Psychologist James Hillman was an outspoken critic of his own profession. He thought that mainstream psychology, with its emphasis on people’s personal lives, nurtured egocentrism and isolation. His studies with psychiatrist Carl Jung in the 1950s led him to believe that imagination, mythology, and culture play a greater role in the development of a person’s mind than early experiences and emotional wounds. (He once said: “Our lives are determined less by our childhood than by the traumatic way we have learned to remember our childhoods.”) Hillman scolded therapists and psychoanalysts for dwelling on such things as a patient’s “inner child” when they should be focused on the real world, with its social ills and injustices. A witty and intelligent contrarian, he constantly overturned common assumptions, which did not endear him to his more conventional-minded colleagues.

In 1992 Hillman collaborated with his friend the writer Michael Ventura on a book of their conversations and letters. The title they chose gets right to the point: We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy — And the World’s Getting Worse.

— Ed.

 

Hillman: We’ve had a hundred years of analysis, and people are getting more and more sensitive, and the world is getting worse and worse. Maybe it’s time to look at that. We still locate the psyche inside the skin. You go inside to locate the psyche, you examine your feelings and your dreams, they belong to you. Or it’s interrrelations, interpsyche, between your psyche and mine. That’s been extended a little bit into family systems and office groups — but the psyche, the soul, is still only within and between people. We’re working on our relationships constantly, and our feelings and reflections, but look what’s left out of that. . . .

What’s left out is a deteriorating world.

So why hasn’t therapy noticed that? Because psychotherapy is only working on that “inside” soul. By removing the soul from the world and not recognizing that the soul is also in the world, psychotherapy can’t do its job anymore. The buildings are sick, the institutions are sick, the banking system’s sick, the schools, the streets — the sickness is out there. . . .

Every time we try to deal with our outrage over the freeway, our misery over the office and the lighting and the crappy furniture, the crime on the streets, whatever — every time we try to deal with that by going to therapy with our rage and fear, we’re depriving the political world of something. And therapy, in its crazy way, by emphasizing the inner soul and ignoring the outer soul, supports the decline of the actual world. Yet therapy goes on blindly believing that it’s curing the outer world by making better people. We’ve had that for years and years and years: “If everybody went into therapy, we’d have better buildings, we’d have better people, we’d have more consciousness.” It’s not the case.

Ventura: I’m not sure it’s causal, but it’s definitely a pattern. Our inner knowledge has gotten more subtle while our ability to deal with the world around us has — well, deteriorated is almost not a strong enough word. Disintegrated is more like it.

Hillman: The vogue today, in psychotherapy, is the “inner child.” That’s the therapy thing — you go back to your childhood. But if you’re looking backward, you’re not looking around. This trip backward constellates what Jung called the “child archetype.” Now, the child archetype is by nature apolitical and disempowered — it has no connection with the political world. And so the adult says, “Well, what can I do about the world? This thing’s bigger than me.” That’s the child archetype talking. “All I can do is work on myself, work on my growth, my development, find good parenting, support groups.” This is a disaster for the political world, for our democracy. Democracy depends on intensely active citizens, not children.

By emphasizing the child archetype, by making our therapeutic hours rituals of evoking childhood and reconstructing childhood, we’re blocking ourselves from political life. Twenty or thirty years of therapy have removed the most sensitive and most intelligent, and some of the most affluent people in our society, into child cult worship. It’s going on insidiously, all through therapy, all through the country. So of course our politics are in disarray and nobody’s voting — we’re disempowering ourselves through therapy.


Ventura: Isn’t “growth” a huge part of the project of therapy? Everybody uses the word, therapists and clients alike.

Hillman: But the very word grow is a word appropriate to children. After a certain age you do not grow. You don’t grow teeth, you don’t grow muscles. If you start growing after that age, it’s cancer. . . .

And becoming more and more oneself — the actual experience of it is a shrinking, in that very often it’s a dehydration, a loss of inflations, a loss of illusions.

Ventura: That doesn’t sound like a good time. Why would anybody want to do it?

Hillman: Because shedding is a beautiful thing. It’s of course not what consumerism tells you, but shedding feels good. It’s a lightening up.

Ventura: Shedding what?

