Friday, April 26, 2024 #45

 The soul has illusions as the bird has wings: it is supported by them. (Victor Hugo)

(In analysis) ‘a revolution in experiencer occurs. Soul is rediscovered, and with it come a rediscovery of humankind, nature and world. One begins to see all things psychologically, from the viewpoint of the soul, and the world seems to carry an inner light. The soul’s freedom to imagine takes on pre-eminence as all previous division of life and areas of thought lose their stark categorical structures. Politics, money, religion, personal tastes and relationships, are no longer divided from each other into compartments but have become areas of psychological reflection; psyche is everywhere..This revolution in experience took place on a grand scale during the Renaissance, and was embodied in the philosophy of Neoplatonism; it was a panpsychism, psyche everywhere…..Neoplatonism abhorred outwardness, the literalistic and naturalistic fallacies. It sought to see through literal meanings into occult ones, searching for depth in the lost, the hidden, and the buried (texts, words leftovers from antiquity). It delighted in surprising juxtapositions and reversal of ideas for it regarded the soul as ever in movement without definite positions, a borderline concept between spirit and matter. All the while, this philosophy remained close to alienation, sadness, and awareness of death, never denying depression or separating melancholy from love and love from intellection (the action or process of understanding as opposed to imagination). It was often contemptuously negligent of contemporary science and theology, regarding both empirical evidence and scholastic syllogisms (a form of deductive argument where the conclusion follows from the truth of two premises) as only bearing indirectly on soul. Instead, it recognized the signal place of imagination in human consciousness, considering this to be the primary activity of the soul. Therefore, any psychology that would have soul as its aim must speak imaginatively. It referred frequently to Greek and Roman mythical figures—not as allegories, but as modes of reflection…Renaissance Neoplatonists also evoked ancient thinkers in their personified images. The great men of the past were living realities to them because they personified the soul’s need for spiritual ancestors, ideal types, internal guides and mentors who can share our lives with us and inspire them beyond our personal narrowness. It was a practice then to engage in imaginative discourse with personal of antiquity. Petrarch wrote long letters to his inner familiars, Livy, Vergil, Erasmus, Cicero, Horace and sent regards to Homer and Hesiod.  (James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, pps. 197-198)

Renaissance (men) were ‘ In their study, living a metaphor: the myth of classical antiquity….then and now, and now there….and here. This myth of classical antiquity in which the imaginal world of the archetypes was placed allowed a ‘present’ life to be built jupon archetypal models located in the ‘past’. It was not a history as such that supported their present lives, since their awareness of history and their interest in archeology—in the classical world of Roman civilization among whose actual ruins they lived-were at first negligible. It was a fantasy of history in which were true models of persons, images, and styles. History gave the Renaissance imagination a place to put archetypal structures—gave it a structure within which to fantasize….By giving a culturally deep and intellectually immense psychology to the psyche’s fantasies, Renaissance Neoplatonism enabled the soul to welcome all its figures and forms, encouraging the individual to participate in the soul’s teeming nature and to express soul in an unsurpassed outburst of cultural activity. (Op. cit. pps 199-200)

These images, and the shape of their collective ‘dots’ including the ideas, persons who articulated and argued these ideas, and the language itself in and through which they ‘gave’ these thoughts and perceptions to “us” are a framing both of their time, and its revisitation by Hillman, in the twentieth and twenty-first century. They are another example of the multiple ‘lenses’ humans have used, and continue to deploy, in our search for meaning, purpose, identity, relevance, and even survival in the psychological sense.

Just as we emerged from various ‘templates’ in our families, our schools, churches, teams, communities and nations, and also ‘drew outside the lines of many of those ‘fields’ of both study and perception, the legacies of both the templates and our relation to them remains one of, if not the most significant, questions of how we ‘perceive’ ourselves in relation to the universe.

Mountain top visions, under-sea excursions, scintillating rides, near-death experiences, profound losses, biological births, deaths, illnesses, and the peaks of both success and failure have all come into our lives, across our radar screens, and they have all played a part in the ‘stew’ that has and continues to ‘brew’ as our ‘sense of who we are’. Borrowing from models, like Mandela and Gandhi, for example, could be viewed as deferring to activists, as compared with philosophers, shamans, theologians, and profound thinkers. Indeed, in a universe of the literal and the empirical, activism, has supplanted ‘thinking and theorizing’ contemplation and reflection. Swords, spears, protests, missiles, cyber weapons and defenses, profit and loss, revenue and expenditure…these are the core language of both our culture and our perceptions. It is no accident that ‘action figures’ dominant our entertainment, our politics, our military and our medical and legal fields of ‘play’ and of ‘dreams’. Popular music lyrics, seeded into the digital ethos, and thereby into the collective conscious and unconscious of millions of young men and women, many of those lyrics focused on how relationships ‘work’ or ‘not’. Again, the action, perceived as supportive or not, is the prime focus of attention.

