Issue 190 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I have just read the unhappy exchange between Jim Ralston and James Hillman [Correspondence, Issue 188], and feel compelled to respond. Ralston may or may not be regurgitating received ideas; he may or may not be “stupid”; but Hillman is most assuredly condescending. His arrogance condemns him far more certainly than any possible intellectual shortcomings on Ralston’s part.

It is clear from Hillman’s tone that, for all his book learning, for all the esteem in which he is held around the world, he is still married to his anger. Now, if anything is “stupid,” it is anger, for anger is self-destructive — and what could be stupider than self-destruction?

It also makes him a member of an unfortunate (and distressingly large) club. The world is full of “citizens” who stupidly act out their anger in the polis. That’s one reason why the world is in the sorry state it is. A spirit of love is probably the most important attribute of good citizenship there is. It does not appear in Hillman’s diatribe.

Beneath the dispute about the merits of the therapeutic paradigm, Ralston and Hillman are having another debate. This one is about gentleness of spirit, about kindliness toward one’s fellow travelers. And this debate Ralston wins hands down.

Carl Frankel Bethlehem, Connecticut

I’m an incest survivor. Violence was perpetrated on me when I was a child. It seeped into my flesh and caused me a pain that now, in middle age, has become life threatening. This is why I am in therapy. Therapy is keeping me alive, and helping me to squeeze out the poisons that flooded my body and soul.

I have always been political. Nor have I stopped since entering therapy. The one has nothing to do with the other; Hillman sets up a false dichotomy.

Hillman ridiculed Ralston. He blithely cut through Ralston’s pain as if it were nothing. He made fun, as if Ralston went into therapy to achieve “orgasm.” This tells me all I need to know about how Hillman’s theory works in practice. If there is no compassion for the human being who stands before you, then there is no compassion. Everything Hillman talks about is in the abstract — and therefore, meaningless.

Pamela Altfeld Malone Leonia, New Jersey

Hillman’s original interview brilliantly expressed his point of view. Ralston’s reply was thoughtful and obviously rooted in a profound personal experience. The problem is that you allowed Hillman to reply with “more of the same,” thereby diminishing Ralston’s contribution.

I am reminded of academic journals where someone expresses a point of view and then the intellectual gadflies leap upon the corpus. The writer claims that 1,728 angels would fit on the head of a pin; another claims it’s only 520; a third insists an infinite number would fit; still another argues that there is no pin. The writer neatly proves them all wrong in the rebuttal.

Hillman’s response to Ralston’s letter adds nothing; he simply regurgitates his original view, supplementing it with new quotes and more intellectual gymnastics.

I believe it is the editor’s job to honor a reader’s response by simply letting it appear.

Robert White Englewood, Colorado

A salute to the snappy exchange between Ralston and Hillman. Neither man seems to be trapped in the black hole of “the nonthought of received ideas.” But as for which came first, the individual or the citizen — I mean, who gives a shit? Who has time to give a shit? The sky is falling, as Hillman so well points out, and people are too numbed to register the magnitude of the disaster, let alone do anything about it.

Received ideas are fine if they trigger a spark of recognition. There are no secrets, really, just an inability or unwillingness to see what’s there. So we abdicate our power — to governments, to therapy, to institutions, to experts. A tragic misnomer, that. We stand around blindfolded while our battery of experts in government, media, education, and business grope the vast hulking body of life itself. They send back reports to put our minds at ease: a tusk here, a hoof there, strange odors and tremblings; all very mysterious.

We are active members in a society that trivializes, vulgarizes, and mutilates the essential and therefore sacred (in the deepest meaning of the word) nature of things. If we don’t stop, all the individuals and all the politicized citizens in the world won’t be enough to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Our asses will be grass, synthetic at that.

P.S. Antler’s poem was fine! Great counterpoint to the Ralston/Hillman exchange. I am continually blown away by the living quality of your fiction and poetry, by the illusive, high spirit of The Sun. And I’m a cantankerous, been-around-the-block old sonofabitch who isn’t easily impressed at this point in the game. Keep it up!

John Bennett Ellensburg, Washington
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