Saturday, August 14, 2010

Interest is More Importan Than Hope

I once heard James Hillman say in a lecture that “interest is more important than hope.” Doctor Hillman elaborated further on this comment in an interview with Cliff Bostock.

Bostock: You don't like the word "hope" much.

Hillman: Hope is an evil. It was the one evil left in the box when Pandora snapped the lid back shut. Hope is about the unknown future. It's like the promise of salvation in the afterlife.

Bostock: So you're a pessimist?

Hillman: Not in the least. In fact, I think I'm quite the optimist. I just think we should pay attention to what is here right now. It's this hope thing that has gotten the planet into such a mess. If we paid attention to what was true right now, instead of what we hoped would be true in the future, the world would look very different. ... I'm thinking about something I said at the lectures I gave on aging last week. You experience this thing growing old of having your prostate enlarge and you have to get up in the middle of the night several times to go to the bathroom. Well, you can call this hopeless or you can say you "hope" it will get better. What I prefer to say is that in old age, I "wake up to the night." Do you see? This is a metaphorical reading of it. I think it's optimistic. It takes care of the problem and gives my experience meaning. But it's not a hopeful position. (Paradigms 1998).[i]

In this paper I will explore Hillman's notion of psychologizing or "seeing through"[ii] events and turning them into meaningful experiences, specifically by contrasting the idea of hope with the idea of interest.


The word hope comes from the Old English word hopian, meaning to "wish, expect or look forward to something.” Some linguists think that hope is related to the word ‘hop,’ suggesting the notion of "leaping in expectation." [iii] Using this image, we could think of hoping as living in a state of hopping--squatted down on your haunches, anxiously looking from side to side and back to front, ready to spring this way or that to a different destination, never wondering what there is to get from the current position. In the foregoing interview, Hillman illustrates the difference between the two ideas with the prostate condition that wakes him up several times a night. Does one exclusively assume the medical/healing lens and hope for a cure, or does one see through the event and "wake up to the night"?

This state of hoping is especially urgent when we are in uncomfortable situations. Hope focuses our attention, intentions and energies on fixing or changing things. We obsess about altering external conditions--partners, habits, governments--always ready to hop off in hope of something new, better and improved.[iv] A ‘hopeful’ person is typically not engaged with the ‘pathos’ or passion of the moment--personally, politically, spiritually, emotionally or intellectually. Such a person is merely a spectator or observer rather than a participator. The hoper becomes an anticipator rather than an interested participator, and a participator is not only able to 'take part,' but through being interested, they are aware of being purposefully 'taken apart' in the troubling situation.


The word ‘interest’ is from the Latin interresse which literally means "to be between". The term comes from two words: inter = between + esse = to be.[v] It was originally used in legal matters when an unpaid debt was owed and the ‘interested’ party had to reside in the 'between' period, wondering when the money would be paid back. The word also referred to the 'interest' that was gained 'in between' the time of loaning the money to a lender and waiting to have it paid back. Over time the term came to refer to periods of curiosity that arose from inhabiting the formless void in between what was and what would be.[vi]

A depth psychological perspective might see this 'interesting' void as the alchemical retort where transmutation takes place. It is not the hoped for end that is crucial here, but the incident itself. To be interested is to reside in the confusing gap.[vii] It is that space a trapeze artist relaxes into when letting go of one bar in order to take hold of the next. Utilizing another image, "to be interested" is to consciously submit to the carving-out process[viii], the interior excavation that creates new psychological sites through intersticed in-sight. Interested-sight is not outward and on some 'hoped for' future, but rather on what is occurring in the soul during the linking moment/movement. Our culture views hope as optimistic, and residing in the discomfort as pessimistic. Hillman turns the table when the interviewer calls him a pessimist: "I think I'm quite the optimist. I just think we should pay attention to what is here right now" (Paradigms 1998). Hillman provides a much needed corrective for what William James rightly recognizes as the uniquely American religion of "healthy-mindedness"[ix] or positive thinking. Positive thinking typically focuses on hope and change, fleeing the painful, uncomfortable and "negative"[x]. Perhaps we could call interest the "positive power of negative thinking".

