an image-making organism, thereby facilitating the moving out ‘from the image rather than toward it,’ is such as radical reversal of what classical thought considers the norm and requires some serious adjustments. If the image ‘has me’ rather than ‘I have the image’ the world is considered/perceived/experienced ‘bottom-up’, in relation to the rational, objective, and historically embedded approach that leaves ‘us’ with the illusion of being ‘in control’ of those images.

And while the neuroscientists will continue to inquire, research, debate and write papers about the question of whether we are ‘in control’ of what we know as ‘free will’, Hillman is advocating a psychological perspective that ‘re-orients’ each of us to this perception/acknowledgement/recognition of a way of considering the interior flow of those images, analogous to our dream images. Rather than a divide between our subjectivity and our objectivity, this spectre offers a ‘both-and’; perhaps offering a more detailed and ‘image-based’ ‘take’ on the Rollo May notion that the problem of being a human being is that at one and the same time we are subject and object. And that ‘identity’ can be considered as both within and without our ‘control’ and our ‘will’. The question, it seems, then becomes how to retrieve, identify, listen to, hear and make meaning of those images, regardless of their moral, legal, medical, theological, sociological, philosophic morality and ethics.

And therein lies another of the cultural, intellectual, academic, empirical ‘moats’ we have to cross, in order to see and to value the image/symptom/voice/myth as integral and authentic in and of itself. Therapists, counsellors, doctors and lawyers have, forever, attempted to hold to the maxim that their personal thoughts and feelings about the ‘case’ before them, had to give way to the ‘needs’ of the patient/client. Professional objectivity, in service of client/patient needs has given millions of occasions where, if such an ethical maxim were not closely preserved, patient/client needs would have been defaulted, ignored and even compromised.

Teachers, on the other hand, have a different ethical and professional standard. While we recognize and respect the dignity and the legitimacy of the student, we are not held to the same standard of detachment and objectivity as doctors and lawyers. Checking our personal preferences/attitudes/perceptions and exchanges with students, however, is an hourly exercise, and we are usually immediately conscious if we have treated a student inappropriately. Our relationship with our own psyche, however, is a pilgrimage for which many of us are unprepared, untutored, and perhaps even quite resistant. Images the emerge, take shape, sound, colour and perhaps even smell in our psyche, at least in my experience, have never had or warranted the kind of serious and nuanced and imaginative attention that Hillman is counselling. Indeed, as they come and go in each and every conversation, reflection, encounter, they take on a kind of ‘bird-song’ of ethereality, briefly noted and let free.

So, when are we most likely to pause, really pause, and begin to explore whatever images happen to be ‘flowing’ from and through our psyche if not when we are engaged in questions of serious matters like those of love, the pursuit of truth and death?

These images, however, are not the product of an over-active, striving and competitive ego; they are not either better or worse than the images another person might have in the same situation or at the same time. Like emotions, they are gifts without strings, except, in extremis, they warrant attention, potential sourcing and exegesis.

Subjectivity, that ‘perspective’ with which we think we are familiar, in and through the perspective of archetypal psychology, are given “back to the figures of the psyche and to the world….It is not only the ego that loves, but other figures, images and dreams love and desire us. Dreams also suggest that figures love each other. All of this love in the soul offers a way beyond the will to love or the commandment to love. The heroics of love give way to a gracious receiving of love….Hillman’s approach to the psyche is in every instance rooted in a love of whatever he finds. This absolute love is the basis for keeping clear of strong-willed acts in the name of health, that, however well meant, are antagonistic to the soul. Psychological love does not require an understanding of the processes and mysteries that are presented for reflection. It is a love that requires unlimited faith in expressions of soul. It is a love that inspires interest in all kinds of emotional suffering, crazy fantasies, absurd symptoms, and repeated mistakes. On the other hand, it engenders passionate anger in the face of soullnessness and inhumanity, irreverence, cruelty to nature and animal life, and, above all, puritanical oppressions of the vibrant springs of life. that want to burst forth where they will. Love that leads to psyche is not bound by human concerns and conditions. It is both active and receptive. It comes into life as a grace, so that, like Psyche of the tale (Eros and Psyche) one has a relationship to love itself. (Thomas Moore, in A Blue Fire, pps. 267-8)

Unpacking Moore’s words, themselves a kind of unpacking of Hillman’s thought, is a process that defies purely cognitive exegesis; it demands a perspective of the unfettered exercise of the imagination, open to whatever, wherever, whomever, however and if ever love itself “births” itself, including all of the multiple inevitable, epic and petty storms and betrayals in its unfolding.

