Anima confusions and obscure language

I have started to sketch one of Hillman’s most original lines of thought: that archetypal psychology, as he views it, is akin to ancient eudaimonistic philosophy — an approach to how we should live our lives —, and that the role of the telos — that which we aim at in living our lives this way — is played by the production of soul. Generating more soul is what we are here for: it’s what gives meaning to our existence.

To live towards that telos is to love anima confusions, for that, according to Hillman, is what produces soul. The first bit of that slogan (“loving anima confusions”) is an account of what eros is, and why it is what should drive us psychologically, and it is fitting that Hillman’s take on this (in the first chapter of The Myth of Analysis) is inspired by Plato’s Socrates. The second bit, however, is more difficult to expound: why is it confusions specifically, towards which we need to develop erotic passions, and why is that the process which results in more soul in the world?

To begin with, Hillman says that “[o]ur internal confusions are a latent richness” (RVP xxi), and thus to focus our attention to them might presumably make these riches more accessible to us. And employing eros towards differentiating them is more effective than deploying logos towards that task, because eros engages our affective and conative facilities alongside our cognitive ones, “binding together in synthesis all psychic faculties of cognition, conation, and affectivity” (MA 74). One might think that the advantage, then, is merely the “add-on” of affect and will: eros’ three to logos’ one. But I think Hillman would go further and claim that even where cognition is concerned, the cognition involved in the erotic drive is different and more apt for the task of soul creation than that embedded in logos. He argues for this in detail in the first chapter of his book on alchemy (UE 5), where he makes the case that alchemy is interesting for archetypal psychology because it managed to develop a language that is concrete and precise (rather than abstract, general, and empty), but also metaphorical in its nature (a “materialized language, which we can never take literally”; UE 5, 8) and thus suited to talk about both the external world and the inner world (that is, the whole of human existence) in those same concrete and precise words.

Compare these craft words of alchemy with the words used for the operations of psychotherapy: analyzing the transference, regressing in the service of the ego, developing the inferior function, managing anger, syntonic identifying, showing hostility; improving, denying, resisting, identifying … Not only is this language abstract, it is imprecise. Because of this imprecision in our equipment, our concepts for grasping the movements of the soul, we have come to believe the soul itself is an ungraspable flux, whereas actually the psyche presents itself always in very specific behaviors, experiences and sensuous images.

James Hillman, Alchemical Psychology (UE 5), 8.

Our conceptually oriented psychological language, Hillman points out, tends to reify what it denotes, and since it is so abstract and empty, this leaves us with a view of the world and our human existence which is devoid of meaning and soul.

The psyche animates the material world it inhabits. Language is part of this animating activity […] Unless my language meets the need to substantiate, then the psyche substantiates anyway, unawares, hardening my concepts into physical or metaphysical things.

Ibd., 11.

So if language defines so much of our cognitive processes, we should try to find a way to speak about the psyche that is imagistic, metaphorical, and concrete; alchemical language managed to do the trick at its time, partly because it was so obscure by design as to make it impossible to be understood literally. The search for a similarly crafted (new) psychological way of talking, then, would be what implements the requirement of “loving the confusions”. That phrase can be understood as, among other things, a guideline to how to put things into words: namely, in a manner that ensures metaphor, meaning, and soul are always present and cannot be dropped in favor of emptied, abstracted conceptualizations. And the hope is that in such a language, those “latent riches” can be captured and brought into consciousness.

(Note that, of course, we’re not talking about reviving alchemical language: the idea is to analyze it as to how it did the trick, learn from it, and then develop a new psychological language that can do the same for us in our lives today.)

By Leif Frenzel

Leif Frenzel is a writer and independent researcher. He has a background in philosophy, literature, music, and information technology. His recent interest is Jungian psychology, especially synchronicities and the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious.

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