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Not What I Expected
on July 10, 2012
This book oscillates from very intriguing to numbingly boring due to the bloating of excessive fluff and psychobabble. This is not a book about character in the modern sense of "virtue". Instead, I would say this book is really about the character of the soul (this would have been a better title).
Here's the quick skinny: 3 Major sections: I - LASTING, II - LEAVING and III - LEFT. 3 prefaces, 25 chapters plus a bonus chapter (The Force of the Face), notes, and bibliography. 202 readable pages -- tricky read at times, but also engrossing. I find these sections cleverly titled as they reveal Hillman's approach to "character" as a sort of core essence which is basically stripped of its outer shell over time especially during the latter stages of aging. This is an interesting concept which deserves further exploration.
Whenever the book is intriguing (as I said, it oscillates) I find the concepts presented fascinating. For example the idea of "extending" longevity to broaden ones scope of life beyond actual years into an osmosis of a kind of universal vision of all life and all history. This way of thinking borders on an attempt at extending into eternity. It's an engaging exercise! The idea of creating a clear distinction between "old" and "aging" is also compelling. Here old is more tied to the ancient definition of "days of old" which can be viewed as a place which connects us all if we are able to tap into this core. Also compelling is the notion of the process of letting go as we are "leaving" our youth being a powerful conduit into discovering the character of the soul -- this is good stuff. I was especially struck by Hillman's comments regarding the tendency of the brain to lose the ability to recall from short-term memory while becoming acutely capable of pulling in almost forgotten fragments from long term memory (e.g. "the dresses of your girlhood friends of seventy years ago"). Could it be that the aging process matures the soul and prepares a person for entry into an eternal existence . . . Where facts and figures don't matter as much as intuition and emotional attachment? I wanted to explore this more, but alas the book departs on to fluff and fuzziness. Sigh!
Whenever the book is boring it is exceedingly so. Hillman introduces many very interesting notions, yet often fails to make a hard point and fades away into flowery descriptions of vague concepts with seemingly little purpose other than to dabble into artistic expression. Poetry saturated into prose is not exactly my cup of tea! Don't get me wrong, I love the intellectual tenor of Hillman's style. I just want to get somewhere after 200 plus pages. I find after a myriad of quotes from ancient and past philosophers, ancient text, Jungian theory and existential extrapolations I forget what drove me down the many paths of thought I had and even going backward through the pages I don't see what Hillman really wanted to say. At best, I'm left with a lot of really good ideas, questions, and fodder for something else (not quite sure what).
It's best to approach the book as an essay on the character of the soul. This is where its true value lies. The most powerful question raised is . . . what is the essence of that thing that is really you under all the flesh and psyche? Even the bonus chapter (Interlude: The Power of the Face) raises a similar question as Hillman suggests that the aging face reveals more about the core person over time. He didn't exactly say it, but I took from this the idea that the young face cannot adequately reveal a good image of the soul as it is somewhat of a blank canvass. What an intriguing thought! Why not expound on this Mr. Hillman?
Still, this is a good read with many redeeming qualities. I wish I could give it 3 ½ stars. This would be a better rating I think. A 4-star rating is not exactly right so I opted for 3. I look forward to reading Hillman's better known book, The Soul's Code at some point.