Author Topic: Hillman's Critique of Jungians  (Read 2251 times)

Matt Koeske

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Hillman's Critique of Jungians
« on: October 01, 2008, 12:46:38 PM »
In the book Inter Views (Conversations with Laura Pozzo, etc. 1983), James Hillman gave a brief, emotive critique of Jungians.

Quote
L.P. You were talking previously about the role of tradition in the Jungian school. Tradition can also be experienced as a very strong inhibiting factor, a burden especially in regard to the Jungian school.

J.H. A curious thing is that there's never been a single piece of true doctrinal dispute, theoretical dispute, among the Jungians.  They fight bitterly over rules and over personalities, but the odd thing is that they do not take ideas that seriously. 

L.P. Why do you think the Jungians have this sort of general agreement or commitment not to fight over ideas, or is it something inherent to the Jungian style of thought?

J.H. It seems inherent, because Jung himself was not very concerned with critically revising his own thought. Of course he "broke with Freud," as they say, and "founded his own school," but when he revises his thought, it is to turn against Freud's-not his own thought-of the time. He just rewrites the chapter or the book and leaves out certain paragraphs, puts in new thoughts; he gives it a new cast, like repainting a picture, but he doesn't find his arguments need to be overtly, literally, explicitly corrected.  Freud does. Freud says, "Back in so-and-so I thought that the libido was derived all from the id, but since then I found that there's an ego instinct, and so on .... I've had to correct my libido theory.... " He's constantly making theoretical revisions. It seems to me Jung is thinking more as a person of imagination. Imagination does not argue and does not correct itself, it just plays a new tune. One piece of music, a mazurka, does not criticize or refute a sonata. Now, Freud thought he was writing a kind of scientific psychology, so he found contradictions in what he wrote and those contradictions had to be settled one way or another to advance the theory, as you would if you were doing physics or physiology or something like that. Jung and the Jungians allow the different modes of their imagination to develop without seeing that as contradiction. That answers your question, positively, kindly.

L.P. And if we look at it less generously?

J.H. From another viewpoint, it seems that Jungians are not interested in ideas. Many Jungians have the feeling they have all the ideas they need; Jung gave them the ideas, all they need do is apply them or work with them. They are satisfied. Oh, you are getting to me now .... I can feel my gorge rising: "the Jungians" are one monstrous complex for me; I am one of them and so I can't bear them-except for some good personal friends. Sometimes I suppose it's because they don't all think like I think, so I am enraged because I am vain. Other times I think, they really are mostly second rate people with third rate minds. Still other times-and it is interesting, isn't it, how an interview can bring all this up, the interview as therapeutic hour-I feel the terrible versagen, cop-out, mauvaise foi, the failure to carry on and carry further what Jung gave them. They simply live off Jung's ideas (or Freud's, for that matter) without working the field one inch further themselves. This is a gigantic betrayal, a dishonesty. You must pay for what you get from a school by working those ideas further. All they care about are training qualifications-keeping others out of their union. And, it's all couched in pseudomysticism about individuation and wholeness.

L.P. What would be "working the field further themselves"?

J.H. Not everyone is a writer. I don't mean writing. I don't mean research in amplification either, though at least that would be something. I surely don't simply mean practicing. First, it would be to inquire, to doubt everything they are sure of and rest on, to let themselves be challenged, to risk themselves in public. Therapy is a cushion: and not just for the patient. The analyst, as Thomas Szasz says, is the only professional who cannot be challenged. A lawyer has an opposing lawyer and judge who watches. A surgeon operates under the eyes of colleagues and nurses. Even a banker has "controls." But the only person, besides the analyst, who knows what goes on in analysis, Szasz says, is the patient and he is disqualified from the beginning because the patient is "only a patient," incompetent by definition.


I don't mean to post this as if to merely say, "Yeah, you go Jimmy-Baby!"  I mean to reintroduces this with a general question: what have Jungians done to address or examine the problems Hillman mentions?  It's been more than 20 years since Hillman's book was published.  Has the sentiment of his critique been taken to heart by Jungian analysts?  Has it been denied or repressed?  Has it been considered but then deemed too difficult?  Do Jungians want to innovate more but find themselves incapable of or overmatched by the challenge of innovation?