And perceptions of the actions, words, attitudes, and their potential underlying psychic ‘imbalances’ are the ‘bread-and-butter’ of much of our social discourse. Call it gossip, water-cooler conversation, competition, revenge, retribution, how and what we DO matter far more than how we think, how we imagine, how we perceive. The ‘doing’ and the ‘symptom’ and the ‘pain’ and the ‘injury’ whether these are physical, emotional psychic, professional, relational, the environmental, ideological or even the religious….are the focus of our contemporary western world.

And naturally, each of our actions, (words, attitudes, judgements, perceptions) consume our attention, both from an intellectual as well as from an emotional point of view. Action, pragmatics, literalism, empirical evidence, have all been engraved into the totem poles of our culture. Ambiguity, doubt, vulnerability and uncertainty, even speculation, while we remain blind to a the dearth and devaluation of arbitrators and mediators needed to help us deepen our insights and our awareness. Our heroes, models and mentors, are immediate ‘success’ stories of the acquisition of wealth, the assumption of the market influencer role and its pay-offs, the athletic heroes, and the executives in both corporate and non-profit organizations. Yesterday’s men and women, revisited on their death notices and funerals, through their scientific and technological inventions, and their contributions to the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

It was Eugene McNamara, back in the 1980’s, himself a poet and English professor at the University of Windsor at the time, who remarked to a poetry summer writing group, ‘The poets are currently all working for the advertising companies’ (where the money is!) And while there may be the occasional creative and imaginative comparison among the tidal wave of advertisements on all platforms, their solitary purpose is to generate profit for their sponsoring corporation. And one is prompted to wonder, speculate and perhaps even intone the inquiry: what has really happened to our perceptions and the language of those perceptions and attitudes, when the line between what everyone knows to be valid and true, even in the literal, empirical and pragmatic realm has been subsumed into ‘fiction’ or fantasy, or ‘alternative facts’ or propaganda or ‘the enemy’ and then spread instantly and ubiquitously to highly uncritical ears, eyes, and especially innocent and ignorant (in the original sense of not-knowing) minds.

It is not an accident that the ‘star’ witness in the totally ‘skungy,’ ‘scummy,’ ‘sleezy’  trial of a former president of the United States is a man who lived, embodied, profited from and proudly touts his significant contribution to the perpetration of stories, literally based on and documenting lies and untruths, in the pursuit of character assassination, and its obverse, the election of the president of the vaunted (ugh!) United States.  We all have some affiliation with the ‘underworld’ of darkness, and death…in that non of us is purely innocent and even in denial of our own darkness. And to watch that ‘affiliation’ become the protagonist in a criminal trial, at this level, tends to erode confidence both in the system of our institutions and the perceptions that we have ‘held,’ apparently as closer to ‘illusion’ or better, ‘delusion’ than previously.

The revulsion in the mind and ‘gut’ of this scribe, at having to tolerate the wall-to-wall testimony and tortuous reporting on this trial has to be more insufferable because of the template of ‘looking up’ in what might be considered a ‘spiritual’ perspective, as opposed to a ‘soul’ perspective that includes both looking ‘up’ and looking ‘down’…Raised on a skewered or unbalanced ‘diet’ or curriculum or tradition or even bias that pointed to repeated and predictable conversations about, endorsements of, and scurrilous consideration of those ‘pieces’ of human behaviour, language, attitude and even the tabloids that profit from and trumpet the stories from the ‘gutter’. As a ‘white’ male octogenarian, raised in a fundamentalist, evangelist, literalist (as to the interpretation of scripture) church, in an extremely conservative town in central Ontario, where the divide between Catholics and Protestants was both deep and tense, for me and my ‘crowd,’ even the name and the location of the town ‘bootlegger’ was both known and disdained. Rarely had there been a case of murder within the town limits although suicides were relatively frequent. Break and enter, especially in rural cottages were more prevalent than bank robberies. The occasional highway collision on the north-south road brought gasps and chatter about ‘the need for a four-lane highway’ (currently completed). The occasional legal case of a drunk driver was neither considered serious nor even frequent. Playboy magazines were inconspicuously and secretively available in local drug stores and movies, television and popular music ranged only as far as ‘blocking Elvis’ swaying hips on the Ed Sullivan Show. Occasionally, a co-ed would become pregnant and silently leave town to deliver her baby somewhere else. In the 1950’s the word ‘gay’ meant happy, and while there were high school teachers who were, in fact, gay, no one even mentioned that. Some might call it a sleepy town; others might dub it ‘stuck in the past’ while others considered it ‘stable’ given both the C-I-L dynamite production facility a few miles north, and the predominance of civil service jobs supplemented by a surge of American tourist and dollars every summer.

