The Soul's Code

The Soul's Code is my first book by James Hillman, so if you've read him before you'll understand and excuse my enthusiasm. This book has come extraordinarily highly recommended, but I've put it off for some time, needing more relaxing and escapist reading. However, I plunged in this last week and though it has taken more effort than Hawthorne's travel journals, it certainly pays off.

The book is about how we find a calling, or rather, how a calling finds us. Hillman investigates this topic by exploring how life's connection with beauty, but he does this in an extraordinarily ambitious manner and trumpets about it in the first chapter.

By psychology's "mortal sin", I mean the sin of deadening, the dead feeling that comes over us when we read professional psychology, hear its language, the voice with which it drones, the bulk of its textbooks, the serious pretensions and headed proclamations of new "findings" that could hardly be more banal, its soothing anodynes for self-help, its decor, its fashion, its departmental meetings, and tis tranquilizing consulting rooms, those stagnant waters where the soul goes to be restored, a last refuge of white-bread culture, stale, crustless, but ever spongy with rebounding hope.

So, Hillman is setting out to write a book that speaks to us, using common language, while restoring familiar ideas and highly useful concepts that have been abandoned by modern psychology.

This is a psychology book without the word "problem". Little mention of "ego", of "consciousness" and none of "experience"! I have also tried to prevent the most pernicious term of all, "self", from creeping into my paragraphs. This word has a big mouth. It could have swallowed into its capacious limitlessness and without a trace all the more specific personifications such as "genius", "angel", "daimon", and "fate".

I have just penetrated the first several chapters, which aren't tough to understand, but I did find myself pleasantly distracted by Hillman's unusually expressive writing style. Sometimes, these descriptions are so good they lead to reflection in themselves, which will cause a break while trying to follow Hillman's own argument. No matter. These breaks are worth the lost time I've spent reacquainting myself with Hillman's train of thought and getting back into the chapter.

For instance, early on he discusses the various myths and religious stories which suggest we have a purpose that is somehow already planted in us at birth or before. Christianity and Judaism are central, but Buddhism and even Plato have been used to show that these ideas are familiar and natural to other cultures, both ancient and modern. Then he throws in this beautiful illustration:

According to another Jewish legend, the evidence for this forgetting of the soul's prenatal election is pressed right into your upper lip. That little crevice below your nose is where the angel pressed its forefinger to seal your lips. That little indentation is all that is left to remind you of your preexistent soul-life with the daimon, and so, as we conjure up an insight or a lost thought, our fingers go up to that significant dent.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Posted on December 24, 2005 in books . | 16 Trackbacks, 0 Comments

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