Thursday, May 2, 2024 #47

 In the last piece in this space, the intimate and undeniable symbiotic relationship between the ‘soul’ of the world and each of our individual ‘souls’ was identified, through referencing the work of James Hillman in archetypal psychology. That identification is more significant than merely anecdotal. The Hillman insight that our emotion ‘cognitizes’ our experience giving it both an image and a visceral experience is cogent, relevant and for some perhaps, a little disjointing. Naturally, both the moment and the sensation (emotion) converge in a highly nuanced, somewhat ambiguous and ethereal and mysterious manner, not unlike the analogy of the synapse* in the brain.

(The neuroscience of the brain, and the ‘anatomical’ and/or ‘chemical’ and/or ‘electrical’ aspects (or any other relevant process) of the synapse is definitely far beyond the “pay-grade” and the training and competence of this scribe. The word synapse is used here as a metaphor, and not to be confused with an literal, scientific neurological term.) Indeed, the core methodology of archetypal psychology relies on, and defers to, the imagination, as a gateway into our most pivotal psychic moments. From that perspective, those critical moments of (always) high and intense emotion, are then imaginatively overlaid on a microscospic slide (another metaphor) that references the voices of the potential and shared myths from our shared culture heritage. Examined with the ‘magnification’ (of the imagination) of all of the potential and likely ‘coded’ messages that might be inherent in that image, the theory is that one might find a more layered, enriched and clarifying ‘way to see’ that image than one that might automatically emerge from a conventional, literal, empirical and social perspective. At a most basic level, as we live in a ‘binary’ culture of ‘either-or,’ ‘good-bad,’ ‘black-white, ‘friend-enemy,’ the imaginative perspective embraces not merely the either-or but also the both-and….and that also can and frequently does raise the spectre of multiple ‘voices’ coming from the images that are evoked, or that ‘evoke us, as Hillman suggests. Dreams, as an example, are occurring frequently, without our ‘being in control’ of the images, the voices, the scenes, the scents and the sounds that dance across the ‘screen’ of our unconscious sleep. This prototype, the dream, offers a clear-eyed lens into what Hillman seems to be getting at: that in a similar (identical?) manner, in our moments of heightened tension and crisis, a similar process is available, for our ‘mining’ for the ‘messages’ it might be attempting to deliver. And from this perspective, the dream ‘has us’ rather than the other way round. It is this perspective that Hillman argues holds for those images that impact us at our most pivotal, critical and seemingly ‘abnormal’ moments. And rather then immediately jump to what has been a conventional, clinical diagnosis as ‘abnormal psychology’ into which category many of our seemingly aberrant moments have been assigned, there exists another possibility: that these moments and especially their symptoms, however seemingly insignificant, warrant our pause, our focus, our examining and our remaining open, even if such a process seems both unorthodox and somewhat uncomfortable.

The broad implications of this change in perspectives, too, comprise the core of archetypal psychology, from the literal, empirical and nominal to the metaphoric, mythic, as a path to enriching both the perception and the interpretation of our psychic life. And the gods and goddesses, perhaps, as the theory goes, could add a face, and a story to the dynamic of a given unsettling moment. Deflecting from an automatic ‘critical parent’ judgement, or a ‘victim’ stereotype, or an implicit moral judgement based on conventional and/or religious standards, offers the spectre of detoxifying the image, as its first and thereby its most lasting and significant residue. This transformative shift in how we might ‘see’ our behaviour and our moments, it seems from the multiple incidents, letters and lectures Hillman’s life discloses (in his three-volume biography), comes out of a number of unique experiences reflected on by a somewhat iconoclastic, irreverent, ‘shake-em-up’ Jewish scholar whose curiosity as an appetite was insatiable, and whose ‘daimon’ demanded that he write the cataract of his thoughts, impressions, questions and theories.

