Thursday, 14 January 2010

I wanted to drop in part of an article from the New York Times in the mid-nineties to do with the work of James Hillman and Thomas Moore. To be clear-i think both are terrific in different ways, and i think some of Moore's more spacious prose style influences Hillman's later work (which DID prove to be bestsellers-something that happened post this article.)

I'm very interested in Hillmans essay 'Pink Madness' on porn, and Moore's 'Dark Eros'(a book i think i have recommended before) and what happens to all our lusty, sectioned off, libidinous, howlingy indecent impulses that rear up at the most inappropiate moments. Wonderful stuff.This article touches on some delicate areas i think. Just google Hillman New York Times and i'm sure you could find the whole thing.

To really descend into the shaggy flanks and hot moons of panting chaos you may want to sample his 'Pan and the Nightmare' book. Thats our Jim of course, by the time you read this he will already of been up for six hours cooling his terrible intelligence with icepacks of lesser mortals like Spengler and Goethre. We weep in the dark at his remorseless train of horrible ideas. He says we won't get into Arcadia if we don't study and, by the way, the much maligned brain is full of BLOOD.

Thank you for the great responses and poems from last weeks post.
More soon on that x.

SELLING SOUL


Thomas Moore, author of the unexpected best seller "Care of the Soul" and the subsequent and much expected best seller "Soul Mates," opens the workshop with a story about a call he got from someone at "Oprah" after his appearance on the TV show. "She wanted the names of people whose lives had been changed by my book," he says. "I said no. She said, 'Don't you want to change people's lives?' I said no. They won't be changed anyway. The person who says they're the most changed is the least changed."

For any of the 200 people in attendance who want to give it a shot anyway, at a table in the back is a display of the ways Moore is selling his souls. There is the handsomely boxed set of the two books, and separate hardcover, paperback and audio versions. For people who need a more specific approach on how not to change their lives, there is the $58, six-volume set of tapes titled "Soul Life," with cassettes on topics like "Introduction to Soul Life" and "Soul and the Family."

Moore finds it an exhausting business, this hawking of one's ideas to groups of people searching for an answer to -- well, searching for an answer. "Some people get energized by this," he says at the lunch break. "It wipes me out." Still, such events, this one held in a Manhattan church, are the price Moore pays to get his name before the kinds of people who will buy his books and tell their friends. A lot of friends. Since its publication in 1992, "Care of the Soul" has sold more than a million copies. And as people stream up to him during the breaks, he autographs his books with unfailing grace.

Events like this are also wearing for his collaborator at today's workshop, the psychoanalyst James Hillman. Hillman complains of a headache during the lunch break and after eating a sandwich, naps on the floor in a sleeping bag. For him, such workshops are not a means to propel himself onto the best-seller list. Though he is Moore's inspiration, the wellspring of the younger man's ideas, these workshops are the primary way he makes his living.

This Saturday's joint lecture, sponsored by the New York Open Center ($85 for members; $95 for nonmembers) is called "Aphrodite's Revenge: Dark Eros and Pink Madness." Over the course of the day the two men contemplate where to find the Greek goddess of love and sex in today's world, and how she retaliates for attempts to repress her. It is an abstruse topic, but Moore and Hillman, in their very different ways, make it vivid, perhaps even pertinent to those attending.

But there is something larger at work here than a meditation on a Greek goddess. It is a demonstration of how to package ideas. It is the difference between selling a million copies of a book and 35,000 (the total sales, after 19 years in print, of Hillman's major work, "Re-Visioning Psychology). It is why Moore is at ease on "Oprah" and Hillman will never be invited.

There is almost no distinction between Moore's ideas and Hillman's. Moore himself freely acknowledges his intellectual debt to Hillman. And he should. "Care of the Soul" can be seen in part as a gloss on Hillman's work, a clearer, more direct translation of Hillman's ideas. Call it Hillman Lite.

Hillman Heavy asks no less than to replace the governing beliefs of psychoanalysis. In Hillman's view psychology should be about depth, not growth. "After a certain age you do not grow," he has said. "If you start growing after that age, it's cancer." He has devoted decades to dethroning our culture's faith in the ego, to deflating our worship of heroic action and to deprecating our certainty in the concept of self. Hillman wants society to turn away from its obsession with the unanchored altitudes of spirit, and come back down to earth, to the soul. He also asks us to reject the judgmental thinking of monotheism and return our psyches to the polytheism exemplified by ancient Greece.

Hugh Van Dusen, who edits both Moore's and Hillman's books at HarperCollins, while celebrating the success of the former, regrets the obscurity of the latter. "It's sad but relevant that Hillman's books never sold very well. . . . It does seem that Tom has been able to take many of Jim's ideas and his own ideas and put them in a literary form that is widely accessible."

Their differences in style are no better illustrated than here at St. Peter's Lutheran Church. Moore, a former seminarian and therapist, has the gentle, reassuring manner of someone trained in gentleness and reassurance. He is 54 but is preternaturally young looking, his skin glowing and unlined. He doesn't so much lecture as evoke images of Aphrodite that seem to have just floated through his mind. These images suggest that each of us, in some of our most trifling moments, is in service to the goddess. He mentions associations with Aphrodite: flowers, smiles, gold. "Let's say you're walking down Madison Avenue and you're caught by a gold object -- that's so easy here. One of the great means we have of contemplation today is the store window."

