California Literary Review

An Interview With James Hollis


March 31st, 2007 at 5:31 pm

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James Hollis

James Hollis, Ph. D. is Executive Director of the Jung Center of Houston, TX, a practicing Jungian Analyst, and author of eleven books, including the most recent Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up.

Why is Jungian psychology so dominant today? Why is Freud in eclipse? Is there any relationship between Jung and the higher (spiritual) reaches of human nature?
We err to dismiss Freud, for as Auden reminds us, he became “a climate of opinion.” He helped shape a psychological Weltanschauung which is now so thoroughly absorbed as to be a central stream of modernism. The presumption of the unconscious, the idea of repression, resistance, projection, and sublimation, and many other ideas retain their usefulness. But in the end, Freud’s view was too narrowly tied to biology, and to a reductive view of the psyche and its purposes. Jung, apart from contributing such ideas as complex, personality typology, anima, animus, archetype and individuation, speaks to a broader range of human experience, including the social and the spiritual. His view of psyche as teleological opens the way to a developmental agenda in which our spirituality transcends even the biological. We are homo religiosus—so what does that mean, and how is life to be lived in the presence of mystery? Another way I put it is: in the first half of life the prevailing question is, “what does the world want of me”? To answer this question ego and social development are obligatory. However, in the second half of life, the question is, “what does the soul (Grk. psyche) want of me”? Whoever does not address this question, submit the ego to transcendent claim, will be brought unwilling to it sooner or later. So, in short, Jung speaks to more of us, in deeper ways, and raises questions which challenge us, and open us to greater depths.
After one becomes integrated, then what?
This is not really a question which should trouble us, for we are never integrated. That fantasy is like wading into the Pacific and believing we could encompass the ocean. There are ever more unconscious or dissociated parts of the individual psyche than consciousness could ever integrate. This fantasy that we can is an old ploy of the ego to reassert its nervous sovereignty, sort of like believing that I could order up a certain kind of dream tonight. The psyche will pay no attention to my ego whatsoever but will go about its own agenda. Similarly, I need not worry about achieving individuation, for there will always be internal and external powers which obstruct the fullest expression of my being. We may look to historic models such as the Buddha or the Christ as illustrations of wholeness achieved, but how many Buddhas or Christs do we have in our midst?
Where are we going as a species? What of Iraq?
I have no idea. As a child I believed, hoped I would learn enough to figure it all out, but I am no longer a child and am daily impressed with my ignorance. For every advance in civilization, and I speak on the moral front, such as the rights of children and minorities, we also see new atrocities, new descents into barbarism. Read Dostoevski’s Notes from Underground for the best answers to this question. He mocked the pretensions of the Crystal Palace and the meliorist theorists of his day, and pointed to our innate perversity, our tendency to make a mess of things when we can; moreover, he celebrated this perversity as our most precious quality, that which kept us from being turned into calibrated, programmed piano keys. To read our future, read Notes from Underground. As for national policies, all I can do is vote, and read history. The hinge of our history has already turned, although, amid the cacophony of contentious campaigns, not many heard its sound. The American empire is already in decline for it has lost the spiritual high ground which it once held. Many will still want to take advantage of our material, health, scientific, and educational advantages, but fewer and fewer admire us, want to be like us. We may still have a hand in their wallets, but we have lost the vote of their hearts.
Can societies be analyzed like individuals? Can they be helped through analysis?
Any group is the sum of its participants, the sum of their complexes and projections, and is burdened by all that is unconscious within them all. This is why group behavior can be herded, cajoled, threatened, channeled. Much that we know about the individual does apply to the group as well but we are also at the mercy of whether or not leadership has the will, strength, and desire to be conscious. Too often leadership is comprised of those most driven, least secure, most owned by the unconscious to have the wherewithal to examine themselves. We still wait for philosopher kings, as Plato wished. At the same time, I have spent my entire life in some form of public education, as student, professor, administrator, writer. Believing that education and communication really matters is one of those “useful fictions” which has given, and continues to give, my life a great deal of direction and meaning.
As science continues to map the brain and increasingly explain human behavior in chemical terms, how does analysis adjust? Does it threaten the assumptions of analysis?
