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Book Review: ‘The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume One’ by Dick Russell

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James HillmanConsidered to be the world’s foremost post-Jungian thinker, American-born James Hillman is author of The Soul’s Code (pub. 1997). In Volume One of an extensive biography, author Dick Russell uncovers the path that led to Hillman’s long career as a Jungian psychologist.

The Life and Ideas of James Hillman, Volume One: The Making of a Psychologist, offers an expansive look at the life of this post-Jungian thinker. Born in New Jersey, Hillman made travel a way of life. Along the many paths he took, while exploring the world and possible careers, he arrived in Zurich, Switzerland just as The Jung Institute was getting started.

After the book traverses his early years, once Hillman became a student at the Institute in 1953, we are treated to a fascinating story of psychology practice at the time. After taking university level courses and graduating from the Institute, Hillman was called “the most brilliant graduate in the Institute’s eleven year history.”

Hillman’s life becomes especially interesting when he develops an awareness that he was present at the time when psychology returned to its Greek roots. Artists and thinkers such as Stravinsky, Picasso, Heidegger, Joyce, and Freud were part of a revival of classical Greek scholarship, which accepted the idea of archetypes, i.e., gods and goddesses within people. Author Russell suggests it may be because such a return “offers a way of coping when our centers cannot hold and things fall apart. The return to Greece is a psychological response to the challenge of breakdown.

Hillman moved with great interest into dream analysis and active imagination as dialogue, turning to books and scholarship on symbol history in order to better understand the mysteries of the subconscious.pan>

Throughout his early adult Hillman was personally drawn to his dreams. He had an unusual experience, a vision, once on a trip to the Himalayas and hoped to understand the meaning of such visions in himself and in others. As Hillman came to realize he did not have the skills to fully understand the mind/soul experience, he came to understand the need to return to Greek studies: “Greece persists as an inscape rather than a landscape, a metaphor for the imaginal realm in which the archetypes as Gods have been placed.”

In a private meeting with Jung, as Hillman was completing his thesis, the two dealt with the reality of imagery and emotional charges. This then became his ‘brand,’full of comparisons of modern models of theory forming with ancient ones.” Even as recently as 1971, Hillman was focused on “spirit fantasies” and ESP research, in an effort to fully understand archetypes. On the basis of his thesis, he graduated summa cum laude, an unusual designation for a non-Swiss at the Institute.

At age 33, in 1959, Hillman was working in a new position at the Jung Institute as Director of Studies, seeing patients in private practice, while developing research and programs as well as traveling to raise funds for the Institute.

Dick Russell plans subsequent volumes exploring and explaining the life of James Hillman, who is often called one of the most brilliant psychologists of the 20th century. Those who have read Hillman’s works, including Re-Visioning Psychology and The Soul’s Code are sure to enjoy this story of his early years, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with Hillman.

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