Interview by Pythia Peay
Hillman and Peay talk about American myths and the dynamics of contemporary society. As usually while talking about social issue Hillman challenges myths and ways of approaching contemporary matters. Reading the interview from the European point of view this doesn’t seem to be reserved only for the American collective psyche – the feeling of exceptionalism, the crisis of the big religions, compulsory looking for a new solution, process, figures that bring change seem to be so much true for the European as for American collective process. Reminding the interview to our readers we would like to check how it reads after several years, in the times of the new cultural processes in Europe, especially with increased anxiety of immigrants and refugees.
From the interview:
Pythia: So people are feeling this shift, sensing that things aren’t going to be the same anymore — and this fear is making this whole process worse?
Hillman: Definitely. We see this reflected in the fear of immigrants and of our borders being transgressed; we’re afraid of running out of all the things we’re dependent on; of losing power, and our military bases all over the world; of our educational levels falling and of America being the best and the strongest. But the point is — it’s already collapsed, it’s over with. And that’s what’s interesting!
Pythia: (…) People don’t want to question American exceptionalism, because if America isn’t exceptional, then what is it, and what am I?
Hillman: The capacity for people to kid themselves is huge. Living on illusions or delusions, and the re-establishing of these illusions or delusions requires a big effort to keep them from being seen through. But a very old idea is at work behind our current state of affairs: enantiodromia, or the Greek notion of things turning into their opposite.
It’s said, for instance, that we’re in a change of age. And as the ages change, those old things that seemed to be great virtues suddenly become vices. The 2000 years that preceded this was the great expansion of the West, and the age of the great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Yet these three salvational prophecies with their tremendous aesthetic accomplishments and enormous civilizing effects have turned into monsters in their self-absorption with their righteousness and orthodoxies. They lack insight; all three claim to be „the one.”
Pythia: Still, the death of the old always implies that something new is coming.
Hillman (in an exasperated tone): This looking for the „new” is an American vice! We always want to see what’s coming next — we’re addicted to the future! Futurism is another American myth: whether Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan or Obama, American presidents all come into office with a new program, and the conviction that the country is going to be better than ever. But I think you have to hasten the decay. The classic view is always to look back, and to watch and help the dying.
James Hillman was a psychologist, scholar, international lecturer, pioneer psychologist, and the author of more than twenty books. Hillman held teaching positions at Yale University, the University of Chicago, Syracuse University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Dallas, where he cofounded the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.