The following contains indented sections that consist of "refigurations," cited texts that were scrambled by a computer algorithm, the resultant sequences scribed into an original prose poem. They are meant to trace the paths James Hillman's lecture led me down; the language, visions, insights, I found there, recalled from the voluminous body of his work. The editor of The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, John Beebe, kindly suggested that they also catch "the fractal quality of his thought...when you listen to him." A quality, then: seizures of enthusiasm signified with ellipses.


On November 19, 1996, James Hillman walked into a meeting room on the second story of the University of New Mexico Student Union, where about 50 people were sitting on folding chairs, mainly art therapy majors and practitioners, over 90% female, from early 20s to Elder. As it had been about ten years since I last saw him, I reflected upon how he had aged. But as soon as he began to speak, the sparks of his genius flying, this notion dimmed.

Psychology mirrors rooms which humanity's workshop states
as education...ultimate descriptions...accurate definitions of pain
adequate beyond style...another's speech and imagination
commonly meeting these regions...human souls as the theme
of language...every step depending on such confusions...
of streets as words...passion the condition of these needed
transmissions...taking consulting to levels of panicky dreams.
Reading from his new book, The Soul's Code: Character, Calling, and Fate (New York: Random House, 1996), Hillman commented how it made The New York Times Best Seller's List, "Which means, there must be a yearning for what I'm addressing." Too influenced, I thought, by the celebrity of friends, learning from them how to smooth out imagination's rugose terrain so that a large, admiring audience, can follow. No doubt, reaching the masses is important. In his case, however, like Derrida and Deleuze, ("the Frenchies," he calls them), much of Hillman's value has been situated in insistence that soul cannot be reached in a few obvious steps: "what works is long careful work."

Thus, to a question as to how one can apply his theories, in this case to teenagers heading toward membership in a gang, he replied, "I must warn you that I have no practical advice."

Actually the soul hears itself identifying specific conditions...
measuring psychology's passions and presenting this craft
as concepts supportive of nominally abstract images...
dry ego...always cloudy...we drop experience's affects
to imprecision...burn the equipment..learning as flux
congeals...we come in for transference...blackening
the essences with mortifying words of hostility...
condensing this vaporous craft...regressing it down.

There was talk of daemons, those strong creative forces whose demands sometimes can't be controlled, especially in gifted children, who may rebelliously act their agony out. That we must try to understand these children, all children, and helpfully challenge them in terms of the talent they may envelope, instead of masking our discomfort by drugging their minds, is the passionate hope of what Hillman calls his "acorn theory."

If a person's traits evoke content subjectively...
this alone may help recognize a child=s poignancy...
enunciating...without choice...how knowledge takes
questions without judgement...directing love by the
pathology of leaving others receptive.

I remembered how I loathed school, having by law to do the bidding of that institution, in whose claws I twisted and bled. To this day I can't take tests with any success; that is, I can't give "correct" answers. Abused, then, not by rejection, but ignor-ance, this pattern continued throughout my life.
Hillman went on to say, "What other people want from you is part of your destiny." But what if you live in a society in which who is valued is who can be used to produce the quickest and most material wealth? And what if, as Thomas Merton said is the value of a monk, your value to society is your uselessness; e.g., the present unmarketability of what you make? What if you're an artist?

Be without help...knowing this is
just another cry without a voice. (Ibid.)

I thought of a recent trailer produced by a PBS affiliate, which promotes the idea of the importance of universal education, because "we don't know which child is the next Van Gogh." But this Van Gogh is not the man who, if he appeared before the person who wrote the piece begging money for a tube of paint or a jug of wine, would be turned away with disgust; but the paintings, the "Van Goghs," now selling for millions of dollars, are respected and respectable. While the man, Van Gogh, died sick, broke, and ignored.

The psychologist told a story about how Jackson Pollock's older brothers would contest how far each could piss; while Jackson, too young to compete, hid. Hillman suggested that Pollock, with his paintings of drips, swirls and swiggles, unconsciously developed this technique from that incident in his life. Of course influences are more robust than this. But the anecdote serves to fascinate some less mundane explanations, such the Navaho sandpaintings he admired, or the Jungian analysis he underwent, "working and expressing an inner world...working with space and time."

With Hillman's ability to turn questions on their head, like Henry Thoreau and his Transcendental friends, who literally stood on their heads to see the world from unaccustomed angles, sending hot blood into spates of skeletal inquires, he ended by saying, "People only ask me quick questions, to which I only have slow answers. So already there's a problem." Answers are always already a problem, because life is not only human, never durational, nor always "alive."

Anthropologists sense people they describe as dead...
a human who has lost his name..being unable and
without himself...he finds himself possessed...belonging
to his primitive soul...between outer man and his lost
place...his communion of coming into the animal...with
his god...totem objects no longer able to power him
to connecting nature and ritual...there...in part...
transporting himself...initiated but never in person...
being a bewitched family...not called on...not true...
until gone.

Refigurations (In order of appearance):

The Myth of Analysis: Three Essays in Archetypal Psychology .Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1969.)
"Therapeutic Value of Alchemical Language." Dragonflies. Fall, 1978.
"Abandoning the Child." In, Loose Ends. Spring Publications, Dallas, TX, 1975.
Insearch: Psychology and Religion. Irving, TX., Spring Publications, 1978.
"Abandoning the Child." In, Loose Ends. Spring Publications, Dallas, TX, 1975.)


© The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal,1998
© Joel Weishaus 1998