Revizing Memories

I can’t remember when my grandmother bought me my first tom-tom drum, but I remember clearly when she first taught me a basic beat: 1  2 3 4,  1  2 3 4,  1 2 3 4, 1  2 3 4 …

When I would drum, a mood came over me. I felt as though the trees and sky and the creatures of the earth and sky were observing me with affection.

By the time I was 7 or 8 years old, an aunt had blessed me with a mini drum kit. I had found my Mojo, but my mother was distressed. She was not at all happy with this tendency I had for drumming. One day, I had my drum kit set outside in the driveway, away from the house where I would not disturb my mother and sister. That day, my mother backed her big old station wagon over that drum kit, and it was never replaced. I would set up about 3 empty 50 gallon drums, and use cut up mopsticks as my sticks, but I would not sit behind a drum kit until I was 28 years old, when I was living in a big old house out in the woods, surrounded by fields, beating on a full Tama set loud enough to shake the heavens.

I no longer have access to drums; but I have discovered, while walking in the woods, that the woods offer plenty of material for drumming. Drumsticks are easy enough to make – just snap a stick in two. Different sounds come from different things … it is all about the mood. You just catch some kind of mood and drum into a trance. It helps to be alone since the presence of another is very often inhibiting.

For whatever it’s worth, it appears as though my daimon is a drummer. Also, my daimon seems to be quite attached to the places I used to explore as a child. Whenever I return to those places, it is as though the trees respond to my presence with some wind, or the sunlight feels especially tender on my skin.

I experience the privacy and sanctuary the woods offer me, and I try to carry some of that with me as I return to the web of concrete, pipes, wires, beer, and white-bread. I am in the process of reading The Soul’s Code. I want to point out the limitations of academic categories. In the flap of the book, Hillman is described as a Jungian analyst and originator of post-Jungian “archetypal psychology,” but Hillman clearly is not as bound by the same compulsions that motivated Jung (and even more so, Freud) to make such a fuss about the “empirical validity” of his theories. Back then, there was a concern to validate psychology as empirical science. Hillman does not seem to be intimidated by Institutionalized Science.

While I find the following informative, I disagree with the author’s perspective. I see German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer as the grandfather of Jungian analysis, but Hillman is more like Schopenhauer in that he has contempt for “science.” The ancients locate the soul in or around the heart. Therefore, your heart holds the image (the acorn) of your destiny (the mighty oak tree). The heart, not reason, calls you to your destiny.

The American psychologist James Hillman has in his writings removed the Jungian concept of the archetype as objective inherited pattern and replaced this with the archetypal image as existent within the natural world. Allegedly, what decides whether an image is archetypal or not is the subjects level of appreciation of the image. So if the subject “capitalizes” the image, i.e., decides that he appreciates the image, then it should be regarded archetypal. Hillman’s theory belongs to the somewhat bizarre category of phenomenological Neoplatonism, which means that only what we see should be regarded real, i.e., only what is apparent to consciousness is existent.

Hillman says:

“[phantasy images are] both the raw materials and finished products of the psyche, and are the privileged mode of access- to knowledge of the soul. Nothing is more primary” (Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, xi.).”the soul is constituted of images, [and] that the soul is primarily an imagining activity….”   (Hillman. Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account, p.14).

“The stories that myths tell cannot be documented in histories; the gods and goddesses, and the heroes and their enemies, are told about in stories inscribed in clay and carved in statues, but have they ever been physically seen? The fabulous places of myth are not in this world – all invented, just fables. The long-lasting and ever-renewing vitality of myths has nothing factual behind it” (Hillman, The Souls Code, p.95).

It goes without saying that these beliefs collide head on with a Jungian empirical viewpoint. Hillman repudiates the factual existence of the inherited archetype as underlying the myths and contends that the latter are mere fables invented by imagination. Nevertheless, according to Hillman, the images painted by phantasy should be regarded as autonomous and godlike. This is, to put it mildly, an unscientific notion that drastically depreciates the Jungian notion of the independent reality of the psyche. The archetypes are not only reduced to images but are also said to have their prototype, not within the psyche, but in a transcendent sphere, outside nature. Furthermore, according to Hillman, modern psychological theories (i.e., other theories than his own) have lost their value since he himself cannot derive any sense of “beauty” from their scientific terms. Hillman is scornful of other psychological schools and says: “Again psychology fails what it studies. Neither social psychology, experimental psychology, nor therapeutic psychology find a place for the aesthetic appreciation of a life story” (Hillman, The Souls Code, p.35).