Hillman: Shedding pseudoskins, crusted stuff that you’ve accumulated. Shedding deadwood. That’s one of the big sheddings. Things that don’t work anymore, things that don’t keep you — keep you alive. Sets of ideas that you’ve had too long. People that you don’t really like to be with, habits of thought, habits of sexuality. That’s a very big one, ’cause if you keep on making love at forty the way you did at eighteen, you’re missing something, and if you make love at sixty the way you did at forty, you’re missing something. All that changes. The imagination changes.

Or put it another way: Growth is always loss.

Anytime you’re gonna grow, you’re gonna lose something. You’re losing what you’re hanging on to to keep safe. You’re losing habits that you’re comfortable with; you’re losing familiarity. That’s a big one, when you begin to move into the unfamiliar.

You know, in the organic world when anything begins to grow, it’s moving constantly into unfamiliar movements and unfamiliar things. Watch birds grow — they fall down, they can’t quite do it. Their growing is all awkwardness. Watch a fourteen-year-old kid tripping over his own feet.

Ventura: The fantasy of growth that you find in therapy, and also in New Age thought, doesn’t include this awkwardness, which can be terrible and can go on for years. And when we look at people going through that, we usually don’t say they’re growing; we usually consider them out of it. And during such a time one certainly doesn’t feel more powerful in the world.

Hillman: The fantasy of growth is a romantic, harmonious fantasy of an ever-expanding, ever-developing, ever-creating, ever-larger person — and ever integrating, getting it all together.

Ventura: And if you don’t fulfill that fantasy, you see yourself as failing.

Hillman: Absolutely.

Ventura: So this idea of growth can put you into a constant state of failure! . . .

Hillman: It sets up something worse. It sets up not just failure but anomaly: “I’m peculiar.” And it does this by showing no respect for sameness, for consistency, in a person. Sameness is a very important part of life — to be consistently the same in certain areas that don’t change, don’t grow.

You’ve been in therapy six years and you go back home on Thanksgiving and you open the front door and you see your family and you are right back where you were. You feel the same as you always did! Or you’ve been divorced for years, haven’t seen the ex-wife, though there’s been some communication on the phone, but you walk into the same room and within four minutes there’s a flare-up, the same flare-up that was there long ago.

Some things stay the same. They’re like rocks. There are rocks in the psyche. There are crystals, there’s iron ore, there’s a metallic level where some things don’t change. . . .

This changeless aspect, if you go all the way back in philosophy even before Aristotle, was called Being. “Real Being doesn’t change.” That was one fantasy. Other people would say, “Real Being is always changing.” I’m not arguing which one is right; I’m arguing that both are fundamental categories of life, of being. You can look at your life with the eye of sameness and say, “My god, nothing’s really changed.” Then you can look at it with the other eye: “My god, what a difference. Two years ago, nine years ago, I was thus and so, but now all that’s gone; it’s changed completely!”

This is one of the great riddles that Laotzu talked about, the changing and the changeless. The job in therapy is not to try and make the changeless change, but how to separate the two. If you try to work on what’s called a character neurosis, if you try to take someone who is very deeply emotionally whatever-it-is and try to change that person into something else, what are you doing? Because there are parts of the psyche that are changeless. . . .

The psyche knows more why it resists change than you do. Every complex, every psychic figure in your dreams knows more about itself and what it’s doing and what it’s there for than you do. So you may as well respect it.

Ventura: And if you, as a therapist, don’t respect that, then you’re not respecting that person.

Hillman: And it has nothing to do with wanting to change. Like the joke: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” “It only takes one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.” This light bulb that really wants to change still can’t change those areas of changelessness.

Ventura: The fantasy of growth, the fantasy of the ever-expanding, ever-developing person — which is a very strong fantasy out there right now, especially among the educated, and among all those buyers of self-help books — doesn’t take changelessness into account at all, doesn’t set up a dialectic between change and changelessness. So . . . this fantasy, fed by many sorts of therapies, can’t help but make people feel more like failures in the long run. Which, in turn, can’t help but increase the general feeling of powerlessness.

That’s a pretty vicious circle.

Hillman: There’s another thing therapy does that I think is vicious. It internalizes emotions. . . .

I’m outraged after having driven to my analyst on the freeway. The fucking trucks almost ran me off the road. I’m terrified, I’m in my little car, and I get to my therapist’s and I’m shaking. My therapist says, “We’ve gotta talk about this.”

