Step toward madness

Hillman: The madness wants to be let in the room that it has been excluded from. It wants to come in.

Ventura: No matter what the madness is - we're not only talking about love now - it wants to come in.

Hillman: Partly because -

Ventura: - it's been excluded.

Hillman: That's Freud: it's repressed.

Ventura: I think it's more than "repressed"; I don't buy that.

Hillman: Because that would suggest it would go away once it comes in?

Ventura: Right.

Hillman: You don't believe that.

Ventura: I think the madness is much stronger than that. It does not go away once it comes in. Freud may be right that we constructed civilization to keep the madness out, as a collective; and, with our nice little homes and lives, we try to do the same thing privately, keep it out; but it does not go away. It's right there, always, waiting, trying to get in. And once it comes in, it isn't easily appeased.

Hillman: In other words, you can't just give it a nice chair and a cup of tea and it sits down.

Ventura: You can't say, "I acknowledge you, I own you."

Hillman: "I respect you."

Ventura: " I respect you, I love that part of myself that is you ... as long as you don't make any fucking trouble."

Hillman: "Or even if you make a little bit of trouble, I acknowledge you because really you're part of my creativity."

Ventura: But the madness - at least my madness - doesn't care about being part of my creativity! Because in fact creativity is a fundamentally sane act, and the madness wants disruption.

Hillman: From its point of view, it's walking in the door with a message, but you sit in the room and it knocks the door down and you think, "Shit, this is only bringing me disruption," but what does it carry in its hand? I think what it's walking in the door with are the Gods. I think the madness is the messenger of the Gods. And that's Plato, not Freud. Different forms of what Plato called mania, each of them associated with a different God.

So the madness is calling us to the Gods, in one way or another either as a frenzy or as love or as a ritual initiation into a new kind of life. Something more important than usual life is going on. It is drawing us out of one thing and toward something else.

Ventura: ... it seems the starting place for any analysis of this culture seems to be the concept of a safe white slate. Anything that is not on this safe white slate is a "contributing factor" to evil and madness. Anything that disrupts a normal safe day - where this normal safe day ever was in history, I don't know - but anything that disrupts it is one of these contributing factors to madness. There's something wrong with that kind of thinking.

Hillman: I think in order to protect yourself against insanity, you must every day propitiate madness. You must take your steps toward madness, you must open the door toward the mania, let it in. That would account in my mind for a great many forms of what we call addiction. These are ways of trying to open the door and to let the madness in. Whether it's getting drunk on a Saturday night or sitting for hours drinking alone in a melancholy to let Saturn in, whatever - these are modes of letting the madness in. And in a sense they keep us from going insane, and we don't know that distinction.

Ventura (singing): "I've always been crazy but it's kept me from going insane." That's a Waylon Jennings song.

Hillman: Crazy means "cracked," the cracks that let things in. It's not smooth, it's not safe. So what do you do, then, to let the madness in? What do you do to keep from going insane?

Ventura: What do I do?

Hillman: Yeah, what do you do?

Ventura: You mean other than hard whiskey, fast women, and loud music? Or is it fast cars and loud women? Hard women and straight whiskey? Could you repeat the question?

Hillman: I think you do one more thing, and I think I do too, and I think that's part of what this book is about - that we try to go out on a limb.

Ventura: Oh yes.

Hillman: We try to go to unsafe places. We risk. With our minds, we risk.

It makes me most happy when I can go to the farthest out. Or as one writer said to me, it is not enough to go out on a limb, you've got to be willing to saw it off.

[James Hillman]
with Michael Ventura
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172

Related posts:-
Wild Things
Silent Violence
Pressure Valve
Buddhism and Psychoanalysis
Digging Deeper
I'm in Control


  1. The spirit asks that the psyche help it, not break it or yoke it or put it away as a peculiarity or insanity. And it asks the analysts who act in psyche's name not to turn the soul against the puer adventure but rather to prepare the desire of both for each other ...

    Not for the sake of learning love only, or for community, or for better marriages and better families, or for independence does the psyche present its symptoms and neurotic claims.

    Rather these demands are asking also for inspiration, for long-distance vision, for ascending eros, for vivification and intensification (not relaxation), for radicality, transcendence, and meaning - in short, the psyche has spiritual needs, which the puer part of us can fulfill.

    Soul asks that its preoccupations be not dismissed as trivia but seen through in terms of higher and deeper perspectives, the verticalities of spirit.

    When we realize that our psychic malaise points to a spiritual hunger beyond what psychology offers and that our spiritual dryness points to a need for psychic waters beyond what spiritual discipline offers, then we are beginning to move both therapy and discipline.

    [James Hillman]
    A Blue Fire, p.120

  2. When psycho-analysis is effective, and it certainly can be so, it is probable that it works by enabling the patient to make effective use of his psychopathology rather than abolishing it.

    Patients presenting themselves for psycho-analysis feel overwhelmed, unable to cope with their problems. Greater understanding of their own strengths and limitations can often be extremely helpful, even if their personality is not fundamentally modified.

    [...] the limited amount of psychotherapy which I was able to offer made the patient more capable of accepting himself, of coping with his psychopathology rather than letting himself be overwhelmed by it.

    [Anthony Storr]
    Freud, p.109