ego and soul two voices

From a letter to students for Therapeia 2, April 2022.

Language and Speech.

There are usually two ways to see a situation and to say something. My way and your way. We often refer to those as ‘the right way’ and ‘the wrong way’. This is not just me understanding the matter correctly, which of course I do, while you can have your opinion, even though it’s obviously flawed. It seems that it’s archetypal. We all, always, have at least two voices expressing their view on what’s happening. Sometimes we overrule any dissent, inner or outer, and then find ourselves imbalanced, in the one-sidedness of neurosis.

“Early in our European tradition, Parmenides of Elea set forth his poetic vision of the universe. One part is called the ‘Way of Truth’, the other, the ‘Way of Opinion’.. These divisions point to some necessity of the human psyche to tell two kinds of tales about the nature of things.”*

With these odd lines, Hillman opens chapter 2 of ‘Myth of Analysis: On Psychological Language’. Why odd? Because Parmenides, who taught that ‘reality does not change’, was at odds with Heraclitus, who taught that ‘reality changes all the time’. Both philosophers lived around 500 BCE, about 100 years before Plato reconciled these views within his philosophy. It is also odd because Hillman usually favours Heraclitus in matters of the soul.

Jung moves the conversation from ontology to psychology. “The two ways of envisioning the universe are reflections of two personalities within the individual.. Sometimes we may see life whole, but our description of it will always fall into halves… Each half is represented by a personality, and each has its own language.”

Two personalities, two languages. Are there then two truths? If we were able to make sense of the different voices within, this might go a long way to helping us make sense of the different views coming from without. More importantly, why is it a ‘necessity of the human psyche’? It might be less confusing, at least in many situations where important choices are to be made, to have clarity and a single vision.

As we would expect,  Hillman takes us on a provocative, original, and inspiring journey through the development of ideas that have shaped our culture and our psychology. It might be compared to visiting an excellent art gallery or rich natural history museum, full of rare wonders and inspiring beauty. And then you come to realise the museum is yourself. Not just ‘inside’ yourself, but essentially who and what you are.

*James Hillman, Myth of Analysis, p117.