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Image by Lin Fengmian

That the world is loveless results directly from the repression of beauty, its beauty and our sensitivity to beauty. For love to return to the world, beauty must first return, else we love the world only as a moral duty: Clean it up, preserve its nature, exploit it less. If love depends on beauty, then beauty comes first, a priority that accords with pagan philosophy rather than Christian. Beauty before love also accords with the all-too-human experience of being driven to love by the allure of beauty”
James Hillman
(from “The Practice of Beauty” in Uncontrollable Beauty, ed. Bill Beckley, with David Shapiro).

In his essay on transference Jung stresses the importance of the human connection for soul-making, stating that man’s ‘soul’ ….can live only and from human relationships, …the conscious achievement of inner unity clings desperately to human relationships as to be an indispensable condition, for without the conscious acknowledgement and acceptance of our kinship with those around us there can be no synthesis of personality”. Human relationships may be an indispensable condition, but still the opus remains the soul. Neither relationships, nor feeling, nor any of the human context in which the psyche finds itself should be mistaken for the soul-making opus. When we make this mistake, we focus on the instruments and means and not upon the end. Improving relationships and making connections with feeling is not at all what is meant by psychological creativity. The soul may still be sterile if it is limited to the human circle, which can never replace the Gods. Yet this human circle is necessary for psychological creativity: there seems to be a necessity for a close and personal world — family, tutelary figures, a friendly society, a beloved, personal enemies. The soul and its humanity is the vale of soul-making.
James Hillman

I just read a piece by Felicia C. Sullivan detailing her estrangement from American culture. She closed comments on that article so I will organize my thoughts here.

As a child I already felt an irresistible attraction to foreignness. I had a keen desire to speak a foreign tongue although nobody I knew did. My imagination was of course full of stereotypes which would only be dispelled after almost forty years of immersion in other cultures, mostly French.

As I remember it, the main obstacle in understanding a foreign culture is how deeply and unconsciously you are a native of your own. I have a mimetic talent that allows me to ape behaviors and language, but my habits of thought and especially relational assumptions were very American, if not Texan. It took me decades to take on another, more communal sense of human relations.

I also longed for a beauty I could not find in America, a beauty of the old world. I found it a sense of connectedness, in architecture, in manners, in pace of living, in food and wine. It was a long re-education.

Americans isolate themselves and suffer for it. They have been praised for their sense of personal autonomy and entrepreneurial talents but the flip side of that is a kind of “every man for himself” thinking that carries a sense of abandonment. Americans are lonely but at the same time strangely cut off from others.

The complaint I often hear from Europeans is that Americans are extremely friendly at first blush but don’t follow up with real relationship maintenance, which, after all, requires effort and care. They end up calling us superficial because we’re not willing to put in the responsible work to keep long term friends.

I’m an introvert. I prefer cultures that accommodate introverts. I began to feel estranged from American culture early on and leapt through the first exit door I saw. It was happenstance or maybe it was fate, but it ended up being France and French for me. There are probably easier cultures for an American to adapt to, but the attraction was art, literature and history. If it had been nature or beer or horses maybe I would have wound up somewhere else.

Adapting to another cultural mindset means uprooting your own assumptions about how life works, how society functions and why. Those assumptions were installed by your native language and society before you were twelve years old and they’re invisible to you. Foreign ways challenge those assumptions. They’re not easy to give up or even to identify. It takes time to feel at home in a culture not your own. You won’t mutate quickly. Something in you will resist, can feel insulted by foreign ways, and truth be told, foreign cultures have their own idiocies. You’re not obliged to embrace them.

It’s not uncommon to feel estranged from one’s own culture. In the end you can only hope to become a hybrid. But frankly I’d rather be a hybrid than a mono-cultural anything.

Put together your own culture out of a mix of qualities you prefer. Join the worldwide society of hybrids. You will evolve into a person of many facets, many optics and tastes. It’s a journey I recommend.

Felicia’s article is here:

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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