James Hillman has been
called by LA Weekly "the most inspiring and
disruptive thinker at work now in our country." He is
a world-renowned lecturer, author, Jungian analyst andæ
according to his friend Thomas Moore, who edited Blue
Fire, a popular anthology of Hillman's writings over
the past 35 yearsæ
"an artist of psychology." To Moore, who used many of
Hillman's original ideas on "archetypal psychology" in
his own bestselling Care of the Soul, "Hillman
demands nothing short of a new way of thinking."
Hillman, despite having
cooked up (with Ovid scholar Charles Boer) a soufflé
of satiric humor called Freud's Own Cookbook, is
not serving quick-fix chicken soup for the soul. He has
served full-course meals in books like The Soul's Code
and The Force of Character and the Lasting
Life (both published by Random House), offering deeply
informed musings on creativity and aging.
By the world's calendar,
Hillman is, at 75, "aging" or even "old," but such a state
of affairs has only whetted his prodigious appetite for
new ideas. He leaps at the opportunity to once again undermine
hundreds of years of "brainwashing," to cut the "old"
free "from the downward drag of aging and the fearsome
bogey of death." He is fond of Spinoza's dictum: "A free
man thinks of death least of all things."
Hillman's somewhat sudden
notoriety, after 40 or so years of writing about and practicing
psychology, has been due in part to appearances on Oprah
Winfrey and The Today Show and as a featured
subject on Peter Jennings' series, "Interesting People
for the 21st Century." While esoteric early works like
The Myth of Analysis, Re-Visioning Psychology,
and Suicide and the Soul are now considered
classics in his field, his recent bestsellerdom is gratifying,
"My language is not easy
reading. I take up a lot of arcane areas and I take it
for granted that people know myths and the Bible and Plato.
I don't explain things," he said.
Hillman lives in Thompson,
an old Connecticut town that fits him perfectly. The rambling
white wood house where he lives with his wife, Margot
McLean, an artist and author, is literally steps away
from a classic New England green. In recent years, he
and his wife have fought to stop a massive "Big Dig"-like
sewer project that threatened to devastate the historic
center of Thompson. In battling to preserve the quality
of life in his community, Hillman put into practice an
idea he has talked about for decades: the therapeutic
value of preserving one's community and the natural environment.
For lack of a better word, this has been called "ecopsychology,"
and Hillman has written a preface to the best anthology
on the subject, Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth,
Healing the Mind (Sierra Club Books), edited by Theodore
Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner.
Gadfly caught up with Hillman
at his home in Thompson, Connecticut.
Gadfly: I don't
want to belabor your teachings because you express them
so well in print, but in We've Had a Hundred Years
of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse (HarperCollins),
which you co-wrote with Michael Ventura, you hit on something
profound that does not get spoken of enough.
Hillman: That is a very
alive book, isn't it? He's an extremely good writer, Michael
Ventura. He inspired me in my writing.
hasn't psychotherapy made the world less sick? My feeling
is that psychology may be a Pandora's Box, in a way. Freud
opened it up and there's no way to get everything back
inside once it's opened [Hillman laughs]. But it's also
a kind of a box in the way it's perceived by society,
in that it deals with things that one doesn't want to
deal with openly. So you go off to the box, and you consult
your therapist, who tells you what you need to work on,
and then you leave the office, go back to your life, and
don't dare say these things to others.
The practice is caught
in that box. Even people who are younger than myself who
are working on the problem of psychology in the world
haven't found other modes of practice. It's the practice
that's a box.
About the practice.
You have practiced as a therapist for
My first patient was in
1955, in Zurich, my first case which was supervised. Then
I had a private outpatient practice. And I have continued
Here in Thompson?
Oh yes. Here in the house.
People drive from Boston, Hartford, and around. But theoretically
there is a problem, and this book tries to talk about
that problem, it cuts people in some strange way. The
model of thinking is a box that leaves the world out.
can't leave the world out. Patients leave your office
and go out into the world.
Unless they want
to live in your office, which would cost them quite a
bit of money, I imagine.
