The Soul as an Aesthetic Response, A Fantasy: A Review of Hillman’s ‘Re-visioning Psychology’

All influences or actions of individuals are psychological in nature. It is on this basis that Hillman solidifies his discourse of a poetic basis of mind and that psychology begins in the process of imagining. The mind and the workings therein define all experiences of an individual. In the same vein, all conceptual categories that can be developed are nothing but products of individual imagination which is driven by psychological, religious, scientific, mythical, and artistic factors. To fully develop a framework for understanding the poetics of imagination, Hillman avoids Freud’s dichotomy of the mind into conscious and unconscious. He posits that all psychological activities have their roots in fantasy; where fantasy encompasses imaginations, fancying, and daydreaming. Fantasy is presented as being an unconscious behavior uncontrolled by the real world. In other words, all psychology is of necessity based on fantasy (Hillman, 1976 p. 70).

One strength of deviating from Freud’s dichotomy is that it allowed Hillman to state that if psychology is a product of fantasy and psychology is the origin of all human activities, then it can only mean that human activity is based on fantasy or in other words, intrinsically imaginal. It follows that all ideologies, paradigms, philosophies, and belief systems among others are mere articulates of specific fantasies.  This is the framework on which Hillman’s archetypal psychology is based and used to refute assumptions on which the understanding of ego and self presented in the West as a substance that is monocentric, autonomous, and always in pursuit of perfection (73).

In archetypal psychology, this framework also lays the foundation for his discourse on the soul. The work concentrates on the soul because, Hillman believes that the soul should be the sole business of psychology whose definition literally translates into intelligent accounts of the soul or speech or reason (Hillman, 1983 p. 17). Contrastingly however, Hillman does not refer to the soul as a substance, rather a perspective. Again, the primary activity of the soul is imagination. The soul is constituted of images, but again, these images are generated by the soul (14). The poetic basis of the mind pictures all psychological activities as images.

Fantasy is images, products, and also raw materials of the psyche. They are the primary modes through which the soul can be accessed because the soul is an imagining entity and images are its constituents. In the same plane, myths are also representations of fact which are vital to understanding the soul (Hillman, 1976 p. xi). Within this framework, dreams are understood as being compensatory to the sufferings and struggles that individuals go through in life and are not mere random residues. This approach of dream analysis directly contrasts interpretive/hermeneutic approaches. In place of these accepted methods in psychology, archetypal psychology relies on phenomenology and avoids interpreting a dream; rather the contents of the dream are presented as they are (54).

Hillman’s drew his influences from a mixed group of people. The main influence on his archetypal psychology was Carl Jung, but the whole list includes Freud, Vico, Scheling, Coleridge, Plotinus, Plato, and Heraclitus as well as an assortment of poets, artists, alchemists and philosophers (Hillman, 1976). It can be surmised that their writings influenced archetypal psychology, psyche/soul, and associated analysis of dreams, with regard to the process of soul making (44-46).

Hillman’s work cites three aspects that define his psychology, that is, the soul or psyche, aesthetic response and what he calls polytheism. The definitions and interrelatedness of these three concepts form the foundation of his archetypal psychology. The definition and dimensions of the soul is important for understanding aesthetic response. The soul as presented in archetypal psychology functions through images, myths, feelings, and individual stories (Hillman, 1976, p. xi).  Apart from these, the soul can also operate via an aesthetic response of perception. In this regard, the aesthetic response is that of feelings. Through feelings the soul is able to appropriately respond to aspects that affect. Aesthetic response is that specific, distinct, and unique sensual sensory and embodied response of what the soul perceives. Aesthetic responses bestow value and meaning to all the things that the soul encounters. Broadly understood therefore, the soul is religious (Hillman, 1976).

It is on this basis that Hillman develops his notion of polytheism, which is nonetheless a religious term. In archetypal psychology, the word is borrowed from religion to help in re-visioning psychology and its understanding of the self. Rather than monotheism which is closed, the polytheistic reference justifies Hillman’s notion that the soul has the space and freedom to generate aesthetic responses. Again, it is on this basis of pluralism that he calls for an extensive re-examination of monotheistic psychology, especially its psychological paradigms, within the new framework of polytheistic psychology. This multidisciplinary alternative would open up psychology to new expressions and perceptions in a dynamic and multicultural world and also make psychology more relevant and meaningful (Hillman, 1976 p. 27).

In other words, the soul being constituted with both imagination and images thus project the subjective and the objective on one hand, and human and divine on the other. These projections cannot be understood through personalistic reductions or one-sided interpretations. For this reason, only a polytheistic approach can bring together all the experiences of human life to the imaginative perspective and thus exude an aesthetic response (18-19).

