Hillman Alone in Pursuit of the Imagination: Golden Calf Psychology

The following article by Michael Vannoy Adams is a paper presented at the "Psyche and Imagination" conference of the International Association for Jungian Studies at the University of Greenwich, London, July 8, 2006.

For Jung, psyche and imagination are not two different things; they are one and the same thing. "Every psychic process," Jung says, "is an image and an imagining" (CW 11: 544, par. 889). He says that "the psyche consists essentially of images" (CW 8: 325, par. 618) and that "image is psyche" (CW 13: 50, par. 75). From this perspective, the title of the 2006 conference of the International Association for Jungian Studies should be not "Psyche and Imagination" but "Psyche as Imagination." In this respect, it is especially appropriate to celebrate the 80th birthday of James Hillman and to ask why he matters — for, more than any other Jungian after Jung, Hillman emphasizes the imagination.

When I began to imagine what I might say in regard to the question why Hillman matters, a passage from Memories, Dreams, Reflections occurred to me. It is the passage in which Jung says: "In retrospect I can say that I alone logically pursued the two problems which most interested Freud: the problem of 'archaic vestiges,' and that of sexuality" (1963: 168). I would say that James Hillman has alone logically pursued the problem that most interested Jung: the problem of the imagination.

Imagine my surprise when a few days later, as I was re-reading Wolfgang Giegerich's criticism of Hillman's imaginal psychology in The Soul's Logical Life, I read this passage:

HILLMAN is probably the only one who was responsive to what was germinally inherent in the Jungian project. JUNG had said that he had been the only one who logically pursued the two problems that most interested FREUD. In the same way we can say that HILLMAN logically developed what JUNG had been most interested in. (1999: 104).

When I had first read The Soul's Logical Life, I had marked this passage in pencil in the margin. There was, therefore, no doubt that the passage had previously impressed me. Was this a case of cryptomnesia? Or do Giegerich and I merely imagine Hillman in the same way? Does it matter? Does Hillman matter? If so, why?

Giegerich does not say that what most interested Jung was the imagination and that it is Hillman alone who has logically pursued that interest. Perhaps because what most interests Giegerich and what he so logically pursues is the soul, he says that what Hillman pursues is also the soul. In Re-Visioning Psychology, Hillman does say that what interests him is "a psychology of soul," but he immediately also says that what he bases that project on is "a psychology of image" (1975: xi). The very basis of Hillmanian psychology is the imagination.

Hillman might agree with me that the imagination was the problem that most interested Jung, but he would not, I imagine, agree with me that he alone has pursued that problem. He would probably say that the imagination has been a pursuit of many others. Whether or not Hillman alone has pursued the imagination, I would argue that had he not pursued it as he has, contemporary Jungian Studies would be even more only "Jung Studies" than it still is.

What would Jungian Studies be without Hillman? What if Hillman had never existed? Would Jungians have had to invent him? Would Jungians have had to imagine him? Jung may have said: "Thank God I am Jung and not a Jungian." I would reverse that and say: "Thank God I am a Jungian and not Jung." Or, I might say: "Thank God I am a Hillmanian." Or, I might ask: "Is it imaginable that there might eventually be an International Association for Hillmanian Studies?"

Hillman denies that he has founded a "school" of psychology. He insists that he has merely emphasized a certain "direction" in Jungian psychology (Adams 1997: 103). What direction is that? Post-Jungian psychology has been "taken seriously over the last thirty years," especially in Britain, Christopher Hauke says, "largely due to the work of the American Jungian analyst James Hillman" (2000: 8). Hillman may or may not be "post-Jungian," but he is most definitely "post-Jung." He is one — and by far the most original — of the first generation of Jungians after Jung. Hillman was at the Jung Institute in Zurich while Jung was still alive, but he was not there with Jung in any intimate way. "In fact, it's funny to say, but I didn't even try to see Jung, even when I could have," Hillman says. "I saw him at lectures or parties in the fifties, and sometimes met with him about Institute matters, but there were four years when I had the opportunity to go there and I never did" (1983: 102-3). If Hillman did not go there, where did he go? He went in the direction of the imagination.

