An interview with James Hollis in regards to his four class course.
James Hollis quotes Jung: “Most of us walk in shoes that are too small for us.” This is a pre-eminent theme in Hollis’s books. James Hollis was a Professor in the Humanities and a prolific writer of 14 books over the last 20 years. In an interview with him he describes his career shift in midlife when he studied Analytical Psychology in Zurich and embarked on his own personal analysis. “Writing” Hollis said “is probably the time when I feel most at one with myself”. He thinks of himself primarily as a teacher, adding that, in archetypal terms, “I think I have been a disciple of Hermes who is the god of in-betweens and the messenger of invisible things.”
In a groundbreaking book “Under Saturn’s Shadow”, he speaks to the wounding of men whose chief value of success or failure has revolved around competition and productivity, measured by the standards of their lives. ”The significant revolution is that men need to look to the world within often characterized by the self-shaming imposed on men” in a patriarchal culture. This results in a sense of isolation and self-alienation. “If your connectivity to your inner life is severed, then where is the centre of your life, your guiding energy, where is the relationship to the Self, to use Jung’s terms?”
I asked Hollis about the dilemmas facing relationship between couples today. If, as he says, women have taken up the task of examining the presuppositions and limitations that govern their lives and men still need to do this, he intimates that women have developed further than men. I in part accept that but I also argued that women have some way to go in examining their more subtle unconscious will to power that underlies their own ambivalence and fear of the masculine. Hollis suggests that there is a profound difference between power and actually feeling empowered. If either the woman or the man is insufficiently feeling their legitimacy as a person then the power goes underground.
We explored marriage and commitment that seems to be evolving in different ways in modern times. Is marriage an archetype and will it sustain itself in its present form? An ultimate comment Hollis made on the subject of the institution of marriage is this: “I would want to make a distinction between the legality of an agreement and the depth of psychological commitment because when you are talking about the latter, it’s a commitment not only to things like fidelity and so forth, but to be committed to work things through in a means that is amenable to both parties and knowing that at times that is going to require sacrifice, compromise, forgiveness and grace. It sounds easy but it is not. So to me the question is ‘What is the capacity of that person entering such a relationship to really address those kinds of questions when things get difficult as inevitably they will?’ The bad side of the institution is that it often keeps people captive. So we can’t say the institution itself is good or bad, we have to say what it does to the people inside, does it support growth and development?” If marriage does not serve individuation it has to change or be abolished as author Guggenbuhl-Craig implies. That is a quite different criterion! But as humans we fear change and Hollis quotes W.H. Auden as saying “We would rather be ruined than change! “ Yet Hollis also makes a profound statement: “Relationship is sacred as an arena for enlargement of soul”. So in his course on Jung Platform in cooperation with SAAJA I think he will provide much food for reflection.
Written by Sheila Cowburn
Jungian Analyst, Member of South African Association of Jungian Analysts (SAAJA) and International Association of Analytical Psychology (IAAP)
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