Friday, August 19, 2011

James Hillman on Soul

"By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment -- and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground.

It is as if consciousness rests upon a self-sustaining and imagining substrate -- an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence -- that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego, and consciousness go into eclipse. Soul appears as a factor independent of the events in which we are immersed. Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it apart from other things, perhaps because it is like a reflection in a flowing mirror, or like the moon which mediates only borrowed light. But just this peculiar and paradoxical intervening variable gives on the sense of having or being soul. However intangible and indefinable it is, soul carries highest importance in hierarchies of human values, frequently being identified with the principle of life and even of divinity.

In another attempt upon the idea of soul I suggest that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. These four qualifications I had already put forth some years ago. I had begun to use the term freely, usually interchangeably with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy -- that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical." (p. X)

James Hillman (1975). Revisioning Psychology. New York: Harper & Row.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE this quotation. Last Fall I taught a graduate level philosophy course entitled "Philosophy and Analytical Psychology". I "inflicted" on my students, at perhaps the most conservative Catholic university in the country, the entirety of "The Essential Jung," of Roger Brooke's "Jung and Phenomenology," ending with "Re-visioning Psychology". We talked quite a bit about just this passage. It is so difficult, when "religion" has come to be so closely identified with the dogmatic and propositional, as it has in our fundamentalist era, to express the point that religion is about imagining that which is beyond! Still, my impression was that my students did get what Hillman was doing and saw something of its liberatory potential... It just so happens that I know a good bit about the Catholic mystical tradition and my students could see the connection between what Hillman was expressing and what the Catholic mystics were doing.