When I first listened to him on CBC Radio I felt that God Himself had sent me this gift. I could discover my roots and reason for living.
The psychologist James Hillman died late last year of bone cancer at the age of eighty-five. Over a ten-year period The Sun published three interviews with Hillman, covering such topics as the failures of therapy, the benefits of aging, and the limits of parents’ influence on their children.
Born in 1926 in New Jersey, Hillman served in the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps during World War II.
He went to college in France and Ireland before earning his PhD at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, where he studied with Carl Jung. Hillman went on to become the director of studies at the C.G. Jung Institute and wrote more than twenty books over the course of his career,
including the seminal Re-Visioning Psychology, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and, with Michael Ventura...
We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy, and the World’s Getting Worse.
The collection A Blue Fire, edited by Thomas Moore, is perhaps the best introduction to his work.
Hillman was a frequent critic of mainstream psychology, perceiving its focus on improving the self to be limiting. He believed each individual has a purpose or calling in life that reveals itself in childhood and reappears, often as a set of so-called symptoms, until it is heeded. Harnessing
this potential is what he considered the great mortal, and moral, challenge.
He once said our duty is not to rise above life but to “grow down into it.”
Hillman was the epitome of an independent thinker, unsettling people wherever he went, a fact that seemed to delight more than concern him. Many Jungians considered Hillman a renegade because he attempted to refine several of Jung’s theories, treating none of them as sacrosanct.
An editor who rejected one of Hillman’s early manuscripts said it would “set psychology back three hundred years.”
It is doubtful Hillman would have minded doing just that; he felt, above all, that we need a “fundamental shift of perspective out of that soulless predicament we call modern consciousness.”
As Safransky put it in the introduction to his interview, listening to Hillman “is like stepping off a bus into the clamorous, exotic, slightly menacing streets of a foreign city. You’re asked to leave behind fantasies of growth and self-improvement; to search the narrow, twisting alleys for better
questions, not answers; to be prepared for trouble.”