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soul

“…the Heart’s affections, and the truth of the Imagination” – John Keats

“You can’t hide the soul.”  Melville, via Ishmael, when looking at Queequeg, Moby Dick

The point being that the lives of millions of Americans are being damaged by the selfish and sometimes criminal actions of a very few persons with extreme wealth and power, aided by a major political party, and we must therefore band together in resistance and civil self-defense, to achieve a sane and healthy society.

IMHO the persons and corporations on the Xtreme Right adhere to a value system that is money-based, with the result that they are willing and eager to screw over everybody else; and much of our culture has succumbed to their lure of delusion, falsehood, greed, predation and exploitation, and devaluation of our common humanity and environment.  For a sane society we should center our values on soulfulness, including imagination, beauty, truth and honesty, compassion, and mutual respect and care.

My thought on this has been influenced by the writings of the archetypal psychologist, James Hillman, including the thought of the heart and the soul of the world, in which he discusses the nature and relevance of soul.  On this page I’ll present Hillman’s ideas in that book, on the next page I’ll share some thoughts of my own.

In “The Thought of the Heart” Hillman presents an exposition of the nature of soul and of ensouled thought.  In “Anima Mundi:  The Return of the Soul to the World” he applies that exposition to the relationship between the World Soul and the illnesses of our society.

TH, “Part I  The Captive Heart,” (1979) begins with an evocation of the thought of Henri Corbin, in his writings on Sufi mysticism.  This introduces the central importance of the imagination, “in which and by which the spirit moves from the heart toward all origination.”  For Corbin, “imagination was utterly presence,”and in Corbin’s writings of “imaginal life as a journey among imaginal essences,” Hillman finds his own themes:  “the thought of the heart as sovereign and noble, as joyous, as subtle as an animal, bold, courageous and encouraging, as delighting in intellectual forms and fierce in their defense, ever-extending equally in its compassion and in its visionary power, finding a beauty in the language of images” [not just verbal]. (3-4)

Now, that might sound a bit esoteric, and a bit much; but each of us has a heart and each of us can be imaginative, and IMHO Hillman is simply describing, with appropriate eloquence, the natural thoughtfulness that we can each live—and should, if we want health in person and society.  But currently our hearts are in exile, captive to misperceptions, chief of which are “our contemporary heart diseases [heart dis-eases]: sentimentality of personalism, brutalism of efficiency, aggrandizement of power, and simple religious effusionisms.” (4)

Healthy imagining rejects literalism, reductionary rationalism, sensualism, self-serving emotionalism, and fantasizing.  I believe that Hillman understands the imagination to be what literary people such as myself associate with Coleridge:  the mode of thought that unifies sensation, emotion, reason, and intuition, in creative acts of a kind associated with the Creator.  For Hillman, this kind of thought produces true perception of the nature of reality as imaginal, appearing to us as images, self-presenting presences of the ensouled/embodied world.

At first I found the essay difficult particularly in its idea of “thought” of the “heart”—is Hillman being metaphorical, as in the “heart” as the core or essential, or does he actually mean that the heart, like the brain, thinks?  I believe he means the latter, with the metaphorical (including what we express with many of our common expressions, now taken falsely as mere metaphors, such as “take it to heart,” “heart-felt,” “heart-broken”), pointing to qualities of the thinking that the heart does.  Eventually I learned to get over this difficulty, helped by learning that there is scientific evidence of the heart as participating in thought.  Well of course.  Indeed my sense of “thinking” already was that it is a whole-body activity, with participation even in the chemistry of the cells.  So, the heart’s part of our thinking is central to our soulful thought, in which the imagination responsively perceives and gives expression to the world soul in each being, as image—it is a “simultaneous knowing and loving.” Such an imaginal intelligence is “speaking in one and the same image of the interpenetration of consciousness and the world.” (7)  (And I think this helps understand what “mind” is.)

We can do that kind of thought.  But we don’t, because we are self-exiled from the imaginal, ensouled world.

As Hillman notes, however, depth begins in the soul’s suffering, its pathology.  “Psychology” follows the pathology and attends to the “logos” of Psyche, i.e. simultaneously the soul’s imaginative act of knowing, the content of its knowing, and its expression of what it knows, especially in images.

Three ways in which the heart is “captive” identify our misleading, dis-ensouling misperceptions, the causes of our suffering, our failures of imagination.

Going inward, I have imagined with Augustine, Rousseau, et al., the one true me, my essential, feeling self, person-ality, sorrowed and elated and sorrowed, bottomless pit of my truth, secret chamber where my word speaks itself to itself of itself, the pure, singular subject of sentences and the teller of true tales, intimate revealer, tremulous, shared in confessional longing with my beloved, stimulator of love for me, fascinating, delusional, possessive, obsessive, addictive, imprisoned.