And like the method itself, Hillman welcomed both variations, and encounters that helped him to ‘see’ if and when his perspective was limited or off-course. Absolutism, egoism, certainty, all based on a literal, empirical and dogmatic perspective are confronted with a far more fluid, liquid, mysterious, ambiguous, imaginative exploration of the finest and most minute details of each image. Trained as a Jungian analyst, and finding some constricting aspects to Jung’s theories, Hillman, who was himself eventually evicted from his post as the Head of the Jungian Studies Institute in Zurich, over a number of issues including an affair, and, from his perspective, his perceived ‘disloyalty’ to Jung and his Jewishness. We are inheritors of his library of some 20 books, multiple lectures and letters, and interviews from many of his closest colleagues.

In 1972, in conjunction with Michael Ventura, Hillman wrote, ‘We’ve had a hundred years of psychotherapy and the world’s getting worse,’ as a summation of his disdain for what has happened to the multiple schools of psychological scholarship and research. Templates of normalcy, (so deemed by the profession), in Hillman’s view, have been imposed on the psychic and emotional experiences of clients/patients, from the perspective of the professional therapist. And those templates necessarily relegated much of human behaviour into what has become known as ‘abnormal psychology’. And while each of us is unique, idiosyncratic, unpredictable, and even hurtful, (as we can all agree in our more honest moments) deploying the narratives, biographies and failures of the gods, goddesses, and inviting his readers to join him,  Hillman, for example, bears witness to the mythic notion that ‘fathers’ will inevitably betrayal the son.

And while Jungian analysis required clients/patients to undergo deep and protracted examination of their unique individual psychological experiences, with the guidance of an analyst who, themselves had already undergone the process of analysis, Hillman’s perspective is to bring the ‘search for the soul’ which he deems to be the purpose of all psychology, out of the therapist’s office/clinic, and into the daily lives of ordinary people. Indeed, even his biography was written by a sports writer named Dick Russell. Detailed, patient, reflective examination and reflection of the ‘symptoms’ whether they are physical, emotional, sensory, or elusively ephemeral and mystical, not only of the human experiences but also of the animals and plants in the world whose influence on humans has been under-valued, or perhaps ignored, except by many of the indigenous peoples on the planet.

And while he disdains the absolutes of the literal, empirical, nominal and the scientific, in what some consider a flip-flop, he does have at least one absolute.

This passage comes from Thomas Moore, a personal friend and colleague of Hillman’s, who has written an edited version of many of Hillman’s principal thought and ideas, in his book “A Blue Fire.”

The centering of psychology on love,, affirmed as a fundamental principle in Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and made into a primate motive in humanistic psychologies, in Hillman is absolute. In this he follows his romantic ancestors, William Blake for example, for whom desire far outweighed reason as a measure of wisdom and ethics. Desire, longing, attachment, intensity, endurance, receptivity---these qualities of soul in league with erotic demands of fate are prized in Hillman’s writings. As a naturalist of the phenomenon of love, Hillman studies betrayal, one of love’s specific tortures. But he doesn’t intend to correct betrayal. Indeed, generally Hillman consciously avoids psychological moralisms, the subtle ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that infest psychoanalysis.  He inquires into the innocence that invites betrayal and the atonement necessary for forgiveness. On both sides, he sees signs of the initiatory role of love. Finally, Hillman depicts the human person as Transparent Man, made visible to himself through torments of love. In love, the person is always the fool, emptied of prudence, his desires evident to the world, his transgressions revealed to all, especially to himself. But this transparency, created by the departure of innocence, is the occasions for involvement, another of those amorous words suggesting that the soul is always attached to life. Erasmus said that it is one’s foolishness that allows for intimacy, Hillman places this foolish logic of love over the logics of health, normalcy, adjustment, success, happiness, and good communication. He recommends a therapy of love…Because archetypal psychology gives subjectivity back to the figures of the psyche and to the world, love moves in several directions. 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….It is easy to miss  the radical positioning of love in Hillman’s psychology. Everyone would say that love is important. But 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 understanding. It is a love that requires unlimited faith in expression 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 soullessness 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, one has a relationship to love itself. (op. cit. pps.266-7-8)

Anyone who has read through these words, and reflected on them, from the perspective of a world in which millions of men and women are suffering the most indignant, indecent, unspeakable, reprehensible, and inexcusable cruelty, irreverence, inhumanity, as well as the same fate is being willfully and insouciantly inflicted on plant and animal life globally, cannot help but come to the conclusion that as a species, we have lost our connection to what is most important, not only in our individual, personal, family lives but also in our organizational, national and geo-political existences.