This question places analysis in the position that theology has so often occupied, namely defending its increasingly narrow isthmus against the onslaught of scientific discovery. But this is a false dilemma. The modern analyst fully understands the biological nature of such phenomena as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and endogenous depression, and works in conjunction with the pharmacologist when appropriate. If a person suffers from diabetes, we should not assume that he or she does not also have psychological issues with which to struggle, and the problem of meaning to unravel in uniquely personal terms. One of the key areas in which this issue shows up is in the need for increased sophistication in the differential diagnosis of depression. There is endogenous, or biologically based depression, reactive depression to outer loss, and intra-psychic depression deriving from the blunting of the developmental energies of the person. One may in any given moment suffer from all three. Differentiating their treatment, perhaps utilizing medication when appropriate, with supportive therapy, allied with a thoroughgoing analysis of the psychological journey, is not a contradiction but a summons to see the whole person.
Can one “self-analyze” by reading and learning, or is the role of analyst critical?
As a chronic, compulsive reader, I have learned much about the world, and, sometimes, something about myself. But there is much more which any ego resists which can only be brought to light through a deepened conversation with the Other, both the Other which lies within, and the Other which stands without. As the classical imagination rightly observed, we all have a tendency to privilege the contents of the ego in service to our security (this they called hybris) and a tendency to view the world through the colored lens granted us by fate (this they called the hamartia) and end by deceiving ourselves. In other words, we do not know enough to know that we do not know enough until we hit a wall with enough force to oblige us, reluctantly, to become more conscious. This is always experienced as humbling. Sustained dialogue amid the constant care and critical eye of the other is critical to that dialectic which enlarges us even when the continuing tendency of the ego would keep things contained. The engagement with the other, whether without or within, causes us to grow, whether we like it or not.
You state that the goal of life is not happiness, but meaning. How would you define meaning?
There is nothing wrong with happiness, but as we all know, it is ephemeral, conditional, and contextual. Flushed and bloated as our culture is on material possessions, which could only be dreamt by our ancestors, we are still listless, bored, depressed, and addictively in search of escalated diversion. If all that we have made us happy, as a steady state, we would see it. What is it we wish to be distracted from? What is missing is a deep sense of purpose. We can obtain all that we seek and still feel deracinated, aimless, and dispirited unless we feel that we stand in relationship to something which is transcendent to the vagaries of the moment.
For some this will be found in nature, for others in relational moments, for others in their work, their creativity, their suffering—or all of the above. Meaning is experienced when we are pulled deeply into something, perhaps more deeply than is comfortable. Meaning is experienced as a resonance, something within which resonates in the encounter—this is not something which can be willed up by ego. Meaning is experienced when we are stretched and enlarged. This is why meaning often comes out of our visits to the savannahs of suffering even more than the palace of pleasure. Meaning always involves engagement with mystery—the mystery which arises out of depth, out of the radical other, out of vasty bounds of being.
What authors do you like to read?
This has to be the short list, for reading has always been a great joy. I might even go so far as to subscribe to that aphorism of Logan Piersall Smith: “Some say life is the thing, but I prefer reading.” Among the poets, Rilke and Yeats are never ending sources of pleasure, along with Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, and Eliot. Among contemporaries, Stephen Dunn, Edward Hirsch, Tony Hoagland. Among other favorites, I would have to include Kierkegaard, Camus, Kafka, Nietzsche. The major moderns still bring delight and insight, for we still live with those issues. I read psychology out of a sense of duty, but read poetry and history for the sake of the soul.
Are you writing a new book?
I have just published Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, which is the first time I have tried to mainstream some of the ideas of the previous books. And I have begun another book tentatively titled Dark Selves: Shadow Engagements in Personal and Public Life. As I work half-time as an administrator, half-time as an analyst, and travel on many weekends, it is difficult to find time to write. But nothing brings greater sense of satisfaction that to see what alchemy arises from the screen when one is willing to submit one’s tired body and diverted soul to it.
Know any Jungian psychology jokes?
Everyday is a joke, if I remember to laugh. I do think of two cartoons I have at my desk. One shows an analyst explaining archetypes and individuation in the first panel. In the second panel he is asked what that means and he says, “I have no idea.” The other cartoon shows an analyst being asked if he has ever cured anybody. “Not that I know of,” he replies.
  • Nicholas