In a culture in which the very word and all of its many incarnations of “LOVE” are regarded as potentially radioactive in their eruptions of moralisms, impurities, conflicts, court-room dramas, ‘domestic disputes’ and power-struggles, including more recently the identity of one’s person as defined by one’s gender choice, Hillman’s advocacy for a perspective of love that openly, courageously and maturely welcomes all of the many initiations that can and will only come to each person in and through the entry into intimate relationships is a ground-swell of fresh spring ‘water’ in the furnace.

If ‘love comes into life as a grace,’ as Moore extolls, one is confronted with an anima mundi of degredation and despair, in the wake of its many emotional, physical, psychic and economic volcanoes. And the intersection of these two polarities seems at least in part attributable to a naivety, an innocence, an immaturity and a mythically proportioned and embodied narrative that remains, for most of us, unimagined and virtually unimaginable. It is not a mere expression of another moralism to exhort each of us to adopt an imaginative perspective, of our own psyche’s flow of images, of each other’s own flow of different and equally appropriate and influential images, and even a flow of images that have taken the ‘us’ of the anima mundi. If we are sufficiently courageous and confident and perceptive and sensitive and expansive in our ‘view’ of the existence and influence of the images of which we are ‘possessed’ (without always reverting to a ‘voodoo’ interpretation of that possession, and without excluding that perspective as well), perhaps we can become open to, even welcoming of the many acts of imperfection, betrayal, initiation, without encasing those imperfections in moral turpitude or a developmental perfectionism.

It need not be merely another moralism, either, to reflect on the tectonic shift in the anima mundi which is feasible, if a few of us opened our ‘lens’ (soul) to a way of ‘seeing’ and ‘reflecting’ and ‘receiving’ and ‘sharing’ the images of which we are aware, with those with whom we feel safe enough to risk such sharing. Such a shift, too, would turn the lens of the anima mundi away from the obsessive first-take on right-wrong, literally documented, empirically collated and curated, clinically diagnosed and pharmaceutically tempered (all in the interest of alleviating psychic pain and distress) and open that lens to a way of seeing that seems, at least to this scribe, as inclusive, receptive, welcoming, integrating and supporting, (not from the perspective of more government largesse, or more social programs).

None of us is morally superior to another. None of us is inherently, and inevitably inferior to another, saving and excepting those ‘bad seeds’ whose existences are not the benchmark for establishing our norms. Fear of non-conformity, not fitting in is antithetical to a culture of creativity, compassion, empathy and mutual respect and dignity. We ‘work’ diligently and daily to ‘exclude’ as many ‘others’ as we can legitimize without incurring epithets like racist, sexist, ageist, homophobe, bigot. And walking the fine line between our unacknowledged insecurities and fears, our ignorances and avoidances, on the one hand, and our ‘better angels’ on the other, is a path fraught with our own blindness, denial, avoidance and the fears that undergird those defaults.

Paradoxically, it is a moral imperative, in the broadest sense, at least to consider reflectively, seriously, penetratingly and persistently, the thoughts of Hillman, in light of our current and shared cosmological crises. One potential outcome, without deferring to the apocalyptic, of clinging to our literal, empirical, nominal, scientific, academic mind-set, is to risk rendering the power of the imagination so injured, devalued, and irrelevant, while we commit to the growing topsy-like edifices of protection, defence, war and cyber and national security….all the while drowning in our own insecurities and fears.

And that is a moral failure for which we all share culpability!

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