So we begin to talk about it. And we discover that my father was a son-of-a-bitch brute, and this whole truck thing reminds me of him. Or we discover that I’ve always felt frail and vulnerable, there’ve always been bigger guys with bigger dicks, so this car that I’m in is a typical example of my thin skin and my frailty and vulnerability. Or we talk about my power drive, that I really wish to be a truck driver. We convert my fear into anxiety — an inner state. We convert the present into the past, into a discussion of my father and my childhood. And we convert my outrage — at the pollution or the chaos or whatever my outrage is about — into rage and hostility. Again, an internal condition, whereas it starts in outrage, an emotion. Emotions are mainly social. The word comes from the Latin ex movere, to move out. Emotions connect to the world. Therapy introverts the emotions, calls fear “anxiety.” You take it back, and you work on it inside yourself. You don’t work psychologically on what that outrage is telling you about potholes, about trucks, about Florida strawberries in Vermont in March, about burning up oil, about energy policies, nuclear waste, that homeless woman over there with the sores on her feet — the whole thing.

Ventura: You’re not saying that we don’t need introspection, an introspective guy like you?

Hillman: Put this in italics so that nobody can just pass over it: This is not to deny that you do need to go inside — but we have to see what we’re doing when we do that. By going inside we’re maintaining the Cartesian view that the world out there is dead matter and the world inside is living.

Ventura: A therapist told me that my grief at seeing a homeless man my age was really a feeling of sorrow for myself.

Hillman: And dealing with it means going home and working on it in reflection. That’s what dealing with it has come to mean. And by that time you’ve walked past the homeless man in the street.

Ventura: It’s also, in part, a way to cut off what you would call Eros, the part of my heart that seeks to touch others. Theoretically this is something therapy tries to liberate, but here’s a person on the street that I’m feeling for, and I’m supposed to deal with that feeling as though it has nothing to do with another person.

Hillman: Could the thing that we all believe in most — that psychology is the one good thing left in a hypocritical world — be not true? Psychology, working with yourself — could that be part of the disease, not part of the cure? I think therapy has made a philosophical mistake, which is that . . . knowing precedes doing or action. I don’t think that’s the case. I think reflection has always been after the event. . . .

The thing that therapy pushes is relationship, yet work may matter just as much as relationship. You think you’re going to die if you’re not in a good relationship. You feel that not being in a significant, long-lasting, deep relationship is going to cripple you or that you’re crazy or neurotic or something. You feel intense bouts of longing and loneliness. But those feelings are not only due to poor relationship; they come also because you’re not in any kind of political community that makes sense, that matters. Therapy pushes the relationship issues, but what intensifies those issues is that (a) we don’t have satisfactory work, or (b), even more important perhaps, we don’t have a satisfactory political community.

You just can’t make up for the loss of passion and purpose in your daily work by intensifying your personal relationships. I think we talk so much about inner growth and development because we are so boxed in to petty, private concerns on our jobs.


Hillman: The principal content of American psychology is developmental psychology: what happened to you earlier is the cause of what happened to you later. That’s the basic theory: our history is our causality. We don’t even separate history as a story from history as cause. So you have to go back to childhood to get at why you are the way you are. And so when people are out of their minds or disturbed or fucked up or whatever, in our culture, in our psychotherapeutic world, we go back to our mothers and our fathers and our childhoods.

No other culture would do that. If you’re out of your mind in another culture or quite disturbed or impotent or anorexic, you look at what you’ve been eating, who’s been casting spells on you, what taboo you’ve crossed, what you haven’t done right, when you last missed reverence to the gods or didn’t take part in the dance, broke some tribal custom. Whatever. It could be thousands of other things — the plants, the water, the curses, the demons, being out of touch with the Great Spirit. It would never, never be what happened to you with your mother and your father forty years ago. Only our culture uses that model, that myth.

Ventura: [Appalled and confused.] Well, why wouldn’t that be true? Because people will say . . . OK, I’ll say, “That is why I am as I am.”

Hillman: Because that’s the myth you believe.

Ventura: What other myth can there be? That’s not a myth; that’s what happened!

