We are delighted to share with you this exclusive interview with Marc Slavin, author of Metaphor and Imaginal Psychology.
In a way, the times we live in call for studies of this sort, those that bring together strange bedfellows, in this case archetypology and poststructuralism. We are at a dizzying moment now, what the Greeks called a Kairos, when the opportunity for a fundamental change in what it means to be human is in the offing, at the furthermost point of perception, but also immediate and overwhelming, though not yet integrated. Metaphor is making itself felt in scholarship more widely than ever, I think, because it so naturally expresses the process of intersectionality. It is in the very nature of metaphor to occupy the open space between conflicting absolutes, that space where new meaning arises, because its logic is to express one thing in terms of another, so it represents the in-between, the hinge phenomenon, both joining and separating. It has a “no longer that but not yet this” quality, which allows for the emergence of novelty. I think we need to look for new canvasses on which to express our scholarly ideas, and having been exposed to both archetypal theory and poststructural theory I was invigorated by the potential they presented for a heterodox consideration of metaphor. It may be heretical, but then I came to this project late in life, having spent an entire career doing something else, and so I had the benefit of not knowing much about the barricades between disciplines.
How is it different from other books in the field?
With James Hillman you have this overt embrace of metaphor, a claiming of metaphor for depth psychology and for the soul, or the soul’s process, the meaning-making process. But nowhere does he really take metaphor apart to say, “here’s how it works,” like the analytic philosophers have done. Interestingly, he does that with soul, but not with metaphor. The more I read Hillman it began to occur to me that his work on the soul can be seen as a depth psychological theory of metaphor. What he’s really writing about when he describes these processes of mythological personifying, psychologizing, dehumanizing, pathologizing, all these modalities of psyche, is the nature and logic of metaphor. I thought it was important to the nascent scholarship on Hillman’s work to bring the fundamentals of metaphor studies to bear on his theory of soul-making, to show how close he was, working in psychology, to what the metaphor theorists were doing in philosophy.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Inevitably, the measure of any book is that mirroring moment when the reader might find a bit of himself or herself in the work and be inspired to see some personal circumstance in a new way. That’s my wish in particular for the general reader or the beginning student, so that they may be moved to explore further. For archetypalists and poststructuralists, my hope is that they will hear echoes of one another in the way the book treats their fields and become somewhat dislodged from resistances they may have. Hillman, and Patricia Berry, and the other “imaginologists” have given us a literary and philosophical psychology, a psychology of aesthetics, and I think that makes the field accessible beyond Jungians. It really deserves a wider consideration, and I hope I’ve helped to make that case.
Why is Hermes so significant?
I write about Hermes, or Mercury, because I wanted to find a way to discuss metaphor as if from its own perspective, not to objectify it but to let it speak for itself. To do that I had to personify, which is Hillman’s term. The figure of Hermes, the guardian of the threshold, just seemed to express so many of the characteristics of contemporary metaphor theory, which has to do with the interaction between meanings. Hermes is a slippery fellow. He lives right in the middle of things, just where metaphor situates itself, and he’s too tricky to be pinned down, which is precisely why the rational mind has so much trouble with metaphor. But, of course, metaphor finds itself pinned down in every concept, which is another characteristic of the trickster, he outfoxes himself. You could say Hermes is both presence and absence at once, very much like Derrida’s trace. This quality of puckishness is in fact what makes both Derrida and Hillman engaging as writers – they have written the Hermetic idea into philosophy and psychology.
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