In Blue Fire,
you spoke about the spiritual quest vs. the quest for
the soul. The idea behind a spiritual quest is that you
detach yourself from the world and that is somehow a good
thing. But that has never struck me as something good.
I mean, I love Henry David Thoreau, but he was a pretty
And he didn't altogether
detach himself. He was in the pencil business and he sold
ice from his pond.
He was within
walking distance of the Emersons' house, where he could
always get a free meal, a warm hearth, a kind ear.
Exactly. It's what they've
done to Thoreau that's the problem. I don't think he was
really detached. He talked too much about isolation to
be really isolated.
But I think your
ideas on this issue will resonate more as the so called
Boomers get older. We are generally more cognizant of
the natural environment, maybe because we see it disappearing.
Speaking for myself, the environment and ecology are so
much a part of me, that when something bad happens in
my town it hurts. So I go to town meetings and open forums
and talk up.
Oh, you talk up? It's hard
to do. It's so hard.
Yes, I make a
nuisance of myself, writing letters to the editor and
so forth. It personally wounds me. Then I begin to think
maybe I'm taking it too far.
Oh, it hurts! It hurts.
When I see an old tree go down, it hurts. It hurts more
than if somebody dies in the neighborhood.
How does one translate
that feeling to a Planning and Zoning commission hearing,
which is this very cut-and-dried forum? It's always "Give
me the numbers and give me the cost effect" and so on
I know, I know.
And yet everyone
in a community feels that sense of loss. I know it's not
just me. I know it's not an elitist thing. How do you
What you are asking is:
How do you present it in the cosmology that rules the
world, whether you call it bottom-line thinking, whether
you call it administrative language, whatever system you
want to call it, that rules the world, all the world?
And it is almost as if we need a huge revolution of thinking.
I don't think it's a spiritual revolution either.
I don't either.
That's the problem. We've
got all these gurus and Christian revivalists and Orthodox
Jews, the enormous amount of spirit going on. But that's
not it. They go from one thing to the other, like the
Nazis went from their exterminating to playing Mozart.
It's something else. It's that feeling of being hurt when
those cows are gone and you walk past that place and you
see those houses.
I feel it the
way you feel a tooth that has been pulled or a limb that
has been amputated. I feel a phantom limb. I will always
drive by that lot and remember the trees that were there,
even though houses are there now. Even ten years later.
That's right. And that
raises a very profound and important philosophical question.
Is memory only in your head or is memory also in the world?
Did you see the film My Dinner With Andre?
It's one of my
favorites. I've seen it many times.
Isn't it great? Well, at
the end of that film, Wally is going home, he's on the
subway and he drives by a building in a taxi
He starts to say, "I remember going into that place with
my father, and that place for something else
Exactly. It's a very important
part of that film.
The last five
minutes of that film are the most important.
The guy is shaking
out the tablecloths and putting the chairs up on the table.
Putting the shutters down.
It's the memory.
And Erik Satie
Hey, that's right. I didn't
remember that until you said it. But if you tear those
buildings down and put up a new Trump Tower, where is
the memory? You see, there is something that remains in
these places. The old buildings or the cow farm, whatever
it is that's there, and you grow up in these places like
Littleton, Colorado [where the Columbine school shooting
took place], and there's no memory in that place, in that
soil. It's just a place, a desolate area.
So I think it's crucial
to talk at those planning and zoning meetings. We're fighting
them here. For me, getting back to this thing about life
as a tapestry, which I'm just seeing now in the thread
of our conversation, my concern with the world, whether
it was the things I studied in Mexico or France, or the
travel I did through East Africa and India and Kashmir,
is still fundamentally connected with the psychology.
Or, let's say, it makes sense, all that worldliness that
I had, because that's what I've come back to. I may have
spent many years up on my "magic mountain" in Zurich writing
my stuff and doing my Jungian analysis and seeing my patients
in my little room, this middle period that was quite closed
in and European, but psychology was part two. Do you see?
Part one was the worldliness. Part two was the psychology.
