Next book in my Daily Book Excerpt:
We’re moving on now to what I think of as my “therapeutic” section. The next book is We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy–And the World’s Getting Worse, by James Hillman and Michael Ventura. Given to me by my friend David – it is a fantastic read. Thought-provoking, fun, maddening, obnoxious … You don’t need to agree with everything, but you do need to be willing to think deeply, and ask some basic questions. It’s great fun. James Hillman (a highly unconventional psychologist and author) and Michael Ventura (a music columnist) sit around and tape record their conversations about therapy, the self-help-ization of our culture, and life in general. They write long letters to each other, discussing everything from art, to genius, to what is the meaning of “normal”, to Freud to Jung … Hillman, a psychologist, is part of the therapy culture – but he takes a radically different view towards the whole thing and if you’ve ever read any of his books you will know what I’m talking about. I find his stuff to be extremely exciting.
I love this book, and I was grateful to my friend David for giving it to me. It’s the kind of book I would never have bought myself … but he had been talking about it to me for quite some time, really revved up about it … and once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.
The following is an excerpt from one of Hillman’s letters to Ventura. One of the problems that Hillman has with the therapy culture is that it strives to make us all the same, to smooth things out, to get rid of the “mess”. His point in the following excerpt is that “normalcy” is highly over-rated. Most people of genius are weirdos. The cult of therapy assumes that if someone is “different”, then there are deep-seated issues that need to be worked on, delved into. Hillman can’t stand that attitude. He loves people of genius, people who push the boundaries, people who achieve greatness. None of these people could have achieved what they did if the things in them that were different and unconventional had been snuffed out by therapy.
(When Hillman talks about “acorn” – he means possibility. The acorn of adulthood that resides in an infant child. The oak tree is the possibility (the entellechy – love that word) of the acorn.)
EXCERPT FROM We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy–And the World’s Getting Worse, by James Hillman and Michael Ventura.
Do you know how many extraordinary people were runaways, school dropouts, hated school, could not fit in? My source for this data [is] (Goertzel and Goertzel, Cradle of Eminence) … Cezanne was rejected from the Beaux Arts academy. Grieg at age thirteen was completing his opus one (“Variations on a German Melody”) in a school classroom; his teacher shook him to put a stop to it. Proust’s teachers thought his compositions disorganized. Zola got a zero in literature at his high school and also failed rhetoric. Eugene O’Neill, Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all had failures in college. Edison says, “I was always at the foot of the class.” And Einstein was considered dull by his teachers. As for Picasso, my data says he was taken out of school at age ten because “he stubbornly refused to do anything but paint.”
I’m saying, among twenty other things, that we have to take a new look not only at childhood, but at psychopathology too. Did you know that when Lindbergh was a boy he had tremendous nightmares about falling from a high place, and he even tried to meet this fear by jumping from a tree? Did his interior imagination already know that he had to fly over the Atlantic? The Mexican social revolutionary painter Diego Rivera, at the age of six, mounted the pulpit in his local church and gave such a violent anticlerical speech that the priest fled and the congregation was frightened. Salvador Dali was a real weirdo child: he stomped a classmate’s violin, kicked his sister’s head as if it were a football, and — get this — bit into a rotting bat. By adolescence he was considered so strange that he was pelted with stones going to the movies. (All this good stuff from the Goertzels.) Isn’t Dali’s behavior “surrealism” in acorn? For another sort of kinkiness, take Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. At his school he was overeager, “ready to assume a father-role, to keep his fellow students amused, to be useful to his teachers,” though his classmates thought him odd. He was in all the committees, too. Wasn’t he already a Boy Scout before there were Boy Scouts?
These exceptional people reveal the thesis of looking at life backwards because exceptional people can’t keep from letting it all show. I’ve picked peculiar behaviors rather than the usual examples of early talent — Mozart, Yehudi Menuhin, Marie Curie. Since the peculiar genius can appear in the guise of dysfunctional behavior, we have to pay attention and revise our thinking about children and their pathology in terms of the nascent possibilities exemplified in these biographies of eminence.
You see, we need biographies of the Great to understand the rest of us. Psychology starts the wrong way around. It plots statistical norms, and what deviates are deviants. I follow Corbin. I want to start from the top down, because to start the regular way, to extrapolate from the usual to the unusual, doesn’t account for the remarkable determining force of the acorn. We cannot grasp Leonardo da Vinci by examining his distorted relationship with his mother, as Freud tried. Thousands of us, millions and millions of us, have had every sort of mother trouble, but there is only one Leonardo. And Leonardo’s exceptionality may prove better images, a better, more interesting approach to my mother troubles than understanding mother troubles will help grasp Leonardo.