A conversation with psychologist James Hillman-- about kids, shrinks, mythology, and death.

          CP: That's true. But it also struck me, with respect to the recovered memory movement and some of the narratives that came out of it, that on one level it was a usefully archetypal repository--the notion of the abusive parent, the abusive father--for feelings of victimization, atomization, powerlessness that are in essence social and political in origin...

          HILLMAN: And economic as well. Class. All the things we just talked about. Architectural.

          CP: But in this country we have no vocabulary for talking about that sense of victimage in terms of politics, in terms of society, in terms of economics, in terms of architecture. And so it gets projected into this powerful and--thanks partly to the influence of psychotherapy--utterly personal archetype.

          HILLMAN: Exactly. Exactly. That is the great... it seems to me still, following the book with Ventura, I still believe that the ideas of psychotherapy are some of the most pernicious now affecting the culture. I really do think so. And I think that one of the problems with this Clinton-Gore team, whom I nonetheless will vote for, is that they turn politics into psychotherapy. They do psychotherapy.

          CP: How so?

          HILLMAN: Well, the town meetings, and Clinton feeling for people's pain. Clinton's acting like the collective therapist for everyone, in a kind of... it's almost as if the monism of 40 years ago, Phillip Wylie's book saying America was a mother-bound culture in the '40s or '50s, it's as if Clinton's the good mother for the country. And so everything's taken in a kind of feeling, emotional way. It isn't a matter of issues, it's a matter of thought, also. And he's a man who can think. So it's really a corruption of part of his own nature, I think. He's not a dumb person at all.

          CP: You were saying a minute ago that you thought psychotherapy was responsible for some of the most pernicious ideas in the culture. What are some of those ideas?

          HILLMAN: That I am a result of the past. That is, history is causality. Therefore, to get to the best cause--the strongest cause will be the earliest cause, because it starts the chain. That's one. Second is that a personal feeling is equal to history, thought, knowledge. Opinion is equal to knowledge. It's enough. That justifies anything. And kids are taught that very early in school now, to have an opinion about all kinds of things. And if you don't have an opinion, well, how do you feel about it?

          CP: And your opinions and feelings are valid no matter what.

          HILLMAN: No matter what. That's confirmation of subjectivity, the overvaluation of subjectivity. Now, I understand that, because it's against the overvaluation of scientistic objectivity. But there must be something else besides those two extremes, just like there must be something else between heroic individualism and victimization.

          CP: You write at one point, "We are less damaged by the traumas of childhood than by the way that we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us." That was interesting to me, because I've always felt there was a natural sense of horror and upheaval and cataclysm that goes with being a child, that's down deep in a child's soul, and it needs some gentle catharsis, some bringing to light. I've thought about it recently because I've got a four-year-old stepdaughter who loves old black & white horror films from the '30s as much as I did when I was a kid. Yet when I tried to find books or articles about children's fascination with horror, I couldn't. It's a taboo subject in American psychology.

          HILLMAN: Yeah. Why is that? I don't know why, but I can recommend a book called The Incredible Fascination With Violence, written by a Swiss psychologist, young guy, about the way little kids are fascinated by violence, and how the good will of the teacher often perverts that fascination by preventing them from exhibiting their violence. And therefore it becomes repressed and then they feel they're bad people because they have these ideas. It's a good little book.

          But we don't.... We have to start off with the idea that there is an innate--I think--gift in human beings to pull bugs' legs off them, and to do things to the cat that the cat goes crazy with. Thomas Wolfe said, "Pity is a learned emotion. A child will have it least of all." Interesting thought. I remember that from years ago. It isn't that a kid is naturally a murderer, like Mary Bell, whom I mention in this book, or the little boys in England who took that little boy off and killed him in the mall. But the Grimms' fairy tales are filled with horrors: tortures, ovens, boiled alive, heads cut off, witches, giants.

          The archetypal imagination is filled with that. If you read African fairy tales, they're full of unbelievable things happening to people. Swallowed up, eaten alive, burned in the fire, the whole village destroyed... this belongs to our coming to terms with the fantasy world. So I think the child that watches these things on TV and is fascinated by them is learning about that giant area of her own cave. My problem with the TV is not the content, but the speed and the noise. It is too loud and too fast, and that hyper aspect--if you read a Grimms fairy tale and there's that horror in it, or an African folk tale, or a Greek myth where Hercules chops off everybody's arms and legs, or whatever, it's got a pacing to it. So there's a digestion and maybe even a reflection. I don't know what goes on in the psyche, but there's another rhythm to it. Whereas when it's just thrown at you in cartoons on Saturday morning, or explosions in cars--the huge amount of explosive stuff on TV--the hyperactivity of it is what's disturbing to me. I think it's disturbing to the nervous system. I don't know enough to know, but that's what I think. Not the content.

« Previous Page
Next Page »