Personification

“Ideas that we do not know we have, have us. Psychology’s job, it seems to me, is to see the subjective, archetypal factor in our sight, before or while looking at facts and events. Other sciences have to pretend to being objective, to be describing things as they are; psychology fortunately is always bound by its psychic limitations and can be spared the pretense of objectivity. In place of the obligation to be objectively factual, it obliges to be subjectively aware, which becomes possible only if we are willing to have an exhaustive go at the assumptions in our primary notions.” James Hillman

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Hillman begins a discussion on the relationship of anima to personification by bringing in its pathological opposite, he calls depersonalizationclinically speaking, a state in which one loses a previous normative sense of themselves, and that now ‘I am not I’, or not even a person at all. It is a detached feeling characterized by a loss of subjective interiority in which oneself, others, and the world around us seem unreal, distant or undifferentiated.

“We each may have experienced depersonalization and derealization in less extreme degree. I refer to those states of apathy, monotony, dryness, and weary resignation, the sense of not caring and of not believing in one’s value, that nothing is important or all is voided, outside and inside.” James Hillman

Hillman uses this pathological state as a way to understand the relationship between personification and anima. For Jung it is akin to a loss of soul understood here as anima.

“… permanent loss of the anima means… resignation, weariness, sloppiness, irresponsibility.” CW 9, i, 147

“According to Jung, it is the anima who provides the relationship between man and the world as well as between man and his interior subjectivity. She is in fact the personification of that interiority and subjectivity, the very sense of personality.” James Hillman

“Man derives his human personality…his consciousness of himself as a personality… primarily from the influence of quasi-personal archetypes.” CW 5, 388

Evariste-Vital_Luminais_-_PsychéAnima then is the ongoing source of life, the very breath of life that is generative, not only of the body, but also of what makes us human, giving us identity, personality and character, thereby shaping the way we perceive, understand and make sense of the world. The ancients understood soul as the carrier of one’s genius or daimon. This invisible otherness is an animating force connecting us to the ancestors and to the gods themselves. Personifying is then understood as the way in which we experience all relatedness. Ideas, myths, dreams, stories come through us dressed in the form of others. ‘I’ am an ongoing, living expression of soul’s relationship to all that has gone before me and all that is.

Without a recognition of personification in ourselves and the world around us, there is a loss of a mediator, the animating factor, between archetypal reality and everyday life, leaving one with both the felt experience and behavior stemming from a sense that only ‘I’ exist. All experience then becomes mine and the capacity to truly distinguish oneself from others is diminished. The depths of soul become a deep void, and while still felt deeply, when stripped of our capacity to truly know and differentiate the other, they are experienced only as what they mean to me, or through my reactivity towards them. For better or worse, to never see oneself as a being personified by archetypal influence, ‘I’ now takes on an identity, regardless of the source, with everything that comes through my experience.

“This loss is not merely a psychiatric condition; it is also a cosmology. We all live to a larger extent then we realize in the state of depersonalization. Hence the work with anima – including my writing and your reading – because it is at the same time a work on the moribund anima mundi, is s noble task.” James Hillman

Noble, because without bridging the gaps between oneself, others and the world around us, the world and others remain depersonified, suffering our neglect of their aliveness and reality. Speaking for myself, this condition seems a contagion, which when sensed at all, seems to be accepted as the human condition, leaving us powerless to do much of anything other than suffer the trail of destruction left in its wake. We may, and do, seek refuge in activism – whether religious, spiritual, political or otherwise. I include myself here, only my preferred form of activism is for soul and for the soul of the world.

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“A self-knowledge that rests within a cosmology which declares the mineral, vegetable and animal world beyond the human person to be impersonal and inanimate is not only inadequate. It is also delusional. No matter how well we may know ourselves, we remain walking, talking ghosts, cosmologically set apart from the other beings of our milieu.” James Hillman

Jung’s solution, which is sometimes forgotten or ignored by some modern Jungian thinkers, is what he called active imagination. Through active imagination, we turn our awareness to fantasy, not by indulging in fantasies themselves, but by attending to everyday thought and emotion, and coming to understand the fantasy inherent within the mundane as it reaches us through everyday personifications, voicings, particular expressions of archetypal, or universal realities we are all subject to.

“The light that gradually dawns on him [modern man] consists in his understanding that his fantasy is a real psychic process which is happening to him personally…. But if you recognize your own involvement you yourself must enter into the process with your personal reactions, just as if you were one of the fantasy figures, or rather, as if the drama being enacted before your eyes were real. It is a psychic fact that this fantasy is happening, and it is as real as you – as a psychic entity – are real. If this crucial operation is not carried out, all the changes are left to the flow of images, and you yourself remain unchanged.” CW 14, 753

For Jung, the anima is an initiator into ever greater distinctions between oneself and others, for the purpose of respecting the power and influence of the archetypes, and to increasingly become a mediator between ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ realities. While like Hillman, I question the notion of any complete integration, the necessity for a practice of mediation between what is within the purview of my awareness and the unfathomable depths of what is not, continues to make all the difference in my life by enriching the felt experience of a more expansive sense of myself, others and the world.

Admittedly, every increase of sensitivity also brings with it a greater recognition of the troubles of the world. This can be painful. What seems a lesson for me of late, is to keep in mind Jung’s admonition to stay in the tension and the suffering. And as Hillman suggested, don’t fall prey to the adoption of overarching beliefs, static goals, dogmas or conclusions about the troubles of the world. We are all still writing the story, as we continue to be written by it. By their very definition, endings always destroy something, and are perhaps where fantasy finds us most unaware.

Except where noted, all quotes from James Hillman, Anima, the Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Spring publications.

3 thoughts on “Personification

  1. Psychology, “obliges to be subjectively aware, which becomes possible only if we are willing to have an exhaustive go at the assumptions in our primary notions.” You know Deb, I have studied at two places which many see as leaders in this field of learning, and I learn more from reading people like you, who attempt to take theory and make it real.
    It is so hard for us to truly just stop and get out of the way of the work of those who we engage with. One of the things I learned from those higher institutions is that are afraid that if we dont have people follow us, that we will become irrelevant. One of the biggest struggles I had was with a professor who wanted me to literally accept a Jungian premise as almost empirically true.
    I mentioned that Jung didn’t even accept or state that all of his premises are true. He knew he was speaking through his biases.
    We can almost never see the forces discussed above in our lives until after we have had the experiences we then reflect upon.
    One of the gifts of 12 step entities is the true understanding, if the principals are truly practiced, that I have no idea what you need, but that my only real and true responsibility is to stand beslde you as you learn it.
    Love your work Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw Jim! I very much appreciate your kind words. I am happy to that my writing is clear enough to get something out of it. It’s unfortunate that Jung’s ideas aren’t just studied and enjoyed for the gifts they can bring to those who read his works. Making a formal, professional study of his works makes sense for certain therapeutic applications, but getting a degree so you can be an “expert” never guarantees that you understood a word Jung said. 🙂 Having said that, I do think there are some sincere Jungians who want to do good things for the culture. But institutions should always be aware (especially ones that are supposed to be steeped in the work of Jung) of the very human inclination to enclose themselves beyond the reach of any criticism.

      I’m sure there are many things I have missed from not getting a formal education, but honestly, I can’t take too much credit for the direction my life has taken me. My avoidance of school might even be pathological, lol, but it is such a strong part of my nature that it would be very hard for me to change. Is there a step that deals with self-acceptance? If so, that is pretty much where I am at most of the time.
      Glad to hear that you stood your ground with the professor Jim! That takes courage.

      Like

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