When I am plunging and/or gushing,  I need to look with vera imaginatio, to see what the world truly is, to take it to heart, in its joy or suffering, to pay attention to the self that each being is presenting to me in the shining forth of its imaginal essence.  By moving outward in this way, I truly reveal myself, simply by being, not holding but making myself available to be held, by being beheld, freeing my heart in dialogue with the imaginal personhood, the beauty of each being.

Going outward, I have imagined the heart as a lion in the desert, the legendary Richard the Lion-Hearted, on a mission, fierce, compassionate defender of humanity.  The glowing center of my pride, going forth to the wondrous other, heroic ego with quick, animal reflexes but no reflection, blind to itself, single-state, clogged with its fiery projects, compulsive, enthused and enthralled by the literalized object of desire with which it identifies itself, devouring itself.

When I am roaring, I need to recognize that my “actions, desires, and ardent beliefs”—which tend to be all one enthusiasm—actually are archetypal imaginings, compulsive projections of my inner self onto the outer world, which I then literalize, thus blocking sane, ensouled imagination.  To free myself from captivity within my enthusiasms, I must realize that the object of my desire is, too, both an image and an independent physical thing.  Then I can “both desire and see through my desire” [Hillman elsewhere explains that by “see through” he means both “to realize a falsehood for what it is,” and to “perceive by means of”.  When we sanely imagine (my term), we see through our literalizations and understand that they are actually imaginings, images, and thus we are able to perceive truly, at depth, by means of those images; and the result is a change of perspective, from misapprehension to reality].

More recently, I have imagined the heart to be merely a mechanical object, good only for pumping iron, vulnerable to attack by itself and its surroundings, walle down its middle, circulating blood but not the light.  Heart without thought, thus thought without heart.  Heartless.

When I am just happily pumping away, or not, I need to remember that just because physicality has been imagined scientifically does not mean that it is merely rational and objective, “independent of the subjective imagination.”   My heart both functions as image and belongs to the animal aspect of organic nature, and is thus a vital force for my empathic, wholehearted connection to the body and soul of the world.

In TH “Part II:  The Heart of Beauty,” Hillman begins by telling how, when Petrarcha first saw Laura [to whom he addressed his sonnets], “his heart leapt into his throat.  His soul had been assailed by beauty.”  And Dante’s first sight of Beatrice [his guiding spirit in his book of heaven] awakened his heart to the aesthetic life.  “’At that moment,’ writes Dante, ‘I say…the spirit of life, which hath its dwelling in the secretest chamber of the heart, began to tremble so violently that the least pulses of my body shook; and in trembling it said these words:  “Here is a deity stronger than I; who, coming, shall rule over me.’’’ (Vita Nuova II).  From then on he was a devotee of this deity in the shape of his soul figure, dedicated to love, imagination, and poetic beauty, all three inseparably.” (38)

These episodes (at the beginning of the Renaissance) encapsulate Hillman’s understanding of soul and how we perceive and interact with it.  The experience is essentially aesthetic, an awakening to beauty, as image, imaginal presence, perceived by the imagination, a mode of thinking that centers physically in the heart and produces a “gasp” of ensoulment.  Petrarch and Dante knew that they were perceiving and responding to soul, in a soul to soul (indeed a figure of the anima mundi—Psyche in the temple of Aphrodite) encounter.  In that aesthetic moment, they did not literalize the figure and move to possess it as a projection of their personal desire, they loved and honored its beauty with their fullest possible imagining.  [Like them, we can “amplify the image” with our lives.]

By “beauty” Hillman does not mean a quality of art.  He means the innate nature of every being—every bit of being that we encounter—shining forth in its appearance to us, for our imaginative perception.  Each bit is ensouled, and it is “the soul of the universe…that produces the perceptible world…and also the soul of each of us.”

Beauty, then, “is neither transcendent to the manifest nor hiddenly immanent within, but refers to appearances as such, created as they are, in the forms in which they are given, sense data, bare facts….the luster of each particular event—its clarity, its particular brightness:  that particular things appear at all and in the form in which they appear….the very sensibility of the cosmos. That it has textures, tones, tastes, that it is attractive.” (43)

But, again, “the being of a thing is displayed in its Bild, its image.”  To perceive soul and the innate nature of a being in/by means of its shining forth of itself, we must perceive with Keatsian “Heart’s affections…the truth of the Imagination.”  In its beauty, soul speaks to us in “those primordial aesthetic reactions of the heart.”  Thus it moves us to respond from the heart.  If, in our hearts (and in the heart of our lives), we are receptive to the wondrous radiance of things, we are enraptured by the charms of beings and we reply, by respecting, honoring, and caring for them, making yet more beauty, more being, more soul.

Thus the value of a thing is in the integrity of its innate nature, in its shining forth to beautify our lives. Goodness, too, the nobility of things, actions, events, is an aesthetic mode of the soul’s shining forth, a truth of the imagination, beautiful in itself,—justice, like being, like beauty, “existing in and for itself” (Jung).