Hillman also tackled the centrality of beauty to psychology. Hillman criticizes psychology for completely neglecting beauty. He notes that no experimental, social, or therapeutic branches of psychology have found it within its desire to incorporate beauty into the life story. In place of the beautiful shades that can be found even the most twisted of fates, professional psychology is wreath with banal language, mountains of useless books, and pretensions of progress. The neglect of beauty means that psychology can no longer find the right answers to life stories and the reward for this is an increase in sexual harassment cases, problems in gender and sexual relations, and reduction of every inquiry to experimental designs. In essence, there’s no longer any fun or humor in such inquiries (Hillman, 1976 p. 56-57).

Hillman maintains that psychology is the cause of its own death and it may not heal its own affliction. Even evident is Hillman desertion of all the common contemporary language in psychological writings. Thus, he states that words like ‘performance’, ‘coping measures’, ‘development’, ‘identity’ , ‘response levels’, as well as ‘ego’, ‘experience’ ,‘consciousness’, a host of diagnostic tools among others. These terminologies erase beauty and so archetypal psychology is the only vehicle that can be used to join psychology with beauty (Hillman, 1976 p. 134).

Hillman’s work has had a huge impact. They have inspired a whole generation of thinkers and individuals who have adopted the soul-centered approach in teaching, research, scholarship, governance, interpersonal relations, ethical decision making, psychological training, and promoting diversity as a way of life. Individuals trained in archetypal psychology have the sole purpose of freeing the soul from the straps of individual, personal, and humanistic strings so that it can explore in fantasy inspired imagination and re-soul the world.

Richard M. Oduor

Books for Further Reading

Hillman, J. (1976). Re-Visioning Psychology, New York: Harper and Row

Hillman, J. (1983). Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account. Dallas: Spring Publications

My Life, Religion, and Other Things

The sages have died with their words frozen like molten lava hugging the mountain side. The brightness of their wisdom shines but the slippery rock is a curse to the feeble-limbed. The spiritual way is clogged by religious dogmas and cults trace the vague fences of veneration. I was once a pious child, following in the footsteps of my Christian parents. I did my Catechism but fell afoul with ‘Who created me’ answers because of their inadequacy to capture my young mind. But parents are angels, second-hand gods with arms that guide like the meandering banks of a river – and so I did my Baptism and the Priest shot me a “Richard”, then Confirmation and the Bishop christened me ‘Maccarius’ among a plethora of ancient names parried about to be clasped. I comfortably became a black missionary mirror, albeit a minor.

My African roots, as regards religion were not as strong as I would have liked at the time of birth and subsequent indoctrination into Christianity – I was but less that a decade old. But the ancestors blessed my birth, and made me an African by default: a soul; a gentle soul hidden beneath the great cloud of consciousness. My African name is ‘Oduor’ loosely translating to a boy born in the wee hours of the night (around 4.00 A.M in the morning). African names have actual meanings. I became a Christian, yes. But my seriousness with the church ended with the rituals. Well meaning rituals meant to captivate my ‘savage soul’ to serenity and obedience. Yet though the spears thrown at Catholicism have risen into the stationary phase, a clear mind may view its dogma’s as intimately closer to the primitive religion of the ancients. But if one has to uproot the monster, one has to appreciate that what Christians perceive as the Holy Book did pass through the editing hands of the Council of Bishops.

I was very different from your average 15 year old boy growing up in the village. By 16 years I had read the Holy Bible from cover to cover and developed the canny ability of knowing exactly where a verse fell. To this day, I maintain a reasonable textual mind picture of the Bible. You’d also find me with a book on religious philosophy. One of the oldest books that I keep even to this day is ‘A Short Defense of Religion’; a controversial pro-anti religion philosophical treatise that opened my eyes to the beauty of knowledge at a very early age. At that age, my mind began its comparative analyses of fundamental religious problems and the tendencies of modern science. I wallowed into criticism, and new criticism, Kantism and New-Kantism.

I began my walk with phenomenal writers such as Hume, Stuart, Mill, Auguste, Compte, and Locke. Du-Bois Reymond reminded me that ‘we are ignorant and shall remain ignorant” (Ignoramus et ignorabimus). Spencer came forth with agnostic positivism and tried to separate it from agnosticism, in as much as he affirmed the reality of the unknowable or in other words affirming ‘the existence of what nobody can know’. This was a far cry from what the early church had held: Gnosticism. Too bad I also disregarded Thomas Aquina’s Ecclesiastes pounding of “seek not the things that are too high for thee” in Summa Theologica.