What's important here is not whether or not Hillman's criticism was correct.  What is truly important for Jungians and Jungian psychology is for such a criticism to be wrestled with, reckoned with.  Is it true, and if it is, why has this happened?  What position do we take (both individually and collectively) in relation to this possibility?

Critiques like Hillman's offer us a chance to do our Jungian shadow work.  What I find most frustrating is that there has been no public indication that this shadow work has been or is going to be done.  I have always felt that the soul of Jungian thinking was shadow work.  The ethic of shadow work gives us a reason not to lazily believe in our wish-fulfillment fantasies, but to be perpetually self-criticizing (and therefore, capable of evolving and adapting).  And yet, the great failing of Jungianism is the utter failure to work with the Jungian shadow.

There are numerous pieces of Jungian literature in which the analyst-writers mention moments of "countertransference" during therapy sessions where they experience anger, frustration, or other negative feelings toward their patients.  The confession of such feelings (neatly labeled and depotentiated as "countertransference") is a general staple of the Jungian tradition.  I'm not sure this qualifies as shadow work, but I supposed it's a start (although one gets the impression occasionally that these "countertransferences" may be more personal issues of the analysts than things to be pinned on the patients).  But when it comes to examining the collective Jungian shadow, there is rarely any confessional admission of potential flaws, misunderstandings, misgivings, etc.  What is admitted is admitted grudgingly and is downplayed (in instances of Jung's antisemitism or sexism, for instance).  It is admitted because it must be, because it is undeniable.  It is admitted, but nothing really comes of it, no change, no healing.

But I am more concerned with doctrinal Jungianism, with many core elements of Jungian theory that are never publicly examined, revised, or debated.  Where is the discussion of such things?  How have we reckoned with Jung's constructions?  Outside of Jungianism's little tribe, Jungian ideas have received so much criticism that they are often not even taken seriously at all.  How do we, as Jungians, reckon with that?

I remain skeptical that Jungians will suddenly (after resisting it from the very beginning) take to this collective shadow work.  If we do fail, it will be (and has been) a severe ethical failing in our community.  Still, I hope that change and consciousness can happen in our community and in our theory-making.  I am not personally satisfied with or willing to accept the level of hypocrisy that currently predominates in the general attitude of Jungians toward Jungian theory.  I feel and have felt the ethical burden of this (shouldn't theory come with an ethical burden?), and it has driven me to reexamine the core assumptions of Jung's theories.  There are many issues that need to be addressed there, many beliefs that do not hold up to more recent data and science (not to mention logic).

It's been hard going wrestling with these problems and having to put a lot of my personal selfishness and desire to believe aside.  But it hasn't been disappointing.  I've found that the Jungian foundation (though it may need a few minor repairs) is viable for building onto.  As Jungians drive analytical psychology toward obsolescence, I can't help but feel that this would be a terrible loss and an intellectual regression.  It could broadcast to others (non-Jungians) that the avenues of the psyche we have sought to explore are dead ends, delusions.  Why should they bother looking when the Jungian skeleton lies slumped over at the gate with it's fool's cap still on its head? 

The failure of Jungianism is larger than the Jungian tribe.  If we crumble (because we can't do our own shadow work or learn how to think critically or innovate), we give dominion of the deep psyche's investigation over to New Age quackery (which already threatens to swallow us).  Jungian psychology is the only quasi-scientific and potentially-rigorous tool for investigating such depth in the psyche, for understanding both instinctuality and spirituality (instead of simply believing as the belief pleases).  Jungianism doesn't have to be seen as a component of the New Age or the Occult, it can equally be seen as an alternative to them (even a remedy).  Its quasi-scientific leanings and its academic rigor are what differentiates it.  And without revising and rebuilding our more-scientific and rigorous orientation to the psyche, our theory is indistinguishable and essentially worthless.
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