WAKING UP WITH THE HOUSE ON FIRE

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

          CP: Your bookThe Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World really plumbed that middle ground we were starting to talk about between radical subjectivity and radical objectivity. It tried to conceive an approach to psyche that was not isolated in the self, that took in the world.

          HILLMAN: Yes.

          CP: At the same time, it's hard to imagine the therapy that proceeds from that.

          HILLMAN: Well, there are people beginning to think about that. Steve Eisenstadt at Pacifica Graduate Institute, a group in Cambridge. Sarah Kahn and her group are trying to return psychology to ecology. To read dreams in terms of what they're saying about the world as well as--we do have this doctrine that the dream is utterly subjective.

          CP: Every figure in the dream is a piece of you...

          HILLMAN: Right. All I'm saying is, let's question that, because there may be a way out somehow. Without setting up a new mode of interpreting the dream, let's at least reflect on the fact that we don't know where the psyche is. We cannot say it's only inside your skin. It may be in the rooms you work in as well, and the house you live in. But I've said all that before in Thought of the Heart, you know.

          CP: I read that at a time when I was experiencing a sort of personal crisis of isolation, and I found it as nourishing in its own way as the best spiritual texts.

          HILLMAN: I'm glad to hear that. Thank you.

          CP: And I say that in part because your work does tend toward that nether region between psychology and religion.

          HILLMAN: I think--a friend of mine said you can't really do Jungian psychology without a religious attitude. It doesn't mean you're religious, or belong in a religion. But you always think, there's another here. There's another factor involved here--I call it "the invisibles" in The Soul's Code--that ordinary people in most cultures pay attention to. It's why they light a candle, or why they cross themselves, why they pick up little pebbles on the beach and take them home and put them somewhere special. Or why they keep a picture of a loved one or a dead member of the family--there's this sense that there's something else involved in life all the time.

          And that is the important aspect--what I tried to say in the book is that there's something else involved. In fact one of the chapters is called "Neither Nurture Nor Nature, But Something Else." It's the something else we need to get back to, to connect with again. Without naming it, without defining it, without scientizing it.

          CP: And yet that's a frightening prospect in a way. Perhaps particularly for people in this country...

          HILLMAN: But this is such a religious country. I can't see why it's so difficult--

          CP: It's a religious country, but it's not religion as pursuit of self-knowledge or personal revelation...

          HILLMAN: It used to be a sense of personal destiny, though. People came with a dream. Americans are not people of a place, they're people of a dream. What Martin Luther King said is true for the whole country: I have a dream. Everyone who came here came here for a dream. Either to escape torture, imprisonment, debt... something. Or to find gold in the streets. You know, a dream. Except the slaves. And I think... I don't think it should be so difficult to reawaken to the fact that... [pause] the fact of our being connected to something else. I don't know how else to put it.

          You see--I think we've been absolutely imprisoned by economics in the last years. And that's captured everything.

          CP: The logic and the rhetoric of the marketplace defines everything...

          HILLMAN: Exactly. Defines everything. Values have been completely captured by it. Personal destiny has been completely captured by it. It's always to do with pension planning and how many years you've got in front of you and whether your income's gonna be equal to Social Security when it's gone--my god, what will I do!--and that you're not gonna live as well as your parents lived. Or it's too late to buy a house... I mean, this is drilled into us.

          CP: And what is the prospective worth of your acorn, if you're young.

          HILLMAN: Yeah. So get in there and start making money. Because there is what [Ivan] Illich called the fear of scarcity. We've set up a scarcity world. "We're losing our competitive edge. The rest of the world is growing faster than we are. We must keep out the immigrants." There's an endless dance of anxiety and security. And I think that's the worst part of our current condition: the security binge. Airbags in the side doors--we're in an airbag culture.

          One man is dragged through the streets of Mogadishu and we have to change our foreign policy. If you're in the army, if you've signed up to join the service, you can expect to be killed. That's part of what it is to be in the military service. These are not draftees anymore. This is a professional army. Well, we're conned into joining the army because we get an education, or a grant. Whatever you get afterwards. No--you're in there to kill people and be killed. That's the ultimate end of it. That possibility is what it means to be in military service, even if you learn a trade. That's peripheral.

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