Although this scribe has experienced only eight decades of this life, at no time in those years has the landscape of the human condition been laid waste to the extent to which it is today. At no time, have wars, famine, rising temperatures, lies, manipulation, the reliance on (or perhaps addiction to) hard power for its own sake) and the disdain of weakness and vulnerability, especially among many of the male ‘leaders’ (ironic is the use of this term to describe people like trump, putin, netanyhu, Xi, Kim et al) converged in a manner that we can all see at the literal level, while seemingly emasculated to bring about the necessary transformation in our perception and our attitudes, including our perception that we have a significant role to play as private citizens.

Nevertheless, to speak, write, or even to consider that ‘love’ is a subject considered significant and worthy of the deepest minds, and the most influential men and women charged with responsibility for leadership, at all levels, is considered, among other epithets, ‘silly,’ immature,’ frivolous,’ irrelevant,’ ‘ridiculous,’ and even ‘apostasy.’ Relegated to the family pages of major newspapers, and the entertainment sections of those papers, the licentious gossip of the tabloids, and the ‘affairs of movie and television ‘stars’…’love’ has been so degraded, defamed, ridiculed, and even imploded as a serious subject for serious consideration by the anima munda….so driven and compelled are ‘we’ to organize, plan, construct and deliver on strategies and tactics dedicated to making money, to trading for good and services in pursuit of profit, to rape the planet of its bountiful resources for our ‘needs’ and then, after the fact, attempt to clean up our own mess. One flagrant example is the storage of waste nuclear rods, locations for which, given their half-life of thousands of years, and the longevity of their radioactivity. And there are a plethora of other examples.

As David Suzuki has reminded anyone who would listen for decades, the ‘economy should be working FOR us, not the other way round.’ And like most clichés, his words, while honourable and insightful, moral and ethical, and even loving in their own way, are considered ‘too’ much to take seriously.

Well, really, is the current multi-crisis conundrum not more accurately ‘too much’? And does the situation not demand, not another faux-pseudo-self-appointed ‘saviour’ like trump, but the combined public, disciplined and determined work of every one of us to turn this global ‘ship’ around?

*Synapse is defined as the site of transmission of electric nerve impulses between two nerve cells (neurons) or between a neuron and a gland or muscle cell (effector). A synaptic connection between a neuron and a muscle cell is called a neuromuscular junction.synapse.

**Psyche: (reported by Thomas Moore, in A Blue Fire p. 268):

The psyche is tortured by love. We find Psyche sad, kneeling, weeping; Psyche, the begging suppliant, prostrate at the feet of Eros; psyche chained or bound to the chariot of love; Eros shooting and wounding Psyche; Psyche’s wings burned, or the burned mother or butterfly whose name in Greek gives them symbolic identity. (The same motifs occur in dreams today. A woman dreams that she tries to burn a wormlike insect in a bonfire; but it proves indestructible, and our comes winged butterfly. A young man dreams of crushing green winged creatures on his ceiling and whitewashing over the spot, or of ridding himself of a caterpillar by setting fire to it; but in a later dream a crowned and winged frog-insect appears.) The insistence upon this aspect of the Psyche-Eros tale became redoubled in the Renaissance representations, where Psyche is tied in cruel knots, crushed in the press, burned at the stake—in an extraordinary mixture of Christian metaphors with the pagan tale of love and torture.


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