As evidence of this book’s attempt to exit the mortuary is the absence from these pages of the contemporary language of psychology. Except where set apart in quotation marks to keep from contaminating a sentence with psychological morbidities, you will not find any of these infectious agents […] Little mention of “ego,” of “consciousness,”…” (Ibid). “…”case material”, “ego development”, “psychotherapy”, even “animus-ridden” and “negative mother” — die on our lips. We can no longer give them belief; they have lost conviction; they no longer are speech that carries soul. This language is dead […] Because of its own language, psychology becomes anti-therapeutic, an instrument of a new philistinism called ‘community mental health,’ spreading its kind of mental illness […] We no longer believe that psychology speaks for the soul” (Hillman, The Myth of Analysis).

Phenomenological Neoplatonism

Hillman is said to reduce the importance of conscious understanding. He examines the mythological, morphological and etymological meanings of the mighty oak’s fallen little nugget to help us see the acorn as a metaphor of the soul. He reminds us that in the ancient Mediterranean, Northern Germany and Celtic Europe, the oak was a magical ancestor tree, and everything associated with it, the squirrels, the birds, the bees that live in it, and its acorns share its magic.

It looks as though Hillman faces the same challenges that Husserl and the rest of us face. I have said this before, but I don’t mind saying it again: The key to the crisis of industrial-worlders is “natural science.” Husserl believed that the natural sciences have developed a faulty attitude regarding what the world is like and how best to know it. The natural sciences rest on the fatal prejudice that the world is basically physical and that the realm of spirit, “soul”, psyche, knowing is based on corporality.. The natural scientist (biologist, chemist, physicist, …) rejects the possibility of formulating a self contained science of the spirit.

This rejection explains, to a large degree, the crisis of industrial man. To insist the realm of spirit must be understood after the manner of the physical sciences reflects the naivete of modern scientific rationalism.

As a child, I use to correspond with my paternal-paternal great grandmother (my grandfather’s mother, my father’s paternal grandmother), Amy. She was old when I met her, but she outlived her son Carl, my grandfather. She put in her time, reading until the end – and very opinionated. She was an uppity woman who wasn’t trying to be liked, and I loved her. I still wonder about the details of my great grandfather’s suicide. I wonder if Amy might have been too materialistic and aristocratic, and this became a burden to Carl the Elder. How did these dynamics affect my father? Is that why his work ethic is so rigid? Is he still impressing Amy, his grandmother?

That I can simultaneously love her as a precious human character and disagree with her world-view shows the complexity of our life-world. She has memories of Older Tongues – a language of long words and deep philosophical concepts. My father never bothered listening in on his grandparents arguing in German. He said, “ahh, the words are too long …” and let the Old language go. It’s a shame.

Amy lived to be nearly 101.

I always addressed the letters to Mrs. Amy Hentrich or even Mrs. Hentrich.

One time I addressed the letter to Amy Hentrich, and she was insulted. She scolded me about how it was disrespectful for a young boy to address his great grandmother by her first name. I regret never having asked her what her maiden name was.  It never came up in the letters – I was so consumed with what was going on with me, I never bothered to ask her – or maybe her cold, stern Germanic “respectfulness” kept me from intruding. After all, as a child, I was showing off my penmanship, and wanting my great grandmother to know I loved her.   I treasured trips up to Reading, Pennsylvania to see her.   She would put me to sleep with her wrinkly soft thumb by gently brushing my forhead or temples.   She had a great sense of humor and wit – that’s how she expressed personal warmth and affection.   She was cold to the world, but warm to those she loved. And whether she was being cold or warm, she was usually quite funny. She was always funny, even when she was very grumpy.  Discussing things she and I both liked, like fat steak fries (potatoes), she would smirk, look me right in the eyes, and say, “How ’bout it?”

My father was the “apple of her eye.” He needed that. I needed to develop as a mental creature, to understand the emotional power of correspondance. Did I choose my parents for my grandparents and great-grandparents, people who would influence me in hilarious ways?

That is actually when I began writing, and I have never realized that until now while revizing my memories.