I bathed with Reason, glorying in the fact that man’s knowledge is derived from phenomena and sat on the rocks of Science because physical, experimental, empiric science relies greatly on the principles of reason. Science introduced me to the principle of causality and crowned me a free man.

I’m a sucker for information, yet that does not imply that I condone insensible barrage or cock my ears to illogisms. The truth is that I’m always impatient with stupidity, and may take active step to close such a tap – as soon and vile inconsistencies begin to trickle. But one who hunts never stops until the hunted is found. My inquiries into the fundamental problems did not stop with the Bible; I took an interest in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism knowing quite well that they represent the mainstream paths of organized religion. To this day I read the Holy Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita, in addition to countless documents of religious significance such as the Satanic Bible, the Kolbrins, hundreds of esoteric and occult publications, ancient religions, papal publications, incisive Islam scholars such as Sayyid Qutb, as well as Upadeśāmrta and Śiksāstaka and what they have to say about Krsna.

You may not call me a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Judaist or any other religion that exists in the planet. I’d prefer you call me none – for I am but an aspiring sage with a torch in a dark forest searching for a lost sewing needle with nothing but a candle. As my years grow, my torch has been getting brighter and brighter and my walk sure-footed. I see the black for what it is and refuse to place neatly pressed white garments on mud.

You will not call me a self confessed atheist either, because I’m not one. I view atheism as a form of intellectual laziness: an inability to pierce the membrane of obfuscation.  For me knowledge remains an endless ocean, so vast and wide, so deep that the destination –though shining like the morning star – still lies far ahead. I glory in my journeys and I have no desire of reaching the end. But along the way, I have developed an understanding: a secret that has been kept from the eyes of those who seek not. These secrets that dot my path are my signposts to full illumination.

Each day, I’d put stacks of newly acquired knowledge on the old heap, until a time reached when I had to dig the very roots of these bodies. Naturally, I retreated into my self; for that is the only way a man can judge all that he imbibes. The self holds the searing blade of judgment. The Self, also analogized as Soul, is the essence of Being. The self is the ‘I’ and in there lies the fabric of meaning. Cleaned of influences, except the very cardinal guideposts that a man can use to judge his surroundings, the self holds the key to unraveling the mystery of human existence. Then, I realized that the world is a sphere of symbols and every symbol radiates differently.  Symbols rule the world. Symbols rule your mind. Symbols are the slaver’s tool for mental indoctrination. Learn the symbols. Dig their roots with the intense concentration that a squirrel invests in digging the cassava. I will talk about this comprehensively in a later writing.

Do I believe in God? Does God exist? Well, that’s already one too many questions for such a short piece of jumbled snippets me. One thing that I know, though yet to prove empirically is that there exists as a source of Light and that source is God. Anybody who seeks spiritualism knows that even the most brutalized and savage man practices certain identifiable moral and ‘religious’ ideas with regard to the beyond. Even the most stationary beings in the greatest cauldron of civilization draw certain remnants of instruction from a Source. These elements point to a source of eternal energy, albeit without the twisted strands of religiosity that has muddled the Way ever since its ejection from the tormenting womb of existence.

This Source is not necessarily the Christian God, the Muslim Allah or Yahweh – for these bodies of knowledge are incomplete mere specks of the full illumination of the Supreme. Unfortunately, these bodies have human stains and these stains are black blots on the purity of the Supreme. I firmly hold this view because I am a free thinker, but one with a purpose. This Supreme is not necessarily as being as espoused by my Christian brothers. My God is nothing but a Super Soul just like my Gita says. My God is one, just as the Koran says, but rather than being a slave, I’m but a fragment of the Super Soul. I have a little God in me, for it is through that channel that the pure energies of existence flow effortlessly from the full, to the fraction. I would have written my conception of God at length but I have to talk about other things as well.

I draw inspiration from the world. I draw inspiration from me; from my perception of the world; from my contemplations. One of the biggest living influences in my way of thinking remains Professor Noam Chomsky (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In him I find the meaning of meanings and the door knob of analytical philosophy. Recently a worthy friend, Dr. Shujaat, told me that my poetry is different, that my poetry has the potential to inspire change in the world. Now that was a noble gesture. Not that I don’t hold my writings in high esteem, far from it. Poetry is the language of gods. My activist stands have recently been upped by Dr. Claudette Carr (University of London), another incisive intellectual that draws me to her works principally because of the wealth of technicality. A Zimbabwean poet; Tendai Tagarira, now in exile, for being too critical of Mugabe’s regime is a new acquaintance that is proving to be a ‘brother in the fight’ as well. I have never met these individuals personally, but the world has since become a ‘global village’ and we sip from the same pot of knowledge.