I first heard the name "James Hillman" in London a quarter of a century ago from the poet and Blake scholar Kathleen Raine, while she served me tea and scones and jam and cream. Raine said to me that when I returned to America, I should meet Hillman. Blake says: "The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself" (1976: 522). Raine advised me to meet Hillman because he, too, regards the imagination not as a mere state but as the very existential basis of humanity.

In "The Importance of Being Blasphemous," the last chapter of my most recent book, The Fantasy Principle: Psychoanalysis of the Imagination (Adams 2004), I declare that I am a Jungian atheist. As I say, I prefer reprofanation over resacralization. One evening this winter, however, my 16-year-old daughter said to me: "Dad, I know who your god is." I asked, quizzically: "Who is that?" She replied: "James Hillman."

A month before, Hillman had spoken at the colloquium of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, the new Jungian training program in New York City, and I had taken several photographs of him on that occasion. Hillman hates photographs, especially of him. He said to me: "You take too many photographs." I said: "It's funny that someone who loves images so much hates photographs so much." He said: "Photographs aren't images." I printed and framed two of the photographs. It was those photographs that prompted my daughter to say that Hillman is my god.

Photo of James Hillman Photo of James Hillman

I feel about Hillman in a way that I do not feel about Jung or any other Jungian. I do not worship Hillman, but I do really like him. Why do I like Hillman so much? I like him because I feel that he is like me. I feel akin to Hillman. He feels to me like kinfolk. I feel what Jung calls "kinship libido" between Hillman and me. In Inter Views, Hillman says that he feels "a kinship with people" who "are trying to re-vision things" (1983: 28). That is exactly how I feel about Hillman. Over the years, Hillman has been to me not a god but a kindred spirit — and, like a spirit, he has inspired me. Like no other Jungian, he has been an inspiration to me. I imagine myself in the spirit of Hillman. Spirit means breath, and Hillman has been for me a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of Jung, Jung, Jung, and more Jung.

At the "Festival of Archetypal Psychology in Honor of James Hillman" at Notre Dame University in 1992, I delivered a presentation entitled "My Imaginal Hillman." Hillman has been an image for me. What image is that? It is the image of the very possibility of my being a Jungian and, at the same time, not being one — that is, the very possibility of my being myself. Paul Kugler once asked me, "Michael, when are you going to stop saying 'the Jungians' and start saying 'we Jungians?'" Similarly, Hillman admits that "'the Jungians' are one monstrous complex for me." He says: "I am one of them and so I can't bear them — except for some good personal friends" (1983: 36). What is so unbearable to Hillman about "the Jungians" is that they repeat Jung, over and over again, in a rote, uncritical, uncreative way. If there is a "Jung cult," it is not only a cult of personality but also a cult of theory and practice. The result is not imagination — or individuation — but merely monotonous imitation of Jung by mediocrities, so that, for them, Jungian Studies is only "Jung Studies."

David Tacey has published a critical appreciation of Hillman — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he has published an appreciative criticism of Hillman, for even as he appreciates Hillman, he roundly criticizes him. In "Twisting and Turning with James Hillman," Tacey identifies me as one of "various academics" who have "rallied to Hillman's support" (1998: 220). I am an academic — I have been a faculty member at various universities and colleges for 30 years. I would not say, however, that I have supported Hillman. Rather, I would say that Hillman's imagination has supported my imagination. Happily for me, Hillman's interest in the imagination just happened to coincide with my interest in it: a happy happenstance.

In answer to the question why Hillman matters, I propose to engage just one of the issues that Tacey addresses. Hillman hardly ever mentions the Self. When Andrew Samuels discusses Hillman in Jung and the Post-Jungians, he notes how "little he says about the self" (1985: 107). For example, in Re-Visioning Psychology, there is no entry in the index for "Self." When Hillman dispensed with the Self, Tacey says, "he may not have known what he was doing" (1998: 230). I would argue that Hillman knew exactly what he was doing. What he knew was that, in order to re-vision conservative, conventional Jungian psychology, he had to rebut what he calls "the dogma of self domination" (1981: 136). The Self has dogmatically dominated Jungian psychology, and Hillman knew very well that he had to repudiate it.

