Soul in Things

"Beauty is pleasure objectified. Beauty is pleasure perceived as a quality of an object"

Our whole field of psychotherapy may simply be a reaction to symptoms. As they change from decade to decade - we don't see cases like Freud and Jung saw at the beginning of the century - therapy invents new ideas and new interpretations.

What are the symptoms now?

We awaken daily in fear of the things we live with, eat, drink, and breathe. "I am slowly being poisoned." The closest environment has become hostile. To live, I must be alert, constantly suspicious, on guard at the cave's mouth. But it's not a saber-toothed tiger that'll get me and my clan, it's the friendly family fridge ruining the ozone.

Suppose we are being harmed as much by the form of things as by their material, where form means their aesthetic quality. For instance: styrofoam cups, fluorescent lights, bad doorknobs, unpleasant chairs, K-Mart fabrics and their colours, the hollow loud clack of objects set down on fake wood tabletops. Enough.

The soul, which has classically been defined as the form of living bodies, could be affected by the form of other bodies (design, shape, colour, innate idea or "image") in the same way as the matter of our bodies is affected by the matter of other bodies (pesticides, additives, preservatives).

If it is the form of things that disturbs the soul, then the task of therapy becomes noticing noxious forms. Every citizen is already concerned with the material nature of things, their ecological value (recycling, protecting, conserving), but the special role of the psychological citizen is the awakening and refining of aesthetic sensitivity.

Consciousness of form would make us feel how assaulted and insulted we are all day long by the thoughtless ideas in things: by pretentious buildings, noisy ventilation, oppressive meeting rooms, irritating lighting, vast undetailed parking spaces. The aesthetic eye would require things to be thoughtfully designed.

I think therapy and design part company at the point where design strives always for the good, that canon of pleasing unity and harmonious balance - "good" taste - whereas therapy as aesthetics would want mainly to sensitize imagination. Now, here's the rub: peeling away the skin and opening the imagination always invites the demonic, and that disrupts the "good" design. It's not enough to be in a tastefully decorated room. White bread therapy has all along secured itself in well-appointed consulting rooms, with comfortable chairs and artistic ornamentation. "Good" design can lead to the mediocrity of normal adaptation rather than into the depths of the soul.

Depth means death and demons and dirt and darkness and disorder and a lot of other industrial strength d words familiar to therapy, like dysfunctional, disease, defense, distortion, drives, drugs, and despair. So design that invited depth will not exclude the pathological. The problem for the designer, like that for the therapist, is to coordinate the pathological within design, so that psyche's d's are neither excluded like a Disneyland mall nor running around loose like an urban sprawl. Therapy has to be sublime. Terror has to included in its beauty. So too in design. It seems only our war equipment so far shows this sense of the sublime in design.

Unlike ancient Egypt and Greece or modern Bali or the bird-feathered, body-painted, masked "primitives" of Papua New Guinea, our culture just can't accept aesthetics as essential to the daily round.

The Japanese are trained aesthetically early on and live in a culture devoted as much to the chrysanthemum (beauty) as to the sword (efficiency) - to use their symbols.

Japanese people - ordinary people - have hobbies of calligraphy, flower arrangement, dance gesture, paper twisting and cutting. They live in a world of very small detail, which we call quality control. Their eye is trained to notice, their hand to tastefully touch. Watch the sushi chef. Even their language takes immense care.

[James Hillman]
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.124, 125, 126, 127, 129, 130, 131

With quote from George Santayana

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