When it is Hillman's turn to speak he doesn't evoke, he provokes. He is tall, thin, ascetic-looking at 69, with cropped white hair, a hawklike nose and deep creases across his temple which point like arrows to his penetrating sea-colored eyes. On stage, he is on the attack, working himself into a sweat, pacing, as he flips through a stack of stapled bits of paper. Hillman's subject is not beauty but pornography. His speech is about Aphrodite's reviled son, Priapus, the god best known for his grotesquely enlarged phallus, the god of exposure.

In his rat-tat-tat style Hillman leaps from politics, to personal addresses to the gods, to psychological analysis of current films, to etymological elaborations, to just plain talking dirty. Listening to him is like riding a great wave; just when you think you have caught the rhythm, you find yourself dumped gasping on the shore.

He scorns society's attempts to repress pornography, explaining that the imagination is more powerful than our rational beliefs. No matter what laws we enact ("Law is the myth of America. Lawyers are our priests") he says, the truths of human nature embodied in the myths will be played out over and over again, never losing their ability to shock. He cites an example: "The most recent case of Priapus, who was stocky, middle-aged, swarthy, was Clarence Thomas. There he was, uncovered on TV. It was an exposure. That whole myth reappeared."

At the end of Hillman's performance, Moore rejoins him on stage. Like a good student, he praises his master. Yet in his praise, there is an edge. (As the Greeks knew, sons are prone to knife their fathers.) "I've been doing this for 20 years, listening to this man speak," Moore says. "I remember having to respond to a talk so far beyond me, I didn't know what to do. I get so caught up, so mesmerized . . . I had a blank piece of paper for taking notes. But it stayed blank the whole time."

"THESE ARE THE THINGS I'VE written," James Hillman says, sweeping a hand across a long shelf of books in the office of his Connecticut house. There are nearly 20 books that he wrote or co-wrote, with titles like "The Myth of Analysis" and "We've Had a Hundred Years of Therapy and the World's Getting Worse." It seems an ironic monument to someone intent on dismantling ego, hero and self. After all, what is such a shelf if not a tribute to an ego-driven, heroic self-image? His answer is typically Hillmanesque, mixing metaphor and myth: He gets possessed by demons. "The demonic is something that is a taskmaster to do these things or say these things or produce these things," he explains. "It's the slave driver. You spend your life making it, then it tortures you: 'What are you doing now? We want more. You didn't finish that.' "

He may never finish. This month Doubleday published "Kinds of Power: An Intelligent Guide to Its Uses," of which he says proudly, "There's not one practical idea in the whole book." Under way is a book for Random House that looks at individual destiny and re-examines the importance of childhood experiences.

All the books provide intoxicating bursts of illumination, but they are also dense, allusive, complex. Hillman's writing style suggests that he will not be drawn into the delusion of the logically laid-out argument. "It requires a lot of culture," he says of his oeuvre. "It's work to read it." He offers almost no case histories, anecdotes or biography to help anchor the reader or show how to apply his ideas to one's own life.

Though Thomas Moore insists, like his mentor, on the fallacy of helping people, his books belie this. They are full of examples from his therapeutic practice, homiletic advice on finding soul: wash your dishes by hand as a household ritual, share your dreams with your loved one. The pervasive implicit message is that you can make your life better.

Hillman offers no recommendations; he doesn't try to fix things: "My suggestion is that there's no way out of the human condition," he says. "Sex, death, marriage, children, parents, illness. There's no way out. They're a misery, all of them. You can spend 10 years in therapy and it will still be sex, death, marriage . . . "

2 comments:

Ben Dennis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Dennis said...

As I read this article and Martin's introductory notes, I am struck by a thought, "I would choose to be a child over being an 'educated' adult. "Educated" appears to mean that the process of learning is over.... For me it is not. The relationship between Moore and Hillman is recapitulated throughout history and, more importantly, throughout each of our lives. It is the relationship between teacher and student, master and apprentice, father and son, mother and daughter.

I hear from some whom I have given Hillman's books that his writing is too difficult, why couldn't he have written in a more accessible way? My answer is this...Bullshit! The difficulty is a direct reflection of the complexity of Hillman's thoughts. His gift is to go deep, to travel the underworld in way's terrifying for most of humanity, and to bring back begrimed treasure for the rest of us. Once that is done and expressed, only then can it be polished up, translated, and prettied.

For me, I am interested in the subterranean realms and find the richness in Hillman to be in its most raw form, full strength and undiluted. I am not, in any way, more interested in the "lite" version. Give me the hard stuff!

Yet, Moore must also have an honored place. He brings us the treasure in a way we can absorb and work with. His role is a crucial one because without him, Hillman would have less of an audience...and the world would be a lesser and impoverished place without him. Moore also provides the hope that powerful and raw thoughts 'can' be digested by mortals. After all, what Moore does for Hillman is much the same thing any of us would do--take it in as best we can.

Every time I dive into Hillman I am acutely reminded that I am NOT educated! I am a student.

Benjamin Dennis, PhD