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Community => Announcements => Topic started by: Matt Koeske on October 30, 2011, 12:15:22 PM

Title: James Hillman Died October 27th, 2011
Post by: Matt Koeske on October 30, 2011, 12:15:22 PM
Obituary from the New York Times. (

James Hillman was one of the most influential and important Jungian thinkers we've ever had.  His early writing was also very significant and formative to me.  I devoured everything he wrote while in my late teens and early twenties . . . a period when I had already grown bored with Jungian writers (other than Jung).  I didn't always agree with Hillman, but I felt he was a "true Jungian" . . . the kind of Jungian I also aspired to be.  That is, he chose to express his Jungianness not by worshiping and defending Jung and Jungian dogma, but by expanding Jung's initial project in unique and creative ways.

Hillman's distinctive aesthetic flair was both a strength and a weakness of his archetypal psychology.  It allowed him to consistently think outside of the boxes most Jungians remain intellectually confined to . . . conjuring up the kind of energy Jungianism needed to progress and reform itself.  Yet, these aesthetic flourishes could also become distractions and even derailments when they acted as ends in themselves (perhaps a variation of the modernist credo of "art for art's sake") . . . that is, when they acted as theatrical performances that were only meaningful to the audience (and perhaps also the author) while the performances were being enacted upon the stage.  But after the curtain went down and the lights came up, there was little of lasting or comprehendible substance to take away.

This was not entirely Hillman's fault.  I see it more as a failure of the Jungian tribe to functionally employ Hillman's puer aeternus energy or to alchemically fix his Mercurial spirit.  Hillman argued for and acted out the tribal value of the puer, but Jungianism never managed to make this into an elixir for self-reflection on and healing of the Jungian soul.

Still, although mostly as a kind of intellectual and inspirational archetypal entertainer, Hillman affected many Jungians and the history of the Jungian tribe and identity profoundly.  For me, Hillman was and remains the only true "post-Jungian".  Which is to say that he was caught up in a transformative movement of Jungian identity.  Other Jungians have resisted the transformative and dissolving forces of Jungian identity transformation, either by remaining fixed in old Jungian habits and dogmas or by giving up on pieces of their Jungianness while supplementing the loss with extra-tribal beliefs (such as psychoanalytic theories).  What made Hillman different was capacity to move along with and at times embody natural reorganizations of Jungian identity taking place in the tribal psyche.  He was bound to the narrative pattern of the drama of Jungian identity.

I'm not sure he had enough insight into this to offer many functional analyses of Jungian tribal identity or his role in its theater.  My impression was that, despite the scattered but still substantial respect many Jungians had for him, Hillman ultimately was a bit spurned by the Jungian tribe.  At times scapegoated, he made attempts at first to dissolve and challenge Jungian identity and later to move beyond that identity and the problems it presented for him (as well as for other Jungians).  But Hillman's extra-Jungian writings were (for me and also for many other Jungians) somewhat displaced.  His abundant soul talk had less meaning outside of the tribe his identity was entangled with . . . and when Hillman moved toward locating soul outside the tribe (e.g., in modern culture, "Nature", or the world), his puer airiness flirted with grandiosity and lost the immediacy and relevance it had when he applied it to Jungianism or to "psychology" in general.

His later writings were more characterized by pop psychology and self-help motifs and attitudes . . . and although one must give him some credit for being able to redefine himself, I always felt this as a kind of loss.  A loss for Jungianism.  It was as if, in the grip of a complex, Hillman sought out the pop psych market as "revenge" against the classical Jungianism that had previously rejected and failed to employ him.  Instead of helping Jungianism grow, Hillman seemed to want to prove he could do just fine without the tribe.  But his soul was always rooted in Jungianism . . . and therefore his complex could not, I suspect, be adequately addressed outside of the Jungian tribe.

James Hillman is the only (public) model of a Jungian individuant we have.  That is, much of his life and thought was taken up with the struggle to individuate from the Jungian tribe.  I'm not convinced he succeeded, but he left us with a fascinating portrait of how radically difficult and complex such an individuation would be.

Jungianism stopped learning from Hillman's expression of its soul many years ago . . . but those lessons are still available to us through the study of his life and writings.  What we learn most clearly from Hillman's example is that the Jungian tribe doesn't know what to do with its individuants.  It has no imagination for how to utilize them to treat and transform tribal identity.  It has no idea how to offer support to its individuants or how to recognize the deeper value of such individuation.  Even though Hillman was not a model for successful Jungian individuation, his example could help us find sympathy with the actual travails of the individuant.  This sympathy has still not be learned or incorporated into the construction of Jungian tribal identity.

Therefore, James Hillman reminds us how, despite all the Jungian talk of individuation, Jungians have no special insight into the phenomenon itself.  They are every bit as mired in their own fundamentalisms, habits, and unexamined assumptions as any other tribe.  Some of Hillman's critiques of Jungianism shed light on this problem . . . the problem of what I've called the totemization of individuation.  Hillman saw the problem, but not the solution.  But his gift to us was less in what he saw than in what he presented to us.

Perhaps as we remember and reflect on his significance to the Jungian tribe, we will finally find a way to employ James Hillman in the treatment of Jungian identity and soul.  No doubt he will be greatly honored and missed and of course eulogized.  But as helpful to our egos as that might be, it doesn't facilitate the Jungian soul in the way Hillman's employment in the reorganization of Jungian identity would.
Title: Re: James Hillman Died October 27th, 2011
Post by: Matt Koeske on November 04, 2011, 10:49:25 AM
Another obituary for James Hillman  ( Thomas Moore from the Huffington Post.
Title: Re: James Hillman Died October 27th, 2011
Post by: Keri on November 05, 2011, 09:12:54 AM
From Thomas Moore's byline:

Thomas Moore ( Has been a monk, a musician, a professor, a psychotherapist, an author and a lecturer

I like that.