    Dr Hollis is the best Jungian writer in the world at the moment.

    Actually Hollis answers to a question that presuposes the “eclipse of Freud” and by his answer it is obvious that he disagrees!

  • Norman Rosenblood

    Dr. Hollis’s conclusion about Freud’s eclipse and the abiding value of Jung is moot. Freud’s relationship to biology doesn’t preclude his analysis of culture and myth. Dr. Hollis might do well to take a look at Edward Glover’s
    book:FREUD AND JUNG.

    Norman Rosenblood, Ph.D.

  • anonymous

    Perhaps your search has not been in vain…Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.
    Jeremiah 33:3
    Faith is a gift…comes by hearing
    hearing by the Word of God.

  • xjt

    Anonymous: I wish you radical Christian extremists would stop trying to recruit everyone into your lifestyle. I really do.

  • Paula

    This is the road to the core. This is the only road to the core

  • anonymous

    How is quoting wonderful and apropos scripture being a “Radical Christian extemist”. Sounds like someone maybe slightly judgemental,testy and foolish!

  • anonymous

    James Hollis makes so much sense and puts Jung in language for all to understand. What he says is so clear; if more people would take the time to examine themselves, and look within for some answers, and for some questions, the world would be a better place.

  • Len Kingsley

    I have read all of James Hollis’s books including his current work. My experience has been very positive. I find when I need clarification on major life issues and transitions, I refer to Hollis’s books and usually find clear, concise and honest writing on the matter. I am grateful to him for his insight and wisdom which, I feel certain, he has earned.

  • Anonymous

    I look forward to his upcoming speaking engagement.

  • http://N/A BUD

    Dr. Hollis does a wonderful service here and in his writings to get across points of view that are disturbing to the souls who need it most. Those willing to do their work in the growth process of living and take responsibility for it will benefit here. Those lost in religion, or the act of blaming, or any other form of dependency which prods one to look outward rather than inward for the answers will no doubt feel threatened and lash out against this kind of help. Thank goodness it is there at the very least for the consideration of all in due time.

  • Rizwan

    Dr. Hollis, to comment on your remark about the satisfaction one gains from writing a book, even when the ‘body is tired and the soul is diverted’, I wanted to proclaim how your books have been a blessing to me in navigating my own “journey”. I am of the Muslim faith, and find your writings to engender that very humility, maturity of mind, and expansion of “self”, that my faith calls on me to have. I discovered about Jung through your works and believe that he as well as you are powerful secular testaments to the reality of the Divine – the Divine which each of us encounters in our own unique way in life.

    An oral tradition attributed to the prophet Mohamed says that 3 types of deeds continue to bring blessings to one’s soul even after death. These deeds are: a) having produced some knowledge (or literature) by which mankind continues to benefit; b) having built something like a school by which people continue benefit; c) A pious son or daughter who continues to sincerely pray for them even after they have passed on. In that spirit I wanted to thank you for your books and the great insight you bring, both now and in the future.

  • Jean Joseph

    For me, “The Middle Passage” has become like a Bible on my night table. I read from it when I need encouragement and am fighting dispair.

  • Angelo Hunt

    I happened upon a copy of “What Matters Most” a few week in advance of it’s release. I have been stirred to wonderful uncomfort.

  • William Smith

    I am so happy to see James Hollis “following his passion”. I was lucky enough to be an undergraduate at a small Southern New Jersey College.

    Of the thirt-two classes required to graduate, I took eighteen of them with Dr. Hollis-though it was Jim at that time. I actually re-enrolled as a freshman after graduation-things were pretty loose at that time and place. so I could continue to study with him.

    It came as a surprise and disappointment that not all of advanced studies were of the calibre Dr. Hollis provided.
    What spiritual and intellectual powers remain in my life are a direct result of our three year nexus.

    I apologize about any protocol violations as this forum seems to a critical exchange of ideas and I have nothing to add but….Thank You.

    William G. Smith
    Marin County, CA

  • Ted Brennan

    “When the student is ready- the teacher appears”. I suspect and hope that Dr Hollis’ soulful contributions will find mainstream access as we continue hurdling toward the consequences of collective unconscious chaos.

  • Lisa Barnes

    This is the most difficult book that I have ever read. And by the end, the most helpful in my search for who I really am. Thank you so much.

  • John

    I’m struggling through mid-life issues, namely: divorce. But many of the other, deeper issues around “meaning” have plagued me for many years. It’s just that the pain from my divorce has finally forced me to seek deeper meaning. I found the “second half of life” book at a bookstore and am a little more than half way through. I have found it extremely helpful and enlightening. I’m a convert!

    Oh, and I have nothing against someone quoting scripture. It’s a little out of place in this forum, but hey, whatever you’re into…

  • John Millard

    What matters most to me at this very moment is that I left my new copy of “What Matters Most” on the seat of the plane yesterday and I rather wish to read it all.

    What also matters, or rather, will happily happen, is that this wonderfully helpful wisdom will be picked up and savoured by another and perhaps another and I can easily order another.

    Thank you Mr Hollis and travel well …

  • Rajanna Gangaiah

    I am impreesed by what Hollis says about leaders

    “Too often leadership is comprised of those most driven, least secure, most owned by the unconscious to have the wherewithal to examine themselves”

    Perhaps when they are driven to the wall as it happening in North Africa they will eamine themselves

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