The soul's code In search of character and calling

James Hillman

Book - 1996

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2nd Floor 150/Hillman Checked In
New York : Random House c1996.
Main Author
James Hillman (-)
1st ed
Physical Description
xii, 334 p.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Epigraphs in Lieu of a Preface
  • 1.. In a Nutshell: The Acorn Theory and the Redemption of Psychology
  • 2.. Growing Down
  • 3.. The Parental Fallacy
  • 4.. Back to the Invisibles
  • 5.. "Esse Is Percipi": To Be Is to Be Perceived
  • 6.. Neither Nature nor Nurture--Something Else
  • 7.. Penny Dreadfuls and Pure Fantasy
  • 8.. Disguise
  • 9.. Fate
  • 10.. The Bad Seed
  • 11.. Mediocrity
  • Coda: A Note on Methodology
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Decades ago, pioneering Jungian analyst and author Hillman (Kinds of Power) challenged the assumptions of Western psychology by applying the ancient concept of "soul" to the modern psyche. Rendered in simpler terms by his protégé, bestselling author Thomas Moore, Hillman's work on soul has fed the public imagination with the nourishing idea that we are vastly deeper and more permeable to the influences around us than we may think. Here, Hillman discusses character and calling, introducing an "acorn theory" that claims that "each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny." Borrowing the language of Plato's Myth of Ur, Hillman suggests that this imaginary sense of our lives or callings drives each of us like a personal daimon or force. Drawing on extraordinary lives from Judy Garland to Coco Chanel to Hitler, he describes the movements of the daimon, showing how it can use everything in our environment, from lucky accidents to bad movies, to allow the acorn to "grow down" and express itself in the real material of our lives. Without succumbing to oversimplification or wishful thinking, Hillman challenges the reductive "parental fallacy"‘the contention that our early experience with our parents determines our selves and our futures. The daimon, he says, pulls us up out of mere conditioning to have a fate. In this brilliant, absorbing work, Hillman dares us to believe that we are each meant to be here; that we are needed by the world around us. Simultaneous Random AudioBook; author tour. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Hillman has written ten books, but he is best known as the inspiration for Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul. Now, for this book on finding one's personal calling, he's getting a big print run himself. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

What set of factors most influence the course of an individual human life? Nature? Nurture? The choices a person makes, including one's intimate relationships? Or is it the complex interplay of all of these? For Jungian analyst and prolific writer Hillman (Kinds of Power, 1995, etc.), the correct answer is apparently ``none of the above.'' Rather, Hillman focuses single-mindedly on each person's special daimon, an abstract, almost mystical notion lifted from Neoplatonic thought that he defines as ``an invisible nonhuman escort,'' and ``the lot your soul chose before you ever took a breath.'' This daimon, he argues, ``the essence'' or blueprint of each life, calls us to a very particular destiny, and it does not willingly suffer our neglect. In developing endless variations on this idea, he comes out sounding extraordinarily fatalistic, positing, for instance, that ``assassination was written in Gandhi's script.'' Thus, he largely downplays such basic aspects of the human condition as choice, conflict, ambivalence, chance, irrationality, and madness. And Hillman's intense focus on individuals and their unique fates means that the communal side of life, and specifically altruism and other positive social values, are also given little weight. Finally, as the following passage exemplifies, Hillman's prose often seems both confusingly bloated and maddeningly ethereal: ``I am different from everyone else and the same as everyone else; I am different from myself ten years ago and the same as myself ten years ago; my life is a stable chaos, chaotic and repetitive both, and I can never predict what tiny, trivial bit of input will result in a huge and significant output.'' This, and passages like it, are likely to leave many readers scratching their heads. This verbose book would have benefitted by being pruned into a stylistically far tighter essay, less declamatory and more reflective. (Author tour)

