The Soul of the World is the second part of James Hillman’s two-part book, The Thought of the Heart and The Soul of the World, in which he sees a world suffering a breakdown in much the same way as individuals suffer. A world ensouled, a psychic reality, in which we imagine with our hearts, connecting each of us to the things of the world, as part of the Anima Mundi. See Here for some of my recent thoughts on first part of the book, The Thought of the Heart.
“The world, because of its breakdown, is entering a new moment of consciousness: by drawing attention to itself by means of its symptoms, it is becoming aware of itself as a psychic reality. The world is now the subject of immense suffering, exhibiting acute and crass symptoms by means of which it defends itself against collapse.”
So, is the world broken because individuals are broken, is it us, the family (or lack thereof), the community that are to be blamed for brokenness, or is it just as much the other way around? Are we broken because of the breakdown of the world? The essay was presented in the late 70’s and I think we have begun to turn our gaze outward a bit more, but perhaps we still need a way to enter into a sense of the world as ensouled; a world that, through an awareness of its images we sense is alive needing our attention and love. For some of us, too long have we lived convinced of the world’s deadness which risks alienating us from caring and just as importantly, from feeling cared for by the world.
“Rather let us imagine the anima mundi as that particular soul-spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form. Then anima mundi indicates the animated possibilities presented by each new event as it is, its sensuous presentation as a face bespeaking its interior image – in short, its availability to imagination, its presence as psychic reality. Not only animals and plants ensouled as in the Romantic vision, but soul is given with each thing, God-given things of nature and man-made things of the street.”
He is arguing for a readmittance of our animal sense, an aesthetic response to the face of the world, a world that is not just dead matter, but alive by virtue of its images presented in each particular thing. And this response is necessary as “…any alteration in the human psyche resonates with a change in the psyche of the world.”
“To interpret the world’s things as if they were our dreams deprives the world of its dream, its complaint. Although this move may have been a step toward recognizing the interiority of things, it finally fails because of the identification of interiority with only human subjective experience.”
When sense and imagination of the world leave us we are left with “images without bodies and bodies without images, an immaterial subjective imagination severed from an extended world of dead objective facts,” we then sever the heart connection as the hearts way of perceiving is both sensing and imagining. “To sense penetratingly we must imagine, and to imagine accurately we must sense.”
Our modern troubles with the heart lie perhaps not only in the physical heart but this thinking heart of perceiving and sensing. Maybe our suffering hearts are sick from more than just what we eat or how much exercise we get, but from the suffering of the world and our relation to it. But if the world needs our aesthetic, animal sense to re-imagine our contact with it, Hillman reminds us that it’s not so much the beauty of arts and a sanitized, deodorized world that will heal it, but an aesthetic knowing leading us to “thing-consciousness,” felt and seen in all of the objects we encounter in our day-to-day; the chair we sit in, the cars we drive, the inornate and anorexic walls and buildings, erected quickly and built with practicality and efficiency in mind and not for their beauty or the beauty of the world.
Hillman insists that it is in the particular things, even the smallest things, including our need for speed, expansion, the hunger we are unwilling to live with that make up the soul of the world and that only through our attention to these things, and caring for them can the world in turn care for us. This revisioning would be itself an environmental movement, a love affair in which “each of us reworks our background” that is the world, a world alive that is ensouled.
“A world without soul offers no intimacy. Things are left out in the cold, each object by definition cast away before it is manufactured, lifeless litter and junk, taking its value wholly from my consumptive desire to have and to hold, wholly dependent on the subject to breathe it into life with personal desire.
When particulars have no essential virtue, then my own virtue as a particular depends wholly and only on my subjectivity or on your desire for me, or fear of me: I must be desirable, attractive, a sex-object, or win importance and power. For without these investments in my particular person, coming either from your subjectivity or my own, I too am but a dead thing among dead things, potentially forever lonely.”
All quotes from James Hillman, Spring Publications.