This philosophy/psychology work on character and aging is not a self-help book but rather a self-perception book--philosophical, wise, and deep. "What does aging serve? What is its point?" asks James Hillman, and proceeds to examine those questions fully. The loss of short-term memory, for example, enables us to better recall the past and review our lives. "On the one hand, brain cells may be flaking off like autumn leaves in a deciduous forest; on the other hand, a clearing is being made, leaving more space for occasional birds to alight." Hillman also likens short-term memory loss to a warehouse packed full of the inventory of life, emptying the latest files "to preserve enough emotional space for evaluating what has been there for a long time." Other aging markers also have benefits for character, reflection, and imagination. We wake up at night not only because our old bodies have to urinate, for example, but also because our minds are open to the wonders and mysteries of night.
Hillman discusses the three major changes that character undergoes in later life. First is "lasting," which is the desire to live as long as possible. Next is "leaving," where we change from holding on to letting go, and our character becomes more exposed and confirmed. The final stage is "left": "what is left after you have left," and Hillman interweaves all the connotations of that word. --Joan Price
From Publishers Weekly
Our culture treats aging like a disease to be cured, but in this provocative volume, iconoclastic psychologist Hillman, former director of the Jung Institute, describes aging as the process through which character reveals itself. Extending a theory he introduced in his bestselling The Soul's Code, Hillman describes character as a force that shapes our genetic inheritance and all our traits, including seeming irrelevancies, into a unique whole. Applying ancient thought in a galvanizing way, Hillman draws on Plato and Aristotle to develop the idea that there is a form or a paradigm that makes each of us a recognizable individual through all the changes we go through in our lives. While modern psychology, he contends, strains out seemingly subjective qualities like modesty or bravery or timidity, favoring abstractions like "ego" and generalizing profiles, Hillman argues that such qualities are "the ultimate infrastructure" of a body and a life. He describes how the aging tend to shift from a focus on maintaining the health of the body to one on what is important for character. "In later years," he writes, "feelings of altruism and kindness to strangers play a larger role, as if psychological and cultural factors redirect, even override, genetic inheritance and its aim of propagation." Hillman maintains that the debilities of age allow us to better savor the irreducible complexities of character. He also describes a sweetening and softening of the old, including the adoption of concerns of charity over profit. Many of the views here may strike readers as romantic. Still, as always, Hillman breathes new life into a venerable concept, and in so doing helps us to rediscover the soulful possibilities of aging. Author tour; simultaneous audio. (Aug.)
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