Hillman: “That’s not a myth; that’s what happened.” The moment we say something is “what happened,” we’re announcing, “This is the myth I no longer see as a myth. This is the myth that I can’t see through.” “That’s not a myth; that’s what happened” suggests that myths are the things we don’t believe. The myths we believe and are in the middle of, we call them “fact,” “reality,” “science.”

But let’s say somebody looked at it differently. Let’s say that what matters is that you have an acorn in you, you are a certain person, and that person begins to appear early in your life, but it’s there all the way through your life. Winston Churchill, for example, when he was a schoolboy, had a lot of trouble with language and didn’t speak well. He was put in what we would call the remedial reading class. He had problems about writing, speaking, and spelling. Of course he did! This little boy was a Nobel Prize winner in literature and had to save the Western world through his speech. Of course he had a speech defect; of course he couldn’t speak easily when he was eleven or fourteen — it was too much to carry.

Or take [Spanish bullfighter] Manolete, who, when he was nine years old, was supposedly a very frightened little skinny boy who hung around his mother in the kitchen. So he becomes the greatest bullfighter of our age. Psychology will say, “Yes, he became a great bullfighter because he was such a puny little kid that he compensated by being a macho hero.” That would be Adlerian psychology: you take your deficiency, your inferiority, and you convert it to superiority.

Ventura: That notion has seeped in everywhere — feminism and the men’s movement both depend on it more than they know.

Hillman: But suppose you take it the other way and read a person’s life backward. Then you say, Manolete was the greatest bullfighter, and he knew that. Inside, his psyche sensed at the age of nine that his fate was to meet thousand-pound black bulls with great horns. Of course he fucking well held on to his mother! Because he couldn’t hold that capacity — at nine years old your fate is all there, and you can’t handle it. It’s too big. It’s not that he was inferior; he had a great destiny.

Now, suppose we look at all our patients that way. Suppose we look at the kids who are odd or stuttering or afraid, and instead of seeing these as developmental problems we see them as having some great thing inside them, some destiny that they’re not yet able to handle. It’s bigger than they are, and their psyche knows that. So that’s a way of reading your own life differently. Instead of reading your life today as the result of fuck-ups as a child, you read your childhood as a miniature example of your life, as a cameo of your life — and recognize that you don’t really know your whole life until you’re about eighty — and then you’re too old to get it in focus, or even care to!

Ventura: But that’s crazy. How can a child know what’s going to happen?

Hillman: Our children can’t know what’s going to happen, because our children are not imagined as being Platonic children who are born into this world knowing everything. “The soul knows who we are from the beginning,” say other theories of childhood. We’re locked in our own special theory of childhood. According to us, a baby comes into the world with a few innate mechanisms, but not a destiny.


Hillman: The archetype of the child dominates our culture’s therapeutic thinking. Maintaining that abuse is the most important thing in our culture, that our nation is going to the dogs because of abuse, or that it’s the root of why we exploit and victimize the earth, as some are saying — that is the viewpoint of the child. . . .

I’m not saying that children aren’t molested or abused. They are molested, and they are abused, and in many cases it’s absolutely devastating. But therapy makes it even more devastating by the way it thinks about it. It isn’t just the trauma that does the damage; it’s remembering traumatically.

Ventura: Therapy, in effect, aggravates and profits from the abuse by the way it thinks about it. But what does that mean, “remembering traumatically”?

Hillman: Well, let’s say my father took the belt or the brush to me, or maybe he fucked me or beat the shit out of me again and again. Sometimes he was drunk when he did it; sometimes he just did it because he was a mean son of a bitch; sometimes he beat me because he didn’t know who else to beat. And I go on remembering those violations. I remain a victim in my memory. My memory continues to make me a victim. Secondly, it continues to keep me in the position of the child, because my memory is locked into the child’s view, and I haven’t moved my memory. It isn’t that the abuse didn’t happen — I’m not denying that it happened or that I need to believe that it did concretely happen. But I may be able to think about the brutality — reframe it, as they say — as an initiatory experience. These wounds that he caused have done something to me to make me understand punishment, make me understand vengeance, make me understand submission, make me understand the depth of rage between fathers and sons, which is a universal theme — and I took part in that. I was in that. And so I’ve moved the memory, somehow, from just being a child victim of a mean father. I’ve entered fairy tales and I’ve entered myths, literature, movies. With my suffering I’ve entered an imaginal, not just a traumatic, world. . . .

