in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Monday, 8 December 2014

James Hillman and 'the Curse of Christianity'

... and in the second extract, something a bit more controversial from James Hillman! You'll have to wait to see my full response to his critique...



Hillman and the 'Curse of Christianity'
Hillman sees himself as picking up where Jung left off. However, rather than Jung’s desire to transform Christianity, Hillman sees his aim as needing to transcend Christianity, ‘to escape the 2,000 year-old curse’. In his last dialogue with Sonu Shamdasani, he pours particular scorn on those Christianised Jungians who had hoped (like Jung we presume) to have transformed Christianity by means of analytical psychology:

Jung grasped the horror, but I don’t think the Christian followers have, and there are a hell of a lot of them. They just have the same pattern of redemption, you know, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, forever – you really are redeemed... You’re already saved. Christ has already saved you. There’s a place waiting for you in heaven. This is unacceptable to a Jewish mind. There’s too much trouble, too much horror. You can’t get away with it so easily. I’m not saying that the Christians themselves get away with it so easily, or that Jung did... I am saying that the pseudo-Christianity of Jungianism does, and that’s part of my fury. (LD:217)

He goes further in Revisioning Psychology by blaming Christianity for the ‘return of the repressed’ in all the horrors that have beset Western civilisation since the nineteenth century ‘death of God’. By creating a certain social psyche, suggests Hillman, Christianity prepared a culture within which the shadow could triumph once it faced its demise. ‘The commander’s tent flaps in the wind’ he poetically suggests, ‘while the two-horned bull Dionysus, our Devil, pagan, perverse, psychopathic, all-powerful, once he comes through the mountain wall’ (RVP:224). ‘The greatest bulwark of Northern consciousness was its now dead God who commanded battalions of light – moral philosophers, preachers, psychologists’ (RVP:224),, but now with the ‘death of God’, the ‘depths rise without our systems of protection.’ Hillman struggles again with the dilemma that faced Freud, Rank and ultimately all psychoanalysis: it is all very well to seek the return of the repressed – but once the irrational polyvalent Gods of the unconscious have arisen, what the hell do you do with them? Beginning with the repression of fin de si├Ęcle Vienna, Freud began the slow work of stripping away the layers of repression and denial beginning with the sexual. His followers, as we have seen, continued the work so that by the time Hillman wrote his work in the late 1960s and early 1970s the return of the repressed was in full swing with the sexual and social revolution of those decades. However, the removal of the ego’s ‘moral restraint’ left an inevitable void. Old man Freud recognised, as we saw in the previous chapter, the necessary role of psychology as a moral discipline. Hillman’s unanchoring of this in his polymathic ‘return to Greece’ also ushers in some very dark sides of the human psyche. I write this chapter with daily television reports of the gory battles in the Middle East –images of young men from civilised Europe holding up severed heads, engaged in mass acts of rape and torture and countless bloody atrocities suggest that Freud was right and perhaps Hillman was wrong. Perhaps the human psyche can only stand so much return of the repressed before moral repugnance kicks in. At least one hopes. In his commentary on Jung’s Red Book, Hillman at the end of his life said that the old options of Christianity were ‘worn out’. One cannot anymore ‘flee to the East’ (RVP :224) as the hippies and transcendental meditators of the 1960s had done. Rather for him the answer lies in the ‘fostering of images’, in the polymorphously perverse psyche where ‘we can place the turmoil of our fantasies within the larger depository of myths’ (RVP:225) which is for him the task of ‘recollecting the Gods in all psychological activity’ (RVP:226). Whilst remembering that this ‘return to the Gods’ is no longer a theological option:

The difference between psychology and religion boils down to the same as between psychology and science: literalism. Theology takes Gods literally and we do not... In archetypal psychology Gods are imagined... They are formulated ambiguously, as metaphors for modes of experience and as numinous borderline persons. (RVP:169)

This is his ‘initiation into the Dionysian consciousness’ (MA:274) without which ‘we have only that Dionysus that reaches us through the shadow, through Wotan and the Devil of Christianity’ twisted and perverted by ‘our misogynist and Apollonic consciousness’ (MA:274).  Psyche predates Christianity, says Hillman, so the return to the soul is a return to a source that predates Christianity: ‘the merging of psychology and religion is less the confluence of two different streams than the result of their single source – the soul’ (RVP:167). In conclusion, then, Hillman’s soul is, as we have seen, non-scientific and consequently arational living in the realm of imagination and the symbolic.

          I have tried here to give a systematic account of Hillman’s work, but he is very insistent that soul-work must, by its nature, essentially be unsystematic. I think if Hillman were ever to read this chapter on whichever astral plane he now resides, he would take a sharp intake of breath and accuse me of over-rationalisation in my approach to the psyche ( a long standing criticism!). Consequently, for him the ‘patron saint’ of soul-work is the medieval Knight Errant, who in his hermetic wanderings to and fro represents the gentle dance (Dionysius’s ‘circular movement’) which is the soul-work:

The Knight Errant follows fantasy, riding the vehicle of his emotions; he loiters and pursues the anima with his eros, regarding desire as also holy; and he listens to the deviant discourse of the imagination. (RVP:161)

For ‘The Knight Errant of psychology’ is ‘partly picaresque rogue, of the underworld, a shadow hero of unknown paternity, who sees through the hierarchies from below. He is a mediator betwixt and between, homeless, of no fixed abode. Or his home, like that of Eros, is in the realm of the daemons, of the metaxy (the middle region), in between, back and forth’ (RVP:161). Perhaps with this picture of the Knight Errant we have the final concluding picture of Hillman, the wandering, infuriating, inspiring, trangressive follower of Hermes, possibly the ultimate incarnation of the lost postmodern soul:

Because of Hermes, psychologizing is always moving between opposing views such as the Apollonic and the Dionysian attitudes, standing at either end of its spectrum, - partly Apollonic Knight, partly Dionysian Rogue, both and neither. (RVP:163)

Therefore for Hillman, psychology must always annoy all the other disciplines neither being fully Apollonian nor fully Dionysian ‘it is a counter-education, a negative learning, moving all standpoints off balance toward their borders’ (RVP:163) – it is beyond morality and immoral. We will search in vain for Freud’s moral ego in Hillman’s wandering Knight Errant Soul:

The notion of human being as centred in the moral person of free will is also a mythical fantasy, an archetypal perspective given by a single Hero or a single God; our freedom to chose, our moral cente and decisiveness, our free will... Here I am attempting to de-moralize the psyche from the moralistic fallacy which reads psychic events in terms of good and bad, right and wrong. (RVP:178)


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