Imaginal Community a kinship with people who exchange images

On a Community of Shared Ideas

James Hillman has a less literal view of community. Instead of a group of people living in the same place, the community is based on a shared sense of value around several core ideas. These would include the development of a sense of soul, deliteralising the ego, and respect for the autonomy of the imaginal  realms of consciousness. He says:

‘I feel myself a member of a body, a community.. a kinship with people who work with similar ideas or at least are trying to revision things. It can be therapy, it can be philosophy, it can be religion. It can be in criticism or classics or mythology. These people are not followers, not ‘my students’ – they’re often way ahead of me. Some are even older than me. And I doubt if psychology is their main focus. They are friends.. there is nothing else to call them. Friends. We are all sort of in love with each other. There’s an emotion, an intensity, even though we are spread all over everywhere. It’s an active demonstration of what Alfred Adler called Gemeinschaftsgefühl, fellow feeling.

Quite a few are Jungian analysts, formally trained and very active, But many others are not at all. It’s very loose, they’re very independent, and we don’t collaborate directly – we stimulate one another, indirectly.. It’s more like community – Gemeinschaft – there’s no organisation nor officials. The basis of our connection is ideas not organisation.. and erotic connection through ideas. This erotic basis also takes care about priority, giving credit or taking credit for an idea. The ideas themselves are communal.. nobody owns them, so we borrow and steal from each other all the time.. no ‘fear of influence’.. people use what I write without quoting me directly. That’s what ideas are for – to be used, and who says they are ‘mine’?

The same is true for me: I take all sorts of things from conversations with these friends, things from my wife, and I put them in ‘my’ books. My wife has always been very important to all this. So far none of us has staked out claims and had fights. Everybody seems very generous – or better, everybody feels the community – at least that’s my fantasy about it. We are all glad to see each other. We play baseball and we dance and talk and shout, and we listen. We listen to each other. It’s a marvellous thing, and I feel as much pride in this way of living a school of ideas as in the ideas themselves. It gives each of us an imaginary community in which the others are all figures. It ties your thoughts to an imaginary loving audience and feeds your thoughts when you sit alone. You imagine them and feel their interest. You see, if we were organised into a real school, or a movement, all this would become literal and the eros would go, and we would have an institution in its place. I used to want a community – all of us at the same university – but a community doesn’t have to live all in the same place.. that can be a mistake for intellectual work. Too much time is spent organising things. One has to keep the community semi-imaginal.. like the letter-writing communities; Petrarch, Ficino, and probably the romantics, too.

That we live in different place and work in different fields avoids the power problems that get into a community when it becomes a school. We are not in competition with each other. We are not all psychologists.. our focus is not narrow – it’s multiple, let’s say, a polytheistic community. The senex part appears in our loyalty and our seriousness and our diligence. Everybody works very hard. But is doesn’t appear in the need for a unified organisation or even a club. The main thing, though, is not the actual presences of each other.. it’s the imaginal presence, puer eros, you call it. I think as we die off, we will still remain present as figures for those who are left.’

James Hillman Inter Views, Spring Publications, Conn. pp28-30