Therapy tends to confuse the importance of the event with the importance of me.

Ventura: I can hear a voice in me saying, “But this thing happened; it’s not mythological, goddammit!” At the same time, as any journalist or cop can tell you, if you talk to several different people about an event they all witnessed or participated in, you’ll have several different events. I know in my own family, if you ask me and my sister to describe our mother, you’ll get two totally different mothers, and neither one of us is lying. Memory is a form of fiction, and we can’t help that. So we are very much the creation of the stories we tell ourselves. And we don’t know we’re telling stories.

Hillman: We’re not conscious we’re telling stories.

I think Freud was getting at that when he said, “It’s how you remember, not what actually happened.” That the memory is what really creates the trauma. And everybody’s been attacking Freud recently, saying that Freud was covering up, that he wasn’t admitting these childhood abuses really happened. Whether they really happened or not, Freud’s point, which is so tremendous, is that it’s what memory does with them that’s important.

We don’t know we’re telling stories. And that’s part of the trouble in the training of psychotherapy, that psychotherapists don’t learn enough literature, enough drama, or enough biography. The trainees learn cases and diagnostics — things that do not necessarily open the imagination. So the trainees don’t realize that they’re dealing in fictions. That’s not to say that things aren’t literally real, too. . . .

Ventura: When memories of sexual abuse started coming up for me — which happened like clockwork on my fortieth birthday — after about a month of car crashes and black holes, I went to a therapist. He was an old man, a Jungian. I was going on and on about the abuse and about my mother, and he sort of smiled and said, “You know, what happened to you, it forged your connection with the soul’s mysteries, didn’t it? And that’s what you write about, isn’t it? Would you rather have been writing about something else?” I was absolutely stunned that he said that. It didn’t lessen my anger or my fear about my mother, but it jolted me out of looking at the experience as a child. I had to look at it from the point of view of how I’ve lived my life as an adult. Not that I’ve finished dealing with the great anger that came up toward my mother or toward the other people of my childhood and adolescence who tried to do the same thing to me, but—

Hillman: When you say, “I haven’t dealt with,” there’s an assumption that that anger toward your mother is supposed to go somewhere. And I’m not going to assume that.

Ventura: Well, this is an enormous assumption in our culture now, that this anger and rage and heartbreak are supposed to be processed. A word I hate, by the way — processed psyche, like processed food.

Hillman: Yeah, nice thin slices of yellow cheese. Put it in a package and label it.

Ventura: But what are you supposed to do with this stuff if not process it? How the fuck are you going to “individuate,” or even grow up, if you don’t process it?

Hillman: Well now, what did Jonathan Swift do? He wrote the most incredible satires. What did people do in the Elizabethan and Jacobean vengeance plays? I mean, this stuff is tremendously powerful. What did Joyce do with his feelings about Ireland? What did Faulkner do with his feelings about the South? This kind of processing is really hard. This is the stuff of art. Rilke said about therapy, “I don’t want the demons taken away because they’re going to take my angels, too.” Wounds and scars are the stuff of character. The word character means, at root, “marked or etched with sharp lines,” like initiation cuts.


Ventura: So if we’re saying this is what therapy cannot, or should not, do, what can therapy do?

Hillman: Make — those — things — be — felt.

That used to be called lifting repression and bringing to consciousness. I’d rather say, Make those things be felt.

I see it as a kind of building of doorways, opening conduits, and making channels, like a giant bypass operation, throwing in all kinds of new tubings so that things flow into each other. Memories, events, images, all become enlivened. And our feelings about this ore become more subtle. Learn to appreciate it. That’s one thing therapy can do. . . .

The question to be asked is: How does therapy really work? I’m not sure that therapy itself — that is, insight, understanding, recollection, owning your part of it, how you brought it about, seeing patterns, abreacting—

Ventura: What does that mean, abreacting, in English?

Hillman: It means “getting it out” — I’m not sure that any of these working-through modes, which are supposed to be the modes of psychological processing, really do it. What I think does it is the six months, or six years, of grief. The mourning. The long ritual of therapy. . . .

Ventura: Going back and back and back, talking about this shit over and over, no matter what you happen to be saying or thinking, just going back and back to it.

Hillman: And one day it doesn’t feel the same. The body has absorbed the punch. But I’m not sure that’s because you processed it or got insights or understanding.