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

CHAPTER 1   IN A NUTSHELL: THE ACORN THEORY AND THE REDEMPTION OF PSYCHOLOGY   There is more in a human life than our theories of it allow. Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path. You may remember this "something" as a signal moment in childhood when an urge out of nowhere, a fascination, a peculiar turn of events struck like an annunciation: This is what I must do, this is what I've got to have. This is who I am.   This book is about that call.   If not this vivid or sure, the call may have been more like gentle pushings in the stream in which you drifted unknowingly to a particular spot on the bank. Looking back, you sense that fate had a hand in it.   This book is about that sense of fate.   These kinds of annunciations and recollections determine biography as strongly as memories of abusive horror; but these more enigmatic moments tend to be shelved. Our theories favor traumas setting us the task of working them through. Despite early injury and all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we bear from the start the image of a definite individual character with some enduring traits.   This book is about that power of character.   Because the "traumatic" view of early years so controls psychological theory of personality and its development, the focus of our rememberings and the language of our personal story telling have already been infiltrated by the toxins of these theories. Our lives may be determined less by our childhood than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods. We are, this book shall maintain, less damaged by the traumas of childhood than by the traumatic way we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us."   So this book wants to repair some of that damage by showing what else was there, is there, in your nature. It wants to resurrect the unaccountable twists that turned your boat around in the eddies and shallows of meaninglessness, bringing you back to feelings of destiny. For that is what is lost in so many lives, and what must be recovered: a sense of personal calling, that there is a reason I am alive.   Not the reason to live; not the meaning of life in general or a philosophy of religious faith--this book does not pretend to provide such answers. But it does speak to the feelings that there is a reason my unique person is here and that there are things I must attend to beyond the daily round and that give the daily round its reason, feelings that the world somehow wants me to be here, that I am answerable to an innate image, which I am filling out in my biography.   That innate image is also the subject of this book, as it is the subject of every biography--and we will encounter many biographies throughout these pages. The biography question haunts our Western subjectivity, as its immersion in therapies of self show. Everyone in therapy, or affected by therapeutic reflection even as diluted by the tears of TV-talk, is in search of an adequate biography: How do I put together into a coherent image the pieces of my life? How do I find the basic plot of my story?   To uncover the innate image we must set aside the psychological frames that are usually used, and mostly used up. They do not reveal enough. They trim a life to fit the frame: developmental growth, step by step, from infancy, through troubled youth, to midlife crisis and aging, to death. Plodding your way through an already planned map, you are on an itinerary that tells you where you have been before you get there, or like an averaged statistic foretold by an actuary in an insurance company. The course of your life has been described in the future perfect tense. Or, if not the predictable highway, then the offbeat "journey," accumulating and shedding incidents without pattern, itemizing events for a résumé organized only by chronology: This came after That. Such a life is a narrative without plot, its focus on a more and more boring central figure, "me," wandering in the desert of dried-out "experiences."   I believe we have been robbed of our true biography--that destiny written into the acorn--and we go to therapy to recover it. That innate image can't be found, however, until we have a psychological theory that grants primary psychological reality to the call of fate. Otherwise your identity continues to be that of a sociological consumer determined by random statistics, and the unacknowledged daimon's urgings appear as eccentricities, compacted with angry resentments and overwhelming longings. Repression, the key to personality structure in all therapy schools, is not of the past but of the acorn and the past mistakes we have made in our relation with it.   We dull our lives by the way we conceive them. We have stopped imagining them with any sort of romance, any fictional flair. So, this book also picks up the romantic theme, daring to envision biography in terms of very large ideas such as beauty, mystery, and myth. In keeping with the romantic challenge, this book also risks the inspiration of big words, such as "vision" and "calling," privileging them over small reductions. We do not want to belittle what we do not understand. Even when, in a later chapter, we do look carefully at genetic explanations, we find mystery and myth there, too.   At the outset we need to make clear that today's main paradigm for understanding a human life, the interplay of genetics and environment, omits something essential--the particularity you feel to be you. By accepting the idea that I am the effect of a subtle buffeting between hereditary and societal forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn't do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents   This book wants to lift the pall of victim mentality from which individual people cannot recover until the theoretical paradigms that give rise to that mentality have been seen through and set aside. We are victims primarily of theories before they are put into practice. The current American identity as victim is the tail side of the coin whose head brightly displays the opposite identity: the heroic self-made "man," carving out destiny alone and with unflagging will. Victim is flip side of hero. More deeply, however, we are victims of academic, scientistic, and even therapeutic psychology, whose paradigms do not sufficiently account for or engage with, and therefore ignore, the sense of calling, that essential mystery at the heart of each human life.   In a nutshell, then, this book is about calling, about fate, about character, about innate image. Together they make up the "acorn theory," which holds that each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.   "Before it can be lived" raises doubts about another principal paradigm: time. And time, that takes survey of all the world, must have a stop. It, too, must be set aside; otherwise the before always determines the after, and you remain chained to past causes upon which you can have no effect. So this book devotes more of its time to the timeless, attempting to read a life backward as much as forward.   Reading life backward enables you to see how early obsessions are the sketchy preformation of behaviors now. Sometimes the peaks of early years are never surpassed. Reading backward means that growth is less the key biographical term than form, and that development only makes sense when it reveals a facet of the original image. Of course a human life advances from day to day, and regresses, and we do see different faculties develop and watch them wither. Still, the innate image of your fate holds all in the copresence of today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Your person is not a process or a development. You are that essential image that develops, if it does. As Picasso said, "I don't develop; I am."   For this is the nature of an image, any image. It's all there at once. When you look at a face before you, at a scene out your window or a painting on the wall, you see a whole gestalt. All the parts present themselves simultaneously. One bit does not cause another bit or precede it in time. It doesn't matter whether the painter put the reddish blotches in last or first, the gray streaks as afterthoughts or as originating structure or whether they are leftover lines from a prior image on that piece of canvas: What you see is exactly what you get, all at once. And the face, too; its complexion and features form a single expression, a singular image, given all at once. So, too, the image in the acorn. You are born with a character; it is given; a gift, as the old stories say, from the guardians upon your birth. Excerpted from The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling by James Hillman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.