I wonder, if I go blind, how will I “write”?  I could still type … but I like to scribble …  I would have to drum.  I would have to sing.  I would have to let go of the literary realm …

My great grandmother treasured her eyesight and was always reading. I wonder if she was well-read? She was into those steamy romance novels … not philosophy.  I never met my great grandfather. My dad knew him well.  I never inquired too much into Great Grandfather’s suicide, but have been rather fascinated by that exotic kind of death.

It takes a village to raise a child, and we all are part of the social fabric, so we can’t help but interact and influence one another in powerful ways.

Hillman: “You expect less from your natural parents, and they become easier to bear once you have discovered the other family tree on which the life of your soul depends.”

The relations are reciprocal: Children teach their elders as much as the elders teach them. She acknowledged me as a Being with a Mind, which charged my spirit-mind with visions of The Universe With A Face: the face of my great grandmother Amy. Amy’s spirit was also charged by the written communications, and sometimes my letters would be quite long. She most likely was impressed by my honesty and the grasp I had on my emotions, for I kept her well-informed of the tragic unfolding of daily life in the 1970’s and 1980’s. My parents were porcupines with sharp needles, orangutans who both demanded independence and autonomy of volition. They are both stubborn and spontanious and unpredictible. They both live in a world of confusion and chaos, as do we all.

I shared my heartache with my great grandmother through writing. We had a relationship as mental creatures. Her letters to me opened a mysterious universe of an inner life, and this was my daimon exercising its communication skills. She created a writer, and I helped her grow as a spiritual creature because she was honoring me as a presence to be read. When does a child or teenager get a chance to verbally express its take on things to an elder and be taken seriously for real? And with great grandparents, even more so than with grand parents, we were pals. There was no pressure to fufill her dreams or any pressures to be anything other than what I was. She talked politics. She talked religion. While she protested her son (my Protestant grandfather) marrying my Catholic grandmother, in her last decades, she was concerned for the poor; she said the Catholics do more for the poor, and she was starting to have a change of heart about religious matters. None of the hog-wash seemed to matter. In the end, it came down to, “Did you feed me when I was hungry? Did you give me water when I was thirsty? When I had no shoes, did you give me some warm boots?”

All creatures, especially larger primates like humans, demand dignity. We are easily shamed. We each deserve respect and dignity regardless of whether we “pull the cart of civilization” or not. Give us this day our daily bread – a little wine now and again, some fish and potatoes. Give us shelter, with enough liberty and space to play musical instruments and dance. Grant us a tent within a shelter, a sacred sleeping chamber for snuggling in blissful slumber.

Amy used to confide in me about how she worried about men who had capital and then lost it. She said that is who the homeless men are in the cities – wealthy men or fairly comfortable men with families who lost their edge and fell into the abyss of alcoholism and self-destruction, becoming less than an animal and dead as a man. For a man (inclusive of women) is a social animal, and in the industrial world, a human animal without income or credit is living in a nether region between the realm of the spirit and an iron will to survive, to grow down into the sad reality of Free Market Capitalism. She didn’t know about the Black Church, and I am sure no one in Europe, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, or Jews have a real grasp of what the Black Church is in the States. I don’t know either. I can only guess that circumstances made gatherings central to the well-being and survival of a people ripped from the land of their ancestors to be abused as though they were privately owned lawn-mowers or farm-eqiupment or robots.

Well, people are still used as robots, but that’s a topic for another day. Great Grandmother Amy Hentrich was the original “Internet” to me. She was my interactive diary. Now, I suppose she is in here with the ancestors, breathing me. That’s why I like to write with a pen in a notebook, because I see her handwriting. Sometimes. Not all the time.

Mental Notes:

1. I’ve never done that before: written “Sometimes. Not all the time.” I just don’t use sentence fragments. Vonnegut uses fragments. What a radical.

2. Typing is faster, you catch more thoughts, but writing with an implement in the hand is more personal – you get to the roots of things.

Typing and “Internet Ranting” competes with “the scribbler” for the mental faculties.

Typing in the Internet is quick, but writing in private notebooks is more radical, less defensive. I just can’t resist utilizing the web of computing machines that is the Internet.  I want to use it before we lose it, to take part in the diplomatic process, to speak on a soapbox without getting lynched or arrested for disturbing the peace. It’s a great outlet, a safety valve for thought-processing.


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