Founding archetypal psychology

Dick Russell, a journalist, who co-writes the volumes of Jesse Ventura, former wrestler and independent governor of Minnesota, maybe an unexpected author of a (first volume) biography of the founder of archetypal psychology, James Hillman, but his style, structured conversational, with a fine line in interviewing key figures, including Hillman himself, works beautifully (if lengthily, we are only half way through his life, at his key transition of returning to America, after over 600 pages)!

It is gifted at sketching the background - especially of a boyhood spent in Atlantic City and studying in Paris and Dublin in the 40s. You taste the ferment of existential Paris down to the compulsory black turtleneck sweaters and the exaggerated characters of Dublin that you might think imagined yet truly existed. I had thought that it was an exaggeration until my first trip into Dublin (from the airport) on a bus (in the 80s) and found myself in a spontaneous conversation with an elderly gentlemen on credit cards, usury and St Thomas Aquinas. Given Ireland's recent travails with banking and debt, it was, in fact, a prophetic conversation!

Hillman was the first director of studies at the Jung Institute in Zurich at a strikingly young age and, as an American, an outsider. This speaks to his gifts both intellectual and organizational but, whilst always honouring the tradition, he was to depart from the paths of Jungian 'orthodoxy'. This is a departure that might have encouraged (part of) Jung himself but not his worshippers nor, in later times, those Jungians who crave for 'clinical' or 'professional' credibility (as part of Jung himself did), and narrow the practice down to a 'fixation on one archetype' (to quote my own 'Jungian' analyst) and begin to sound strikingly psychoanalytic (just as that world too loses its grip on credibility - long winded, expensive and of uncertain medical outcome).

Hillman (but this is for volume two, in production) wanted to free the 'therapeutic' from the coach or the face to face chairs and liberate it into a way of seeing the world - as a vale of soul-making (to quote Keats as Hillman often did) - and away from 'healing as fixing' to 'healing as bearing dark as well as light, wounds as well as accomplishment'.

What would it look like if we re-inhabited the world seeing that every event partakes of an opportunity for making meaning and that everything in the world has its effect, nothing is neutral, not the arrangement of our workplaces nor the qualities of our architecture nor whether we walk, cycle or take a car to work. What is the story that each thing, person, animal or situation we encounter, tells? How do we relate to the story and how does it change our feeling state or sense of meaning?

Hillman was not given to highly valuing 'empirical science', not least because it leads too quickly to the generalized and the abstract, but I expect he might have smiled on recent research that your 'well-being and health' will be enhanced if you live in a street with trees or that the occupants of mental asylums tend to trash abstract art but leave landscapes untouched.

The last section of the book, however, deals with a sobering subject - his expulsion from the Institute. He had undoubtedly transgressed having had an affair with one of his clients: a fact he never hid (unlike many of his fellow analysts). It became, however, a lightening rod crystallising a whole interrelated network of conflicts within the (small) Jungian world whose hypocrisy was breathtaking and instructive. The cultivation of a 'conscious awareness' of psychological dynamics does not ensure you against behaving like a narrow-minded, self-interested fool. This can afflict anyone, anywhere, especially if in an exclusive group cultivating self-importance!

And, finally, somewhere Russell quotes Hillman about the nature of dreaming - an underworld we would rather not visit creates a sense of it eluding us - 'I never dream', 'I always forget', 'I should write them down' etc - but (in my experience) as soon as you pay them attention, they come, resonant and willing to be engaged (if always perhaps flirtatious, after all understanding must be won with a certain amount of effort).

It reminds me of something Metropolitan Anthony says of God - why would we imagine that God should pay us attention when we do not pay attention to God? Relationships are for attention and work, not spontaneous assimilation!


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