Hillman: Our assumption, our fantasy, in psychoanalysis has been that we’re going to process, we’re going to grow, and we’re going to level things out so that we don’t have these very strong, disturbing emotions and events.

Ventura: Which is probably not a human possibility.

Hillman: But could analysis have new fantasies of itself, so that the consulting room is a cell in which revolution is prepared? . . . By revolution I mean turning over. Not development or unfolding, but turning over the system that has made you go to analysis to begin with — the system being government by minority and conspiracy, official secrets, national security, corporate power, et cetera. Therapy might imagine itself investigating the immediate social causes, even while keeping its vocabulary of abuse and victimization — that we are abused and victimized less by our personal lives of the past than by a present system.

It’s like, you want your father to love you. The desire to be loved by your father is enormously important. But you can’t get that love fulfilled by your father. You don’t want to get rid of the desire to be loved, but you want to stop asking your father; he’s the wrong object. So we don’t want to get rid of the feeling of being abused — maybe that’s very important, the feeling of being abused, the feeling of being without power. But maybe we shouldn’t imagine that we are abused by the past as much as we are by the actual situation of “my job,” “my finances,” “my government” — all the things that we live with. Then the consulting room becomes a cell of revolution, because we would be talking also about “What is actually abusing me right now?” That would be a great venture, for therapy to talk that way.

Ventura: Let’s double back a second. You said, “Could analysis have new fantasies about itself?” What do you mean by fantasy? For most people that word’s associated with “unreal.”

Hillman: Oh, no, no. Fantasy is the natural activity of the mind. Jung says, “The primary activity of psychic life is the creation of fantasy.” Fantasy is how you perceive something, how you think about it, react to it.

Ventura: So any perception, in that sense, is fantasy.

Hillman: Is there a reality that is not framed or formed? No. Reality is always coming through a pair of glasses, a point of view, a language — a fantasy.

Ventura: But if therapy is to take this new direction, have this new perception or fantasy about itself, it seems we need some basic redefinition of some basic concepts. . . .

Hillman: Maybe the idea of the self has to be redefined. . . . Therapy’s definition comes from the Protestant and Oriental tradition: self is the interiorization of the invisible God beyond. The inner divine. Even if this inner divine is disguised as a self-steering, autonomous, homeostatic, balancing mechanism; or even if the divine is disguised as the integrating deeper intention of the whole personality, it’s still a transcendent notion, with theological implications if not roots. I would rather define self as the interiorization of community. And if you make that little move, then you’re going to feel very different about things. If the self were defined as the interiorization of community, then the boundaries between me and another would be much less sure. I would be with myself when I’m with others. I would not be with myself when I’m walking alone or meditating or in my room imagining or working on my dreams. In fact, I would be estranged from myself.

And “others” would not include just other people, because community, as I see it, is something more ecological, or at least animistic. A psychic field. And if I’m not in a psychic field with others — with people, buildings, animals, trees — I am not.

So it wouldn’t be “I am because I think.” (Cogito ergo sum, as Descartes said.) It would be, as somebody said to me the other night, “I am because I party.” Convivo ergo sum. . . .

A great deal of our life is manic. I can watch thirty-four channels of TV, I can get on the fax and communicate with people anywhere, I can be everywhere at once, I can fly across the country, I’ve got call waiting, so I can take two calls at once. I live everywhere and nowhere. But I don’t know who lives next door to me. Who’s in the next flat? Who’s in 14-B?

I don’t know who they are, but, boy, I’m on the phone, car phone, toilet phone, plane phone, my mistress is in Chicago, the other woman I’m with is in D.C., my ex-wife is in Phoenix, my mother in Hawaii, and I have four children living all over the country. I have faxes coming in day and night, I can plug into all the world’s stock prices, commodity exchanges, I am everywhere, man — but I don’t know who’s in 14-B.

You see, this hyper communication and information is part of what’s keeping the soul at bay. . . .

We have to think about community as a different category altogether. It’s not individuals coming together and connecting, and it’s not a crowd. Community to me means simply the actual little system in which you are situated, sometimes in your office, sometimes at home with your furniture and your food and your cat, sometimes talking in the hall with the people in 14-B. In each case your self is a little different, and your true self is your actual self, just as it is in each situation, a self among, not a self apart.