Being "interested" does not mean we receive only or primarily conceptual understanding of our inner self. The soul does not provide mere intellectual information, but rather in-formation or what some have called kardia-gnosis (heart-acquaintance). Troubling[xi] experiences destroy old psychic formations and create new core-formations[xii]. That is one reason Hillman uses the word "soul-making" or psycho-poiesis so often.

To avoid hopping and to stay present with the experience requires us to enter into and move through anxiety, fear, grief and confusion.[xiii] Interest allows these emotional interstices to become purposeful. They are the jackhammers and wrecking balls of the psychological de-construction crew creating a site for new additions to the psyche.[xiv] Only through faith in an archetypally populated multiverse can we see through the havoc and toward the new re-structuring. Hillman calls this attitude "psychological faith". This is not a faith in some system of psychology, or a faith that hopes things get better, but rather "faith that manifests itself in images...the love of in imagination as the only uncontrovertible reality, directly presented, immediately felt" (Re-Visioning 50). But while we are in between, the energy and focus must be on the images that show up during the excavation. Hopers spend time wondering how they can move to a different situation; interested people spend time wondering which God is there in order to "go to the soul itself and find out what it wants" (Healing 86).[xv]


On July 13, 2008, my twenty-five year old son Jason Bogar was killed in action in the Battle of Wanat, Afghanistan. I felt the ground drop out as I literally fell to my knees when given the news of his death. I experienced the shadow of Hades dark sled racing by, abducting me and hauling me into the Underworld. Something in me wanted to hope, to hop out of the damned carriage, out of the nightmare. I caught myself over the next few days shaking my head in the way one does when hoping to wake up from a terrifying dream. I know why people hope. But I was hopeless, [xvi] so I became interested.

I willing entered into the deepest, darkest experience of my life, beginning what Ginette Paris refers to as those dangerous internal voyages which "open us to a treasure chest of endless surprises: the unconscious" (Wisdon xxii). I followed the signage which hung over my personal descent into Dante's Inferno, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” I will tell you that I did not abandon psychic purpose, telos, but I did abandon hope. Exhausted and pressed under a load of indescribable grief, I descended without struggle into the abode of the dead. That first night after I heard that my son had been shot and killed seemed eternal. I faded in and out of an erratic sleep as a muddle of images and words rushed over and through me like a psychic tsunami. I did not try to disentangle or differentiate them--I just watched and listened. Toward morning, as the bleak dawn began to seep through the blinds of my room, the mental and emotional dissonance subsided, and a voice whispered, “Michael, you are not the man you were yesterday. You will never be the same. You are being dis-integrated. You will be rebuilt. Be patient.”[xvii]

There were days I did not rise from the bed and yet I felt virtually no guilt as I pulled the covers over my head--weeping, sleeping, remembering, dreaming and imagining every possible scenario as to how my son spent his last day on earth. I allowed psyche to present every possible picture of my sweet son awakening that morning--what he ate for his last meal, how he felt when the battle began and how he fought under the 4 a.m. sunrise in the Korengal Valley of northern Afghanistan. I allowed myself to see graphically every possible representation of how he had taken that fatal bullet to his chest. I spent time in the interim, interested. This was not an academic interest and there was no time limit or expected outcome. I was not hopping toward anywhere. I was a guest of Hades and Death.

I spent the next eight months wandering through this dim labyrinthine underworld of mourning, seclusion and outrage punctuated with odd moments of a gray serenity. I showed up at various social interactions and governmental investigations.[xviii] It felt like my entire self was being demolished. I was no longer the father of a son. Who was I? What would I be? Only from an archetypal perspective combined with faith in a soul making cosmos did I know[xix] that something entirely new would emerge from the experience.