The adult population in the 50’s had endured the Second War, and were now breathing deeply of conflict-free air, at home and around the world, especially in the U.S. from where television programming and post-war Hollywood films were being screened. The Korean War seemed somewhat insignificant in comparison with the European theatre and the holocaust. For kids in school, grades on tests, exams and projects mattered, as did the latest ‘hit-parade’ tunes from artists with names like Elvis, Pat Boone, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Saran Vaughan, The Four Lads. It was not only the lyrics and the costumes and the movie plots that, by today’s standards, seemed ‘sanitized’ but the perspective that seemed to typify and embody the little town was somewhat sterile, and certainly not comfortable with ‘deviance,’ the ‘unconventional,’ or especially ‘violence.’ Indeed, in some homes where the was domestic violence, its ‘secret’ was never disclosed to the public. Doubtless, a similar secrecy covered many other ‘dark, black, embarrassing’ stories that might have included secret alcoholics, secret affairs, and secret animosities and enmities. Competition among retail business was elegantly polite and even collegial; if a store did not have in stock a specific item a customer desired, the clerk would recommend another ‘competitor’ who did. The interior dialogues of various organizations was never discussed in the weekly paper from the perspective of duelling personalities; only the votes on issues and their respective reasons made the ‘news’. Polite, discreet, composed, restrained, dignified and superficial are words that might be used to describe the ‘ethos’…Votes for provincial and federal governments alternated between Conservative and Liberal, with little tension between the activists…indeed the standing joke on the street was ‘whoever provides more alcohol to the people on the island will win’. This was both a profound racial slur against the indigenous as well as against the political process. Yet, it was perhaps the singular most ‘dark’ street talk among the townsfolk. Another popular topic was the victim mentality, as perceived in the bounty of provincial ‘financial support’ for the highway 11 corridor, while the ‘west side’ of the district was ignored by the provincial government.

Simplicity, clarity, dependability, predictability, and ‘stasis’ are all words that could be deployed to depict the culture in that town in the 1950’s. Right answers, neatly presented, in and through coherent sentences, as ‘extensive’ a vocabulary as possible always garnered attention from the instructors, and the theologies were apparently ‘curated for public consumption and comprehension’ into moralities, and the beliefs that both sustained and justified these moralities, all of them expressions of the will of God. This pattern seemed not only a core of parenting but also a staple in the psychological and sociological diet of the adult community. “Whites’ were dominant and ‘inside’ and inside that large circle, were smaller circles of ‘elite’ and ‘rich’ and ‘prosperous’….(learned and educated, nuanced and articulate were rarely uttered or considered)..Indigenous were ‘outsiders’ and that was ‘normal’ from the exclusively ‘white’ perspective. A rare Asian restauranteur operated successful dining facilities, without noticeable prejudice from the ‘locals.’ The rare English engineer, with a notable British accent, appeared as part of the development of the Avro Arrow aircraft project.

Sanitized, and sterilized and superficial…these adjectives describe both the ethos and the perspective of the town, whether it was conscious of those descriptors and the depth of their reality, of not.

Here is a contemporary definition of ‘soul’ from Jame Hillman, one that fills out the other side of unseen, mysterious and somewhat hidden reality:

Hillman likes the word (soul) for a number of reasons. It eludes reductionistic definition; it expresses the mystery of human life; and it connects psychology to religion, love, death, and destiny. It suggests depth, and Hillman sees himself directly in the line of depth psychology. (Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire, The Imaginal Method, p. 5) In a piece entitled, ‘City and Soul’ (p.3-6) Hillman writes, (quoted by Moore in A Blue Fire):

The barbarian is that part of us to whom the city does not speak, that soul in us who has not found a home in its environs. The frustration of this soul in face of the uniformity and impersonality of great walls and towers, destroys like a barbarian what it cannot comprehend, structures which represent the achievement of mind, the power of will, and the magnificence of spirit, but do not reflect the needs of soul. For our psychic health and the well-being of our city, let us continue to find ways to make place for soul. (A Blue Fire, p. 107)

It is the barbarian in me, and in each of us, that, from the perspective of this scribe, has been ‘devalued’ or perhaps more importantly ‘denied’ and avoided and dismissed and denigrated in our families, our schools, especially our churches and our western culture. We make headlines of barbarian activities in our courts, and schools, and then elevate the barbarian ‘military’ despots like Putin, Netanyahu, Xi and Orban, as if their inner ‘barbarian’ were a different species from our ‘respectable’ and ethical and honourable and ‘pure’ image. And let’s face it, our ‘pure’ image (from a skin colour, and a dominant moral, ideological, religious, political, superiority), however each of us defines and identifies with such an image, is pure and absolute ‘illusion’…it is a creation of our imagination, seeded by our culture, sustained by our economy, education and corporate culture and denied and deeply offensive to others who do not share our superiority.

Even the military ‘prowess’ and self-proclaimed superiority of the current war-mongers, is itself, another deeply embedded and ingrained illusion, imagined and manufactured for the purposes of sustaining and enhancing their personal need for power.

One illusion, the sleepy town as the centre of the universe, for example, is only complemented by other illusions of ‘respectability, decency, integrity and trust’ in the world of competing and mutually exclusive different ‘illusions’ of competence, ethics, morality, and religious superiority.

Shakespeare’s As You Like It, contains a speech by his character Jaques:

                                          All the world’s a


And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;

And then the whining school-boy with his


And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’s eyebrow. Then a soldier

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the


Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in


Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the


In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippery pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too


For his shrunk shank; and his big manly


Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home