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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 February 2014
James Hillman is probably the most significant thinker to have emerged from the Jungian tradition. In some ways, perhaps, he even transcended it, to form his own version called archetypal psychology, though like Jung he also refused to endorse a "school" of psychology as such.

The current volume contains a number of essays on the matter of the puer aeternis which is literally the eternal boy, though Hillman expressly states this archetype is one that can affect women, so I will refer to it as child in this review. Marie-Louise von Franz, another major thinker in the Jungian tradition, has also written a significant volume on this matter (The Problem of the Puer Aeternus (Studies in Jungian psychology by Jungian analysts)) which is also sometimes also known a "Peter Pan" syndrome, the problem of people who are unable to grow up.

Hillman however has another take on this. The child is not so much a problem as a solution. The child who experiments and expands boundaries for us. In a later essay he points out one perhaps should not look at such a child in relation to the mother and how it suckles. More important is the milk it takes to transform itself into life. However, he also suggests just as important as the child is another figure who it has to be seen in relation to, the senex, or the elder. The senex is the holder of limits, conventions, the one that has experienced woundings and who may be advising caution to the child as it knows that death is also a possibility. It is therefore the relationship between these two images that are important to consider.

The essays in this volume centre around the interactions of these two figures. But also on the two as forms of consciousness in their own right, on the nature of soul and spirit, nostalgia, opportunity and woundings. Many of the essays can be read individually on their own. The one I particularly enjoyed is one on the experience of betrayal which Hillman looks at on all levels: our feelings of being betrayed by parents, friends, as well as by nature and ourselves, and how we can recover from them.

The introduction suggests that these are a companion piece to Hillman's work RE-Visioning Psychology. Possibly, but this volume may be easier to follow than the other book as it is in more manageable pieces. It is also perhaps less complex because Hillman's erudition (like Jung's) is sometimes overwhelming. It might be better to read some of Hillman's more populist works like The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling or We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse first to acquaint themselves with his style. That said "Senex & Puer" is not too hard to follow and is essential reading in the opus of this great thinker.
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on 11 June 2014
James Hillman is one of the formost Jungiansand here he is covering the final sfages of life.
It is not an easy read but with true grit a great deal of Hillman's lifetimes experience rubs off with full ful maturity.
It is worth a hundred self help books but as I say it ain't an easy book to read and he also covers gender psycholgical growth of Anima and Animus into the fully grown old person that has hopefully developed into a mature wise elder of the comunity.
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on 13 June 2014
Hillman's book "Senex & Puer" introduces a new archetype, namely the senex-puer. As usual, he has no facts to build on, neither dreams nor clinical examples, or the ideas of other authors. It is a theoretical edifice erected upon the clouds, in typical puer style. Hillman rejects scientific notions such as "facts". Nor does he regard it necessary to build on the bedrock of older theories.

He says that the senex is the "root of ego-formation", creating the archetypal ground of the ego, which is the "senex-et-puer". Whereas positive attitudes and behavior reflect its unity, negative attitudes arise from the splitting of this archetype into two archetypes, namely senex and puer.

Thus, maintaining the unity of the archetype is equal to maintaining the wholeness of the ego, because senex-puer is constitutive of the ego. Unity is preserved by short-cutting the ego by means of an endless monologue, or rather, dialogue between the constituent parts of the archetype:

"In answering one's own question one is puer-et-senex. In questioning one's own answer one is senex-et-puer. The two faces turned towards each other in dialogue. This unending dialogue with oneself and between oneself and the world is that which holds one in meaning [...] Any solution originating from the usual mind would be one-sided; it would be a solution imposed by either the senex or puer components of the ego. Thus the ego must first undergo an archetypal therapy of its split root" (Kindle loc. 1001-1028).

After having thus replaced traditional psychological theory with an edifice predicated on his own neurotic constitution, he goes on to repudiate "the psychologist's maxim of integrating the shadow." Instead, the shadow must be allowed to sink down and pollute other archetypes ("syzygic tandems"), such as Hades, Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Dionysus: "It is within these tandems that shadow can be integrated, not by us, but into them" (Kindle loc. 1818-1819). This, of course, flies in the face of Jungian theory.

Since the shadow is no longer a problem for the ego, he makes the conclusion that one must allow free rein to puer-inspired opportunism and lying:

"In puer consciousness the tendency to lie, to do the devious, to cut out and around the system, would seem a moral problem. Analysts consider the opportunism to belong to the shadow and to result from a weak ego that cannot take a stand and face consequences (as a hero should). But if opportunism has archetypal substrate, having archetypal necessity within the puer structure, then we must re-assess the psychological function of puer deviousness and opportunistic duplicity independently of our preconceptions of right and wrong [...]
Now we can return to opportunism from another vantage point. It manifests not merely the chancy provisionality of puer existence. Opportunism is a way of living the world, creating a Mercurial cosmos.
[...]
The puer spirit is the voice of the moment and the puer spirit seizes the situation in an instant. The ethics are situationalist. A situationalist ethic permits one to move in accordance with a constellation as it is (not as it should be), so that for puer consciousness no situation ever becomes "wrong" or "impossible." There is always a way, or way out. Every human complexity and every psychological complex, perceived from the puer perspective, is a situation serving its own purposes. There is intentionality in all psychic life, when perceived in terms of the puer. Every situation is always headed somewhere" (Kindle loc. 1788-1838).

How can I evaluate Hillman's book "Senex & Puer"? He has complicated his puer-inspired theory, but it is essentially the same idea of elevating a neurotic personality structure as an ideal for psychic health. According to Jungian psychology, when the ego identifies with an archetype it has neurotic or psychotic consequences. It matters not whether it's the anima, self, or the "senex-puer". It is evident that it is a neurotic solution, since Hillman regresses in the book and starts advocating puerile ways of relating to the world: one should lie and be opportunistic. The noble character of the hero is repudiated. The hero has no value anymore, because it is the harbinger of new consciousness. Instead, the unconscious must be shut out by way of an endless neurotic
monologue.

The responsibility to integrate the shadow (the dark aspects of personality) is also renounced. But the shadow does not belong in the "syzygic tandems". They do not even exist as archetypes proper. It is a ludicrous notion, by the way. Such sophistic notions have a comical effect. I'm amazed that people are prepared to swallow them. There are no attempts to make his theory scientifically believable, only a lot of "dialogue between puer and senex". He gives no evidence to the existence of the senex-puer archetype. If the senex-puer is constitutive of the ego, why don't I experience it? And why haven't other theorists discovered this foundation of ego-consciousness? I am appalled, because the book is immoral, illogical, and full of ad hoc propositions that we are supposed to take at face value.

M. Winther
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