Are Flying Boys Useless?

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Painting by Rene Magritte

Poets get there first, and artists and musicians. Only later do the intellectuals and theologians follow suit. Philosophers come after the poets and before the theologians, who only ‘see’ once it has all been written down. Theologians spend a long time mourning the death of the old God and as such are not predisposed to welcoming the new.

David Tacey
Edge of the Sacred


In our metaphysics we declare our fantasies about the physical and its transcendence. A metaphysical statement can be seen as a psychological fancy about the relationship between ‘matter and spirit’. […] The archetypal neuros is collective and affects all with the metaphysical affliction.” — James Hillman, Senex and Puer, Spring Publications, 2005

“The puer offers direct connection with the spirit. Break this vertical connection and it falls with broken wings. When it falls we lose the urgent burning purpose…if persuaded into the temporal world by the negative senex [consider Kamaswami], within or without, the puer loses connection with its own aspect of meaning and becomes the negative puer. Then, it goes dead, and there is passivity, withdrawal, and even physical death.” (JH “Senex”26–27) If we draw the puer personality down from detachment in spirit and into the twists and turns of human relationship, we come to reflect on our uniqueness and limitations (Hillman, “Peaks” 66).

I never have learned to stop playing. Even at my advanced age, I proceed by trying things. That’s how I learn. Yes, I try a lot of things that don’t go anywhere, but I always get something out of it. I know I don’t look very serious to some folks. That’s not my concern. Being safe and always making the right decision the first time is not remotely possible for me.

I like Hillman’s approach here. Before he showed up, Jungians advised the Puer types to get their feet on the ground, get a job, make babies, live like everyone else, get serious and grow up. It took Hillman to see the positives in the mindset of the eternal boy. Here he is saying that making a Puer get serious is clipping his wings and will probably kill him because he will have lost his reason for living.

Fantasy, fancy, beauty, imagination, inspiration, a life in the arts — I see now that there was no other way for me to live. I thought I had a choice when I was young. I thought business or law might be options. Those were just more fantasies, really disconnected ones, proof that I have wised up a little over time.

Some people are meant to add to the beauty in the world. Some people have no choice but to probe into the meaning of things and ask the real questions. Some people can’t be mechanics. They’re not capable or interested in keeping the civilizational engines running.

Cultural creatives keep their focus on issues of soul. They don’t choose to, they just can’t do otherwise. Americans live in a society that sees those people as fluff, nonessential, privileged. Our ideal is the hard headed businessman, someone who can’t be deterred from maximizing the bottom line. This is one reason why I headed for Europe as soon as I could manage it.

Of course it’s not so black and white. In spite of a long history of philosophers and artists, you still meet a formidable resistance if you want to be a creative person in France. The same dichotomy exists, just not so extreme as in the States.

Speaking to Americans, it’s important to identify what inspires you. If it’s money and power, art is probably not your thing. If you hate to be in a state of doubt, stay away from philosophy. If you really want a safe life — is that possible? — a creative métier would make you miserable. Artists and thinkers live in a perpetual state of doubt, for the most part. Bringing something new into the world entails a certain amount of travail.

We would all like to earn a decent living from something we love. Finding how to do that entails being very honest about who you are and what kind of culture you live in. If you’re a person who learns by going down every wrong road like I am, it could take awhile. Still it is possible, even for us.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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