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ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012Dwelling Imaginally in Soulless Times,An Appreciation of the Work of James HillmanSylvester Wojtkowski, PhD1

ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012“ put it my way, what we are really, and the reality we live, is our psychic reality,which is nothing but the poetic imagination going on day and night.”James Hillman, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy andthe World Is Getting Worse, p. 62Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,Such shaping fantasies that apprehend,More than cool reason ever comprehends.The lunatic, the lover and the poetAre of imagination all compact:One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt;The poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling,Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;And as imagination bodies forthThe forms of things unknown, the poet’s penTurns them into shapes, and gives the airy nothingA local habitation and a name.William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene 1.With the departure of James Hillman we have lost the physical presence ofthe most poetic of psychologists, a lover of the imagination, both an iconophileand an iconoclast, an ebullient lunar thinker who with martial zest gave manyinvisibles of the soul a local habitation and a name in our rational, destitute2

ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012times. While nothing will replace his living presence--a loss we grieve deeply-the imaginal Hillman will accompany us as long as with “quiet attention andemotional participation” we polish words of his opus. As he moves, slowly(festina lente, to hurry slowly, was his favorite Renaissance speed), into the realmof the ancestors, I hope (one of the words that he despised the most, as tooChristian and too optimistic) that he will forgive me (his thoughts on betrayalnotwithstanding), for evoking him as an authorial spirit. (An “author,” as adesignation, was too egoic for him; he believed that what we speak is soul’s selfexpression.) Yet I wish for him as a guide in my attempt to give a modestappraisal of his ideas.When I first discovered Hillman’s writings, in the initial year of mypsychological training (not through academic teaching, but guided by libraryangels at the NYU Library), his psycho-poetic imagination blew my mind and reopened my appreciation of Jung. Given the revolutionary impact his ideas hadon me, ideas that formed me as a psychologist and Jungian analyst, I lack thecritical distance to offer a balanced overview of his work. I imagine that Jameswould not mind, as he loved extremes and biases of all kinds. So what followswill be an appreciation of some of his ideas and images that I have foundprofoundly inspirational for psychological, cultural and political understanding oflife, and nourishing for my soul. Here I will stay close to his images, both topreserve some of his poetic thoughts and to be true to the basic tenet ofarchetypal psychology (as he called his approach)—Stick to the image.From the beginning Hillman, has consciously made “soul”--an outdated3

ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012word--a central term in his psychological language and a governing idea of hispsycho-logical thinking: by “soul” I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, theexperiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image andfantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarilysymbolic or metaphorical, that unknown component, whichmakes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, iscommunicated in love, has religious concern [deriving from itsspecial relation with death] (Re-Visioning Psychology, p. xvi).In Suicide and the Soul (1964) Hillman explored this special relationshipbetween soul and death in challenging and profound ways. Already in 1964, hemanifested his unique critical style and radical fearless thinking. Even now,almost fifty years later, we can appreciate how deep and fundamental his analysisof suicide is. He sees death as a permanent resident of the psyche, and Thanatosas a mode of soul-making: “The death experience brings down the old order andin so far as analysis is a prolonged ‘nervous breakdown’ (synthesizing too, as itgoes along), analysis means dying” (ibid., p. 68). In the analysis of the suicidalpatient he advises valuing soul over life: “loss of soul, not loss of life, should be[the analyst’s] main dread” (ibid., p. 83). By being in-between, both experiencingand observing, the analyst is in unique position regarding suicide: “he is able tounderstand a suicide better than the one who commits it” (ibid., p, 53). Hillmanadvocates the development of a conscious philosophy of death, demonstrates thatdeath and life are not psychological opposites and argues that “ any act whichholds off death prevents life” (ibid., p. 61). He believes that suicide is natural, as4

ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012“a possibility of our nature, a choice open to each human psyche” (ibid., p. 63).The analyst’s task is to help the person to understand such a choice, which maybe essential to his individuality, rather than to prevent it. He considers suicide an“attempt to move from one realm to another by force, through death” (ibid., p.68). Therefore, suicidal fantasies aim at detaching the ego from the usual view ofthings and direct it towards facing the reality of the soul. To be true to the soul,the analyst has to follow the desire to die. The analyst needs to enter analyticaldespair: “to hope for nothing, to expect nothing, to demand nothing” (ibid, p.88). By entering through this Dante-esque gate of abandoning all hope, andaccepting “the patient’s experience that there is nothing to be done, he offersnothing but the experience itself” (ibid., p. 89). Maintaining this attitude isextremely difficult, yet if the analyst stays true to the hopelessness and analyticaldespair he accompanies the patient in the experience of death: the analyst now plays the true psychopompos By preventingnowhere, the analyst is nevertheless doing the most that can bedone to prevent actual death. By his having entered the other’sposition fully, the other is no longer isolated (ibid., pp. 92-93).Over the years, Hillman’s penetrating analysis of the soul has shifted frommirror to window, from internal anima to anima mundi, from the consultingroom into the world, into a therapy of ideas that we use to see ourselves and theworld. His caring for the soul led him to deconstruct our “sacred” therapeuticnotions and develop a piercing critique of analytic insularity, as he put it, in aprovocative title: We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World5

ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012Is Getting Worse. In 1992, he analyzed contemporary American culture anddeveloped a notion of “empty protest” that offers profound insight into thecurrent Occupy Wall Street movement. He starts with the Christian theologicalconcept of kenosis, which in Greek means empty, void, fruitless. It refers to theChrist’s entering the world as a man, suffering human existence and death byemptying himself of his divinity. Hillman states:Kenosis seems now the only political way to be—emptied out ofcertainty Kenosis is a form of action—not masochistic action,vicitimized, crucified [but] empty protest: I don’t know how todo the right thing. I don’t even know what’s right. I have noanswer. But I sure smell something wrong with thegovernment ‘empty protest’ is a via negativa, a non-positivist wayof entering political arena. You take your outrage seriously, butyou don’t force yourself to have answers. Trust your nose. Youknow what stinks. Don’t try to replace the hopeless frustrationyou feel, the powerless vicitimization, by working out a rationalanswer. The answers will come, if they come, when they come, toyou, to others, but do not fill in the emptiness of the protest withpositive suggestions before their time. First, protest! [An emptyprotest] doesn’t have an end goal Empty protest is protest for thesake of the emotions that fuel it and is rooted not in the consciousfullness of improvement, but in the radical negativity Not onlywill you be seen as stupid because empty, but you will be alsoalone, So empty protest for me is really a kenosis--giving up boththe vanity of being admired and the surety of a sound position,and doing it in public (ibid., pp. 103-107).In each theme that he explored, from alchemical operations to politicalanalyses, from psychic polytheism to fundamentalist monotheism, frommasturbation to paranoia, Hillman paid close attention to the images that the6

ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012soul presents. Regarding the image, the only immediate but perpetually elusiveelement, a personified presence, intimately related to us, he wrote: “man wascreated as an image, in an image and by means of his images” (EgalitarianTypologies versus the Perception of the Unique, p.44). Hillman extended Jung'spsychological insights into a phenomenology of the imagination. If Freud was athinker of eros and Jung was a thinker of psyche, then Hillman was a thinker ofimages--an imaginologist--as Jungian analyst Michael Vannoy Adams called him.From Jung’s approach to the dream: "To understand the dream's meaning Imust stick as close as possible to the dream images" [emphasis mine] (CW 16,para. 320). Hillman extracts the principle: sticking to the image. He followsJung’s understanding of image as a primary phenomenon of psychic life, that“image is psyche,” (CW 13, para. 75) where image is taken “in the poetic sense,considering images to be the basic givens of psychic life, self-originating,inventive, spontaneous, complete, and organized in archetypal patterns [they]are both raw materials and finished products of psyche” (Re-VisioningPsychology, p.xvii). Hillman has brought the Jungian symbolic process closer tothe phenomenology of the soul as it emerges through images and as an image.[Archetypal psychology is] “a psychology of soul that is based in a psychology ofimage” (ibid.). Images are a via regia to the soul. Images are self-referential.They do not require validation by reference to external events; mythopoeicimagination is the only ground they need.While Jung, as one of the founders of Western psychology, had to keep theconcept of the psyche firmly within the bounds of science (as critical as he was ofits positivistic limitations), Hillman freed psyche and image from extra-psychic7

ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012constraints and allowed them to take the central place in his psychologicalthinking. Jung was engaged in the task of discovering and constructing thearchetypal architecture underlying human experience, seeing through themultiplicity of psychic images into the invisible archetypes, as impersonalstructures and the source of the dynamics of the psyche. Hillman’s love of thebeauty of images led him to stay with the image, seeing even the archetypalarchitecture as an image, making the image itself the foundation of the soul.The absolute primacy of image allows Hillman to shift Jung’s emphasisfrom the archetype per se to the archetypal image. While he acknowledges thatarchetypes are the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, we can experienceonly images arranging themselves in these archetypal patterns, which we imagineas underlying universal principles, or envision in personified forms as gods. Theyare the invisibles that forever defy our definition and can only be imagined asmetaphors. They have emotional power to possess us and govern consciousnessinvisibly, offering us a coherent way of perceiving, experiencing and imagining.By qualifying the image with the adjective “archetypal,” Hillman does not want toprivilege certain images as more central to the archetype, but to emphasize theirimportance, their value:As all images can gain this archetypal sense, so all psychology canbe archetypal when it is released from its surface and seen throughto its hidden volumes Archetypal adds the further implication ofbasic root structure, generally human, a necessary universal withconsequents. (“Inquiry into the Image,” Spring 1977, p. 83-4).Jung had already realized that images have a quality of consciousness and8

ARAS ConnectionsIssue 1, 2012thus denied an ego monopoly on consciousness. Following this move, Hillmanimagines images as souls that we need to befriend, or as animals that we needcarefully to observe, to understand their behavior and ecology. However, to fullyengage the image we need to love it: “we cannot get to the soul of the imagewithout love for the image” (“Inquiry into the image,” Spring 1977, p. 82). In thisengagement, image personifies itself and reveals itself as a psychic subject livingin the inscape of personified images, which constitute the basic structure of thepsyche, “a polycentric realm of nonverbal, nonspatial images” (Re-VisioningPsychology, p. 33). In essence we are images too, so to really perceive the other“we must look into his imagination and see what fantasy is creating his reality”(Egalitarian Typologies versus the Perception of the Unique, p. 44).This image-based psychology brought Jungian psychology back to thealiveness and intensity of the Jung of The Red Book and made it possible to seethrough reified psychoanalytic concepts like ego, shadow, complex or self andrediscover their imaginal roots. It is as if under Hillman's poetic glance, imagegrew down into itself, into itself as psyche, and assumed center stage inpsychology, as logos of the soul. Hillman had read Jung archetypally, thoughtthrough Jung’s ideas imaginally and through epistrophe brought them back totheir origins in images. After his “confrontation with the unconscious” Jungspent the rest of his professional life carving out the petrified lava that haderupted during his Red Book years, and conceptualizing and articulating apsychological method and theoretical system that would be acceptable to thescientific establishment. With Martian heat Hillman liquefied this conceptualrock and released the primordial w