I have other influences. The patience and love from my family, the intimacy of true love: honeybunch, the verve of Hisia Zangu Family members and strings, ‘the four beads that form the secret necklace’ (they know themselves), and the hundreds of people I talk with, chat with, discuss with everyday. It is from these beautiful flowers of humanity that my poetry sprouts. Surely “the bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” A quote from ‘Illusions’.

Well, I’m no big shot. I’m just 28 years old and my best still hangs ahead of me. I’m a writer, but it’s my ‘other’ profession. It doesn’t ‘put food on my table’ so to speak, but I have an oath with literature; with poetry and literary criticism, though I have never been in a Literature class. I’ve never been in a Philosophy class as well. All my writings are products of personal study and imagination. I hold my imagination dear and just like D.G James in ‘Skepticism and Poetry’ I believe that “the vitality and energies of the imagination do not operate at will; they are fountains, not machinery”.

How do I know so many things? Some friends ask me. I’m a research guy so I read virtually everything that has been published; a good number of books and journals every week. From genetic engineering to business design systems, from ordinal regressions to climate change and global warming, from East Asian studies to neocolonialism in Latin America, from African culture and symbolism and canonization in modern African literature to heteroskedasticity in STATA, from cultural imperialism to nanotechnology, from Darwinism to religion. Such reading means that I find links between bodies of knowledge quite easily. Understanding, even the most complex of texts, has become rather easy. I encourage all my friends to read a ton of books every day. Books are the only miracles that the world needs.

The world is a funny place. We’ll continue with our search, trying to unravel the past. To quote Billy Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ out of context, “the fact is, we don’t know. Don’t have any idea. We don’t know when we started doing many of the things we’ve done. We don’t know what we are doing right now or how our present actions will affect the future. What we do know is that there is only one planet to do it on, and only one species of being capable of making a considered difference. Edward O. Wilson expressed it with unimprobable brevity in ‘The Diversity of Life’ “one planet, one experiment.”

Have we succeeded in unraveling everything we need to know? Not really. “We are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end,” Bryson said. The journey is the reward, not the destination. There is no destination in life. Death is the end of searching, not the destination.

So why do I have to write these long discussions?

Let me write my life while I live.

And always remember,

“The world is your exercise book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, although you can express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write nonsense or lies, or to tear the pages.”

Richard M. Oduor a.ka. Richie Maccs

On the Philosophy of Nothingness

Under shades of mounting dialectic claims,

Irresolute pricks punch holes of absurdity,

And like tinctures on white planes,

Draw me hesitantly to Permenides study.


Instinctually, I watch sketches of illusions

And clouds of emptiness where ‘nothing’ inhabits.

Is my future nothing; mere delusions?

Is imbroglio the preserve of hermits?


Is it foolish that to the study of nothing, I endeavor?

I labor, for my past is a cemetery of experiences;

Mundane somethings that rob me of the fervor

Of pure thought and a discourse with virginal essences.


I think of nothing, but being conscious of something,

I refuse ‘nothingness’ a name and think not at all.

A prelude to fatuity maybe, or a trifling

That my experiences have been eaten by time’s fall.


But why should there be something rather than nothing?

Is nothing an object of thought or void’s wails?

Is nothing a figure of speech or existence’s clothing?

Is it a bong in silence’s backyard or Infinite’s trails?


I shed off the linguistic strings of ‘nothing’ being ‘lack’,

And bounce on philosophia’s springs and ask ‘not-being’

To light the blurring shades of history’s back,

While evading Monist’s distractions of probable beings.


Poor of a single plenum on which a cartographer’s skill

May be twisted to chart a map of knowledge on nothing,

I accept the multiplicity of plenums and shrill

As Leucippus postulates dangle on fraying strings.


Nature abhors a vacuum, we assume

And tire to mark motion and change in space:

A void is the twin sister of a vacuum

And all join hands peacefully in existence’s lace.


Casually, ‘nothing’ lolls in reality’s attic,

Existing as an independent plenum,

Weaved deftly in the intricate fabric

Of all that there is; change, motion, or datum.


Thence, God knowing all in advance,

Mould something from nothingness;

A circular argument in philosophia’s parlance,

But a logical absurdity that basks by the door of madness.


Richard Copyright 2012.