Meanness, though, is ugly.  The heart recognizes that.  It is one of the soul’s pathologies—for the logos of the psyche includes the logos of its pathos, its suffering.  Plotinus:  “We possess beauty when we are true to our own being; ugliness is in going over to another order.”  As when we do not allow others to be true to themselves, truly themselves.  Evil is heartless, total inability to perceive and respond to the faces before it. The soul is wounded, wanders lost.

But pathology is an opportunity for therapy—for attending to the soul.  “Ugliness is the guide because aesthetic responses occur most strongly in relation with the ugly.”  With an attentive heart, “we can feel when we have gone over to another order, left ourselves, and begun making illness,” (59-60) and we can reawaken our passion for beauty and good.  Our passion can become compassion.  We can be “touched by the image,” as we, ourselves, shine in the ensouled world’s gaze.

In Anima Mundi:  The Return of the Soul to the World” (1982), Hillman speaks “as a psychologist…to psyche,” beginning “in psychopathology, in the actualities of the psyche’s own suffering.” He has been “astounded by the life and beauty in [his] patients vis-à-vis the dead and ugly world they inhabit.” His patients’ complaints correspond with the condition of their world:  “the distortion of communication, the sense of harassment and alienation, the deprivation of intimacy with the immediate environment, the feelings of false values and inner worthlessness experienced relentlessly in the of our common habitation….”  (91-93)   [Throughout this essay Hillman provides cogent accounts of society’s symptoms—too many to recount here.]

American society has become pathological because we have imagined the world as soulless and treated it as if it is not an embodiment of soul, thus depriving of soul all our areas of endeavor. Like individuals, “the world is now the subject of immense suffering, exhibiting acute and crass symptoms by means of which it defends itself against collapse.” (97) Aspects of society, not just persons, suffer breakdown, functional disorder, loss of energy and lowered productivity, depression and inflation, mania, paranoia, anorexia and bulimia, etc.  But with recognition of soul in the world’s suffering, we can turn our therapeutic attention to the patient that is the world.

For Hillman, our central therapeutic task is “soul-making.”  We should all do it, by participating in the Aphroditic (in mythic terms) loving-beauty and beauty-loving, that is the vitality of the cosmos, as we perceive it imaginally.

He then offers, in brief form, the exposition of the nature of soul and our perception of it that he provided in TH (above), proposing that we “imagine [and we know the full force of that word, that activity] the anima mundi as that particular soul-spark, that seminal, image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form.  Thenanima mundi indicates the animated possibilities presented by each event as it is, its sensuous presentation as a face bespeaking its interior image—in short, its availability to imagination, its presence as a psychic reality”—soul given in each thing, natural and man-made[!].  Our attention, our “imaginative recognition,” animates our world as the “movements of the anima mundi animating her images and affecting our imagination.  The soul of the thing corresponds or coalesces with ours.”  (102)

As we saw above, the beauty of the world, the being of each thing shining forth, in its sensory appearances, to our imagination, calls our hearts to love, in a reflective shining forth of our own being.  One result is “a sense-making cosmos” that becomes our community, in which, for instance, “the visible work of making soul will find its analogies in the visibility of well-made things.” (110-12)

Hillman explains how an “aesthetic response [not just in art] and attention to the qualities of things” can increase our “capacity to form true notions of things….” (115)  For instance:

It would free us from captivity in consumerism, by returning “value from the subject to the thing, where it has been pre-empted by price.  The most universal of all modern religions, economics, has appropriated into its literalism the sense of value, removing psychic reality from credit, trust, interest, inflation, and the like.  We buy in order to save, as saving has been reduced utterly to an economic term.  Appreciation, too, the very key to aisthesis, more commonly refers to a higher price.  As value capitulates to price, the symbolic numbers of psychic import, the threes, sevens, tens, twelves are sold out to ninety-five, ninety-eight, or ninety-nine in a fractional debasement of whole digits like the chips and filings off true coins.” (119)

It would help us heal our culture’s mind/body and human/nonhuman dualisms, thereby enhancing creative acts of interrelatedness.  It would enlighten our understanding of desire, increasing our capacity and opportunity for loving (appreciation, passion, empathy, compassion), and for intimacy, for “the world without soul can never offer intimacy, never return my glance, never look at me with appeal, with gratitude, nor relieve the essential isolation of my subjectivity.” (121-2)

So Hillman is optimistic, at least in 1982, “for where there is pathology there is psyche, and where psyche, eros.  The things of the world again become precious, desirable, even pitiable in their millennial suffering from Western humanity’s hubristic insult to material things.” (126)

Other Topics:  99%OCCUPYnutshellnonviolentpowerhistorymisogynyracismmoneywealth gap 1wealth gap 2republican partynamescapitalismfascismother ismspathologiessocial justice 1social justice 2social justice 3soulbody and soulthingsanarchyactionsbtwbib

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