And now, in part three, the two are connected. Do you
Yes, yes. Were
you really on a mountain when you were at the Jung Institute
in Zurich, or are you talking metaphorically?
Yes, the metaphor. It was
an enclosed atmosphere, Jungian psychology.
because it seems like your life has gone through these
changes. Somewhere a very profound change occurred. And
maybe it's not all you. It seems that the world has become
more open to your so-called maverick ideas. Until that
point, though, you must have felt like you had to stay
up on your mountain, that you were shouting into the wilderness
or into a canyon or abyss.
That's part of it. But
I don't think I even paid that much attention to what
was outside the magic mountain. Certainly during the 1960s,
during the Vietnam War, the psychology and the war, the
therapists and the war were not really connected. There
was a lot to be worried about. There was the black liberation
in America. I don't feel therapy ever really connected
with that. Huge movements! That's where consciousness
changed. It didn't change in the therapy rooms to the
extent that it changed outside in the world. In Alabama
There were a few
odd voices screaming in the wilderness but they were marginalized.
Always. Always. Oh yeah,
and good people too.
R. D. Laing.
Oh yeah, of course. But
the profession never changed. They were still concentrating
on early childhood traumas. Complicated concepts. That's
the box of therapy.
was going on as if nothing was changing.
Exactly. That's the box.
Did some of your
colleagues in this rarefied world of psychology or academia
feel threatened by you?
They didn't understand
what I was trying to do, not so much threatened. The threatening
came not from colleagues in other disciplines, but from
the classical Jungians, the classical therapists, yes.
I have a critical mind, an aggressively critical mind,
is better to say.
How do you explain
this almost full-circle acceptance of your work? I went
on Amazon the other day and called up James Hillman, and
I clicked on some of the readers responses. There
are impassioned responses to your books. For some of your
titles, the readers really get worked up.
They rate it with
stars. You get some animated discussions going, using
your books as a jumping-off point. A real discourse, especially
with more recent works like The Soul's Code.
These books take time.
Suicide and the Soul was published in 1964, and
it is still selling. Most of my books are not out of print.
Re-Visioning Psychology was taken from the Terry
Lectures at Yale. And that's the real virtue. These books
are still in print, nearly everything is still in print.
They are in print
for a reason, and it's because people are using them.
What I'm trying to get
over to you is that I don't have any ambition about this.
I really don't. I'm terribly interested in writing and
producing and after that I don't care. And that's not
good. That's like saying you don't care for your children.
Okay. Let me show
you something. Lewis Mumford, whom I like a lot.
A good man. A good man.
Well, I just happened
to open this book the other day and I came across a passage
that resonates with some of the ideas you address in your
new book on aging. I looked it up. Out of print.
What is it?
The Conduct of Life.
That's a great book. Out
of print?! We should reprint it. He's a terribly good
man. This is very much a today book. He's interested in
character and all that.
Exactly. A guide
to life. But it's a lot more turgid than your books on
character. I don't think today's audience would connect
with it. I'm not saying one has to completely dumb down
discussions on these important topics, but
It has to have some sort
of pep or slang. Unfortunately.
Do you get involved
in issues in the community here in Thompson?
Oh indeed. I found that
the hardest place to talk in the world. I have talked
to 2,000 people, to 500 people, all kinds of people, but
to stand up in my little town hall meeting and say what
I have to say about the sewer proposition, which is a
scam, I find that I don't have the carrying capacity of
the guy down the road who hauls gravel. I've learned enormously.
I've watched a friend of mine who is an international
architect, has renovated buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue
and is really a talker and an authority, when he stands
up to talk at a town meeting his hands are shaking. It's
hard. But we've done it, and we've won the last two fights.
Margot made posters and we got the voter registration
list and she sat on her phone and I sat on my phone and
we called the people up and asked them how they were going
to vote or were they going to vote and told them we have
to block this sewer because it's going to be a mess, tear
down all the roads, and it's just a scam. And we stopped
it. The local politicians were astonished that this little
group up on the hill, maybe 15 people, we did it. We stopped