One reason why Hillman considers the Self dispensable is that he advocates an imaginal psychology rather than a conceptual psychology. The Self is a concept, not an image. Jung acknowledges that "the self is no more than a psychological concept" (CW 7: 238, par. 399). Similarly, when Hillman discusses the ego and the Self, he says that they are both "abstract concepts" and "not images" (1983: 83). For Hillman, concepts are abstract generalizations, in contrast to images, which are concrete particularizations. Images, he notes, are much more specific than concepts. Hillman espouses a psychology of the imagination that is a psychology of specificity.

Another reason why Hillman considers the Self dispensable is that it is not just any concept. In Jungian psychology, the Self is the "concept of concepts." The Self is the Concept with a capital "C." It is God with a capital "G." It is Yahweh with a capital "Y." Jung says that "in the place of a jealous God" Freud substituted sexuality, which then assumed "the role of a deus absconditus, a hidden or concealed god." According to Jung, however, "the psychological qualities of the two rationally commensurable opposites — Yahweh and sexuality — remained the same" — only the name was different (1963: 151). Similarly, in the place of God Jung substitutes the Self, which is just as jealous as Yahweh. Just as for Freud sexuality is God, for Jung the Self is God by another name. When Freud discusses God, he remarks that "no image must be made of him" (SE 23: 18). Freud emphasizes "the sublime abstraction" of this stricture. The second of the Ten Commandments, Freud notes, is a prohibition "against making an image of any living or imagined creature" (SE 23: 19). The second commandment states: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Exodus 20: 4). This comprehensive prohibition, which represses concrete images, is so important, Freud says, because it sublimates God as "an abstract idea" — that is, an abstract concept (SE 23: 113). Jungian psychology commits a similar sublimation and repression. The Self is sublime, and it is repressive. Prominent among the psychological qualities that the Self, as a concept, shares with Yahweh is what I would call jealousy of images. From this perspective, images are idolatrous, and the Self, as a concept, is iconoclastic.

Yet another reason why Hillman considers the Self dispensable is that it reduces multiplicity to unity. Hillman repudiates the notion of the psyche "as ultimately a unity of self" (1975: 41). In the controversy over the One and the Many, Jungian psychology is a theology. It is, as Hillman says, a "monotheism" (1981). It is a monistic theology rather than the pluralistic psychology that first Hillman and then, later, Samuels advocate (1989). "Monism, as a general psychological tendency," Jung says, endeavors to establish "one function or the other as the supreme psychological principle." Jung criticizes "psychological monism, or rather monotheism," as simple but defective, for it entails "exclusion of the diversity and rich reality of life and the world" and admits "no real possibility of human development" (CW 7: 288, par. 482). As a result, Jung says, pluralism must ultimately supersede monism. He says that eventually psychology "will have to recognize a plurality of principles and accommodate itself to them" (CW 7: 288-9, par. 483). In theory and practice, however, Jung establishes one function, the Self, as the supreme psychological principle, and he explicitly correlates it "with monotheism" (CW 9,2: 268, par. 427). In contrast, when Hillman re-visions Jungian psychology, he recognizes a plurality of principles. He espouses a psychology that values what he calls "the plurality of individual differences." He says that "precisely these differences are what we wish to keep in mind." What Hillman proposes is a psychology of "differentiation" (1981: 124). It is a psychology that multiplies rather than unifies, but Hillman does not just privilege the many over the one. He privileges, as he says, "the many and the different" over "the one and the same" (1981: 114). As I have previously noted, Gregory Bateson and Jacques Derrida emphasize "the decisive importance of 'difference'" (Adams 1991: 225) — and so does Hillman. Hillman adopts what I call a differential position in regard to images. Different images and the differences among them are what interest him. Rather than reduce the many and different images to one and the same concept, the Self — a conceptual unity — Hillman radically affirms imaginal multiplicity and alterity.

