The Nowhere That Is Not Necessarily Everywhere

Reading the late James Hillman’s Selected Writings (edited by Thomas Moore) frustrates me because Hillman deals with terms  — soul, archetype, spirit – that by his own definition defy definition.  He creates metaphors, uses Greek gods and goddesses as examples.  The gist is that like Steppenwolf’s Harry Haller, we have an infinite number of selves that slosh around the in a murky swamp of soul, a sort of neuronbuzz that connects mind to body.  What frustrates me is his lack of empiricism – where does he get his ideas? from an oracle? Nor does he provide case histories to help embody these archetypal inner beings.

Nevertheless, I agree with much of what says about our contemporary world, and he offers some wonderful turns of phrase.

illustration of James Hillman by Jason Stout

For example:

Dumb sex is cultural. Our white American speech doesn’t provide good words for genitals and intercourse – and hardly any phrases about places, rhythms, touches, and tastes.  Listen to the marvelous language of foreign erotica; jade stalk, palace gates, ambrosia!  Compare these with cock, prick, dick, nuts, balls, with suck, jerk blow, yank, and with gash, bush, frog, slit, clit, hole.  A Chinese plum is to be deliciously enjoyed; our cherries are to be taken, popped, or broken [. . .] Our Puritan prose cannot encompass the sexual imagination to which great temples are built in India.

The human person as a data bank does not need to read more than functionally.  A data bank deciding yes or no on the basis of feedback (i.e. reinforcement) need not imagine beyond getting, storing, and spending.  Just get the instructions right; never mind the content. Learn the how rather than the what with its qualities, values, and subtleties.  The human agent becomes an incarnated credit card performing the religious rituals of consumerism.

[. . .] places tend to remind us of history, of ethic and earthly differences that cannot be homogenized into the universal sameness of our contemporary utopias, the nowhere everywhere of our shopping centers and roads to and from them.

West Ashley (Charleston, SC at rush hour

So, according to Hillman, materialism has triumphed over spirituality.

Although perhaps generally true, it certainly isn’t universally true.  I cannot think of one close friend who prefers things to experiences, who would drive a Range Rover at the expense of not being able to travel.  The few very wealthy acquaintances I know are interested in both mind and spirit and never flaunt their fortunes.  And my Chico Feo bar buddies, many who live from paycheck to paycheck, seem well satisfied with their lives.  Before work each morning (and perhaps, even more impressively, on weekends), my friend Jason watches the sun rise above the Stono River and then posts a photograph with an accompanying prose passage, poem or song.

Today’s (11 July 2018) sunrise captured by Jason Chambers

Nevertheless, fighting traffic at rush hour through a wasteland of billboards and cell phone towers on the thoroughfares Hillman describes does indeed suck/blow/yank — especially if you’re in a hurry.  But if you’re riding in an air-conditioned vehicle with a system that plays music or words you select, you shouldn’t complain too loudly.

Summon your inner Apollo or Athena, or, in my case, given that I’m likely to be listening to James Brown or the Rolling Stones, inner Dionysius.

And remember (see the story of Lazarus for an example) Jesus was never in a hurry.

Jason and Me at Chico Feo (photo credit Caroline Traugott)


I Annihilated This Post on Violent Language!

As I was squandering precious moments of the twilight of my existence marveling at how happy and well-fed my Facebook friends seem to be, I suffered this epiphany: the American English vernacular is steeped in violent expressions with positive connotations. That violence permeates our language shouldn’t be surprising given that mass shootings have become a monthly occurrence, as routine as severe thunder storms.  However, the fact that violent diction projects positivity seems, at least on the surface, perverse.

I have long realized how much the foes of drug use, like youth ministers, rely on the argot of the drug scene, like when they cop some Grace or score a convert or pull CS Lewis from their lit stash, but for whatever reason, the predominance of violent expression, especially when extolling a performance, had never blasted its way into my consciousness, which is strange since I overuse the word killer all the time, as in Frederick Seidel is a killer poet who obliterates his readers with his brilliant use of language.

What sparked this illumination concerning the positive connotations of violent words was a post from a friend of mine, a sweet, gentle, funny, articulate soul who wrote:

Man, Mad Men and Hannibal both really crushed their season finales.

Crushed is a great sounding word, the sibilant volition of rushed lengthened and hardened by the hard initial C-sound.   In a social media forum crushed sounds better than “really masterfully executed their season finales.” Though I suspect that if you had learned English from Rosetta Stone, you might take crushed in the above Mad Men/Hannibal context to mean that the shows mangled their finales, wrecked or ruined them, especially since episode is the direct object of crushed.

But, of course, crushed here means the opposite, that the episodes were triumphant cliff hangers, huge successes, like when you destroy your exam by acing it.

These ruminations on language reminded me of an essay by James Hillman where he mused on the harshness/violence of sexual English compared with the much gentler, more loving elocutions of the East.

Listen to the marvelous language of foreign erotica: jade stalk, palace gates, ambrosia! Compare these with cock, prick, dick, nuts, balls; with suck, jerk, blow, yank; and with gash, bush, frog, slit, clit, hole. A Chinese plum is to be deliciously enjoyed; our cherries are to be taken, popped, or broken. (The Blue Fire 179)

America, land of the free, land of the mass shooting, land of the perverse.