Several months after his death, in March of 2009, I awoke one memorable morning. I hadn't noticed the sun for eight months, but on that morning it was prominently streaming through my bedroom window. I heard a familiar voice which whispered into my semi-conscious waking mind, “Dad, the sun is back, get up; the time in Hades is over, for now.” I am neither exaggerating this quotation nor adding the word ‘Hades’ for dramatic effect-- the voice let me know that the period of groping through the oppressive abyss had come to an end. Since then I have had moments of deep grief, but nothing like those eight interesting months. Far too much transpired in my soul during that time to examine in this paper. However, the words of Christine Downing hit the mark:

But time spent in Hades that is not spent trying desperately to get out also leads to discovery of the power and beauty of the dark moments in our life, the real confusions and desolations. Fear is so different when one does not have to fear fear but can simply fear; incompleteness and hurt are also different when one sees them not as something to get beyond but as something to live. (Long Journey 231)

For this particular tragic event I willingly and consciously became interested. Friends, family and associates graciously but ignorantly praised my courageous approach to this loss. I let them know that it was not "my approach". I had spent decades as a heroic ego trying to navigate around, over, against and above the disturbing events and people in my life. It was only after I had begun to see through the perspective of soul with "an ego that gives credit to images and turns them in its darkness" (Re-Visioning 50) that I could purposefully and with presence move through such a devastating experience.


Imagine a larger world with this soul-perspective, entering fully into the "in between" void with all of our national, international and collective fears and concerns. Imagine a humanity where people are not living in a frantic state of "hope and change." No wonder Hillman said, "It's this hope thing that has gotten the planet into such a mess. If we paid attention to what was true right now, instead of what we hoped would be true in the future, the world would look very different" (Paradigms 1998).

And how about our enemies? Imagine moving into that curious rift with them, or alone if they won’t join us. No matter what our religious or political ideology, what if we actually read their literature, not to criticize or fault-find, but to understand? What if we tried to think their thoughts, watch their news channels, attend their religious meetings or political rallies? And of course we can disagree, oppose, take stands and champion a personal position--but after we have been" interested" in them rather than "hoping" them out of existence!

Or our partners; imagine entering their mind and heart to reside for a moment "in between," to become curious. What if we could see all Emotions as divine emissaries, as angels with personal messages, like the angel that visited and tussled with the Hebrew patriarch Jacob in his night of dark anxiety? Jacob's story is potentially my story, our story. It is in these dark, painful and troubling interims that we become unique souls. As Hillman puts it, “Had Jacob not grappled with the Daemon he would indeed have not been hurt, and he would not have been Jacob either" (In The Words).

So then, from a depth psychological perspective I wholly concur with James Hillman, "Interest is more important than hope." I am half tempted to conclude by saying, "I sure hope that he is right!" Isn't that interesting?

[i] James Hillman: The founder of archetypal psychology discusses Jung and Freud by Cliff Bostock. Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative Loafing, Atlanta, Apr. 4, 1998)

[ii] This idea of psychologizing or seeing through is very similar to Heidegger's ideas of philosophizing and talking through as discussed in his book, What is Philosophy, especially page 67ff. Both men engage in what Heidegger calls dialegesthai, or dialoguing. Heidegger dialogues with the classical philosophers, Hillman with the psyche and a host of academic disciplines.

[iii] The Online Etymological Dictionary says, "Hope: O.E. hopian "wish, expect, look forward (to something)," of unknown origin. Some suggest a connection with hop (v.) on the notion of "leaping in expectation." Related: Hoped; hoping.

[iv] Elsewhere Hillman calls anger a valuable emotion that may be moving us to change an intolerable situation. There is a time for action, for change, but not until one has reflected on the event and turned it into an experience.