Tacey says that Hillman offers "the clinical analyst little or nothing to work with" (1998: 218). On the contrary, Hillman offers the analyst everything to work with, and that is the spontaneous, autonomous multiplication and alteration of emergent images. What Hillman offers the analyst is what the psyche as imagination offers — images, images, and more images. In this respect, imaginal psychology is what I might call golden calf psychology, and, as such, it is intrinsically idolatrous. As Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit note, the golden calf is "the epitome of idolatry in the Bible" (1992: 3). While Moses receives the Ten Commandments from Yahweh on Mount Sinai, Aaron melts the golden earrings of the wives, sons, and daughters of the Israelites and, "with a graving tool," makes a graven image, "a molten calf" (Exodus 32: 4). The Israelites then play and dance. When Moses returns, he angrily breaks the two tablets on which the finger of Yahweh has written the Ten Commandments. Then he burns the golden calf in fire, grinds it to powder, strews it on water, and makes the Israelites drink it. When Yahweh offers the convenant of the Promised Land to the Chosen People, he says that he will displace the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites but that the Israelites must "break their images" (Exodus 34: 13), for Yahweh is a jealous God. In fact, the very name of Yahweh is "Jealous," with a capital "J" (Exodus 34: 14). Jungian psychology, in which the Self is just Yahweh by another name, an iconoclastic concept, also jealously breaks images, which it regards as idolatrous. From the perspective of conservative, conventional Jungian psychology, Hillman is an idolator, not a Moses of the Self but an Aaron of images. He plays with and dances around the golden calves that the psyche continuously graves. Ultimately, Hillman matters because images matter — images that are concrete, particular, multiple, and different.


Adams, M.V. (1991) "My Siegfried Problem — and Ours: Jungians, Freudians, Anti-Semitism, and the Psychology of Knowledge," in A. Maidenbaum and S.A. Martin (eds.), Lingering Shadows: Jungians, Freudians, and Anti-Semitism, Boston and London: Shambhala, pp. 241- 59.

Adams, M.V. (1997) "The Archetypal School," in P. Young-Eisendrath and T. Dawson (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Jung, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 101-18.

Adams, M.V. (2004) The Fantasy Principle: Psychoanalysis of the Imagination, Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Blake, W. (1976) Complete Writings, ed. G. Keynes, London: Oxford University Press.

Freud, S. All references are to the Standard Edition (SE), by volume and page number.

Giegerich, W. (1999) The Soul's Logical Life: Towards a Rigorous Notion of Psychology, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Halbertal, M., and Margalit, A. (1992) Idolatry, Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press.

Hauke, C. (2000) Jung and the Postmodern: The Interpretation of Realities, London and Philadelphia: Routledge.

Hillman, J. (1975) Re-Visioning Psychology, New York: Harper & Row.

Hillman, J. (1981) "Psychology: Monotheistic or Polytheistic," in D.L. Miller, The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses, Dallas: Spring Publications, pp. 109-42.

Hillman, J., with Pozzo, L. (1983) Inter Views: Conversations with Laura Pozzo on Psychotherapy, Biography, Love, Soul, Dreams, Work, Imagination, and the State of the Culture, New York: Harper & Row.

Jung, C.G. Except as below, all references are to the Collected Works (CW) by volume, page number, and paragraph.

Jung, C.G. (1963) Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed. A. Jaffe, trans. R. and C. Winston, New York: Pantheon.

Samuels, A. (1985) Jung and the Post-Jungians, London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Samuels, A. (1989) The Plural Psyche: Personality, Morality and the Father, London, Boston, Melbourne, and Henley: Routledge.

Tacey, D. (1998) "Twisting and Turning with James Hillman: From Anima to World Soul, from Academia to Pop," in A. Casement (ed.), Post-Jungians Today: Key Papers in Contemporary Analytical Psychology, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 215-34.