Champion of the soul who studied at Trinity was one of psychology's most radical critics, writes Loren Duffy
Published 06/11/2011 | 05:00
JAMES Hillman, one of the most important radical critics and original thinkers of contemporary culture, has died at the age of 85.
He was a renegade psychologist, prolific writer and international lecturer and his theories about the psyche helped revitalise the ideas of CG Jung. To the end, he worked with characteristic intense commitment to complete several projects, despite suffering bone cancer. Eleven volumes of his collected works, the Uniform Edition, are due to be released presently, and a biography, The Life and Ideas of James Hillman by Dick Russell, will be released next year.
Hillman studied English literature at the Sorbonne in Paris, and he also studied at Trinity College, from which he graduated with a First Class Honours degree in mental and moral science in 1950. He began his career as associate editor for Envoy: An Irish Review of Literature and Art in Dublin from 1949 to 1951.
Following his time in Ireland, he moved to Switzerland where he graduated summa cum laude with a PhD from the University of Zurich and became the first director of studies at the Jung Institute in 1959. After travelling and lecturing at several universities, including Yale, Harvard and Princeton, he became graduate dean at the University of Dallas, and co-founded the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture in 1978.
As a writer, Hillman authored 21 books including the 1975 Pulitzer Prize-nominated Re-Visioning Psychology. He believed that psychology's narrow focus on pathology served only to amplify feelings of anxiety and depression. In his We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse, Hillman blamed a lot of the social and environmental problems in our world on the fact that people in therapy treat their pain as a symptom of personal pathology rather than as a call to political action to bring about the necessary change.
In the late Eighties, Hillman and two friends, the American poet Robert Bly and the Irish-American mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade, led workshops exploring male archetypes in fairy tales, mythology, and poetry.
In 1996, he became a best-selling author when The Soul's Code reached The New York Times bestseller list, achieving popular recognition and even an appearance on Oprah. He was awarded the 2001 Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic as the originator of Archetypal Psychology.
Hillman argued that the best clues for understanding the human mind were rooted not in psychology, but in the aesthetic imagination, best accessed in literature, art, and mythological texts. It was that critical sense towards psychology, the reworking of what was already there rather than any attempt to set up a whole new set of principles, which really set him apart.
He felt deeply that there "is, after all, something quite beautiful about a life. But you would not think so from reading psychology books". In a discipline fascinated by the nature vs nurture debate, he railed against the absence of the psyche or "soul," and championed its reinstatement.
Hillman returned to Ireland several times and maintained many friendships here over the years. The Pacifica Graduate Institute houses Hillman's original papers dating back to his Trinity days, leaving behind a lasting legacy of his soulful method and his original mind.
James Hillman is survived by his artist wife, Margot McLean-Hillman, and by his three daughters and son from his first marriage.