Ventura: And when you ask, “What about the person in 14-B?” are you or I respecting that person as part of the community or as an individual? Neither, if we choose to be totally cut off from them. And if they accept being cut off from us, they’re not respecting us either, in any of our roles. We’re talking about neighbors, after all. Yes, to ignore the fact that one is or has a neighbor is a profound form of disrespect, both to the other and to ourselves, and it’s completely taken for granted now in our cities and suburbs. I take it for granted; I ignore my neighbors, and I bet you do, too.

Hillman: I think it’s absolutely necessary for our spiritual life today to have community where we actually live. Of course, we have dear friends from thirty years ago who are living in Burma or Brazil now. And they’re there for you when you’re busted — in an emergency. But is that sufficient? For the maintenance of the world? It’s definitely not. I think for the maintenance of the world that other kind of local community requires regular servicing. And that’s a very unpleasant, hard thing to stay with, to realize how much service one needs to perform — not for an old, distant friend, but for the people in 14-B.

Ventura: How can therapy possibly deal with that? I mean, nuts and bolts.

Hillman: Part of the treatment of these difficulties is to look at a person’s schedule, his notebook, her calendar. Because your schedule is one of your biggest defenses.

Ventura: Treat my schedule?

Hillman: Treat your schedule. And I’ll tell you, I have had more resistance in trying to treat people’s schedules and change their schedules than you can ever imagine.

Ventura: You’d get a shitload of resistance out of me.

Hillman: Do you ever ask your soul questions when you make your schedule?

Ventura: [Groans.] My soul just went, He fucking-a doesn’t!

Hillman: The job then becomes how the soul finds accommodations within your day. Regarding dreams, regarding persons, regarding time off. Because the manic defense against depression is to keep extremely busy — and to be very irritated when interrupted. That’s part of the sign of the manic condition.

Ventura: Me and many of the people I know are often too busy to be anything but busy. Yes, it’s manic, and we sort of know that. You’re saying it’s a defense against depression. If we go back to what we were talking about before and assume that the source of our depression is in the present rather than twenty or thirty years ago, then the question is: What chronic depression are we — as individuals, as a city, as a culture — trying to avoid by being so chronically manic?

Hillman: The depression we’re all trying to avoid could very well be a prolonged chronic reaction to what we’ve been doing to the world, a mourning and grieving for what we’re doing to nature and to cities and to whole peoples — the destruction of a lot of our world. We may be depressed partly because this is the soul’s reaction to the mourning and grieving that we’re not consciously doing. The grief over neighborhoods destroyed where I grew up, the loss of agricultural land that I knew as a kid . . . all those things that are lost and gone. Because that’s what depression feels like.

We paint our national history rosy and white and paint our personal history gray. We’re so willing to admit that we’re trapped in our personal history, but we never hear that said of our national history. . . .

I think we’ve also lost shame. We talk about our parents’ having shamed us when we were little, but we’ve lost our shame in relation to the world and to the oppressed, the shame of being wrong, of messing up the world. We’ve mutated this shame into personal guilt.

Perhaps the way to begin the revolution is to stand up for your depression.

Ventura: That is depressing. And there’s so much to revolt against. All that ugly, money-driven, bottom-line thinking that’s the excuse for so much stupidity and cruelty. . . .

Hillman: Look, any major change needs a breakdown. Chernobyl — it didn’t seem to affect us in America, but in Europe people couldn’t eat vegetables, couldn’t drink milk; all the reindeer meat in Scandinavia was contaminated. This changes values immensely. Suddenly certain things are life-giving and others are death-giving. Money no longer matters to the same extent; there’s no price tag on Chernobyl. So the change of financial bottom-line thinking comes about through symptoms. It comes about through poison. Valdez, Bhopal, Chernobyl have made everything there toxic, bad, poisonous — and it’s beyond money. The threat of death gets us past the determination of value by finance. After catastrophes money no longer carries value. The nature or quality of soul of a thing would be the ultimate value. We would ask, Is this a good thing, is this a helpful thing, is this a beautiful thing? instead of, What’s its price?


Excerpted from We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy — And the World’s Getting Worse, by James Hillman and Michael Ventura. Copyright © 1992 by James Hillman and Michael Ventura. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.