Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Jim Harrison, Soul-Maker

Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Jim Harrison, Soul-Maker

Article excerpt

THE JACKETS ON Jim Harrison's books used to note that he lives in northern Michigan and "is a keen fisherman" and "bird hunter." They don't now, not even for a work like his collection of essays, Just Before Dark (1991), a third of which is devoted to outdoor sport. Tile change is wise because Harrison's novels, novellas, poems, and essays have never been merely neo-realist narratives about adventurous men; nevertheless, they have been unfairly criticized for being macho derivatives of Hemingway. That criticism has diminished since Dalva (1988), "The Woman Lit By Fireflies" (1990), and "Julip" (1994), all narratives of women's lives.

Harrison's works, in fact, have always been as much about the interior life of men--and, now, of women--as the external life of action. Harrison has consistently explored the workings of imagination, the nature of consciousness, and the mystery of personality, developing his art in the service of what post-Jungian psychologist James Hillman, and before him the poet John Keats, called "soul-making." Hillman, an American who spent nearly twenty years at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, began publishing his major works in the mid-seventies. His psychological views about creativity and the connections among imagination, imagery, dreams, and the soul have aided Harrison in shaping and articulating his own literary vision and life's work.

Explicit references to Hillman's ideas begin as early as 1981 in Warlock, part two of which has an epigraph from Hillman's The Dream and the Underworld: "There is an imagination below the earth that abounds in animal forms, that revels and makes music" (117). Thereafter, Harrison mentions Hillman by name on the first page of Sundog (1984), in Dalva (122), and in a number of essays, most notably "Fording and Dread" (Dark, 1982; 258, 259), "Passacaglia on Getting Lost" (Dark, 1986, 252), and "From the Dalva Notebooks, 1985-87" (Dark, 1988, 285). Furthermore, Harrison alludes to Hillman's ideas in nearly every work from "The Man Who Gave Up His Name" (1980) to "Julip" (1994).

Allusions to a Keats passage signifies the commonality between Jim Harrison's literature and James Hillman's psychology. Hillman quotes that passage frequently as capturing the purview of his "archetypal psychology" (Blue Fire, 6); and Harrison 'alludes to the same passage in a number of works, quoting it in "The Beige Dolorosa" (Julip, 248). In a letter to his brother, Keats wrote, "Call the world if you please, `The vale of Soul-making.' Then you will find out the use of the world" (Re-Visioning, xv).

For Hillman, the soul refers to "that unknown human factor which turns events into experiences," investing the ordinary with significance. It is "the imaginative possibility in our natures ... that mode which recognizes `all realities as primarily symbolic." Hillman says of soul that it is "a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself" (Archetypal Psych, 16-17). Not the Christian idea of soul, Hillman's conception is interchangeable with the Greek "psyche" and Latin "anima," a mediator between matter and spirit, body and mind (Re-Visioning, xvi).

The making of soul, Hillman writes, "calls for dreaming, fantasying [sic], imaging" because "in the beginning is the image; first imagination then perception; first fantasy then reality" (Re-Visioning, 23). The psychologist's views about access to and development of soul through imaginative acts are, therefore, close to ideas of what writers do, especially since Hillman believes that imagined figures and persons are personifications of powers of the psyche, the soul. "In dreams, we are visited by the daimones, nymphs, heroes, and Gods shaped like our friends of last evening," Hillman writes (Dreams, 61-62). The courage to attend to such dreams, to participate in soul-making, is for Hillman synonymous with the novelist's courage:

   Entering one's interior story takes a courage similar to starting a novel. … 
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