[v] Interest in the Online Etymological Dictionary:

[vi] The Hebrew creation story begins with this image as the spirit of God hovers between the heavens and the unformed earth, in the interesting void, tohu va vohu in Hebrew. The six days of creation are poetically structured to form three “interesting” gaps in days 1-3: day/night, sea/sky, water/earth. From days 4-6 we see the emergence of something new arising from each interim: sun/moon/stars, fish/fowl, humans/animals. Adam and Eve are then placed in between infinity and finitude in the Garden of Eden where they encounter the interesting tree of knowing duality (good and evil). Christ is crucified between two thieves, one shouting hope and the other being interested. These mandorla images fill the biblical mythology as JHWH (I am) and Shatan (I am not) provide a kind of spiritual or soulful isometrics for soul-making. This was the direction in which the Christian mythos was headed under the 2nd century theologian, Irenaeus (Against Heresies) before 4th century Augustine steered the story toward original sin and redemption.

[vii] Confuse means "to fuse or meld together". This furthers the alchemical metaphor, referring to the conjunction of two or more opposing principles.

[viii] One image I like to use of soul-making is that of a pumpkin being turned into a jack-o-lantern. The raw gourd has its top sliced off, guts carved out and only later does the unique face and internal light show up.

[ix] William James was a friend and associate of Horatio Dresser. Dresser's parents were vital players in the burgeoning 19th century New Thought Movement which stressed positive thinking and mental healing. James included a whole section on this phenomenon, The Varieties of Religious Experience, titled The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness.

[x] The 19th century poet John Keats called this "Negative Capability," the capacity to remain in unresolved uncertainty.

[xi] The Christian-Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Saying 2, has Jesus speaking, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be troubled. When they are troubled, they will marvel, and will reign over all." This idea of purposeful trouble informs Heidegger's views of anxiety and guilt as necessary forerunners of discovering the authentic life.

[xii] Core is another term related to heart--Greek = kardia, Latin = cor.

[xiii] These are the obstacles named by the 2nd century "Gnostic" Bishop Valentinus in his Gospel of Truth. Something similar is done in Mary's sermon from the Gospel of Mary. Both of these texts present a soul that is formed by moving through Fear, Grief, Confusion, Desire and Death. These ideas heavily influenced Jung's psychology.

[xiv] When Jesus said, "In my Father's house are many rooms and I go to prepare a place for you," the typical Christian reading sees a literal sort of hoped-for heaven. I suggest that Jesus was speaking of new soul-additions that would be coming after his departure. He likely had the vast Jerusalem temple complex in mind with the myriad additions supplied by the benefactor, King Herod. In addition, the Greek word for rooms was sometimes translated classrooms. Jesus was likely referring to coming soul lessons, not some residence with harps and halos. This is akin to Keats Hornbook analogy.

[xv] Hillman points out that the 2nd century Christian Theologian, Tertullian, understood the voice of Soul, beckoning other believers to listen to a new witness, "Stand forth, O soul...,stand forth and give thy witness." (Healing Fiction, p. 86). I remember reading that Tertullian also warned his fellow Christians that the formation of a canon of sacred literature ran the risk of "chasing the Holy Spirit into a book."

[xvi] Having discovered and devoured Hillman's two books, The Soul's Code in 1996, and Re-visioning Psychology in 2005, I had acquired something of a soul-making perspective. It was not always so. In 1990 I went through a loss of faith, the end of a religious vocation and the dissolution of a marriage that included three beloved children. During that particular period in Hell I placed my hope in religion for a short time, and then in Tequila, spiritum contra spiritus. Both failed me miserably.

[xvii] I was struck by a similar statement made by Ginette Paris after her serious brain injury, "The person that I was, and could not tolerate being, is being killed. I find repose in this destruction." Wisdom of the Psyche, p. 5

[xviii] This particular battle has been under careful scrutiny for the past two years. Dateline NBC just did a one hour story on the possibility of dereliction of duty on the part of three commanders.

[xix] This was not intellectual knowing, but a kind of gnosis or innate acquaintance.