James Hillman died two years ago today. As a culture, we have yet to appreciate the depth and range of his thought, but without any doubt, that will come. I’m going to post a brief interview with him that I just discovered.
Toward the end of his life, Hillman wrote extensively on character, in The Soul’s Code, 1996, and The Force of Character, 1999. In this 1999 interview on the Legacy of Aging, he said true character emerges most clearly in maturity.
When our culture attempts to mask the process, through plastic surgery and other means, we deprive ourselves, and especially the young, of the authenticity of elders, people who simply are what they are. “As Hemingway said, ‘Life breaks everyone,’ and if we can’t see those breaks, we’re living in a false world.”
Hillman says the physical deterioration of age is real and can be difficult, but he believes it is purposeful, “no accident,” and growing old is not a disease to be cured or quarantined. Using the metaphor of waking up more frequently at night, he speaks of “waking up to the night.” As physical eyesight grows dim, the eyes of the soul open.
People who study Hillman’s work will also want to read this memorial piece that Thomas Moore wrote for the Huffington Post. Moore, a friend who corresponded with Hillman for decades, offers a wonderful summary of one of the key themes of his work:
“I was taken by [Hillman’s] loyalty to Jung expressed through his original and fresh re-working of key ideas. He calmly removed unnecessary gender issues from Jung’s ideas of the anima and soul. He advocated a view of the person as made up of multiple, dynamic faces that should be kept in tension rather than “integrated” into some sentimental notion of wholeness.”
Hillman spent his long life defending such values as soul, authenticity, and imagination. I could find any number of worthwhile posts about his life and work, but these are enough for now. They’re enough to allow us to pause and remember the life and work of an exceptional man.